Restoring a Victorian house

Restoring a Victorian house

Buying a Victorian house is a wonderful thing. They are fantastic houses. Restoring a Victorian house can be difficult. They can have their problems. Lots and lots of not so lovely problems! Your beautiful new Victorian house is very likely not in showroom condition. Not when you first move in anyway. If it is then bravo! For everyone else there will be varying degrees of work that will need to be done. Or you will want to do. I’m going to outline all of these individual tasks over the next few weeks. This post is just a general look at what might need to be done, the time it will take to do it and at what cost. Victorian houses are notorious money pits if you are not careful. High maintenance; if you let them be.

There are lots of separate issues with old houses and lets not forget that Victorian homes are old. Very old in some cases. They were incredibly well built in their day but then so are some people and it doesn’t stop them from ageing! Firstly you need to asses the overall condition. Some houses need everything replacing. For others its just cosmetic. Lets be honest though, even “just cosmetic” is a whole lot of money. These houses were built with quality materials. Restoring a Victorian house means putting all of these expensive items back. Then there’s the time it will take to do it and the people you might need to employ to get the work done.

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Firstly there is the actual jobs themselves. What exactly is it that requires attention in your new house? Its best to write a list and then price up each individual job separately. The more detailed the better. You can get spreadsheets and various planners online. There are also books that outline the most common faults with Victorian houses. Your survey will have flagged a few key areas that need immediate attention. The most obvious and serious problems when restoring a Victorian house will be sorting:

  • Damp
  • Leaking roof
  • Dry rot
  • leaks-Flooding
  • Bad electrics
  • Drainage problems
  • Bad plumbing
  • Broken windows
  • Bad flooring
  • Broken stairs

There are other issues but these are the ones that will cause either more damage in the future or are a health hazard. I put my foot through a foot tread on a stair case once and it is quite scary! Keep going from room to room, until you have written down every job that either needs doing or you want to do. Then you need to put the jobs in the order you need to do them. This is usually:

  • Roof
  • Security – Fix windows and outside doors
  • Any demolition – Removing walls, kitchens, bathrooms, etc..
  • Electrical work
  • Plumbing work
  • Heating work
  • Painting
  • Kitchen fitting
  • bathroom fitting
  • Refitting any internal woodwork – Skirts – Balustrade – Fitted wardrobes
  • Tiling
  • Flooring

You can swap a couple of these jobs around and shouldn’t make a huge difference and sometimes you just can’t get the trades to come at the right time. Most of these jobs need to be done in that order. So now you’ve made your list of all the jobs that need doing, it is time to work out what your budget is and who is going to the do the job. There are three different ways you can get on with renovating your house. Lets look at the first way.

Using contractors

This is the easiest way. The first thing you need to work out is your budget. This makes everything else relatively easy to work out. If you have no money spare for renovation then you are on your own! You will have to do the work yourself, when you can and with whatever money you can save from week to week. If you have some surplus income at the end of each month and don’t mind the idea of doing the jobs yourself then this should be ok.

If you have a bigger budget, then you can use contractors. Using them exclusively is expensive. Really expensive. It also is by far the fastest way of living in the house of your dreams. You line all the different trades to come into your house one after the other and they complete the whole job while you live somewhere else. If you choose your trades people wisely the work will also be done to a high standard. You could rent a house while you wait. This is ideal if the house you’ve purchased is under priced or under developed for the street you are living on. You aren’t gong to be throwing money away in the long run. Your family won’t feel the stress of living in a building site.

The hard part is getting the contractors to arrive on time and dovetail their respective trades when and where you want them. It is also difficult to work out exactly how much everything will cost. You’ll probably need a project manager or to do this yourself.  I’ll go through all the steps in my next post as project managing isn’t easy. I will hold my hands up now and say I have never done it. I will be getting the information from the experts!

In terms of cost, if everything needs doing you’ll be looking at about £100 per square (May, 2020) foot to fix your house up. This is a very rough estimate but you could easily spend £30-50,000 just fixing the roof, the electrics, the plumbing, the heating, plastering and internal wood work on an average sized Victorian property. If you want a loft conversion, a new kitchen, bathroom and windows you could add another £50,000 to that bill!

Just stick to very basic rules. Get multiple quotes. See how fast the companies reply to any questions. Get the details of previous customers. Look for negative feedback on the internet. Do not pay for the entire job upfront. Pay in stages. Visit the site frequently but don’t get too friendly. Friends get taken advantage of!

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Doing the work yourself

This is the cheapest way but only if you are confident in your ability to do the jobs properly. The good thing about this is that you can be flexible. You can do each room at a time in whatever order you wish. You are not reliant on anyone else’s time table and you can budget for things as you go.

The main problem with doing the work yourself is that you could end up living in a building site. For years! Ever had a friend who’s house never looks finished? That’ll be you! There will be bits of wiring hanging down, plaster on the floor, stripped back paint work, loose light fittings and toilets that don’t flush properly. Sound familiar? I’ve seen it so many times and clearly it bothers me. I notice it and I always think that I really wouldn’t like to live like this!

The solution is that you stick to one room at a time. Be disciplined. Don’t start anything you can’t or don’t want to finish quickly. It’s best to clear a room out completely and try and get it done quickly before moving on to anything else. One job at a time. Work out a budget for each room and start the job when you’ve got the money to see the job through. That is the only advice I can give on that.


Using a contractor and doing some work yourself.

This is the middle ground that most people follow. It is what I would do if I bought a new house. Buy the house, live somewhere else for a few months. Then get the roof, the plumbing, the electrics, the kitchen, the bathroom and living room up to speed, budget permitting. Anything else is a bonus. If you could get the internal woodwork sorted and get rid of any really bad flooring then your well over half the way there. Bedrooms, carpets, windows and doors can all be done whilst you are living there.

In terms of jobs within my grasp, I would be happy to rip out old carpets, old kitchens and bathrooms. Get rid of any wallpaper, bad carpentry and remove old paintwork. This would save a fortune in labour costs and would probably take a couple of months, working evenings and weekends. That would be the level I would be happy with but if you’ve got more time and more experience then do as much as you can. The beauty of splitting the jobs is that you can work within your skill set.

Some people are very good with wood, or at painting or would even tackle a roof repair. Its up to you. Some people will even have a go at plumbing, tiling and plastering. Just don’t start a job you can’t finish.

I hope this post has shed a little bit of light on how and where to start on your renovation journey. I didn’t put any real figures down as the difference in prices for work is unbelievable in some cases. You can spend so much more for the same job done in a different area, or at a different time of year, or just for no appreciable reason what so ever!

Next week I’m going to look at the first thing that any visitor will see when they visit your new home, the front garden.




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