The Barton House: Before Photos

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Some people—maybe most people, in fact—would walk into a house like this and walk right back out. It’s old. It’s dirty. It needs so much help. But for us, walking into a house like this makes us giddy. We work hard to look past the grime and the years of neglect and see the possibilities. And there are so many of them. We’re so excited to get started on this house!

First, the exterior. It doesn’t look awful, but we’ll be painting it (stay tuned for a post on choosing exterior paint colors), completely replacing the roof, replacing the front door, landscaping, installing a fence, redoing the sidewalk, installing porch railings, replacing the light fixtures, and doing other minor repairs.

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Inside, the layout is very segmented, with every room situated off of a main hallway. We plan to open this up as much as we can, including the walls between the living and dining rooms (above) as well as the hallway. This should brighten things up quite a bit and improve the flow dramatically. The fireplace will be a challenge to work around, but we’re excited about the wood floors and great natural light.

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Of course, the kitchen is a complete gut job (as it would be in any older home). But if we’re able to open up the walls between the kitchen, dining room, and mudroom, we’re going to have a ton of space to work with. We may be able to add a walk-in pantry, an island, and a little breakfast nook if all goes according to plan. As for the overall look, we’re thinking of using classic subway tile again, a nice slate tile floor in a herringbone pattern, quartz or granite counters, open shelving on one wall, and some really great lighting. We want to make this room a real gathering place in the home.

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There are technically four bedrooms upstairs, but one is very small without a closet. We’ll either turn that space into a master bath or a walk-in closet/dressing room, depending on how our budget shakes out.

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This is the current state of the upstairs bath. Unlike the Griffin house, we won’t be keeping the clawfoot in this reno. It’s just too big for the space, which is pretty compact. Instead, we’ll be adding a new tub with a tile surround. The downstairs bath is pretty much too small to photograph, but we’re hoping to do something fun in there, like a patterned floor tile.

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The bedrooms are all a good size, but as with most of these older homes, the closets are tiny. We could either eat into the floor space by adding new closets, or hope buyers will be OK with what we’ve got. We always lean toward the latter option, because we prefer to keep the square footage.

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This house has a great backyard with both shady and sunny spots. We’ll be removing that old balcony and replacing the door with a window. We’ll also add a privacy fence around the whole shebang.

Next steps: We’re getting quotes from contractors and starting to put together our budget and shopping list, with everything from tile and light fixtures to appliances and doorknobs. Luckily, we learned a thing or two from our last renovation, so this stage will be quicker—and probably more fun—than last time.

Want to see what’s inspiring us? Take a peek at our Barton House Pinterest board, which we’ll be updating on the regs.

On to the Next: The Barton House

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After many months of waiting, we can finally share some news we’ve been excitedly sitting on: We have purchased another house to renovate! And we’ve already learned something from this experience: Short sales are no joke. Seriously. Lots of red tape. Lots of back-and-forth. Lots of waiting. But it was worth it, because we got a great deal on this house.

And it’s a good thing we did, because it is going to need a lot of work. Previously used as a halfway house, it’s in serious need of TLC. It needs a brand-new roof, new HVAC, and all-new kitchen and bathrooms. Refinished floors and significant exterior improvements. Not to mention all the little things like paint, light fixtures, and landscaping. The current layout isn’t great, so we’re planning to tear down a lot of walls, too.

A few things we love about this house: The big, shady backyard. The spacious kitchen (we’re planning to put in an island). The original tile fireplace. The beautiful wood floors that just need a little work. The spare room upstairs that will either become a master bath or walk-in closet. The location just off up-and-coming Brookland Park Blvd., spitting distance from Black Hand Coffee and The Luncheonette.

Stay tuned, as we’ll be documenting the process once again from beginning to end. We can’t wait to share the journey of this house with you!

Renovation Resources: Our Favorite Places to Shop

Shopping for a renovation project can be fun, but it can get overwhelming fast. You may have to buy faucets, light fixtures, cabinets, doorknobs, tile, paint, and a whole host of other things—and you want them all to be just right, right? Unfortunately, you’re not likely to find everything you need at a big box store. You’ll have to do some digging.

Our advice: Take it slow, if you can. Focus on one need at a time, rather than trying to pick out everything at once. Say you’re trying to decide on a light fixture for your foyer? Settle onto the couch and pull up Pinterest. Browse for a bit, saving your favorite images. Once you notice a trend that consistently appeals to you, head over to a few favorite sites and start shopping. Keep those tabs open, compare prices, and then pull the trigger. Then move on to your next need!

After our first renovation project, we uncovered some favorite resources for attractive and budget-friendly items. Here are our favorites. What are yours?

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Light Fixtures — We’re firm believers that a good light fixture can transform a room, and for that reason they’re worth investing in. Our favorite sites for vintage-inspired fixtures are Schoolhouse Electric and Barn Light Electric. That said, you can often find much more affordable versions of these lights at Wayfair, which is by far the resource we use the most. Even Lowes and Home Depot have really stepped up their lighting game lately, so don’t overlook them.

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Tile — We are obsessed with Floor and Decor. It’s a massive store with tons of tile at reasonable prices. They even offer free classes on tile and floor installation on the weekends. Browsing the tile in-person is the best, but they also have everything available online. If you like cement tile, Overstock has a pretty good selection.

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Sinks — If you like farmhouse sinks, Ikea has one of the more affordable ones we’ve run across. The Scandi superstore has some great sink cabinets as well, though many of them do scream “Ikea.” (Try swapping out the hardware for a more custom look.) Wayfair also has some good sinks, and even Amazon has a nice selection — it’s worth it to search for anything you find on Amazon to make sure you can’t get a better price. We had to buy an extra-small pedestal sink for one of the bathrooms in our last renovation, and we found it at Signature Hardware.

Faucets — For bathrooms and kitchens, we’ve found good faucets all over—Lowes, Ikea, Amazon, Wayfair. If you need something special (like we needed for the clawfoot tub in our renovation house), try House of Antique Hardware. Amazon tends to have the cheapest selection—just be sure to read the reviews to make sure you’re not getting a piece of crap.

Bathroom Fixtures — Towel racks, toilet paper holders, etc.—I usually order the Moen brand from Amazon. Classic, and cheaper than anywhere else.

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Cabinets — Ikea all day!

Appliances — We haven’t found any one store that has better prices than any other—it just depends on what kind of sales they’re offering at any given time. We do try to shop around big sales (like Memorial Day or Presidents Day), and just get the store to hold the appliances if we’re not quite ready for install. If you shop at the store a lot, it’s also a good time to open a credit card—you can often get a nice percentage off your purchase, or get 0% APR for a year, if you’d like to wait to pay it off. In the past, we’ve bought appliances at Lowes and Best Buy.

Door Hardware — We usually go with basic bronze doorknobs for both interiors and exteriors, and Amazon has the best prices. House of Antique Hardware has some really cool stuff if you’re going for a vintage vibe.

Mirrors — We like to think outside the box when it comes to bathroom mirrors—i.e. don’t limit yourself to vanity mirrors or medicine cabinets. Target has a nice affordable selection—like this beautiful round brass mirror that would be perfect for a powder room.

Doors — We have some good local resources for salvage doors (Paul’s Place and Caravatti’s), but need help finding more modern options. Any leads?

 

 

 

How Much We Made On Our First Flip

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Anyone who’s watched their share of HGTV knows that flipping houses is a risky business that can have a big reward. So how did we do with our first flip? I’ve avoided discussing the financial aspects of this venture for fear of seeming tacky, but I realize it’s one of the details people are most curious about (not to mention the numbers are right there on Zillow). So here it is: the nitty gritty on our first renovation project.

We bought the house in December 2015 for $102,500. At the time, the house was priced on the high side for its condition—livable, but in need of a complete renovation to bring it up to date. Similar houses in the neighborhood were going for under $100K, but most were being snatched up by cash buyers within a day or two of hitting the MLS. So we raised our budget slightly and snagged the Griffin house.

Our then-realtor (whom we have since parted ways with) estimated that we could renovate the house for about $40,000. Renovated houses in the area were selling for about $200,000, so we felt safe with the investment potential—especially given that our contractor assured us he’d be done within six weeks.

Well, six months passed, and it became obvious that our original budget was unrealistic for the quality of work we wanted to do. We gutted the kitchen and two bathrooms, added a new master bath, refinished the floors, updated the electrical and plumbing, added HVAC, did work on the roof, and a bunch of other stuff. Our final tally was around $75,000.

We grew anxious as our costs increased, but at the same time, housing prices in the neighborhood were rising as well, including one house two doors down that sold for over $300,000. We crossed our fingers and hoped the trend would continue, but the market took a bit of a dip just in time for our July completion date—summer doldrums are no joke in the real estate world. Still, things were better than when we started, and we listed the house for $265,000. After a few weeks with no bites, we lowered the price to $259,500, and a few weeks later we sold it for $256,500.

So the final tally is:

Purchase price: $102,500

Renovation costs: $75,000 (ish)

Sales price: $256,500 (- ~$5,000 toward closing costs)

Realtor fees (6 percent of sales price): $15,390

Taxes (approx. 20 percent of profit—still waiting for final numbers) & Fees ($3000ish in interest): $20,000ish

Total earnings: $38,610

We put a lot of hard work and time into this renovation, but it was worth it—we were very happy with the results. We also learned a lot, and I think we can shave down our renovation costs in the future, and maybe be more strategic about when we go to market—and how we work with our contractors. We’re definitely planning to do another renovation project in the near future. In fact, we’re currently under contract with another house in the neighborhood. Stay tuned for all the nitty gritty on our next renovation!

Griffin Before and After: All the Rest

Besides the bathrooms and kitchen, most of the rooms in the Griffin house were in solid shape and didn’t require more than cosmetic work. This involved removing the carpet (oh, the carpet!), refinishing the wood floors, removing the radiators, repairing the trim in some areas, painting, and upgrading light fixtures. Take a look:

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Master

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Griffin Before & After: The Exterior

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The day we’ve been impatiently waiting for is finally here: Listing Day!

It’s been a long, long time since we started this journey on a frigid December day. We had more than a few people act like we were crazy for taking on a major renovation project, but we saw the potential in this house from Day 1 and we couldn’t wait to bring it back to life. We had some surprises along the way, and it took much (much) longer than expected, but we learned a lot and we’re excited to do it again.

When we bought it, the Griffin House was hiding behind a cluster of prickly, deep-rooted bushes. Todd worked hard to remove them with the help of a few friends, and we replaced them with sculptural grasses, purple-hued bushes, and rosebushes. The exterior got some new shingles, a new door, and a fresh coat of paint with a subtle green tint. The backyard got some love too with a lot of cleanup (so many leaves!), a privacy fence, tree-trimming, and repairs to the shed.

She looks a little different, wouldn’t you say?

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Finding Fixtures: Balancing Vintage Style with Modern Needs

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via Simply Grove

In our own extensive real estate browsing, we’ve noted how light fixtures can have a huge impact on the feel of the space, so we knew we had to get them right. Cheap, outdated fixtures can really bring down the look of a place, while attractive fixtures, carefully chosen to fit each room, can be a major focal point. We worked hard to find light fixtures that fit the home’s historic vibe while giving an occasional dash of modern style—and fitting within our budget. Because as much as we’d love to outfit the whole house in Schoolhouse Electric lights, that’s just not in the cards.

Here are a few of our finalists that fit the bill for being attractive, functional and affordable. Obviously, we didn’t use them all in the reno—you’ll have to wait for the “after” pictures to see which ones we chose!

Laying the Groundwork: A Very Messy House Update

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If you’re wondering why we haven’t posted in awhile, the answer is simple: Because the house is currently in shambles. Our contractors have been hard at work doing all the nitty gritty details like upgrading the electric and plumbing, installing new HVAC and removing the radiators, and framing out new closets and the master bath. It’s not pretty work, but it’s the most important part of this renovation project.

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The Kitchen. 
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HVAC going in in the dining room.
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Upstairs hall bath
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Framing in the master bath/laundry closet
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Todd and Matthew are slowly pulling out the old bushes.

The contractors still have quite a bit of work to do by our March 31 deadline (yeah—they’re really pushing it). Here’s what’s left for them to do:

  • Tile the bathrooms and install sinks/toilets/showers
  • Drywall the upstairs ceilings
  • Paint the exterior
  • Finish the electric/plumbing/HVAC
  • Refinishing the hardwood floors
  • And a bunch of other stuff

Once they’re done, we can take over. Here’s what’s on our punch list:

  • Painting the interior
  • Installing light fixtures
  • Building privacy fence
  • Installing the kitchen (that’s a biggie)
  • Landscaping

Who wants to come help??

Tips for Choosing a General Contractor

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I wish I could say that Todd and I are doing this entire renovation ourselves, but we’re smart enough to know our limits. Besides the fact that we both have demanding full-time jobs, neither of us are the handiest people in the world, so we knew we needed to hire a general contractor to manage the bulk of the work.

Turns out, that’s a little easier said than done. Having never worked with a contractor before, we weren’t even sure where to start looking for one. We also didn’t know how to make sure we were choosing the right one—especially considering that we are essentially putting our investment in his hands, not to mention giving him a big chunk of our funds. Luckily, we learned some things along the way. Here are our tips for finding a contractor, whether you’re doing a small project in your home or a full-scale renovation.

Ask for references. We started out by asking our realtor for some recommendations. Because we specifically chose to work with a real estate firm that’s familiar with home renovations, they had quite a few good contenders in their rolodex. It was a great place to start.

Do your own research. We didn’t want to just blindly take the advice of others without seeing what else was out there, so we did some investigating of our own as well. I looked at local “best of” lists, Houzz, and just browsed Google for sites that appealed to me.

Get multiple quotes. A good contractor will put a lot of effort into creating a thorough quote for your project, and at times I felt guilty for asking potential contractors to spend so much time on something when we might not hire them. But remember: This is how they sell themselves. It’s all part of the process. Get at least three quotes so you can compare them and choose one that works for you.

Don’t automatically choose the lowest quote. We had one contractor who came in with a quote about $25,000 above our budget. But when we told him that we were thinking of going with someone else, he magically dropped it $20K, then another $10K. The price was right, but we felt like he had given us the runaround, and we questioned how much we could trust him.

Find someone who’s comfortable with your type of project. We are renovating a historic home, and it was important to us that we found a contractor who was aware of the needs of this kind of project. One guy seemed perplexed by many standard features of the home, as if he’d never been in an old house before—immediate rejection. Another suggested doing away with several historic features. Nope.

Go with your gut. You’re going to be working closely with this person for several weeks or even months. You really should like them and trust them. If something about them rubs you the wrong way—whether they seem condescending or dishonest or inexperienced—then don’t feel bad about eliminating them from the running. Do your research, trust your instincts, and you’ll find someone to help you get the job done.

 

To Keep or Not to Keep?

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One of the most important things to us as we embark on this renovation project is finding a balance between maintaining the historical integrity of the home while making it attractive to modern buyers. Already we’ve had to ask ourselves some tough questions:

  • The clawfoot tub takes up most of the upstairs bathroom. But it’s beautiful. Can we find a way to work it in?
  • Our realtor suggests getting rid of the mud swirl ceilings. Erica thinks they’re lovely. Todd is undecided.
  • The sink in the kitchen is undeniably cool, but undeniably impractical. Can we use it anywhere?
  • The radiators are in solid shape, and they’re a great heat source. But do modern buyers want them in every room?
  • The home’s original windows are in good shape too, and studies have shown that replacing them actually has a negligible impact on energy costs. But will modern buyers see that?
  • There are hints of features that have been removed over the years, including columns in the foyer and pocket doors between the dining room and living room. Do we invest the money to add those back in?

As we move forward and weigh our options, we’ll be sure to share how we come to a decision on each one of these questions. Have an opinion? Feel free to leave a comment!