I haven’t written about what’s going on with our home renovation in a while I feel like an update is in order. Just to catch you up quickly – we live in a 1904 house that hasn’t been updated almost at all. We still have original knob and tube electrical, original windows, no insulation (that was really fun this past winter!), a basement that takes on water when it rains and an attic that it snows in when we have a blizzard. That’s not a joke…I had to shovel snow drifts out of my attic multiple times this past winter. Here’s a video I took during one storm.
Needless to say, a renovation is long overdue. We started working with an architect on plans almost a year ago and really those were about 80% of the way final within 2-3 months. Then the very not fun, reality check of meeting with builders and talking numbers started and things slowed waaaaaay down as we came to the realization that what we had on paper was going to cost a ton more than we were initially thinking. Since then pretty much nothing has happened. Well…that’s not totally true I suppose. Actually quite a bit has happened but none of it has resulted in any construction. You can see some of my past posts on the subject here.
The dilemma in all of this (besides the $$) is that we aren’t on a huge lot so we are really trying to maximize every square foot we have to start out with. That involves construction touching just about every room in the house to update and make it all useable. To a builder this means “total gut” and even though I don’t think about it that way, the $$ certainly reflects that. If we were on a huge lot, we’d just do a big addition onto the back of the house and forget about all the small, old chopped up rooms at the front. But that’s not our situation and even though we’re only going back 12′, the reality is once you start digging and pouring a foundation, the $$ doesn’t change that drastically if you’re going back 12′ or 20′. And honestly I don’t WANT to have unused rooms. So this past year has been more about getting comfortable with what things cost and what we’re getting and just as importantly not getting.
Then just as we were getting cool on the whole idea of renovating in general (ie. getting cold feet on the $$ front), something so random happened. Mr. H+F texted me in the middle of the day and said his co-worker mentioned that This Old House was looking for their next project for the TV show. As old house lovers, we are huge fans of the show and always have at least a half dozen episodes on our DVR but for whatever reason, it never even occurred ot us to submit our project. So I went online, submitted my information and photos and less than 24 hours later, received a message from a producer that they wanted to come out and see my project. Um….whaaaaat?
Thus began a very exciting two weeks filled with a flurry of meetings and emails and last minute playdate scheduling to occupy our kids while we met with various producers to talk about the project. Even this guy stopped by. Yes, this is me and Tom Silva!!! If you’re a fan of the show at all (like me), this was a huge day. Like really really huge! Norm was with him and a few days layer, Roger, the landscaping guy just showed up while we were outside building a snowman. It was so surreal.
What I learned is that Tom is not just a tv personality. His company, Silva Brothers Construction is the actual builder on the project. If you’re selected as the This Old House project, Tom is your builder and the budget and money part is between you and him. Yes, This Old House secures lots of donations and discounts on your behalf but they can’t tell you what those will be and are very upfront about the fact that if you can’t afford the bid Silva Brother’s give you, you should not get involved in the project assuming it will come down significantly based on donations. So we had the meetings, it was all very exciting and then we kind of forgot about it…assuming it would never happen. We heard they had selected another project, were a little sad and moved on.
Except 2 weeks later we heard back that the first project had fallen through and now WE were now on deck. More meetings with producers, we confirm we are interested, that I’d get to the be designer on the project (OMG!) and a meeting was scheduled in their offices to talk $$. Queue the sad music…you guys. The money was so outrageous. I mean yes, this is a big project. Yes the scope is considerable. But we’re talking a budget equal to what we paid for the house. Almost $200K over what we already thought were outrageous bids by other builders. It was SUCH a sad day for Mr. H+F and I. We fully expected that it would be more to work with them given the premium reputation, construction practices etc. and to some extent we were willing to pay a bit of a premium to make it happen. But NOT 200K. That was just never going to happen, nor were we interested in changing the scope of the project so significantly to make it work with their budget.
So that was that. We were REALLY sad and really down on the house and doing anything to it for a long time. Coupled with a miserable winter and $600/month heat bills, it was not a great few months. Consistently, about 150K of the budget for our project is for stuff that doesn’t actually change the square footage at all – systems stuff like all new electrical, plumbing, heating, windows, etc. These are all huge ticket items that add up really quickly and just need to be done. There’s no way around it. We resigned to look and see what came on the market in the spring. Perhaps another old house that had some of these updates done but just need square footage reworked or was on a larger lot would come up. That was the hope anyway. I was very skeptical. I spend my days meeting with couples just like us in our town who have gone through 1-3 years of deliberating whether to add on or buy and in my experience consistently at least 80% of them eventually do their renovation. I hear the same story over and over. The market is just so tight and prices are so outrageous for what you get that unless you are prepared to make a significant jump in budget (like sell a house you bought in the 600-700k range and buy one in the 1.5 million range) there just is no where to go. This is a real screen shot of Zillow homes in my town right now with no filters. Thats’s a whole lot of Ms.
Yes of course we could move further away from the city but we love it here! We honestly really love it. We love the friends we’ve made, we love the town, we love how walkable this wacky old house is to everything. We just love it. And I think we’re finally just accepting that even with all this $$ we’re prepared to spend, the house won’t be perfect. It won’t have everything we want. But maybe that’s ok and just as good enough as it’s going to get for us in our town.
What we’re getting is roughly 800 more square feet, another bedroom, another bathroom, a new kitchen, a new mudroom, butler’s pantry, laundry room and powder room. It’s a lot…I get it. And it’s so exciting to think about finally getting to do MY OWN house. But boy, these are some seriously big grown up decisions! So we are just this week back at it, meeting with builders and wrapping our brain around doing this. I’d love to hear from you if you’ve gone through a big renovation project like this. What did you learn about yourselves and what was and wasn’t important to you in the process? I feel like it’s a terrible game of “you don’t know what you don’t know”! We have to move out of the house for about 9 months so there’s rent to deal with too (aaaaaaah!!!!) Any advice you can offer would be so appreciated.