Our New House & Project List

Sunday, September 23, 2018

We've officially turned the corner and are through the due diligence period for our new house! We've had all our inspections (which went super well), and have negotiated for the additional repairs we'd like made before closing. Our next deposit has been turned in, and we're flying straight ahead to closing in a little under 3 weeks!

I figured some people may be interested to see the projects we have planned for this new home, and I'm hoping that sharing a list of our goals for this home will keep us accountable for actually doing them!

To me, this new house has so much potential. It's in one of our favorite neighborhoods in Durham, walkable to all our favorite trails, restaurants, and public transportation. It puts us a few minutes closer to out of town family, and while it's not aesthetically up to our tastes, it has really, really good bones!

This house was built in 1983, and has had the same owners since then. The owners did spend a good bit of money fixing it up, but unfortunately the styles they chose don't appeal to the typical buyer, and this house sat on the market for over 6 months before we negotiated a deal. The previous owners put on a new roof, new HVAC,  new duct work, new plumbing, painted the house inside and out, new garage doors, new kitchen, new baths...  they really did a lot. 

We're really appreciative to reap the rewards of their investment, but pro tip: If you are planning to do work on your home in order to make it more attractive to buyers, consult a Realtor before spending money on projects. Realtors know what buyers are looking for in your area and can help you maximize your return on investment. These folks didn't do that, so they spent a looooot of money that didn't come back to them.

But, we are excited to have a home that's been well taken care of AND needs aesthetic work, because it's the best of both worlds! We get to do the fun projects we love to do, but the home is in awesome condition and there's no rush to make changes.

So, without further a do, here's the new pad! *All of the current house photos come from the MLS listing, so apologies for any weird angles.*

Exterior Front: 

We eventually want to repaint this house in order to make it less 80's, and more colonial classic. This is a quick n' crappy Photoshop job I did to show you what we're thinking it can be:

Exterior To Do: 
  1. Paint all brown trim white 
  2. Paint front door red
  3. Paint garage doors white
  4. Replace exterior light fixtures
  5. Re-landscape/prune shrubs (these currently make the entry way feel super claustrophobic)
  6. Re-paint house darker blue/grey (we'll  save up for this bigger job, but will get  started with the trim, windows and doors, first)

Entry Way : 

Here's the inspiration image I'm working from for this space. I wish I had this same angle in our  current house, but  this is almost exactly what it looks like from the other side of the stairs, so you'll have to trust.

Entry Way To Do: 
  1. Replace flooring on main floor
  2. Remove carpet and re-finish stairs
  3. Improve/repair railing (currently a little loose)
  4. Take down those curtains 
  5. Replace boob lights with something more stylish
  6. Paint the room a new color - thinking something like this! 
  7. Paint the spindles & side of stairs (what are those called?) 
  8. Paint interior door something fun like this
  9. Possibly add a chair rain, or decorative wainscoting
  10. Replace lock with smart lock/touch pad 
  11. Make a coat drop area - we don't have a great coat closet, so need to make a good drop spot  for guests to hang their coats!
  12. Eventually replace door. It has a bit of wood rot near the bottom, and binds pretty badly, but will work fine until we can replace it since this isn't the main door we'll use every day.
Dining Room: 
I've gone back and forth about even using this space as a dining room, or having it set up as an office/eventual playroom when we need it. We have an eat-in kitchen area, so we don't really need 2 dining spaces, but for now, I think I'm going to have it as a dining room and tweak down the road depending on how we live in the house. 

Here's my inspiration for this room: 

I feel like this room will be really easy to transform,  and have such a big impact since you'll see  it right when you walk in. I'm thinking this will be one of the first spaces I tackle, since we are planning to host my entire family for Thanksgiving a little over a month after we move in. 

Dining room to do: 
  1. Replace carpet with hardwood floors 
  2. Add wainscoting 
  3. Replace light with something more stylish 
  4. Paint room 
  5. Get an indoor/outdoor rug for easy cleaning
  6. Remove popcorn ceilings (this house has *some* rooms with popcorn ceilings, and some that have been scraped.  It doesn't annoy me too much,  but I'd prefer it to be consistent throughout  instead of randomly smooth vs. sprayed  room to room! 
Living Room: 
I can already tell that this room is going to constantly evolve as we live in it. It's the biggest room in the house, and connects to the kitchen,  deck, and front entry, so it will serve a lot of purposes. I think it will take me some time to get this space feeling right since it's such a long, narrow room, but here's some inspiration of what we want to do: 

Isn't it amazing when you can find inspiration that's almost exactly what your space looks like!? Makes my day and gets my brain turning with ideas.

Living Room To  Do: 
  1. Remove carpet and replace with hardwoods 
  2. Paint walls 
  3. Remove the curtains
  4. Replace back door (this is something we actually negotiated for the seller to take care of)
  5. Add a screen door
  6. Hang curtains around back door
  7. Add decorative TV mount above fireplace (like the board & batten we did at our current house)
  8. Add blinds to windows
  9. Add built in bookshelves with cabinet storage around fireplace

We'd love to take this from this boring situation, 

to something like this, or this: 

The Kitchen: 
The kitchen.... this is one area where I feel the most sympathy for the current sellers.  Kitchen renovations are no joke. They're expensive,  destructive,  and did I mention expensive? They completely re-did this kitchen last year in anticipation of selling the home, but the finishes they chose do.not.flatter.this.house.  The counter top is a yellow-y granite, the backsplash is a smooth, beige,  tile, and while the cabinets they chose are decent, they clash with the counters. Also, why they didn't raise the cabinet height when they did this project  I'll *never* understand.  We've decided to follow the  advice of all other home reno peeps and not touch the kitchen until we've lived with it for a bit. We're going to leave this area alone for at least a year before we make any adjustments to the layout or style. That way, we can have a clear vision of where the sore spots are, and what our priorities will be when we do want to make changes.  We'd love to replace the floors  and make the pantry bigger, but I don't want to do that work and then decide in 18 months that we want to change the cabinet configuration.  So, we're just going to live with it for a bit and daydream about what it can be!

I don't have a to-do list yet for this space, but here's a kitchen with almost the same exact footprint that I looooooove. This is serving as definite inspiration if we don't make any major changes! 

Breakfast Nook: 
I couldn't explain the little stair railing window if I tried, so I'll just say we're going to leave it for now while we decide how we want to change the kitchen. We may  decide to close that in, or open it up to widen the doorway into the living room. Time will tell! In that little window, however, I'm picturing  a little breakfast nook, like some of these below: 

The bedrooms are pretty boring improvements, so I'll skip over those for now, but the  same improvements apply:  

  1. Bedroom To Do's 
  2. Add ceiling fans 
  3. Replace carpet
  4. Paint  &  decorate

 Master bathroom:

By no means is this the bathroom of my  dreams, but it's totally workable. I don't really spend much time in the bathroom, so I've never prioritized having a lot of space.  We've had one bathroom drawer to share for the last 3 years, so just having our own cabinets is going to feel like a new lease on life!  

Interestingly, there is plumbing under the other cabinet for a second sink. I'm not sure why the owners got rid of it, but we like the idea of having double sinks so we're not fighting for sink space when we brush our teeth. This room will get some attention, but we're going to try some more creative,  cosmetic, improvements instead of anything major in here. 
Some inspiration  for what I'm envisioning: 

Master Bath To Do: 
  1. Paint shower surround (the internet says I can do it with this!) to match the white basin 
  2. Paint tile floors 
  3. Replace counter tops with double sink 
  4. Paint cabinets 
  5. Replace mirror with double mirrors 
  6. Remove curtain (where did  they find so many matching beige curtains??)
Guest Bathroom: 
Having double vision?  That's because this bathroom is an exact, just reverse, copy of the master bathroom. The biggest issue with this bathroom whyyyyy they removed the only bathtub from the house when they re-did this room last year. Another one of those "didn't consider for re-sale"  things that hurt this house on the market. Thankfully, we factored this fix into our offer price, so we plan to remove the fiberglass shower and replace it with the tub that was once there. It's not inexpensive,  but we need a bathtub, so it is what it is.

Our inspiration for this space: 

Guest Bath To Do: 
  1. Paint floor tile 
  2. Paint cabinet 
  3. Makeover/Replace counter top 
  4. Replace mirror/frame mirror
  5. Remove shower and replace with bath tub 
Bonus  Room:
Above the garage is a huge bonus room with about a million closets. The previous owners had a  lot of kids, so they had the room split into two rooms with a temporary wall. We're going to leave this area as it is for now. We're not changing the carpet, or touching the wall until we have a need for this space. We plan to have  kids in this house,  so I'm not sure if we want this to be a play room, a  guest room, or something else. We've talked about the idea of bringing the laundry up out of  the garage and into this part of the house, but we're just going to leave it alone until we know what we want to do with it.

There's a lot this space could turn into, so I'm not even touching a to do list for now. 

The back deck:
Buying this house came with some compromises on "must haves" with my husband. My must have was the wood floors - I can't deal with that narsty carpet and really wanted real hardwood floors. His must have, however, is a screened in  porch. We're both big wussies when it comes to heat, humidity, and mosquitos, which pretty much makes us hermits during the summer months in North Carolina. So,  we agreed that once we had the floors done, we'd save to do the screened in porch so we can enjoy the backyard during the next summer.

I've had about a million quotes on this project, and the quotes were alllllll over the place (more about that experience here), but here's the back deck currently, and the inspiration we showed our contractor for pricing.

The Backyard:
Funny enough,  in the neighborhood we've bought in, it is actually fairly unusual to have a flat, sunny, grassy, backyard.  Most of the yards here are heavily wooded, heavily sloped, or... prone to water. Yeesh. This yard gets just the right  amount of sun  to have healthy  grass, but we still have  some plans for landscaping.  We plan to redo the walk way from the garage to the deck - right now it's brick pavers sloppily tossed into sand-  and re do some of the shrubbery to make it a bit more lush.  The seller also cut down a row of privacy trees between this house and the neighbors (whyyyy?)  so we're  going to put something back to give us back a little privacy.

Thanks for reading along with this novel of a post - we're so excited to get started. I want to try and share a updates every few months to share our progress in certain spaces, so stay tuned. 

The importance of getting multiple bids

Friday, September 21, 2018

As a  Realtor, I often feel like I could easily moonlight as a general contractor. I go to so many inspections and contractor appointments that I feel pretty well-qualified to identify issues with homes and feel that I have a good grasp on what things typically cost to repair or replace.

Or so I thought!

Buying this new house has been a learning experience for me in a number of ways. I thought I had a handle on who had the best prices in town... I've culled down my list to my "best guys" for everything, and (apparently) naively assumed they were the best priced, since I'd seen so many other quotes over the last few years that were higher. Well, my list of "best guys" has drastically changed now that I'm getting these quotes and seeing them first hand for myself.

We have a few, really big projects planned at our new house that we've gotten about 4 quotes each for. Buying a new house is expensive in general, and the work we  want to do isn't small potatoes either. We've been diligent about saving, but I want to make sure we stretch our budget as best as possible and are responsible with the choices we make.

One of the bigger expenses we're taking on right away is replacing the flooring in the house. Other than the kitchen floor, which we've decided to leave for now, we're replacing all the flooring in the house before we move in.  The carpet covering the first and second floor is almost 35 years old, worn down, ripped, and stained with crud and paint. It neeeeeds to go. After weighing the pros and cons of leaving it, we decided it's less expensive and less disruptive to our life to just take care of it before we move into the home.

Here's what our floor currently looks like, and the inspiration image for what we want it to be and had quoted:

Source: https://southernhospitalityblog.com/house-update-hardwood-floors/ 

Over the last couple weeks, I had four different flooring experts come to the house to measure and provide a quote. I had them all price out the same exact floor -- I want site finished, white oak flooring, stained and sealed with a DuraSeal Provincial III  stain (more on the floors later), and wanted to know their price for about 600 square feet, plus a stair case and hallway, with new carpet upstairs. All of the variable factors were the same for each quote - same square footage, same material, same timeline.  The only thing that could have differed was the cost of the vendor's labor and you know what I found? The range of bids I got back varied by over six.thousand.dollars.

Y'all. I couldn't believe it! I was blown away by the spread of this pricing, but ultimately we're really happy with our choice. We've chosen a smaller company that specializes in flooring, and was a  personal referral from a friend who builds homes. I had assumed the bigger shops have the best pricing, and that's why they're big.... nope. Lesson learned.

My second big pricing surprise was when we were getting bids to convert our existing deck into a  screened in porch. This project is harder to price for a number of reasons. Primarily, there is a ton of variance in cost based on the style of the roofline, the materials you choose, and if you're going to make structural changes to the deck itself. I tried to eliminate as much variability as possible for these quotes, but of the four bids I received, there was a variance of over fifteen thousand dollars.

Some of this variance came from the contractors' opinion of what would need to be updated and brought to current code, and throwing in a few things we didn't ask for like wiring for a ceiling fan, but the majority of it comes down to the cost of the labor alone! All of these guys  are experienced deck builders and have the qualifications to do the job right, so it's  not like we called Joe Schmo from Craigslist to come out and he undercut everyone. There's just that much variability in the cost of labor.

Here's the view of the back of our new house, and the inspiration image I showed the contractors for quoting:

Fun fact, we learned this kind of roof line is called a Studio roof, and is about $2-3K less expensive than a gabled roof across the board. While the gabled roofs are pretty, we're going with the studio option since we care more about function than form in our backyard. 

Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/442900944598796256/
Ok, so here's the thing. If all four bids for the porch had been within the same range, it wouldn't have deterred us from doing this project. Having a screen porch is necessary for us. We both hate mosquitos, and find ourselves not wanting to be outside during the summer when Durham turns into Mosquito City,  but I definitely don't want to spend more than I have to on an improvement to my home. I'm all for fair pricing, fair wages, and honoring people's skilled labor with fair pay for work I can't do myself. But I am  so, so,  glad I have learned this lesson myself, because it not only helps me personally, but also my clients when they need similar help in the future!

I don't need to go into detail about the circumstance of every single bid, so I'll bullet the range differences below for the other things I've had quoted for this home. After the last 2 weeks,  I'm a quoting machine!

Moving expenses:  Range for quotes of the same list of inventory with reputable, national and local moving companies: $3000.00-$975.00

Replacing water heater: Range for quotes from 3 plumbers and the local gas company: $2100.00-$850.00 (the gas company had the best price, and I had no idea they even replaced water heaters!)

Painting the house: Range of quotes from licensed contractors and house painters $8000.00  - $4000.00

I did the math,  and if I had gone with the first bid for each of these projects, I could have spent over $35,000 more for the same work (!), than I will with the vendors I've chosen. That is unbelievable to me. I have definitely solidified the importance in my mind about getting multiple quotes, and hope that's helpful encouragement for you, too.

I will also add that getting all these bids took up a lot of time, and I'm lucky to have a job with the flexibility to manage all of these appointments. But, to me, spending the time getting these bids is 1000% worth it in the end when I can be confident I am getting the best, most fair price for the work I want done.

Until then, I cannot *wait* for closing day when we can finally pull up that narsty carpet and start turning this house into our home!

Our First House

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Fun fact, we purchased our first house together after 2 months of dating. C-R-A-Z-Y, I know, but both of us knew at that point that this was the real deal and we were heading towards marriage. When we purchased this home as basically strangers, I did maintain some level of rational thought and realized that there was a chance we could break up and I'd be handling everything myself, so we decided to be conservative and buy a home I knew I could maintain if our happily-ever-after didn't play out the way we'd hoped (SPOILER: It did!). We found a well-maintained but 90's, builder, blah townhome in a great neighborhood half way  between both of our offices. About 3 months after we closed on this house, I was unexpectedly laid off my job in advertising, and soon transitioned into becoming a Realtor.

Tangent -- isn't it funny how something that seems so scary can turn out to be one of the best things that ever happened to  you? I always say that I was only meant to have that job so I could leave New York and move to NC where I met Spenser like 45 seconds after I got here. Losing it was the second best thing that ever happened to me because it pushed into my dream of working in real estate. The best thing that ever happened to me was meeting Spenser, duh. #gross

Because this was a townhome, we had some restrictions on what we could do. We weren't allowed to make any exterior changes, per our HOA, and even though we attempted to garden (more later), we ultimately had to take it all out because... HOA. So, we focused what we could on the interior and tried to make changes that we knew would benefit us in re-sale.  While there were a few projects I really wanted to get to that I didn't (painting the kitchen cabinets & re-doing the backsplash, namely), I'm overall super happy with the progress we made on this home.

Here's a quick tour of our favorite before and afters from our first home:

All of the before photos are from the original listing when we bought it in 2015. The After pictures were taken my our real estate photographer (Amy Rossi Photography, we love you!) when we sold it in 2018.

Exterior Before:

Exterior After: 

Not the craziest transformation of all time (HOA...), but we did end up having that huge tree removed because it had a termite infestation, and they got into the house (!!!). We also planted that sweet little peach tree and he produced fruit this year for the first time. We're sad to leave him, but he's so happy there we can't wait to see how it grows and hope the new owners enjoy it's fruit as much as we did! At one point, we tried to landscape our side yard in between us and the next row of towhomes (to the left). $500 of plants and hours of labor later, we had a decent little garden! What we didn't know is that our HOA pays to have the homes power-washed once a year, and they use bleach. Guess who didn't cover their plants? Yep. $500 of plants down the drain, and we've never been able to get anything to grow there again. We learned a couple really valuable lessons though:

1) We don't really like to garden. We're not super good at it, and while we love having plants everywhere, going outside to water plants in the blistering NC heat is not fun for us. Anything we plant needs to be super low maintenance.

2) We aren't very good at designing garden beds. At our next house, we will *absolutely* hire out for landscaping help. Even if it's just paying for a proper design, we need the help.  We really aren't great at choosing plants or figuring out how they go together. Know thyself. Save thy time. Hire it out.

Entry Before: 

 I loved the hardwood floors, but everything was just soooo blah. Builder beige everywhere. But how awesome is that opening into the kitchen? It has been one of our favorite things about this home. Easy to entertain, but your kitchen isn't open to the whole party so it can stay messy #word

Entry after: 

  Obviously, just having furniture makes a big difference, but we also painted the walls Revere Pewter and Colorado Gray to liven things up a bit. I really love greys, blues,  blacks, and metallics mixed together, but in our next home I think  I'll tone down the colors a bit. It's hard to see in this photo, but two of my all time favorite projects in this space are the shelves on the right hand side of the kitchen. it added SO much storage space and just made that big wall make so much more sense! Same goes for the spice racks all the way to the back of the kitchen wall. We love how balanced that space became once we added a decorative bowl and skinny shelves for storing spices.

Living Room Before: 

 Living Room After: 

My  absolute, all time, favorite project we did in this house was closing in the 90's TV cubby above our fireplace. When my husband got a promotion, we gifted ourselves to an "adult sized" TV. We had a small TV from college in the cubby because it was all that fit, and it was hard to see sometimes. This was his #treatyoself present to himself, and I got to fiiiinally close in the gap to mount it. It was actually really easy! We hired a contractor to the drywalling, and then I laid the boards down to give a board & batten effect. I love how it made the whole fireplace look more stylish,  and put together. And, we still have the cubby for all the electrical wires! We cut an access panel in the coat closet right behind the fireplace so we can plug/unplug things from there without messing with the TV. Will definitely do something like this again at our new house!

In  this room, the things we changed are:

  • Closing in fireplace  TV  cubby  
  • Painting room 

Kitchen Before: 

Kitchen After: 

If we had been in this house for another six months, this kitchen would have looked a lot differently. The ONLY project I really, really, really, regret not doing was re-doing the sandy floor tile backsplash and replacing it with subway tile.  Cue: Projects I didn't  expect to be so time consuming/expensive. My hubby and I were afraid to take this tile down ourselves, but I sometimes wish we'd just done it and figured out how to fix it later (we differ in project styles a lot of the time 😂). But,  alas, our house sold without this project being  done, but I hope the new owners  are brave enough to make that change, because  I think this kitchen  would just POP with a pretty white tile!

In here, the things we changed were:

  • All new appliances 
  • Hung  open shelving on back wall  
  • Hung spice shelving on pantry wall 
  • Added a small kitchen island 
  • Replaced the light  fixture
  • Painted the room 

Half Bath Before: 

Half Bath After:

For such a small space, I feel like this room was one of the most significant changes. Just painting the walls with a better quality  paint made the room feel so much cleaner. The cheap, builder paint we inherited showed every old water stain ... so the back wall behind the sink always looked so dirty! We painted the room, hung some shelving behind the toilet, and swapped out the mirror and shelving. I had purchased new hardware to replace the sink fixtures, but we never got around to doing it. Eventually, when I  realized we were going to sell, I just returned it and decided to make changes in the new house, instead. I loved hanging that little owl drawing - this door is right in our main room, so when it was open, it became such an attractive space to walk by instead of a blah, boring eye sore!

In this room, we changed:

  • Replaced bath mirror 
  • Replaced light fixture 
  • Repainted with higher grade paint
  • Hung shelving behind toilet 
Master bedroom before: 

Master Bedroom After: 

I absolutely loved how this bold, blue paint turned out. I love it so much,  we're going to paint the exact same color in our new house. The paint color is called Nordic Ice, and it's the perfect moody blue/grey/green for a relaxing master bedroom. Our room was on the 3rd story  of this house, so we were basically up in the "tree canopy" when the windows were open. It was always so peaceful walking into the bright green wall of trees in the windows and this moody paint! 

In here, we really only added the ceiling fan,  painted, and decorated. Pretty simple, but a drastic transformation! 

Master Bath Before: 

Master Bath After:

I learned a great lesson I like to call "you can't paint everything!" in this room.  Turns out, even if  you  aggressively  sand them, cabinets with a Thermofoil finish (where they almost feel like plastic) are heavily factory finished and won't hold paint well. Oops. I just kept a little can of black paint under this sink and occasionally touched it up 😂 Either way, the black cabinet made such a difference in un-blah-ing this bathroom! We also got rid of the weird privacy curtain, and added a simple window decal that made the glass frosted for privacy. In 3.5 years, we never had  an encounter with a neighbor from her bathroom window (directly across), but it was a fun game we occasionally played! 

Laundry Before:

Laundry After: 

This room had always bothered me, for the same reason as the bathroom - the paint quality was terrrrrible. I wish I had been more bold and painted it the same color as the guest bed (below), but I went with Revere Pewter again since that was on the walls in the hallway. I found this subway tile wallpaper at Target (of all places!!) and it was so, so great! It had a raised grout line, so at first glance, it honestly looked like real tile. This was one of those projects I wish I  had gotten help from my husband with, because I do not have the patience for projects with a ton of precision (he does). There are a few places where I couldn't get the tiles to  line up, so  if you look closely, they're imperfect, but in passing glance you don't notice soo..... keep on walkin' by! 

Guest Bed Before: 

Guest Bed After: 

If you have an eagle eye, you'll notice the bed in this room is the same bed from our Master Before. The sellers of  this house left it for us, along with the nightstands and a dresser, which we've sold. As FTHB, it was such an awesome thing to have gotten furniture as part of our home purchase. Big win for us, and it's in great shape! 

Guest Bath Before: 

Guest Bath After: 

Not much happened in here other than some fresh paint and some added storage! 

Basement Before: 

Basement After: 

One of the best lessons in homeownership we've learned is that we actually don't need as much space as we thought. We *rarely* used this basement for anything, unless we had overflow guests. When we were looking for a new home, we really wanted to be sure we didn't buy a home with too much "wasted space." We know where we live in our house - kitchen  - living room - bedrooms - and that's really about it! We don't use our dining room much, and we don't use the basement at all. Our new home has almost the same square footage, but is laid out differently, so we won't have as much wasted space! I never spent much time down here, so this is all the original paint, but I'm happy with how we styled it. I tried to make it a fun "man cave" for when Spenser did want to have game night or something down here (never happened), but now we  know! It costs money to heat and cool 650 square feet (the size of this basement) and I just don't want to pay to maintain something we're not using. Lessons learned! 

That's pretty much everything we've accomplished in this house. In the next post, I'm going to outline some of our plans for our new home, and hopefully set a timeline that we're going to stick to to accomplish it! Thanks for tagging along! 
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