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We Bought A House, Now What?

The funny or scary thing (depending on how you look at it) is that it wasn’t planned.

I just happened to drive by the house one morning and noticed the ‘For Sale’ sign and within a month we owned the house!

There’s a little backstory, though it’s mostly random it’s not entirely.  

We’ve had plans to build a studio for a while, but we recently became empty nesters, and now we suddenly have gobs of room and don’t really need a studio.

While I still think it would be nice, studio building hasn’t jumped to the top of the list lately.

You know how your friends can influence your decisions?  Well, our neighbors (and also friends) recently bought a house in the neighborhood to fix up and rent out.  And, we had this money sitting around

We bought one too.  Yes, I fully admit to being influenced by our friends and remodel fever.

Our intention is to remodel the home making it more attractive, comfortable and energy efficient and then rent it out.

The part of the story that’s not entirely random (my rationalization) is that the house is in a good location, has good bones, we bought below market, we have some skills and know-how and with a lot of sweat equity, some help from friends and some appropriate pros we think this will be a good investment for us.

Good Bones

When I first got a tour inside the house I was pleasantly surprised because I could tell it was solidly built, well laid out and didn’t need a lot of fundamental work, ie… moving rooms, adding rooms or major repairs.​

The more solid the foundation of a home the better the chances for a successful remodel.  If there is a lot of fussing with layout, fixing things that are broken and ​head scratching about “why the &*%%!! did they do that?” the more difficult the project will be.

If you are thinking about buying a house to remodel start with good bones.  Get a house inspection to verify the basics and consider the following:

General Questions:

  • ​Does the space feel good?
  • Are there special features that can be saved, restored or improved upon?  Or ones that need to be removed?
  • Are the rooms well proportioned for furniture layout?
  • Does the flow from one room to the other work?
  • Are there enough rooms or will some need to be added?
  • Do the finishes need upgrading or can they remain as is?
  • What is at the end of it’s useful life?
  • What is the life expectancy of items to remain?
  • Does the landscaping and site require improvement?
  • Are there major structural, electrical, plumbing or mechanical improvements?
  • How are you going to accomplish all of it, who will do it, what permits will be required, what is the time frame and what is the budget?

Remodeling a home is not for the faint of heart.

Be prepared to spend more than you were expecting  and for it to take longer than you thought it would.​

The thing about remodeling is that you uncover things that you can’t see until, well, you uncover them.  That can be problematic because your original assumptions about the way things are may need to shift, possibly meaning more time and money.

Because of those unexpected things that can throw a wrench in the works and the reality of schedules it’s often tricky to get a remodel done in the hoped for time.  It’s best to remain flexible with the schedule because it usually results in a better outcome if work can be accomplished in a rational order and contractors aren’t tripping over each other to get the work completed.​

So how do you get the best bang for the buck?

The easy way to save money is to limit the amount of work.  

Beyond that, I think it’s a balanced mix of aesthetics and performance. Both will pay you back in higher resale value and both will be enjoyed for many years.

It is less expensive to do it yourself if you have some knowledge, skills, tools, willingness to learn, willingness to make some mistakes and patience.  It is probably worth paying a pro to do the work if you don’t have ​those things.


Finishes are the easy place to start.  Flooring, walls, window coverings ..things like that.  This is a pretty cost effective way to get a lot of bang for the buck.  It’s amazing the difference a coat of paint makes.   A list of improvements might include:

  • Replace flooring and baseboards
  • Paint walls and ceilings
  • Replace Window Coverings
  • New or refurbished cabinets
  • Things you touch like doorknobs, hooks, towel bars, switches, outlets, cover plates.
  • Light Fixtures

Peformance might seem like the last thing to think about, but it not only makes a difference in comfort, utility bills and well being but it also helps the resale value of a home.  The FHA recently recognized that efficiency improvements add value to a home and are putting their money where their mouth is with their energy efficient mortgage program.  Of any improvement to a home, efficiency is the only one that will save you money.  Things worth doing:

  • Insulation
  • Upgrading the HVAC for greater efficiency
  • Upgrading to energy star appliances
  • Improving the air tightness of the house
  • Solar photovoltaic panels
  • Replacing all light bulbs with LED’s
  • Install Water Sense labeled plumbing fixtures
  • New Windows

You might notice that windows are last on the above list.  That’s because they probably won’t pay you back in a remodel.  They get a lot of press about saving energy, but the truth is that most older homes are so poorly insulated and leaky that adding new windows is a drop in the bucket.

There are other reasons to add windows though, including sound dampening, less glare, aesthetics and maintenance.  ​

Other Stuff

Think about the trades.  Are you going to need someone skilled in drywall installation or repair to fix that hole you just bashed in the wall.  Or someone to re-surface that ugly ceiling?  How about repairing leaky faucets, installing new toilets and sinks.  Adding a missing GFI outlet?

Any time you demolish you will need to repair and it will probably take some skill to get you to the place you want to be.  It’s best to think through the skills your project will require.​

DIY versus Hiring

There is one thing on the lists above that I wouldn’t consider a DIY type of project.  That is the HVAC system.  I prefer to let a pro handle that one, times 10!  Carpet is another one, but I would suggest staying away from it entirely.  The reason?  It’s just gross.  Use rugs instead.

The rest can be DIY, including minor plumbing and electrical repairs but only if you have skills, tools, interest and as I mentioned above..patience! There is a reason that pros are pros, it’s not easy stuff.

When To Get A Permit​

The building code is designed with public welfare, safety and health in mind.  It’s a minimum standard, and it often makes sense to do better than the code.

The Intent of the Building Code

R101.3 Intent.

The purpose of this code is to establish minimum requirements to safeguard the public safety, health and general welfare through affordability, structural strength, means of egress facilities, stability, sanitation, light and ventilation, energy conservation and safety to life and property from fire and other hazards attributed to the built environment and to provide safety to fire fighters and emergency responders during emergency operations.

Permits are generally required for any work involving the building structure, mechanical, electrical and plumbing.  Check with your local building department to verify if a permit is needed for the work you intend to do.

Learn more…..​

Do You Need An Architect To Get A Permit?

Typically, no.  Though, of course I recommend it.  Other avenues include DIY, your contractor or a drafting service.  What sets an architect apart from the rest of the crowd is that we are trained in design as well as the nuts and bolts.


In case you are wondering what we are going to be doing to our new house.  Here’s the list:

  • Rip out moldy carpet, replace with tile and laminate
  • Paint one color walls/ceiling/trim with two colors
  • New switches, outlets, cover plates, hooks, towel bars
  • New windows and window coverings
  • New cabinets (husband is cabinetmaker)
  • New Energy Star appliances
  • New HVAC
  • Upgrade insulation in attic
  • New water sense toilets
  • New heat pump water heater
  • New plants

​How much are we doing ourselves?  I would guess that less than half our budget will go to the pros, the rest is DIY.  Schedule?  Um…. Um….

I’ll be writing about the progress, the reason for each of our decisions and the lumps, bumps and triumphs along the way.​  So stay tuned…

You Can Do It.

I think anyone with enough grit and perseverance can take on a remodel. My best advice is to go in knowing that it won’t be like you expect.  There will be issues that couldn’t have been guessed at or predicted, it’s the nature of construction, especially in a remodel !  Prepare to spend more time and money than you think and get ready to be exhausted at the end of the day.  If you can handle that, you can handle a remodel.  Good luck!