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Renovating your home from a contractor's perspective

My father is a contractor and I have always lived in the midst of renovations.  The process of seeing dilapidated houses turn into beautiful craftsman homes was always exciting to me. Now, as a Realtor spending time with clients who are looking for "fixer uppers", I can provide some additional firsthand insight from my father who is an experienced professional.

How many homes have you bought and what were the conditions?

We bought 4 houses. 3 were "handyman" specials and 1 was brand new.  The first house we bought had dropped ceilings in the kitchen that I tore out. There was a rickety porch that I had to completely redo. There was a dry rotted deck that was failing apart. I tore it off and scrapped it and made a brand new back porch and stairs down to the yard.  There was an unfinished walkup attic that I renovated and made into a 4th bedroom  (with a closet and storage room) for the house. I replaced all of the windows with "replacement windows" which are windows that fit inside the existing frame so they're cost effective. I had to put a new roof on and paint the entire house. I did everything in pieces and overall, it took 7 years to do.

The second house was a true "handyman" special. The living room and dining room ceilings were being held up by sticks, which I had to redo completely upon moving in.  The oak flooring in the living room had to be repaired and refinished. The paint was peeling off the house and I had to scrape off the paint, prime and repaint immediately. All of the landscaping was overgrown and we trimmed everything back so the house could be seen from the road.  It was in really rough shape. We also had to repair the driveway, which took some time. We truly bought the worst house in the best neighborhood. We were able to get a great deal right before the home was going into foreclosure. We sold it 8 years later and it sold for more money than any other house on the block at that time.

Did you do all of the renovations to the homes yourself?

I did all the work by myself except for major plumbing and electrical. I always use and recommend using licensed and fully insured professionals. We also hired a pro wooden floor refinisher.

What is your advice for people buying a home that needs a lot of work?

Make sure you have enough capital to complete all planned projects and most importantly hire a licensed home improvement contractor who has stellar references. The contractor should use his own network of subcontractors so that the project moves along on schedule.

What are the least expensive to most expensive renovations?

Least expensive do it yourself projects are: painting and decorating, tearing up old carpeting, replacing front door as needed, windows as needed, landscaping. Most expensive: kitchen, bathrooms and additions, but you get the most resale out of renovating them.

How long will it take to renovate a bathroom, kitchen?

Kitchens take approximately 2-4 weeks depending on scope and size of job, making sure that all material is in place before start time. A bathroom will take about 2-4 weeks as well, same as above.

What's the best kind of house to buy for people that want to renovate?

Buy the worst house in the best neighborhood if you have the capital to make the improvements. Remember that everything takes time and you don't have to do everything at once. Make a plan and if you have a set amount of money at that particular time, do renovations in stages. Before you start, make sure you have your budget in place.

Any other advice you can give to homebuyers who are interested in buying
a "handyman special" ?

The best advice overall no matter what size house or projects, is to make sure you have the capital to complete all the renovations properly and not cheaply. When you want to sell your house down the road, that quality of the renovations will easily show. 

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