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Owning The Right Historic Home in Cincinnati

My husband and I are the happy owners of a turn of the century home which was falling apart when we bought it.  We were really fed up with having to rebuild our 1930's English Tudor every time we wanted to improve it and decided that our next home would be built by craftsmen and built well.

So we embarked on a two year search for a craftsmen built home. We found it in Cincinnati's Mansion District, North Avondale. This is a gaslight neighborhood, built around the turn of the 19th Century by wealthy Cincinnati industrialists. It is actually quite a large neighborhood. It is the first integrated neighborhood in Cincinnati and has worked very hard to protect the houses from unfavorable zoning regulations and slum landlords.

One of the advantages of buying in a neighborhood where a lot of the houses are historic, is that all the people in the neighborhood value these houses, they are tuned in to what is good for the preservation of these houses, and they are great resources.  The neighbors love to look at each others houses for similar features, for well known craftsmen, and for helpful resources for restoration.

My husband and I come from a long line of old house owners, most of the houses much older than ours. So we have a fairly good idea of what we thought we'd be in for. The house we bought was falling apart, it had been rented for several years. Very little had been done to the roof, probably in 20 years, and when we bought it, one of the major roof beams had collapsed into the 2nd floor and generally, there was a lot to do! But we knew everything, so what harm could come from this project?!!!

So here are some tips that may help you from getting into some of the scrapes that we found ourselves in!

  1. Get a good realtor who specializes in historic and old homes. This is really important because it helps to have an idea of what could be a problem and what could be the cost of renovations before you spend time and money on an inspector.
  2. Get a good inspector. This is not the time to get Uncle Joe. You should use a specialist inspector who:
    • Knows about powder post beetles
    • Understands termite damage to joists and sill plates
    • Is familiar with stone foundations and what to expect from them
    • Is going to give you a good idea of the roof issues of tile and slate
    • Understands that leaded glass windows can be repaired.
  3. There are a lot of good resources available for historic and old houses. Researching these resources will be the difference between your home being comfortable and architecturally right, or looking like a museum.  You will soon find yourself haunting architectural antique shops, flea markets and garage sales in old neighborhoods! You will be researching reproduction suppliers online, downtown and at the mall, for hard to find fixtures for bathrooms and kitchens. And you will be visiting the Cincinnati Art Museum Cincinnati section where you will recognize the work of your carpenter, and stained glass maker.
  4. Get good contractors. This is the hard part. We interviewed a lot of contractors and fired a few too. It is really helpful if you yourself have a good idea of how the project should be done, before you talk to contractors. I found that contractors would get carried away by the houses in the neighborhood and often would assume that we were multi-millionaires, just because we had a big, old, beautiful house. So we would get huge bids.  Then there were the contractors who were scared to death and we never heard back from them. And the ones who thought they were our savior and put us on their waiting list. It took a lot of networking to find really good contractors who were reasonable, professional and came when they said they would. Keep tuned to this website and I'll put the names of some of our favorites up for you to interview.
  5. Interviewing is another skill. A contractor that did a good job for me, may not do such a good job in your eyes. So we recommend that you interview at least three contractors and talk to people that they have done work for and go and see it if you can!

It is totally worth the time to pick a contractor because you know they are good as opposed to one that you have heard is good! And try and be objective when it comes to the money. Cheap often isn't best. And expensive isn't always better.

Feel free to email me or call me at 513.766.3878. I'll be blogging more about old homes, so stay tuned. Feel free to let me know who your favorite contractors are, if you have an old historic home! The Historic owners club is about networking! Great for me and for you!

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