My first year teaching, my husband and I decided to buy our first house. We were living on my single income while my husband was attending medical school at UNC in Chapel Hill, NC. Rent was so incredibly high that we could not afford anything remotely close to the school. We decided to purchase an old (1900s) mill house in the middle of nowhere but located between his school and mine.
When house searching, our only requirement was the location (no more than 30 minutes from the medical school), and from there, we decided to choose the house that was the most habitable. In fact, the house that we ended up purchasing was the only house in our sub-$100,000 price range that was “move in ready” - which to us, meant that the house hadn’t been touched since the 60s, but other than some minor foundation work, new roof, and new HVAC, was in great shape for such an old house.
Over the next five years, working on our home became a hobby for us; something that we could work on together amidst our busy schedules. There was something so gratifying about coming home after a long day of teaching and painting a wall or tiling a backsplash. These concrete victories were so satisfying when you have a job where successes are not often quantifiable.
Although my dad provided a wealth of knowledge and taught us how to do many things, home decor blogs and YouTube became our textbooks for many DIY projects. In this blog series, I want to show you that it IS possible to “refresh” a home on a teacher’s salary - and I am no Joanna Gaines!
"Before" and "After" Photos from the MLS Listings
My top tips:
Refresh over renovate! Paint and new finishes (hardware, light fixtures, plumbing fixtures) can do wonders in a space and can be relatively inexpensive.
Don’t force your house to be something it isn’t. Embrace the unique and quirky things that make it special. Our house was never going to have square door frames, lose the "old home smell," or have a modern vibe (without loads of $$$$), and our current 1980s home in suburbia is never going to feel like a early 1900s farmhouse. I am NOT saying that you shouldn’t create the style that you love. I am simply sharing money sharing tips. Do you and create the home that brings you joy.
Take advantage of second hand materials. The Habitat ReStore is always our #1 place to stop for ANYTHING home related. We have also found gems at Goodwill, second-hand home decor stores, eBay, Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, and OfferUp.
Know what you are capable of and recognize what you are not. You can probably achieve more than you think you can thanks to the wealth of knowledge that the internet (or family, friends, and neighbors) can provide. However, recognize the limits of your knowledge and abilities. There are things, like plumbing and electrical, that can be downright dangerous if you attempt without the proper understanding. In some cases, it will actually save you time and money to hire a professional upfront instead of creating additional issues courtesy of your unsuccessful DIY attempts. Secondly, there are reasons why there are people who do this type of work for a living and you do not. Although you may be capable of tiling a backsplash or drywalling, it does not necessarily mean that your work will look anything like a professionals. Of course, there are two sides of every coin. There are many professionals whose work approaches perfection (even to my very critical eye...sorry to all of the professionals we have hired!). However, there are also plenty who do a horrible job and make you question why you spent the money to have someone do the work that you could have done better.
For jobs that you are hiring out, do NOT look for the very cheapest quote just to save money. I like to get at least three different quotes for each job from people with good reviews. Some jobs you should not skimp on while others you can. For example, when it comes to tiling and flooring, my husband and I are really picky. We would tend to go with the contractor that seems the most precise and detailed when explaining their work - which, in our experience, has turned out to be one of the more expensive options. On the other hand, when replacing our HVAC, we chose the cheapest option when comparing the exact same brand and model system - there is probably some finesse that we are unaware of, but we didn’t really care about anything other than that it was there and working! There are no real tips in saving money on labor. You get what you pay for.