HOUSE RESTORATION: Renovations for Resale
renovated kitchen with custom colonial revival
cabinets that match the home’s surviving
moldings. The result is an updated space which
is still connected to the original architecture.
By Martin Schwartz
of Textured Home
Inferior quality repairs and poorly
executed renovations continue to pose challenges for many
old-house buyers and sellers today.
When offering a home for resale with tacky, 20th century
eyesores, a cost-benefit analysis should be done before
establishing the final selling price. Given the perceived
benefit from presenting a fully done up property, sellers
should evaluate whether it’s really worth the extra
investment to try and fix-up any major residential blight.
As reviewed here before, starting in the 1950’s, many
homeowners who commissioned dens, kitchen expansions or
downstairs half-baths, frequently ended up with out-ofcharacter
rooms, largely devoid of molding detail. Many homeowners
today are now re-doing these poorly conceived spaces. They
are trying to organically re-connect back into the residence’s
Clearly, there has been a mindset shift to a “restoration
style” for many new, old house owners. And many commercial
retailers are now carrying better quality ‘historic’
or ‘traditional’ molding lines as a result --
to try and capture the now more sophisticated, home repair
Unfortunately, unless prompted otherwise, most typical carpenters
and contractors still go for the cheapest and easiest fix-up
materials they can find. These may be the wrong kind of
detail, or elements lacking in quality needed for your particular
style of older home. More troubling is that some sellers
and estate executors are far too willing to invest in this
‘quickie’ work, just to get something done.
It’s a mistake.
In some cases, sellers are spending considerable funds just
to give the appearance of a fully renovated look. Rather
than leave the house in its original state for the next
buyer, they’ve been told that purchasers don’t
want to do work after moving in. Consequently, we are seeing
a number of homes up for sale today that offer what I call
- the ‘pseudorestoration.’
These are renovations or fixes that try to give the surface
impression of high quality, but upon close inspection, just
don’t make the grade. Sometimes, the new work may
actually make the situation worse. It may ruin that property’s
good bones which only needed a polish, or a proper basic
What’s the underlying problem?
Even with better-quality, mass-produced materials, it’s
the continued loss of skilled labor and poor housecraft
that’s now rampant throughout the home repair trades.
Early century craftsman and carpenters didn’t need
to be restoration experts. Everything was done by hand.
They just replicated the original lines and details already
in the home.
Nonetheless, there are significant stylistic differences
for construction details found in colonial, arts and crafts
or 19th century Victorian homes. Today’s newer, mass
produced moldings lines generally do not clearly delineate
these different styles. So unless new work replicates exactly
what’s there, as frequently done in the past, someone
has to really know what finishing details work and go where.
Architect plans do not generally spec out each molding element.
It’s largely left up to the contractor. But when presented
with raw construction materials by the typical New Jersey
GC, most homeowners just can’t see what’s really
Once finished however, the quality differences on a job
immediately stand out. Sophisticated real estate brokers
spot right away when something isn’t up to snuff.
The brokers talk among themselves. They decide ultimately
what your home is worth. And if they think a new buyer is
going to want to redo the very same space, they may just
‘dis’ the monies you’ve just spent on
renovations – work that if done better might have
really helped your resale bottom line.
How do we know this? Textured Home hears a good bit of back-channel
broker pricing talk for many houses coming on to the market.
It’s not particularly pretty. There are comments like:
“the seller just doesn’t get it”, or “I
told them how to do the kitchen but they didn’t listen.”
Yes, this is what’s really bantered around by some
of our areas selling pros. And more often than not, they’re
The Bottom Line…
Some may feel that this focus on stylistically correct finishing
detail only affects a modest price difference. You may even
think that it’s just our own self-promotion, restoration
hype. Well forget the broker cabash that’s described
above. When renovations work in harmony within an original
old-house, that home truly ‘resonates.’
Most house-hunters can’t put their finger on it, but
when they arrive to a jumble of styles or tacky repairs,
the place just doesn’t feel right. A buyer may lower
their offer, calculate in work, or just take a pass. They
may go to a property where everything is seamless or left
whole in its original state.
Today’s sophisticated, old-house buyer wants a space
that ‘speaks’ to them. They’re seeking
that special feeling when making a final purchasing residential
choice. This is why brokers tell you that older homes which
have either retained their original detail, or are repaired
and restored properly with quality, restoration elements
-- generally sell for 30% higher.
Consequently, whether seeking short term gain or long term
appreciation -- cutting important corners or trying to improperly
save on needed repairs - may ultimately cost much more in
A Montclair resident, Martin Schwartz is a principal of
TEXTURED HOME --
Restoration Builders & Modernization Contractors.
Their design/build work includes kitchens/ baths & additions,
as well as whole house restorations. They specialize in
sensitive renovations for the older home.
If you have questions about updating while still retaining
the character of your home, call him
at (973) 783-2580 –