October 12, 2016

Fixer Upper Tips

When we purchased our bungalow-style home in early spring 2012, it had not been updated since it was built by its only owner in the 1960s. Although it had been very well maintained, the structure was very sound, and certain things like the lawn were impeccable, most things were in dire need of updating. We decided that an update of the entire main floor was most pressing and we started tackling demolition on that floor the day we got the keys.

Our immediate upgrades included: replacing interior doors and widening some doorways; replacing all flooring, baseboards and door casings; replacing all windows and casings; repainting all walls and ceilings; replacing some light fixtures; and installing new furnace and duct work and removing all electric heating baseboards. All these things we had chosen to do before we moved in. We were lucky that my in-laws took us in for the duration of the main floor reno. We received the keys to our house on March 12 and finally moved-in in mid-July.

Now, if you had asked me if we had bought a fixer upper, I would have said no, because in my mind, we were not moving walls and re-planning an entire floor layout. Ask me again now? Yes, we bought a fixer upper.

The point of this post is to list what I feel are the Dos and Don’ts of renovating a fixer upper. 

DO establish an elaborate plan of every project that will be undertaken during the renovation. I had a project binder that contained floor plans, quotes, paint swatches, etc. It was my bible for the duration of the reno. You can easily find free lists and printables that you can use for this purpose. Here are some examples:

DO start with your flooring selections FIRST, then select your paint colors based on the products you have picked. It is much easier to pick a color to match a flooring, than vice-versa. If you are adding fabrics to the space, also select these before choosing your paint colors.

DO select your entire color palette at once to ensure that your spaces with feel cohesive. Seeing all your colors together and side-by-side will help you weed out any colors that don’t fit in the scheme. Although you don't have to be matchy-matchy, you may want to stick to the same color collections and intensities. Here are some examples of color palettes. {NOTE: where I find your colors can really be apart from the others is kids' bedrooms. I often feel that letting the child pick their own color, if they are old enough, is a great experience. What I recommend is let them pick their color and if it is too bright or wild, pick a more appropriate color that is similar and they won't know the difference.}

DO double-check your color selections in the spaces themselves to ensure it will look good in that lighting. If it looks off, try a tone lighter or a tone darker.

DO set a timeline and target date, however DON’T stress if you are a little late.

DO take on some of the work yourself to save on labour costs. However, DON’T worry if you have things that you just can’t handle and have to delegate to a professional.

DO support your local merchants. I made sure to select flooring at our two different flooring stores, as well as supporting each building centre in town. It was important to me to show support for our local businesses, plus you can save big on shipping costs as well as fuel costs if you are travelling out of town to purchase your products.

DON’T go over your planned budget. It is important to stick to your budget to avoid added and unnecessary stress. Microsoft Excel has great templates that you can download and use. Here is a great one:

DON’T live in the space through the renovation. It is better to plan to stay with family or friends. Living in the space while you renovate is just not worth it. However, we moved in without a counter top in our kitchen, but everything else was complete {well, sort of... see below}. Instead we used a piece of plywood cut to size for our counter, and we opted to move-in to start getting settled.

DON’T leave projects unfinished. This is something that I did not follow, and 4 years later, those projects are still unfinished! And let me tell you they are the tiniest projects like attaching the dishwasher to the cabinets, adding a quarter-round at the base of ONE cabinet, and hanging bedroom closet doors.

DON’T be afraid to ask for help from family, friends and professionals.

Lastly, this is a mistake I made but I can’t really give you a tip on it… My main washroom is now {and was then} in desperate need of a makeover. The shower doesn’t work properly, the vanity is old and dated, the drawers stick and get stuck, the toilet is cracked, the ceiling fan is not strong enough for the space so the paint is starting to peel on the ceiling in the shower, the floors are showing their age, and the plumbing needs to be redone. At the time when we determined where to put our money, I felt that the washroom was usable so could be left for a later date. However, only once we moved in and actually used the washroom did I realize how desperately in needed attention. If I had looked at it a little more carefully, it would have been worth borrowing at bit more money and doing the main washroom immediately. I am sure that we would have been able to redo it for $5 000 or less. That is my number one regret.

Would I buy a fixer upper again? Over four years later, we still have most of the basement to finish, all of our extra time and money has been invested into this house, and we are getting fed up of living in a construction zone, with only half the house being usable… So, no, personally, I would not do it again. OR, I would plan to have it 100% done immediately before moving in so that we could enjoy our house from day 1 of living there. Now, it is more of a stress than anything else with unfinished projects always hanging over our shoulders. In the end, when all is said and done, it will have been worth it to make the house 100% our own, with everything being brand new. Also, looking back at it now with a partially finished house and knowing all the money we have invested to date and still have to invest, I would have been willing to pay more for a more updated, ready-to-move-in home.

Just for the fun of it, here is a list of what I think needs to be done in our home for me to feel that it is 100% complete, along with some estimates for each item:
-hang closet doors in bedrooms $500
-fill two basement windows $300
-replace window in garage $400
-replace light fixtures in front entrance, hallway and powder room $500
-replace garage door windows $400 {we just replaced our garage door but 2 of the 3 windows broke during installation!}
-finish entire basement {including guest room, laundry room and full washroom}
$15 000-25 000
-main bathroom $5 000-7 000
-update kitchen: update cabinet doors or install new doors, new backsplash, island and/or peninsula: $2 000-4 000
-Patio doors and deck in dining room {we purposely did not replace the dining room window because we knew we wanted patio doors eventually}: $3 000-5 000
-living room updates: new paint, fireplace mantle and surround, and gas/electric insert 
$1 500
-fix foundation $3 000
-refinish front steps $3 000

That is a scary $34 600 to $50 600 to complete the house to my liking. And that includes zero labour costs. Wow, that almost makes me want to cry. Oh well, no going back now, we can only move forward and do things at our own pace.

Look to my next post for a photographic {and possibly video} house tour!