I can’t believe it’s March already! Around this time last year, my husband and I had decided to sell our home in Atlanta, Georgia (what we considered our starter home). We purchased this home with the full intent to raise our first child in it. We were on the hunt for a home in a friendly neighborhood. One where the neighbors waved every time we pulled into the driveway (which is not a big ask in Atlanta… seeing as how almost everyone waves at you, even if they don’t know you… it’s a southern hospitality thing, and we love it), and one where almost everyone owned a dog and took frequent walks and jogs. We also wanted a home in a good school district and close to our church. The only thing was, we’d have to find a fixer, as the neighborhoods we had our eyes on were pretty pricey.
We researched the best and safest neighborhoods to raise children in, then drove around for months looking for our special home in these neighborhoods, and just when we were about to throw in the towel, we saw it. The house was accompanied by a sign that read “For Sale By Owner” and seemed to be like it could use some love. We immediately searched for the home’s listing on several real estate websites but found no current listing price for it. This made us so giddy because we knew no one else would be looking at this home considering its special circumstances. At the time, it was a buyer’s market and homes were flying off the shelves, but there would be no bidding wars for this one. I hopped out of the car, took down the number, called it, and the rest was history.
We moved into the home that July and boy did we have our work cut out for us. The home hadn’t been occupied (by a person) in a year, so there was lots to do. The kitchen needed a full gut, the bathrooms needed new toilets and sinks, the wooden floors needed life brought back into them, and there were so many creepy crawlers occupying the space (enough to consider the home infested). That said, the first order of business for me was to get rid of the unwanted guests… the roaches and spiders (also found out there were squirrels and rats living in the attic). I called around to get quotes and ended up spending around $1,500 to have a wildlife company come in to catch the squirrels and another $4,500 to get rid of the roaches. That was my first major design mistake.
DESIGN MISTAKE #1:
Not knowing the ecosystem of your area
After finding out our home was infested, I had our entire crawl space redone. We updated the insulation, added a vapor barrier throughout (to control the moisture in the space), added fans, and replaced all the vents for high-tech vents. All to find out that roaches were common in the area we lived, especially because we had a creek that ran through our backyard. Growing up, I’d always assumed that roaches only came to places that were filthy and unprotected (without any barriers). In Atlanta, Georgia, having roaches does not mean that your home is not clean or unkept, it just so happens because of the weather and location of a home, you can have all sorts of critters visit. I wish I would’ve known this, as it played a major role in trying to sell our house for top dollar.
After a few renovation projects completed and a little less than a year living in our home, came the big announcement… a global pandemic that is. Afterward, it only took a pregnancy and two months of being on lockdown to realize we wanted to be closer to our family. So we made the decision to put our house on the market. We learned so much during the time our home was listed, mistakes that have helped me evolve as a designer and homeowner/seller. I’d have to say the crawlspace mistake is by far the biggest one though… This taught me to look at design through a completely different lens (an ecosystem one).
My husband and I spent so much money on trying to make sure snakes, spiders, roaches, and other critters couldn’t come inside our home, when in reality, there was no way to ensure this. Having that creek in the back of our home was an open invitation for all of the above. In fact, there was one night (a few weeks before our home sold) when I kept hearing bumping coming from the bathroom toilet. It ended up being a snake… that same week, there were balls of snakes mating in our backyard and crawlspace. All this to find out the buyers did not care about the crawlspace updates, as they were already accustomed to having these sorts of creepy crawlers in backyards and crawl spaces (considering the area and its ecosystem), leaving them very nonchalant about the $4,500 we’d spent on the crawlspace updates. I wish we would’ve put that money into other areas of the house. We also made a couple of mistakes when updating our kitchen. Mistakes that would make it harder to sell our home in the long run.
DESIGN MISTAKE #2:
Not maximizing ALL the storage options (aka adding a washer/dryer instead of a pantry)
I’m actually a person who enjoyed going to the laundromat. I found a really cute one near our house that had a cafe right next to it and even an outside patio to lounge in while I waited for my clothes. I love having all of the open and dedicated space to fold my clothes and get organized. I also enjoyed the company of people around me who were there on the same mission. I’d read a book, hop on my laptop and work, or just chat with someone next to me over a coffee. Now I can’t say the same for my husband. He loves the convenience of being able to do laundry at home, and going to a laundromat was the last thing he wanted to do on a Saturday (he dreaded it). This was a debate that went on for weeks… should we open the kitchen and add a washer/dryer unit to the hallway closet?
My husband ended up winning this one. So we tore out the walls, joisted two beams together, and laid the plumbing for the washer/dryer – which ended up being adjacent to our peninsula/bar area and bar stools. We added a barn door to conceal it. This was definitely the biggest reason people passed on our home. They all felt like the kitchen should have remained closed off from the hallway and elongated (taking up the room where the dining area was). But I liked having a designated area for our dining table and chairs, I loved having our chandelier over the table as well, it really set the mood when entertaining guests. However, like a lot of the buyers, I believe we should have used the hallway closet for a kitchen pantry. This would have been a better selling point. Creating storage is always something to consider when preparing to sell a home. Another mistake we made was the decision to add open shelving in the kitchen.
DESIGN MISTAKE #3:
Open shelving in a tiny kitchen
Hear me out…I’m from Los Angeles, California – born and raised. This means open shelving is not the first thing on a kitchen reno to-do list because you know…earthquakes. So I jumped at the opportunity to add open shelving to our kitchen design. I’m a collector of artisanal mugs and beautifully sculpted ceramic bowls. They are true works of art to me, and I love being able to have my collections out on display. Having an extremely long peninsula to house our dishwasher, dishes, silverware, and other items seemed to be storage enough for us. Also, let me reiterate, we thought we’d be in our first home at least five years before having to upgrade because of our growing family, and I wasn’t considering anyone else enjoying our kitchen except for us. However, we learned quickly that people who are looking to buy, want plenty of storage and ways to conceal their cups, plates, and bowls. Not everyone likes having their everyday items on display.
We also learned that for many ATLiens, they preferred having the original sinks and toilets in the bathrooms (as they believed this gave the space more character) but leaving the original sink and toilet was just plain-ol’ gross to me. I did a mini bathroom update where I painted, updated the faucet, sink and vanity, the mirror over the sink, and toilet. I also added a new sconce to go over the sink and shelves, only hear (via our Ring device… I wasn’t eavesdropping or anything… Someone rang the doorbell when we were away and I checked it) folks complaining about the new toilet and sink additions. I learned from that incident, and from our real estate agent, buyers preferred the original sink and toilet. This was odd to me, as the sinks were rusted to no return and had a lot of unknown build-up. The toilets had rings in them that bleach ran away from… I should also mention that in our county it was mandatory to replace toilets and sinks and make sure they were up to code (for water efficiency standards). The toilets and sinks in our bathrooms were originals, and had been in usage since 1957, thus why they needed to go. Nevertheless, let’s get on to my next design mistake during this reno – the kitchen counters.
DESIGN MISTAKE #4:
Using butcher block in contrast to quartz for countertops
I’m a big fan of designing with functionality in mind and thought it would be perfect to have a butcher block on one side of the kitchen, and quartz on the other. I would just cut right on top of the butcher block (using it as a cutting board). I was okay with the wear and tear. I figured it would just give the countertop more character (which I’m a big fan of). So I added quartz to one side of the kitchen and butcher block (similar) on the other. Nonetheless, when it came to selling the house, this was a huge issue. A slew of buyers filled out notes stating they preferred to have quartz throughout the kitchen, and didn’t care for the marks in the butcher block. This led to my husband and me sanding down the butcher block and putting a new finish on it. This process took a few weeks, and taught us a major lesson – NEVER add a butcher block countertop if you’re planning to sell your home. Buyers were looking for a more durable material and felt like the butcher block didn’t work with the quartz we had on the peninsula.
Amongst the valuable lessons learned during this process, we found that if you’re trying to build the value of your home and plan to sell, some personal preferences must go out of the window, as creating a standard space for the majority is more important. Another rule of thumb would be to check out the homes in the neighborhood around you, to see what your neighbors are doing. This is ultimately the reason we chose to keep a galley-style kitchen layout (All the other homes in our neighborhood had them). We didn’t want to spend all of our money creating a huge kitchen that would not allow our home to appraise any higher than the comps in the area (since we were planning to sell within a few years of living in our home).
As many things in life, these mistakes are valuable lessons learned and that I would absolutely consider in the future (if the end game is to sell my house). I’ve found that many people can run into similar situations when selling their home and I’d love to hear of changes you made to your home that later, you wished you’d done differently. Please share any of your design mistakes/regrets below. We all can learn together.
Opening Image Credits: Design and Photo by Ajai Guyot