9 Things Learned in Our Year-Long House Rehabbing Project

A year ago when Jesse and I decided that we wanted to buy land and build a home in Idaho we realized that to accomplish those goals we needed a number of things to happen. Some things we needed to work on to give us that option included:

  • Building a business that made us money even when we weren’t working as it will be a while (if ever) before we no longer have the need for money
  • We needed enough money to buy land, drill a well, get hooked up to the grid or find a solar power solution, install a septic system and a temporary dwelling such as a yurt
  • To fund our project we needed to either save money or turn our assets into cash (a brick and mortar business & a rental property)
  • Invest a lot of time and money into our new online business

At the time we were living in a tiny apartment surrounded by ghetto neighbors and paying $500/month which is as cheap as it gets in our neck of the woods. We were spending $800+/month on a shop for the brick and mortar business yet time was rarely spent in the shop as it is a service business and the van was always on the road. We didn’t know exactly how to get to Idaho as it seemed we were far away at the time but we decided that we needed to decrease overhead as much as possible and needed to consolidate the business and the house.

We did some research on Craigslist and found someone looking for someone to rehab their house in exchange for a place to live. It sounded like a sketchy idea so naturally, we went to check it out because what if it was a good opportunity?

It turns out that the house in need was severely neglected for many years, had some bad tenants living in it, and was built wrong from the start. It was a 3 bed / 2 bath house out in the country on top of a hill. There was no reliable source of heat and we were entering winter. Living conditions would be tolerable at best.

As we needed to focus on building our new business that would likely require months of work before seeing an ROI we figured that living basically rent-free in exchange for some labor would help us accomplish numerous goals.

First, taking on this opportunity would allow us to reduce our overhead by a total of $900/month or so. Over one year that would save us $10,800 that we could put towards land or towards our new business. It would allow us to have a trial run at what it would be like to build a home together… I hear that some relationships can’t withstand that type of project!

We ended up taking the opportunity, making an agreement with the owner (who would be loosely managing the project from Costa Rica) that if things weren’t working for the either of us that either party could call the project off with 30 days notice. If shit hit the fan (and we kinda expected it to, to be honest as it took two very mature parties to make this type of agreement work!) then we had a contingency plan so we gave it a go.

A Glimpse at What This Project Entailed

Here are some pictures of our house rehabbing project. This will give you a good idea of the sacrifices we had to make to help us get where we were going (and it helped… A LOT!!!!!), the projects that needed to be done and what we did with the property when we were done.

The house from the outside.
The house from the outside.
Adding fresh wood so that we could put the gutters back up.
Adding fresh wood so that we could put the gutters back up.
Raising the roof!
Raising the roof!
View down the dingy hallway.
View down the dingy hallway.
The home was built when wallpaper was popular. I now hate wallpaper!
The home was built when wallpaper was popular. I now hate wallpaper!
The darker color is post-washing with soap. Can you believe it?
The darker color is post-washing with soap. Can you believe it?
Just some of the old, damaged, rotten wood pulled out of the house.
Just some of the old, damaged, rotten wood pulled out of the house.
Mismatched wood trim, ill-fitting doors, dark wood beams, dingy paint...
Mismatched wood trim, ill-fitting doors, dark wood beams, dingy paint…
This is the brightest room in the house. It is detaching from the rest of the house.
This is the brightest room in the house. It is detaching from the rest of the house.
We went through about 10 gallons of paint just on the interior and tried to get rid of the dark wood.
We went through about 10 gallons of paint just on the interior and tried to get rid of the dark wood.
New paint, new doors, painted fixtures... this feels better!
New paint, new doors, painted fixtures… this feels better!
After installing trim and new blinds. YES!
After installing trim and new blinds. YES!
Still needs work but looks way better.
Still needs work but looks way better.
Master bedroom with new paint, painted trim, new doors.
Master bedroom with new paint, painted trim, new doors.
Hallway looks much brighter. Now our furniture is the eye-sore. Perfect!
Hallway looks much brighter. Now our furniture is the eye-sore. Perfect!

Overview of Rehab

Here is a bullet-point list of what we did over one year in 40-50 hours per month.

  • Properly installed gutters on the home. Before they were all leaning the wrong direction causing numerous other problems.
  • Installed new pieces of wood for the patio cover so that the gutters had something to screw into. Really, the whole home needs new roofing.
  • Cleaned the entire house – house was stained with nicotine and lived in by people that cooked meth… do the math. We’re not talking about clean people here. The first two months of our stay we had the cops visit multiple times because of the history of the home.
  • Patched numerous holes in the walls and had to rebuild a lower portion of the walls in the bathroom
  • Painted all walls and ceilings with 2+ coats of paint
  • Replaced all wood trim and window sills
  • Replaced and painted most doors
  • Sealed gaps in doors that were letting roaches and crickets in
  • Replaced broken appliances
  • Replaced ALL electrical outlets within the home as they were unsafe and not functioning properly
  • Painted old wood fixtures

It looks like our rehabbing project may come to an end early so there are numerous other projects that still need to be completed such as exterior paint, new roof, find a solution to the settling of one room (likely wouldn’t be done by us), rebuilding an unsafe deck, and additional TLC to the outside of the property. The goal by the owner is/was simply to get the property rentable.

What the House Rehabbing Project Taught Us

This house rehabbing project taught me and us many things that we wouldn’t have learned if it weren’t for this project. This ties back into the blog because sometimes we have to go out on a limb to make things happen, make sacrifices, put in a lot of hard work, and in the end learn some lessons! I promised that we would share the good, bad and the ugly of this experience and this project had all three!

1. Basically, so long as my basic needs are met I’m a pretty happy camper.

I grew up in great living conditions my entire life. I lived in the same beautiful home with a pool and hot tub from the time I was 2 years old. My college apartments were all pretty decent. So living in this house was a hard idea for me mentally. There were a lot of bugs, the house had a stench, nothing in the home matched, almost everything needed TLC, and it was built so that it would be freezing cold in winter and scorching hot in summer. Even the cats spent 3+ months straight in front of the space heater!

Malek worshiping the God of Warm. I'm not kidding when I say that we froze our butts off all winter.
Malek worshiping the God of Warm. I’m not kidding when I say that we froze our butts off all winter.

The project taught me that I actually need very little to be happy. So long as I have healthy food to eat, a reasonably clean environment, a clean bed to sleep in, am protected from the weather, and can take a shower eat least 1x/day I’m a pretty happy camper.

2. The house was built with a broke mindset. Don’t build houses with a broke mindset.

The reason this house has so many problems is not simply because of tenants, but the house was built completely wrong from the ground up. Every project we embarked on took twice as long if not more because we had much larger issues to fix. The house was built with leftover parts from probably a second-hand building materials store which means that nothing fit, everything was difficult to replace because nothing was standardized, and it seems that the cheap route was taken on everything.

Had the house been built right from the start it would have been a lot easier and would have cost less money to repair. Because the house was just built wrong there was no flow within the house and there were constantly energy blocks. This taught us to do things right from the start in building our home and to not strictly worry about being frugal but to think about overall efficiency and design of the house.

3. Working on a home is enjoyable – and even more so if it is your own home.

While this house was not our own home it was still satisfying at the end of the day to look back on all the work we accomplished. It was great to see the wall patched, paint on the walls, drawers that were glued back together, and the yard cleaned up just to name a few things.

I always thought I would make my living as a graphic designer but working on a house taught me that I can be happy at the end of the day NOT just sitting behind a desk doing what I went to college for. If you can find the time to build your own home you can save A LOT of money by building it cash rather than paying interest on a 30 or even a 40 year mortgage. I’d rather put in a little sweat equity even if it’s not sexy than to sit at a desk for 30 years while I try to pay off my mortgage.

4. Having a partner to do things with is great.

I would have never in a million years taken on this project by myself. Coming into this project I had no skills whatsoever that would come in handy for a house rehabbing project. Jesse carried a lot of the weight of the project and taught me a lot of what he knows. By the end of each individual task I was quite a bit of help.

It was also great because a project like this can be so stressful and energy-intensive and nobody in my life could even begin to understand what I was going through. Jesse was with me every step of the way. We were frustrated together. We were stressed together. We laughed together. We celebrated together. Even though this project was stressful it brought us closer together and gave us the confidence that we can build a home together.

This was taken after an extremely emotional & difficult day. Too much was going on and the frustration of the rehab was almost too much to bear. I'm so happy we had each other to lean on.
This was taken after an extremely emotional & difficult day. Too much was going on and the frustration of the rehab was almost too much to bear. I’m so happy we had each other to lean on.

5. You can only save so much money and sacrifice so much before you really need to think about your own needs, money aside.

We were so wrapped up in money-saving mode that we realized we were neglecting our own needs. We were working 70+ hours a week on our online business, tending to the brick and mortar business on occasion (often night work), working on the house 40-50 hours per month, and our energy was suffering hard. We were getting poor sleep and spending very little time together that wasn’t spent stressing over everything that was to be done.

After we started having positive results with our new business for a prolonged period of time, we ditched our crappy Dell computers and upgraded to a VERY nice MacBook Pro setup for ourselves. Our office went from being a cold, depressing train wreck to being the nicest place in the house. Spending money on our office and computers gave us the energy that we needed that we then turned around and used to create more income.

We also realized when summer was here that we would watch it quickly silp away if we didn’t take the opportunity to get outdoors. One June rolled around we spent a few weeks playing outside, going on our yearly Hellgate Jetboat Excursion, laying in the hammock, jumping in rivers, eating dinners our on the river with hard cider, and letting loose for a bit. We spent some money in this time which allowed us to feel renewed and give a final push on the house for the remainder of the summer.

We binge-hammocked on this river four days in a row. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
We binge-hammocked on this river four days in a row. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
Relaxing on our "summer vacation" on our own private stretch of the Rogue River.
Relaxing on our “summer vacation” on our own private stretch of the Rogue River.

6. A balanced life does not necessarily mean balance every day, but balance over time.

There were days, weeks and months where we worked from the time we got out of bed until 12am-3am in the morning. We would do this day after day after day because we were trying to work hard on our business and juggle many other balls simultaneously. We ate poorly during this time because we dedicated every last ounce of energy to working in our business or on the house. I hate to admit it but we probably definitely ate chips for breakfast at some point throughout the project, too many sugar-laden blended coffees, skipped breakfast many days, ate dinner at 11pm, and went through many boxes of Cheeze-Its for quick energy. Not proud.

This was the second-worst day of our entire year. We made a mess of the paint job. It was really cold. Jesse was SUCH a grump! We laugh at this now but don't wish to go through this amount of stress anytime soon.
This was the second-worst day of our entire year. We made a mess of the paint job. It was really cold. Jesse was SUCH a grump! He gave me permission to use this photo. This is why we needed to take an extended vacation later on in the year.

On the other hand, we learned that it is OKAY to just take time off to rejuvenate yourself. We had a couple long periods of vacationing, traveling, swimming in the river, cooking delicious meals, and even fitting in some quality workouts.

If you need to simply take some time off then that should be okay. Energy comes and goes, passion comes and goes, creativity comes and goes, and there are clear times to work and clear times to rest. Work with your energy, work hard, but be sure to let yourself rest sometimes or schedule a prolonged period of rest.

7. We really, really appreciate having a nice home.

Having a well-maintained home is something I took for granted. I didn’t know what I had in the past until I lived in this house. This house made no sense from the ground up, the cheap route was taken on every last detail, nothing matched, there was no light, the energy was bad, the landscape was not maintained so we constantly had to fight to keep nature out of our house, and even our Craigslist furniture and appliances (bought because we knew we would only be in this house for a short time and then hopefully move to Idaho with few belongings) started to wear on us.

While we don’t want a large home necessarily, we do want a home that is nice, clean, makes sense, has lots of light, creates positive energy, and a place to call our own. We want to work hard on our home and then stand back to appreciate it. We’re tired of putting work in on houses or properties where we will just be moving in a month (like a rental house).

8. Buy only what you need but buy nice things.

When I talk about this house and our current living situation, many people probably think of us as broke which couldn’t be further from the truth. Because we knew we would only be staying in this house a year maximum we didn’t want to buy anything nice for the house that we would just end up selling and taking a loss on.

We needed a washer / dryer set because we were tired of going to the laundromat and living 20 miles outside out town it would have been a headache. We found one on Craigslist for $200 that according to the ad, worked really well. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that it is all too easy to get bit HARD on Craigslist and we finally did. Over one month Jesse spent HOURS repairing the washer and at one point hacked up an old credit card to make the thing run (don’t ask). It just wasn’t worth it. We already liked to buy things new that we knew worked and had a warranty on them but this experience reinforced the belief to buy QUALITY.

We also bought a refrigerator for $100. It took a bit of time to find it and have it delivered but we thought it would hold us over for a few months. The thing died the day we were supposed to leave to Idaho the most recent time. In a rush we bought a $250 refrigerator to replace it and still had our trip delayed for a day so that we could save $300 in groceries and meat. The thing doesn’t refrigerate well so say the least. We understand why broke people stay broke because they can never really get ahead… they spend their time buying cheap things and then spend their time (a non-renewable resource) and money trying to fix their broken things only to have to buy them again.

In contrast, we spent $6,000 on our MacBook Pros and they solved a lot of our problems and work without any issues whatsoever. That money spent allows us to spend our time making money and being creative rather than fighting our computers constantly.

9. Sacrifices will likely need to be made to accomplish your goals.

We knew we wanted to buy land and start building our home in Idaho ASAP and we figured that we could do it within a year, best-case scenario. We knew that we had to be laser-focused. We gave up some of our time-consuming hobbies (like rock climbing for me or going to the race track for Jesse), social life, and focused all energy on accomplishing our goal.

This house was a huge sacrifice in a way. The first many months living conditions were WAY less than ideal, if not flat out gross. We sacrificed 40-50 hours a month to work on the house and we could have done a lot more with that time. On the other hand, in making a huge sacrifice it allowed us to lower our overhead so that we could spend the money on things like land, taking trips to Idaho, or growing our business.

Here is what our entire house looked like on Christmas Eve. That is our office under the plastic.
This is us working on the house on Christmas Eve because we finally had an opportunity to get our hours in for the month. This project was FAR from convenient but our “why” was strong and that “why” was to get to Idaho so we could start our homestead.

Summing This Project Up

All said and done we are ready to move on from this project as it is no longer fitting our goals. We are ready to be living in Idaho on our land, we would rather have a nicer living situation and spend our time making the extra income to make it happen, and we are ready to devote 100% of our energy to building online businesses or developing our land.

That said, this project has been a huge stepping stone for us. Little did we know that by walking through this door of opportunity that one year later we would be possibly just weeks away from living in a trailer on our land in Idaho.

Let me leave you with this… before you say yes or no to an opportunity, measure it against your short-term and long-term goals. Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box. There are many ways to accomplish your goal and there are many opportunities in the world that are off the beaten path. Don’t be afraid to be opportunity-curious :-)

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I am an aspiring homesteader on a journey to become self-sustainable and free. In my past, I've worked corporate jobs to make ends meet and get ahead a little; it didn't make me happy or confident in my future. Since taking the leap to self-employment and living a more simple life, my happiness levels have increased greatly and I've never felt more alive. I finally understand what I want in life and how to get there, and that is what this blog is all about.

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Comments

  1. Laura says

    Great stuff! It’s completely refreshing to see people make such a positive step forward. Thanks for the inspiration!

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