What Does It Take To Renovate A Home?

47b6d632b3127cce8b850b362a0a00000025138AZuWjlm2btB, originally uploaded by Prince of Petworth.

I thought it would be interesting to do some more interviews with those who have decided to purchase homes that need major renovations. Due to scheduling conflicts (I kept getting too drunk and sleeping too late over the weekends) this interview was conducted by email. The following home is owned by Stacey, 28 and Dan, 30. Stacey replied to the questions and chronicles their renovations in her own blog DC Rowhouse.

1. How long have you lived in DC?

Almost two years, we moved to D.C. in August of 2006.

2. When/How did you decide it was time to buy a home?

Those are really hard questions. I guess it was right for us. We actually lived in the house as a renter before we bought it. We only planned to live in D.C for a year, and when we got the chance to stay, the house went on the market at the same time. It was just the right opportunity for us.

3. What neighborhoods did you look into?

Since we didn’t really do a major real estate search, we limited it to the area around our house to make sure we were getting a good deal.

4. How did you ultimately choose your home and neighborhood?

One of the major perks to our house is that we have rental income from our downstairs tenant. The other amazing part of our home is our gigantic back yard and TWO parking spots. Its really hard to find an 800 square foot yard and two car parking. We love those features and that was important to us.

5. Did you know you were going to have to do many renovations when you purchased your home?

We bought the house knowing it was not exactly what we wanted, but it had potential. Since we only planned to live in the house for a year as renter’s we weren’t so picky about renting. In fact, I didn’t even see the house before we moved in. Since we had lived there for 6 months before it went on the market – we had a good idea of what we could do. What we didn’t know is the “real” cost of things. You can watch as much HGTV as you want, but until you get some bonafide contractors in your house – you are not going to have an idea of how expensive things are. Questions continue after the jump with photos.

6. How do you decide which projects to do first?

I made a plan of everything I wanted to change in the house. Then I worked out how each one of these things needed to be done, and started with the projects that needed to be done before I could do other things. For example, we are refinishing the hardwood floors downstairs, to a darker color. We are also adding hardwood upstairs (it was carpet). So, I needed to install the hardwood upstairs before I could refinish the downstairs to match the color. I just worked out the steps that things had to be in and started with the first few projects. Also, the time of year, size and cost of the project weigh in.

7. How do you decide when you need to call in a professional contractor?

I am contracting our entire renovation. I would love to hire a contractor to do it – but it would be extremely expensive. Since we are putting in quite a bit of work, it is not something we could do. I am hiring specific craftsmen to do work on areas I cannot do. How I decide when I need to call someone is by the size and difficulty of the project. I couldn’t spend two weeks installing hardwood floors upstairs, so we called someone in. Since I work full-time, working on the house is a second job. I also have to remember we are living there at the same time and we cannot live for extended amounts of time in a construction zone. Also, we don’t have the tools or storage space for tools. Sometimes the cost of the work is equal to the cost of the equipment you would need to do it yourself.

8. How do you choose your contractors? From friends or other referrals?

When I get an estimate for a job, I call about 3-5 different people for quotes and to talk about the work I want done. I talk with them extensively about the work. Since I already know what needs to be done and what to watch for, I gauge their response to certain questions as we go over the project. Also, timeliness and the quality of their bid is a major factor. If someone says they will give you a quote by Wednesday, and it comes in on Thursday – not good. Also, you want someone to give you a well-presented quote, that you both can sign and use as a contract.

9. What projects you’ve already completed?

We have installed hardwood floors upstairs and on the stairs, painted the house, re-framed the fireplace, installed a new front door, removed a wall/door in our bedroom, installed some new light fixtures, small renovation to the downstairs bath, and started demolition of the backyard.

10. When you start a project is it difficult to stick with a budget?

I have a master budget already in place. When I start to plan for a specific project, I compare it with the master budget to see if this is something we can do, and hopefully work around it. But, something just cost more that I originally expected and also, it is really easy to get sucked into upgrades. While I planned for some upgrades, it is easy to add more once you are in the project. Almost all of our projects have been done on or under budget so far. If they have gone over budget, it is no more than 15%.

11. What future projects do you have in mind?

I really feel like we have just gotten started. I have so much more to do. We have just started with the backyard, and that will be a big job. So far, I think we are a little over our heads. We will be adding a flagstone patio, new fence, new wood on the deck, new railing, moving/replacing the staircase, laying new sod and landscaping the yard. After that we are going to take a break for a while I hope. The next project will be the downstairs floors and the kitchen, which will include a total remodel of the kitchen. Following that will be fully renovating both full baths upstairs. Other small projects I have will be replacing all the closet doors, casing (framing) the windows, some electrical work, and rewiring the phone and cable. So, everything you can think of essentially.

12. To date, what has been the most difficult project?

There are many facets a project can be difficult. The floors were probably the most difficult to manage and live with. We stayed in a hotel for four days and the house was trashed, so that made it hard. The backyard demolition has been the most physically difficult.

13. What has been the biggest surprise in any project?

Every project has a surprise. So far we have been lucky that every “surprise” we have had has been on our list of things that “might” happen.

backyard demo

Stairs before
stairs before

Stairs after

Lot of projects are in the works so I will update photos with before and after pictures as they are completed.

6 Comment

  • you said youre getting the phone and cable rewired… is that a contracted job, or will the phone/cable companies do that? (even if its not their previous handiwork?) we have so many phone jacks and so many wires running into each room…who do you call to get all of the existing stuff taken out, and only the current hookup needs met?

  • Hi Cristobal,

    Are you looking to do this yourself, or do you just want to know about my project? For my case, a lot of the wiring was done post-construction, so they just ran the low-voltage wiring (cable/phone) along the baseboards and into the jack in the wall. It comes into the house either in a small hole drilled into the brick, or through the window. Sweet, right? Lots of old houses in DC did it this way because, well, it’s cheap. So, to re-do it we are first going to remove the old wiring by just unpinning it from the wall. to install new wires is more complicated since it involves removing the baseboards to hide the wires. The phone/cable company will do this for you – or you can call a contractor to do it.
    E-mail me if you want more information on this.

  • very exciting topic! So what about the arch visible in the LR/DR area? Do you think it’s original? I was doubtful about this and ended up removing the arch. Material stuffed inside indicated that the arch was added around 1955, house was built in 1912. Wonder if yours is similar!

  • Hi bogfrog,

    Interesting question. I have no idea if it is original or not. The house actually had a major overhaul in 1992, so maybe they put it in then? I am leaving it, because I love it! It let a lot of light in though the back of the house, which a shorter door frame would not.

  • I’m interested in getting some quotes for a second story porch. Do you know anyone in the area I can contact? or are you doing that yourself?

Comments are closed.