Complete Cottage Overhaul

Complete Cottage Overhaul

This is a story about a first-time homebuyer who took out a renovation loan to revive a shabby old Victorian house.

Our friend Katy had been searching for a house for over a year. She wanted a renovated historic home close to downtown. After months of no luck, she went to see a fixer upper in Fourth and Gill.

The house was a bigger project than she’d hoped for. On the bright side, she’d been wanting to learn more about Ikea kitchens for the design trend research she was conducting at work. In addition to needing a master suite and repairs throughout, this house needed a kitchen overhaul:

At the risk of tooting our own horns, Katy told us later she would never had made an offer had she not met us a few months prior. Armed with a pair of experienced architect friends, she jumped in with both feet.

Will it Work?

This poor old Victorian cottage had seen a number of bad renovations in its day. Not to mention a few years of neglect. The first step was for Katy to verify that this house had the potential to be what she wanted.

*queue architects*

Katy needed a master suite with a walk-in closet, a new kitchen, and a hall bath. There were some awkward spots in the floor plan that needed help. After measuring and drawing a few options, we helped Katy feel confident the plan could work:

Getting the House

The asking price was right, so Katy made an offer. Financing a major home renovation is no small task. There are all sorts of loan products out there (stay tuned for an upcoming post about this from a banker friend). This house was a good fit for a renovation loan. That’s where the loan amount is based on the future value of the house. After you close, you race as fast as you can to make the house match the price tag. Renovation loans usually come with time limits within which the work has to be done.

Another trick with a renovation loan is finding a contractor who can work with the payment schedule. Renovation loans are dispensed in a limited number of chunks, and often not until work has been completed. Therefore, you’ve got to find a contractor with enough cashflow to start working before he gets paid.

Side note: architects often do not qualify for payment from a renovation loan.

Best-of Contractor

Then came time to find a contractor. We recommended two builders we’d worked with in the past. Katy wanted to interview three, so I scoured a “Best of” poll that had been published in a local lifestyle magazine and found Prime Renovations at the top of the list.

prime renovations logo

Would they work with a renovation loan? Yes.

Willing to install an Ikea kitchen? Check (you must ask this ahead of time if you want Ikea products in your job! Not everyone is keen).

Willing to let Katy do some of the work herself? Check. As long as the contractor could choose the radio station.

Build it, Blog it

With the financing and contractor in place, Katy started a blog where she could post updates. She christened it “Good Bones with Potential;” an apt moniker for her fixer upper.

Click here to check out Katy’s blog!

Now the Real Fun Begins

While Katy was closing on the house, we were drawing at the speed of light, preparing her construction drawings. Within a few weeks, the permit was pulled and construction began. Here are some highlights (hover over the photos to read details; click to enlarge):

After Photos

Five months later, Katy was ready to move in. She had her modern master suite, full Ikea kitchen, refinished floors, updated guest bath, and a long list of repairs all complete.

[After photos by the very talented Denise Retallack]

Lessons Learned

Katy’s house holds a special place in our hearts because it came along a few short months after we started our business. It was a great learning experience. Here are some lessons we gleaned from the process:

  1. When renovating, carry a tape measure at all times. Katy would often find products she wanted us to include in the drawings. Then she’d have to go back to the store to figure out how big it was so we could plan around it. By the end of the process, she had a tiny tape measure on her key ring.

  2. The best results come when client and architect have similar style and taste. We really liked Katy’s aesthetic (a well-edited blend of salvaged items, pattern, and color). When you get a good match between client and designer, the whole process is easier.

  3. Structural problems aren’t always a deal-breaker. When we opened up Katy’s master bedroom floor, we discovered rotten joists and no foundation. All told, it was a $1,500 fix.

  4. Get creative when looking for a contractor. We found Prime Renovations in a local magazine best-of poll. Positive reviews and referrals are a very good sign. We’ve since teamed up on several more renovations and refer them all the time.

  5. Working with historic zoning regulations: our neighborhood has a historic overlay that regulates exterior renovations. Katy had lots of straightforward repairs that were easy to approve. The main part of the application was for the new front door. The salvage door that Katy found blended well with the time period of her house and was easily approved by the Historic Zoning Commission. The trick to getting approved by neighborhood groups and historic districts is being familiar with the guidelines, which are often available on the neighborhood’s website or at the local planning commission (like ours!).

If you’re still reading…thank you! We’re in the process of writing in-depth profiles of all of our projects, so stay tuned. If you haven’t already, sign up for our email list below.

Happy renovating,

Sara & Sean

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