04 May 2010

reader question answered

I'm cheating slightly, because this question actually came in through Facebook. But it is from a friend who likes our renovations and wanted some advice, so I consider that a reader question, don't you?

Q: We are in the throws of house hunting. And it's coming down to houses that are totally renovated and beautiful that other people are outbidding us for, or houses that are dated. I love the pics of what you have done to your place, so I wanted to know, were you guys self taught in all that you did?

We're trying to decide on putting an offer on a house that's a great location and sizable, but for the price, it has no updates. We'd want to re-do at least one bathroom completely, update things in the kitchen and basement, etc. Everything is livable (although the main bathroom is pink, PINK), so these are things we could do over time, but we've never done anything but hang pictures.

Thoughts? Were you handy before homeownership?

A: My sympathies! House hunting is stressful, and home buying is even more so. Sending happy thoughts...

To answer your Q, no, we had never done anything but hang pictures and assemble Ikea furniture before, and definitely learned along the way. I recommend starting small (paint, small repairs, and working up to the bigger stuff). Start watching more DIY Network, just to get comfortable with the idea of doing some of this work... you will notice many patterns, and the approach to various DIY projects will become second nature. And get a book like this so that you can always refer to it and have a photo guide of how to do stuff. The This Old House site is also AWESOME for showing videos of virtually every home improvement project around. Seeing someone do something in a video makes it way more approachable in real life. eHow is great for that too.

Also don't be afraid to make strategic use of professional help. It can be well worth the money, and is sometimes even cheaper than DIY since the pros already have all the equipment they need and tend to be faster than amateurs. When we first moved in, we had pros scrape down and resurface the popcorn ceiling, and install the bamboo floors. With both of those, they would have looked terrible if we did them, and we would have had to buy or rent tools, which would have been pricey anyway. But we painted, swapped out some of the electrical switches, and changed the light fixtures ourselves. And then obviously the bathroom was a much bigger project, which we didn't attack until we'd lived here the better part of a year. We had to hire an emergency plumber for a stupid mistake we made, and we paid about $500 to have the shower tub and tile reglazed rather than demolishing the tile and installing a whole new surround... best money we could have spent. But even still, we consider the bathroom a DIY project. Just remember that DIY is not all or nothing.

With stuff like appliances, often the places you buy from will install them and haul off the old ones for free (often for a credit from your utility... check before you buy), so you don't need to worry about that.

I say go for the pink bathroom. Paint and wallpaper are no big deal at all to tackle, and even stuff like replacing a toilet is surprisingly easy once you see someone else do it. (Though for the latter, wear gloves!)

Hope that helps! Let me know how things turn out!


Mark found my answer a little unfair to him, and so he has added this supplement:

Tanja may have understated my credentials a bit...but not by much. I had done some work around the house with my dad growing up, although he's a ton handier than I am.

In addition to Tanja's thoughts I would add... How are you feeling about the prospect of tackling the renovation projects besides intimidated? To me the work itself is/was fun because it has been a chance to learn new skills, do some problem solving and feel handy around the house. But if you don't think you will enjoy the work itself, it will be harder to get/stay motivated, and you’ll end up fantasizing about killing your husband in his sleep for making you do all the work (i.e. go ahead and pay more for a place that’s already updated).

I would definitely second Tanja's point about starting small and working your way up (e.g. kitchen last). In addition to being more comfortable with the process and knowing what to anticipate, you’ll want to move quickly if you’re taking an entire room out of commission, especially rooms like the master bath or kitchen.

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Thanks for taking a moment to leave a note! I would love if you would leave your email address so I can write you back! But no pressure. :-) (No anonymous posts, please.) xoxo, tanja

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