Today's guest post is brought to you by Will Ashenmacher, one of our clients who bought a home a year ago today! Read on for some of his advice for new homeowners...
In December 2015, I bought a small 1924 bungalow in the Longfellow neighborhood (thanks, Arne and Megan!). It wasn't quite a fixer-upper, but it was pretty close. I knew I was heading into - well, I knew I was heading into something, but I didn't know quite what.
A year, a few little meltdowns and quite a lot of money and do-it-myself projects later, the house is in better shape. Along the way, I've picked up a few lessons that other first-time homeowners might find helpful, especially if the house needs a few years of investment and some imagination before they're ready to host Thanksgiving:
Beware of the snowball effect: The bathroom was pretty rough when I bought my house, but my initial list of priorities didn't include getting it redone. After I moved in, I quickly realized that getting ready for the day in a bathroom that just feels grimy doesn't get your day off to a good start. I thought I could sneak some new tile work in and still stick to my list of priorities - hey, a guy on Thumbtack said it would only be $850! - but that was not what happened. Every repair and improvement uncovered something else that needed to be fixed first. In the end, I wound up with a very nice bathroom, but a very nice bathroom that blew past any concept of budget several times and threw my plans for the rest of my house into disorder. I can't say it wasn't worth it, but next time I try something like this, I'll approach it with the expectation and awareness that with an old house, there is no such thing as a quick, easy and cheap remodeling project.
Never try to paint a closet: In late winter, I had a three-day weekend and decided to use it to repaint a bedroom closet. This was a terrible idea. To make a long story short, the closet was so small there was no way for a six-foot-tall man to reach parts of it and I kept bumping into portions I had already painted, meaning I had to redo them over and over again. In the process, I got paint on my sweatshirt, in my hair, all over my arms and even on my glasses; I felt like I was actually moving backward instead of making progress. I got so frustrated I had to put my brush down and go for a walk around the block (it was snowing and I didn't put on a jacket because, again, paint everywhere!) to regain composure. Whatever it costs to have a professional paint a closet is probably worth it.
Give gardening a try: When I lived in an apartment, I knew the difference between a Phillips and a flathead screwdriver, but that was really the extent of my home-improvement skills. By spring 2016, I had gotten worn out of trying and failing to do things myself, and figuring out who to hire for stuff (to say nothing of paying for it) was becoming tiresome, too. Luckily for me, I discovered almost by accident that gardening is a fairly cheap way to feel like you're making progress on your house. The more gardening I did, the better the place looked. Gardening is pretty equal-opportunity. Anybody can pull weeds. Anybody can pick up a few perennials to boost curb appeal. Anybody can drop a few bulbs in the ground for some spring color. That elementary gardening doesn't take too many special skills and makes it worth at least trying, and, if you're like me, you might find that you enjoy it. It's a nice way to spend some time outside, and it's very rewarding to see the little plants you bought for $3 each at a coworker's son's school plant sale grow and turn into something pretty.
Allow your expectations to change: Even before my closing date, I had a grand plan for what the inside of my house would look like. Now, this is. probably a good idea in general, but if I could go back, I would tell myself not to hold on to my grand plan too tightly. If you have an overall scheme, know that you'll find out over time that parts of it just won't work - that bedroom is too small, built-in bookshelves will be too expensive, a light fixture where you want one won't work with the existing wiring, etc. Furthermore, I found out that sometimes when I did things all at once, my tastes and preferences had changed a little since I first came up with the idea. Instead of doing what I did, aim for an overall concept, theme, or feeling, but don't get hung up on exact specifics.
Remember it's a long game: This is something I'm still reminding myself of. It's easy to get a small, modern apartment the way you want it fairly quickly. It's not easy to do the same with an old house which has seen decades of people other than you customizing it to their tastes. It can be hard to be patient, but a thoughtful, strategic approach that unfolds over time is the best way to go.
Guest post by Will Ashenmacher