The Final Countdown: Can We Make It?

We have 16 days until we officially sell the Edgewood house, which means 15 days to finish Barton. Otherwise, we’ll be packing all of our belongings into storage and taking our baby, two dogs, two cats, and sorry selves to live with some poor soul right before Christmas. We’re trying as hard as we can to make our deadline, but even some of our contractors seem doubtful. Probably because the house looks like this:

It’s officially a disaster zone. But we have a plan, and if we can make it, we’ll prove to ourselves that we don’t need a general contractor to renovate a house. Especially not one who is unlicensed, as we found out that ours was before firing him (and wasting a month waiting for him to get everything up to code.)

After failing multiple inspections, we hired a new electrician to rewire the house, and we finally got the green light to move forward on Tuesday. Drywall started right away, and the kitchen was installed bright and early Thursday morning. It still needs hardware, counters, appliances, a backsplash, and shelves—but we’re pretty stoked.

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If all goes well, this house will look a lot different on Monday. Drywall is finishing up this weekend, Todd is tiling the bathroom, electrical trim-out is starting, and so is the trim installation. Next week is painting and refinishing the floors. Counters are set to arrive a day or two before we move in, after which we can tile the backsplash and add some shelves. Besides that, we just have a big ol’ list we need to accomplish ourselves, including trimming out HVAC, pouring a sidewalk, painting the porch, tiling the hearths, finishing out the closets, trimming out the bathrooms, and a bunch of other stuff.

Please send us your good vibes. We’re gonna need them.

 

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Barton Update: Renovation Limbo

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There’s a reason we haven’t posted any photos from the Barton house in a while: We’ve been in renovation limbo. Or renovation hell, depending on how you look at it. (We’re currently leaning toward the latter perspective.)

We’ve had some challenges with permits and inspections, and we’re currently waiting to get approval from four different inspectors before we can finish the house. Finish the house meaning replace drywall, paint, install trim and doors, install kitchen and bathrooms, refinish floors, trim out electric and plumbing, build a fence, and some other things.

In other news, our own house is under contract and we close in about a month. Yes, that means we have one month to finish this renovation and move. Anxious doesn’t even begin to describe our current mood.

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Despite our intimidatingly long to-do list, if you look hard, you can see that we have made quite a bit of progress on the house since we started just about two months ago. We did all new electric, plumbing, and HVAC, insulated the whole house, and rearranged a lot of walls, doors, and windows. The floor plan has been drastically improved, and the house is much brighter and modern-feeling. Yes, there’s lots to do but we’re trying our best to stay positive. If this was easy, everyone would be doing it, right?

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The Perplexing Nature of Paint

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I distinctly remember the day we stopped by the Griffin house (our last renovation project) to see the progress the painters had made on the exterior paint job. We drove up, I looked at the house, and I asked Todd, “When are they starting?”

“They’re already done,” he replied.

It was only then that we realized the color we’d chosen, though very different on the paint chip, was so similar to the house’s original color that you couldn’t even tell we’d had it painted. Or that we’d spent about $3000 on it.

After some hormone-fueled tears on the way home (I was about nine months pregnant at the time), Todd made me feel a bit better by reminding me that the house did look cleaner with a fresh coat of paint, even if it looked like the same color. But it was then that we vowed that we would be much more careful when choosing paint colors in the future.

We probably could have gotten by with a power wash and trim touch-up on the Barton house, but we wanted to make it look new. We started by looking at the other houses on the street. We wanted it to stand out from neighbors, but not too much. There are a lot of light beiges and grays on the block, so we opted to add some color and depth.

We briefly considered a sage-ish green, but decided that would blend too much with its surroundings. So we shifted to blue—and that’s when things got complicated. There are about a million shades of blue to choose from. We spent quite a bit of time poring over paint chips and catalogs and Pinterest before deciding we wanted something veering toward navy with gray undertones. But that still left a lot of options.

So then we did something we haven’t done before: We bought paint samples. Lots of them. For both the house color and varying shades of coordinating trim. Our house looked like a patchwork quilt.

And we were reminded that in most cases, the color on the paint chip looks completely different in real life. One beautiful navy looked like purple on the house. A pretty slate blue looked almost pastel. The colors would also look different in the shade versus the sun, and depending on how many coats we applied. Our confusion deepened.

Finally, after many coats of paint and many trips to Lowes, we settled on a color combo we liked: Sherwin Williams’ Slate Tile with Black Magic for the base and trim. The painters aren’t quite finished yet, but we’re really happy with the look so far (forgive the crappy iPhone pic):

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So, the lesson of the day: You can’t be too careful when choosing paint colors.

 

 

The Surprise Gut Job

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There are few things that can ruin a trip to Paris. One of them, we recently learned, is a text from your contractor saying, “I gutted your house.”

Luckily, this surprise news didn’t completely derail our vacation, but it did put a huge damper on the day, became a topic of frequent discussion for the rest of our trip, and made us extra eager to return home.

After several weeks of talking and negotiations, we’d officially signed with our contractor and gotten him his first check literally the day we left the country. We resigned ourselves to being completely hands-off for the first few weeks of the project, curious how much he would be able to get done while we were away. We were initially drawn to his ambitious schedule—he hoped to be completely finished within six weeks.

Things seemed to be going well until that gut-wrenching text. Our contractor was moving right along with our punch list—which did not, in fact, include gutting the house. The old plaster walls and trim weren’t perfect, but we were fine with them. However, he’d made the executive decision that the house would be better without them.

International calls were made, along with apologies and new agreements. Eventually we decided to let him finish up with phase one, repair what he had done, and reassess when we returned home (to put it simply).

We also decided to make the most of the situation. By taking out all of the walls and ceilings along with some damaged floors, we had unexpectedly been given a blank slate. So we decided to completely redo the electrical, add insulation, add new closets, and change the floor plan a bit. All of this while on vacation an ocean away.

The moment of truth came early this morning, when, heavily jet-lagged after a long day of travel, we went to check out the progress on the house. The walls have been opened up and the new closets have been framed out. HVAC, electrical, and plumbing are well on their way. Damaged floors have been repaired. The exterior has even been painted. It looks… good. Really good.

We have several weeks to go, and a lot is hanging in the balance, but we’re feeling good about where we stand. Here are some photos of where we are about three weeks in.

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Opening up the hallway.
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Starting to expose the fireplace.
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Opened up the wall between the kitchen and dining room, and added French doors on the back.
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Framed out laundry closet.
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Oliver approves.
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Looking into the dining room from the kitchen. Todd removed all of the plaster on this side of the fireplace.
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Looking into the new pantry.
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Bedrooms with new closets added.
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This room will become a master bath in Phase 2.

 

 

The Barton House: Before Photos

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Some people would walk into a house like this and walk right back out. It’s old. It’s dirty. It needs so much help. But 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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