Lessons on renovating a house from someone who’s lived in it

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So you think DIY remodeling is going to be fun? Here is one homeowner's list of what you may be getting yourself into.

More than three years ago. My husband and I bought an 1890 Victorian disaster with the intention of restoring it ourselves. I fell in love with the house before we even got in the front door. I loved the wraparound porch. Also, I loved the giant, ornate hinges. I even loved the crazy mess and decay.

My enthusiasm for our new house was matched only by my failure to understand true DIY. Prior to the move, I had never experienced any kind of intense house project. I had no concept of the sheer avalanche of what we had signed up for.

But after three years of gutting and ripping and hauling and patching and repairing and sanding and painting and dirt and mess and exhaustion. Now I understand what DIY means. What construction means, what chaos means. And what it means to see no end in sight.

Eight things to consider before your commitment

If that sounds fun to you. Here are eight things to consider before you and your partner commit your nights and weekends. Also, infinitum to a house that needs more than a little work.

Whatever your relationship is like now is exactly what your project will be like. Except you will both be on fire. If you communicate calmly and kindly while you are in flames, you’ll be fine.

Sometime in the first six months. You are going to regret your decision in one way or another. When the construction has eaten your house. Also, your life and your sanity, and when you've gotten used to climbing over a toilet in your foyer. You are going to look around in despair and wonder why you ever thought you wanted to do this. That regret will be temporary, but it is nerve-racking to question uprooting your entire life after it's too late.

Your house project will not be a form of entertainment. It’s a second job. A job you cannot leave or go home from. It’s more like a second life. Dreaming and planning are great. It’s one of the best parts — aside from being finished. But if at any point you or your partner says, "This will be fun!," You should stop right there. There are only 10 people on the planet who would define living in a construction site as fun. Chances are, you are not one of them.

You really cannot know what a house needs until you live in it. No matter how carefully you plan. There will be complications. (This is multiplied by infinity if you are buying an old house). And the character trait you are most going to appreciate in your partner is the ability to adapt and move on.


One of you should really know what you're doing.  But even if one of you is a pro, it can still be a challenging dynamic. The novice (me) initially had no concept of the reality of making an idea work. But I had every awareness that it would be awesome.  I had so many ideas for this house. Had I been in charge, we’d still be on the third floor building the ballroom that I dreamed up in my mind.

There will be one project that goes on for so long you actually forget. There was a time in your life when you were not mired in an epic quest to find the perfect tile. Our hallway bathroom remodel took at least three times longer than it should have. If there is a better way to make my husband insane, I do not know what it is.