SHOP GRAY MALIN

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Interiors

Tips & Tricks: 6 Things to Know Before Taking on a Home Renovation

If you’ve been following along with Gray’s Rainbow Ridge Reno on Lake Michigan, then you’re probably aware that taking on a fixer is no easy feat. Having a pro designer like Kate Lester helping you through the process will definitely make it a little less stressful, but it's still quite the challenge regardless.

If you’ve always wanted to tackle a home renovation but don’t know exactly where to start (or what to expect), then keep reading… Today we have interior design contributor Daniela Benloulou giving us a peek into the beginning stages of her very own fixer. Plus, she’s sharing six things to know before taking on your own home renovation. Trust us, you’ll want to read these tips before diving into demo day! Take it away, Daniela…

In LA’s current real estate market, housing prices are sky high. So, what do you do when you’re pregnant with your second kid, and need space for your dogs too? You look at fixers.

Initial planning stages of Gray's 104-year-old Lake Michigan Fixer-Upper designed with Kate Lester.

A Fixer CAN Save You Money… If You Do It Right

Anything turnkey in the neighborhoods we love, to put it simply, was out of our budget. Square footage wasn’t something we wanted to cut back on, and a backyard was critical. The number one logical reason to take on this type of renovation is for the cost value. Note, though, that you’d need to find a fixer upper for well under market value to justify the cost of the renovation itself. For us, this meant opting for a home deeper into the suburbs that hadn’t been touched in 30 years. Practically everything needed to be replaced. But because of the lack of improvements over those 30 years, we were able to pay about 15% under market value. Granted, a lot of those savings will go towards necessary repairs (roofing, A/C, etc.); but it was great because we felt like we got a good deal. And it gives us money for some of the pretty new things in the works! 

BEFORE:

AFTER DEMO:

You’re Allowed to Be Picky

If you’re an interior designer like myself, or just picky, it’s hard to spend money on something you feel doesn’t suit you aesthetically. This brings me to my next point—taking on a renovation is a way of ensuring you’ll get the look you want. I was adamant about not paying a lot for someone else’s flip. Even if the budget were there, the chances of me approving of someone else’s designs (or lack of design sense at all) were quite slim. With a well-budgeted renovation, you have carte blanche to choose the material finishes you love.

Be Prepared to WORK

Unless you hire a full service design/build firm (which is a huge bonus to your sanity, but doesn’t come free), you need to be prepared to take on a lot of the legwork yourself. This involves finding a contractor you trust. You’ll need to get a few bids, compare them, and go forward with who you feel is best. You may also need to vet various subcontractors, depending on the scale and quality of the general contractor you choose. For me, experience in this industry, paired with wanting to spend more on materials and less on labor, made me choose a more affordable contractor, one who I knew I’d be keeping tabs on and providing everything for.

Kate Lester's design vision board for Gray’s Lake Michigan Reno.

Patience is a Virtue

Taking on a renovation will be stressful. This is common knowledge no doubt, but having lived through a couple (and been the designer/confidante to many homeowners going through the process), I can say firsthand it’s harder than you think it’s going to be. This is your house that you’re eager to live in, and every vendor and tradesperson in the industry seems to work at a snail’s pace. Additionally, there will be items on backorder or delivered with damage, and countless other things go wrong that nobody can expect. There may be a stress on your marriage as a result, but in the end, it’s worth the stress to get the home you want!

Anticipate Hiccups in the Budget

Roll with the punches—even if you’re under budget halfway through the reno, there will likely be surprises that cost money. Hopefully, during the early phases (demolition, framing, plumbing, electrical), you’ll uncover the expensive stuff that may need fixing. But you can never be too sure. Contractors may serve you with a change order, a new bill that increases the total labor cost. As the scope of any project progresses, so does the cost to do the work. Knowing all this, it’s best not to start splurging on luxury materials until you have a true sense of the overall cost, including a contingency budget.

Celebrate Every Step

Lastly, my recommendation is to have FUN with the process! It’s okay to jump up and down when you find out that one unwanted wall isn’t load bearing. It’s okay to get really excited about a mosaic tile you’re in love with. It’s okay to dream about the memories you’ll make in your new, beautiful home!

Did you learn something new about taking on a home renovation?

If you’re about to be in the throes of a fixer upper (or even if it feels like just a pipe dream at the moment), we hope these tips gave you some insight into the process! We can’t thank Daniela enough for giving us a peek at her renovation—and we can’t wait to see the final product. To follow along with her project, follow her on Instagram and visit her website.

Xx Team GM

Photos: Gray Malin, Daniela Benloulou

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