[Note: This is part of our first-person series. Submit your own experiences and views. Anna Trakas is an interior designer specializing in residential interior design and remodels, and you can follow her on Instagram, Twitter and here’s her site.]
My boyfriend and I had spent years bouncing from apartment to apartment — and once again our lease was coming to an end.
Rent was increasing, and we were finally in a position to look to invest in something more permanent.
It quickly became apparent that homes close enough to the center city for our liking were either too small or out of reach financially, so we started considering the idea of a fixer-upper. I’m a self-employed interior designer, so the concept of designing our own home and taking on a project of that scale seemed like an exciting challenge.
Through a lot of searching and a bit of luck, we found a court-ordered sale on a run-down property in Colonial Village – close to Sedgefield and South End.
The house was as close to a tear down as they come, but the neighborhood was perfect and property values there were steadily rising.
After negotiating with the lawyers and family, we closed on the house for $215,000 – setting aside another $100,000 (a mixture of savings and personal loans) as our renovation budget.
This was a bit more than originally intended when we began our search, but we thought the value of the house and neighborhood would make it worth it in the end.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the biggest expenses.
For reference, the house is 2,000 square feet. We got 3-5 quotes on everything, so we think this can offer a good baseline for people tackling their own project.
Based on some quotes and online research, we saved about $10,000 by doing this ourselves.
The only cost was about $1,000 worth of dumpsters, and the work took about five days for the two of us (with a couple friends helping at times).
We learned listing things on Craigslist is a great way to get rid of stuff: People came over for everything from old tile to bikes and scrap metal.
Electrical, plumbing and AC
These were some of the biggest expenses, but they were necessary to make the house safe and functional.
- Electrical work: $7,200. This included replacing and updating the old electrical system with a 200-amp meter box and installing new circuits, lights, etc.
- Plumbing: $8,000. The work included a new water line, replacing old plumbing with new PVC pipes, installing new sinks, toilets, etc. We also added a gas line for our range in the kitchen.
- New HVAC and rerouting of three vents: $9,725.
Interior work, demo and framing
We ended up having to gut the whole house.
The framing and the trim cost $6,000. This included turning the main level into one open room with columns for structural support, creating a kitchen island in the middle.
Upstairs, we turned two smaller rooms and a small master bathroom into a larger master suite, which included the addition of a beam for structural support.
The material for this was about $1,600, and we used Queen City Lumber, which delivered to our house.
We saved some money by doing the design work, plans and architectural drawings ourselves.
We ended up replacing about 30% of the boards, switching out rotted wood or patching spaces that needed to be filled in.
The roof was in terrible shape, and the windows and doors were so old and poorly maintained that we needed new ones. Our main expenses for the exterior were:
- Roof: $5,825. We worked with Hollingsworth Roofing.
- Soffits and gutters: $5,265. We worked with Crown Builders.
- Windows and exterior doors: $8,260. We ordered with Morrison Millwork, which beat estimates of around $10,000 to $15,000 from other vendors. Cost is for aluminum clad windows with wood interior, and includes 11 casement windows, 5 sliders, and a sliding door. Our front door ran us another $1,445 (also ordered through Morrison), and we replaced another two exterior doors (purchased from Lowe’s) for $570.
This was by far the most expensive part of the project.
- Appliances were $3,500. We saved some money by locking in prices during a July 4th weekend sale at Lowe’s six months before and only paying for them on delivery.
- Cabinets and pantry were $3,300. We purchased them straight from the manufacturer and installation from our contractor added another $1,200.
- Quartz countertops: $3,900. We worked with Med Tile & Stone, and cost included installation.
- Other expenses for kitchen were hardware ($220), sink ($190), pendant lights ($400) and new backsplash ($300).
The biggest expense in this area was the master bathroom, which was expanded to about twice its former size including a walk-in shower.
- All tile work was $4,700 for two showers and three bathroom floors.
- Vanities and sinks from Ikea were $1,165. We splurged and got custom wood fronts from SemiHandmade for another $900.
- Tile materials cost totaled about $2,000. Most of it came from Floor & Decor in Greensboro, while some came from Lowe’s and Wayfair for guest bathrooms.
- Faucets and shower heads for all three bathrooms were a little over $1,000 and we used Ferguson.
- Three toilets were $760, purchased at Lowe’s.
- Mirrors for all three bathrooms were $200. We used Accent Glass and bought the other two from Target.
Other tips to consider
Be mentally prepared. Remodeling can feel a bit overwhelming financially, since sticking to your budget and shopping for different vendors is very time-consuming. Unlike with a mortgage, where it just feels like one big transaction you can pay off in years to come, remodeling means making multiple payments and the pressure to stay on budget can be stressful. You might want to get an FHA 203(k) loan to include the cost of remodeling as part of your mortgage or get a different line of credit for the remodeling budget.
Hire a professional to lead your project and to help you through your design process. This will save you money, time and many headaches in the end. For me, it was my full-time job for about 6 months, so hiring a remodeling specialist is highly recommended if you can’t dedicate most of your time to manage the project.
If you plan on tackling a project of this scale, have an allowance of at least $10,000 for unexpected damages/ problems you may run into, which will happen, especially if it’s an older home. Be ready to go over on your initial budget and timeline — it’s likely to happen.
Make sure the structure of the home is sound. You don’t want to deal with foundation issues. You can hire someone to come and inspect this for you. Everything else, as you can see, can be fixed.
Do your research when it comes to pricing. Don’t let someone take advantage of you because they assume you are not knowledgeable in the field. In my experience, quotes could vary greatly from one vendor to another one and even depending on who was requesting the quote (me or my boyfriend).
Get everything in writing. Ask for estimates to be line-itemized and detailed. Don’t let any work be done without a signed estimate or quote, to avoid potential issues or disagreements upon completion of the work.
Prioritize where you spend your money. It may be tempting to get that cool patterned tile that you see on Pinterest, but opting for things such as a better quality faucet rather than designer cement tile will save you money down the line (of course, if you have the budget, get the tile too, because patterned tile is amazing).
Research the best time for sales. This is particularly important for big items like appliances, and wait to purchase the right items at the right time. Shopping online will usually get you the best deals on anything from hardware to light fixtures, and you can check for services like Ebates for a little extra cash back.
Was it worth it financially? Definitely!
House prices in the surrounding neighborhoods indicate we have raised our home value by at least twice what we have invested in our renovation. By tackling a fixer-upper, we got a house with personality that we were able to transform into exactly what we wanted for less than what comparable homes in the area are selling for.
By doing the some of the work ourselves and managing the project, we estimate savings of at least $25,000 – this includes all design work, plans, project management, material & vendor procurement, furniture and fixture selections, etc.