Many homebuyers desire the uniqueness of a vintage house. However, while they dream about living in their little piece of history, they need to keep their eyes wide open to the challenges these homes often present.

“One of the biggest issues with a home of this age is the basement, or lack thereof,” said Lisa Johnson, co-owner of Dependable Renovations in Calgary. The company received broad media coverage last year when they lifted a century-old Calgary house off its original foundation to install a proper basement.

Fortunately, not all older houses require renovations that extreme, but they often have basements that are just a crawl space dug out by hand or an area with very low ceilings and no windows. Though the complete house lift ran close to $500,000, most common renovations are not nearly that expensive. That’s not to say that they’re cheap either.

“One of the biggest issues with a home of this age is the basement, or lack thereof.” – Lisa Johnson, Dependable Renovations co-owner

“Often buyers will be looking at a complete floorplan reconfiguration on the main level to open up the spaces, as houses of that era usually had four or five separate rooms on one floor,” said Johnson. “This is another big job that can run around $100,000 – $120,000.”

A less common, but critical, project with some older homes is asbestos removal. For safety reasons, asbestos must be handled by a professional, licensed abatement company using hazmat suits and proper procedures. Costs on this can range from $2,000 for a limited area to five-figure price tags if all drywall has to be replaced.

Many renovations, though, are less hazardous to both your health and your pocketbook.

“The most common one we find is electrical panels needing to be upgraded to meet current insurance terms,” said Christine Richard, a REALTOR® with Coldwell Banker in Calgary. “If it’s just updating the panels, it should be around $3,500 – $5,000. Insurance companies also dislike galvanized plumbing, so that may need to be addressed as well.”

Then there are the more cosmetic or convenience-related items. Many older homes have no ceiling light fixtures, and these can be installed for $200-$300 for pot lighting or less for more basic fixtures. Flooring and window upgrades are other popular choices for buyers.

By the time you’re done, renovating a century house might not be cheap. However, some might say living in a one-of-a-kind home that’s part of our heritage is all the return on investment you’ll ever need.