Bootstrapping your first home renovation:
Start by trading perfection for progress, and trading your dream home for the home you'll build your dreams in. Invest in real estate, and start living!
Almost 10 years ago I missed out on this house.
What I ended up with was far better than I could have dreamt, but I had to take a leap of faith to get there.
I've been in your shoes.
I've made those compromises.
I'm here to say... it was worth it.
Back in 2008, I was very much inspired by a friend who had purchased a simple bungalow in Eagle Rock, just steps from Occidental College. The house needed some work, but the bones were good: Simple white paint and floor refinishing changed the house so much!
Having long pored over the huge renos trumpeted in Dwell and Domino magazines, this simple renovation, that created a very livable space, opened my eyes.
I saw the possibilities offered by doing the bare minimum, moving in, then approaching the home as a living, breathing design-in-progress experiment.
The approachability of this technique blew my mind. I could buy a house that was affordable at the moment and save up to fix it up, little by little. As the property value and my income went up over the years, I could do more, and eventually use a home equity line to do major renovations.
It was a few years before I could embark on my own home search, but when the opportunity came, it came fast and furious. My best friend had found out and gotten pre approved for a renovation loan and the monthly payment seemed infinitely affordable -- and just a little more than my rent! Those torn out magazine decor ideas could actually come to fruition!
I found the home pictured above and drove by - it was PERFECT. I got pre-approved as fast as my little hands could send those documents to the mortgage broker. Sadly, the house went pending before I had the pre-approval in my hands. I did find another home, but by then, the commute to Highland Park seemed like too much of a trek from my job in West LA. I focused my search closer to the Mid-Wilshire area.
When a foreclosure out of my price range hit the market just a week later, I drove by before work and set up a showing later that day. The bones were great, but the inside was a mess: The kitchen had been inexplicably cut in half, with walls were missing drywall and wires hanging freely to the ground. A toilet was sitting in the middle of the bathroom.
Knowing the potential even basic renovations offered, I was inspired. The floors could be refinished, the walls repaired & given a fresh coat of white paint, and, the kitchen replaced. The rest could wait until I had the budget.
The day I closed on the property, I headed to the house and started pulling up the ugly scalloped garden stones. I finally owned my own little piece of real estate, and the possibilities were endless!
My first six months after closing were exhausting, exhilarating and enlightening. I had to give up my apartment after a month in order to have more money for the renovation; the next few months were spent either sleeping on my boyfriend's mom's living room floor, then in the one livable room in the house while the rest of it was torn up. There was a two week period spent showering at the gym while my bathroom was unusable. There may even have been a time I took an impromptu ice cold shower with the garden hose behind my car in the driveway. It was tiring, but absolutely worth it to have my own home.
My tight budget forced me to be creative with my designs and figure out how to make things happen. When money wouldn’t stretch to a full kitchen renovation, I figured out that lower cabinets from Ikea would look great with simple shelving to hold my plates and glasses. I found a vendor on craigslist who had Caesarstone remnants, and got the countertops done for $1,200. IKEA Billy shelving sufficed as pantry shelving until I had more savings (and a generous gift from my folks!) the following year. Furniture was thrifted and painted to make it serviceable. I found some great low cost ideas at open houses for chic flipped properties, such as drilling wood onto my existing wrought iron fencing instead of starting from scratch.
Slowly, this house became my home
It's now been almost a decade, and my home is worth over three times what I bought and renovated it for. There are still some projects I would love to get to, but my family wholeheartedly enjoys living here. This is the house I brought my daughter home from the hospital to. This is the house where I brought our first dog home to, and also the place he passed away in, in my arms. This is the house where so many dreams came true and where even more dreams were formed. It's not perfect. It's not huge. But it's ours.
I would love to work with you to find your first home and give you the benefit of my experience and creative design ideas. In this age of Instagram and Pinterest-perfect properties, please give the house that needs a little love a chance, and I’m happy to help.
Consider the ugly duckling property, and imagine the difference some paint and simple cosmetic changes can make:
- Look into a rehab loan to fund the majority of your renovation. Learn how I did it.
- Set some money aside for a cool-yet-affordable IKEA kitchen (I'm a wizard at manipulating their kitchen design tool!).
- Look at open box items at appliance stores to save money.
- Hunt for Amazon Warehouse deals for faucets, light fixtures, door handles and more
- Browse Craigslist for budget and remnant building materials.
- Visit Habitat for Humanity (Re)Stores for furniture, tile, bathroom fixtures, and more.
In the startup world, we call this:
Bootstrapping: Starting a business (a dream!) with very little money and resources, focusing on simplicity and function.
Such successfully launched startups are characterized by the tenacity and grit of their founders. The same can be said of a simple, bootstrapped renovation, making a house livable with the bare minimum and using that foundation to keep building on your dream.
Think about the equity you're building and what your end goal is. Know that this may not be your forever home, but it is nonetheless a valuable stepping stone.
We can make this happen. Together.
P.S. I'll be writing an article soon on how Real Estate Entrepreneurs have taken over Start-up Founders as the new rockstars. Watch this space for more details!