The Fixer Upper has become quite a trendy thing in our modern climate – but are they for everyone? We’re here to help answer that question by sharing about our experience.
I say We because my husband, Colby – or “He Holds Dearly” as we’re calling him now when he joins me on videos or in the blog – and I sat down together and chatted about our pros and cons of buying our fixer upper 10 years ago, and the now decade of experience we have shared in the process.
This blog post is a merger of our two opinions and thoughts about the subject! To watch the full interview, head over to YouTube!
Our personal fixer-upper saga started 10 years ago when we Found Our Way Home to our 1906 farmhouse.
Note: That story on the blog was actually the first blog post ever published for She Holds Dearly, now almost 4 years ago.
We had been living in a regular American suburban neighborhood in a regular suburban house – but we knew that it wasn’t a place we wanted to live forever.
We had actually been searching and narrowing down our dream-house list for 10 years leading up to the point that we purchased the farmhouse.
If you didn’t know this about us already, I have a background in interior design, and Colby has a background in construction.
At the time we also owned a remodeling and painting business, and had three young children, ages 8, 6 and 4!
I think we kind of figured that our own fixer upper would be a playground to hone our remodel skills for the business.
We had successes and struggles through the journey, and we’re hopeful that this blog will help give a realistic view of what you might expect if you’re hoping to start fixing up an older home of your own.
What Made us Do It?
For Colby, one of the biggest motivations for this house specifically was a desire to be able to raise our children more in a country life rather than suburbia. Both of us grew up in more rural areas, so it made sense that we wanted that for our kids, too.
I actually wrote about that similar motivation a few years back in a blog called, Why we Chose the Farm Life.
We also knew we wanted to have a bit more space, not just within the house (our previous house was about 1,300 sq ft and on a 1/8 acre lot), but also in the property.
We wanted them to have opportunities to do things like build forts, play in a creek, grow things and take care of animals. Things that can be done in the bounds of neighborhoods – but that take on a different meaning when doing them on a larger scale.
When we first checked out the house before buying it three days later, Colby mentioned how he remembered watching our children running and rolling down the grassy hill – it was a confirmation for him that this was the place for us.
Looking back we realize that they really did need the space – something we hadn’t really noticed – but God knew, and he opened the door for our 4 acre farm at just the right time.
Prior to finding this house, we actually had been thinking that we would end up building our dream home. We weren’t specifically in the market for a fixer upper.
But time and again (3 times, to be specific) we were in the process of settling on a place and confirming utilities, permits, etc and the plan would fall apart.
Those things were disappointing at the time – but that ultimately allowed us to be ready for this house when the time was right.
We think of it almost like we fell into a fixer upper accidentally.
Which, although it’s worked out well over the long run – meant that we had both pros and cons about the experience.
What Went Well?
| Having a Shed for Work Space |
Something we both realized was a real blessing during the entire process was that our property had a large 4-bay shop that was invaluable for storing tools and supplies, fabricating & building things, and being able to work straight through poor weather.
We would absolutely recommend having some kind of garage or shop space if you’re going to tackle a fixer upper.
The bulk of the messiest work was done prior to us moving in to the house, but even once we lived there and when we would tackle bigger projects I remember it feeling similar to being in the process of moving again.
Larger furniture Items would be moved to different rooms to create work space, and personal belongings or household items would be packed up in boxes. Having storage for those things was really beneficial as well.
| Getting to Use our Skill Sets |
I was personally really glad that we got to tap into our own two personal backgrounds (design & construction) and use bits and pieces of our previous knowledge for the projects that we wanted to do.
Throughout the process our skills weren’t just utilized, but were also really stretched!
Colby mentioned that he appreciated having connections with other friends and co-workers within the trades (framing, plumbing, electrical) that he was able to lean on for advice and opinions.
| A Healthy Dose of Perseverance |
I often think of it as stubbornness, but being able to persevere, even through frustrations and setbacks is a skill that will serve you well in a fixer upper process.
We found lots of surprises while working, (like an old Diary in the walls) and the ability to keep looking for answers, asking the important questions, and putting in the time was really beneficial to the overall process.
| Kept our Family Intact |
Looking back I also think we did a good job of including our entire family when possible, and making things fun and exciting.
My children look back on those early remodeling years with fond memories!
That’s not to say that it wasn’t stressful sometimes as the parents, trying to keep young children safe around construction and building tools – but it does a heart good to be reminded that to your children, it was a grand adventure.
Another great thing that I consider a great privilege is that this blog and my YouTube videos were born out of this entire experience.
At this point it’s funny to think of the “what-ifs” of life if we wouldn’t have found this place right when we did.
What Would You Do Differently?
| Keep a realistic Time Line in Mind |
Colby told me that in his mind as we started, that he thought the whole process would go faster.
I can certainly relate to that – but I was told once that you should estimate approximately 3x as much time for a project as you think it might take.
Typically I might say that sounds a little excessive, but then I think back to us refinishing our staircase – and it makes all the sense in the world.
What we thought was going to take us 1 kid-free week ended up taking 3. And with a lot of trips up and down the ladder to our 2nd story bedroom.
Realizing it’s a journey, not a quick sprint helps to have a better perspective with the opportunity for patience.
| Keep a Realistic Budget in Mind |
I’ve heard before that you want about 20-30% on top of your budget set aside when you’re working on old houses for surprises and unexpected developments.
We ended up needing to spend money on necessary fixes, which lessened our budget for more fun things – like chandeliers.
| Timing is Important |
If we ever were to do this again, I would wait until we’re empty nesters. Though the process was looked at as an adventure by my children – there were moments where it felt like we were in over our heads.
One story I remember specifically was bringing Colby a costco chimichanga for dinner one night – it was a day he had spent working on dry wall (to replace our old lath and plaster), and it was in the earlier days where I was doing a lot of my food prep and cooking 8 minutes away at our previous house.
Well anyway, I remember finding him and giving him his dinner – the only thing I had with me for that purpose – and after he’d taken a few bites, he accidentally dropped the chimchanga right out of his hands and straight into a pile of drywall dust at his feet.
Without skipping a beat, he picked it right up and continued eating. It makes us laugh to think of it now, but I’d say that was one of the low points where we thought briefly that we might be losing it.
Aside from dusty chimichangas, we also ate a lot of Little Cesar’s pizza during that season. So much at times that I thought we might all turn into Little Cesar’s pizzas.
And that reminds me of my next point.
|As a parent, give yourself some extra grace during this season |
I think of this specifically within the lens of being a home school Mom, even through those busy years – but my suggestion to you would be to take the opportunity to have a break from formal schooling and use the experience and process as the curriculum for that season. They can learn SO much by coming alongside as you’re working on projects and problem solving issues.
In a similar way, make sure you also don’t put your lives completely on hold through the process. Do the things you would done otherwise like going on vacation and inviting people over. We kind of had an unprecedented halt on our social lives as we were devoting every extra waking moment to getting our house ready.
So, Are you Ready for a Fixer Upper?
We realize that most families are looking to do improvements to their home and property in one way or another, (a new deck, irrigation for the grass, etc…) but we would both agree that you have to really think about your preferences and your situation to find the balance between being a DIY’er and hiring work out.
Some people love DIY and will thrive in the busy and messy environment always in flux.
That will drive some people crazy.
Some people might have the money to pay professionals to come finish the job quickly.
There’s no right or wrong – just make sure you have a good idea of which type of person you are before you make the decision!
Some people will be far better suited buying newer homes in need of just small cosmetic details.
If you’re someone who doesn’t like unforseen circumstances, or disruptions, or being patient for potentially months or years for things to be finished – a fixer upper may not be for you.
I love something that Colby said as we were talking,
“Some of the most fun things in life aren’t easy.” – Colby Phillipps (2020)
And I added that the question really should be, “Is it worth it?” not “Is it hard?”
Is there a net gain over the entire process?
Our last piece of advice would be to know what you’re getting into to the best of your ability before making any decisions.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this “we hold dearly” interview and that we’ve been able to answer some of your questions or give you some things to think on as you make the decision about whether or not you’re ready for a fixer upper.
I love reading your stories when you share them below!