Damn that #HGTV! Between #FixerUpper and the other home makeover shows I’ve watched for the past 10 years, I thought I was savvier than most. Frankly, I know nothing about home improvement.
Today marks one year since we closed on what I continue to call my ‘Happy Place.’ It’s
obvious to us now, we’re looking at a 10-year project. Unless we come into a bucket-full of money, we’ll renovate what we can ourselves and plan and budget for the major projects.
After just a year invested in this project, here’s my best advice if you’re considering a fixer upper:
Be sure the bones of the house are in good shape: unless you’re buying a ‘knock down,’ be sure you have a solid home – from the windows and floors to the roof and walls.
Location, location, location still rules; if you love you view, neighborhood, home site – almost everything else is cosmetic.
Break projects down into smaller, manageable chunks. Doug managed to re-do the guest bathroom in a weekend. But we made sure in advance, we had all the necessary items including a new vanity and fixture, flooring, lighting, most major accessories, paint for the walls and cabinet, etc. We could not have completed the update in a weekend if we did not have all the items and supplies.
Pick your battles: it’s easy to disagree about a project. Realize not everything will go your way. Compromise, compromise, compromise.
All this as I work in my office listening to a comedy radio channel blaring outside and our three artisans are literally hammering away at the screened porch addition. Doug is really admiring the craftsmanship (yay); I just want it to be done. Patience, Brenda.
We chose our contractor mainly because Doug really liked him. I yielded since Doug had a background in construction. So he is able to talk construction language with the contractor – which is hugely important.
Once this addition is done and we can enjoy New Hampshire days and evenings on the screened porch – then we’ll breathe a while – and figure out what project is next.
The fixer-upper truth may not be pretty, but we keep our eye on the prize knowing it’s a long game and worthwhile.
When you take on a new house project – especially a fixer – your tip list grows quickly. Despite bouts of fear and sticker-shock, we are still on the road to a home we already love in a town we are quickly growing more and more attached to.
Let’s get right to the tips – based on our missteps, lessons learned and a sprinkling of luck.
Three Ps remain the mantra: patience, persistence and perspective – making measured, informed decisions result in the project moving along at a pace that works with your budget and schedule. Trust your gut – if you have a shadow of a doubt on a decision, think it through again.
Stick to the plan: we decided to work on this house from the outside-in. While we continue to talk about the ultimate interior renovations, other than some paint and a few window treatments, we are not planning a major investment on the interior until the outside is in shape – or close to it.
Under-play your fixer – your family will be pleasantly surprised. We have told our families that we have a lot of work ahead; deferred maintenance are the words the Realtors used in describing the house (former owned didn’t do much at all to improve or even maintain the house). When our families visited the house this past month, they practically scolded us for describing the house as we have. They, too see the possibilities and good bones of the house. Their collective responses amount to, “You made the house sound awful; it’s really lovely.” Of course, it’s not their project – but it is good to know we are not crazy and we have their support!
Small-town, small steps. Figure out your possible DIY projects. In a small town – or any town – you can find someone to do anything for you – but you will pay in time and of course, money. Getting on a contractor’s small-town schedule takes finesse; be flexible and communicate with each contractor.
Be specific: when dealing with your contractor’s estimate continue to do research and ask people for help and advice. Doug reached out to his brother for advice since he had done major remodeling; we compared and contrasted details in estimates and asked contractors to provide more details. Be sure you have a timeline – or at least a finish date. Your two month-long project can stretch to months and months if you do not stay on top of details.
Don’t be afraid to say, “No:”we nixed one project one of our contractors quoted because of price and the cross-over with another project and contractor. When in doubt put the brakes on.
BREATHE: remember why you started this journey. Every day I love and enjoy this house and this town more. Every little DIY task or decision leads us to what will become our very special place. We continue to enjoy the lake, hiking, biking, boating. water-skiing, sailing; town concerts and cultural events; the local gym and shops; amazing lobster, ice cream and food that just tastes better here; getting to know people in town and spending time with them and becoming part of this community.
Those are seven tips for now; there are probably many more to come. With a full month under our belts here, we are heading back to our other home shortly. That will bring the inevitable culture shock (I haven’t waited a traffic light or been in a traffic jam for weeks!). We have a better idea of what to expect at this Happy Place; we have some big projects coming up at this house and we’ll be popping up for brief stays throughout the coming months. Being on this journey with an amazing husband and great family and friend support leaves me content and ever-hopeful of what this home will be in a few years.
Doug, Adam and Grandma Arline - before the lake situation.
The peace and magic of a vacation morning is everything you want it to be here on Danforth Bay. Up at 6:30 (after a horrendous dream about a beaver
Morning mist on Danforth Bay
destroying our boat), the mist danced and swirled across Danforth Bay. Two fisherman in their boat glided across a mirror-like waterway as the morning clouds just started to give way to sun that will herald another beautiful August day. The only sounds were the chorus of birds and then – just like a scene out of “On Golden Pond,” the loon gave her mystical call almost as if to welcome this new day.
There will be boating with the Saxons at camp and a welcome to Doug’s mom later in the day. For now, the blue sky and sunshine breaks across the rolling hills across the bay. The lake awakes.
Who knew my son skinny dips? There I am, trying to be the “cool mom,” waving and standing at the front of our boat as we zip past the camp waterfront after dinner and spot my son and his group of guys swimming. As one of the boys jumped up, I quickly realized, swim trunks were optional – or there was some sort of game underway – that surely did not include parents as observers. My husband quickly turned the boat around and we waved
A modest lake house for sale in NH.
“bye-bye.” Oh, did I say my mother-in-law was with us as well? I don’t have a photo of any of this – not ever.
The day also included what I now affectionately call house 285. We are always looking at houses for sale in NH. This one is something that could be a fabulous and comfortable vacation home. We look, we dream – we continue to vacation. Tuesday- a visit to Maine.