A Reflection on Three Years in Our Fifties Fixer Upper + 7 Things We’ve Learned Throughout Our Renovation

I’m moving the Sunday Seven up a day not only because tomorrow is Easter Sunday, but because today, April 20, marks three years since we’ve closed on our fifties fixer upper. Looking back at photos, I almost can’t even remember what it looked like- but at the same time, I vividly remember walking in on the open house day and walking around it with Josh, talking about everything we could do to it.

A Reflection on Three Years in Our Fifties Fixer Upper + 7 Things We've Learned Throughout Our Renovation
Here we are on closing (aka DEMO) day… we had nooooo idea what we were getting ourselves into!

We didn’t know we wanted a fixer upper, but we did know that we had a specific look in mind for our first home- a look that was not available within our budget. I envisioned a white kitchen with marble countertops, an open floorplan, a master suite, finished basement, patio for entertaining… and unless we wanted to increase our budget by a few hundred thousand, we didn’t think we’d ever be able to turn those dreams into reality. I went into detail on exactly why we chose our home in a post from a while back.  Without repeating myself, I’ll just say that we decided to take the leap with this home and make it our own- and we haven’t looked back.

As we reflect on three years, here are the projects we’ve finished:

Whew! I’m exhausted just reading that list. Every project seemed to take forever… but when I reflect back, we’ve accomplished so much.

Looking ahead, here are the projects that we still have to do:

  • Finish the basement. This will include adding a bathroom, laundry room, two bedrooms, living room, and renovating the stairs.
  • Paint the gutters white and restain the shutters to match the front door.
  • Add storm doors to both front and back doors
  • Replace front step railings.
  • Update landscaping in both front and back yards.
  • Build new back patio with pergola, firepit area, dining area, conversation area.
  • Paint garage doors white.

We still have quite a bit of work ahead of us, but we’re hoping to get everything finished by next winter- wish us luck!

Over the course of the three years that we’ve been working on this home, we’ve learned so much about ourselves, how to live in a home during a renovation, and how to handle a renovation in general. I’m sharing some of those tidbits below!

1 | Patience is key.

In a renovation, especially of the DIY variety, something will not go as planned. Things may take longer than you expected- maybe weeks longer, maybe months longer. You will run into issues, such as plumbing leaks, crazy electrical wiring, illegal venting, leaky walls, and more. You might discover that the paint color you chose is completely terrible- after you’ve already painted two coats. You might find that the stairs you thought you could remove in a couple hours were actually solid concrete and took a couple days. You might find that the trade you hired out didn’t finish their job and you need to go back and forth with them for two weeks until they can come finish it. These were all things that happened to us, if you’re wondering.

If you’re going to make it through a renovation and maintain your sanity, you need to learn to take some deep breaths and realize that no, not everything will go as planned all the time…. but it will all eventually get done.

2 | You can do almost anything as long as you’re willing to learn!

I had no idea how to skimcoat, lay tile, build a barn door, lay and refinish hardwood floors, or really even design a room when we got started. With an open mind, access to books, YouTube videos and internet, and some determination, both Josh and I have learned more than we could have ever predicted throughout the course of the renovation. We’ve saved tens of thousands by DIYing the majority of our renovation. We didn’t shy away from something just because we’d never tried it before. The key is to know the difference between when to DIY and hire out, which leads me to #3!

A Reflection on Three Years in Our Fifties Fixer Upper + 7 Things We've Learned Throughout Our Renovation
Installing new siding… something I’d defnitely never done before!

3 | Know when to bring in the pros.

We’ve done MANY projects that have initially been over our head, but by taking the time to learn more about the task at hand, have been able to figure it out. However, there are times when we’ve learned that it makes the most sense to hire something out, either for time’s sake, money’s sake, or both. Josh feels pretty confident with his plumbing skills, for example, (and has pulled and passed permitting inspections) but when we learned that we had to replace the main drain stack that ran underground, we hired a professional plumber. The pros got the job done in one six hour day, whereas it would’ve taken Josh multiple days- and that would be time without plumbing! We also hired out our window replacement, which was very costly, but very worth it. They disposed of our 13 old lead-painted windows, framed in the new ones, trimmed them out, and caulked them in just three days. If we would have DIYed that it probably would’ve taken 13 weekends! Kidding… kind of.

There are also things that we got professional quotes on but decided to DIY instead- which we sometimes regretted. For example, we got a quote to skimcoat the ceilings in our kitchen and dining room. The quote came in around $1500, if I remember right. It would have taken the pro two days to do- set up to tear down. It ended us taking us about two weeks. We had to live in plastic sheeting, ended up skimcoating the entire ceiling about 3 times, sanding in between, and cleaning up a crazy amount of drywall dust. We had no idea what we were doing. We got the job done, but both agreed that we should have just sucked it up and paid a pro!

I will add to that: always get multiple quotes. I like to get three or four quotes, depending on the job. Many times, the quotes will be within a few hundred dollars of each other, but you just prefer the way that one company explained the project compared to the other company. Other times, like our main plumbing stack, for example, the quotes will come in with multiple thousands of dollars in difference. The first quote we got for our plumbing work was DOUBLE that of the second quote. We could have easily just sucked it up and paid the first company if we didn’t know any better!

A Reflection on Three Years in Our Fifties Fixer Upper + 7 Things We've Learned Throughout Our Renovation
This is what our kitchen looked like for two weeks when we were skimcoating!

4 | Have a realistic budget.

If you want to completely renovate your kitchen by replacing the cabinets, appliances, hardware, lighting, flooring etc., it’s not going to happen for $5k, no matter how much you try. Think of it like walking into a car dealership. You tell them that you have $15K to spend and you would like to buy a Jaguar. They say, “$15K is a lot of money, but let’s look at these used cars instead.”

The best way to determine a budget is to look at the scope of work, the materials involved, the trades you might need to hire to get the job done, any permits you may need, and predict anything that might go wrong, and work off of that. A bathroom remodel can add up very quickly when you learn that you need to replace the plumbing, some rotted studs, rewire the electrical, and replace the bathtub when you thought you were just going to replace the tile and vanity.

Also be realistic about the types of materials that your budget will allow for. You can’t have quartz countertops on a formica budget! It’s perfectly fine if you want a formica countertop, that’s not what I’m saying! But you must be reasonable and realistic with how far your money can take you. Decide where you want to splurge and where you want to save. Want a quartz countertop? Do a subway tile backsplash! It’s important to learn where to give and take when it comes to materials.

5 | Expect to spend more than you thought.

Some of you might be gasping in shock. Do what?! But we have to stick to our budget! In our personal experience, a full home renovation is a lot like a wedding- it almost always ends up being more expensive than you’ve planned. As I discussed in #1, you will almost always find something unexpected that slows you down and adds to your costs.

We do our best to save money by shopping during sales, finding other discounts and rebates, DIYing vs hiring out (as mentioned above), but there will always be something that you didn’t account for. Tools, mishaps, extra supplies, dumpsters… to name a few! Unless you’re a stickler with every cent, those extra dollars at the home improvement store tend to add up quickly. This might mean you’re hundreds of dollars over on a small project or thousands over on a large one. However, if you gave yourself a good budget to begin with that included a contingency, you might find yourself coming out right on track.

6 | Keep your style cohesive throughout your home.

I fully realize that I am very hypocritical when I say this. Our renovation has been going on for three years, and my style has changed (and continues to change) with just about every project we’ve done. I’ve finally started to settle down and find my niche, but will openly admit that certain spots of our home have a totally different feel than others. I’m doing my best to tie it all together and do have certain themes (wood, white, black, and brass) that I bring into every space in our home. We did not have the luxury of doing the entire first floor at the same time, and I did not think to plan out the design for the entire floor at the same time because of that. If we were doing things differently, however, and I knew then what I know now, I would create a design scheme for the entire floor so that everything flowed together well. I am doing this for the basement and am excited to see how everything ties together.

7 | Give yourself grace.

You are (likely) not a professional. If you’re like us, you’re learning, and continuing to learn as you go. You did not master algebra class on day one. You will not master tiling on your first try. You will hang some trim off-level. You will need to have the inspector come back a second time. You will need to re-do your open concept plan because you forgot about the ductwork that was right there.

You know what? It’s ok. It’s ok to make mistakes- sometimes that’s how you learn! Give yourself some grace and give yourself a pat on the back for jumping into this crazy world of home renovating. You’ve got this!

A Reflection on Three Years in Our Fifties Fixer Upper + 7 Things We've Learned Throughout Our Renovation
Our master bedroom on move-in day

A Reflection on Three Years in Our Fifties Fixer Upper + 7 Things We've Learned Throughout Our Renovation
Our master bedroom at present

Author: Laura Sima

Hey there, I'm Laura- creator of Sima Spaces. I'm a home renovator, designer, and blogger based in the Twin Cities in Minnesota. When I'm not designing or renovating homes, you can find me working as a pediatric ICU RN, snuggling my dog or cat, skiing in CO, soaking up the sun on our boat, or enjoying a glass of wine on our patio!

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