3 properties in 27 months and living in the middle of it all, you might guess we have an ongoing list of renovation mistakes or things we'd wished we had done differently! Here you go:
1. Hardwoods Before Cabinet Installation.
On our first property and flip, we learned a lot. In the kitchen we had nightmare 12 inch by 12 inch ceramic tile floors. Some tiles were cracked and some had been replaced by the previous owner and didn't match. The floor was disgusting! And, it wasn't the only thing that was disgusting. The kitchen cabinets were nasty. The cabinets were short, dirty, old and had a cheap paint job. Everything needed to go and everything needed to go quickly. We started removing cabinets and before we knew it, we were installing our newly ordered Ikea Kitchen Cabinets. Next, we started chipping away at those 12in by 12in tiles. They were coming out with ease. Our contractor came by to take a look at our progress and his upcoming job of installing our new hardwoods. It was at this time he stated that the second layer of subfloor (which was installed when the house was built to level out the kitchen with surrounding rooms) would need to come out! Eeeeekkkk! How would the subfloor come out with our new cabinets installed already? We finished removing all the tiles and handed the job over to our contractor, because we knew he could handle this, not us. He did have some difficulty cutting out the subfloors around where the new cabinets sat, but he was able to get the job done. This miscue cost us some extra time and money due. Our learning experience - install floors before the new cabinets come in, regardless of how excited you are to get new cabinets in!
2. Don't Rip up Sand and Finish Hardwoods.
During our second property and flip, nothing had been done to the house in 31 years - literally! An elderly couple built and lived in the home until they were in their 80s and sold when they felt they could no longer maintain the home. 1986 wallpaper, dated kitchen appliances, fuzzy toilet covers, you dream it, this house had it! I wanted it all gone and all gone quickly. When meeting with our floor guy, we spoke about 3 inch sand and finish white oak running through the foyer and into the den and kitchen. In no time, he had dropped off the construction
dumpster in the driveway and started to rip out the old floors in the foyer, den and kitchen - 2 inch sand and finish, 3 inch prefinished and ceramic tile. We went back in with 3 inch white oak, left the floors a natural finish with a satin poly and they were beautiful. Shortly before we put the house on the market we had our floor guy back to refinish the floors in the dining room and they not only looked amazing, but they matched up almost perfectly to his newly installed hardwoods. This got me thinking, with the large foyer (almost 230 sq feet), had we kept the sand and finish floors and had them refinished instead of ripped out, we would have saved close to $1000! Now, the floor width would not have matched up perfectly, but otherwise the floors would have looked the same. Consider keeping any sand and finish floors you have, regardless of the difference in width.
3. Find an HAVC guy who works on the side.
We came up with this revelation during reno and flip #2. After having called a few HVAC companies and getting a pricey quote from one company - $500 to relocate two air vents. Another HVAC company leveled with me, "Ma'am, it's May and we are slammed right now, but I've got a guy who works for us and would probably do this after hours for you. Here is his number.". Sha-zam! One phone call and he was over after hours. $140 to relocate the two air vents and all before my floor guys were finished with their work.
4. Watch your appliance expense.
We love to cook and when I say we, I mean we. The Hubs whips up some mean pancakes and lobster bisque, while my t(w)eens are busy baking and experimenting on the stove top or in the oven with anything and everything. After property 1, we missed our double ovens and the extra space around the cook-top, so with property 2, I knew we needed double ovens and an over-sized stove top. We opted for the Kitchen Aid 48-inch cook top and double oven. Don't get me wrong, I loved the KitchenAid, but I felt like it was over-the-top and especially so for a flip. Doing a little more research on 48-inch pro-style ranges, I came across the Thor 48-inch pro style range. The Thor range got fantastic reviews and so far, I agree. For a savings of over $3000, the only thing that I really miss is the digital timer. I think I can find an alternative timer for three grand! We all know upgrades in the kitchen are typically dollars well-spent, but just be smart about it. Kitchens do sell houses, but try not to go overboard.
5. Go Duel Fuel.
Since we are on the subject of cooking, I recommend going duel fuel during your kitchen renovation. In property #1, we had the gas line and electric line behind the stove. We purchased our cooktop and I didn't blink when we ordered the GE gas cook top / gas oven. This was my first experience with a gas oven. While I highly recommend cooking with gas on your cooktop, I'm not a big fan with a gas oven and here's why: 1) the whoosh of the gas sound when the oven is turned on. For some reason, I get nervous every time I hear that whoosh of gas. 2) there is a very slight gas odor when the oven is turned on. For some reason, that smell bothers me too. The GE cook-top was amazing, especially if you are cramped for space, I just missed cooking with an electric oven.
6. Re-surface or Re-face Your Tub.
On master bath 1 renovation, we put in a freestanding tub. With the new tub, we incurred three rounds of expense: 1) demo, 2) tub purchase, 3) tub installation, coming all in for around $3000. On the master bath 2 renovation, we had a re-surfacing company give us an estimate to resurface the tub. A resurface would make it look brand new for around $1200. Re-surfacing is done in a day and leaves no mess. While working on the master bath 2 renovation we wondered if we could just reface around the tub and leave everything as it. Obviously, we'd save money, but would it look good and maybe more importantly would is sell? Ultimately, a re-face around the tub is all we did. The home sold almost as fast as our first one did, so we feel like it was a smart move!
7. Call Habitat for Humanity Restore First.
Upon moving in, we immediately started taking down our kitchen cabinets in property 1. We offered a few to our handyman. Sure, he'd take a few to hang in his garage. Before we knew it, we had given half of our old kitchen cabinets away while the remaining filled up our garage. No problem, we'd drive them up to Habitat for Humanity Restore. Unfortunately, this is when we found out that they don't take partial cabinets. Additionally, they let us know that they would come to our house and do the deconstruction for us. Ouch, all that time and labor! So on property 2, we were quick to call Habitat for Humanity, "please come deconstruct our kitchen, ASAP!" This is when we found out that our 1986 cabinets were too old and were not worth the deconstruction time; however, Habitat would certainly come and pick them up. Deal! We paid our handyman about $200 to deconstruct and Habitat took them off our hands. Again, I was quick to call Habitat when we moved in Property 3. Head Honcho said send him a picture and he'd get back to us. This was followed-up by "Let me come take a look". Then, the magic words we'd been waiting for, "sure, we can come deconstruct and take these off your hands". Boom, kitchen deconstruction at no cost and a tax deduction!
8. A Construction Dumpster Might be Worth the Money.
We didn't understand the luxury of a construction dumpster until property #2. Our floor guy figured this into his cost. While we proudly repurpose as many construction items as possible, and recycle when possible, there are just some things that get thrown out. Property 2 was a big kitchen renovation, not much was salvageable, so the oven from 1986, the four burner cooktop (with only 3 working eyes), the drywall from opening a wall, the old floors and more all got trashed. For seven straight days, we lived in the life of luxury of pitching whatever needed to go into the convenient construction dumpster. Back to reality during Property 2 Master Bath renovation. Again, a lot had to go, but this time no dumpster. We loaded up the trailer and prepared to head the local dump. We were warned by our contactor that our load was likely too heavy for a residential dump. We rolled the dice and off we drove. Closest Dump #1, the head guy said our load was too large. Off to Dump #2 to find out that the construction bins were full. Rolling our eyes, as the Toddler watched Frozen in the backseat, we headed to the last resort, the dreaded landfill. We made it in and headed down the windy dusty dirt road leading to the landfill. Park. Turn the car off, but leave Frozen on to occupy the Toddler, and begin unloading. The dirty work was done and we cranked the car up, only it didn't start. Click click click. The battery was dead. True story! 15 minutes later and some landscape guys showed up and gave us a jump (after they unloaded an entire truck of yard trash). Moral of the story: look into the cost of a construction dumpster - it saves a ton of time and labor.
9. Money Spent on Trees
One of the nice things about moving out into an older established neighborhood are the beautiful mature trees, something we'd always missed in our previous clear-cut, cookie-cutter neighborhoods. One of the bad things about moving into an older established neighborhood are the beautiful mature trees, and we learned this quickly. In property 1, we had this amazing semicircle extension of the driveway that wrapped in front of the house. This semicircle drive was peppered with beautiful Ash trees, at least they seemed beautiful until we moved into the house. This is when we noticed they dropped limbs almost everyday. Beware if a storm was coming. To this day I have a dent in the hood of my car from where an Ash limb fell on it. That also the incident that led me to call Mr. Tree Man. Sure, he'd take out all of the Ash trees out; however, we settled on 9 while Jason and his buddy tackled 4. Fast Forward to Property 2, in which the property line was literally outlined with Poplar and Pine trees. Again, we moved in and had another traumatic moment: one Pine literally snapped mid-day. The snapped Pine was our cue to call Mr. Tree Man again, who set us up. He removed all the Pines, a few Poplars, and limbed up a few trees. Tree bill on Property 1 was several thousand while tree bill on Property 2 doubled. While our motto is to have things look nice and be safe, we caution you to not go overboard. I'll admit that on both properties we took a few extra things out because the Tree Man was on site and it just seemed easy. Lesson here, don't fall prey to the Tree Man sales pitch.