Buy an old houseYou have decided that you want to buy a historic bungalow. Not surprising! They are America’s favorite house & are highly suited for anyone who values comfort, history & fellowship.

Bungalow neighborhoods tend to be friendly & inclusive, attracting creatives, academics, singles & families of all shapes & sizes. This will benefit you in the buying process.

I am going to assume that you have already decided in which area of the U.S. you want to live. You are focusing on a specific, locale & need to choose a house, a neighborhood & perhaps a city.

Since this article is a how-to, I’m going to write it in sequential order. Just in my head it’s longer than I usually prefer, but buying a house is a huge investment financially & emotionally so I am reluctant to omit anything.


1. Save your pennies so you have a nice stash for a down payment, any needed repairs & a little left over to keep the stress at bay.

2. Clean up your credit. The higher your score is, the faster & easier it will be to obtain a mortgage loan. A high score can lower your interest rate. Loans are all about trust. The less risky you appear, the more they want to give you $$$. This is a good article by a credit reporting company that might help you.

It’s also a good idea to learn to live within your means & may just be the incentive you need to do something about raising your income &/or relying less on that credit card.

3. What is your budget? When you are buying an old house your budget may need to include restoration funds. You also must consider the cost of insurance, which can be more difficult & pricier to obtain on an old house & as with any house, taxes. Some states have tax breaks for certain historic properties so this is something that you will want to research.

Many old houses come with old trees which can be expensive to maintain or remove. You need to figure this expense into your planned budget & you should consider getting an evaluation from a certified arborist as part of your inspection contingency.

4. Get pre-approved by a lender. I’m going to let the experts tell you what you need to know. (I am neither recommending this company nor am I not recommending them. I just thought that what they have to say is informative.)

5. Are you wanting a turn-key property or do you envision yourself rescuing a house from the ravages of time?

Should your choice be turn-key you need to be aware that a clever flipper can make the worst house look all shiny & new. In many states, if someone has not resided in a house, they have no obligation to disclose any defects.

A warning- falling in love with a house can make you abandon all plans & good sense. There is nothing more likely to turn a mild-mannered homebuyer into a knight in shining armor more than walking into a distressed old house & deciding that it’s HOME. I think that this is a good time to suggest that you read my article which helps you sort out what type of house will actually make you the happiest before you go looking to buy a historic bungalow.

6. Find a qualified home inspector. Usually the home inspector is secured during the frantic time between getting a signed contract & closing. Please line up a home inspector who knows old houses before you need one.

Understand what the general inspection will & will not tell you. Read my article on home inspections here & watch my curated videos on inspections here. The videos walk you through several inspections so that you can understand what you can expect from a general inspection & how you can benefit the most from it.

How do you find a qualified, old house inspector?

Bungalow Heaven Pasadena home tour7. You will probably narrow down a couple of neighborhoods that seem attractive to you. Most of these old neighborhoods have neighborhood associations (not homeowners’ associations. These are voluntary & focus on building strong communities.) Google the neighborhoods & look for upcoming association activities. You can attend these events & let people that you meet know that you are looking for a house in their neighborhood. They will welcome you warmly!

These get-togethers provide a good opportunity to inquire about local Realtors. You want to research any names that you get & also look for them in online listings in the neighborhood (including sold properties.) If they are trusted by the locals, they will usually have a nice inventory.

You can have meet’n’greets with these preferred Realtors by asking them to show you properties. From these encounters, you can see what kind of service they deliver & whether or not you mesh with them.

Check out their reviews online. Are the attributes that are mentioned important to you?

8. At the meetings you can also ask people for inspector recommendations. (Honest, these old house folks live to talk about their houses.) Check out the reviews of recommended inspectors & interview a couple of them. You want someone that you can trust for their competence, service & integrity. Yes, the Realtor who represents you will recommend inspectors too & you can just add them to the list. But ask before you are under contract.

9. Many cities have historic preservation advocacy groups. They can usually refer you to Realtors, home inspectors & tradespeople. My list is woefully incomplete but you can get an idea of what they do.

10. KNOW THIS! When you set out to buy a historic bungalow, there is no one house for you. You do not need to feel that you must have any one house or your life is ruined. Before I found the Hare House, I had my heart set on another wonderful bungalow that had a fraction of the character & many more issues. It was newly under contract & I was very, very, very hopeful that the deal would fall through. My Realtor pressed me to keep looking & I found my beautiful 1910 Craftsman & instantly forgot about the other one & wrote an offer on the hood of her car.


I saved the best for last. Get yourself educated on old houses. Yes, I am biased, but I recommend that you read my blog from cover to cover, click all the external links (then come back!) watch all the videos that I have curated just for you, study my Pinterest page & read all the books I recommend.


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OLD HOUSE RESTORATION VIDEOS-Home Inspections on Old Houses

OLD HOUSE RESTORATION VIDEOS-Home Inspections on Old Houses

Old house inspectionsI hang out on many old house group boards & read many stories of homebuyers whose inspections failed to find & report major issues. Most of the time, the homebuyer didn’t really know what things an inspection is designed to find, or, how to ensure that they receive best, most informative one.

Home inspections on old houses have some similarities with inspections on newer houses, but there are definitely some areas of concern that are not found in new homes. An inspector with experience in both will understand & appreciate these differences. He especially needs to be aware of what factors that can be present that will destroy a house & with it, your peace of mind & your bank account.

In these videos several inspectors explain the basic purpose & process & then there are a couple that address common issues to which great attention should be paid because they are unsafe, expensive to repair or both.


9 Home Inspection Tips For Buyers (7:51)
Win The House You Love

Some great advice on how to approach a home inspection.

Home inspections for first-time home buyers (12:58)
Structure Tech Home Inspection

Some great information here, even if you’re not a first-time buyer!

First Time Home Buyer HOME INSPECTION Mistakes | 10 Mistakes First Time Home Buyers Make (15:29)
Matt Leighton

Again, NOT for only the first-time buyer!


What To Look For During A Historical Home Inspection (18:21)
Galloway Building Services

A overview of home inspections on old houses.

Performing a Home Inspection on an Historic Home (1:14:16)
InterNACHI’s (International Association of Certified Home Inspectors) Ben Gromicko

A very thorough look at a 100 year old house.

Check out the article on home inspections, written by an experienced inspector here.

Old typewriter


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Historic house for saleLife changes can interrupt the most heart-felt, best laid plans. A marriage, a divorce, a new baby, a job transfer, a lay-off, a family member in need of care, any one of these things can profoundly affect your circumstances.

So, after much soul-searching & considering options, it’s time to be selling your historic house, the one that was going to be your forever home. You want to ensure that it doesn’t end up in the hands of a flipper, (with my pardon to those who maintain & preserve historic features. You know that you are rare!) or the victim of someone who thinks that the plot of land on which your precious bungalow sits would be a prime spot for a marble clad McMansion.

So, how do you attract the right buyer when selling your historic house?


Let’s pause to consider what your ideal buyer might look like.

1. They love all aspects of old houses.
2. They love old neighborhoods.
3. They understand that old neighborhoods have the potential to transition.
4. They are financially qualified to be able to easily get a mortgage.
5. Your home’s location is convenient for them.
6. Your home’s size & layout will suit their needs.
7. They have sufficient resources to deal with the issues that can be found in an old house.

So, how do you attract this buyer?

Another numbered list:

Lo-o-o-ong before you make this decision-

bungalow the ultimate arts and crafts home1. Research the history of your house & neighborhood. Dig deep. In our disconnected world, people are searching for connections. You want to make the builders & former owners of your home real & lovable. Read my article on researching your home’s history.  It should provide you with the information you need to flesh out the cast of characters & bring them to life.

When the time comes, you will have an abundance of material to display in a beautifully arranged notebook with your other marketing materials. You might want to frame any images you find in period frames & hang them in a group. They’re your house’s family!

2. Collect a library of information on homes of your period. Study these materials while you live there. Display them with your other sales materials. You might want to include them as a gift to the new homeowners.

3. Learn basic principles of historic preservation so that you make the right choices. The general public is becoming more & more aware of preservation. They may not share your love of purple, but the right buyer will understand why you didn’t open up the kitchen.

4. Create an organized list of your service providers with all pertinent facts- contact info, pricing, skills, caveats.

5. Create a dedicated file for all repairs & improvements as you go along. I keep a “House Box” with all my receipts, service contracts, etc. Also keep a warrantee/instructions file for all appliances & systems in the box.

These will be included in your sales display.

Historic house marker6. Here’s a biggy. Most municipalities have historically designated houses. With all the research that you have done, you probably have sufficient information to apply for & be granted such a designation, at the local, state or even national level. This designation can go far in protecting your house, at least its exterior. There is nothing cannot be challenged in a court of law, but generally this designation will chase people away who want to seriously maul your house.

When I sold the Hare House, I made much of the fact that it was designated, in all its marketing. Most of the potential buyers who came to view it were very eager to own an important house, but I can remember showing it to a woman one day who slid in expressing her enthusiasm that it was on 1 1/2 lots. I don’t know what architectural mayhem she was envisioning but I happily pointed out its historic status. When she asked what that meant I cheerfully said, “The City of Los Angeles regulates all construction & maintenance. They fully control everything, but you pay for it.”

She didn’t make it past the entryway.

Historic documentary7. Connect with your neighborhood group. Older neighborhoods tend to have strong neighborhood associations. You will make good friends & learn much about the history of your area.

My participation in my neighborhood association allowed me to produce a historic documentary film about its origins. Its premier to a sell-out crowd at Tampa Theatre, one of America’s most elaborate movie palaces was the outstanding achievement of my preservation life.

In these groups, you will connect with local Realtors. If & when the time comes to put your house on the market, you want to know these folks well. I had a bit of a prickly personal relationship with the Realtor who sold the Hare House but I knew that she was the most knowledgeable, competent & connected & I didn’t think twice about hiring her. I was dazzled by her every move. Thanks to her large mailing list, the open house was flooded with old house loving people. Thanks to her connections, by the time of the open we already had offers. She had a great relationship with the agent of the buyer I liked the best & the whole transaction was astonishingly smooth.

I also recommend taking an active role in one of these groups. You can leave your neighborhood better than you found it.

7. Support local businesses. They are part of your community. Many of them are your neighbors. When the time comes, contact them about your house sale. They may have customers who like your area & would love to live there. Several in my neighborhood allowed me to display my sales fliers on their counters.


Yes, this is a really long article. I have spent a week writing & re-writing it to make it concise but selling your historic house to the right buyer takes some planning & some work. Stick with me.


IF YOU HAVE NO $$$$ (Hey, it’s happened to all of us.)

Bedroom-in-Arts-&-Crafts-house1. De-clutter. Yard sale or donate anything that you do not need. Just get rid of it! This includes furniture.

2. Put away everything that’s left that you do not need to function daily. If you have a place to stash extraneous furniture items, stash them.

3. Leave out only the decorative items that truly enhance/complement the house. I have old family photos that I framed in period frames. These stayed & got many positive comments.

4. Free up storage as much as possible. If you look like you’re overflowing, it will read as being not enough storage for their stuff. This includes attic, basement, garage, kitchen- any place anything can be stashed. I know this conflicts with item 2. I have no solution to this, but better stashed in storage than in the house.

5. Clean the house from top to bottom. Use natural, unscented products. I clean everything in my house with white vinegar, full-strength in the bathroom & mixed with water elsewhere. (Make sure that you have good ventilation. It’s pretty acidic.)

Hit the walls where there are smudges, doors & door frames, & get behind any furniture that you can. And, yes, wash the dang windows!

Wash or shake out curtains & draperies. Vacuum the blinds.

Clean the kitchen so that anyone would feel comfortable eating off of any surface. Ditto the bathroom.

6. Rent a carpet shampooer & clean those carpets. Use unscented products.

Baking soda to clean a historic house7. Wash your sheets & mattress covers & your pillows if they are washable. Again, skip the scented products. I wash with baking soda, letting stinkier loads soak. I do not use fabric softener. It is made with cheap, petroleum-based ingredients & fragrance & is very unhealthful.  Now’s maybe a good time to ditch it forever.

You want your house to look & smell fresh, fresh, fresh. Many people have (or wish to avoid) chemical sensitivities so skip the air fresheners. You don’t want to trigger an asthma attack in a prospective buyer!

It’s a spring cleaning on steroids!

8. Open your windows & turn on fans as much as you can. We’re going for fresh. (Remember?)

9. Clean litter boxes & keep them clean.

10. Tidy your lawn & gardens. This includes vehicles, yard equipment. Now’s a good time to sell or donate any that you do not use.


All of the above, plus,
1. Paint your interior, especially the kitchen & the bathrooms. Use lighter tone, period appropriate colors. None of the people who bought my houses repainted.

2. Ditto your exterior. Again, period colors.

3. Refinish your floors if they need it.

4. Install seasonal flowers in bloom. I stayed up until 2 AM sticking fall flowers along my sidewalk the night before Jane & Linda came to photo my house for BUNGALOW: THE ULTIMATE ARTS & CRAFTS HOME, 2 days before my open. Yes, I was fried!


Magnifying glass contracr 1. Understand the market for your price point in your area. Right now, inventory is very low so although interest rates are high, the shortage of houses is acute, raising the value of those available.

2. Do your own comp’s.
A. Look at properties near you online. See what is selling & what has recently sold. This will help you have realistic expectations.
B. If you can hit some open houses, or visit some houses for sale in your area, so much the better.

3. Understand your listing contract. It is a legal, binding contract with your Realtor. She may be the sister of your beloved dog groomer but it is not a casual relationship. Work everything out before you sign & definitely before you’re in negotiations with a buyer.

My Realtor understood that I was not going to choose the highest offer, I was going to choose the best steward. This agreement was in the listing contract because it could dip into her commission.

4. Get a home inspection if you can afford it so that you will have no surprises.

DISCLOSE EVERYTHING! Nothing will dampen the enthusiasm of even the most ardent buyer than feeling like they are being lied to. My inspection from when I purchased the house was there on the table with my current inspection. I disclosed that my inspector was my cousin & the buyer’s Realtor was fine with it. Cuz had such a great reputation that there was nobody else to refer!


Cutting leaves for historic house sale1. 11” X 17” paper costs about a nickel a sheet. Doing a 4 page flier in a foldover instead of the standard 2 back & front, sets you apart from the crowd & allows you to really tell your bungalow’s story. Here are some things you could include:

A photo & a description of the features of the interior & exterior.
Information about the style of the house.
A concise history of the house.
A list of updates such as plumbing, electrical, HVAC, new paint, landscaping.
A diagram of the layout.
Information about the neighborhood, its history, amenities & character.

2. There are several sites online that promote old houses for sale. If your Realtor will cover the cost, that’s wonderful but even if she doesn’t, I think it’s worth the expenditure to this targeted market.


NO $$$
1. Keep vases full of fresh cut flowers & or greens. I would skip the artificial ones. If you don’t have anything growing in your yard, ask your neighbors. It’s in their best interest for your house to sell at high value. Keep the water & foliage fresh every day.

2. Keep the entire property spotless. Repeat the BEFORE steps as needed.

3. Keep it fresh. Forget the liver, Brussel sprouts & fish. Unless you live on cinnamon toast & chocolate chip cookies, get even the more mild food smells out fast.

4. Keep kitty’s box clean.

5. Do not use air fresheners. They are just as toxic as fabric softener.

6. Make all the beds every day.

7. Make sure that your towels are fresh every day.

1. Keep cleaning & refreshing.

2. Fill the house full of cut flowers. If they can come from your garden, so much the better. I make large arrangements that are half bought flowers & half greens from the garden. Change the water often & keep the flowers fresh, replacing as needed.

Fresh. Yep, I said it 25 times & I’ll say it again. FRESH!!!!!!!!!


1. Ensure your Realtor is going to promote your bungalow on every line that she has. My open was so full of people that we could hardly make it out the door. People were taking turns to see our beautiful bathroom. It was a total party! And it generated 5 offers.

2. Create your display table with the brochures, the history notebook, the home inspection, the reference books tided in a big red bow, (It’s a gift!) any materials about the neighborhood. Maybe tuck your house box under the table for easy access. My Tampa house had been featured in American Bungalow magazine & I purchased a book stand & propped a copy of the mag open to its full page spread.

3. Request that your Realtor place signs up on every major street & if you’re a long way from busier streets, she needs additional signs that guide people to your house.

4. Contact all your friends & invite them to come.

5. This is the day to have new, fresh flowers out.

6. If it’s a hot day, provide tiny, chilled bottles of water for all visitors.

7. Have soft music playing. I prefer classical.

8. Have as many windows open as you can, depending on the weather.

9. Turn on all the lights.

10. Follow your Realtors guidance.


I am hoping that if you take these steps, you will attract such a flow of qualified buyers that you will be able to take your pick. The woman I chose for the Hare House called me for advice before making any changes & she even flew Jane Powell down from Oakland to consult on the kitchen restoration.

I wish you the best. I also request that you send me any tips that I may have omitted.

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If you want to have a successful bungalow restoration, you need to take a hard look at your own goals, your own tolerances, your own proclivities, way before you even start looking for your dream house. Too often people fall in love with a house & as much as it is true that love is blind in human relationships, so it is with old houses. The wraparound porch, those beautiful old, wavy glass windows, those stone columns- they will hypnotize you as quickly & as thoroughly as any handsome, smoothing talkin’ man, who turns out to have wives & kids in 3 states.

I tend to be a starry-eyed idealist, tempered by 40 years of running a construction business & restoring 5 old houses in different stages of disrepair. What this means is that I dream big, but I always have a plan. That doesn’t mean that I never jump off a cliff & build my wings on the way down (Ray Bradberry gets credit for that one) but in the main, I protect my heart by carefully evaluating what I want & what I need to have to get it. Especially when it comes to money & believe you me, old houses love money!

Following my advice will mean that you may choose to walk away from many projects into which you would have blithely leaped. So, some houses might not get saved. On the other hand, if you do follow my quaint words of wisdom, you are more likely to succeed & maybe do 2 or 3 more down the road. (Though you will feel like a horrible person for turning your back on a house that is crying out for help. Just know that upfront.)

Many of you are in the middle of bungalow restorations now. I have some ideas in my article, WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE OF RESTORING AN OLD HOUSE? that might help. I am not a construction consultant, just an old lady who knows some stuff, so evaluate my words & see if they apply to you.

This is a large subject & I’m going to break it down as much as possible. Off we go!


1. I beg you to consider whether restoring old houses is the passion you most want to stoke. Make sure that restoring a historic bungalow aligns with your basic life goals before it takes over your life- because it will. There is every chance that it will cause you to skip getting your teeth cleaned “just this once,” forget your husband’s birthday, miss a ballet recital or 2, & run up that credit card that you stashed 5 years ago for emergencies only & it will cause you to lose many nights of sleep. Guaranteed.

So why would you decide to do it anyway? Because like the singer who must sing, the artist who must paint or the musician who must play- you HAVE TO. Restoring & advocating for old houses is how I communicate with the world. If I were to have to swear off the reno’s, or step off my soapbox, my soul would be muted. I would wither & & die. Not really. I’d probably just gain 50 lbs. & whine a lot! No one within miles of me would be happy.

Do you have this crazy passion like I do?

2. Will you enjoy the process? Kurt Vonnegut, in a letter to high school students, wrote, “Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, [including restoring old houses] no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.”

Depending on the condition of the house that you buy & what your dreams are for it, the tunnel may stretch for several miles before you see even a flicker of light, any money or fame, or even a room in which you can sit & read a book without having to wear PPE. If you cannot love the journey, every step can be painful. It’s hard to be a good cook if you don’t enjoy chopping the veggies. (I hate it.) You might as well skip the garden if you don’t enjoy the weeding. (I love it.)

I enjoy most everything about the construction process. Rolling out the plans with the architect, trotting down to City Planning to submit them for approval makes my soul grow.  There’s something to me that feels right about looking at a pile of materials in the garage & anticipating the arrival of the carpenter

No, I don’t like having no kitchen for a couple months or walking in after a brief absence to see that the tile was installed in a very weird pattern around the sink, but all in all, I enjoy the process as much as I enjoy the final product. And it’s a good test of what’s inside of me.

3. How much mental stress do you want/tolerate? Do you like to live a quiet life with few surprises? I personally don’t recommend it, but I know that I have a certain tolerance for random crap & try not to invite much more than I feel I can deal with. There’s always more than anticipated. These bungalows are o-o-o-old houses. Surprises are part of their very nature.

How mentally nimble are you? If black suddenly becomes white, can you quickly rearrange your thinking? Can you look at what is really there in front of you without flinching (Taking the afternoon off to get used to it is ok!)

4. Can you tolerate having to tell people what to do? Can you correct them & tell them to do it again? Can you admit to yourself & someone else when you’re wrong? The care & handling of tradespeople is a vital skill. Sign up for my newsletter & you’ll get a guide to hiring, but like all other human relationships, it can be bliss & it can be torture.

5. Can you tolerate the scarcities & delays in receiving materials? (Who knows when it will get any better?) Every timetable that you have worked out is probably going to crumble.

6. How well organized & intelligently planned do you tend to be? Can you keep order when on any one day, you may be speaking with 5 tradespeople on the jobsite, 3 on the phone while sorting out a jumble of 20 receipts.

Strangely enough, planning & being nimble go together. The better planned you are the more easily you can hop from Plan A to Plan B because its already sitting there for you. You don’t have to scramble for it. For example: Do you have a place to live if a sudden situation requires it? Can you round up the clan & get everyone out of there with no notice because you have gotten your evacuation ducks in a row?

7. Do you have the physical strength to trot around a jobsite in the pounding rain, brutal heat or freezing snow? Can you tolerate the chemicals that you might encounter on the site? How about the dust, the mold, the toxic materials used in old houses? Are you willing to research what you need to do to keep yourself & your family safe? (Here are some helpful videos if the answer is yes.)

Can you navigate around work & materials? If you’re living in the house, can you deal physically with the noise & fumes & the constant messes? Can you keep yourself & your family safe?

8. Some people see money as it is, something that you can exchange for something that you want to have. Some see it as a scarce commodity, anxiously monitoring every penny in, every penny out.

Money is going to be flying around like leaves in the wind in any restoration. There are so many unpredictable factors in any project that you need to have a bit of a casual viewpoint about money, or develop one fast.

9. The neighborhood. Many old houses are in old urban neighborhoods that have seen better days & may have more than their fair share of crack houses. I am in awe & admiration of the intrepid pioneers who come in despite the blight, despite the crime & bit by bit, turn it into a real neighborhood. Are you ready to be a pioneer?


I am not suggesting that you limit yourself. You are capable of more than you know. You can develop these tolerances as you go.

Learning more about the bungalow, about construction, improving your health- all these things are your feathers with which you can build your wings as you figure out how to soar. And that’s why I’m typing away at this merry blog.

Meanwhile, search your soul. Take honest measure of your passions & your pitfalls. Hearing the grateful thank you of a house saved from neglect or remuddling is a wondrous thing.

I think it might be like holding the baby after 36 hours of delivery. OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And then she looks into your eyes & grabs hold of your finger with her tiny hand. Definitely worth it! But it is imperative to truly know thyself, before you can have a smooth & successful bungalow restoration.

But wait, there’s more to having a successful bungalow restoration! If you have a significant other who will be impacted by your project, read Part 2.


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bungalow in need of restorationSo there you are. Standing in front of a derelict house whose potential charm & beauty just need to be revealed by the loving hand in a successful bungalow restoration. Sounds perfect. Well, let’s take a look at this perfection before you decide that it will be your hand & not so incidentally, your purse & just as importantly, your sanity & your marriage.

There are probably 1,000 articles out there on getting loans, finding a home inspector, but, this step is before that. It’s just after you have decided to KNOW THYSELF.

In my 45 years in the construction industry, I cannot tell you how many times the house went on the market immediately after we completed a large project. The happy couple came to us all excited about the new house/the big addition/the major restoration. We met with them together & grew fond of them as a family. Being the flooring guys, we were always the last ones on the job, & too often by the time we got our final check, the payment was going through a lawyer.

I wanted to address this issue because though our marriage has weathered the storms (Read that- storms of driving rains, back to back lightening flashes & high decibel thunder.) of 5 projects, I have seen reno/building stress tear relationships asunder.

According to a law firm specializing in divorce, these are the 5 most common reasons for a couple to get a divorce. Let’s see how that might apply to bungalow restoration so you can head these off at the pass.


  1. Infidelity

There’s a great deal of opportunity in a restoration for infidelity, which can be defined as “physical or emotional engagement with someone outside a committed relationship.” One partner’s love for the house & passion for the project is often much greater than the other’s leading to an abandonment of previously made agreements, a diminishing of communication & accord. It can cause people to grow apart.

Weekends used to be fun nights out, or cooking with friends, but now one partner is too tired or too obsessed with finding doorknobs & tells the other to just go alone. And out he trots, to be introduced to friends attractive, newly divorced  cousin. She’s easy to talk to & is interested in the same things he is, one of which, notably, is not old house restoration!

  1. Lack of intimacy

Any idea how tired you’re going to be at the end of the day? Work from 9-5. Come home & survey the work that got done during the day while you were gone, make your list of questions & punchlist items, or, pick up the heat gun & strip paint until your eyes cross.

After a lively discussion about said  punchlist items, as seen from your differing viewpoints- he’s firm, she’s more, easy-going- & a shower to get the plaster dust out of your hair. All you want to do is hit the sheets. “Not tonight, honey.”

  1. Communication

What we saw in every one of these marriage failures was the lack of communication from the very start. They each went into the project making assumptions about how the other one thought or felt because they hadn’t discussed the prime issues & 1,000 pieces of miscellaneous minutiae that pop up like weeds in spring, in even the smallest construction project.

Different people have different points of view, different tastes, different ways of handling life. All of these have the potential to blow up during the weeds of a project. My suggestion is that both of you take a look at KNOW THYSELF on your own & then discuss what you find there with your partner. (I know that I already linked it once. I’m being more emphatic this time.)

Just work it all out before you start making decisions, writing checks & finding out that you need new plumbing & foundation repairs & there’s a rat problem. Create a strong team & you will save yourself much $$$, time & heartache.

  1. Speaking of $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

You need to appraise your finances together, taking into account your combined earning power & the whims of the world economy. In other words, what can you really afford, not what can you squeeze out of every possible bank account, retire account, investment, credit card, relative, kids’ piggybanks, etc. How much $$$ have the 2 of you decided that you can afford to throw at this beaten up bungalow before your children start looking gaunt & ragged?

And, do you have such an abundance that it this current inflation of materials continues, can you cover it?

And if you get into this project that seems so simple & straightforward but is actually just a mess held together with termite spit, can you fund that without causing a disruption to your family’s plans?

Bottom line- what priorities as a unit do you place on your money? Is investing time, money, energy & love in a house part of your allover life plan together? If he wants to send the kids to an orthodontist & an Ivy League school & you are fine with crooked teeth & community college, there’s going to be enough discord to make the neighbors start shaking their heads, even if you close all the windows!

5. Addiction

Well, who hasn’t been driven to drink during a restoration project? It’s tempting to see the situation as temporary & get into some ba-a-a-d habits. Perhaps at this point I should suggest my article on becoming discourage because it actually doesn’t suggest that you settle in with a bottle of vino at the end of a hard day. Even together.

I just want to urge you to take a look at your priorities together- time, money, family obligations. Many folks are willing (& able) to sink fortunes into houses that may never hold a great deal of financial value. Are you this person, or do you consider your house to be an investment on which you would prefer to show some return? And as importantly, what does your significant other feel? Get it worked out before your relationship is tried by the fire of a restoration project.



Hire a ContractorOnce upon a time, I was standing in line at a Japanese take-out (great place!) & stepped back when I noticed the grungy guy in front of me. He was wearing a t-shirt that had seen 1,000 better days. It was a bit hiked up in the back, & I could almost see his heinie protruding from his well-worn, baggy jeans. His hair, was long & tied back in a raggedy ponytail.

Imagine my surprise when, after ordering, he turned around to display the twinkliest blue eyes I have ever seen (Yes, that includes Santa.) & the biggest most beautiful smile. He grabbed my husband in a big hug & they both bounced up & down exclaiming their extreme joy at seeing one another.

Turns out that this raggedy guy, who upon further inspection was spotlessly clean & fresh, was an old house contractor for whom my husband often worked. Garrett enjoyed a stellar reputation in Los Angeles & with our company because he consistently delivered beautiful work, & ran his business- scheduling, communication, legal, etc. – meticulously & heartfully. After this fortuitous introduction, he performed a great deal of work for me at the Hare House & I was always happy to see him & glad to pay him. Upon further acquaintance, I learned that he conducted his entire life in this fashion, being an extraordinary husband & a loving, enthusiastic father. I only wish every contractor I met had been even similar to this wonderful man. He was just not a fashion plate!


Maybe not. I wrote the E-book, 7 VITAL Things to Do Before You Hire a Contractor, after reading terrible & sad stories on the Facebook, old house, group blogs. In every single story I could see the exact moment at which the project fell apart, the money got ripped off, the house got ruined, the heart got broken. Looking at my own heartbreaks, I could see the same pesky factors at play.

After 45 years as a specialty contractor (wood floors) & old house restorer (5- here’s the most awful one!) I have seen my share of horrifying surprises, so I decided to write a little book in hopes of making someone else’s path a wee bit smoother.

I established my company based on the firm policy of always exceeding the customer’s wishes & any time I failed to do this, examined every step of the process to find out how I could make it better next time. It’s always easy to cast blame on the other guy, & with any failed job, there is always plenty of blame to go around. However, there was always some piece of it that I had to call my own whether or not it made me highly uncomfortable to do so. And it did.

So I took my experiences on both side of the contract to see if I could create some advice that would be useful to a homeowner when they leap off the cliff & hire an old house contractor.  I’m a big believer in jumping off that cliff & building my wings on the way down, but it helps to at least have a bag of feathers & maybe some chicken wire before giving it all up to gravity.

This article is just to show you the myriad ways you can land in the abyss that it are important to know, especially if you are venturing into restoration for the first time. To get the whole book, I’d love for you to sign up for my mailing list, but mostly, I just want to make sure that you don’t get Bozo’d like I did! So, if you don’t to be on the mailing list, just let me know & I’ll send you the book & disengage you. (But just so’s you know, I send some fun stuff!)



You have purchased a 100 year old (give or take) bungalow. You have your home inspection in your hand & you want to move forward on your restoration. You are not a DIY’er & do not plan to be one. You have a demanding job, perhaps a family & other responsibilities. You’ll need to hire an old house  contractor or contractors, & you’ll be depending on the kindness of strangers to turn your house into a home. So, how do you find the best strangers?

I wrote training manuals for 40 years so I am big on proper sequencing & I loves me a checklist. So here are my suggested steps.

Find out:

  1. What is a bungalow? What are best restoration practices?
  2. What are your own needs?
  3. How do I find good tradespeople in my area?
  4. What else do I need to know about these folks?
    A. Referrals
    B. Reviews
    C. Go legal.

It’s only at this point that you start talking to people.

  1. How do you conduct the first interview? What should you ask? What should you request?
  2. The Proposal- what should it include?
  3. How do I make sure that the restoration is satisfactory?

I go through each one of these steps in detail, in fact, each step is a section with sub-sections! I like to break it up to make it easy to understand & doable. I talk about your goals, your expectations, your money, & the joys of living life on a jobsite. I spend a great deal of time addressing the contract because that’s the basis of all that will transpire.

(That having been said, I am not a lawyer. Neither this article not my little booklet, should be construed as being legal advice. It is friendly direction- my tale of what has & what has not been effective for me. While I’m at it, I will mention that I have done all the steps I suggest & still gotten a crappy project. ‘Tis the human condition but, when I haven’t done it, I have gotten a crappy project 100% of the time!

I have no training beyond what I got in a ballet studio, no credentials, no licenses, no nothin’ in the construction trades nor in law. I have only my experience from which I draw & I can boast of having lost over $50,000 on a single project because the contractor I hired should have been in jail & ended up there soon after I fired him!)

Old typewriter


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