How We Decided to Buy a Fixer-Upper

I feel like buying a house is a little like having a baby – while you’re in it, it’s all you can think / read / obsess / talk about to the point your family draws straws over who has to sit next to you at dinner because HOW MANY TIMES CAN A PERSON SAY THE WORD “VICTORIAN” IN ONE HOUR? (A lot. Definitely more than you’d think.)

So, for all you potential house hunters out there, come, sit by my side and let’s discuss (and discuss) how we ended up with a fixer upper and if it’s something you too might want to do (spoiler alert: it’s not for the weak of heart).

We started looking at houses in Denver (we were living in California) about five years ago. I’m from Denver so it was always on our radar to maybe come back one day, but we just couldn’t decide where we wanted to be (which is a very long post for another day), so we’d look at houses and try to imagine our life in different neighborhoods, hoping that one would reach out and smack us into a decision.

This didn’t happen.

But, I think there was a real advantage to looking for all of those years – we reallllly knew the Denver market (and our realtor – hi, Irene!) so when we finally did decide to move back we had narrowed it down to several neighborhoods and had a pretty good sense of what was out there.

Before I go further, I just want to acknowledge we’re incredibly lucky to be in a space where we have so many options. One of the advantages of moving from California’s crazy pants market to anywhere really is your dollar goes a whole lot further. This definitely was a factor in deciding to move back – the idea we would actually have options was pretty darn exciting!

Now, Denver proper tends to be two things:  sweet bungalows and new builds (mainly very modern). While I liked the charm and quirks of bungalows, I had serious hesitations after living in mainly older houses for the past 20 years. I’d lived in too many places with tiny rooms, no storage, crazy plumbing, and scary discoveries like when we found out our dryer was blowing lint directly into our wall.

I wanted a home we could move into and not have to spend all our time fixing and working around things like we’d done in the past.

We looked at a bunch of new builds, but it quickly became evident that my very specific tastes (a love of all things pink) would require taking out everything they’d just installed, which seemed ridiculous, cost-wise and waste-wise.

So, then I thought, what about a new build we’d design from the ground up? I met with several builders, but, over the course of the five years we were looking, the Denver market went crazy (not California crazy, but close enough) and it became out of our reach financially.

At this point, my husband and I had a sit down. Because I’m all about visioning and setting intentions, we came up with a list of the things we most wanted in a house. We got super-clear on our vision of what we wanted our life to look like – walkability, kids being able to ride bikes, sense of community, backyard – all the things we’d want for our dream life.

And, I know a lot of people think visioning is kooky, but, for us, it changed everything. Both of us could suddenly see and feel our new life – it wasn’t abstract anymore. When I’d walk into a space, I also had a checklist to judge a place by so I could stay focused on our priorities rather than getting derailed by details like a Prohibition-era liquor cabinet in a house that had asbestos (I seriously would have have bought that place because can you imagine the house tours I could give?!?!).

It also helped our realtor keep us on track and gave her a better sense of what we were looking for. Which is why when this particular Victorian came up she kept encouraging me to go look at.

Now, I DID NOT want a Victorian. It said very clearly on the list, NO VICTORIANS, in caps, because of all the reasons outlined above (small rooms, no closet space, etc). But, Irene kept bringing this house up and I kept shooting it down until finally she just drove me there.

And, it was love at first sight, because who wouldn’t walk into this space and think, “I am home!” ????

But, I truly felt it in my bones. It had the airy, open feel I wanted, but charm and quirks galore (I mean look at that staircase! And sloping ceiling! And potential reading nook under the stairs!). Because it was in such poor shape, we were going to have to put in all new systems so I wasn’t going to have to deal with brown water from old pipes. I also loved the idea of restoring a house and keeping a little piece of Denver history alive. Plus, I could make it just how I wanted (so. much. pink. tile.).

As we were going through the list, it ticked off every single item, outside of the fact it was a Victorian, which I suddenly realized was exactly what I never knew I wanted.

Now, the jump between deciding to buy a fixer upper and actually owning it is massive and involves getting contractor bids to see if you can actually afford it, talking to banks to see if they will finance it (not all of them will do construction loans), and looking deep into your marriage to see if it can withstand the inevitable stress that comes from spending way more time and money than you originally thought.

Because that is a very real thing. EVERYONE kept telling me to plan on it costing more time and money than we originally planned for and I kept blowing them off because what did they know? You guys, PLAN FOR MORE MONEY AND TIME THAN YOU THINK.

Inevitably, you’re going to find issues that you can’t see in the initial rundown (we had our contractors do a very thorough analysis but there’s a difference between going into a place for a couple hours and then actually starting to dig). And the time thing? Let’s just say, we bought the place almost seven months ago and we’re JUST NOW starting to break ground because of permitting and a million other things outside of our control.

It requires serious patience, margaritas, a sense of humor, quite a bit of crying, and a real commitment. But, is it worth it? For me, definitely. Every time I go into our new house, it feels like home, more than any other space I’ve ever been in, and I can’t wait to get in there. (The kids would not agree – they refer to it as “the haunted house” and are terrified of move in day even though I keep reassuring them it’s going to look very different).

So, there you have it! If I had to boil it down it would be:

-spend some serious time determining what’s most important to you

-look at a ton of places so you really know what’s out there and can drill down into where you want to be

-stay open because you never know what might be around the corner

-plan for more money and time than you initially think ????

-buy margarita mix in bulk

Thanks for going along on this little ride! We’re starting to design the house (ACK!) – I’m planning on sharing what we’re thinking in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, who are your faves to follow for design inspo online? xx.

  1. Zack says:

    Looks like you’ve got your hands full 🙂

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