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The Major Renovation Begins

Time to invest in Renovations

I started this website as a showcase of DIY projects. However, with this house being such a disaster and considering the scope of the repairs and renovations necessary to make it habitable, it is time to call in the pros. The ball is now rolling.

After my father’s passing in March, I was the sole heir of his modest estate. It was a bittersweet development that puts us in the financial position to make the repairs and upgrades that our house so desperately needs.

Prioritizing our finances

Just for the record, lest it appear that I am blowing my inheritance so soon after my father’s death, I would like to indicate exactly what our priorities have been.

  • Paid off all of our consumer debt and are carrying zero balances on our credit cards. We use one credit card now, paying off the balance in full each month.
  • Topped up our retirement fund and will be seeing a substantial tax refund in April.
  • Contributed to our daughter’s education fund.
  • We took advantage of our mortgage prepayment options by paying down 15% before the anniversary date in August. We’ve paid down an additional 10% or so this year and are taking advantage of double payments whenever possible. Even in it’s current condition, we should finally have some equity in this house. And when it comes time to renew our mortgage next summer, our payments will be much lower so we won’t lose our house if either of our employment situations change. And if our employment situations remain as they are now we can take advantage of the lump sum and double down prepayments and be just about mortgage free by the end of the five year term.
  • We turned our focus to the renovations only after getting our financial house in order. And we have been anticipating these renovations for years. Just the time frame has changed. Instead of looking years or even a decade down the road, we are now talking about months.

Deciding to seek professional help

One of my biggest frustrations is the fact that we have not completely moved into this house after living here for more than five years. A lot of the work falls within my abilities as a do-it-yourselfer. There are other things I can learn to do. But I also know my limitations. Some things are better left to the professionals.

Money was always a major issue, but with that obstacle removed, we now have the opportunity to have someone else come in who knows exactly what they are doing and finish everything once and for all.

My wife works in the same office complex as an architectural firm and after talking to a couple of the staff members, we have decided that hiring an architect/project manager is going to be our best course of action.

So, how much will the project management aspect of this work cost? Somewhere between 5 and 10% of the total project cost (in addition to the fees for the design and blueprints). On a $50,000 renovation that’s $2500 – $5000 which is not necessarily a small chunk of change. Our project will cost much more than that– the garage and addition alone will likely be at least $100,000. But then, having a knowledgeable person overseeing the entire project takes away a lot of the stress. How can you put a price on that?

Prioritizing the renovations

We don’t expect to be able to everything at once. We are looking at doing things in three phases.

Phase 1

The first priority is to finish the two upstairs bedrooms:  our daughter’s room and the guest room.  The sub-floor needs to be patched where knee walls were moved and where the plumber cut access holes for the hot water pipes going to the rads. And the finished flooring, doors and trim all need to be installed.

Phase 2

The second phase will be the main floor of the original house. Originally, there were two bedrooms and a modest sized bathroom. The previous owner knocked out a wall to the bathroom, and incorporated that space into the master bedroom.  He turned the other bedroom into two bathrooms, including the ensuite which I gutted a couple of summers ago. My plan is to use that part of the house for the master bedroom, a decent sized bathroom, and possibly a main floor laundry room. I think it can be done, but hiring an architect to measure the space and draw up the plans will take out any of the guess work. Plus, as project manager, the architect will bring in the best people for the job. The necessary permits will be pulled, and all work will be inspected and up to code.

Phase 3

The third phase will be replacing the existing addition and building a garage that will become my woodworking shop. This could happen as soon as next fall but most likely will happen in the spring of 2010. At the same time, we will have the rest of the house wrapped with a waterproof membrane, have the driveway paved and a new deck built, preferably using composite materials if our budget allows. Throw a couple of porches into the equation, and it is obvious that the cost of this project will be substantial.

And the survey says…

Image courtesy of dan /

In mid-September, we had our property surveyed. This is the first time we have a clear picture of exactly what property we own. We did not receive a survey when we purchased the house, but that’s another story.

The architect will also use the survey to create a site plan when the time comes to design the addition and garage.

The survey confirmed our suspicions that the seller’s real estate agent was wrong about the location of the property line when we purchased the house. I want to believe that he did not deliberately set out to mislead us, and was only using information the seller had given him. Was the deception deliberate?  At this point it doesn’t matter. After five years, we are probably beyond any civil remedy. Nothing we do will change the property line anyway, so we will have to work with what we got. I am confident that the architect will be able to work his magic when the time comes

Scale Drawings

On October 23, two members of the architect’s team spent 2 and a half hours measuring the entire house. From these measurements, the architect will create a detailed scale drawing of the current layout.

The house has issues

The architect’s team confirmed what I already suspected. The previous owner did indeed compromise the structure of this house with his butchery.  Anything that I thought was a structural issue really is a structural issue.

The more I uncovered over the past few years, the more I became overwhelmed and depressed. As it turns out, I had every right to be. It was oddly comforting to be told today that I definitely needed professional help. We have so many issues going on with the structure that it will take an expert to develop a plan of attack to resolve them and make our house livable.

This post has been modified.  it is a consolidation of 4 posts originally published between September 20 and October 24, 2008. Revised 2018