Thinking Of Renovating A Historic Charleston Home? Here Are 5 Tips From An Expert

Grand Home

Charleston is a city famous for old houses, but renovating one shouldn’t be undertaken by the faint of heart.

Full-scale renovations are costly, time-consuming and subject to complicated and stringent rules but incredibly rewarding for those who have the time and the means.

Mark Regalbuto, a local builder and the owner of Renew Urban Charleston, was hired by the Edwards family to lead the renovation of the Hasell Street home featured on “This Old House.” He has been in the game for about 10 years and currently has a dozen residential and commercial renovations in the works.

His tips include:

1. Learn and accept the process

People must be patient and willing to participate in what Regalbuto calls “the dance.”

First, see if the home is under the purview of the city’s Board of Architectural Review. (This flowchart and map is helpful). Affected homeowners must understand the city’s renovation rules and have their plans approved by the BAR.

Neighborhood and preservation groups, including the Preservation Society of Charleston, often weigh in, so it can be good to reach out to them early.

“Everybody has a say-so,” Regalbuto said.

2. Love thy neighbors

Most of Charleston’s historic houses are very close to each other, making neighborly courtesy crucial.

During the Hasell Street renovation, the only way the construction crew could make necessary repairs to the roof was to access it from the neighbor’s driveway.

Regalbuto recommended homeowners talk to neighbors before purchasing an old house.

3. Find a good architect

The best assurance homeowners have to successfully navigate the process is to find an experienced architect, Regalbuto said.

Architects experienced working with the BAR, neighborhood and preservation groups will know quickly what will fly. Good architects also can help navigate the permitting process. Permit fees vary from $300 for a total renovation budget of $500,000 to $30 for a paint color change.

4. Build what you promised to

The city must review and OK each of the planned repairs. Deviating from approved plans can be costly and stressful.

Even the best builders will encounter roadblocks during construction. That’s understandable, but it’s up to homeowners to ensure any changes are communicated to the city and reflected on their plans.

5. Budget for unknowns

It’s common for homeowners to go over-budget during a renovation. The need for certain repairs often can’t be known until a wall or floor is opened up.

Regalbuto has friends who have lost clients mid-construction because they ran out of money.

“Right now we have a confluence of high real estate prices and very high construction costs,” he said. “It’s a tall hill.”