Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Confessions of an HGTV Dropout

My name is the Thrifty Renovator and I was an HGTV addict.  Like many property virgins, after buying my first house my previously fun- (and spending-) filled weekends quickly metamorphosed into marathons of such programming as  House Hunters (domestic and international), Design on a Dime, and Divine Design.  God help me, I even appeared on an episode of Landscapers' Challenge.  I had a bad case of the renovating bug but, after spending what would have bought a McMansion in a more sane part of the country, wanting wasn't going to be getting.   My episode aired, I got a cute patio and an empty bank account out of the experience, and for the next few years my renovations were pretty much limited to fixing things that broke.

Fast forward to 2007.  The patio was still cute, the 900 square foot house was still 900 square feet, and my family had doubled in size with the addition of a husband and two more babies.  I had a job offer in another state, it was time to move along, and, although we didn't know it at the time, the housing bubble was approximately 4 weeks from bursting.  We had completed none of the cute projects we'd seen on HGTV and planned to do someday -- no new matching doorknobs, no patching the cracks in the walls, no period moulding, no rainfall shower, no replacing the cheapo white ceramic tile installed by the previous owner.  We had two weeks to get out of town, two babies underfoot, and about two hundred projects to finish.  And no money.  This confluence of fortunate and unfortunate events was the kick in the tuchis we'd needed, triggering a renovating frenzy that so transformed the house that, by the time the moving van pulled up, we didn't want to leave.  The ugly rusted trim on our fences?  Gone!  Scrubby patches of grass?  Resodded!  Bare dirt walkways?  Buried in crunchy white marble chips picked up at Home Depot for a song.  Cracked walls?  Patched, plastered, and painted to perfection.  Yellow kitchen tile grout memorializing several years of cooking curries?  Blasted away to a sparkling whiteness.  That bathtub drain that never worked?  Hello, plumber.  Two weeks.  Two panicked sellers.  Two thousand dollars.  One transformed home.  It sold before we even had an open house, and we started a new life.  In an ugly house that needs a lot of work.

Thus began my passion for thrifty renovation.  Thrifty renovation is not -- necessarily -- DIY. Nor is it dumpster diving.  Nor does it require becoming or marrying a contractor.  To me, thrifty renovation is about bang for the buck.  What can you learn to do yourself?  What is it inevitably more expensive to try to do yourself?  (In other words, what tasks are you bound to screw up badly enough that you end up paying for it twice?)  What renovations will give you the highest return on your investment -- both in terms of the value of your home and the joy you find in living there?  If you do decide to hire helpers (or do-ers), what is the safest and most economical way to do so?  Let's talk about our own planned or ongoing renovations, and learn from each other.  I look forward to the journey.

No comments: