Margaret & Nate: The Long Haul
Of course, my blog about new homeowners has to start with my own journey of homeownership. In December 2016, I closed on a 3-bedroom home in North Buffalo. What followed was a 10-month journey of wallpaper-stripping, plaster-patching, carpet-ripping, wall-knocking, trim-painting, drywall-hanging, and electrical rewiring (still working on that last part). Here's an interview with my partner, Nate, who was with me every step of the way.
What was the most surprising thing about renovating a home together?
I think the most surprising part was the sheer volume of work represented by even a modest-sized home. We could spend an entire weekend working on a project and afterward it could feel like we got just a fraction of a room done. Or we'd get a big room done and it would feel like just the start. We'd strip an entire room of wallpaper and realize - oh yeah that's just the tearing down part. Now we have to put it back together. But I was also pleasantly surprised by how much we were able to do and how nice our results were. We'd finish and realize - ooh this place actually looks legit.
What skill did you develop most through this process?
I became a black belt wallpaper stripper. In the however many years that wallpaper's been around, no one has ever invented a better product than the steam-powered technology of a wallpaper stripper. It's still cutting edge technology in the wallpaper removing game. Our home hadn't been updated since the '70s so every single wall was covered in as few as two and as many as five layers of wallpaper, each more hideous than the last.
What was the most noticeable change we made to the house?
Knocking down the wall separating the kitchen and the dining room to go with an open format, and adding a Wrafterbuilt kitchen with really distinctive reclaimed wood finishes - giving our kitchen a very modern update with still a rustic, vintage look.
What was the hardest part of this process?
We had it in our heads that we were going to finish everything before we moved in - but four or five months in, we realized we needed to move in while the house wasn't finished. We had to recognize that that was OK. It just meant being a little creative and flexible around living in house that was under construction.
What is your favorite part of the house, now that the renovations are done?
My favorite parts of the house are those elements that are really distictly ours - I already mentioned all the Wrafterbuilt wood, but also the bold tile in upstairs bathroom, the fleur-de-lis wallpaper. I think we did a nice job of having an understated feel to a simple home but adding little dashes of personality here and there.
What was the weirdest thing we found in the house during the renovation?
Oh my goodness. How do I even choose? So the previous owner was an amateur organ enthusiast, and in addition to having an organ take up most of the living room, the bedroom and office upstairs were both filled with organ pipes. The office literally was wall to wall, floor to ceiling pipes. Even more incredible, there was a hole cut in the ceiling of the dining room ceiling the size of a card table to let the pipes through.
What advice do you have for people who are looking to buy a fixer upper?
Go for it - but know what you're getting into, and be realistic about what you can do and what you need to hire someone to do, and what your budget is. We did a lot of work on our home but we also left a lot of the big stuff to professionals. As a result we have this home now that's ours, customized by us to our liking - so I definitely wouldn't do it differently. But it was a ton of work and there were times that it was exhausting, and so I could see wanting to get a move-in ready home.
Why should first time home buyers consider going the fixer-upper route?
There's no better way to get exactly the house you want than to create it yourself. The house we bought wasn't at all the house we wanted, but by force of will and creativity and investment we turned it into a perfect house for us. And hopefully our investment will be recouped by boosting the value of the home.