Good Bones

Good Bones

The reality behind renovations

Words by Ashley Locke

HGTV has been inspiring viewers with jaw-dropping home renovations for years, and the pandemic gave many a chance to try their hand. According to Fast Company, Americans spent 15 percent more on home renovation projects during 2020, right alongside the housing market boom. And the house hunting hasn’t seemed to slow down yet.

Rather than purchase new construction, many buyers find older homes appealing. They’re often a little cheaper than their newer counterparts—and ready for renovating. But what may first come off as character can easily turn into a concern. So, how do you tell the difference between a fun fixer-upper and a money pit? To learn what to look for, we chatted with Adam Wayne, the Vice President of Business Development at Trace Ventures, a design-build firm in Nashville that specializes in remodeling. 

What you need to know…

  • It is more expensive on a per-square-foot basis to remodel an older home, but the overall cost is lower.
  • Instead of starting with a blank slate, you’re going to be working within a certain set of parameters—matching old systems to new systems.
  • There’s a misconception on HGTV of cost and time—the shows skip from finding a home to designing to construction to completion and make it seem like it all happened within a month. In reality it can take six months.

Old home red flags…

  • Cracks in the foundation or exterior brick
  • Structural floor joists in the crawl space
  • Moisture or water in the crawl space
  • Water pooling around the foundation
  • Staining on the ceiling
  • Shingles pulling up on the roof
  • Asbestos or other hazardous materials in homes built before 1980
  • Flickering lights or faulty wiring

Quick tip: When it comes to renovating, be careful about what you DIY. If it’s cosmetic (and you’re at least semi-handy), you may be able to do it on your own. If it’s a repair, always hire a professional.


Trace Ventures was founded in 1991 as a high-end remodeling firm. In the last six years, it has expanded to include new construction and commercial work. You can follow along with its projects at @traceventures on Instagram.