Flipping Houses

Do Not Touch: 3 Old Home Features to Protect During Renovations

Expertise: Landlording & Rental Properties, Real Estate Investing Basics, Personal Finance, Real Estate News & Commentary, Business Management, Real Estate Deal Analysis & Advice, Real Estate Marketing, Mortgages & Creative Financing
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antique ornate gold door handle closeup on blue wooden door

If you’re flipping a house or renovating before a resale, your goal should be to do exactly what’s necessary to make it profitable—not too much extra since you’re working within a narrow budget, but not too little either. With older homes though, it’s easy to mistakenly damage the house’s value by removing or altering traditional features that are highly desirable.

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So, how do you know what to rip out and what to restore? There are two key parts: knowing the market and knowing architectural history. When you opt to protect the distinctive features of older homes, it can save you money and time while also increasing your profit margins.

Honoring Hardwood Floors

For reasons ranging from cost to deforestation, few homes today are built with traditional hardwood floors, but infrequent use doesn’t mean they’re undesirable. In fact, “original hardwood flooring” is the kind of phrase that will make your listings stand out. First, though, you need to refinish old hardwood floors.

Refinishing hardwood floors can be more labor-intensive than tearing them out if they’re badly damaged, but many just need a good cleaning and fresh stain. Either way, you’ll be glad you spent the time on them. Compared to a new alternative like bamboo used by many property managers, real wood refinished beautifully and is a timeless source of added value.


Focus on the Fireplace

In an ordinary room, a well-appointed fireplace can act as a centerpiece and draw people together, but the upkeep can be tough. Still, before you board up the fireplace during renovations, look for ways to restore or repurpose it.

Start by cleaning the firebox and have a professional check the flue to make sure it can be safely used. Then, depending on the exterior, you can work on refinishing the fireplace for maximum appeal. To clean a stone fireplace, for example, you’ll only need soap and water and maybe some degreaser if it’s really dirty. With wooden mantels, on the other hand, you’ll want to re-sand and apply a fresh coat of paint, making sure to preserve any original detailing.

Hang on to Hardware

One of the most sought after features in older homes is original hardware, such as brass and crystal doorknobs and drawer pulls, and lacking original vintage pieces, many people actually purchase modern replicas. If you’re lucky enough to have a house with these pieces intact, don’t even think about replacing them with brushed nickel or generic porcelain. Nickel is actually going out of style after more than a decade of marketplace dominance, while people are scouring antique markets for these antique hardware pieces.

Overall, when it comes to older homes, the rule of thumb should be “repair rather than replace.” Although the modern housing market relies on the notion that it’s easier just to tear out what’s not working and replace it with inexpensive, ready-made products, older homes were built to last. When you opt to destroy the distinctive craftsmanship and dump high quality, antique materials, you’re spending your money the wrong way and taking away from the home’s value.

Let the old details stand and maximize the final value of any sale, whether it’s a quick flip or a personal transition, because restoration-ready homes are hard to find and easy to sell.

Anything you’d add to this list?

Comment below!

Larry is an independent, full-time writer and consultant. His writing covers a broad range of topics including business, investment and technology. His contributions include Entrepreneur Media, TechCrunch, and Inc.com. When he is not writing, Larry assists both entrepreneurs and mid-market businesses in optimizing strategies for growth, cost cutting, and operational optimization. As an avid real estate investor, Larry cut his teeth in the early 2000s buying land and small single family properties. He has since acquired and flipped over 30 parcels and small homes across the United States. While Larry’s real estate investing experience is a side passion, he will affirm his experience and know-how in real estate investing is derived more from his failures than his successes.

    Vaughn K. from Seattle, WA
    Replied over 1 year ago
    Yup! Newer homes are, frankly, garbage… Just like almost everything else is nowadays. Every time I go into a house/apartment built past the 70s/80s I mostly just laugh at all the hardware, doors, etc. They’re completely made of disposable junk, and half the time the wood used to frame them and the sheetrock are low quality garbage that warps in a year or two also. Even “high end” properties have cheap stuff everywhere, and it shows to most people, even those not in the building trade or real estate. I love old homes for their quality and their quirkiness. There are very few parts of an old home that should ever be torn out outright. The exception may be if they had remodels done with tacky stuff in say the 60s/70s/80s that wasn’t as nice as what was probably originally in them in the 30s or 50s whatever! But even than that is mostly kitchen/bathroom stuff, especially tile and tubs. Things like doors and cabinets were usually still pretty nice most of the time in my experience. It really does pain me sometimes to see “freshly remodeled” homes from the 20s-50s that have had everything torn out and replaced with particle board junk that will look horrible in 10 years, when the stuff that was in there would have lasted another century… But what’s a fella to do? Just make sure you don’t do that yourself.
    David Nace from Lancaster, Pennsylvania
    Replied about 1 month ago
    Good advice
    Karl B. Rental Property Investor from Los Angeles, CA
    Replied 21 days ago
    Good article. I'm taking my crystal doorknobs when I sell my primary residence. :-)