From the Forum – Should we just gut the house?

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Should we just gut the house?

“When we bought our Petworth house 3 years ago, we had great plans to renovate it one room at a time, and with as much DIY as possible. But now we have a toddler and another baby on the way, and our kitchen renovation plans have garnered some rather high estimates from contractors (we want to gut it and move a half bath). Which got us thinking…why not just gut the whole house?

Does anyone have any experience in this? I see that flippers gut houses in our neighborhood all the time, but how much would it end up costing us if we don’t want to sell, but rather enjoy the renovated house? Would it be a lot more than $100K for a gut job, new dry wall and perhaps some new floors? (We hate HATE our plaster walls and can’t wait to get rid of them). Other than the half bath move, we don’t have other structural changes to make…

Would love any insight anyone’s got on this… and suggestions of contractors are welcome!”

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40 Comment

  • It could easily be double $100K. Not to mention the added cost of temporary housing while the work is being done. Is the house in bad shape, or you just don’t like that it looks “unrenovated” due to plaster walls? Do they systems need to be updated (ie pluming, electrical, HVAC)? If the house is in otherwise good shape and you just want to make some cosmetic changes, gutting it sounds overkill. If what you want is essentially a brand new house, and you have the capital to spend potentially $200K plus rent, then go for it.

  • I agree with Anon. We gutted our kitchen and basement, added two new baths, reconfigured the layout, re-did all of the plumbing and electric for that part of the house etc. This was probably about 1/4 of the overall living space in the house and we spent 100k. Best thing to do is to get someone in to give you an idea. Although I think they are more high end, I hear great things about Case. That is not who we used.

  • I put $250k into my house and it’s done nicely, but there are still some other issues left. I have a 2,400sf house – you usually calculate the budget based on the square footage, build quality, and location. I would have to see the place and details about what you want to give you a good budget estimate, but I’m not a contractor…

    I lived in my rough house for 14 years before just going ahead and renovating the whole damn thing. I got tired of fixing it piece by piece. Doing small fixes wasn’t enough to make me feel comfortable in the house. Renovating the whole house also made it new again, the bad old memories from my house are mostly gone now that it’s redone, and it’s almost like moving to a new place.

    A down side is that you’ll likely have to move out while repairs are done, I rented an apartment while also paying mortgage while my home renovations were being done. It was a bit tough and I’m lucky I made it through that expense.

    That being said, you can find a general contractor to give you an estimate but it’s hard to detail all the work that needs to be done up-front to get an accurate renovation estimate.

    The way to go for this in my opinion is to get a 203k loan… Wells Fargo was GREAT on that for me. They guided me through the process exceptionally and I was pleased with their renovation loan service.

    You’ll also need a HUD consultant and an architect – make sure they’re not referred by the General Contractor to prevent conflicts of interest and to have checks and balances in your process.

    You also have to make sure you’re the type of personality to manage the project. Your General Contractor (GC) is out to make money, they will try shortcuts, they will recommend cheap materials, they may stop working at points. You will have to be the person to go to hardware stores and find items in budget in advance of the project, you will likely have to curse your GC out on occasion to get them back in-line with the schedule. You’ll also have to make sure that you don’t become overburdening to your GC in order to keep them happy and working smoothly.

    This is just scraping the service, but overall I would highly recommend a renovation loan now because interest rates are low, and contractors are available. Cheers.

    • Good point on 203k – that’s how we did ours too. I don’t know how anyone else would ever finance a 200k+ project. 203k was a HUGE pain in the ass, especially when our project ran over in terms of budget and time. My contractor hated dealing with them (the contractor doesn’t get paid at ALL until after the work is done, so they have to be willing to front the money for the work). Many contractors will simply refuse to work on 203k projects.. At the end of the day though, it still may be the best option for a full home reno.

      • justinbc

        One thing to point out is that there is a limit to the amount you can get for a 203K, but if your house is in Petworth I would assume that it’s under the limit given what the average sales are there and the condition you say your home is in. And yes, contractors really hate working on 203K projects, not just because of the payment structure but also because it has to go through additional approvals.

      • My husband and I renovated our Petworth rowhome with a 203K as well. I completely agree with “dat” 203K is a huge pain to deal with and contractors that will work on 203K projects are not always the best. The whole process was a nightmare. We also rented an apartment during the construction of our home. Sometimes you have the ability to include the cost of renting an apartment in the construction loan. We paid rent out of pocket to save money. A good gut budget would be at least 250K if Structural, Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing are involved. We had a budget of 145K and there are several projects that are still unfinished.

    • justinbc

      In order to avoid bad GC issues like the ones mentioned above I highly suggest joining the site Checkbook which is a great resource for all service type jobs performed on your home.

  • We did a completely gut before we moved in. Our reno involved tearing off the entire back of the house, adding a ~1000 sf addition (including unfinished basement), re-doing all of the mechanical, electrical, plumbing, roof, etc. New kitchen, new bathrooms (in different locations), etc. Major major work. Quite a bit of unexpected structural problems that pushed the budget up even higher. We tried to retain the character of the house by keeping the original pocket doors, the woodwork on the front stairs (and the front stairs themselves), refinishing floors and patching with salvaged floors, re-hanging the original wood doors, etc. All said and done, our reno budget ended up between 200-300k. We’re thrilled with the result (and it was worth the price), but it is not for the faint of heart. The whole project took over a year. Architect was critical. Don’t go into something like this (unless you REALLY know what you’re doing) without a good architect to supervise.

    Most flippers do cheap work. Cheap cheap cheap. My guess is that they end up spending around 100k for full renos of most houses where they don’t have to do any major structural work (e.g., no under-pinning, no rear addition, etc). But they are paying much lower margins (since they generally sub everything out themselves) than you or I will pay (expect about 40-50% markup on everything by your GC).

    Long story short, I could see getting by with 100-150k for a good quality gut reno of a 1200sf rowhouse, assuming that you aren’t going to start moving walls around. If you want to start configuring lots of the rooms, adding bathrooms, etc, it could get quite a bit more expensive.

    If you end up going this route, get lots of quotes and pick someone you are comfortable with!

    • You got an absolutely amazing price if you did all that, including architectural work, for less than $300k.

  • Lots of good advice already in this thread, so I’ll ask– why do hate your plaster walls so much? I love mine. They’ll outlive me and no chance of mold/mildew. Historic building materials were made to last.

    • Same question here – I love plaster walls (and wood floors and pocket doors).

      • Emmaleigh504

        Same! I love my plaster walls and hardwood floors and wish I had pocket doors!

        • Yeah, I don’t understand the hate for the plaster walls. Yes, they usually have cracks but they aren’t that difficult to fix. My husband just did a ton of work on the plaster walls in our bedroom and they look fantastic! While it was a lot of work it was certainly less work than ripping it all out and putting up sheet rock.

        • I love mine too! You have to be careful when driving nails into them, of course, but otherwise they’re awesome.

          • I have plaster walls but have not yet put any nails into them… what do I need to know (or be careful of) before I do?

          • ah

            You need to know that the nail will probably just create a divot in the wall and will be difficult to pound in.

          • And you can get special hangers (ook) for this, and use tape in a “X” over the spot you will nail into to keep the plaster from chipping out.

    • Better soundproofing too with plaster. It’s actually a much higher-end (and more expensive in labor costs) material than drywall. Which is not to say you can’t replace it, if you choose, of course.

    • And they make the house soundproof!! Think twice and thrice about removing them.

    • Bob Villa has keeping plaster walls on his top 10 things to keep with an old house.

  • Personal opinions here, but I think that before deciding about the gut job, you should consider:
    1. You will probably be out of the house for 6 months, so you have to take into account the extra cost, unless you can stay with family/friends.
    2. In order to make an informed decision I would ask for a few quotes for two separate projects: a. kitchen only and b. Gut job. Contractors will generally do this by putting the additional work as ‘optional’. Just make sure that you have a pretty detailed specification of what you want so all bids have the same amount of work/quality of material. My (limited) experience suggests that there are not great savings in doing everything at once, but maybe your experience will be different.
    3. Managing a big renovation involves a lot of your time, even if you have a general contractor. You have to make a lot of decisions about materials, layout etc, especially at the beginning. If you organize your own professionals (plumbers, electrician, etc) it will be even more work on your part (but probably much cheaper).
    4. General contractors in DC tend to be quite expensive. Flippers can flip at reasonable prices because their labor costs are quite low. General contractors add on their profit margin which can be pretty hefty in DC.
    5. The one thing I would think about before getting rid of the plaster is that a lathe and plaster outer wall typically takes up less space than framing + drywall and provides decent noise insulation. If you do put drywall on your outer walls, I would probably put up furring strips and insulation.

    6. Get your own building permits. We were able to save a few thousand dollars applying for our own building permit. It only costs about $200 as a home owner, but contractors have to pay a set percentage of the renovation cost (at least this is what we were told).

    • Home owners and contractors pay the same permit costs in DC, it is a percentage of the estimated construction costs.

  • My wife and I also live in Petworth and gutted our house last summer including replacing the windows and installing AC. We did it between 100-200k depending on how involved you are. The key is to know what you want done from the begining and not deviate as that can add up. We also financed the construction through Wells Fargo Construction Loan but not a 203k (but WF was great to work with). Had a great contractor as well which is important.

  • Prince Of Petworth

    Maybe it’s because plaster walls can tend to get cracks?

  • Yes, it will be over 100k. it will be over 200k.

    Its also probably not worth it unless you need major electrical or plumbing changes, want to remove walls, or want to add A/C.

    Regarding the floors, why do they need to be replaced? Whats wrong with the plaster walls? When they’re painted they will look virtually identical. Plus, they add more soundproofing.

    • One thing you can do is to install 1/4″ drywall over the walls you dont like. You’ll get a fresh surface.

      The only consideration here is the reveal of the woodwork. It may throw off the balance. Still, you could remove the cap piece on the baseboard and your window/door casings and replace them over the top of the new dry wall.

      However, I think its a pretty big waste of money unless you’re removing walls./expanding doorways. A good plaster patching will cost far less and will look as finished as new drywall. New cracks are unlikely to appear as long as you dig out all of the loose plaster. If the lath is loose behind it, the fix becomes more complex, but not terrible.

      • I dont know why the above comment registered as “anonymous” It was me.

      • Be careful about sanding plaster walls to repair cracks. Most if not all old homes have lead paint on the walls and sanding kicks up lead dust which is very unsafe for any person to breathe in but especially for children. Plus the dust gets everywhere.

  • I would go with the gut job. I’ve been in my house for almost 15 years, going mostly room-by-room, plus various improvements including a kitchen addition and installing new hardwood floors myself, and hiring in for a back porch and a bathroom addition. Anyway, after all this time we love our house but some of its “character” (not the good kind) still remains.

    A hundred years ago, they built things to last…but only for a hundred years. That’s why my plaster is failing, the nails holding my roof slates are failing, the folded metal seams on my metal roof are failing, etc. And while I am sad that I am replacing them (respectively) with drywall, shingle, and rubber membrane that won’t last half as long as the originals, that’s the reality of higher labor costs, more expensive craftsmanship, and lower cost-per-service year materials.

    If I had it to do over, I would have replaced the roof and repointed the bricks first — to avoid water damage on subsequent improvements — then demo’d most of my plaster walls and ceilings, installed central a/c and improved plumbing and electrical, put up new walls and ceilings, then refinished floors and trim. In total, it would have been more expensive but I would have ended up with a higher quality environment. UNLESS: one of the contractors sucked, and their failure cascaded/undid the rest of the work. At least doing most of the work myself, I could trust the quality. But of course that meant going room-by-room as career and reproductive schedules allowed.

  • I did a 203K loan for my kitchen when we first moved in and the whole process was a nightmare — contractors have to pay expenses up front with these loans and complete the work before banks will reimburse them. Since material and labor costs are all finalized before the work starts, there’s not a whole lot of flexibility when it comes to any changes you might later want to make in the work and/or materials used. Personally, I’ve found redoing a room at a time in the rest of my house to be a much more rewarding and relaxing (not to mention educational!) process, but I also don’t have little kids. Patching plaster cracks is pretty easy but stripping molding with dental tools ain’t for everyone.

    If you’re going to go the drywall route make sure that you or your contractor installs insulation between all of your walls. One contractor we got a kitchen bid from told me that insulating internal walls was just a waste of materials, but if you’re used to the soundproofing that plaster provides, you’ll miss it when its gone if you don’t insulate.

  • We are doing a high-quality pop up to our third floor (currently an attic with 6 foot ceilings that we are bumping up) and adding a bathroom and roof deck, and expect this project to cost $200K when all is said and done, including architect. There is no way you can do a gut renovation for $100K, and to get even close to that you will basically just be rebuilding it like it was before, in which case, why spend the money?

    • My husband and I did a 203K loan gut job in Stronghold, it takes a long time to process, make sure value does not exceed 110 percent of the “As Repaired Value”, and I am not certain you can do a full 203K for more than I think 30K on a home you already own. The streamline might be an easier option if you just want to do your smaller projects, and not gut the whole thing.

      We did all new electrical, AC, wiring, kitchen, bathroom upstairs, shoring up of old sleeping porch, some paint for $105~ (I think I am remembering everything). One thing I will say is I’m pretty sure we still have dust, with babies I would think about moving out and cleaning deeply before moving in (one regret I have)

      We used Impact Construction and Consulting and Justin the owner is familiar with 203K process. While permits were a bit of an issue, he was really great to work with and responded quickly to any issue. I’d recco him for a minor or major job, 203K or not. He’ll certainly give you a quote quickly. Looking back, it was well worth it, and he stuck to his timeline and worked fast to resolve any issues!

      We used to help us find someone to work within our budget and who could do 203K loans.

  • It depends on what you mean by “renovate” each room. Are you moving walls/doors, or adding a fresh coat of paint? If you are going to be knocking down most of the walls at some point, then bite the bullet and do it all at once, for several reasons; You maximize your dumpster. Workers are going to track the mess through your house all the way out to the dumpster. Drywall and plaster walls are hard to match up. Plaster dust is going to get all over the house regardless of how well you try to seal-in the work zone. If you have small kids, get all the lead-painted walls down at one time while you are not still living in the house.

    The total cost of the project is very dependent on the finishes you choose and whether you are installing central air or moving structural walls, Total demo should not exceed $8k and new partition framing and drywall might be $20-$25k. The rest is in the finish allowance.

  • I did the big renovation of my house 6 years ago and it cost about $100K, but this was only for 2/3 of the house. The cellar/basement and the kitchen were separate jobs at separate times. Did not get a special loan, just a regular 2nd mortgage from my credit union, which I later bundled into a refinance of the 1st.
    I paid supplies and labor and was very active in working with the GC to keep costs down. I did all my own painting, I got the permits, bought some of the fixtures, and held off installing some systems when I ran out of money. When I ran out of money, I was still able to move back in, just without AC or heat. The heating which was about $2-3K wasn’t completed till 5 months after I moved back in and the AC ($7K) until the next year. That summer the GC loaned me some window units.
    Yes, move out during the renovation. It will go faster, healthwise (mental & physical) it will be better, but don’t go to far. Part of working with the GC to keep costs down was stopping by every day or every other day to check on progress. I was living 2 blocks away with friends. You have a family so that might be harder, so make a strong effort to check in at the site often. Stay with friends, relatives, neighbors or find a sublease. Give them a clear time (if staying with friends/family) of when you’re moving out and have a plan to move out to a hotel or other place if the project runs too long. Offer to pay rent. If subleasing, rent the smallest cheapest most tolerable thing possible. Remember it is temporary. Time your project so this will be easy. Put your stuff in storage or if you are only renovating part of the house, stuff your stuff in a part of the house far from the work and double cover it in plastic. Dust gets everywhere. Throw out stuff you don’t need or use.
    If you can’t afford to do your whole house in one whole swoop, do it in parts and think of dealing with the unsexy structural issues (uneven floors, crumbly walls & ceilings, insulation, old wiring, etc) which are always expensive, but cheaper to deal with when the walls and floors are open. Also it lets you redo weird stuff that came with retrofitting overtime, like pipes in odd places, or walls that make no sense.
    Lastly, when picking a GC do follow up on their references. Better yet look at their last project. Talk to someone who had a reno like yours to make sure your GC has experience with this sort of thing and isn’t talking out of his butt. Ask questions of the references, this may save you money when you know what to look out for.

  • For free beer, my tattooed punk rock friends and I will come over and take control of your steps each day until these people realize they need to find somewhere else to loiter. Physical violence will cost a small fee.

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