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Sparta Home Restoration
Credit: Hector Manuel Sanchez

"As we say in preservation, once something is lost, it's lost forever," says Mark McDonald, president and CEO of The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation. "Building a replica doesn't bring back the sensory part of the experience—the aged wood, the floorboards that have been walked on for hundreds of years, the tiny fingernail gouges in the handrails. It's a wasted opportunity not to preserve all of it." In an effort to save the Sparta community, The Georgia Trust has been buying neglected houses and reselling them cheaply to buyers who promise to restore them, live in them, and maintain them. Here are some important things to consider before you commit to reviving an old home.

Sparta Home & Garden in 1972
| Credit: Courtesy of Robert and Suzanne Currey

Courtesy of Robert and Suzanne Currey

Do Your Research

Learn a few architecture and construction basics before you put on a tool belt. Two resources that McDonald suggests are the Old House Journal, which he says historic-home do-it-yourselfers swear by, and A Field Guide to American Houses by Virginia Savage McAlester.

Talk to Some Experts

McDonald says that organizations like The Georgia Trust can point you to key properties and also explain the tax cuts, grants, and associated financial aspects of taking on a preservation project. "We provide this crucial information to buyers and the general public every day," he says.

Be Financially Realistic

While there are alluring tax credits and some mind-blowing bargains to be had in smaller towns, McDonald points out that buyers should continue to think about their purchase carefully as an investment. "You have to consider the economic realities of the real estate market," he explains. "You don't want to invest more in a building than it might be worth after the project is finished." Additionally, construction costs can vary widely by location, and prices can also increase significantly near larger cities.

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Pace Yourself

According to McDonald, an average restoration takes about two years to complete. "We give buyers a chronology of how they should approach the building: from what they should do first to what they should do last," he says. That way, steps like interior repairs aren't made before there's even a new roof.