What were we thinking? How to not regret buying the ugly house on the block

Removing gross, old carpet to create a new look.

This post is a little premature because I haven’t even told you much about this house project. Here’s the bullet point version:

  • My fiancé and I recently bought our first home, and we are thrilled to be homeowners!
  • The catch: the interior is a bit of a  “fixer upper”

When we bought this home, we knew it needed work. I should note right away, that I am not talking Chip-and-Joanna-Fixer-Upper style (love them!) with every wall getting knocked down. The fixing was just cosmetic stuff. The “bones” of the house are fantastic, and we knew with some cosmetic updates/upgrades, we could make it something spectacular.

Paint? I can handle. Upgrading cabinet and door hardware? Easy. Switching light fixtures? Bring it on.

But the carpet, you can’t begin to fathom. If you look closely at the picture above, you get a hint at what we were working with. Hopefully you agree: it had to go.

We hired a contractor to remove the carpet and install our sparkling new flooring. Everything seemed to be going well: the price was right, their reviews were glowing, and they could fit us in before Christmas and be done before New Year!

But then there was a water leak from the fridge. That caused a delay. Which delayed the painting. Which meant we couldn’t move during the days we had off for New Year.

Was I a little frustrated? Sure, but things happen. I was just grateful the leak wasn’t worse and didn’t cause more damage. I was also thankful that we aren’t living there yet, so minor delays don’t cause us to be displaced. (Yes, I understand that might be a unique situation compared to most people. I do understand how fortunate we are.)

Today the floors were finally dry and ready to be walked on. I excitedly went to the house with a friend, anxious to show off the house and ready to inspect the finally finished floors. When we arrived, everything looked great. Until I noticed there were a lot of details that weren’t finished.  The contractors were gone, and this was supposed to be “finished.”

I was so frustrated and immediately called my fiancé to report the issues with the floors. This was maddening. We invested in a top-notch company to do the job well. Was our investment now wasted because the job wasn’t truly finished? Did we just get scammed?

What were we thinking? Were we only a few weeks into owning this home and already regretting it?

Yes, I was having some second thoughts. I had to breathe and put everything in perspective: it’s going to work out.

After a lot of reflection and venting to anyone who would listen, I feel like I figured things out. I boiled down my frustration and stages of contractor grief into 5 steps on how you can get past those painful pit-in-your-stomach pangs of regret and fixer upper buyer’s remorse. Stay strong, friends, and read on:

How to Not Regret Buying the Ugly House on the Block (the “fixer upper”):

  1. Remember your “vision.” You saw something in that outdated, broken, neglected house when you decided to buy it, right? Don’t lose sight of that vision! Your vision is the most beautiful, valuable thing you have. It’s your brainchild of creativty that fuels your labor of love. If you need a visual to remind yourself, start a list, Pinterest board, or a good old fashioned scrapbook with inspiration clippings. Go to your Vision Board when you’re feeling discouraged by your project. Your house might be in choas right now (see the rolls of carpet in picture above), but it WILL be your beautiful haven soon.
  2. Set a budget and stick to it. It’s very tempting to splurge and overspend. But you can’t spend what you don’t have… at least you shouldn’t, in my opinion. Record everything that you spend money on for the projects (see #3) and track your progress. There will always be unexpected expenses. If things start getting dangerously close to overbudget, stop and evaluate. You might need to postpone some aspects of the project (see #4). Some fixer uppers might be moneypits and cause you serious regret, but you will regret it much more if you put your finances in jeopardy by overspending.
  3. Keep records and document EVERYTHING. This seems obvious, but it’s easy to forget when you’re in the whirlwind of multiple simultaneous projects. Save receipts. Write at the top what it was for. I promise, a year or even a few months from now you might not remember what that random receipt from ABC Hardware was for. Document your costs (see #2) so you know if you’re maintaining your budget. This is also important for resale purposes. You will have a better idea of what you did, how much it cost, and the theoretical “value” of your house when you go to sell it based on the value of the upgrades. Finally, take pictures. It’s not only great for documentation but it’s also fun to see Before & After photos. It’s your reward to compare the original to now and think, I did that.
  4.  Know that phasing the renovation is okay. Yes, you can do renovations, upgrades, and decorating in stages. It’s tempting to do it all at once and just get it done. If you have the financial ability and the time to do that, go for it! But the fact is that many people can’t do that.As silly as it sounds, actually separate your renovation projects into Phase 1, Phase 2, Phase 3, etc. based on priority and your available budget. We have a Phase Zero: the minimum viable changes that must get done to move in. This can vary based on your situation, but you should always repair all safety issues (usually found in the home inspection) first. After the safety repairs, Phase Zero for us was all flooring and most paint. We figured, why move furniture twice? Things in Phases 1 and 2 can be done as small weekend projects (replacing cabinet hardware, painting bathroom cabinets…).

    Phase 3 and beyond are major projects that are nice-to-haves. These are projects that we have to save for: major bathroom renovations, finishing the basement, replacing windows. Some might happen, some might not.

  5. Breathe. Breathe again. This seems corny, but it’s necessary. Having your house in choas is stressful and messy. You’re spending a lot of money to fix it, but breathe. This is an investment for you. Your hard work will pay off, and you’ll soon have an amazing space and home to show for it.

Have you ever had doubts about your project after diving in head first? What got you through it?

Can’t wait to hear your stories!

xoxo, Maggie

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3 Comments

    1. Thank you! I hope you found the post helpful and enjoy future posts. Thanks again for visiting Dash of Discovery.

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