Posts tagged home
50-Step Guide: Our Path to Buying a House AND Remodeling It

It’s crazy to think that at this time last year, we were just barely getting started with our contractor and frantically planning the initial stages of renovations. As we reflect upon everything that 2018 has taught us, it’s the perfect time to post this step-by-step list that captures a rough timeline of the entire process. Now flashback to Oct. 2017…


When we started this process, we kept everything as private as possible. We didn’t tell our friends until April when everything was officially moving in the right direction. But through it all, we kept track of our progress to share some knowledge we’ve learned along the way.

  1. Visit open houses. We visited probably close to 20 open houses between September and October. Our #1 rule was to NOT get emotionally invested in any of the properties to avoid any extra stress or disappointment alter.

  2. We made an offer in early October.

  3. We didn’t get the house. (mid-October)

  4. We made another offer. (end of October)

  5. Negotiations began.

  6. Escrow began. Our escrow period lasted 45 days. In that time, we worked extremely closely with our escrow agent. She was detail-oriented and needed paperwork ASAP. This meant we had to dig up old W-2s, 1099s, previous landlords’ contact info, and all the stuff you throw into storage bins for that “just-in-case-this-piece-of-paper-ever-matters” moment. After about 30 days, all signs pointed to us getting the house so we started creating vision boards for each room. This helped us get an idea for how much we wanted to renovate now, the overall theme of the house, and general budgeting. We also got a head start on giving the cabinets a facelift.

  7. Escrow ended. We met our escrow agent in-person, signed a buttload of paperwork, and submitted our downpayment. (Dec. 17)

  8. We got the keys. After the downpayment was processed, we met with our real estate agent to get the keys to the house. (Dec. 18)

  9. We got 3 trees removed. The massive sycamore tree was in the front yard and blocked the entire house from view. Also, its roots were most likely interfering with the pipes that drained to the street, so we knew it had to go. We also removed 2 dead trees in the backyard (a palm tree and a ficus tree that was covered in poison ivy). (Jan. 2)

  10. We got mold removed. There was a lot, and it was gross.

  11. We interviewed contractors. Many were condescending because they could tell we’re a young couple. Others were untrustworthy because they were unrealistic with the budget.

  12. We hired a contractor.

  13. Demolition began on Jan. 15.

  14. We replaced all the electrical in the house because it had not been updated since 1950.

  15. We also replaced the plumbing in the house because, you guessed it – the pipes were old AF.

  16. We got the gas line installed because whaddyaknow – no gas line either! The previous owners were super paranoid that it would make the house explode or something. So we submitted paperwork with the city and got the line and meter installed (but no actual gas set up yet).

  17. Bathrooms demolished. Not part of the original plan, but due to LOTS of dry rot and mold, we knew it was the best decision. It was great to have the freedom to completely customize the bathroom configurations, but also a huge headache. Where should the toilet go? Which direction should it face? Which bathroom should have a tub? Both? Neither? We sketched tons of layouts, called Alex’s mom for her thoughts, and met with our plumber to visualize it in-person with a measuring tape. (early Feb)

  18. We got window measurements done and gathered quotes to replace them all too. The windows were super old, flimsy or missing, and poorly insulated.

  19. More plumbing and electrical surprises and decisions. Where should the exterior lights go? How many outlets do you want? Which lights should have dimmers? Where do you want the internet installed? We spent every weekend making multiple trip to Lowes and Home Depot to look at light fixtures and buy whichever ones caught our eyes. Then we would go to the house, unbox them, and hold them up against the wall. If we liked it, we would label the box very clearly so our contractor would know where to install it. Otherwise, we would return it and keep trying to find the best lights that were bright, efficient, and within budget.

  20. Final window measurements. They double checked that all the window measurements were correct (a few were a little off).

  21. Framing. The final wall in the kitchen was knocked down which made us very happy!

  22. We bought the front door, glazed it ourselves on my birthday, and had it installed that week. (end of March)

  23. First round of Inspections. It was cancelled 3 times which meant that we spent an entire week waiting and making zero progress. That also meant that we would definitely not hit our projected move-in date of March 31. Patience level is at an all-time low.

  24. Drywall & stucco began (2 days). The materials needed to patch up all the holes were another unexpected cost.

  25. Inspection for drywall & stucco (1 day).

  26. Skimming for drywall & stucco (3 days).

  27. Hot mop in shower and bathtub (1 weekend). The house is starting to look like a house again. (early April)

  28. Another layer of cement poured into the master bathroom.

  29. Install tiles (2 days).

  30. Install laminate floors (3 days). We were very fortunate to get our hands on this backordered laminate flooring. After many phone calls, we were even able to get to the top of the waitlist.

  31. Install windows. This took an entire week because we needed to install a “metal waterproof pan.” Our contractor told us this would be required in order to pass inspections, so it was up to us to confirm with the window installers. Well, of course they had no idea what we were talking about, so we kept repeating ourselves until they finally got in touch with our contractor. Definitely one of those instances where we had no idea what we were talking about, but we just needed to say it and get it done right, no matter how dumb it sounded. (mid April)

  32. Install cabinets for the kitchen island and fridge panel. This was one of my favorite days, but also anxiety-inducing because 1) there were at least 10-15 dudes working on the house 2) we were praying that we had bought enough quartz (two jumbo slabs) and 3) that all the measurements would line up and fit our appliances which we had bought just a couple weeks earlier. It also at this point that we started calling, texting, and emailing our contractor every morning and night to make sure he stayed on schedule.

  33. We spoke with fabricator about the countertop design. Originally, we had wanted to add an extra slab on top for a contemporary bar area like this, but after realizing it would cost at least another $4k, we quickly abandoned that idea. We’re so glad that we did too because the pure white quartz is enough of a statement on its own.

  34. Scheduled + passed the first round of inspections (1 day).

  35. Install exterior doors and locks (3 days). Also frantically made a run to Home Depot to purchase the new doorknobs to go along with them. You just really never think about all the parts that go into a house. It was extra fun because Home Depot didn’t carry the matte black color we wanted. Neither did Amazon. So we had to order it through build.com which worked out great!

  36. Finished electrical for inspection (install ceiling fans, outlets, exterior and interior lights). It was a huge pain. (1 day)

  37. Patch any holes or blemishes in drywall (1 day)

  38. Install sinks and countertops (1 day). Things started moving pretty quickly at this point because we had already bought all the fixtures, labeled where they should go, and stored them in the garage for our contractor to install. (end of April)

  39. Install toilets and shower heads. (1 day)

  40. Finish plumbing for inspection. (1 day)

  41. Install kitchen appliances and turn on gas. (2 days)

  42. Install shower doors.

  43. Install cabinet handles on kitchen island.

  44. Install backsplash.

  45. Install island hood vent.

  46. Final inspection! We passed!!! Which meant that we could officially move in. (April 30)

  47. Install water heater. Yes, we moved into the house without hot water.

  48. Install chandelier and outstanding lights.

  49. Schedule appointment with the gas company to install the meter and hook it up with the appliances. This took an entire month. In the meantime, we took hot showers at Alex’s office gym or boiled water in the electric kettle and brought pots into the shower.

  50. Cook a meal on the gas stove and take a long, hot shower!!! (May 10)

Stripping and Painting the Cabinet Interiors

The goal for this weekend was to make everything as dirty as possible. We’re anticipating that the floors will go in sometime this week so we wanted to make sure that we finished sanding the beams and stripping the cabinet faces while we still had the chance to make a mess. The paint stripper is extremely corrosive and it would break our hearts if it messed up our new floors.

First, I applied paint stripper to the cabinet frames (the parts that face outward, in between the cabinet doors). That was the easy part.

Then, I applied paint stripper to the inside of the cabinet. This was a bit trickier because it's harder to reach and the angles were weird. I didn't do the entire interior. Just enough to remove the gross stains or yucky oils. These cabinets will house our pots, pans, dishes, and pantry items and even though they'll all have cabinet liners, I was grossed out by the thought of years of grime touching our food and ingesting who knows what.

We plan to do some more stripping and sanding this weekend. But if the floors are installed, we'll save it for after we move in and lay out tons of painters plastic.

Weekend Progress: Stripped Ceiling Beams (Finally)

Last weekend, Alex started stripping the paint from the wooden beams in both bedrooms. The task was much harder than the kitchen cabinets because the layers of paint were thicker and more difficult to reach. Alex’s co-worker Daniel helped us sand the beams in the master bedroom while Alex stripped the paint in the guest bedroom. After about 6 hours, the beams in the master bedroom were done! The next day, Alex finished up the beams in the guest bedroom.

One of the main reasons why we wanted to strip the paint now was because the flooring hasn’t been installed yet. This means we can make a giant mess without worrying about damaging anything. The paint stripper is extremely abrasive (we’ve gotten a few splatters on our skin and it burns) so when Alex scrapes the paint off, it lands on the floor in giant,  chemical-filled piles — completely harmless to the ground that is soon-to-be covered in our beautiful laminate.

More updates:

  • We have walls! Drywall went up last week, and we just need them to “skim” it with a smooth surface for us to paint when we move in. The other option would be a textured surface, but we want it smooth.
  • The kitchen soffit is now filled with insulation, also ready to be drywalled this week.
  • The roofing guys were there on Saturday to install foam insulation.
  • All of the flooring has been picked up and is waiting in the garage to be installed. It was a little bit of a stressful ordeal to get it ordered and expedited so when we opened it up, I couldn’t help but hug it. We also have baseboards chosen.
  • Our front door is ready for pickup! Our contractor will get it and install it. He’s also picking up the bathroom floor tile for us.
HomeDaphne Chanhome, DIY
Stripping the Ceiling Beams + Cabinet Update

This past weekend, in addition to choosing countertops and toilets, we also started stripping the paint from the bedroom ceilings. And by we, I mean Alex because I was too short to reach them.

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We love the look of the hardwood, but unfortunately, the entire ceiling in both bedrooms were painted white. So we're following the same technique we're using for the cabinets to strip the paint from the beams. After Alex and his friend Daniel finish stripping and sanding them this weekend, we'll stain them so that all the beams look consistent.

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While Alex was doing all this, I was figuring out which cabinets we actually needed. Back in November, we started stripping all the cabinets. But since we hadn't hired a contractor at that time, we didn't know exactly which cabinets we would be demolishing. Now that we've demolished quite a few of cabinets, we don't actually need a lot of the shelves and doors that we previously stripped, primed, and painted. So I fit them all back into their original spots, labeled them with painters tape according to columns (A through K from left to right... the tape is messed up because our dog Shabu chewed it), and set aside the ones that don't fit anywhere anymore. We're still keeping them in the garage though just in case!

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HomeDaphne Chanhome, DIY
Why You Should Make Mood Boards

Flipping a house can be overwhelming and expensive. There are a ton of moving pieces, but mood boards will help you stay organized and keep your eyes on the prize. Here’s a quick look at my process!

Instead of Photoshop or Houzz, I wanted to use something that I could constantly adjust and bring with me on-the-go. I decided to use Google Slides which worked out perfectly. I had the app on my phone so I could look at it wherever (furniture shopping, running around Home Depot, waiting in line, etc.). I could also export it as a PDF and show our vision to our families. But most importantly, I could keep it open at my desk throughout the day and add to it as I researched.

We're changing the front door and adding a wall sconce to the exterior entryway. It doesn't get much sunlight, so we'll be sprucing it up with fake plants and river rocks. Eventually, we want to paint the house dark gray.

We're changing the front door and adding a wall sconce to the exterior entryway. It doesn't get much sunlight, so we'll be sprucing it up with fake plants and river rocks. Eventually, we want to paint the house dark gray.

We knew that we wanted a neutral color palette (white walls, wood floor and ceilings, gray and black furniture). From there, I went room by room and scoured Pinterest to find photographs that matched our layout and mid-century modern aesthetic. The photo(s) on the left of the mood boards show what the house looked like when we bought it.

We're turning the former dining area into an interior entryway for guests to place their coats and shoes. There's also a mail slot so we'll be placing a bench and small basket to catch the mail.

We're turning the former dining area into an interior entryway for guests to place their coats and shoes. There's also a mail slot so we'll be placing a bench and small basket to catch the mail.

I’m not getting too hung up on furniture at this point. My main focus is the permanent fixtures: the flooring, tiles, hardware, windows, doors. As we make more progress with the house construction and purchasing appliances, I’ve been updating the mood boards almost every month. It’s a great way to see how everything will fit together at the very end.

These were some of my early inspiration photos for the kitchen island. In the beginning, we weren't sure if we could knock down the fireplace and adjacent wall so I pulled a lot of options just in case we couldn't achieve a fully open layout.

These were some of my early inspiration photos for the kitchen island. In the beginning, we weren't sure if we could knock down the fireplace and adjacent wall so I pulled a lot of options just in case we couldn't achieve a fully open layout.

This is an updated version with a rough comp of our blueprint, appliances, pendant lights, and countertops all together.

This is an updated version with a rough comp of our blueprint, appliances, pendant lights, and countertops all together.

I'll share more mood boards once we move in and put the rooms together!

Byeee Mold

We started mold removal yesterday, and it's wrapping up today. It's mostly in the ceiling of the bathroom, lower cabinets in the hallway closet and kitchen, and one side of the garage wall. Ew.

We also moved the trash, recycling, and yard bins in and out for collection for the very first time!

Backyard Clean-up

To celebrate the new year, we bought a shovel and trimming shears from Home Depot and set to work cleaning up the backyard. We only had enough time to get our hands dirty for an hour, but it felt so good to start making progress. Everything is incredibly dead, dry, and brittle, so every little bit of uprooting helps.

Done Deal

We just signed all the paperwork and closing costs with escrow. Just a few more days to process it all and then we'll get the keys!!!

HomeDaphne Chanhome
1st Project: The Cabinets
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Alex and I took advantage of the long Thanksgiving weekend to kick off the first of our many home improvement projects. After researching and testing the process out on one of the cabinets on our apartment balcony, we removed all the kitchen cabinets and doors. There were a lot.

We set up shop in the garage, blasted the “Hamilton” soundtrack, and got to work removing all the hardware. We put on disposable gloves and applied some paint stripper to each with a disposable paintbrush, scraped the paint off, applied another layer, scraped more, and discovered a goopy yellow paint underneath it all. Turns out, it’s some kind of wood primer that had a strange reaction to the paint stripper, turning it into a clay-like substance. After more scraping and wiping, Alex sanded them down with a Dewalt orbit sander. On the bigger pantry doors, we used Strypeeze which was much more potent and required us to wear a safety mask. Repeat repeat repeat.

After about 4 hours, we were ready for some Korean soup!

The next day, Alex and I went back to the house with our McDonald’s breakfast. We continued stripping the paint with sturdier tiling gloves and a more potent stripper! It was a little easier this time around, and we managed to get 90% of it done. Our plan is to start priming the cabinets this weekend.