Shawn: The House with No Kitchen

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Shawn took a big risk in purchasing a North Buffalo home that needed a full renovation - at the time he bought it, it did not even have a kitchen. Was the home worth the risk? Judge for yourself with these gorgeous before-and-after pictures. 

 Why did you make the decision to buy a house? 

My main reason for buying a house was to invest in my future. I lived in D.C. for a while, so I was used to high rent prices but when I moved back to Buffalo the rental market was a lot higher then I thought it would be. It just made sense to invest into a fixer upper.

Describe your house hunting process - how long did it take, and about how many houses did you look at? 

Hearing some stories of my friends looking for a house makes my process seem lucky. I looked at 6-8 houses. I got the second house I put an offer in with. The first house was lost due to an all-cash offer. The main reason why I think I was so lucky of getting this house was the fact that I was willing to take a risk - the house had no kitchen. 

What stood out about this house that led you to make an offer? 

I was looking for character, a house with good bones, what other surrounding homes were like, what was happening economically in the neighborhood, and whether you can walk to places to go do stuff. The second house checked all of the boxes. Also, very random, but I can not stand houses that have vinyl siding and this house did not.

What was the condition of the house when you bought it? What major renovations did you do?

I went through a shit load of paint - I think I am on gallon 15.

The house was built almost 100 years ago so I knew it would need some love, but I guess I didn't know how much love it needed. The house had no kitchen. Just a square box with a gas pipe sticking out of it. So there were some major renovations needed. I took down a whole wall so the kitchen could be opened up to the dinning room and living room. I closed off the pantry to make it a half bath. I put in all new electrical (having floor plugs is not safe). There was only one light switch in the whole house, which I never even noticed until after the fact. So 18-20 new can lights went into the first floor. There was a lot of wallpaper removal - I mean lots of wallpaper removal (including the ceilings) - wall patching, wall sanding, etc. I restored the staircase, the windows, the window brass hardware, and all the original hardwood floor - including the 5 layers of flooring I ripped up from the kitchen area (which turned out to be worth it). I added time period tile for the hallway and a new half bath. I installed a brand new beautiful picture window  for the new kitchen. I put in new landscaping in the front. I went through a shit load of paint - I think I am on gallon 15. 

What was the most surprising thing you found in the house while you were fixing it up?

When they built this house in 1919 they divided the servant areas from the homeowner areas. They used tons of doors to separate themselves, and built two different staircases. The servants had their own living space on the third floor, and they had swinging doors from the pantry to the dinning room where they would be served. 

That being said, the surprising thing I noticed is that they used two different woods. They used pine for the molding, doors and one stairway in the servant/butler section. The rest of the house had oak. They used cheaper materials for the servant space.

How much of the work did you do and what did you leave to professionals?

I pretty much did everything expect for the plumbing, electrical and the installation of the large support beam for the open floor plan.

What work do you still have left to do? What future plans do you have for the house? 

I am soon to be finished with the new kitchen. The bathroom upstairs is the next room to restore (it has original subway tiles and I'm adding a time period pedestal sink). 

The house is way too big for me and I plan to sell it very soon and maybe start on the next house project. 

What was the most challenging part of fixing up an old house? What was the best part? 

The most challenging part was learning lessons that cost you more money than hiring a contractor. Also, living in a construction zone is a very bad idea, and I would highly advise to do all major work before you move in. 

The best part is designing your own home and the feeling of finishing off a room. Craigslist, Habitat Restore, Reuse Buffalo, Marketplace on Facebook and Pinterest are always fun for projects. 90% of the stuff I have are from places like this. Buying things new never really makes sense when you can restore or redo something to make it your own for a lot cheaper.  

What type of financing did you use? 

If you have good credit you can get good deals. Especially if you don't have 20% down. I was able to put 3% down and have my Private Mortgage Insurance picked up by Quicken because I had good credit. It meant that I had a little higher fixed interest rate than what the market rate was at the time, but them picking up the PMI saved me $100 a month. 

Additionally, after your offer has been accepted and the inspection comes back, don't be afraid to ask for money from the seller. There was a long list for my house with most of it being minor and one major thing (electrical upgrade), so I asked for $5,500 and settled on $4,000. Basically that's $4,000 less than I needed to show up with to close the house. So more money in my pocket to do more work on the house.

What do you wish you had known before you started this process? 

Don't buy a giant house, start smaller. You will want to enjoy your weekends

What advice do you have for first-time buyers, especially those interested in buying a fixer-upper?

You have to be willing to take a risk with the house if you want to live in a certain area.