Tag Archives: renovating

DIY Home: 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before We Bought a Fixer-Upper

5 things to know before you buy a fixer-upper - DesignLively

We are on our third year of renovating our 1940s New England Colonial fixer-upper and have learned quite a bit along the way.

From the likes of this blog you would think all we’ve been doing is gallivanting around all summer swimming at the beach and eating ice cream! Such is the impression of the internet – the truth is we’ve been doing a LOT of work lately. Hopefully I’ll get to posting about it someday soon.

The first year we were wide-eyed and naive newlyweds attacking each project with gusto. The second year we were weary and sprouting gray hairs. In our third year we’ve started to plan our exit plan. As in, renovation wrap up. We’re hoping sometime in year 4 will turn into regular house maintenance projects for us. (Could that possibly be the dim light of a normal life at the end of this tunnel?)

I hope it doesn’t sound like I am whining, I love our house and we are extremely blessed in this home. : ) It has, however, been a lot of work and these are some thoughts I’d like to share with the rest of you who are considering it!)

Here’s a list of what I wish I knew before we bought a fixer-upper.

(and a few photos displaying the crazy adventure we’ve taken!)

5 things to know before you buy a fixer-upper - DesignLively

1. Old houses are… OLD

Living in Boston, where there are plenty of properties dating back to the 1800s, owning a 1940s house hardly sounds decrepit. But let me tell you, it’s certainly old enough.

The problem with old houses is, well, they’re old. The house has long-settled, so none of your rooms are square. The house was built when standardization didn’t exist, so you have to custom-fashion your dry-wall so it’s the same depth as the rest of your house. Old pipes, old wires, old plaster… all waiting just for you!

5 things to know before you buy a fixer-upper - DesignLively

2. Everything takes longer and is more expensive that you think. No, Seriously.

As two over-eager and frugal minded people, I expected we were above the curve on this general expectation regarding renovations. I remember when I’d watch Flip That House and smugly thinking we would manage a renovation budget unlike some of those yahoos.


It takes longer because suddenly your permit was rejected, Home Depot won’t have the item you need in-store for another two weeks, the weather has been too humid for X project. It’s more expensive because your house is built on-top of granite and you need to hire rock-demolitioners to destroy your front yard so you can run a wire.

Unless you take out a construction loan, you’ll need the means to make it happen. Make sure you have the resources to finish a project before you start.

5 things to know before you buy a fixer-upper - DesignLively

3. Your passion for DIY comes and goes in waves

Plain and simple: sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s not.

You must persevere and accept. Otherwise you’ll live in an eternal construction zone. Picking out paint colors and hardware? that’s fun and over in about .02 seconds.

Ripping out drywall and insulation at 2am because you’re on a deadline? That’s about just as fun as it sounds.

5 things to know before you buy a fixer-upper - DesignLively

4. Flexibility is the Key to Success

That’s a motto I learned on a missions trip back in my freshman year of high school and I repeat it to myself often. DIYing means putting up with a lot. We lived without a fridge for a month, and then lived with it smack dab in the middle of our kitchen for another 3 months.

I can fall asleep to the sound of power tools.

While it’s easy to dream and scheme, you will learn that some things just can’t be changed. That wall you wanted to remove for your “open-floor plan” might just be load-bearing. Your floor joists run East to West so your toilet can only go one of two places.

5 things to know before you buy a fixer-upper - DesignLively

5. Goodbye Relaxing Weekends

Unless you’re an heiress with a penchant for power tools, it’s pretty likely that you have a job. You need a way to pay for all those power tools, right? That means all our projects either have to happen on weeknights at 8pm, when I’d rather put my feet up and watch a re-run of The Office, or on a sunny Saturday when I’d rather skip down to the beach. Oh yeah, and normal life obligations like laundry, groceries, socialization and errands are still going on too.

Lots of people will tell you how they also have a fixer-upper and have had to “paint and put new lights in every room.” And inside your head you will laugh wickedly.

5B. You are giving your husband the excuse to buy every power tool under the sun. Consider yourself warned.

Don’t let a DIY house scare you away – there are also MANY PERKS, but sometimes I wish I really understood these things before we were ankle-deep in plaster dust.

We’re on year three of this house – and we definitely thought we’d be done by now. But, we’ve also been able to do a lot more than we ever thought we’d be able to. Pros and cons.

Are you DIYing your house? What’s your favorite, and least favorite, parts? Have you ever wanted to?

Where the Sidewalk Ends

This is our pitiful walkway to our home.

Some people like to have a grand entrance. A paved sidewalk flanked with ambient lighting and marble lions.

Not our house.

We have pebbly pink brick balance beam that barely fit both my size 7 flip flops down the lane.

But not anymore!

We ripped up the old bricks (of which some I was able to sell on Craig’s list!) and shoveled out the grass for the new width of our sidewalk.

Then we (HAH, and when I am saying “we” all of these times, I really mine my strong hubby) spread out leveling sand. We used Kolorscape Leveling Sand and used 4 bags for an area about 15 feet long and three feet wide.

Then we tamped down the leveling sand. My shoulders hurt just watching him tamp everything. Yikes.

Then we started to lay down the stones. Instead of getting pavers, Moose found these squares that look like multiple stones pieced together.

Less work and less expensive!

To keep everything tight and in place, we nailed a few of these sidewalk tracks into the ground.

Then we covered them up with dirt.

And voila! New sidewalk!

We got this awesome huge hernia-inducing rock piece in our backyard and Moose and another hulky friend moved it to the front yard.

(By the way, now is the time to buy your spring planters! I just got the one you see above and a second one for 70% off at HomeGoods.)

Hopefully the trick-o-treaters won’t be scared off now.

Happy Weekend!

DIY Renovating: Lessons Along the Way

We have been in renovation mode for three months straight now. No wonder I’m so tired.

My husband and I decided to buy a house that had great bones and charm, but needed a serious facelift. Neither of us have any “real” experience doing any kind of work like this.

Here are a few lessons I have learned along the way. (That “way” is also known as the well-traveled road called “the hard way”.)

1. Shoes.

This part kills me. I am a barefoot kind of girl. I have not been able to walk around without shoes in our house YET. Always wear shoes if you are renovating. In fact, you should wear sneakers. I try to skimp out and wear flip flops a lot of the time. Big mistake. Next thing you know, you’ll have stepped on a huge nail and will be looking through your medical records to see if your Tetanus is up-to-date. It’s not a matter of if it will happen to you, but when.

2. Work Clothes

When you are renovating your house it’s a non-stop project. There is no dedicated time for it because it never ends. Ten minutes before you run to the train, 15 minutes before you go shopping, so on, you will be working on something. That being said, you will often pick up where you left off at inopportunely dressed times.  Don’t touch anything if you are wearing clothes you don’t want to ruin. You will rub spackle on your pants. You will brush against that newly painted doorframe. You will get dirt on those shoes. Just change already.

3. Animal Friendly

Renovating is an adventure. Think of it as a wild African safari. Especially if you’re renovating a house that has been foreclosed/empty for a while. There will be large insects. There might be mice. There might even be bats. I just about flipped a gasket when I discovered a bat on the inside of our window screen. Moral of the story is: when you’re renovating, there are often holes in your house. It’s like glorified camping.

4. Memorize the Home Depot/Lowe’s store layout.

The faster you learn where everything is, the faster your shopping trips will be. Before you know it you’ll be lying on your stomach searching for the best pieces of finishing board in the lumbar section.

5. It pays to be nice to the Home Depot/Lowe’s Sales People

Not only is being kind to people a generally good thing to shoot for, but it could save you money. With a friendly conversation, all of a sudden that 10% coupon might apply to something it didn’t before. Or you might meet the store manager and he might give you 80% off all those roman shades.

(Nothing against Home Depot, but we have gotten a lot more love from the Lowe’s people in regards to discounts. You might want to up your ante there, big orange box store.)

6. Everything will be more Expensive and Take Longer than you Planned.

Do I need to elaborate?

Also, curb the desire to go buy fun lamps and curtains. You get to spend your money on things that are even cooler – like ant repellent and garage door hinges and concrete epoxy.

7. When to Hire Professionals?

If you can’t do it the right way, don’t do it at all. You might end up spending more money trying to fix whatever mistakes you created. We had professionals install our windows and do our plumbing work. Develop a relationship with these people. The more work they see coming from you the work likely they are going to give you a better deal. DON’T work with a vendor you don’t trust. That’s just silly.

8. Have a “Home Journal”.

Pick a journal (this was a gift from my very thoughtful Mom) and write down everything you can think of. Measure every room. Every window. Every mirror. Keep it in your purse. There will be a time when you need this information! Also, always carry a measuring tape on your person.

9. Expect the Unexpected.

You weren’t planning for the biggest tree in your yard to be struck by lightning and smash your deck, but it happens. Be thankful it didn’t break your newly installed windows and dining room (the only finished room in the house) and move on.

10. Remember.

Remember YOU picked this house. YOU chose this adventure. And remember it is just that. An adventure, not a punishment.

And stock up on popsicles.  And say goodbye to your social life. And having nice fingernails. They will be eternally coated in spray paint and wood particle dust.

Anyone else in the same boat?