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Emily Henderson

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by Sara Tramp
Sara Buys A House Part Two

I’m back, friends. Sara here to regale you with more anecdotes of first-time homeownership—the misery, the woes, the money hemorrhaging, and all the joys in between.

Last we left off, I told you all about how we went about buying our house, what the process was like for us, and covered some tips that could be helpful if you were shopping for a home. What we didn’t cover was how much we actually paid for the house, what that amount got us, or what’s happened since we got the keys. In all honesty that was partly because I was scared to; disclosing hyper-personal information, like how much you’ve paid for a very big thing to thousands of people online, is a bit intimidating. In a lot of ways, people are impressed to hear that we’ve bought our first house under the age of 30 in a market like LA. But the truth is we didn’t do it alone. We have family that pitched in to help make it a reality for us. And, at the risk of sounding like insurance fraud, the renter’s insurance check we received because of the fire that forced us to move out from our apartment also helped a lot. We ended up choosing not replacing a majority of the damaged items that we were being paid out for and instead invested that money into a down payment. It was a lot of stars aligning, family support and financial assistance, and a lot of personal savings on our own behalf (and I recognize that even being able to put money away every month is a big privilege). BUYING A HOUSE IS HARD and I would never want anyone to feel bad that they weren’t in a position to do it, or feel like we were taking out ability to for granted.

But then Emily Bowser wrote an amazing post all about her home buying process (which was so different than ours, and wildly more dramatic). I was riveted. Her transparency was utterly refreshing, and kept my eyes GLUED to the screen all four (4) times I read her post. So, taking a page from her book, I’ve decided to be totally transparent about the actual numbers when it comes to these posts moving forward. And we’ve got a lot of great content in the pipeline about house renovation and design that will hopefully keep you all entertained while also being honestly informative.

Here we go.

Buying Our House: What It Took

Mac and I bought our house for $550k. It had been on the market for a month at $575k without any movement. The weekend we went to see it, they dropped the price to $495k—lucky! And honestly, I could see why it wasn’t getting a lot of attention at $575k: it needed a lot of work, and I think people’s eyes were just glazing over when they thought about the amount of effort they’d have to put in. It also just pulled itself out of the price range were investors might be interested in it as a flip. I, on the other hand, either out of desperation or sheer force of will, saw potential. And I told Mac that I wanted this house. I found out much later (after we finished round one of renovations) that my grandma had actually called my dad desperate for him to convince me that this house was a bad investment. To be fair, when she came to see it while we were still in escrow, there were rotting banana peels on the floor in one of the bedrooms and a dead car sitting in the backyard. It didn’t look good. BUT I WANTED THIS GARBAGE FIRE HOUSE. So we offered $550k—$55k more than asking because I wasn’t about to risk not getting this house after being outbid seven times in the previous eight months. As we all now know, our offer was accepted.

Here’s what $550k got us in north Pasadena (in November 2018): An 1,100-square-foot “three” bedroom, two bathroom single-family home on a 4,770-square-foot lot. The lot includes a front yard, back yard, driveway, detached garage, and a whole lot of checkered tile. Everywhere.

Sara Moto Listing3

We still feel like this was a really, really good deal. Especially considering how much red and white checkered tile we were getting! Some of the houses we had been looking at were around 600-800 square feet, with no parking, no garage, and no backyard for about the same price… or higher. And zero checkered tile. What shifted the most in our search? Well… GUYSWEBOUGHTINTHESUBURBS. Ugh, it pains me in a certain millennial way to write that. And I know it was a hard mental shift for Mac, who is a unicorn in the sense that he’s actually from LA, and has never lived outside the city. He grew up Mid-Wilshire right across from LACMA, not out in The Valley. But now that we’re here, it’s actually great (though Mac is still team “sell the house and raise our kids in the city” if anyone is wondering). Overall, it reminds me a lot of Claremont, which is where I grew up and where my parents still live. Pasadena is big enough and close enough to East LA and Downtown that we don’t feel like we’re out in the suburbs. Just in our local area, we’ve already found lots of restaurants and cafes that we’re really into!! Plus some stores where we’re quickly becoming “regulars.” Pasadena is pretty awesome!!!

I honestly don’t know who I’m trying to convince with that paragraph (and all those exclamation points). But the moral of the story is, trying to find something worth our money in the city wasn’t happening. We just didn’t have enough to buy something that would meet even the bare minimum of our needs…like parking.

What We Were Working With

Sara Moto Listing Photos

That tile was pretty… aggressive. And, wow, that pink master bathroom. Once we owned the house, we had to decide how we wanted to tackle this beast of a renovation. We both agreed that the tile floors needed to go, and a fresh coat of white paint was needed all around. We figured we’d do three things to start:

  1. Rip out all the floors and replace with solid hardwood (this would be the BIG thing we’d spend money on to start).
  2. Tear down the partition wall between the living room and dining room.
  3. Paint every room white until we decided what was happening with furniture and design.

Those three things sounded like a lot of work already, but we’d closed escrow at the end of November and didn’t have to make our first mortgage payment until January, so we could afford to stay in our apartment in December. That gave us a month to get it all done, with my dad and brother (Shade) working pretty much full time on it with our help on the weekends.

I had known we needed to find a fixer, something that would be in our price range just due to the simple fact that it needed a whole lot of work. Plus, I knew my dad and brother would do the majority of the heavy lifting when it came to the renovation labor. My dad has always been extremely adept at figuring things out, and even though he’s not a licensed contractor or craftsman, I grew up watching him renovate whatever house we were living in. He’s refinished floors, built closets, and made beautiful stain glass windows for their living room and bedroom. And my brother inherited that “figure it out” handyman gene from my dad. Between the two of them, I kind of figured we’d be able to renovate anything that had good bones in a good area.

That first week in December, we got started by pulling up all the tile in the living room and dining room. Our plan was to pull up all the old flooring ourselves, and then get quotes for having someone else come lay the new hardwood flooring.

Ehd Sara Makeover Takeover Renovation Phase32

We actually found original hardwood underneath the tile in the living room, but it was so damaged, there was no hope of refinishing. It did, however, gave us a glimpse of what could be!

Ehd Sara Makeover Takeover Renovation Phase4

And the room already looked so much better without the tile. So we brought in two different flooring companies to give us quotes for laying down solid hardwood floors. One came in at $15k+ and the other around $11k, but that was only if we removed and laid new sub-flooring ourselves. Both companies stressed that we really needed new sub-flooring before we could even think about laying hardwood. The bids had us reeling, so in typical dad fashion, he decided we’d just do it ourselves. He agreed that new sub-flooring would give us the best results, so up came all the flooring everywhere except the bathrooms and kitchen.

The underside of our house, much like the topside, was a mess. There was so much garbage piled under our house that we spent two whole days just cleaning it out, raking it, and leveling it out. If anyone ever needs to go under our house, I guarantee it will be one of the cleanest and clearest crawlspaces they will ever encounter. I’m sure at this point Mac was feeling more than a little anxious about the path we were on. We’d just bought a house—one that had been totally livable—and torn out all the flooring. Not just the surface level flooring, ALL OF IT. We spent the next two weeks walking around by balancing on the joists of the house.

Ehd Sara Makeover Takeover Renovation Phase15

Looking at that photo up there, I honestly can’t believe that was our house at one point.

Let’s talk about the joists. The house is almost 100 years old, and over all that time, there had been some sinkage in the house. And that meant that without re-leveling those bad boys, we’d be laying sub-flooring on uneven joists, which would lead to uneven floors. So my dad and brother began the painstaking work of carefully threading a spider web of twine with tiny floating levels all around the floor, finding the highest point in the joists and then doing something called “sistering.” That means adding new wood to existing joists in order to strengthen weak pieces or help level sagging pieces. Feel free to type “sister joist” into the Google machine to find hundreds of Youtube videos all about this riveting topic.

Ehd Sara Makeover Takeover Renovation Phase31

This set us back several weeks, and honestly we were SO happy we decided to do it ourselves because paying someone to pull up the floors and deal with that mess would have no doubt made their initial estimates look like nickels and dimes. But this is also where our three-part renovation got a little out of control. Have you ever started jogging down a hill only to end up running at full speed trying not to lose your footing? That’s what our renovation started to feel like.

The Renovation That Snowballed

In order to sister joist our floors, my dad had to remove a little more wall than anticipated. Once he did that, he found some termite damage in the back of the house. Well, we can’t just LEAVE that damage there. We might as well replace those damaged wall beams while we can see where the damage is. So down came some of the walls in the back of the house. But with the walls already down, shouldn’t we replace all the electric and insulation? It’s going to have to happen at some point anyway! So out came the walls throughout the whole back of the house in order to run all new electrical. And if we’re doing the insulation in the walls, we should do the ceiling, too (and create an attic space up there). We literally came home one day to no ceilings in the back part of the house. “Had to go” was all my dad said.

I have no doubt that Mac was seriously considering how much he valued our relationship and this house over his sanity.

Ehd Sara Makeover Takeover Renovation Phase33

“Had to go” has now become a running joke, but at the time I felt like I was trying to play mediator between my dad who “wanted everything done right, and why not do it now?” and my boyfriend who was just trying to financially and emotionally survive an extreme home renovation he didn’t realize he’d signed up for. Honestly, I was game for anything. I just assume that if my dad takes something apart, he’s going to put it back together even better than he found it. I also didn’t have any qualms with living in a human garbage dump. Mac on the other hand was (and still is) anxious to live like a normal human. Which I guess is understandable. We’d been unsettled for so long since the fire that all he wanted was to come home every night (after enduring his now hour-long commute) to a calm, clean, and organized house where he could relax and enjoy his life. This whole “tear the house apart and start from scratch” situation wasn’t what I had described when I talked him into buying a house with me, and it wasn’t getting better any time soon.

A Change of Plans

We quickly realized we needed more than a month to finish everything we had planned plus all the extra that came up. So we decided to break the renovation into two parts. We’d focus on the front part of the house first so we could make it move-in ready and live in the front bedroom while we continued to work on the back part of the house over the coming months. We asked our landlord for a two-week extension on our apartment and spent all of our Christmas break at the house with my family and our friends plastering, sanding, and painting. The day we moved in we still didn’t have our flooring fully installed, and had to walk carefully on certain parts of it while some glue matured.

Ehd Sara Makeover Takeover Renovation Phase20

What followed was the coldest winter of our lives. The back part of the house was nothing but a shell and the only thing separating it from our living area was a bedroom door. We still didn’t have our molding in the front part of the house, so cold air would seep in from all sides of the house. We didn’t have heat because we’d ripped the wall furnace out of the living room for aesthetics (we knew we wanted central heat and air and didn’t want to deal with removing the wall heater later). And it rained so much that winter. We’d literally wear our winter jackets inside the house, and I bought a box of those little bags of sand that get super hot to put in our shoes and hold in our hands while we hung out in the living room. Plus our dining room was a storage unit, and dirt and dust got tracked everywhere from the back part of the house. But we were IN.

Living Room Progress

Since then, things have gotten wildly better. Sure, we’re still living in the front part of the house, but the back part of the house has been insulated and has drywall that’s ready for plastering. We moved all the boxes out of our dining room, so it’s not a storage unit anymore, and we actually have some furniture in place that we can hang out on. We lived with protective paper on our floors for months, and that’s finally all gone. And after enduring the coldest winter and hottest summer, we had central heat and air installed this past weekend. It cost us $9,500 and pretty much wiped out our savings for the time being, but this morning I woke up to a warm and cozy house and I couldn’t be happier. We’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. We still have a lot of work ahead, but it’s feeling manageable!

Here’s a quick look at the “original” floor plan from the ’20s, the floor plan when we bought the house, and the floor plan with all the renovations we’ve made:

House Renovation History

The biggest changes have all happened in the back part of the house. Originally to get to the master bedroom you’d have to go through this strange small cement room that we guessed was a laundry room. Now you go through the room off the dining room, which will be our TV room*, and we’re turning that small room between the kitchen and master into a walk-in closet for the master. We also moved the door to the master bathroom. Both the closet and bathroom doors in the master are now pocket doors, which have helped us so much with maximizing space. The bedroom that we’ll be using as our TV room has a sharp angle to it but we didn’t want to change the actual structure of the house in any way, so we’re going to square that angle off by turning it into a built-in bookshelf with cabinets (to utilize the space left by the angle). And we tore out the partition wall between the dining and living room, making it one big open floor plan area which really makes the space feel airy (except for the TV we have right smack in the middle for now).

*A few people have commented about our loss of a “third bedroom”, and the truth is that room was too small and awkward to ever really be a bedroom in the first place. We honestly hope that, if we ever decide to sell, all the value we’re adding to the home in other ways (walk-in master closet, hardwood floors, central heat & AC, renovated bathrooms, new water heater, attic, etc.) will be more attractive to buyers than keeping a strange third room and having to walk into their master through the kitchen. But most importantly, we’re not looking at this house as flip-and-sell. It’s our home and we want to enjoy it for as long we live in it 🙂 having to go through the kitchen to get to my bedroom would not make me happy, haha.

Sara Moto Progress24

Looking Ahead

So here’s what we still have left to do:

  • The back part of the house (TV room, master bedroom, master bathroom, and master closet) needs plastering, paint, and wood flooring installed.
  • The master bathroom needs plumbing moved around and tiling.
  • The closet needs everything that makes it a closet.
  • The TV room needs a built-in built.

Eventually, we want to gut and renovate the kitchen, which will likely be the next project after the back part of the house is done (hopefully in late 2020 after our savings account has recovered a little).

Sara Moto Progress37

We also want to gut and renovate the front bathroom. The front bedroom will be turned into an office/guest room with a sofa-bed. Our garage, once it’s emptied out, will be where our washer and dryer go. It needs a lot of love but works as storage for now. And lastly, our backyard and front porch both need to be jackhammered out completely and rebuilt. It’s a NEVER ENDING project, but one that we’re pushing forward on.

Sara Moto Progress40

And here’s what we’ve spent so far…

Budget Grid By Room

WOW THAT NUMBER IS REALLY HARD TO READ. It makes me dizzy, and light-headed, and a little nauseous. But it’s actually a really good number, considering all the work we’ve done. Our biggest saver has been on labor. Guess what: dad labor is free! And dad labor has been so, so, SO valuable. We also roped in some friends to help with two big days of plastering and sanding. On the other hand, we’ve been paying my brother for his labor because he’s been doing the bulk of the work. And also because he wasn’t one of the adults who convinced us to buy a house (unlike my father), so he’s really innocent in this whole situation and deserves to be paid. And the funds for our AC and heat were a gift from Mac’s mom upon moving in, which we had just been holding onto until we were able to get around to it.

But the hope is that we’ve added more than $34k in value to the home already.

Sara Moto Progress22

And now we FINALLY get to start focusing on the fun stuff. What is the fun stuff? Lighting fixtures, rugs, furniture, and paint colors besides white! THE DESIGN OF THE ROOMS, PEOPLE. Our master bathroom is practically done, design-wise. We have beautiful tile from Pratt & Larson sitting in our garage just waiting to be installed, and a custom vanity from Ross Alan Reclaimed Lumber ready to be picked up. We’ve also installed a room-changing skylight from Velux to get some natural light in there. Our bedroom is going to use a lot of the same bigger furniture pieces we already have (like our bed, nightstands, and dresser), but I’m excited to look for a new rug, light fixtures, and art for that space. The TV room is going to be a super exciting room to design because we have some dramatic paint plans for that space that I can’t wait to get started on.

Sara Moto Progress11

But first, we’re starting with the living room and dining room, and we’re bringing in a VIP to help us out. Our very own Velinda Hellen (there she is above!) is going to be designing our living room and dining room in a series we’re tentatively calling “Design Diaries.” As in, Macauley and I are going to be her clients. And we’re going to document every single step of the process and share it with you. We’re hoping to let you guys in on what it’s actually like to work with a designer, what it’s like for a designer to actually work with clients, and how much it would all cost, hour by hour. There are a lot of “design agonies” in this open floor living/dining space that I’m so happy ARE NOT MY PROBLEM. How do we get the spaces to flow? How do they talk to each other? What do we do with our fireplace? Velinda is going to tell us (and by us, I mean all of you included). She’s also basically going to serve as our design intermediary/couples therapist. It’s going to be hilarious, informative, and hopefully very entertaining.

So that’s what’s next. Stay tuned for Velinda, who’s going to be up next sharing her initial design plans for our space. In the meantime, ask any questions you have down in the comments! And if you’re interested in watching step-by-step renovation process, I’ve documented it all in my saved highlights on Instagram.

For more renovation content (advice! rules! lots of process!), head on over to our ROOMS page or check out our PROJECTS section for all the pretty EHD inspo. 

  1. Girl, we have BEEN THERE. We bought a 1930 farmhouse that “had good bones” which we found out meant “old termite damage everywhere previous owners were too lazy to fix and no insulation in any part of the house.” So we gutted about 1/3 just like you did and are working on the rest as we go. It’s so tough and still amazing how your eyes become immune to things like live wires hanging out of the ceiling (been there!) but you get oddly excited about all there is still left to do. You guys got so much done in 6ish weeks! I can’t wait to see where the rest of this ends up.

    1. It’s like, you have to live with permanent rose colored glasses otherwise you’ll go crazy, haha

  2. This is actually riveting and I cannot wait for the rest of the series. God bless you and Mac for sticking it out! And your dad, omg. Those numbers are shocking, but you’re making huge, valuable changes. Is the $800 for paint including future colors, or only the white?

    1. Oooooh… well I’m sure the fact that I spent almost $200 in paint samples didn’t really help that number. I was VERY indecisive. But yes, we bout a LOT of white paint, because we used it in the living room, dining room, front bedroom, and front bathroom.

  3. Love this! Couldn’t stop watching that gif. We had no roof and partial walls for a couple months during renovations and moved our family of 4 into the downstairs living room. I was stressed this whole time but my husband was like, “This is cozy. We should get a dog and it’ll be even cozier.” (We did end up getting a dog, but after we could live upstairs again)
    We have lots more renovations to do but not only does our savings need to recover, I need to recover!
    Looking forward to the Design Diaries!

    1. Wonderful post – please please more of these DIY type reality content posts!
      So relatable and informative. Thank you for sharing all.

    2. wow I can’t imagine doing this kind of renovation with kids! Y’all are true heros.

  4. Great post, Sara. You’re house is adorable! You’ve definitely added a ton of value.

    Can your dad adopt me?

    1. Probably! He’s a pretty great dad 🙂

  5. This was so helpful and inspiring!! Thank you for sharing!!

    1. Thank YOU for reading!

  6. I’m so happy you are telling your renovation story here on the blog! I so identify with the “adults convincing us to buy a house”, the snowballing renovation and the boyfriend who got caught up in the middle LOL
    I’m looking forward for your posts, love your writing!

    1. OMG are you living my double life?!

  7. Another great “real” story. Please keep them coming.
    I can’t wait for the rest.

    1. Thanks!

  8. I really enjoyed reading this, thank you! Looking forward to following along and seeing how you make this place a wonderful home.

    1. Thank you so much!

  9. Love this! Look forward to Velida’s design also. And can I say I’m always blown away by the costs in places like LA. Here in KY that price gets you 5000 square feet in an upscale lakeside neighborhood lol. Can’t wait until the next post in the series. 🙂

    1. SHOULD WE ABANDON LA AND MOVE TO KENTUCKY?!

      1. It’s beautiful, but also, mosquitos.

    2. I was going to say this same thing!! That would buy you a really nice house in my Oregon city, and a ton more in the country. It’s crazy!!

      1. I’m in Silicon Valley, and that price is almost half what you’d pay here, so it sounded like a steel. I know location is everything. Even houses here just 5 miles apart can go for wildly different prices. Love hearing about your process!

  10. Yuppp, I feel this so much! We did something similar with our 1905 bungalow. Phew, it was A TIME. But so worth it. And now my husband and I laugh and reminisce like, “Remember when we slept on a mattress in the living room for 4 months and the shower had a dangling electrical wire in it? What crazy kids.” (It was like two years ago, haha.) I actually think what you spent is an insane deal for what you got, and it’s looking amazing. I can’t wait to watch it all unfold!

    1. Yes, yes please keep the validating comments about how this is a good use of our money rolling in. They soothe me…

      1. Validation: my husband and I did they same thing with our first house. Almost all the labor was our own or our families, and we had the good fortune of being able to buy a former rental In need of love and elbow grease in a good neighborhood. We sold it last year to finally buy our “forever home”, and we made enough profit to cover the 20% down payment on the new house, all the taxes, realtor fees, inspections, etc. and get a (small) check back. Obviously that’s beast case scenario, but know that your sweat equity really can pay big dividends 🙂

      2. Hey Sara, I have a question – where I am in Europe, it’s pretty much standard procedure to bring in an expert to assess a home you’re considering buying. They would (hopefully!) be able to point out things like pest damage or sloping floors for you so you’d know what you’re getting into. Is that something that’s not done in the US? Legitimately curious!

        1. This is a little late, but, yes, there are home inspectors here, too. But in a hot market, houses go sooooo quickly a lot of people are waiving the home inspection just to get the house. It’s crazy, but people are desperate to buy.

  11. I’ve been loving these renovation stories! The pricing and timelines are so helpful to understanding what it takes to accomplish a finished looking room. What about building permits? How did that fit in and what did you need to do?
    Your finished rooms are beautiful!

  12. Oh man, I loved this post! I have so much respect for y’all who are DIYing, and since that’s all I can afford too, I will read anything I can get my hands on for tips and advice.

    Looking forward to reading about the whole process of designing with Velinda!

    1. *hands up in the air emoji*

  13. Went through almost the same experience three years ago. It is so great though when it is finished and you get to live in a home that is soundly constructed and configured for your needs. And your progress already is looking fantastic.

    I think anyone planning major renovations should initially assume (and budget for) a cascade of additional major items being added to their “must do” list … on top of the standard contingency you budget. When I deciding to purchase and renovate my 1900 Indianapolis bungalow, I had a 10% usual contingency and a 20% unexpected major improvements contingency. I used almost all of both.

    If you don’t end up needing it, you can celebrate. But it is much easier to have that higher amount as part of your initial budgeting and purchase considerations than feeling pressure to add it in later.

    Am I reading the floor plans right? That neither bathroom can be accessed without walking through a bedroom? I’d want to change that for the bathroom in the front. Otherwise, I think it might be a deal breaker for a fair % of folks who might consider your home when it next goes on the market.

    1. I was wondering the same thing about that front bathroom. Always a bit awkward to go through a bedroom to get to a bathroom as a guest.

    2. Similarly, a closet in the TV room would keep your home a 3 bedroom for future resale. You guys are doing fantastic things! Looking forward to hearing more.

    3. The front bedroom will be more of an office/guest room for us, so it will be the bathroom all guests can use. In all honesty there wasn’t really access to a bathroom without going some weird way to begin with, and it didn’t deter us. But that’s also something I’d never thought about, and good to keep in mind.

  14. I love this series! Sarah, thanks for sharing all the details of this process with us, and I can’t wait to see more. Also, we called Pasadena home for just over a year and really fell in love with it. It’s a hidden gem in LA for sure!

    1. thank you xx

  15. You (and your dad/brother) have done a great job! One thing to consider though in terms of when it comes time to sell. I’m not a professional but from what I understand, you can’t call a room a bedroom if it can only be accessed through another bedroom. So what you have is now essentially a 2-br as the TV room can’t simply be relabeled as a bedroom as it will make the master BR not a BR.

    1. We knew that when we were trying to figure out the best floor plan, and just decided to bite the bullet. It’s going to make living in the house and the overall flow SO. MUCH. BETTER. That “third” room wasn’t really a useable bedroom to begin with. But hopefully the value we’re adding to the house in other ways will make up for that. I guess what I’m saying is – we’ll burn that bridge when we get there, haha (which likely won’t be for 7-10 years at least).

  16. Amazing! Everyone needs a handy person in the family! My advice is to keep in mind that if you ever do sell, you will want to turn the TV room back into a bedroom with minor construction (you will get tons more $ for a 3 bedroom), so keep that in mind when doing your closet and kitchen. You will want the ability to put a door from the kitchen into your new master bedroom closet, so don’t build anything permanent in the kitchen there. The TV room will not be a bedroom if you have to walk through it to get into the other bedroom by code.

    1. Hahahahaha, see ^above^ for my likely not financially sound but stubborn opinion on this topic.

  17. I love this idea for a series! It will be especially interesting to get the perspective of a designer and one from the client for the same project. Kind of a “He said, She said”, but “She said, She said” and, of course, nice and respectful 🙂

    1. Haha, see that Velinda? “Nice and respectful”. All I’m saying is we can’t promise anything – we’re both 1s/INTJs which means we’re stubborn perfectionists with STRONG opinions. Poor Mac.

  18. I love hearing about the EHD staff’s family members pitching in on projects and would love to read a post just about them. Their backgrounds, what home improvement skills they’ve learned over the years, maybe even a list of all the most ambitious projects they’ve tackled themselves (and which ones they wish they’d hired out to the pros). Also love Velinda’s serious face while measuring that window 😀 Thanks for the transparency and letting us in on the good, the bad, and the ugly of this home renovation process.

    1. YES! I can include more information about my dad and brother in an upcoming post – how much they’ve learned from previous experience, how much they have to look up before tackling, and when they feel like they’re not up for the job. I think that’s great too, and helps everyone gauge their abilities. For example, I never thought I could switch out electrical components, but it turns out that with a little youtube watching and some stubborn energy you can accomplish a lot.

  19. Sara + all, you guys have been KILLING IT recently. I am so into these renovation stories from everyone on your team. I’m 31 and a million years away from ever buying a house, but it’s super interesting to hear how it all works and what it looks like to go from buying to renovating to actually living it in. I’m worried you’re going to run out of team members with renovation stories!

    1. DON’T WORRY! We’ve recently hired younger staff, who we’re already brainwashing to replacing us in 5 years when our renovation projects are done. Everyone on this team will buy and renovate a house whether they like it or NOT*.

      *This is obviously a joke, but we do hope to keep bringing y’all a diverse sampling living situation content – from first time apartments, to complete gut and remodels because we love reading about each others homes just as much as you do.

  20. Love this, this is off the charts AMAZING content!
    Nothing better than transparency of real life experiences, thank you!

    Plus WOW, can’t wait for THIS TO CONTINUE with the posts with Velinda, on all the designer dynamics.
    THANKYOU, AWESOME JOB; SARA, HER GREAT DAD AND BROTHER, PLUS GOOD ON YOU MAC, AND lovely MUM IN LAW.

    1. THANK YOU FOR YOUR ENTHUSIASM!!!!

  21. I wanted to say that I am v proud of you, v jealous of your cheap labor and MOSTLY V MAD THAT I DIDN’T GET TO CLEAR MY CRAWL SPACE AND MAKE IT PERFECT.

    1. You would have spent so much time clearing your crawl space. It’d be immaculate. You’d be able to rent it as a third living space.

      1. The team chit chat in comments lately is SO entertaining! I love seeing you guys cheer each other on and poke fun at each other. Sounds like a really fun work environment!

        1. Agreed! All so good!

  22. I’m so excited by the design diaries concept! Can not wait to see it all unfold!!!

    1. Same! I can’t wait to live in my house like a normal person!

  23. Thanks for sharing! Can’t wait to see all the changes coming up. It’s already looking so much better!

    1. Thank you!!

  24. Ah! I love this so much. This honest renovation series needs to win an award as its so helpful! Its also really changed the way I look fixer uppers. I fully intend to purchase a fixer in LA but you bring up so many interesting things to consider. Its not just move those walls, rip up that tile and your good to go.
    I even really appreciated the mention of your relationship within it. So many people say renovating a house is one of the hardest thing to do in a relationship so great to see where problems can come up. So excited to see the upcoming design diaries! SUCH a good idea.

    1. Yes, I would like an award please

  25. This was a great read! Congrats on a great investment, a nice dad and brother, and a patient (and lucky) husband.

  26. Seems such a large price. Good luck

  27. When you renovate the kitchen, you could switch it with the front bedroom. The bedroom, moved to the kitchen, would still be able to use that bathroom. That way, the bedroom won’t be at the front of the house & it looks like living area would feel more open.

    1. Whoa, that sounds awesome. I wish we could have the budget to move the kitchen entirely!

    2. Yes this!!

  28. Thank you for being so open with your experience and the cost. It is beyond helpful and I’m excited to learn about the design process, as I would like to hire a designer too. Congratulations on your new home!! It has so much charm already.

    1. Thank you!

  29. We also have been in the same renovation spot where we tore up the original wood floor on our circa 1900 kitchen (remodeled in 1950) and found old termite damage and had to “sister” and replace some floor joists. Since we are in our 60s and 70s, we did have professionals do most of the heavy labor, but we completed most of the finish and cosmetic work ourselves. I am looking forward to reading your “Design Diaries!” You are doing a fabulous job! And your Dad is giving you excellent advice.

    1. Those GD termites! They’re hungry.

  30. I love these REAL posts including costs. I am really excited to see the rest of the house renovations and designs! Great work so far, and it’s so nice that you have your Dad, brother, Mother-In-Law, all supporting you in different ways!

    1. Couldn’t do it without them <3

  31. This is awesome. I love reading every line and looking at every picture and drawing. And if you can imagine would read a much longer piece about this too. It’s so entertaining and informative from why you bought where, to how you paid for it, to the step by step reno. I LOVE IT ALL. Thanks for being so honest, Sara (and Mac for not minding this info getting shared on the inter webs for the good of all! Seriosuly, thanks).

    And this next series is going to be AMAZING! I’m so excited! I’m a design lover (obvs) but have never hired a designer so am blind to the process, the timing, the cost, the benefits or drawbacks – all of it will be fascinating!

    I think you’ve done magical things with the money you’ve spent so far. Great work. Thanks for keeping it real.

    1. I’m weeping happy tears because of your comment. Bless you.

    2. sounds like Saras (no H) stick together!

      1. 🙌🏾

  32. please please please please please keep the pink bathroom tile!!!

  33. I’m just here to say… I kind of like the pink tiling in the master bathroom.

    1. I do too! If it’s part of the original house, that’s some precious stuff right there.

      1. I did too! well, originally. until I saw how much better the layout could be if they reconfigured the house, which would mean … you know….

  34. Love this! Thank you so much for sharing the details, especially the realistic view of the costs. We, too, bought a “snowball” house that is an ongoing project, lived without baseboards for 3 years and just now (5 yrs in) got the front landscaping completed. Bless our neighbors for putting up with the slow pace of our project! The joy of taking a property that has been neglected, embracing its quirks, and turning it into a loved home is incredible. Good luck!!

  35. Really appreciate you sharing numbers on this very public platform 🙂 and you are off to a great start AND it looks like you have added a s*** ton of value already. Keep up the good work and I can’t wait for the rest of this super-fun series!

  36. I so relate to the snowball of renovations! We bought a 1951 ranch with all of it’s glory and hodge-podge renovations. Unfortunately I didn’t have the gusto to keep going after we finished the floors, painted the walls, and moved in so we have just lived for the past two years with a giant to-do list of expensive projects that all really just seem so so time consuming. Anyway, your post is inspiring. Also, your DIY costs seem a lot more realistic than some other DIYs I see posted on the internet. In high cost of living areas, contractors cost A LOT to hire as well. I look forward to seeing the nitty-gritty of Velinda’s design process!

  37. LOVE this. Seriously, congratulations. Following your renovation on insta stories has been my favorite thing. It’s my dream to own a little fixer upper one day. As a current LA apartment dweller, I feel like I’m living vicariously through you! I can’t wait to see which moody paint color you end up choosing for the TV room — off those pics, I’m actually kinda feeling the color of that drywall, hah! I think using pocket doors in the master is really smart. Have you thought about also using a pocket door between the TV room and dining room to save on precious space? xx

  38. Designers! They’re just like us! I love this post. Can’t wait for more. This feels so much like what we’ve been going through with our 100 year old home. Good luck and thanks for being so open!

  39. This was super interesting and I’m excited for the series! And I totally agree with your usage of the TV room instead of a too small bedroom. A TV room sounds so cozy/chill and you can always convert the shelf back into a closet if you decide to resell.

  40. Awesome job…thank goodness for dads, and family in general.

  41. I honestly enjoy the renovations from the EHD team members (Emily Bowser, Sara, etc..) so much!!!
    Thanks for sharing a light on money & and being so so honest!

    All the best!
    Miriam

  42. WOWWWW! As someone on the brink of doing a renovation to their 100 year old house. I am fascinated by this series and also shocked at how LOW that number is that you’ve spent. Bravo free labor dad and handy brother!! This is great, as are the comments, I’m feeling much more heartened by our impending undertaking.

  43. This might be to late, but… since you are changing all the plumbings on the master bath, why not change it all the way… and switch place with the closet so that you have natural light on your master bath?

    1. Or put in a sun tube! It’s amazing how much light they bring in to interior bathrooms.

  44. SARA.

    I can’t wait to see more posts about your home and your family! I love them all!

  45. I love these renovation posts. I am slow renovating my 1920s house but in the first year we replaced the roof and the furnace which was $10k right off the bat – and that’s with using me and my dad + uncles as all the labor on the roof saving us 3-4K. After 10 years we finally updated the electrical so we could move forward on the kitchen project but I’m still dragging my feet on running new water supply pipes which are also necessary if we want to have a dishwasher.

    Totally minor point, but after seeing the photos of that weird wall between the dining and living room I’d bet that it was open to begin with since the casing is already there for the wide opening and the narrow door only had casing on one side. The 1920s were the original open concept home (unless you go back to the Great Hall way of living) and we have a just-shy-of-full width cased opening between our living and dining rooms.

    I wouldn’t worry too much about the bathrooms only being accessible through the bedroom. It’s just how bathrooms are in many old houses, especially small ones. Although you’re using it as a den, if it were a bedroom it’s incentive to keep it tidy in case guests come over? or realize that your guests are probably your friends and friends don’t judge when your house isn’t magazine ready all the time.

  46. YAS PASADENA!! My husband and I rent in Northeast Pasadena — love the area, and are hoping to start looking to buy within the next few years. These posts give me so much hope that it will actually happen!! Looking forward to reading more!

  47. I haven’t even finished reading the full post but had to comment that this is my favorite dad line ever:
    “’Had to go’” was all my dad said.”

  48. So interesting, thank you for being so transparent. I’m curious to know why you offered so much over asking. Was there a bidding war? If so, what was that like?

  49. I love love love these posts – first time ever commenting just to encourage more! Looking amazing and cannot wait to see the next steps. We’ve just reno’d here in Aus and man oh man, it’s a process!

  50. You literally just described my life for the last year. We have about 6 months left in our “snowball remodel”(we hope!).

  51. I have so much to say about this. THANK YOU FOR BEING THE GROUNDED quality on this blog. This is how real people renovate. 2, I hope to GOD that you can get so many freebies by documenting your process here. 3, Hallelujah that your dad and Shade were/are available. 4. North Pasadena? So not Hastings Ranch, because that is east I guess and all 1950’s houses. PHS district? 5. You and Mac–if you can survive this–IT IS MEANT TO BE. You are going through one of the most truly stressful things a couple can ever do. 6. Doesn’t Fixer Upper just piss you off? How much they spend on the house/labor/renovation? 7. You ARE adding value to this property. If you had to sell, you will get every penny and more. 8. SAVE THE PINK BATHROOMS.

    I love this post from you. KEEP GOING!

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