OUR FIRST YEAR AS HOMEOWNERS: WHAT WE'VE LEARNED

 
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We recently had our one year anniversary of being homeowners - not only owning a home, but also renovating one. I know tons of people are in the same boat as us and they know: it ain’t easy. HGTV is great and I am definitely guilty in over-indulging on Fixer Upper and Property Brothers, but what you don’t see are the massive teams behind the scenes and the real cost of things. So I wanted to share a few thoughts from just an average, young homeowner on a real-life budget for those who are looking to buy, are in the process of buying, or who are looking to work on their little slices of earth.


START EARLY & DO YOUR RESEARCH

Looking for a home is very exciting. Things you never thought about are now major topics of discussion and it’s easy to get in over your head. But before you hop onto Redfin or Zillow, saving homes with cute windows, know where you stand.
Danny and I started talking to a mortgage broker well over a year before we were ready to buy. We were fortunate to have gotten in contact with a broker and realtor with tons of patience to walk us through all the steps, numbers, rates, ALL the terminology, and what it would take from us as life-long-renters to make the leap. Knowing how much you can actually afford may surprise you and will set you up with realistic expectations. This will also give you the time and wiggle room to set yourself up for success and save for the appropriate down payment you will need to make your monthly mortgage one that works for you.

Starting early also allows you to get organized. There will be a billion questions lenders are going to ask you and you had better be ready with answers and paperwork to support them. The escrow period is really just a giant audit of your financial life and the decisions you have made. So, if you’re thinking of buying a new car or taking a fancy vacation before you buy a home, you should probably wait. Take it from me.

Remember, the broker and realtor are there to help you get the house. Find ones you can trust and you get along with. They will be your best friend through it all.

Lastly, really do your research of where you want to buy. Be honest and ask if you can see yourself in that particular neighborhood for a long period of time. Does that area appreciate in value? What is it like in the evenings? A home’s appearance can always change overnight, but neighborhoods take a bit more time. For Danny and I, we ended up buying the home we did for the neighborhood. Make sure the area fits your lifestyle and your daily needs. Otherwise, you might find yourself away from home more than you want.

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YES, IT COSTS THAT MUCH… PLUS MORE

A window is $1k??? What!? Painters costs how much? WE NEED A NEW ELECTRICAL PANEL?!?!

If you buy a home that will need some love, don’t believe what you see on TV or what you read online. Because, yes, it DOES cost that much and will likely be more than you anticipated in the end. DIY is great and we are total advocates, but there are just some things you cannot do, or just flat don’t want to because really, who has the time? Materials and labor cost a lot. That’s just how it is. Things cost as much as they do for a reason, so don’t cut corners. You’ll end up spending way more in the end.

When hiring professionals, get as many quotes as you can and do your background research on them before committing to any one. You’ll be surprised at some of the ranges you will get. Then, whatever cost you agree on, set aside a little more as cushion. You never know what lies in your walls until you start opening them. Sometimes, it’s nothing, but again, you never know… And then, if you don’t need it, now you can buy that nice piece of furniture you’ve had your eyes on for your new room!

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NEVER ASSUME

Ask questions. TONS OF THEM. Who cares if you sound like a crazy person.

I think this is the most important thing I have learned in the last year. I work full time and unfortunately cannot be there during the normal hours people work on our house, so sometimes decisions get left to someone else. Don’t ever assume they will know exactly what you want because they aren’t you. No one can read your mind or know your exact vision unless you constantly ask questions and get involved. If not, sometimes it will be too late, and well... you’re just going to have to live with it for a while, or forever. Be clear, concise, create diagrams by hand or in a simple CAD application like SketchUp, if you have the skillset. Do whatever you have to do. Be over-attentive to detail. This is your home and your money, after all.

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DOUBLE YOUR LEAD TIMES

Planning a party or have family coming to visit soon? Probably not a good time to start any projects. Renovations of any kind take a while. Whatever lead times you set aside for yourself or receive: double it. When we started our stair project (which is still not 100% done) we anticipated six weeks for completion. At WEEK TWELVE we were finally able to remove the plastic walls and use them regularly. Good work takes time so you have to be flexible. Materials can easily not be available or backordered, and you know what - contractors are humans too, with families, and they need breaks. Be patient no matter what comes up (the struggle is real), you’ll be thankful in the end .

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MAKE REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS

Lastly, don’t set yourself up for disappointment. I, for one, was terrible with this. I wanted things done a certain way and wanted them done NOW. This made the whole process tough and exhausting.

Know that not everything is going to work out as you plan and be ready for the rollercoaster. Be realistic with your wants vs needs. Make a list of real priorities to help set yourself up for what can really be obtained with your timeline and budget. Learning how to live in less than ideal situations is going to be a big part of the process in any home buying or renovation. And really, when you live in an unideal space, it gives you the chance to be creative with what you got. You might impress yourself with what you come up with.

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Being a homeowner has taught us so much and has also put a lot in perspective. I am so grateful to be able to have experienced all the things mentioned above and encourage everyone to take risks and make themselves uncomfortable sometimes.

Thanks for being here.

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OUR STAIRCASE: THE RENOVATION // WEEK ONE

 
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A little behind our original schedule, but: THE STAIRCASE RENOVATION HAS BEGUN! And, it has been moving quickly! Everyday now, I leave for work and come home to massive changes! It's so exciting!

THE PLAN:

Let's rewind a little.
As mentioned months ago, we thought the kitchen or bathroom would be the first thing to change, but after living in the house for a bit, we decided to do the biggest thing (besides the kitchen) first and not only fix the staircase, but actually re-structure it and change the angle. Crazy, right? In order to do this, we agreed to lose one of our bedrooms and also expand the living room (See more of the plan and inspo here).

Once our contractor approved the renderings from our engineer, we hit the ground running!

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BEFORE:

Here are some before photos. FIrst, from inside the front bedroom... and don't forget that half-assed closet in which the original staircase cut through...

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And from the original living room looking towards the front bedroom where the new arch is going to be between the two spaces.

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Day One: I left for work and when I got home the wall was gone! I was in complete awe. I know you see this kind of thing all the time on HGTV and how opening walls makes such an impact, but WOW it really does! I can't imagine the wall ever being back there! And the funny thing is, once our contractor started to tear down the wall, he found that there was originally an opening at some point that someone had the bright idea to close! Can you believe it?

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A few days later they removed the old staircase and it got even crazier. We could walk inside the area and see the original lathe and plaster, and really smell the old house. Luckily, we haven't come across anything too weird in the walls, unlike the attic where Danny found a ton of treasures while clearing it out for our new electrical and insulation. 

Once the new stairs get put in, this left-over extra space will be a large closet - something we really lack in this house.

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Looking in from the living room now is such a weird feeling considering we slept in the front room for the last six months! It honestly doesn't even feel like the same house, and in the best way. We have started playing around with different ideas of how we will designate the spaces now (living room, dining room, etc), but we are so early on that it's hard to even envision exactly what it will be like. We are waiting until the new stairs start going in, BUT we are thinking this will be the new dining room!

I am getting really excited to finally pick paint, trim, install new lighting, and - most importantly - to eventually bring home all of our furniture that has been sitting in storage since November! 

There is still a ton of work to be done, but jumping the hurdle to get the project started is done!
Another update in a few weeks!

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