Inherited Outbuildings: To Savor and Salvage Before They Become a Money Pit

Many custom built homeowners in the Lake Country area have embarked on renovation or newly constructed home projects on properties with existing outbuildings, such as guest houses, boat houses, sheds or other storage facilities. Typically these “bonus” structures on the property take a back seat until the owner’s dream home is completed. However, existing outbuildings should be assessed sooner rather than later, particularly with older estates that have been acquired, to determine what kind of attention they may need to make them or keep them as a welcome accouterment to the property.

Many former estates in the Lake Country area boast various outbuildings that had many functions throughout the decades, from simple storage to carriage houses, stables or caretaker cottages. With the extreme population growth in the Lake Country area over the past 50 years, few of these estates have remained intact, with much of the property divided up to accommodate housing needs. Some of the outbuildings on these former grand estates were converted into custom luxury homes themselves, while others on the divided parcels remained a charming nod to an era gone by.

With the significant increase in residences in the Lake Country, along came increases in zoning regulations as they related to additional structures on properties and shorelines when applicable. Many properties with additional structures that have plumbing have been grandfathered under new stricter zoning regulations, thus residents of luxury homes on such properties need to preserve these treasured outbuildings before their condition warrants such renovation that new governance will not allow. Old or even historic boat houses and guest houses merit preservation: depending on property lines and shoreline restrictions, should they be removed, it will become nearly impossible to revive, particularly with any modern conveniences.

Many of these outbuildings scattered amongst Lake Country properties are little treasures, adding a distinctive, sometimes historical flavor to the property. A facelift or “simple surgery” now may be all that is required to restore a charming outbuilding to its former glory, allowing for modern updates that tie-in with the new custom home and blend old with new. All this assumes, however, that the foundation and bones are structurally sound. Even if the necessary fixes are more than cosmetic, the homeowner benefits from tackling this project while working on the main home, making use of the resources (materials and labor), saving time and money.

As with any home project, minor repairs can turn into major undertakings in a short amount of time. Wood rot, molds, collapsing roofs, porches, piping, etc. can all escalate the scope of the project quickly, requiring more attention, more resources, and more permits and regulatory headaches. You may not know what to do with some of these outbuildings from the outset, but if you take care to repair and preserve them now, you’ll have plenty of time to reimagine their place on your luxury home property.