so we have these good friends. we’ll call them maggie & john (’cause that’s their names). and they’re the real deal when it comes to home renovations. in fact – we probably wouldn’t have gone the whole home renovating route if it hadn’t been for seeing their amazing work over the last few years on various homes in the area.
maggie & john’s most recent project is incredible. they bought a beautiful old home in west wash park. and it required a LOT of vision and even more work. i’m not sure i could have ever gotten past the hot pink walls with shiny black trim, the mounds of
junk treasure they inherited due to the owner being a certified hoarder, or the fact that the only bathroom in the house had a message from the owner written all over the wall that said, “this room requires a large wrecking ball and an even larger bank account.” she was insane, but right. i suggest you read more about the hoarder and their incredible transformation over at HousetoHome.
so – seeing as they are the most expert home renovators i know. i asked maggie to share some of what they’ve learned along the way. thanks maggie!!
When my dear friend asked me to do a guest post on home renovation, I wasn’t really sure what to say. I’m certainly no Mike Holmes (though my husband, John, seems to have a lot in common with him). Then I remembered home renovation has more or less been my life for the past 5 years. While that certainly doesn’t make me an expert, I can probably impart a few thoughts on what we’ve learned along the way. So here are my slightly-better-than-amateur opinions on what I think you should know before you take the plunge into the wonderful world of home renovation.
Know Your Budget…and Finances
The absolute first thing you should do is figure out what you can get a loan for. Banks are no longer handing out loans like candy to kids in adorable Halloween costumes. Interest-only loans are now a thing of the past, conventional loans require more money down, FHA loans are going to require an insane amount of documentation (and many trips to a fax machine) as well as an increased amount of fees to pay, and extra scrutiny is placed on anything and everything you never thought mattered. In fact, scrutiny is the only guarantee in the lending world today. On that note, it’s important to think not only about where your down payment will come from, but also how renovation costs will be covered. The rules around things like home equity lines and rehab loans have changed, so do your research before committing to a purchase.
Most people diving into home ownership know that budget is important, and have likely devised one. But to expand on what you have already thought about, I suggest making a detailed, line item budget. How much do cabinets cost? Light fixtures? Plumbing parts? Hourly rates for an electrician? Drywall? Do your research, and talk to someone more ingrained in the industry if needed. This is the number one reason I married someone who works in the construction industry…I mean, what’s more appealing than someone who can quote you the per unit cost of bathroom fan varieties? So yes…devise an accurate budget, and then multiply it by 1.5. Chances are that’s what you’re going to wind up spending. Those Home Depot trips add up, you know. Set your budget, and stick to it.
Know What You Want
It sounds logical, right? Maybe, but diving into the world of home ownership, and particularly old-home ownership, can be overwhelming. First ask yourself what type of old home you want to buy. A cosmetic flip? A full-on gut job? Somewhere in between? The level of effort and cost involved in flipping a house can vary drastically, so think about what level of effort and dollars you’re comfortable with and focus on those types of houses in your search. Also? The more extensive the renovation, the longer it will likely be until you can move in, so plan accordingly.
Next, think about the neighborhood you prefer. Even the goombahs on Property Virgins know this, because it’s important. What are the “up and coming” neighborhoods in your area that you can get in for cheap today, and sell for a nice profit tomorrow? What neighborhoods are most conducive to your lifestyle? Quiet and family-oriented, or walking distance to all the hotspots? You know what you want. But be flexible – sometimes that gem of a house may be in a neighborhood you initially wouldn’t have considered. Or the style of house you thought you couldn’t live without (i.e., bungalow, Four Square, row home) might not exist in the right neighborhood. It’s all about trade-offs.
Once you’ve figured out these details, re-visit your budget and ask yourself if what you want aligns with what you have to spend. Renovating a home is fun at any budget, so it’s ok, and likely necessary, to shift some of your priorities – think of it as an iterative process in order to get the most of what you want for the price you can afford.
Know What You’re Capable Of
Once you’ve narrowed down the type of house you want, it’s time to be honest with yourself and identify what you really know about home renovation. Chances are, you’re not an expert. That’s ok, as long as you have a plan for those areas you may not be as knowledgeable about. Here’s where I must dust off the old soap box and address the DIY vs. Contracting Out debate. In this era of DIY home blog overload, so many people have become obsessed with DIY-everything. This is great, in a way. It has made people more resourceful, and often more budget-conscious. But sometimes it’s better, and more sanity preserving, to hire the expert to frame out your walls or to just buy that charming little vanity at Lowe’s rather than lose your mind (and spend more money in the process) trying to re-create the overpriced vanity of your dreams you saw at Pottery Barn. Not that I would know anything about that …The point is: before you sign that contract on the home in need of major renovations, know what you can tackle yourself and then identify what will need to be contracted out. Or purchased, for that matter. Remember, renovating is not as easy as TV and blogland make it out to be, so do your research and devise a game plan. As my wise father always says: “Proper planning prevents piss poor performance!”
a vanity from lowe's - not everything has to be diy!
Know What You Can Commit To
Home renovation is time consuming. I would go so far as to say home renovation is a lifestyle of sorts. Ski season (or the like) may suffer. Should you choose to dive into this world, know that you have a lot of late nights and exhaustion filled days ahead of you. Instead of going to the new restaurant in town with friends or cajoling in the mountains all weekend, you’ll be high fiving your husband over things like drywall installation on a Saturday night. Again, not that I would know that first hand or anything…
Tearing down walls and installing a new kitchen doesn’t happen at HGTV speed. Like a budget, you can pretty much multiply the time you think a task will take by 1.5 or 2 to get the true time commitment. Think about the other commitments you currently have in your life, and ask yourself where your home will fall on the priority level. If it’s not in the top 3 for at least the timeframe in which the bulk of renovations will take place, you may want to consider looking at turnkey homes.
Also know that you will likely hit a period of time known affectionately as the renovating slump. You’ll get to a point where your home is finally livable, so it’s easy to put off the 23902 important, but not crucial, things still on the to-do list. This is when you have to find ways to keep the enthusiasm going. Set daily and weekly house project goals, but balance them with the occasional lazy night or weekend mountain adventure (assuming you live in Denver, of course) as a reward. Try to do something every day, no matter how minimal, just to keep the momentum going. It also helps to have a partner (personal or business) to challenge you. Finally, complete as much as possible early on, and before you actually move in. It’s not easy, but knowing about this inevitable slump and the tips that have helped us will hopefully make it easier to overcome.
Know (or learn) Patience
Ahh, patience. Such a virtue, yes? And one that I have struggled with all my life. However, renovating 3 homes in the past 5 years with my husband has taught me a thing or two about patience. Such as, learning to live in a construction zone (you think you’ve seen dust – try again). Or, spending days on end desperately trying to remove 5 layers of wallpaper that had seemingly been super glued together. Or, spending hours with a hand sander on paint covered stairs, only to produce barely detectable progress. Or, attempting to repair 100+ year old trim through endless rounds of wood glue patching, sanding, and painting.
repairing 100+yr old trim? not fun, but definitely worth it
Again, nothing takes as long as you originally planned; typically things take twice as long.
This is why patience is crucial. You learn to embrace dust, and maybe the Shop Vac. You accept that nothing happens overnight, and as corny as it sounds: home renovation is a journey. You can’t just snap your fingers and have a picture perfect home overnight.
Instead, you celebrate the small victories. Like actually having a counter to set the Coleman stove on so you can cook Easy Mac, even if it means you still don’t have, um, normal appliances. Or having a functioning bathroom sink upstairs in which to wash those Easy Mac dishes, because the kitchen sink still hasn’t arrived. Or appreciating that while you may have successfully salvaged 120 year old trim, pieces of it will remain unpainted for months. It’s ok; as hard as it is for the perfectionist in me to admit. You have to give yourself credit for what you’ve accomplished, not beat yourself up for what you have left to accomplish. Know patience, and you’ll know that someday your home will be “perfect” (qualifier: you will never not have a to-do list, though).
our makeshift kitchen while we patiently awaited the real thing.
I commend anyone that pursues the home renovation route. For someone who has a soft spot for old homes, I love hearing about other people that preserve a little piece of history. As overwhelming as it can be, if you go in prepared, it’ll be one of the most rewarding things you’ve ever done. So, go forth and renovate! And start a blog, so I can follow your adventure.
Bonus tip: Know the location of your local Home Depot. Or Lowe’s. Or whatever your home improvement store of choice is. Regardless of the brand, you’re going to be spending a lot more time there, and driving to and from there, so location, as always, is key. Trust me on this one.
thanks again maggie! don’t forget to check out their amazing before and afters over at HousetoHome.