How to Find the Right Fixer-Upper House

fixer-upper kitchen

Sometimes when I watch HGTV and people complain that a house’s closets are too small or the kitchen doesn’t have granite, I just think how they would have hated my house.

No one ever says, “Harvest-gold sink and counters? Sweet! Yellow is my favorite color.” or “This bathroom carpet is going to feel so soft beneath my feet after a warm shower.”

When we were looking for a house, I gave my realtor this wish list:

house wish list

I wanted pretty trees. I didn’t want to maintain a pool. I didn’t want a slick, modern kitchen.

It was kind of like when you’re single and you write this dream list of what you want in a mate, and maybe that list has things on it like “Can play guitar” and “Looks handsome but not too handsome.” It seemed reasonable.

As our house search progressed, we started to look more into fixer-uppers so that we could have the quality we wanted but still be able to afford it. I had to add a few more things to my house list.

Dream House or Deal Breaker?

If you’re looking to buy a fixer-upper house, first focus on the essentials:

1. Location

The location of your house is vital. You can’t do anything to change it. It’s the first thing people think about your house when you try to sell it later, and your home improvements have to make sense in the context of the neighborhood.

2. Outdated but not neglected.

You want a house that has been maintained even if it looks old. When buyers look for “good bones” they usually notice the trim and the windows, but it’s so much more than that. It’s the structure and the way the house is built, and it involves the foundation, floor plan, exterior, electrical, plumbing, HVAC, walls, and roof. If more than one of these needs replacement, then walk away and keep looking. You want a house that will be strong in forty years, not crumbling around you.

Getting a professional inspection is essential, but for a first-time walk through, you can observe a lot yourself. Look for cracks in the wall and straight roof lines. Watch for signs of water damage. Check the electrical panel. Find the age of the AC unit, furnace, and the water heater. Turn on the faucets and check the water pressure. Notice if the doors latch easily or not. Go around the outside and make sure the brick isn’t crumbling. (If a house is so full of stuff like a near-hoarding situation, I don’t even bother. Don’t get a house that you can’t see to inspect.)

3. Floor plan

A good floor plan makes a house livable now and in the future. There should be a good flow of traffic and sight lines from one room to the next.

Our house had nice-sized bedrooms, a big kitchen, and an open living area, but one problem. The living room was divided by brick arches going right down the middle. Tsh from Simple Mom even said it looked like an old Taco Bell.

Those arches quickly came down with a hammer, and you can see the living room before, during, and after:

living room arches before

The Potential

A fixer-upper is not going to be staged for you, so you have to think creatively. You will have to overlook wallpaper and ugly light fixtures. You have to imagine that house without the heavy curtains and all the stuff. Picture what it would look like if you cut back the overgrown hedges.

Assume you’ll replace the floors. (Go ahead and pick out the kind of flooring you’ll want so that you’ll know the square footage cost and can budget for it.)

In the kitchen we kept the original oak cabinets and had them painted white. They’ll last another forty years. We expanded the pantry and replaced the counters.

I made some concessions. I didn’t get to have pretty trees in the front yard, but I decided that I could buy trees for $50 each and plant them. In the end I got my essentials plus most of the things on my wish list. (Who am I kidding, it’s not the end. We still have a lot of work to do!)

What kind of experience have you had with a fixer-upper house, and what would you look for?

Laundry Room Organization

organize the laundry room wall

I want to show you the new bars I put on the laundry room wall to add interest and organization to this small room. It was so easy, and it made a major impact for just 21 dollars.

The laundry room is located behind the kitchen, and you can look inside it as you walk down the hall to the back door.

I bought the Bygel towel bars and S hooks at IKEA for $21. This happened on the same day that I wandered around IKEA by myself for six hours and came home with big plans and a reading chair stuffed into the back seat of my car.

First I taped red pencils to the wall where I thought the bars should go so I could step back and be certain before I put holes in the wall. The lowest one is twenty inches above the floor, and the rest are seventeen inches apart. (This is for my 8-foot ceiling.)

Then we mounted the bars to the wall. We painted the screws and mounting disks white so they wouldn’t be noticeable. You can see the bars and not the hardware.

To hang a basket, poke the S hooks through it, and that’s all you have to do. The spray bottles are easy to reach, and it’s nice to have a place to hang wet kitchen towels after wiping up a mess.

I like to use the bars for keeping extra hangers and giving me a place to hang up a shirt or dress if I don’t feel like getting out the drying rack.

It makes me happy to decorate with things that are useful, and since the laundry room is small, a little can do a lot.

My Year Without a Mobile Phone

how to survive without a mobile phone

“How to Survive Like It’s 1995″

My year without a mobile phone wasn’t part of some process to simplify my life. I wasn’t trying to abandon technology or get back to basics or go on some natural retreat.

It started a year ago when I tried to update my existing mobile phone, and to complete the process I needed a number that was part of the original packaging. I couldn’t find it, so I gave up and said, “Eh, oh well.”

It wasn’t a big loss. I didn’t have a smart phone, it was the kind that you had to triple-tap to text, and I barely used it. I work from home, and most of the places I go are within a one-mile radius of my house, so I could use the home phone if I needed to call.

(By the way, I’m not really a fan of the home phone since so many companies don’t respect the “do not call” list. Ours was part of a bundle package with the internet and cable, and we kept it in case the kids needed to use it in an emergency.)

So there I was without a working mobile, but feeling rather indifferent about it, I didn’t replace it right away.

I could survive like it was 1995. I did it once before. Maybe I would get lost and have to drive around looking for a store, and I wouldn’t be immediately available to reach. Since everyone else around me has a phone, I knew I could just borrow one if I really had to.

Living Without a Mobile Phone

I made a few social observations during this time when I didn’t carry a phone around. First of all, it’s really odd to stand in line and watch all fifteen people ahead of you look down at their phones at the same time.

Being the only person in the room without a phone almost feels like being the only sober person at the party, like you’re missing out on something, but at the same time maybe you’re the only person who is fully paying attention.

I noticed that some people put their phones away when having a face-to-face conversation better than others. I appreciate when people put their phones in their pocket or bag instead of placing it directly on the table in front of them. I realize I’m not as important as someone’s husband or kids, but it’s distracting to stop and wait every five minutes while the person you’re talking to responds to a text.

When people say they struggle with feeling too connected and not being able to unplug, here is an easy solution: You can turn off your phone. (There’s a button on the top.)

Also, re: loud ring tones, not a fan.

Try Google Voice

So people could still reach me, I set up a Google Voice account. I kept the same mobile number that I had for several years, and I moved it (ported it) to Google Voice.

Google Voice is like a main switchboard that joins your phone lines and your computer. People call you on one main number, and you control the settings. You can screen your calls and set “do not disturb” times. I used it to forward the calls from my mobile number so I could answer them on my home phone. I had texts and voice messages sent to my email, and I responded to texts from my computer. Most people didn’t notice that I no longer had a mobile phone since they could still call and text me at that number. The cost to set up a Google Voice account was $20, but after that it was free, and I wasn’t paying monthly charges for a mobile plan.

Eventually my husband insisted that I get a new phone for safety and convenience, so now I have a fancy, new phone, and he can text me instead of calling at me from across the house like people had to do in olden times.

I use my fancy, new phone to send texts to four people and take pictures of my food. I like it.

What do you love most about your phone?