The art of compromise (NOT to be confused with “settling”)

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First, let me explain something about the home buying and house hunting process…

Unless you are one of the very lucky buyers with the budget to build a dream home or buy a 3-4,000 square foot McMansion, you will have to prioritize and compromise. Even buying a huge home, you will still find small things to compromise on. When you are working within a modest budget, there WILL be things that you do without or have to give up. It’s the law of life when it comes to real estate.

Jeff and I rented for 4.5 years. We did not want a starter home. I am not the person to buy a home and go through that process to sell it again in a few years. It’s not our thing. We waited to buy a home we could stay in.

What did “A home we can stay in” mean, exactly? It meant a desirable town and school system, a great layout, and enough space for each child to have their own room, as well as “hangout” space. It had to be able to sustain up to 2 kids comfortably. It had to be close to our family, and I sure as hell wasn’t moving out of Jersey.

2 items on our original “must haves” list were an attached garage and 2 full baths.

And guess what? We are 0 for 2 with this house. And it’s just fine.

We have a large, newer, and fabulous shed, an attic that is easy to access, and an indoor storage room the size of a sizable bedroom. So the original 1960’s sized 1-car garage was closed up and finished to extend the den to 25 feet. Due to that, the den now includes a fabulous fireplace. Guess which room we hang out in the most? That one! We like having the living space.

So how to tweak the house in the future? We’d like to add cement and extend the driveway on a curve up the side of the house for more parking/car workspace, and possibly add a carport. We are a corner lot and have lots of space in the front to work with.

By the time you get your car in these older 1-car garages, you don’t really have room to get around anyway.

The bathroom situation is different. We’ve got 1.5, and they are small. My sister’s 1963 split has a large main bathroom, which is nice. But we do not have large bathrooms.

And hey…it’s fine. We’ve got 2 toilets in the house at least. And when we have kids who start growing up, we can find space in the house to create another. We could do something with giving up 1 of 2 master closets and convert by borrowing some space into the room, which is a good size. OR, we (like many families throughout history) make do. Kids shower at night and the parents in the morning, or vice versa. Whatever.

This is not about “settling” for less. It’s about prioritizing.

Also, when both my husband and I are both salaried teachers, this home will account for a measly 20% of our income! This means we can renovate as we’d like, buy a new car, save for retirement, take vacations, and enjoy the good life. We will never be slaves to our home.

We live in an amazing small NJ town with extremely desirable schools. Before the bubble burst, our home would have cost 250k. We got it for 195k, but 5k of that was closing fees that were rolled in. So the home itself cost 190k. Reminder that this is NJ! Also, I’ll note that when we bought a few months ago, we locked in a 3.25 interest rate!!!

So the cons:

*No attached garage.

*1.5 rather 2 full baths, and no bath in the master (which, though desirable, is not a neccessity. This was not done in the 60’s).

Now for the pros:

*Nice-sized kitchen that has an eat-in area.

*Neighborhood playground around the corner.

*Beautiful formal dining room that is open to the formal living room.

*Half bath downstairs where the entertainment space is located (nobody needs to go upstairs to use one).

*Large den.

*Beautiful fireplace of white brick and silestone. It’s gas but can be converted back to wood-burning if we ever wanted that.

*Plenty of possible play space for kids

*2,000 square feet, a rarity in this area on our budget

*A large indoor storage room.

*An amount of closet space that is almost shocking for this time period. The closets are big and they are deep!

*3 larger bedrooms. This home model came in a 4 bedroom model, which our good friends across the street have. Which means that our 18 foot master would be sliced in half! We love that we have 3 big bedrooms and that our children will never be cramped (they will appreciate their closets, too)

*An attic that is actually accessible!

*Hardwood floors throughout (nice, original oak).

*Heat and AC that are 2 years old.

*Newer hot water heater.

*Newer siding and roof, about 5 or so years old.

All life is a compromise. The important thing was that we missed only 2 items on our dream list!

Don’t be a financial moron….BUY WHAT YOU CAN AFFORD! Do not overextend. We bought based on what we bring in now knowing that our income will shoot up within a couple years. You do not buy based on the future, because the future can not pay the bills now! Live below your means, and trust me…when you can afford your home, you love it more.

So don’t be afraid to make concessions 😉

*Quality, expensive shed in the back.

*New white PVC privacy fence

*Great laundry room/mud room.

Light, bright, and white…Kitchen edition!

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When we got our house, our kitchen had extremely good “bones”. It is a nice size, there is a good amount of storage, the seller put “Granite Transformations” counters in (granite fabricated to lay over your existing counter), and there is a stainless steel sink with a fabulous faucet. The floor is a slate laminate that is newer and in great shape.

All in all, not bad and definitely workable!

Here were the downsides:

1.) Walls that were so 1973 mustard yellow that looking at them actually hurt my eyes.

2.) Dated appliances (the 1991 black fridge with creme sides and an old dishwasher that I don’t think has that much “juice” left in it). I will say that I have a fairly new black Whirpool gas range that is very nice!

3.) Oak cabinets with bright gold brass knobs. I don’t like the color of the oak, but will say that these are extremely high quality cabinets that probably cost a ton of money originally. All joints are dovetailed, the craftsmanship is excellent.

4.) An absolutely hideous “backsplash” of shiny, textured linoleum tile with tan flower bouquets on some of them.

5.) Weird, unpainted beadboard in a knotty-wood design.

It just looked really, really dated. And too dark!!! There was way too much wood and it didn’t feel cheery at all (despite the blazing yellow). And it was totally missing what is really important to me…

Whimsy! Where was the element of fun, the touch of the unique? Nowhere to be found!

So as always, here are some “before” photos for you to cringe at:

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See what I mean? Good bones, bad choices. Dated, dated, dated.

I am a “warm tones” person through-and-through! Warm colors feel homey, comfy, and inviting to me. Despite this, for whatever reason, I have always dreamed of a white kitchen!

Before tackling the cabinets and the beadboard, I freaked out one day and couldn’t take the yellow anymore. Jeff and I picked out our paint and the color we went with was Olympic’s “Secret Passage”. We got to work painting the kitchen right away(which was a very challenging room to paint, by the way).

The end result was a color that is my favorite color in the house! To say I love it would be a major understatement. It is a thousand times better, and I no longer want to shove bamboo shoots in my eyes every time I enter my  kitchen.

Here is what our kitchen looked like after we painted:ImageImage

HUGE improvement!

To keep the proverbial ball rolling right along, we decided to paint the beadboard white as our next kitchen project. We had some leftover bonding primer from the den and leftover trim paint from the baseboards and trim on the stairs. Here was the result:Image

It already looks like a different room! Notice my owl switchplate cover (I named her “Hedwig, naturally), the outlet cover that is gorgeous but too small in the photo to see, the bird print, the brass “G” monogram tree centerpiece, the runner, and the 3 small tree stumps wrapped in twine. In earlier photos you will notice the aqua blue and white knobs that look like Super Mario turtle shells. Remember earlier when I said the kitchen needed some whimsy? That’s what I meant.

After this, we were planning to wait a while to do our cabinets, but in the Greenberg household, that seems to translate to “next week”. Hah!

So we went for it! We first got clean cloth and wiped down all of the cabinets with mineral spirits to dull the lacquer and give the paint a better surface to adhere to. With our trusty Valspar bonding primer, we gave the outside of the cabinets 2 coats and the inside of the doors got 1. We chose semi-gloss paint (nice and easy to scrub), and the color was Behr’s “Snow Drift” so that it was a little softer than straight trim paint. We did them while hung, but most people remove the cabinets and hardware. We took off the knobs and taped over the hinges. We found that tiny 4-inch rollers and 2 inch trim brushes (with a tiny brush for details) were all that we needed to give the cabinets a smooth, non-streaky finish. The small rollers really did an amazing job making an even finish, while the trim brushed filled in the grooves where the roller could not reach. Here’s a photo of what you need:Image

Let me note that you CAN get spray paint. You can find a special paint made for wood and cabinets, but be aware that this is a pricier option (though also easier). Our goal was “as cheap as possible”, so we chose the traditional paint method.

Now for the most fun part…the results, the transformation, the “WOW” factor that white gives a kitchen. You will never believe it’s the same room:

And

Here

We

Go

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(Last one is blurred due to the natural sunlight coming in, sorry about that).

WOW, WOW, WOW, RIGHT?!

It does not look like the same space! We are ecstatic about it. It’s bright, light, cheery, and feels even larger. Talk about doing it on a shoestring budget! This “update” was as cheap as it gets.

All right, now for…

The cost comparison:

DIY: $100 for materials that include bonding primer, paint, and supplies.

Professional: A good ballpark estimate for refinishing cabinets is about $2,000. There is a very slight chance it would be lower, but it’s more likely to be even higher.

The future for our kitchen holds:

1.) Stainless appliances.

2.) A glass mosaic tile backsplash.

3.) The wall knocked down to open it to the dining room, leaving a small partition to hold a custom-made island that is both table for 4 and prep/storage space. THIS will not come cheap. We can do most of the demo ourselves, but we will need a professional to move electrical work and finish it off perfectly. My contractor will build me the island, white finished hardwood with a large granite or cement top.

4.) Perhaps furthest into the future, a new floor. My heart is currently set on good wood laminate that looks like driftwood. If not, I will likely go for a medium-colored Pergo. I am not a fan of tile, so laminate it is!

My very fervent hope is that we can get all of the above for between $5,000-6,000, and that is all the money I ever want to put into the kitchen. Compared to what most homeowners spend on kitchen remodels, this is ridiculously cheap. I think we can do it!

But for right now and while money is tight, I love my kitchen.

The dreaded “BEFORE” photos!

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I thought I would show you the “lovely” photos of the house from the original listing and from when inspection was done. A lot of it is…let’s just say, NOT ideal. The house was immaculate and clean enough to eat off the floors, but the decor was completely not our taste. The house had great “bones” and a world of potential. You must be able to look past paint color, carpet, and decor!

This was the bathroom…the very beachy, very busy, very dated main bathroom:

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The half-bath downstairs:

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The den:

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The entryway-foyer:

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The formal living room:

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The dining room:

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The kitchen. Hang on to your hat, because it’s about to get YELLOW:

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Upstairs hallway:

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The staircase:

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The master bedroom:

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The current guest room:

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The current office:

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The laundry/utility room:

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And these beautiful machines!!! I hugged them when we moved in. The very kind sellers threw them into the deal when we accepted their counteroffer.

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The storage room, or what we call the “indoor garage” You will notice wood paneling and green astroturf carpet! We actually don’t care, because all this room is for is storage. Maybe I’ll freshen it up eventually, time will tell:

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The backyard:

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Side yard:

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So, that is what we had to work with. It’s come so far in just a short time and is a continual work-in-progress. I can’t wait to show you the many changes we have made, will make, and the new projects we undertake in time.

The 70’s are calling, they want their wood paneling back!

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Ahhh yes, the classic “never should have happened” fetish that is wood paneling. WHO ever thought this was a great idea?! It is ugly, makes any room feel like an absolute dark cave, lets no light in, and gives you a feeling that your walls are closing in on you.

*facepalm*

You can imagine our delight when we toured what is now our home and saw this. Here come the “before” photos. Brace yourselves, it’s bad. Like, terrible, horrible, no good, very bad awful. Paneling come at you in 3…2…1…Image

Check out that sunburst fixture. HELLO 1960’s! I loved it for about a day and then saw the light. It then became a fun game between us and our friends who own a house one neighborhood away, where we’d each drop it off at the other’s house in weird places and pass it back and forth. It was fun for about a week until I put it at the curb. I digress! Here’s the back end of the room, so that you get the full effect of this loveliness:

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UGH. I can’t even. This room is 25 feet long, and that is a lot of wood paneling.

So, when faced with this, you’ve got 3 options:

1.) Leave it alone (option 1 is for those with rocks in their head, don’t pick option 1).

2.) Paint over it using a quality bonding primer with a good paint.

3.) Take it down.

Here are the possible issues with option 3:

*You have NO clue what is behind it. There may or not be drywall underneath it. If so, it may be damaged and you may not be able to salvage it. If you get lucky, there is drywall under it in good condition and you can paint. Again, this is a risk. If you choose this, be fully prepared to hire out a contractor to re-rock/re-drywall the whole room. THIS, friends, doesn’t come cheap. We know this firsthand (more on that hot mess at a later date).

If you didn’t already deduce it, we chose option 2. And to be perfectly honest, I am thrilled that we did. If you buy the right materials, it’s a great-looking, dirt-cheap update that completely transforms a room. There is no comparison. I hated how dark and cavernous the paneling made our den, which is large with a stunning white brick and silestone fireplace and tons of space. It kind of ruined it. In our minds, while looking at the catastrophe that was the paneling, the only solution was “WHITE!”.

Those who know me well were surprised by this. I like my walls neutral and unexpected color pops in my decor, but I can’t stand white walls. Looking at the room, however, it’s exactly what we envisioned. A beautiful, soft white that would lighten, brighten, and cheer up the room! Semi-gloss paint is (in my humble opinion) way too shiny to use over paneling, so Jeff and I chose an eggshell finish.

Before I get to the nitty-gritty (and photos), I will tell you that painting paneling is not a pleasant task, and is much more irritating than painting flat drywall. But the end result is completely worthwhile. Another thing that shocked me was how much I truly loved the texture/look of the paneling after painting. I am a texture-person all the way, and I find it so pleasing to look at.

The first thing to do is get yourself a good bonding primer. It’s worth its weight in gold and is one of the most underrated renovation products on the market (more on the joys of bonding primer at a later date). It negates the need for sanding or “roughing up” the paneling, and provides a surface that your paint can adhere to. It’s going to give you strong, long-lasting wear. We used Valspar’s, and it’s fabulous:

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As for materials, the best ones for this job are a few different sizes of trim brushes (my local dollar store carries them 3 to a pack (multiple sizes) for $1). You need this for the trim and for between the grooves in the panels (which is a pain in the you-know-what). You’ll also need rollers. Just, please, whatever you do…NEVER use foam/sponge rollers. Foam rollers equal air and bubbles. Here’s a photo of the priming (the rockstar in this photo who helped me tackle this room is my best friend of nearly 24 years, Kerrie):Image

And here we go again:Image

As you can see, my side is a lot heavier. I have a heavier hand with paint than she does, but it all came out even and beautiful in the end. You can already see what a difference it will make in this one small section with the soft white paint on it:Image

It’s already a thousand times improved, no?

If you take on this project, make sure to paint your trim and baseboard, and be sure to get between all of the grooves. Any uneven or falling parts of molding can be nailed back in or up, or caulked for a seamless finish. Hubby went around caulking in here once all was finished. My sister is great at trim and got both the bonding primer and a first coat of paint on all the trim in the room! This space was a true team-effort, and I am so thankful. I can’t say it was fun, but painting this room did turn into a singalong and dance party (typical in our house)!

So to recap, This is what we inherited (also note the “magical” polished brass ceiling fan that has since been replaced):

ImageAnd this fabulous room is what we’ve got now:Image

Image(And in the back of the room, we opted to set up a game table):Image

Here’s a pulled-back view of the room, with my “daughter” hanging out and walking around (you can see a glimpse of our nice, new rubbed-bronze fan, too):Image

And remember the bizarre 60’s sunburst-looking fixture as the centerpiece for the fireplace? Here is the mantle now:Image

See what I mean about the texture of painted paneling being nice? The soft white paint we used (Olympic’s “Delicate White”) ended up being just what we needed. It feels comfy, bright, and inviting in here now. All for the cost of paint and some materials! Such a complete and utter transformation!

The future of this room includes ripping out the carpet and putting down a nice laminate at a later date. For now, I am living with the carpet.

As always, the price comparison of DIY VS Professional:

DIY: About $100 for paint and supplies

Professional: At the low end for priming and painting the room, you’ll see about $750-800. On the higher (and likely more realistic) end: You’re up over $1,000. If you want a pro to take it down, prime and paint existing drywall, you are over $1,000. If they remove bad drywall behind the panels and have to re-rock the room, you’re now in multi-thousands.

Once again, DIY is dynamite.

Hello, hardwood!

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Okay. So, you’ve just bought a house that is covered in carpet. Maybe it’s nice carpet, maybe it’s musty, old, stained carpet. Either way, it’s not what you want. You find out that there is hardwood underneath them.

That is really the luckiest scenario. If they’re in any kind of shape, it’s a whole, WHOLE lot easier to refinish them than to lay new wood throughout your home. Granted, you take the risk of them possibly being in bad condition when you tear out the carpet, but it’s the only way to do it. I will admit that, although not our style, we had very nice, plush, clearly pricey carpet throughout our home when we bought it. It didn’t matter, because once we knew there was “amber gold” under there (my nerdy husband’s phrase), we were itching to get started. We couldn’t wait to get rid of this:Image

And this:

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And THIS (YUCK…REALLY?!)

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THAT is what we were working with. The photos make me cringe. Now, we were prepared to outlay the expense of new flooring if we had to, if the wood couldn’t be saved or was in too bad of shape. Fortunately, we got lucky beyond our wildest dreams, because the floor was in a much better condition than we could have hoped for! The first step, is cutting the carpet with a razor into manageable “sections” to then rip out. We tag-teamed this job and pulled together. Teamwork makes it easier! Here is Jeff pulling up the first piece of carpet in the house:

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(Cute, isn’t he).

See the oddly-colored foam stuff under the actual carpet? That is the pad, the insulation. Sometimes it’s super easy to pull up, sometimes the installer goes adhesive-happy and you have to all but scrape it off. Either way, it has to go. Once you pull up the carpet and the foam, you will notice you are left with tac-strips around the perimeter (that hold the carpet in place), and what appears to be about 3 million staples. Brace yourself, this is the WORST part! There’s no short-cut to be learned here, you just have to get yourself a good pair of locking pliers and pick them ALL out. Some will fight you, too! You can always go back if you miss one, but it is so important that you do a thorough job of staple removal before you sand, because nothing tears up sandpaper and screens like stubborn, evil staples. Here is our tac-strip garden/collection (that very happy man is my new across-the-street ne.Image

A fair warning: The worst part area in the house for carpet removal WILL be the stairs. You will need to pull and rip with all your might because It will really be on there! Or, like us, you have a beast of a brother-in-law who yanks it out for you…thanks, Steve!

Once the carpet is gone, you have pulled out the staples, and you have removed the tac-strips, you’re ready to refinish. You’ve got several options. Our home is a 1965 center-hall colonial, and they nearly always had oak hardwood and (for whatever reason) pine stairs. I am a huge fan of oak hardwood because of its grain, beauty, and durability. You can choose to change the color of the floor with a stain, which only adds an extra step and more drying time…or, you can leave the wood its natural color and skip to the poly after you sand. Our floor was 50+ years old, and we decided to leave it its natural color.

Onto sanding: You can rent the sander at your local Home Depot. Usually, an orbital sander is used for deep sanding. We chose a drum sander, because we were able to get away with more of a good “scuff” than a deep sand. DON’T sand too much, you don’t want to wear away too much of the wood, which is especially true in an older home. Best practice is always to sand in long strokes, with the grain. This will bring out your floor’s natural beauty. For stairs, you can use a small hand-sander, which will make the job easy for you. We own one, but you can rent one. Here’s the drum sander:

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(I was SO happy to have hardwood floors).

Here is what sanding the stairs looks like with the hand-sander:

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Once you’ve sanded the whole area, and are down to bare wood, it’s time to vacuum up the dust. We found that a shop-vac was perfect for this job:Image

Your next choice to make is going to be what type of poly you want. Decide whether you want a gloss or semi-gloss finish. We chose semi in the bedrooms and gloss everywhere else but most people choose between the two. You can go with oil-based or water-based poly. I’ll break each option down for you:

Oil-Often more durable, a bit more scratch-resistant, much higher fumes, and slow drying time. Oil-based poly will “amber” over time, darkening your floor. For some, this is a great thing and a look they enjoy, because it will eventually accomplish what a coat of stain might have.

Water-based: fast-drying (a matter of hours per coat), low fumes, and will NOT darken over time or change the color of the floor. You can walk on it 24 hours after the last coat and it cures within a week. It’s 90% of the way there in a couple of days, so this is a GREAT option for a family who needs their home back quickly or in a pinch.

Here’s a good comparison, bearing in mind that the oil side will “amber” or darken more with time:

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To brush on the poly, you can buy a special sponge mop with changeable head for the job at any home-supply store. It will give you a great finish. You pour the poly on and then “brush” it around with the mop in long streaks so that it’s even. Just make sure you leave yourself a way out of the room!!

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So pretty! Then you simply let dry and enjoy 🙂

Looks like a lot of work, right? It is. But here’s the best part, and it’s the cost breakdown of doing it DIY vs hiring a pro.

DIY: With the cost of the poly, sander-rental and paper/screens, mop, brushes, and supplies, we spent about $350 total.

Pro: To have a professional remove your carpet, tac-strips, and staples, sand and then poly your floors in the whole house…you’re talking about $3,000 on the lower end and $5,000 on the higher. Staining adds extra cost because of the extra labor. The costs are ALL labor, because it’s such a labor-intensive job.

The difference is staggering! So roll up those sleeves, get your hands dirty, and get to work…and save a TON of money!

This is the start of something good, don’t you agree?

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^That right there is one of the best feelings in the world.

This photo was taken after closing on April 26th, 2013. It was a delightful experience with these sellers and the process from the start. It took 5 minutes to go from initial offer, to counteroffer, to negotiating an inclusion, and acceptance on both sides! It was said by everyone involved to be the nicest, most smooth-sailing settlement they ever did. Seriously, it involved hugs, laughter, crumb cake, coffee, jokes, and chatting with the sellers throughout…as pleasant as it gets! We were lucky enough to have the best possible people working for us, from our realtor, to our mortgage broker, to the settlement officer. On that red-letter day, our celebration was twofold: It was our 4-year wedding anniversary AND  our “homeowner day”. Not too shabby! 😉

And so it began…