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    5 Grueling Lessons I Learned Fixing Up My Horribly Outdated Fixer-Upper

    | Aug 6, 2019

    It was a fixer-upper riddled with problems. Nonetheless, my two-story rambler had far more character than the tree-cleared developments and cookie-cutter homes that comprised most of sleepy Jacksonville Beaches, FL.

    Renovations would not deter me, I was all in.

    I’d bought the house 20 years ago. Since then, I’ve fought for this dated domicile with my ex, and won (he, perhaps wisely, cut his losses). And even after I’d invited my current partner, a carpenter, to move in, he balked and came up with an excruciating list of everything wrong with it.

    Nonetheless, to say I’m ridiculously attached to my now 40-year-old edifice would be an understatement. So, we’ve been chipping away at renovating bits and pieces of it over the years. We’ve replaced the trim and the interior doors, put in new crown molding above and flooring below. We’ve unstuck doors and replaced windows. As I write this, my partner is building columns on the new stairs to support banisters.

    Our fixer-upper in Jacksonville Beaches, FL
    Our fixer-upper in Jacksonville Beaches, FLJennifer Nelson

    After dozens of smaller projects, we finally embarked on our first bathroom remodel, with me as contractor. After all, I’ve been watching home improvement shows since Day One and writing about interior design for a decade. Who could be more qualified?

    In the process of sprucing up this fixer-upper, we learned a ton of useful lessons, some of which I’d like to impart here. We still have a lot to learn and many more remodeling projects to tackle. But you have to start somewhere.

    1. Create a deadline, but understand it’s flexible

    If you’re working over a period that includes any holidays, consider your timeline. We started our bathroom at the end of October with little thought of how the holidays might affect subcontractors’ schedules and ordering products amid the holiday rush. Have a deadline in mind, then prepare to blow it. We shot for having our bathroom completed for my grown kids’ arrival for Christmas. We almost made it. The final touch, the glass shower door, was installed on Dec. 27. Hey, at least my guests (and Santa) got to use the new toilet.

    My bathroom remodel ripped down to the studs
    My bathroom remodel ripped down to the studsJennifer Nelson

    2. Open all boxes when you receive merchandise

    While I ordered many things in advance of their installation, I didn’t necessarily open each box and check it thoroughly enough. Lesson learned: We were shipped a cracked toilet tank that took weeks to replace. You’re looking for cracks, missing instructions, wayward hardware, and the necessary nuts and bolts for every mirror, toilet, and fixture you order.

    New tile is up.
    New tile is up.Jennifer Nelson

    3. Prepare to hire, fire, and DIY

    We had to fire the first plumber, since he made so many errors it wasn’t prudent to keep him. My carpenter partner had to learn some quick plumbing skills to correct those mistakes. Here’s the thing: When you hire a contractor, he or she shields you from the day-in-and-day-out routine of managing the subs. When you’re the contractor, you’re up to bat for all the dirty work, including the great news of giving someone the job—and the awkward conversation when you have to let them go.


    Watch: This Gorgeous New Farmhouse by Chip and Jo Gaines Is No ‘Fixer Upper’


    4. You are the point person for attention to detail

    Not surprisingly, subcontractors—say, plumbers, electricians, and tile installers—aren’t always as invested in the details as are you, the keen homeowner. Hello, eyes and ears of the project. My beautiful shower handle that should sport the name of the expensive brand centered across the top of the fixture was installed slightly off-center. Oops! If it was worse, or if I had had more nerve, I would have asked for it to be reinstalled. As it is, it reminds me that no one you hire will be as detail-oriented as you are, who have to look at the remodel every day you live in it.

    Everything updated
    Everything updatedJennifer Nelson

    5. Rehabbing a fixer-upper is a full-time job

    Which tile do you choose? What color paint do you want? Are you going with drywall or shiplap? Where can I get a white marble threshold for my shower curb? That took numerous calls and an afternoon of driving to tile warehouses—and it was only one item. If you don’t have the time, the stomach for all the decisions, or a flexible enough schedule, hire a contractor rather than try to deal with a fixer-upper all by yourself.

    If we had to do it all over again (and, oh yeah, we have two more bathrooms as well as the kitchen and an endless list of other projects—so we do), I would say go with your gut on hiring (we didn’t, with that plumber), go with your instinct on design choices (we did, and the bathroom is beautiful), and go in with a good partner who makes every minute you’re slopping concrete, opening walls, or wheelbarrowing out old tile a new adventure. He didn’t love the house at first, but I think he’s come around.

    Jennifer Nelson lives and works in Neptune Beach, FL. She writes about health, home and money for a variety of outlets including AARP,, MSNBC, WebMD and many others.
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    Derick Faust

    Derick Faust is a Realtor and marketing manager/team member of the Love Where You Live OH Real Estate Team. He is a native of Central Ohio and attended Franklin University, Ohio University, and the Muskingum Area Technical College. Derick's knowledge and business acumen uniquely prepares him to go above and beyond in order to meet the needs of Buyers and Sellers. He is a member of the Columbus Board of Realtors, Ohio Association of Realtors, and the National Association of Realtors. The Love Where You Live Real Estate Team established itself as a team of trusted real estate advisors in the communities of Westerville, Worthington, Grandview and Grove City and serve ALL of the greater Columbus area. Purposefully partnering with the elite, ERA brand and by locating our office at the south entrance into Historic Uptown Westerville, we bring the power of an International brand with a Boutique "feel" and level of service to all our clients. The Love Where You Live OH Real Estate Team is continuously building a reputation within the industry, and among our peers as dedicated, competent, consummate professionals. The Team Leader, Rob Pemberton has "hand-picked" every team member because of their character, their personal code of ethics and their dedication to serving our clients according to our motto that "doing the right thing is always the right thing". It is possible, in this industry, to combine Competence & Caring and this goal is at the heart of The Love Where You live Real Estate Team. ERA Real Solutions Realty has offices in Cincinnati, Grove City and Westerville, Ohio. ERA Real Solutions Realty is the fastest growing ERA brokerage in the Nation.

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