We recently received an email from a couple considering buying a house that sounds like it would need a good amount of work. I wanted to be supportive and encourage them, but I also felt that I needed to be honest about our experience. I’m left wondering if I just ended up scaring them away?
I question if someone had told me upfront what I was in for if I would have wanted to go forward with the house? Who am I kidding? Of course, I would have still wanted our house. I would have assumed our house would somehow be different, our experience would somehow be easier. Kind-of like when David tells me that the screaming child having a fit at the mall because he wants a cookie is an anomaly, that if we ever had children they would never act that way.
Fellow house restorers, what would you have said? Do you have any advice, caution or encouragement for someone considering undertaking a fairly extensive restoration with 3 young children?
Subject: Should we do this crazy thing?
We came across your site when doing research into a 1912 bungalow located in Southern California that we are considering buying. It has always been our dream to buy a Craftsman home, and we found this one and can’t believe how beautiful it is. We have three small children who would have to live through a major “cleaning up” of the house, and we have spent the last week stressing about all of the pros and cons of buying it.
Your site has only added to our problem with this big decision. It looks like a LOT of work, but you sure do look happy doing it! The house we are looking at needs tons of work and is WAY overpriced. I guess the days of buying a fixer upper at a fixer upper price are long gone. Our question is, would you guys do this over again if you had the choice? Do you think your type of remodel would be doable with kids in the house?
Thanks so much.
Thanks so much for contacting us. First of all, I have to say that I am glad that we got the house. After 3.5 years I feel like I have some perspective. There is nothing like bringing a house back to life and these old homes are so special. When we get our house done I am sure I will think it is all worth it.
That said, this process is much more difficult than I had imagined when we first purchased the house. The main thing I didn’t realize is the amount of time it would take. I don’t just mean the amount of time it takes to complete the projects, I also mean the amount of time it takes away from your “normal” life. The first year we were in the house we didn’t go out to dinner, movies, see friends, watch tv (ok, we watched less tv) or all those little things people do without giving it much thought. Yes, we could have still done those things but it is so hard to enjoy time away from the house when you know there is so much to be done just to make your house livable. In the beginning it isn’t so bad because everything seems like an adventure and is still fun.
I also didn’t factor in the amount of dust and dirt these projects generate. We had 2 shop vacs going around the clock and plastic partitions up to try to contain the mess but it doesn’t really help all that much. Be prepared to have a layer of dust covering everything you own no matter what you do.
Then there is the money. In our case we grossly underestimated how much the work on the house would actually cost. A little bit of money spent here and there really adds up quickly. In our experience, you can start out doing a little project and as you get into it, you discover a structural problem or a plumbing problem. You delve into that problem and find something even more expensive behind that. The whole one step forward two steps back has led me to tears many times.
The best way I can explain it is to think of the house as a child. A very demanding child with special needs. Because that is the kind of focus and dedication the house will end up requiring. The house does add strain and takes the focus off your primary relationships. Because you are so busy working on the house you aren’t able to give your other relationships the same amount of time and energy as before the house. There is a constant level of strain. There have been times when I am washing the dishes in the bath tub, taking a shower at the gym or going to the Laundromat for months because of a plumbing issue when maybe I would rather come home, kick my shoes off and relax. But, I can’t kick my shoes off because everything in my house is covered in dust. It’s that kind-of thing for months or even years on end that just gets to you.
Then you get to where we are now. We have the house basically livable. But, we still have lots left to do and I can’t get geared up to go through all that again. I just want to live in the house and enjoy a semi-normal life. I don’t want to deal with the dirt, dust, energy and cost that I know will come with more work on the house. We’ll get to the point where we will work on the house again but we haven’t worked on the house for over a year and it’s very hard to get back into it once you stop.
I hope I haven’t scared you completely away from the idea but I am trying to be as honest as I can be. Personally, I would not go through a restoration as extensive as this one again unless we had the money to bring in a team to do the work and complete the project in 6 months – before we moved in. At the time we bought this house, I think we would have been better off finding a Craftsman house that was in better condition and spending more for it. We ended up putting that money into fixing this house up anyway.
But, it has been rewarding and we are now at a place where we can enjoy the house. I just wish that the house was completely done but we still have lots left to do. Even though we have done all this work, we are only half way there.
You have to go with your heart. There is nothing that anyone could have said that would have stopped me from buying this house. I fell in love with it the first time I saw it. It hasn’t been easy and I do think it would be even harder with young children unless there is a way you could bring in help to get the work done quicker.
I hope this was helpful. I wish you and your family all the best!