A little over a year ago, my husband and I took on our third biggest journey together – buying a home! And in case you’re wondering what the first two were: having a baby and moving cross country. Because homeownership was something that we never imagined to be a reality, by the time it happened for us last year we realized there’s a lot we just didn’t know. As the saying goes, “you don’t know what you don’t know”. That said, in the past year since becoming homeowners, everything has basically felt like baptism by fire. We’ve learned a lot about a lot in such a short amount of time… and yes, we’ve been able to ask a few people questions here and there. Truth is though, there’s just a lot that we had to go through & experience firsthand to really get it. Like I said… baptism by fire.
While I won’t go so far as to say we’ve done anything “wrong” in our first year of homeownership, there’s definitely been a lot of hindsight thinking going on – what we would’ve done differently, what we would’ve kept the same, and everything in between. Personally, as I’ve been thinking about this, it’s been not just as the homeowner, but also as a content creator who happens to create content around said home. Those personal lessons and shoulda-woulda-couldas are intrinsically linked to my professional life… for better or for worse.
So in looking back on our past year of projects, improvements, renovations, and blunders, here’s what we did right, what we would do differently, and what we learned.
Remember last year when I talked about saying “no” to project pressure? All things considered, we did a pretty good job at resisting the urge to do all the things all at once. From the very beginning, we promised ourselves we weren’t gonna be “house rich and money poor” so keeping that in mind def tempered us. From the outside looking in, it may now look this way, especially since in our first 60 days of homeownership we furnished the living & dining rooms, replaced all the carpet in the bedrooms with new flooring, began our DIY laundry room renovation, removed popcorn ceiling in one of the rooms, and redesigned (and relocated) our new media room.
As I am sitting here writing this, we’ve actually managed to cross almost everything off of our 2021 home goals list… and did so without any project pressure…
renovate kitchen upgrade pantry system upgrade hall closet system
- convert guest bonus room closet to shoe closet
complete said bonus room
- furnish back yard
- furnish balcony
upgrade the mini’s closet system renovate laundry room
- remove carpet throughout the house
upgrade hvac system to ductless
- switch out storm door
- switch out patio & balcony doors
new window treatments throughout the house
- remove popcorn ceiling throughout the house
- upgrade the interior & exterior lighting
complete garage insulation & drywall
- clean out & repair garden bed
So what’s the problem? We did A LOT in such a small amount a time, and we didn’t always check in with our original priorities list. As a result, we sometimes went rogue, taking on projects that could’ve waited. On the other side of that, we realized our priorities list wasn’t very good to begin with! We prioritized, for example, furnishing our back yard yet didn’t account for the fact that we needed to replace our back fence… with the latter being the last project we’ve done for 2021. It wasn’t on the list, and it should’ve been on the list. Going into 2022, we’re going to take an honest & intense assessment of the condition of our home… thinking about what we need to do in our home versus what we want to do in our home, and what that’ll all look like realistically.
Speaking of realistic expectations…
Can I just go on record and say that no one talks about what things cost… and it sucks! We were hit with, not necessarily “sticker shock” but something like it because every time we got a bid for a job we were like “is this what it’s supposed to cost… this feels high… maybe that’s too low… how are we supposed to know!?” I am so thankful for my realtor turned friend, and friends like Sherry (@younghouselove), Rashida (@rashida.banks), and Shavonda (@sgardnerstyle) because I could text them and ask “does this make sense?” As a content creator, there might be an assumption that when we’re working with brands, we collect a check & spend nothing. Nope. No ma’am. We still pay for labor – at the bare minimum – and that still doesn’t account for work that isn’t sponsored. That said, every project we took on came with a price tag. Because we’d never done anything like this before – renovate a laundry room, get a new HVAC system, rip out carpeting, build a new fence – we didn’t know what these things would cost to DIY and/or hire out. The problem this presented for us was an inability to budget accordingly. For future projects, we are already doing so much research to quantify every detail – sponsored or otherwise – so that (a) we can budget accordingly and (b) I can charge accordingly should it be something that’s part of a campaign.
Being that I do what I do, whilst my husband works a more “traditional” job outside of the home, not like the money, we didn’t do a very good job at budgeting our time. One project that’s not on the priorities list, yet was part of our 2021 calendar, was our powder room. The materials have been in our garage for the better part of a year. So why didn’t it get done? Time. Every single time we thought we had a window to tackle the project, another project either got derailed (taking up our time) or we were burnt out from putting out fires elsewhere and needed time to recharge our batteries. Trust me when I say, had we done that powder room this year, it would not have been good… like at all. Not giving ourselves realistic timelines – at least to the best of our ability – really set us up for failure. To be honest, it’s an absolute miracle we got anything done at all this year (and we sometimes sit and wonder to ourselves how we did it because we don’t know).
Every day this year has felt like it had something for us to do – big & small – which kind of started to drive us to a place of resentment & discouragement. I remember saying to my husband, “I just want to enjoy the house!” and ever since making that declaration, we promised ourselves to never do this again! In 2022, we plan to set designated windows for tackling projects with breaks in between… at least for the projects we can control.
…and speaking of control. On more than one occasion we’ve had to remind ourselves “we bought an old house” and with that comes some good and some bad… we just need a reminder from time to time. While working on different improvements – from simple maintenance tasks to larger projects – we would need to remember that some of this stuff is just par for the course… it’s normal… and we did nothing wrong. This being such a huge accomplishment for us, there was a lot of self-imposed pressure to do it “right” – whatever that means… as though the home we bought was some precious/fragile object that could easily shatter. We bought a house. Like we bought a frigging house! And in a year managed to furnish every single room (some are still “works in process” but furnished nonetheless) and renovate two major areas. A lot of this is partly due to what I do for a living, however, taking the time to actually say “wow we did this!” made us realize we set some WILD expectations for ourselves if we still don’t think we did enough. It still amazes me when I see people react to our home. Their reactions are always a gentle reminder of what we’ve accomplished and how we’ve earned the ability to just sit down somewhere to enjoy what we’ve created.
I am giving myself – especially as a creative, as the lead designer of our home, and a recovering perfectionist – permission to chill out in the new year. My husband, on the other hand, is constantly on the lookout for something to fix, so I’m also going to be encouraging him to just sit down somewhere because the house is fine… we’re fine… everything’s fine.
Having just crossed off the very project we’ll be doing this year mere days ago feels surreal… namely because it’s one of the first things we thought we were going to do a year ago. LOL. If that’s not a clear indication that we need a better way to manage our projects, finances, timelines, and expectations… then what is? I am thankful for every high & low this past year of homeownership placed before us. We were able to increase our equity, refinance our home, tackle both cosmetic & safety upgrades, and somehow come out on the other side of it all not hating homeownership. Now the goal is to build on what we’ve learned…
(1) setting realistic & attainable project goals, with bite-sized tasks outlined for each so necessary steps aren’t being overlooked
(2) establishing an overall home improvement budget in addition to separate budgets per project
(3) creating a calendar of work with intentional breaks between major projects to allow time for recovery & stillness
(4) granting ourselves the gift of grace, not as an alternative for accountability (because things do need to get done) but as a reward for progress
I don’t know that there’s much I “wish” I knew before buying a home – and I think my husband would agree – however I do wish we were exposed to more conversations about what it really means to be a homeowner. After purchasing your home, did you find yourself wishing you knew more or do you think you were pretty well prepared for your homeownership journey? And feel free to share any sage words of advice for us as we enter year two.
Opening Image Credits: Photo by Ellie Lillstrom | Design by Albie K. Buabeng | From: What Happens When You Design Your Living Room and Then MOVE?? You Make It Work… Albie’s New Living Room Round One!
I love the transparency and perspective, Albie! Yes, definitely give yourself some grace heading into the holiday season and allow yourself to rest in your beautiful home. I’m excited to see what you have in store for 2022, no matter what timeline it ends up on. I am working with one of my kiddos on mindset and it has actually been a huge blessing to me also, showing me where I allow negative mindset to bias my thoughts and expectations. Being able to reflect on all you did, vs focusing on the items you didn’t do, is so important. Keep it up!
Thank you! Mindset is so important & I’m working with the mini on hers too. It’s wild how the lessons we’re teaching them we also need for ourselves.
I’m a little over a year and a half into homeownership and I really hated the first 6 months of it. Too many surprises! But now a year and a half in, I’ve leaned into it more and am learning to go with the flow. Like you I’ve got an older home (1936) which has its own adventures (why are all the windows different sizes?!), and having friends that also are new homeowners of older homes has helped me gain perspective. It took me time to realize that I can do the projects “in the future” as opposed to “get everything done now!” I only got a few projects completed on my initial 2021 list and in retrospect that is good. I worked hard to not overspend this year, which translated to not doing all the projects! I’ll be intentional about what I’m taking on in 2022.
Congrats to you! I felt this deeply! Why does “in the future” bother us so much as tho we’ll never get there?! I’m glad you had friends to share this journey with. I have y’all. Lol.
It’s also good to live in a house for a while before you tackle some things. Of course, there are some things that need to be done right away, but living in a space for a while gives you perspective and a better feel for what you need and how you want to use it.
Your reminders about boundaries and expectations are SUCH a help to me! The gift of grace for ourselves, particularly. The list of what you accomplished is staggering. I think you’ve hit on the best way to remember it: invite friends over, and allow yourself to see your progress through their eyes. No compliment is easier to believe than the unsolicited ones, right? My experience for year two is I found it easier to internalize the long-game approach as time went on. After years of renting and moving frequently, I felt near-sighted about home progress. Owning suddenly stretched that timeline out SO far… and it took a few years to adjust my vision. It was also nice to watch our needs as a family change so we would need to adjust functions for various spaces. Projects began to feel like evolution, rather than reaching a finish line. The only actual advice I have is to allow yourself the occasional cosmetic upgrade to a space you plan on totally ripping apart later, if it means you’ll enjoy the space until you’re ready. Two hours of work and some slapped on paint is worth some peace of mind! But I suspect you know… Read more »
To read (and then say to myself) “we’re fine” – phew! It’s true. I’m here, and this has been another in a string of many overwhelming years. Thanks for honestly sharing your ups and downs!
Great and realistic discussion. I grew up in a “project” house even though it was a new build – there was always a project. New build yes, but to save money my parents didn’t have it completely finished. It was more like a liveable shell. So I had open eyes when we purchased an old house as newlyweds but as you say, you don’t really know what it’s like until you are the owner in charge of finances, timeliness, managing burnout. We sold the house for twice what we paid after 9 years of chipping away at projects. While it did give us the equity to finally buy a house in the country, I’m not sure the “price” we paid in terms of stress was worth it (I had 3 babies in that same time span). Thanks for the honest post. Well said and so true.
You’ve done such a wonderful job, Albie! No matter how many homes one owns, there are still “surprises.” Energy, both physical and mental are commodities that you forget to factor in. You and your husband have done brilliantly this year. It is time to start enjoying yourselves and ***making happy memories***! Hugs!
Great perspective, Albie! We’re now on our 4th home, and the best two pieces of advice I try to remember are. 1) “Don’t Rush It”–a.k.a. filling the room with immediate options rather than taking the time to find just the right vintage piece that you’ll love forever–which means living with stuff for a while even if it “doesn’t look the way you want when friends come over” for a few years. 2) From EHD–“How do you want the room to feel? Does it feel like you?” which we can expand to “How do you want the house to feel?” and then sticking to that concept when selecting finishes and pieces–but you know all that already! Lastly, I think, for the generation that has grown up with instagram and pinterest, keeping in mind that all houses have flaws, that the lighting in the pictures online often is enhanced, stuff gets photoshopped, and in real life there are charger cords and dirty socks and handprints on the walls. The online pictures are so inspiring (Including yours!) but sometimes it creates a sense of pressure to compete and instantly create something just as nice–(without sponsorship for 99.9% of us 🙂 So expensive! Love… Read more »
Yes, the kitchen is warm and elegant, and I would love to party in that gorgeous space!
Absolutely agree about the importance of differentiating between what you NEED to do vs. what you WANT to do. My first year all I managed to pay for was a much needed drain in the driveway and tree removal and pruning. Both let me sleep at night because they tackled two potentially huge problems. The other thing I’m glad I did: live in the house for a while before decorating or buying new furniture. After a few weeks, I decided to make the primary bedroom my office…great decision, but totally different from how I’d originally planned to use the rooms. Overall, buying a home is a MASSIVE accomplishment; I occasionally have to remind myself that if I do nothing else to this house, I will be fine.
You did so much, and it all looks beautiful. The best advice we got, do projects that you can shut the door and not see it! Also, we had our bathroom tile in our garage for 4 years before we installed it. I wished we had done it sooner, but when you only have one bathroom and are doing a DIY timing gets complicated! I also love how you are factoring in your time to campaigns, we all need the reminder to value our time at what it is worth!
Wow! I hope you bought lots of extra tile. That would freak me out that we would need more and not be able to get the same tiles or even the same color!
I really appreciate the part of prioritizing the whole list and realizing wants versus needs. We bought a new house, completely builder’s grade, and did an excellent job of getting the trees down first and then a fence, and then the rest of the stuff was able to settle and 5 years later, a lot of the things left are silly and things that shouldn’t be on the list at all. But with a lot of the personality of brought back into the home, its so nice to be sitting on the couch and enjoying it!
Love this topic and discussion. We’ve been in our current home for 2.5 years, and looking back, I wish we had updated both bathrooms prior to moving in (we had a miraculous 3-week window where we had rent-back on our previous house but had closed on our current one). That also would have been before the pandemic and related supply chain headaches. Since we are not gifted DIYers, we recently fielded quotes from GCs on the estimated costs to do a mid-grade (think some Home Depot plus a few splurges from Rejuvenation, etc) rip-and-replace renovation on both bathrooms–we have no desire to expand the footprint, move walls or plumbing, etc. The estimates were breathtaking–all the companies came in around $35k to $40k for each bathroom, meaning up to $80k total. To say we were stunned is an understatement. It would also take minimum 8 weeks (we were thinking of moving out to a nearby AirBnb for the duration which would add another ~$6,000 to the cost), and one company mentioned they are currently booking for Sept 2022 jobs. We decided to not pursue for now, and instead bought a nice rug to cover up the ugly tile and an expensive… Read more »
I don’t know if I could even handle one bathroom renovation let alone two. That price seems exorbitant but I know a lot depends on where you currently live.
I would have done exactly what you did and put a rug down to cover the tile. I painted the vanity and had a new quartz top with two sinks and faucets installed for less than $750 five years ago. It made a huge difference
and even though I would love a complete remodel I know I probably wouldn’t get my money back in return and once I add new flooring it will be fine. Paint is your friend along with your suggestion of shower curtain and towels.
My shower curtain hides a brown tub:):):):):)
We live right outside of Portland, Oregon so likely very close to Emily’s new house 🙂 Fwiw, all three GCs said labor costs have skyrocketed, especially for the plumbing and tile-setting trades and they expect that to continue for the foreseeable future. One GC also mentioned he thinks in terms of “B.C.” (before Covid) and “A.C.” (after Covid), and that whatever prices we thought would be in the reasonable/in-the-ballpark range is just not reflecting reality. And we had contacted what I would consider solid, middle-of-the-road companies (i.e. not super high-end luxury design-build firms) and the estimates were all consistently in that $35k range per bathroom. It does mean that people are shelling out for renovations bc all of them have more than enough business that they are turning down jobs.
Dang. I’d have thought $20K for a bathroom would be wildly exorbitant!
We are in month five of new home ownership and your post resonated so hard, on every level. I hear ya- and am so impressed by your accomplishments! We won’t have finished nearly as much when we hit our “house-aversary.” And please, talk more about your closet upgrades. That’s on my list and I never realized it would be so important. And closets aren’t the most exciting yet they make a huge difference in daily life and functionality. But they can get expensive fast (or too too cheap and terrible). Would love to hear more about how you tackled those- because I want your playbook!
When I bought my house, it seemed like anything I wanted to do in it started at $5000 and took twice as long as I had anticpated. It’s worth it though in the long run.
Thanks for sharing! BTW, anyone who thinks they were “pretty well prepared for their homeownership journey” was dreaming, including me. 🙂 It is ok to cut yourself some slack, because nothing ever truly goes according to plan and sometimes the diversions and curves in the road turn out to be the best decisions in the end! Don’t be too hard on yourselves, you are both doing just great, and what you’ve accomplished is excellent, especially during Covid when the world has become infinitely harder to negotiate. Hang in, and carry on.
I think you accomplished a lot in one year of ownership! Cheers to you and your husband. Make a cocktail, have a seat and put your feet up, y’all deserve it!
Albie, I relate to all of this!!! I also have a pile of things ordered that have been waiting a year or us to have time. You’ve done an amazing job so far!
I appreciate the reminder of “you don’t know what you don’t know” and just being more gracious with ourselves. Thank you!
I remember that GREAT kitchen of yours — still makes me jealous! I totally get what you’re saying. When my sister and I renovated (all of) our townhouse, we spent a year researching and looking and discussing, and we still felt like we could have done more. This is a wonderful article and good advice for anyone.
Albie, can I just say, I *love* your contributions to this blog. Each one of your reveals is beautiful and innovative but also very relatable… you are definitely designing this home around your family’s needs and I love that. And now, this discussion on being a new homeowner, the stresses, the costs, the missteps. A great read, and food for thought.
Although, I am totally jealous of how much you have accomplished. I’ve been in my home 3 years, and I’m not a newbie homeowner (it’s our 3rd, each place had its own quirks), but I have so many unfinished rooms and projects! Perks (and pressures) of being a content creator I guess, but still!
Were there any projects you did BECAUSE you had sponsorship, in other words you would have put them off if you didn’t have any help?
Albie, I love your forthright honesty! It’s all exciying, exhilarating and dang hard!!!
I restored a craftsman in 3 and a bit months a few years back. But wasn’t living in it and it’s small…a 2 bedroom cottage.
My ‘lesson’ is, once it’s done, it’s not finished. Meaning, old houses have a lot of maintenance to be done on the regular.
I l9ve that you’ve built in some dpace to re-boot sndrest, because without that, burn-out grabs!
One thing I learned over a course of many house renovations is don’t put the yard work at the bottom of the list, because it can take years for plants to fill in – the longer you put it off, the longer your curb appeal will suffer.
I do and did my plants first because it was easier and more fun and relaxing than facing the mess indoors! Every time I get anxious I get my hands into dirt- plus you get fast results, which is sweet and cheering. Its fun and boosts morale to come home to flowers!
No one talks about what things cost? Huh? That information is readily available EVERYWHERE.
That’s a huge amount of progress in a year, well done. We have done less than that and are coming up to our 6th year here!
Yeah you did SO MUCH! I have been living alone in my house for a year and I am all DIY… I have removed one huge popcorn ceiling and one small one, painted, renovated, and decorated my huge living room, 3 small rooms, and one bathroom, and planted a million plants ( last year every time I got nervous abut COVID I put a plant in the ground LOL). I also bought large marble slabs on CL and smacked them i onto my crappy counters for instant wabi sabi white marble counters- for $80!
I have a long list.. but its OK. I feel like its very hard to do this stuff alone while working 2 jobs during COVID.. In my mind If I had a partner I could delegate , but more likely if I had. partner they would questions some of my harebrained schemes!
I also bought my first house about a year ago. It was my grandparents’ house for 60 years, and my grandma is still alive (living with my aunt and uncle), so I’ve had to balance making the house my own with respecting the fact that both she and my family need to time to get used to some of the changes I want to make. I am a single, 27-year-old woman, and I bought the house by myself. Thankfully, the house is in good condition (a bit dated, but mostly only needs cosmetic updates- and thankfully the kitchen is almost brand new), but even though I don’t have any big issues that need to be taken care of, I have found that owning a house is certainly a challenge. I’m struggling most with the updates I can’t do myself and will need to hire out- everything seems so crazy expensive! My expectations for what I wanted to get done this year were definitely a bit unreasonable- but I’m almost done with a full bedroom renovation (that my dad and I did entirely by ourselves), I refreshed my bathroom for about $200, and I’ve furnished most of the house (I only… Read more »
Hi Albie, great job on your home and thank you for this post!
We are one month in-first time homeowners of a run down 1964 ranch house. I feel like crying or hiding most of the time!
We also intend to update our HVAC, which is an expensive and unsexy project that you never hear about, can you tell me a little about what you did and please share your #’s. We are getting wildy high quotes.