We're a nation fascinated by homeownership, and home renovation. There are dozens of series about home renovations, from the granddaddy of them all, This Old House, to the insanely popular Fixer Upper, to more boutique offerings like my personal favorite, Restored. Home Depot stands at #22 in the Fortune 500, and Lowe's isn't far behind at #50. And with the real estate market as hot as it's ever been, it seems that every other person you meet wants to fix up an old house. It's gotten so bad that South Park made a parody episode about this last year...an episode that hit painfully close to home.
My wife and I have lived through this twice, first with the relatively minor updates we made to the 2-family we purchased out of foreclosure in 2008, when it seemed like we were making an absolutely insane decision to buy and renovate in a falling market. It took years before that house was worth more than we owed on it, but eventually between appreciation as the economy recovered and the increased value from all the work we did to that house, we were able to refinance and pull out enough cash to put the down payment on our second house, another two-family in the same neighborhood. It took luck, tenacity, a whole lot of sleepless nights, double our original budget and 3x our original timeline, but we're finally at a place where we can take a break and reflect on the process.
One thing I found in my endless nights of internet searching for info on renovations was that despite our national obsession with home renovations, finding straight answers to my questions was never straightforward. I bookmarked hundreds of webpages, researched countless projects, interviewed contractors in just about every field, and it never felt like I knew enough to make an informed decision.
This was made even harder because we're doing a project in the city limits of Boston, which seems to be an extraordinarily difficult (and expensive) place to get work done. Contractors hate coming into the city, our traffic and narrow streets add delays to every project, our city permitting process is hopelessly broken, and pretty much everything costs more - a lot more - than what the research tells you it should.
In the Diary of a Renovation, I'll walk you through the steps, from purchase to completion, of what it's really like to rebuild an old house. I'll tell you what worked, what didn't, what we did well and what I wish I could change. I'll be as honest about the budget and our failures in sticking to it as I can. And maybe I'll help you decide whether or not this is the kind of challenge you're really ready to take on, or whether you're better off sticking to watching the pros on Fixer Upper do it from the safety of your couch.