What we’ve learned from spending $45,000 renovating our fixer-upper

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(Note: This is part of our First Person series. Jessica Horton is a Charlotte photographer.) 

My husband and I desired a neighborhood with larger lots, older homes, walkability and access to I-77 and we settled on a for sale by owner property. It was the perfect storm of “we can live in it, and work on it at the same time” house.

We did a lot: We took what was a two car garage and built a master bedroom, bathroom, closet, laundry room and hall and also revamped our kitchen with new cabinets and lighting before adding plumbing to our man-cave for a future kitchenette and full bathroom.

Here’s what I learned from the project.

(1) Contractors tend to hate e-mail.

Instead, they want phone calls, which I detest and don’t understand. It’s 2017! I can hammer out an email in 0.2 seconds, but can take days to return a phone call (or even make them in the first place). Another reason to love e-mail: Everything is in writing!

Garage-Before

Master-Bedroom-During-reno

Master-Bedroom

(2) Contractors who bother to show up don’t always follow through.

We had four who returned my emails (or calls, ugh) and showed up to the appointment we made with them. Of the four, only two actually got back to us with quotes.

I was shocked, too.

Ultimately, we chose BowerTraust out of Belmont. Mel Morgan and his team were delightful, professional and timely.

Laundry-During-Reno

(3) When signing a contract, have it line-itemed.

What are the allowances for things like lighting and tile? I knew I could stalk Craigslist and make purchases on my own that would be a better deal and save us money, but many contractors won’t let you do this.

If you’re up for hunting out your own pieces, make sure you’re working with a company that’s okay with it.

(4) Have the pieces you’re looking to hunt for out and ready to go before construction really gets going.

Our vanity came from Craigslist, lights reused or sourced online and tile from two local shops.

Having all of this in hand before construction can save so many headaches down the road because you can measure and remeasure them before install.

Master-Bath-During-Reno

Master-Bath

(5) Think about electrical before the walls are closed up.

Want fancy sconces in your bathroom? Better have them wired before the drywall is up!

Last minute decisions can cause headaches. Luckily, our only electrical snafu was the vanity outlets that had to be moved last minute.

(6) If you don’t have a clear vision of how to build or redesign a space, consult a professional.

I drew the plans, but I think about the layout now and kind of wished we had consulted someone to think outside the box for us.

Old-Kitchen

(7) Budget

Don’t do the work if you cannot recoup your costs in time, enjoyability or equity (but seriously, equity). Make sure what you want to do won’t cost you in the end.

We recently had our home appraised to refinance and our home value increased $61,000 from when we purchased it. For reference, we spent about $45,000 on renovations.

Cover image courtesy of Catherine Marciniack

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