Archive for the ‘Historic Renovation’ Category

Great Sources for Hard to Find Replacement Pieces

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

Princeton Historic Home DoorknobRenovating an older home has all kinds of challenges, but sometimes the hardest part is finding replacement pieces. Many times, homes have been stripped of their original light fixtures, stained glass windows, or hardware. Other times, time itself has deteriorated pieces beyond repair. The most aggravating part is trying to find historically accurate replacements that even the pros won’t know aren’t “real”.


Hardware can be the most aggravating to find, but luckily there are some companies that still realize old homes need fixing too.

  • Window sashes: First of all, don’t replace your old windows! If you’re in need of some heavy cast iron sash weights, check out Architectural Iron. Missing sash pulleys or sash cords can be found at Smith Restoration Sash.
  • Butler Pantry doors: Door no longer swinging? If your looking for a replacement piece, you won’t find one at Home Depot. Instead, check out Bommer Industries double action spring pivot. Viola, problem solved!
  • Door knobs: Besides going to your local architectural salvage companies to find original door fixtures, you can also try online sites that specialize in reproduction hardware like Crown City Hardware or House of Antique Hardware, as well as look for original pieces on Etsy or Ebay.


The most dramatic pieces of a historic home can be the lighting fixtures. Even the smallest can be inspiring. I love walking around auctions, antique stores, and architectural salvage companies to admire the beautiful chandeliers, sconces, and lights for sale. But you can find great fixtures online, too. Rejuvenation has a special “restored antiques” section where you can buy real vintage light fixtures. Some might be expensive, but if you want the real deal, be prepared to drop some cash. In your search, keep an open mind about replacements. While you may not be able to find an exact replica, there are many options available true to the period of your home.


Help for the Historic Home Owner

Friday, June 29th, 2012

Posted with Permission of Preservation Alliance of Minnesota
By – Erin Hanafin Berg, PAM Field Representative

My heart always sinks a little when I receive a message like this one, from Jenny in Duluth:

I am wondering if there are any programs, funding or loan options for purchasing a home that needs restoration. The home is not on the historic registry, but it is a beautiful brick house built in 1913 that needs extensive repairs.  The house is in foreclosure, and I am would like to learn about any programs that might exist to help me restore it as my primary residence.

Unfortunately, there are very few preservation programs available in Minnesota to help residential property owners. The new state rehabilitation tax credit is only available for income-producing properties that are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Grants, like the Minnesota Historical and Cultural Grants, typically can only be used by non-profit organizations or municipal entities. Minnesota had a property tax exemption program, called This Old House, that allowed homeowners to freeze their local property taxes at the pre-renovation value for up to fifteen years,  but the program ended in 2003 and the legislature has seemed reluctant to reauthorize it. We lag behind our neighbors in Wisconsin, where a 25% income tax credit is available for historic homeowners; reportedly, more than 16,000 historic houses might qualify. In terms of historic preservation funding, Minnesota homeowners come up short.

But other funding-assistance programs out there can help, and many people don’t know to turn first to their local housing agencies. Many Community Development Corporations (CDCs) have residential housing improvements and neighborhood stability as the core of their missions, and may have loans, grants, or other financial resources available. In Duluth, for example, Neighborhood Housing Services is the local lending partner that provides access to the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency’s Fix-Up Funds. Oftentimes income qualifications apply, but this doesn’t mean that a household has to be near the poverty line to be eligible—the guidelines are often set as a percentage of the area’s median household income. (You might be surprised to learn what qualifies as “low-income” in your community.)

Rebates for energy-efficient appliance upgrades (furnace, refrigerator, water heater, etc.) are often available through the local utility company or community-based energy agency. In Duluth, the local utility is Minnesota Power, which has an extensive list of rebates. DEEP – Duluth Energy Efficiency Program – offers up to $2,500 in rebates for all income levels. Weatherization assistance for low-income residents is available across the state, accessed through local partners like the Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency in Duluth. (If you plan to undertake weatherization improvements, be sure to read our information on window rehabilitation before you assume that your windows need replacing!)

There are also some special HUD-financed rehab loans available through mortgage companies and banks. According to HUD, “The borrower can get just one mortgage loan, at a long-term fixed (or adjustable) rate, to finance both the acquisition and the rehabilitation of the property” (as opposed to a first mortgage, which would finance the purchase of the property pre-renovation, and then higher-rate construction loans to fund the rehab work). Also, there are still  programs through Minnesota Housing to assist first-time homebuyers, or buyers who have not owned a home within the past three years. MHFA’s CASA program includes a “purchase and repair” option, but it is only available in targeted areas and both income limits and purchase price limits apply.

Financial assistance is available for rehabilitating an older home, but you need to know where to look. Hopefully this gives Jenny, and others like her, a place to start.

The Alfred Berry House

Monday, February 27th, 2012
111 Bryant Ave NE, Hector

In 1901 this stylish Victorian was built for Alfred Berry of the Berry Brothers Flour Company in Hector, Minnesota (just 90 miles west of Minneapolis). Amazingly this home was owned by three generations of Berrys from first construction up to 1997, when the last Mrs. Berry passed away. Across the street was the Berry Brothers Flour Mill built in 1899, shown in the photo below. It burned down in 1977.

What I find most intriguing about this home is its story of survival, passed on to me by the current owner. Too many times our historic homes and buildings are cast aside or torn down for something newer and uglier, especially in rural areas of Minnesota. Their vast size and ornate decorations are looked upon as burdens to neighborhoods or cities, without any vision or forward thinking of what they could once again become. Preservation is dear to my heart, and I am very happy to see the Berry House saved from an ugly fate.

In 2006, before the current owner purchased the home, it was slated to go into Section 8 housing by the Minneapolis owner who used it as a rental. The old radiator pipes had been neglected and allowed to freeze, thus rendering them useless, and the rest of the home was in a rapidly declining state. Even though there was a ton of work to do, the new owners had a vision of bringing the home back to its former glory and set out on a restoration project that still continues today. What they have accomplished is simply beautiful, and the residents of Hector are happy to see this home brought back to life.

 The Berry House (Before 2006)


The Berry House (After Restoration)
Original Photo of the Home with the Berry Family

If you would like to view additional photos of the renovation, please visit the home owners website or the archived listing on

Minnesota State Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

State Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit signed into law by Governor Tim Pawlenty through Jobs Stimulus Bill

Minnesota joins 30 other states in catalyzing job-creation through preservation projects

Thursday, April 1, 2010 at 11:00 a.m., Governor Tim Pawlenty signed into law the Minnesota Jobs Stimulus Bill, a diverse array of tax incentives to stimulate job growth in Minnesota. The bill is estimated to create between 12,000 and 20,000 jobs across the state.

A significant feature of the bill is the State Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit, an incentive to stimulate green job growth, increase local tax base, and revitalize urban and main street communities through reinvestment in historic properties. This provision is estimated to create between 1,500 and 3,000 construction jobs annually if Minnesota is consistent with other state programs.

Minnesota’s state historic preservation tax credit will allow a state income tax credit equal to 20 percent of the cost of rehabilitating a qualifying historic property. The program mirrors the federal rehabilitation tax credit, a provision that has been in place since 1976. Projects are eligible to claim the state credit if they are allowed the federal credit, a program which requires properties to be listed in the National Register of Historic Preservation to qualify. Minnesota currently has 1,600 listings in the National Register representing almost 7,000 individual properties. Projects must be income-producing to use the credit, therefore, homesteaded residential projects are not eligible. Our law also creates innovation in the tax credit market by allowing a developer to choose either a certificated, refundable credit or a grant, which will stimulate nonprofit use of the incentive, and also can be used against the insurance premium tax widening the investor pool. Click here to link to the Jobs Stimulus bill language.

Continue Article at Preservation Alliance of Minnesota

A Simple Victorian Being Restored

Saturday, July 11th, 2009

I have driven by this house quite often in Saint Paul over the last year. It was a multi-unit building up for sale, and being a Realtor, I have watched its progress on the market. Finally, in April, the home sold at a very cheap price. It has always been my suspicion that the original siding was still on the home.

Yesterday I drove by the home to find an exciting site. The new owners are in the process of restoring this simple, but soon to be beautiful Victorian. I love it when the original trim work and decoration lays hidden because it gives the restorer the design template often destroyed as historic homes fall into neglect. It also quite often offers clues on the original porch design, as you can tell by color variations on the wood where the porch roof line fell. Below is a photo of what they have uncovered for decorative trim.

Hopefully within the next year, we will see a final product, and another old home thankfully saved!

Historic Fort Snelling Buildings Might Get a Face Lift

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

For those of you who read my blog, you know I focus on more than just historic homes. I like to feature churches and buildings,too, and anything with historic significance. Today I read that the Upper Post buildings at Fort Snelling could be getting funds to fix a few buildings sorely in need of repair.

“On Tuesday, the Hennepin County board accepted $500,000 in state grant money to provide emergency stabilization for two buildings on the Upper Post. Then the board approved seeking $6.75 million in federal stimulus money to restore the Post Headquarters building and the officers’ quarters building.”

If this goes through, it will be a great addition to the fort. As some of you know, the Upper Post was declared one of the most endangered sites in the US three years ago. If you want to learn more about Fort Snelling and the Upper Post, please visit the following sites:

Friends of Fort Snelling:

Upper Post Website:

When Bad Things Happen to Good Houses

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

I don’t know what is going on with this old home, but it looks like a travesty is happening to the front porch. Not to mention the fact the new windows just don’t look right. Trying to turn it into a Tudor? I couldn’t find any original photos of the home, which is in Winona, so I am really curious of what this home looked like, as it was built somewhere around the 1890’s.

But this is a prime example of renovation gone a muck. Too many times I see people with the best intentions, try and tackle a historic home, only to destroy everything historic about it. Some people even go inside the home and rip out all the original woodwork, trim, doors, etc, just to make the home “brand new”.

Case in point, a home on Dupont Avenue in Minneapolis fell to such a fate last year, when a young “investor” went into a Minneapolis Tudor style bungalow and ripped out everything. And by everything, I mean the original built in buffet, handcrafted pillars and bookcases, all the trim and doors….he took the home down to the studs and threw the rest into a dumpster. Neighbors told me they were shocked to see all the historic elements laying in the trash…some even went into the dumpster to salvage out what they could. The investor added a second story and completely changed the exterior facade of the home (so now it looks silly in a neighborhood of one story bungalows). I guess fate is not without a sense of irony, as the payback for the sacrilege was the “flipper” going into foreclosure. Sadly, now a new investor must finish the home and make it as good as he can.

The fact is, bad things do happen to good houses. The only thing we can do to stop it is to watch what is going on and make our objections known. It is our responsibility as neighbors and historic preservationists to stop the destruction our historic treasures here in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, and save what we can. Contact the Historic Preservation Committees and Groups if you have questions at some of the links I have provided on this website.

Selling a Historic Home that Needs Repairs

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of viewing a historic home that was going up for sale. It was in need of a lot of work, as many 150 year old homes are, but the home owner was asking way too much for the home. The kitchen had carpet for flooring and was in terrible shape. The plaster walls were cracked and coming apart, ceilings had water damage, and the bathrooms were a 100 year old disaster.

As I walked through the rooms, my rehabber eyes caught many things wrong with the home. The home owner and I sat down to discuss my thoughts on a list price, and if there was anything that could be done to make the home look better. My motto is complete honesty, and I asked how honest they wanted me to be. Of course, the answer is always, complete honesty, even when sometimes, that might not be the case.

I told the owner that if they really wanted to sell the home, that their price must reflect the repairs and updating that will have to be completed by the future owner. I could easily see $100,000 going into the home, as the kitchen and two bathrooms would be total guts. The house needed a lot of work. The response I received was mixed as the seller was having a hard time stomaching my suggested list price. They had the home on the market a year before, during the boom, and now I was telling them a price $300,000 less than what they had originally listed the home for with a previous Realtor.

They had two options:

  1. Sell at a lower price which reflects the condition of the home.
  2. Put some money into the home, fix it up, and then sell for a higher price.

Luckily, they had 100% equity in the home and had the option of pulling some money out to fix the place up. The home is now on the market, with another Realtor. (you can’t win them all) I plan on going by the home to see just how much they fixed it up, as it will be interesting to see if the home sells quicker, or languishes on the market at the higher price.

My main point is that when listing a historic home, you really have to look at the homes condition when coming up with a price. While the home might have a prime location, buyers will discount the list price according to what repairs will need to be completed upon purchase.

Do You Own a Money Pit? Part 2

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

It could be if you purchase a historic home without doing your homework first. This post is a follow on to my first post Do You Own a Money Pit, which featured the exterior problems to look for in your Minneapolis historic home purchase.

Remember Tom Hanks in the “Money Pit” and all the neat discoveries they found in the inside of the home? I specifically like the staircase problem and the tub falling through the ceiling. It was funny, right? Well, it is, until it happens to you. Here’s some advice on what to look for should you be thinking of buying an older home.

The house in these photos was a historic home we owned and planned on moving into upon completion. It started out great. Projects were going well, until a major Category 4 Hurricane hit. After that, it became a huge money pit. So my advice comes from first hand knowledge on this project and a couple others we have done as well.

So a couple things to look for on the Interior should be:

  • Water Stains – stains can be found most commonly in these two places, ceilings and floors. Ceilings usually indicate a leaky roof and that the whole ceiling will need to be replaced. Floors mean either the ceiling has leaked so much onto the floor that now the floor is warped, or that a pipe from a bathroom, water heater, or kitchen is broken. If a pipe is broken, it could mean tearing out the walls to find the source, and if you don’t find it right away, the cost to find it adds up and up and up.
  • Slopping Floors – walk into the home and take a good look at the floors. You will be able to see slopes easily by looking at the baseboards and the floors relation to them. Walk on them and you can tell if you go downhill. Start thinking of foundation problems, or settling issues. We have even seen supporting beams cut to put a pipe through, thus causing floors to sag under the unsupported weight.
  • Charred Attic Trusses – many historic homes used coal fireplaces instead of wood. The burning embers would sometimes leak through chimney mortar and cause attic fires. In the home above, during the inspection we found a 2200 square foot third level was completely charred. The good news was that by speaking with neighbors, the fire had been 60 years before and the wood was so thick that the fire barely affected the structural integrity. You might not be so lucky and find the damage was so great that the entire truss structure must be replaced.
  • Original Plumbing & Wiring – if the home still has cast iron pipes and the original electrical system, then you are in for a huge cost to replace these items. But to do a project right and to keep the old wiring from burning the house down, they really need to be replaced. For a 4000 square foot home, it might cost you $15,000 for the electrical and another $15,000 for the plumbing, and that is just to install it. It doesn’t include building the bathrooms, or installing fixtures.
  • Wall and Trim Paint – take a good look at the paint on trim and determine how thick it is. Over the last hundred years there is no telling how many coats have been applied and how much of it is lead based paint. Lead based paint is a health hazard if ingested, especially by young children. It is best to get rid of all paint in the home through stripping (a timely & costly process). But once the original wood is revealed, sanded, and stained, the value of the home has greatly increased in the eye’s of a buyer.
  • Cracks in the Walls – if you see alot of cracks in the walls, beware! Most likely the walls are the original plaster and have been taped repeatedly over the years. As soon as you go to hang a picture with a nail, the “walls will come tumbling down”. Replacing the plaster is expensive as most likely you will have to use thicker Sheetrock and account for the higher ceilings. Sometimes the cracks are also a sign of settling issues or structural problems. Best to have a contractor take a look at it to assess any problems.
  • Cracked Windows, Rotten Sashes, Broken Pulleys – if the original windows are still in the home, make sure to open each window. Check for rotten wood around the frame and on the sashes and cracked windows. If the window won’t open, chances are the rope pulleys are broken and need to be repaired. See the costs starting to add up?
  • Non-original Additions to Home – additions can add much needed square feet, but they can also take away from the original design of the home. The top photo shows an area to the right with new exterior siding. This is where an addition was added to the home in the 60’s to add a kitchen and studio (we converted it back from 5 units to single family). We had to remove this part which cost $10,000. After the demolition we found all kinds of rotting beams and shady construction, so beware the possible problems hiding behind an addition. We found a supporting beam under the home was completely eaten through by termites, something that would not have been found had we not removed the addition.

    This post just covers some of the interior parts of a historic home that you should pay attention to if planning on purchasing in the future. There is no telling what you will find when you buy historic real estate in Minneapolis or St Paul, so do your homework. Get a home inspector that specialized in older homes to thoroughly look over the inside with a fine tooth comb or you might be making your own “Money Pit” movie.

    Historic Preservation Commissions

    Tuesday, March 11th, 2008

    No one likes the government telling them how their home should look, but when it comes to historic homes, many neighbors applaud when the government intervenes. For decades, historic areas have been establishing committees to be watch dogs of historic districts. Here in Minnesota, they are called Historic Preservation Commissions. In other states they are called Architectural Review Boards.

    In Florida, where we renovated a 110 year old Queen Anne Victorian, we had to go up in front of a tribunal called the Architectural Review Board. Let’s just say, if the home is historic, than any renovations have to keep in the spirit of the home. They are ten times more strict than any commission here in the Twin Cities. Take for instance the 22 original wood windows in the home. Here in the Twin Cities, people can replace their homes with vinyl windows. In Florida, vinyl is not an option. The only thing we could do was replace with wood windows, which by the way, you cannot find at Lowe’s. We had to have Pella windows custom make all the windows, especially the 9′ floor to ceiling windows. Needless to say, they were not cheap.

    Historic Preservation Commissions are a good thing. They allow for some or alot of design control, but how far their reach stretches, depends on the details in the local ordinances. Those that make the laws determine how “historic” a home must remain. Many times, the judgements passed by the HPC can be non-binding, with final approval given by the city. Other times the HPC holds the final say. It all depends on where you live and the local ordinances.

    To learn more about local commissions, visit the following websites:

    Saint Paul Heritage Preservation Commission

    Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission

    Stillwater Heritage Preservation Commission