But I have an excuse, I promise!
You see, I've just starting renovating a house. We purchased it in September, way out in Sydney's western suburbs. It was all we could afford, given Sydney's ridiculous house prices, and is small, old, humble and really filthy; but, it's ours.
In addition to this, I've been writing my next book; a special story that deserves to be told for the simple reason that it's true. I won't give away too much information, but it's the stuff of Mills & Boon and this one actually happened.
I'm also still a proud mummy of two very busy little people, dutiful *cough* wife and begrudging housekeeper and cook... so life is full.
I've been asked by many friends and family to keep a blog on the renovations. I just haven't had the time to write it down, but this time, I'm making an effort. So, this is the very long version to get you up to date on how this humble author has added renovations to my list of things to do. Then, hopefully, I’ll be able to post shorter posts more regularly!
My husband (D) and I have been renting in Sydney for our entire married life. It was an area we enjoyed but the house prices were just too far out of our reach. Eventually, I’d had enough of the tenuousness of tenancy and suggested to D it was time to purchase something. The only area we could afford was 25kms west of our current location, near Penrith (for those who know Sydney). We got an appointment with a lending agent, got pre-approval for an amount and I started looking.
It would be an older house that we could add value to; we would live in it while renovating and when complete, we'd lease it out to tenants while we purchased another and started the process again. This would secure our superannuation and help us establish ourselves while I could continue to work from home, do the renovations and the school runs. It's a good balance.
We’d already renovated one home, a house my husband had purchased in his bachelor days, located two hours north of Sydney. That was a big job: 14 months travelling to and from the Hunter Valley, renovations, writing and two very little children made for an ‘enlightening’ experience. So, feeling somewhat confident with our renovations expertise (ha!) we sought a house that needed some TLC.
I arrived at the first house with only minutes to spare. I was whisked quickly through the cluttered, dark, smoke-heavy little home. Yet, despite its condition, I could see potential to the three bedroom house. They were asking too much, which I said to the real estate agent outside, so he asked what I’d be willing to pay. I’d never looked at a house for purchase before, never made an offer and this was my very first open house ever. So I blurted out a figure, he made note of it and I went on my merry way to view six other properties.
Driving home, I was assessing and checking-off each of the houses in my head, when my phone rang. Pulling off the road, it was the real estate agent from the first house. The owners were interested in my offer.
I downloaded some market evaluations and realised that even my offer meant we were still getting ripped off (hence why they were interested, naturally). I did another inspection, D had a look and we decided to make an offer more realistic. Figures were swapped until both parties settled on an amount. Documents were created, money was exchanged, signatures taken, a settlement period of seven weeks began and on 25 September 2014, I was handed the keys to our house. Apparently purchasing a house usually isn’t that straight forward, so I'd hate to see what it's like when it's complicated!
This is the layout of the house and yard. These plans are not to scale, I've just knocked them up in Powerpoint!
Bedroom 2 has an enormous window and the linen cupboard hulking into the room (just behind the door).
Bedroom 3. There is a second window just peeping out of the left side of the second photo above.
The 'Bath'room. The house doesn't actually have a bath so I guess it should be called the shower room.
During the settlement period, I purchased a trailer. This is an entire tale of its own that I might tell in a different post if I run out of things to write, but nonetheless, I’d never driven with a trailer before. Driving forward didn’t take long to adjust to; you just had to make slightly larger movements with the car. Going backwards…. well, turns out it’s far funnier watching someone trying to back a trailer than actually being the poor schmuck doing the backing. It took many attempts but I didn't give up and did get better over time. I can proudly say I only hit one tree in all my practicing, so it wasn’t too traumatic. The tree disagrees.
Initially, renovations were delayed by my sister's wedding and my wonderful Grandad staying with us, then we got started. The previous owners were not clean people and it stank terribly. Everything was dirty (this despite a weak attempt at cleaning), the yard was full of pot plants that had been left behind and I was despondent at the mass of work that awaited us. Had I been more experienced in purchasing properties, I would have asked them to clean it better before exchange. But you live and learn.
As soon as we could, we stripped out the carpets, scrapped up all the horrid vinyl tiles underneath and our mate used a chainsaw to get the wardrobe out of the main bedroom (he took far too much pleasure in this – a hammer would have worked just as well but where was the fun in that?) and at the end of the day, we were dirty but the house had been stripped down. That was the easy part and did I mention I really love demolition?
Oh, and we also found $50 hidden in the bottom of the wardrobe. This paid for the disposal of the multitude of pot plants we took to the rubbish dump so that was a nice trade-off.
(Note to Future Self, knocking out a stud with your husband's heavy hammer while wearing no shoes is a really, truly dumb thing to do. Your toe nail will eventually grow back, but seriously, don't do it again. Love, Your Past-Self-With-The-Owie-Toe.)
And here is the elegant, formally-attired yours truly about to take the faux brick cladding off the odd lounge room dividing wall. (They must have bricks in the head to like this.)
The lounge with the vinyl tiles removed - notice how dark the floor is? It was also very sticky.
The horrid stuck-down vinyl floor and a tall man that resembles my husband. (I'm not allowed to publish his photo, so we'll just say it's not him.)
Piles of 60-year-old vinyl were everywhere.
A house guest we had for a couple of weeks. I called him Bertram. Eventually we put him outside in the tree because he was getting in the way and he never came back.
My son 'helped' us clean up by slashing the screens in the lounge room. I always learn the hard way to keep sharp objects WAY out of reach.
One thing that had been agonising me since first viewing the house was how we were going to arrange it to fit in a second toilet (see original plan above). Something so simple turned out to be nearly the breaking point of the whole plan. I spent hours scribbling layouts, taking space out of bedrooms or the laundry. I had a look at remodelling the garage or building a small extension on the house, but they were all too expensive, just wouldn’t work with the plumbing, made the bedrooms unworkably small or couldn’t be the regulated two-door distance from the kitchen. Then I realised a small part of the lounge room could be sacrificed – it was the only space in the house that really could. So I consulted with my online mummy’s group and they turned out to be my saviours and a big thanks to Naomi who gave me the idea of the ensuite.
Referring to the image below, a door will be cut into the back of the laundry and the kitchen converted to wrap around the space in a 'U' shape. The laundry will be put in a multi-door, bi-fold cupboard to hide it away. In the wall where the current kitchen door is, a large 'window' will provide an opening between the lounge and the kitchen. But my favourite part of this design is the tiny ensuite which we can squeeze onto the master bedroom. Lo and behold, our seemingly elusive second toilet! Then, in about 12 months time when everything else is done, we'll completely gut the bathroom, the walls and the floors and rebuild from the pipes up with a free standing bath/shower at the end. I'm finally happy with this!
After much thought and reading on what to do with the floors, I found a floating floor which suited our needs perfectly. It was the same price as polishing the floor boards, longer wearing and most importantly – completely waterproof! For those interested, check out vinyl/PVC click-lock planks.The vinyl planks are easy to install, especially when you've had the experience of doing 80m2 of floating floors in another house. I could even adjust the planks by just scoring the edge and snapping it so no drop saws required! It's not as beautiful as wood floors, but it's harder wearing and looks great when it's together.
THE PAIN OF PAINT!
Then what to do about paint? It’s deceptive just how hard it is to choose a paint colour, especially when presented with the swirling kaleidoscope of colour cards at my local Bunnings. Do you know how many shades of white there are? Of grey? Did you know there are only a few shades of ‘true’ greys? Yeah, well, I do now. The floorboards I’d chosen had a smoky tinge so with the help of a friend and many hours of brain numbing perusal, I settled on dove grey walls, pure white trims, dark brown/grey floors and a feature wall of a chocolate brown in the lounge. It was modern, clean and neutral. (Pics to come later.)
LOUNGE DIVIDING WALL
I'd eyed off that dividing wall in the lounge since the moment I'd first walked into the house. I had a builder assess the wall and turns out, it's load bearing, so D and I were definitely out of our element with this puppy. I hired him and he had the wall out and a bulk head in place in about five hours. Turns out the roof was bowed where this wall was supposedly supporting and by the builder straightening it, it cracked all the plasterboard in the ceiling which had settled into its dipped shape. Nothing a good lick of plaster can't fix. (By the way, that's not a recommendation to lick plaster. That stuff'd gum you up for a week).
I aimed to have the kids’ bedroom finished by the time we moved in, that way they wouldn't have to move around like the rest of the house as we refurbished each room (it was five days after when I finally got them in there, so that was close enough). Over the course of a couple of weeks, I washed the floors, plastered up the holes, used my favourite No More Gaps along every edge, sanded and washed the walls and finally they were ready for the paint. The undercoat went on and the room looked, and smelt, better already. The window and door architrave paint went on beautifully (turns out I’d accidentally purchased enamel (oil-based) paint – longer wearing but a bummer to remove from paintbrushes!), then I used masking tape to ‘mask’ the edges and after another couple of days and much cleaning up of drips from my glasses, the painting was done. It only took me a few hours to complete the floors and after we'd moved in, I installed new skirting, No More Gap’d it and painted it up. The blinds would came later, which meant the first room was done! One down, too many to go.
The front yard had a very big problem in the shape of an oversized callistamon (bottle brush) . It'd been planted right against the house and the roots were pushing up the house footings and the large branches breaking the guttering and roof tiles; it had to go. I also eyed off two other palm trees for removal (one of which I'd backed the trailer into. Poor thing was also going to be cut into firewood for its troubles). I applied to the council and was granted approval to remove them.
Cue D, his mates, two chainsaws and lots of hope from me.
D's engineering and previous tree-felling experience came in handy: he only broke one gutter when I was expecting far more. Fortunately that was the only casualty, except for the swarm of large wood cockroaches we found in the palm trees. Ewww!
We moved into the house on 23 November. I hoped more would be done but we did our best and I've made it as much of a home as I could. There are a number of walls that are missing their plasterboard and I still have to get the new walls and ensuite built yet, but people live in far worse conditions and we're getting further along every day. I've packed 2/3 of our house into plastic boxes, which are now filling the garden shed, so we're living on just the basics; funny how you don't really need as much stuff as we fill our homes with.
So, I hope you've enjoyed the journey thus far, as condensed as it was! I'll post more frequent progress shots from now on. I'm currently fixing up the bathroom to make it more liveable until we can replace the entire thing and will put up some photos when I can. Even outdated bathrooms can be easily fixed with a bit of paint!
So stay tuned for the next adventures of Writer Renovates!