Home & Style

Diary of A Fixer-Upper: And The Grand Total Is. . .

In her final post, Heather tallies up her totals to see how her costs compare to her investment, and offers tips for renovators-to-be.

I hope you’ve all enjoyed reading this column as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it over the past few months. With the kitchen completed and my house fully functional—if not quite “pretty” yet—I have to take a break from the renovations, both for my sanity and my checkbook. Over the summer I hope to tackle some landscaping, while saving up for the last BIG project: the upstairs bathroom. I don’t even want to think about living without a shower for however long that will take.

For now, it’s time to look back and see if I’ve been spending my money well. Since I haven’t done an official appraisal, I have to do my best guess based on comparable homes in my neighborhood, so take my guess for what it’s worth. Rowhouses with about 1,100 square-feet that are totally renovated and have two bedrooms and 1.5 baths are going for about $400,000 in my neighborhood. Even though my upstairs bathroom still needs work, some of the drywall is banged up, the yard isn’t landscaped, and I still have some painting to do and electrical outlet covers to install, I don’t think a $375,000 estimate is out of the question. So let’s do the math:
Purchase price: $299,000

Phase 1: Pre-move-in
• Forced heat/cooling system: $13,900
• New/refinished wood floors: $7,190
• Washer and dryer: $1,000
• Gas fireplace fixture: $680
• Iron gates on windows and doors: $650
• Broken window repair: $320
• Repointing chimney brick on roof: $500
• Rerouting a vent through the attic: $600
• Insulation in roof: $1,200
• Major drywall repair: $2,000
• Purchases from hardware store (including new exterior door, two toilets, and many supplies): $1,000
Total from Phase 1: $29,040

Phase 2: Kitchen
• Refrigerator: $1,100
• Gas range: $600
• Dishwasher: $600
• Microwave: $400
• Garbage disposal: $85
• Sink and faucet: $450
• Granite countertops: $1,550
• IKEA cabinets: $2,050
• Labor: $1,000
Total from Phase 2: $7,835

That gives me a total of $36,875 that I’ve spent on the house so far. It’s approximate, given that I probably haven’t kept every single receipt from my hardware store runs and I’ve rounded a few dollars up and down. If my house is (let’s cross our fingers) worth $375,000, that means I’ll have gained close to $40,000 on the house over what I’ve spent. Of course, that number doesn’t mean it’s cash in hand—closing costs, if I were to sell right now, would eat up nearly all of that.  

But I don’t plan to sell right away. With luck, I can do the renovations I have left for around $15,000 to $20,000, resulting in a house worth around $400,000, or around $50,000 more than what I put into it (not including the mortgage I pay down in the meantime).  

Sure, I want to renovate a house that I love, and love to live in, but there’s very little sense in putting more money into the house than it’s worth—unless you plan to live in your house far, far into the future or are rich enough to eat the loss. I discussed in my first Fixer-Upper post that I view this project as both a way to better a neighborhood I plan to live in for quite some time, and also as my first investment, which I hope will pay off the bulk of my student loans one day.  

So far it looks like I’m on the right track, due in large part to finding honest, reliable contractors and by summoning a deep well of patience to live in a house in various states of disarray and dysfunction. Many of my friends are excited for me, but admit that there is no way they would do it themselves (with the undertone: you are crazy). And it’s true, renovation work isn’t for everyone, but it’s not as bad as you think, either. If you do a decent amount of research before making major purchases, have a semi-flexible work schedule, are in a decent financial position, and are willing to ask lots and lots of (sometimes stupid) questions, you’re in a good place to take on a renovation. And without going into an economic analysis, D.C. is a great place for that, if you want to live in the city proper but don’t want to live in new condo construction and can’t afford a million-dollar house. For me, it’s not just a “fixer-upper;” it’s the perfect starter home.  

Thanks for reading about my adventures, and maybe next year you’ll find me back in this spot bemoaning the burst pipe that’s delaying my (only) shower installation for another week. Good times!

We’ll miss you, Heather! Thanks for sharing the ups and downs of your home renovation project. To read Heather’s home adventures from the beginning, click here.

For all you Fixer-Upper fans, we’re looking for the next brave soul to fill this space with their renovation tale. If you’re a good writer doing a renovation project and you’d like to take over this weekly column, email mfleury@washingtonian.com with a sample post and a photo or two of your project.
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