Renovation Projects – Are They Home Ownership’s Dirty Secret?
Renovation projects. They’re never ending. It’s home ownership’s dirty secret. The one no one ever tells you about – until after you’ve purchased your first home.
Sally and I are in the process of selling our home and doing the downsizing thing this summer. Going thru photograph albums of the work we’ve done on the house over the years has been a wonderful trip down memory lane and an eye opening reminder that renovation projects are never ending. It’s just a matter of scale.
Bear with me as I reminisce for a bit while I share the lessons we’ve learned along the way.
RENOVATION PROJECTS: WE WERE SO CLUELESS
Sally and I were no different than most when we purchased our home 36 years ago. We had not planned on looking in Salem at all. “PIA to get in to and out of.”, I told Sally. Yet, here we are. All it took was one too good to be true ad and a walk thru that fateful rainy April morning.
I knew this was The House the moment I walked thru the front door and looked to the right toward the living room and to the left toward the dining room. It had The Bones. Proportions were right. Scale was right. Circulation flow was a delight. The thought of renovation projects didn’t even enter our minds, at least not in a manner that meant anything to us. Yet they were staring us right in the face. Many of the following items are typical of what any home owner might encounter and want to take on immediately upon taking possession of an older home.
The foyer was dreary and uninviting. We wanted our house to make a good first impression.
We knew the living room ceiling with its false beams and felt acoustical tile had to go. A classic example of a previously ill advised decision.
Sure, a few rooms needed to wall paper stripped and then painted. (That’s easy, right?)
Other rooms, we simply HAD to repaint…
The kitchen was small and desperately needed a remodel. (But it could wait.)
Both bathrooms needed to be redone.
Did I mention that every counterweight in every window of the house needed to be rehung and that the porch was rotting?
There was no garage for my future dream sports car, but we were assured getting a variance would be easy… (That’s another story…)
And so we began ripping down ceilings, stripping wall paper, painting and getting the porch rebuilt and floors sanded/refinished. Making the house our own.
RENOVATION PROJECTS: POST POSSESSION PROJECTS
Every inch of trim on the first floor was painted. The foyer was wallpapered and the stair was given a new runner.
A new plaster ceiling, fresh paint and wall to wall carpet transformed the living room and the dining room received yellow wall paper.
Transformation is the only word I can use to describe the powder room.
What I think was really going on was we were doing some serious nesting, because we knew when we had our first child, work on the house would stop for a while. And that’s exactly what happened.
RENOVATION PROJECTS: THE BIG ONE
John gets his garage and we get a new kitchen!!!
In the early 90’s we decided we could afford one of the major renovation projects on the house – an addition including a two car garage with a lift inside and studio space above, mud room and expanded/renovated kitchen.
We had hoped to reno the full bath in the house but “ran out of money”. Sound familiar??? In today’s dollars, this addition would cost in excess of $250,000.
RENOVATION PROJECTS: ON GOING MAINTENANCE AND THOSE LITTLE SURPRISES…
Like most families, we have had to be patient. Just when you get ready to pull the trigger on a project, there’s a recession – so you maintain what you have. We’ve rebuilt the side porch twice. It’s THE best room in the house… The exterior has been re-stained/painted at least 5 times, with the last one costing about $10,000.
Rooms have been repainted and/or wallpapered multiple times. Our dining room has gone thru several iterations with wall paper and now paint.
Then there’s the little stuff. The furnace dies in the middle of the worst cold snap in the last 30 years. Your toilet breaks. The oven dies and needs replacement just before Christmas…
Over 36 years, the list goes on. You get the idea. Looking back, on average we would spend about $5,000/year maintaining the house.
RENOVATION PROJECTS: THE LAST TWO BIGGIES
Let’s fast forward thru the maintenance years and get right to the good stuff again. In 2017, Sally and I were selected by DXV, the luxury brand of American Standard, to design a dream bathroom for them. The bathroom’s theme was to be inspired by The Arts, Between 1880 and 1920. Sally and I selected Monet. (You can read about the bathroom here.)
Upon completion the bathroom, we were able to select bathroom fixtures from their product line for a project. It only took a moment for Sally and me to decide now was the time to renovate our bathroom! (You can read about our design and decision making process here.)
It was as we were designing our family bath, that we met with our financial advisors to discuss our long term plans, which included downsizing and moving closer to our son and his family west of Boston. Our thinking was, enjoy the bathroom and sell/move 3 – 5 years from now. Our advisors had other thoughts. They suggested we sell/move in the spring of 2019. A recession was coming in the next few years. Sell high. Buy low. After some deliberation, Sally and I agreed, this was the best plan of action. It was off to the races.
This winter and early spring, we had a layer cake of renovation projects going on in our house. Move in condition was our mantra. In addition to the family bath (Cost about $60,000), every room in the house was painted. (Cost about $20,000.)
Floors were sanded. They were in tough shape after 27 years of dog’s toe nail wear and tear. This is a Before Photo of the dining room. Cost about $2500.00
Kitchens cabinet doors re-painted. Cost about $5,000.00
ALL the knob and tube throughout the house was removed and replaced with new wiring. (Cost about $7500.00) The home’s exterior was power washed and touched up. Windows washed, all 51 of them… And so many other little details.
The house went on the market in mid May and is now under agreement. A chapter closes. Another adventure is about to begin. A new chapter about to be written. We are looking toward the future with much anticipation!
RENOVATION PROJECTS: THE UNFINISHED BUSINESS
Our gift to the new home owners, are the two sketches you see below. Our unfinished business. Sally and I had always dreamed of building a wall of bookcases on either side of the fireplace in the living room. There were always other priorities. That’s just how life is some times.
Or around the dining room window, creating an intimate dining/library experience. We love our books.
Perhaps, some day, they will build those book cases around the fireplace or in the dining room.
RENOVATION PROJECTS: THE TAKE AWAYS
Most first time buyers of older homes are generally clueless when it comes to the various kinds of home renovation projects that they will face them upon taking possession of a home and/or will be needed in the future. What have Sally and learned?
- Don’t feel you have to do it all at once. If you’ve just purchased, prioritize as Sally and I did. What needs/has to be done? What can’t you live with? What can you live with? For how long? As Sally and I learned as we prepped the house for sale, a fresh coat of paint goes a long long way. As do refinished floors.
- Live with the house for a while. Get to know the house. It’s quirks, idiosyncrasies, Be flexible.
- Just because you know “which end of the hammer is the smart end”, doesn’t mean you are qualified to use it. I know everything is on YouTube today, but be careful what you choose to DIY. Remember its got to look good when its finished. On the other hand, want to risk divorce? Try wallpapering a room with your spouse… 😉
- There were large gaps of time between our major improvements. Time major improvements based on your ability to pay. Watch those interest rates if you borrow.
- A well designed kitchen renovation will last between 20 and 25 years. (Cost about $125,000. Amortized, that about the equivalent of monthly payments on a $30,000 BMW with trading the car in every 5 years.) Today’s appliances will probably need to be replaced at least once in that time. Plan on replacing some them. For us it was the oven, dish washer and garbage disposal. Well built cabinets can be repainted. (A suite of appliances will run from $10,000 to over $30,000.)
- Bathrooms will last a long time, too. I can easily see the family bath we just did lasting 20 years. (Not bad for a $60,000 investment.) Our current powder room could use a cosmetic overhaul, especially the wallpaper. (I think we spent about $2,500 back in the day. Today for the same effect, I’d budget at least $5,000.)
- Schedule regular preventative maintenance. Repaint your exterior at least every 5 – 7 years. (Keeps trim from rotting…) Service your boiler and HVAC systems regularly. Sweep the dust off the cooling coils of your refrigerator. (We thought our fridge had died. It was only dust.) Flush you sink drains regularly. (Beats calling the plumber when your sink backs up just before a party.)
- Just when you think you have everything on your list complete, you will discover it’s time to start all over again.
- Our house is about 2,800 square feet. Our annual maintenance costs averaged about $5,000/year.
- Some projects, you may never get to. And that’s okay. The important thing is to leave the home in better shape that when you purchased it.
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