I am obsessed with other people’s renovations. If there was a support group for people who love “before-and-after” pictures a little too much, I would be a card-carrying member. I study the layout changes, the finishes and the budget with a nearly-embarrassing intensity.
So, it seemed only appropriate to feature some of the amazing people I know who have braved this renovation path before me. (PS – I don’t have a name for these features yet, so if you have a clever suggestion, I’d love to hear about it!)
Our first featured renovation just happens to be one done by my friend Jamie and her husband Will. They are veterans of Springfield, having bought two single family houses here. However, neither of those homes are the one I am going to share with you today. Instead, I spent an hour getting to hear about the duplex that Jamie and Will purchased directly across the street from the property that Josh and I are SO close to purchasing in less than 10 days.
Jamie and Will’s duplex was built in 1936 and features a pair of two bedroom/one bath units with original hardwood floors on a super long lot in the upper west quadrant of Springfield. Since buying it, the units have been upgraded with new electrical, new plumbing, a new roof, new HVAC systems, new kitchens & baths, and a brand new addition that created interior private laundry rooms with W/D hookups. I was so happy to chat with Jamie and learn all about this awesome transformation.
When did you buy the property? We bought it in March 2011.
What attracted you to it? Nothing. I hated it. I thought I was going to get a staph infection when we walked through it. But Will and our realtor were jumping up and down with excitement about the opportunity, so I started to think about it.
So tell me about the renovation:At first, we just cleaned it up. It was really bad, especially the downstairs. It was trashed. We painted, replaced the bath shower walls, and replaced the vanity sink, and then we left the rest as is. Then we moved away – a renovation wasn’t something we wanted to do when we were out of state. When we came back, we still had tenants, so we waited for the leases to run out.
It was February 2016 when we started the renovation. The walls, floors and layout were mostly okay, but we took on big projects. We gutted both kitchens, the downstairs bath, and started tearing out the electrical wiring and plumbing. We also redesigned the back porches on both levels to enclose them, add interior laundry rooms and relocated the rear stairwell.
How much did you plan to spend and did you come in on budget? Our original budget was about $50,000 for most of the big stuff, which we contracted through a General Contractor. Separately we planned to purchase most of the materials ourselves to save money, and that was budgeted around $15,000. We had some changes that added expenses. For instance, our enclosed space in the back needed new windows that we hadn’t planned on. You have to have a window every 8 feet in an historic district, and the new space was too long. Designing the exterior staircase proved to be a much more difficult design issue than expected, and the city inspector changed his mind three times as to how we needed to construct components of the new laundry rooms.
We also had a break-in. The thief kicked in the front doors of both units, and took some tools. It was not that much stuff, but it meant we had to get new doors, and they were a pain to find since they were not a traditional size. They were taller than most doors. We submitted several doors we found that we thought were close to the ones that were there before, but the HPC (Historic Planning Commission) just kept telling us “No.” The doors were the last thing we did because it took so long to find ones that worked. In the end that thief really cost us about $4,000.
We ended up spending $86,000 on the project, but it was valued at over $200,000 when we were done, which means we had lots of equity in the house. It was really easy to rent after it was completed and the tenants seem to really enjoy the apartments.
What is your favorite part of about the project? The feeling you get when you walk through the front door on the downstairs unit. I vividly remember how I felt during that first walk through, I couldn’t get out fast enough. Now, it is cute, fresh, clean. There is satisfaction that we brought it back. It was definitely worth the time, money and energy.
Since we will see Jamie and Will’s handiwork every time we talk out our front door, we are thrilled with their results.
Thanks, Jamie, for being our first renovation feature!
Know someone else who has done an amazing reno project? Please let me know. I’d love to feature them and their home!
New Construction or an existing home: what’s right for you?
Since getting married, Josh and I have owned two houses.
The first was an adorable bungalow built in 1948.
The second was a suburban traditional built in 1976.
We did significant renovations on each, adding a half bath and extra bedroom to the first house and completely overhauling the second one.
As we mentioned earlier, we have decided to focus our home search in the Springfield area where there is a really broad selection of housing inventory. Choices range from existing homes which are brand new (but have never been lived in) to 100+ year old historic ones (bungalows, traditionals, duplexes and mansions), to vacant lots where you can still build a new home, so long as the finished product looks historically similar to the other homes in the area.
We looked at all of the options in Springfield. New, old, already renovated, currently in shambles, and so on. If you are trying to figure out the pros and cons of new versus existing like we are, here are some things to consider.
Benefits of an existing home
Existing homes are ready when you are. There is no need to worry about finding a builder, getting permits, or worrying about how the weather might delay your building process. You find a house, make an offer, agree on a price, close and move.
You know what you are getting with an existing home, so long as you do your homework. You’ll want to do an inspection of the home before you close on the sale, so you can avoid any unforeseen problems.
You benefit from someone already buying all of the little things that are needed when you move into a new house. If it has already been lived in, it is likely that someone already installed blinds, bought a garden hose for the yard, installed niceties like dimmer switches and shelving systems in the closets.
The house has a story. You might have beautifully preserved architectural details, learn about interesting past owners or events, or uncover treasure. And you’ll be adding your chapter to a really neat story.
Trees. You get trees. And plants. Regardless of whether the house is one year old or 100 years old, the landscaping is already in place. Even if you have to redo smaller garden beds to your liking, you benefit from greenery that is already thriving in place, and provides shade and character to your street and yard.
You have to live with other people’s decisions. From shoddy DIY home repair to interesting décor choices, older homes can come with baggage. Even if those items are easy to change, there will be an investment of time and money to make the house your own. And there is always a risk that something large and expensive will be uncovered after you move in that was either unknown to the seller, or even covered up over the years.
Benefits of new construction
With a new house, you’ll get exactly what you want. New construction means you don’t have to invest in changing anything from previous owners. You pick your layout, your design, your finishes – it is a true reflection of you.
Newer homes can be built with energy efficiency in mind. Solar power, tankless water heaters, and environmentally friendly paints, flooring and building materials mean you can not only save money on the cost of living, but feel good about the reduced impact your home has on our planet.
You have to have lots of time and flexibility. It takes time to find a design, a builder, get all of your financing worked out, get permits, and build a house. Even the best experiences will have delays and changes.
You better be good a making decisions because there will be TONS of them. Even after you get all of the big ones out-of-the-way, you’ll have dozens, maybe hundreds of little ones. Something as simple as what kind of door knobs you want can require several decisions: do you want round, egg-shaped or lever, chrome, brass, or bronze finish, key-locking or push-button privacy settings, and so on.
As for us, after we finished our last house, I was not keen on the idea of doing a home remodel again. The dust, the chaos, the money, the choices… It was all too much to live through.
We thought wanted new.
But as life would have it, the Universe had something else in mind.
At the end of March, we toured a house that took us completely by surprise. And if you had not figured it out by now, we are embarking on a major renovation of a really old house.
This one makes the other renovations we did on our first two houses look almost silly by comparison.
In the last few months, we have considered housing options near downtown Jacksonville including San Marco, Brooklyn, Riverside/Avondale, and St. Nicholas, but one neighborhood has kept us coming back again and again, even after touring houses that were not a fit for our needs.
The January 2010 issue of Southern Living magazine spotlights Springfield as the #1 “comeback” neighborhood in the South, noting significant improvement over the past decade. The December 2010 issue of Florida Trend Magazine also featured the Springfield Historic District in an article titled “A Life of Its Own”. The piece detailed how, despite the down housing market, the neighborhood has continued to thrive.
Springfield is pretty easy to get around. The numbered streets run east/west and go from 1st to 12th. The named streets run north/south and start at Boulevard to the west and end at Ionia to the east. There is a set of railroad tracks that form a sort of north and east border. In addition, there are a series of parks that cut across the southwest corner, complete with Hogan’s Creek that eventually meets up with the St. Johns River.
The area is definitely in transition. In the 20 or so times we have been there since our search started, we have found it both incredibly charming and occasionally unnerving. If you are looking for cookie-cutter suburbia, Springfield is not it. There are still a fair number of single family houses and multi-family residences that are in rough shape and some of the homes have been converted into half-way houses, which might make some people nervous. However, many more homes are in the process of being refurbished or have already been restored, and there are dozens of newer homes that have been built in the last 10 years. Combine all that with another dozen new houses that are under contract to come out of the ground this summer, and you have a mini real estate boom.
We love that there is a strong neighborhood vibe here led by SPAR, the Springfield Preservation and Revitalization Council. In addition, there is a mommies group, SAMBA, a business merchant association and even a sustainability group, all of which are very active.
Retail finally appears to be following the recently renovated residential rooftops in historic Springfield as Main Street is in the midst of a commercial boom.
Several craft breweries and restaurants are taking a leap to be a part of the area. In future posts, I hope to share firsthand info about all of them as we try them out.
While this is all good news, it doesn’t stop me from worrying a little bit about how we’ll adjust, moving from an upscale apartment community to a grittier part of town. I am excited about making new friends and being part of this vibrant and dynamic neighborhood, but I know that there are going to be times where I’ll be out of comfort zone. Transients, homeless and folks living with mental illness and addiction are part of Springfield, as much as middle class families like ours. From what we have garnered from friends, everyone co-exits quite well, but it will be different for sure.
And different is what we want. Springfield is where we are going to find our next home.
Want to check it out for yourself?
Get your tickets for the SPAR Historic Springfield 39th Annual Tour of Homes held on May 20th and 21st. For $15, you’ll be able to tour seven homes – and kids 12 and under are free!
Now that we have narrowed the geographic search for our next home, we have turned our attention to the house itself. Like most shoppers, we have the typical set of criteria.
Number of bedrooms – 4 bedrooms – one for each of the boys and a master bedroom
Number of bathrooms – at least 2, but we’d prefer an additional half bath or 3rd bath if possible
Square footage: between 1,800 and 2,300 SF. We want a house that is large enough to have friends and family over in comfort, but not so large it would take a full day to clean it every weekend
The price: Our budget is actually smaller than we spent on our last house, even if you take into account the market correction. Our goal was to have a mortgage, including any homeowner’s association fees, taxes and insurance, that we could realistically pay off in 15 years or less, so that we could have it off our plate well before retirement age.
But that’s just the beginning.
With our last home, we made decisions based on resale value. While some of our choices were personal, the vast majority were “safe.” By contrast, this next house will be a personal reflection of us.We are looking for a house that will create the backdrop for the next stage in our lives. It would be more than a place to call home at the end of the day. It had to be a place we can really LIVE.
1.) The location of the master bedroom: For the last 10 years, our master bedroom has been 10 feet from the nearest kid’s bedroom. That was…ahem….too close. We want our next home to have a first floor master or a split floor plan so that we have some privacy. Also, we intend to keep this house for a LONG time. We want to be able to stay here into our old age, which means having a single story house, or at the very least, a first floor master suite.
2.) A bathtub the master bath: During our #yearofresortliving in the apartment, I have indulged in baths on a regular basis. They are a highlight in my day and I am bent on finding a home with a tub in the master. It doesn’t have to be jet-powered or even that large, but it has to be mine, free of kids’ toys or left-over kid sand or soccer-funk.
3.) A garage: Josh’s business has been in high gear in the last year and the number of tools we now own is considerable. While we don’t feel the need to pull a car into a garage nightly, we do need a place for him to work. Plus, our boys’ toys have shifted from big wheels to scooters and will soon be followed by mopeds and mountain bikes. We need a place to park all of it.
4.) High ceilings and lots of light in the common areas: I don’t mind old houses, but I don’t want to ever have low ceilings again. The kitchen in our last house had 7’6″ ceilings before our renovation and it felt like we were cooking in a cellar. I want windows and French doors and rooms that, even if they are not huge, have vertical heft. I want to want to cook and be with people, and having an open inviting space is key to that.
Surprisingly, here are things we either didn’t consider or would simply be a nice to have, but are not deal-breakers.
An office or 5th bedroom: As Leslie commented in my last post, our kids will be gone in less than a decade. While I would love to have a dedicated office, it is not a deal-breaker. We can always convert one of their bedrooms to an office after they leave. In the meantime, it would also be another space to furnish…and clean. If needed, I can work at the kitchen table, and we can sort out what to do with the rare overnight guest when they are here.
Lots of closet space: Don’t get me wrong….we still have too much stuff. But the lessons of the last year, where we voluntarily shrunk our living space by nearly half, are clear. Less is more and we need to keep our things in check. That starts with not packing super deep closets with boxes and bags of stuff we never use.
A community pool: We LOVE having access to a neighborhood pool, but as families go, the Chapmans are a bit crazy. I have stopped trying to deny it, or even explain it. The boys run, wrestle and cannon-ball ALL. DAY. LONG. We know that we can be annoying to others who are there. In our next home, we’d like to have a pool in the backyard so that we can let the boys be. If the pool is not already in the backyard, we’d like the room to install one ourselves. A community pool is a bonus.
A formal living or dining room: We try to eat dinner as a family most week nights, but we are not formal people. While a large-enough dining space is important, we don’t need two areas for dining, one for formal meals and a second for casual. Similarly, I don’t own any furniture that would even belong in a formal living room.
With this list in mind, we have been scouring Zillow and Redfin, and touring homes, hoping to find the one for us. The search has lead us to an expected find and I cannot wait to tell you more about it.
Are you moving? Here are the first 4 questions you need to answer before you start shopping for new digs.
I have had a lot of time to think about things these last few months. With no yard work or home improvement projects, no staging the house or cleaning up for showings, my calendar has opened up considerably. Combine that with the fact that the boys can play with any of the 2 dozen kids that live in the complex, and I’ve had plenty of time for day-dreaming.
While my thoughts have ranged from “maybe I should try surfing” to “I wonder if we could run away in an RV next year”, I kept coming back to the thought that the decision we make about how and where to live next will create the backdrop for some of the most vivid memories in our boys’ lives. The next 5 to 10 years are the ones where they’ll be learning how to be members of society, and determining what kind of person they want to become. I find myself using this “backdrop” image as the starting point for where we go in the next stage of our lives and I have come up with a list of questions that helped me figure it all out.
1.) What do you want to be close to?
If you are considering a new location in the same metro area, this might be easier, but it applies to any move. Do you want to be close to the beach or the mountains? To be close to family or close to your dream job? How far you are willing to commute to work? Make a list of what is important first. Re-order it second.
For us, family and commute times topped the list.
Family: My sisters and mother live in the next county over and I wanted to be able to visit with them without too far of a drive. We were shooting no more than for 45 minutes by car to my mom’s place so that we have lots of opportunities for the boys to hang out with her, my sisters and all of the cousins.
Commute time: We considered how far we wanted to be to our jobs, the boys’ schools and big-city amenities and venues. Our upper limit for any of these was 30 minutes by car, shorter if possible. We wanted more time to do things, less time getting to the things we wanted to do.
Items that made the list, but were less important were closeness to the airport, closeness to the boys’ soccer fields, or to major shopping outlets. Also, we did not have to consider zoning for schools since the boys currently attend a magnet program, but we did noodle the proximity to their future schooling needs.
2.) What do you want to be walking-distance or biking-distance to?
This is different than the above because you can be 10 minutes from the beach by car, but the terrain might prevent you from biking there. You need to consider what things need to be the MOST convenient.
Are you picturing walking your dog to get your morning coffee at Starbucks? Do you want to be able to get gas or buy a gallon of milk without a long drive? How about your favorite restaurants? Is there a way to live close to one that you frequent?
If you are looking at neighborhoods with amenities, do you want to be really close to the community center or pool…or really NOT close. (Maybe you don’t want people walking by your home all of the time on their way to go swimming.)
For us, we wanted to be able to walk with the boys to get dinner at one or two neat places, or to be able to ride our bikes to the river or to a park.
3.) What kind of weekends do you want to have?
After we moved out of our last house, we said we never again wanted to have a yard that owned us. Our weekends were spent mowing, edging and blowing, mulching bagging and weeding. And when we finally caved and hired someone, we had to add in the extra funds into our monthly budget to cover the service.
Untamed rural and urban homes often have little upkeep, while suburban homes have more work required and might even fine owners whose yards are not kept in good shape. Condos and townhomes might have no upkeep required for individual owners, but you may be assessed for the costs to have a professional crew do the maintenance for common areas.
We decided our next house would have a smaller, more manageable yard; it would be big enough to kick a soccer ball around or let the dog out for exercise, but not so big we had to work on it all the time. We ruled out suburban neighbors with big lots, as well as condos or townhomes.
4.) How close do you want to be to your neighbors, literally and figuratively?
The obvious answers to this question address proximity to the next house or unit. Do you want to share a wall or share a fence? Do you want to run into people as you pull into the garage, or wave by them as you drive out of the neighborhood?
It is also about lifestyle. There are plenty of condo-dwellers who live on opposite sides of a wall who never speak to each other. Similarly, there are many suburban, planned or rural communities that have neighborhood events where people make a point to get to know each other.
We have missed out on making friends in a neighborhood for a decade. I envy those families who have neighbors who socialize in the street, whose kids play together, roaming in packs on bikes and passing effortlessly between houses, and who look out for each other. We were looking for a place with a robust, intentional community-feel.
Before we got clear on what we wanted, we were literally all over the map. This exercise helped us come to the conclusion that we need to limit our search to the neighborhoods in and around the city center. It has made taking the next steps in our search so much easier.
Considering moving? Let me know if you have other variables you considered or if these helped you with narrowing your search.
One happy day in the Spring of 2007, HH and I bought a 1976 traditional house in the Mandarin neighborhood of Jacksonville. It was decorated in the style of “Early Ugly”, the previous owners having built the place 31 years prior, choosing decorator finishes that were all the rage in the 70’s (a green toilet, shag carpet, popcorn ceiling, foiled wallpaper and such.) Decor aside, it was on a half acre lot with Spanish moss-covered oak trees, and it was the perfect location for the next stage in our lives. We planned, as so many did in the early 2000’s, to renovate it, then host regular weekend parties, maybe grow our family in it, and then sell it a few years later for a hefty profit, a mere stepping stone to bigger and better real estate in the booming Florida market.
It is cliche to even say it, but my friends, life often doesn’t go as planned. One recession, one job eliminated, and two new babies later, we realized that we were going to live in this house for a long….long….long time.
About 2 years in, I asked HH what his favorite spot was in the backyard. He was puzzled until I explained that I was convinced we were going to die in this house and, should he go before me, I wanted to know where he’d like to be laid to rest. It was that bad.
In 2012, things started to look up. With the early success of my Rodan + Fields business and other strokes of good fortune, HH began the process of renovating our ugly home. Like most people who choose to renovate their home while they live in it, it goes incredibly slow and is horribly disruptive.
I went nearly 2 full years without kitchen counters, choosing to use discarded remnants of other people’s kitchen counters rested atop our cabinets until we could afford the Quartz we wanted. The wood flooring we laid in 2014 did not match the kind we laid in 2012, so it had to be done again. We never once had a car parked in the garage because it held tools, flooring, tile, grout, base boards, lighting fixtures, crown molding, faucets, and more, not to mention the stuff that comes with 3 babies/boys.
Even with the improvements, we were stuck. The house was all-consuming, leaving little time for family fun, no place for entertaining, and no extra money for anything.
Fast forward to this Spring, when the last bathroom had been gutted, tossing out mustard yellow tile and a Formica vanity to make way for a white subway surround and gorgeous modern double sinks.
When the last coat of paint dried, we realized the house was not only done, it was sell-able. And unless we wanted to re-do everything again (as realists, we know that with time comes a few broken windows, some school-age graffiti and general boy-life damage), we’d better hop to it.
So we sold it.
This was the house that my twins came home to, where two of my kids learned to walk and all three learned to ride a bike, where we held bouncy house birthday parties for Vader’s 3rd and 10th birthday (and my 40th!). It was the place where my marriage was tested and not only survived, but thrived.
This was also a house that weighed on us like a ton of bricks, that kept us up many late nights whether in heated discussions about what we could afford to do next or quietly working away, covered in dust/paint/caulk/dirt from demolition or sanding or whatever was the project of the month.
And now, another family will get to enjoy the fruit of that labor.
What lies ahead for the Chapman family is a total departure from the last 9 and a half years. We have swapped our 2500 SF traditional and big yard for a 1350 SF apartment with a screened-in porch that is one-third the size of a decent parking space.
I am psyched.
I have the declared the next 12 months as the #YearOfResortLiving. We will swim in the pool, workout in the gym, and play in the game room. We will spend less time working on the upkeep of our place and more time exploring our city and hanging out with friends. And if you took the time to read this all the way through, my friends, that means YOU. I may not have a guest room for weekend visits, but I do have a ridiculously strong desire to invite you over for a cold beer and a swim before the weather turns cool, or for a cookout in the fall using the shared grill and fire pit area.
Consider yourself invited – let’s do it soon.
Beyond that, who knows. HH and I have talked about so many possiblities and the fact that we have options is fun, all by itself. There is no hurry to get to a decision any time soon.
In the meantime, happy trails, Spanish Cove. If you need me, I will be by the pool.