DIY Home: 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before We Bought a Fixer-Upper

5 things to know before you buy a fixer-upper - DesignLively

We are on our third year of renovating our 1940s New England Colonial fixer-upper and have learned quite a bit along the way.

From the likes of this blog you would think all we’ve been doing is gallivanting around all summer swimming at the beach and eating ice cream! Such is the impression of the internet – the truth is we’ve been doing a LOT of work lately. Hopefully I’ll get to posting about it someday soon.

The first year we were wide-eyed and naive newlyweds attacking each project with gusto. The second year we were weary and sprouting gray hairs. In our third year we’ve started to plan our exit plan. As in, renovation wrap up. We’re hoping sometime in year 4 will turn into regular house maintenance projects for us. (Could that possibly be the dim light of a normal life at the end of this tunnel?)

I hope it doesn’t sound like I am whining, I love our house and we are extremely blessed in this home. : ) It has, however, been a lot of work and these are some thoughts I’d like to share with the rest of you who are considering it!)

Here’s a list of what I wish I knew before we bought a fixer-upper.

(and a few photos displaying the crazy adventure we’ve taken!)

5 things to know before you buy a fixer-upper - DesignLively

1. Old houses are… OLD

Living in Boston, where there are plenty of properties dating back to the 1800s, owning a 1940s house hardly sounds decrepit. But let me tell you, it’s certainly old enough.

The problem with old houses is, well, they’re old. The house has long-settled, so none of your rooms are square. The house was built when standardization didn’t exist, so you have to custom-fashion your dry-wall so it’s the same depth as the rest of your house. Old pipes, old wires, old plaster… all waiting just for you!

5 things to know before you buy a fixer-upper - DesignLively

2. Everything takes longer and is more expensive that you think. No, Seriously.

As two over-eager and frugal minded people, I expected we were above the curve on this general expectation regarding renovations. I remember when I’d watch Flip That House and smugly thinking we would manage a renovation budget unlike some of those yahoos.


It takes longer because suddenly your permit was rejected, Home Depot won’t have the item you need in-store for another two weeks, the weather has been too humid for X project. It’s more expensive because your house is built on-top of granite and you need to hire rock-demolitioners to destroy your front yard so you can run a wire.

Unless you take out a construction loan, you’ll need the means to make it happen. Make sure you have the resources to finish a project before you start.

5 things to know before you buy a fixer-upper - DesignLively

3. Your passion for DIY comes and goes in waves

Plain and simple: sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s not.

You must persevere and accept. Otherwise you’ll live in an eternal construction zone. Picking out paint colors and hardware? that’s fun and over in about .02 seconds.

Ripping out drywall and insulation at 2am because you’re on a deadline? That’s about just as fun as it sounds.

5 things to know before you buy a fixer-upper - DesignLively

4. Flexibility is the Key to Success

That’s a motto I learned on a missions trip back in my freshman year of high school and I repeat it to myself often. DIYing means putting up with a lot. We lived without a fridge for a month, and then lived with it smack dab in the middle of our kitchen for another 3 months.

I can fall asleep to the sound of power tools.

While it’s easy to dream and scheme, you will learn that some things just can’t be changed. That wall you wanted to remove for your “open-floor plan” might just be load-bearing. Your floor joists run East to West so your toilet can only go one of two places.

5 things to know before you buy a fixer-upper - DesignLively

5. Goodbye Relaxing Weekends

Unless you’re an heiress with a penchant for power tools, it’s pretty likely that you have a job. You need a way to pay for all those power tools, right? That means all our projects either have to happen on weeknights at 8pm, when I’d rather put my feet up and watch a re-run of The Office, or on a sunny Saturday when I’d rather skip down to the beach. Oh yeah, and normal life obligations like laundry, groceries, socialization and errands are still going on too.

Lots of people will tell you how they also have a fixer-upper and have had to “paint and put new lights in every room.” And inside your head you will laugh wickedly.

5B. You are giving your husband the excuse to buy every power tool under the sun. Consider yourself warned.

Don’t let a DIY house scare you away – there are also MANY PERKS, but sometimes I wish I really understood these things before we were ankle-deep in plaster dust.

We’re on year three of this house – and we definitely thought we’d be done by now. But, we’ve also been able to do a lot more than we ever thought we’d be able to. Pros and cons.

Are you DIYing your house? What’s your favorite, and least favorite, parts? Have you ever wanted to?


11 thoughts on “DIY Home: 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before We Bought a Fixer-Upper

  1. Yea! I’m on year 4 and we haven’t moved in yet. Doing most of the work myself – it takes time – and a boat load of money. Most favorite? Designing the plan and dong the work myself. Worst part? paying someone else to do the work, and having to do it over again.

  2. Awesome!!! The photos in a summary fashion leave a strong story and reconnect all the past posts I’ve read.

  3. It is a blessing and a curse! I don’t know if it’s better or worse when we’re living in our own construction zone, ha ha! Best of luck on your projects!

  4. This whole post is fabulous, but I especially enjoy this: Lots of people will tell you how they also have a fixer-upper and have had to β€œpaint and put new lights in every room.” And inside your head you will laugh wickedly.

    While we haven’t done a ton of ripping down dry wall……the work is neverending on a true fixer upper that I haven’t even had time to pick out new light fixtures that we desperately need! Oooooh and point 5b. Yep, I have been sent to Home Depot at 9:45 to dash through the store to find whatever tool is needed before they close.

    ….but it’s all ((mostly)) fun?! the end product is fun, anyways πŸ™‚

  5. My husband and I are currently looking for a DIY house at the Jersey Shore. Thanks for the tips! I never thought about the license to buy every power tool under the sun but you’re absolutely right! Haha! Best of luck in finishing your home, I’m sure it looks lovely! Ps, what did you end up doing with the bat, pictured above? (I love bats… Hope it was released…!?)

  6. Yes, the bat was released outside! I don’t like bats at all, but even I have to admit he was pretty cute. I just didn’t like him being in my bathroom!

  7. OMG THAT BAT!! Lol. We live in an old Boston area home as well… built in 1835. I can’t say your house is old, it’s not even 100 yet! πŸ˜‰ I can definitely relate to the struggle though. Our studs are not placed in any logical order whatsoever, no insulation in some places, really scary basement that will cost a fortune to actually make a livable space, etc, etc, etc… the list goes on! The plus side for me is that our house is so New England! It’s so different than the boring houses we see on HGTV or other parts of the country. I love the charm and the old craftsmanship I see. I wouldn’t trade it for anything! Good luck to you guys… eventually the work will be done and you’ll have a beautiful home you take pride in. πŸ™‚ xoxo

  8. We LOVE old homes! My husband and I are on house renovation #4. We are currently renovating an 1837 farmhouse with attached barn. After years of accumulating power tools (you are 100% correct on that point) they fit perfectly in the barn! My best advice for those new to this lifestyle is to make sure that you use the best tools for the job. You do not have to purchase all, rent. It will be $ well spent. Also, be prepared to really do the work yourself. It is shocking how much “professionals” charge and how badly they do the job they have been hired to do…that is if you can find someone to show up. Educate yourself on the projects, tools, costs etc. The internet is a wealth of information. Good luck and enjoy!!!!

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