Checklist: Kitchen + Bathroom Walkthrough

Welcome back to another episode (post?) of things to look for when you’re walking through a potential new home. For a quick refresher, Andy is sharing his home walkthrough checklist that he uses when we walk new houses, which can be incredibly helpful if you’re in a competitive home buying market and a full home inspection could make or break your offer. If you missed our first post on this, would recommend checking it out first and then coming back here!

Today, Andy is sharing his lists for the kitchen, bathroom and attic. Potential red flags or damage in these areas is usually much easier to spot than others, but we’ve seen plenty of low-grade “renovations” that hide big problems behind cosmetic changes. This checklist will help you know what to spot, if it’s serious and what it could mean for your budget if you decide to make an offer.


  • Appliances: Check the age of every appliance. If any of them are seven years or older, they’re at risk of breaking at any time, so budget for a replacement. You could also ask the seller to provide a home warranty to cover the cost for replacements if it’s really dire. 
  • Water Damage: Check under the sink cabinet for any leaks or water damage to the cabinet. Some  flooring is more prone to water damage such as hardwood. Look around the sink, the water dispenser by the refrigerator, or the end of cabinets where water could have splashed up against the sides. 


  • Mold: Don’t get too scared about surface level mold. It’s never great, but some elbow grease and bleach will take care of it. However, cracked caulking and mold together can be signs that the current owners are not maintaining the bathroom and water could be getting behind the walls and causing more serious damage. 
  • Water Damage: Look under the sink. If a past homeowner has done some sub-par DIY work, it usually surfaces with the plumbing under the sink. Check the bottom of the cabinet for water damage and if the pipes look funky, chances are they are and it’s a red flag. 
  • Pipes Under the Sink: Identify whether the pipes under the sink are copper, CPVC or PEX. Copper is typically in older homes and they can form pinhole leaks over time, although you can keep them if they’re in good condition. PEX had a few bad years with faulty products, but newer pipes are top of the line, so if you’re concerned, ask when they were most recently changed. CPVC is usually the safest and best bet, as long as they look to be in good condition.


  • Roof: Chances are you won’t be going up during an open house, but it’s good to look at the underside of the roof for signs of water damage or mold to give you an idea on the roof condition. If you see extensive damage to the roof on the inside of the attic or outside the house, you might be able to work a new roof into the deal from the seller. 
  • Trusses: Look for any trusses that might not be straight or are cracking as these are a structural concern and worth talking to an engineer about before making an offer.  
  • Insulation: Check that there is insulation in the attic and that it is more or less evenly distributed. If it’s not, it could affect energy efficiency and comfort. It’s not that expensive to fix if you need to, but worth noting if you aren’t having a formal home inspection and not in a crazy seller’s market.

Check back soon for our final checklist of the group: the basement! What are your walkthrough stories? Anything you caught or didn’t catch that impacted your home buying experience?

Checklist: Exterior & Interior Home Walkthrough

There are several daunting tasks to complete when you’re a first time home buyer, but noticing potential problem spots while you’re walking a home can be one of the hardest if you don’t have a construction or home service background. A few of our friends just purchased new homes and Andy was always one of their first phone calls afterwards if they were concerned about a specific area. 

If it’s available to you, adding a formal home inspection to your offer is always a safe route to go, especially on your first home. As with any service, we highly recommend asking your realtor or looking for reviews online to find a trusted inspector. It’s an blind investment up front, but it’s better than a surprise investment later on after you’ve bought the home. 

In today’s real estate market though, a home inspection could make or break your offer, which is why we’ve created our list of key items to look for when you walk a home. This doesn’t replace a formal home inspection, but the idea is for you to notice issues that might require one if you’d like to move forward and help you plan any type of renovation budget later. 

There’s so many spaces to unpack in a home, so we’ll be sharing a few rooms a week to help you build a full list, starting with the exterior and a few interior items to look for throughout the entire home. 


  • Roof shingles: Any shingles missing, lifting up, or looking patchy? This could indicate past damage and if it looks bad, it probably is. Ask your realtor when the roof was last replaced – they should have it as part of the information provided about the home. Roofs need to be replaced every 25-30 years, so if you’re nearing that timeline on the home, it should be factored into your budget. 
  • Rotted trim + paint + siding: On face value, this shows a lack of overall maintenance and if the previous owner didn’t take care of the outside, there’s no telling what’s been ignored on the inside. Also, depending on the extent of the rot, water damage could also indicate improper water management with gutter leaks, standing water, etc.
  • Cracked brick: Check for major cracks in the brick or siding of the home. Single or small cracked bricks aren’t too worrisome, but if you can follow a crack a couple of feet or you see a large one near a window, there might be a serious structural concern. Structural concern = expensive. 
  • Windows: Have they been updated or kept in good condition, or do they need some love? New windows are VERY expensive, so be prepared to replace them if needed. If the glass is double-pained, check to see if it has dirt or water in between the cracks, which could indicate a seal failure. Also, this seems logical but make sure you can open them! 
  • Grade: Make sure that the ground slopes away from the house. Any pooling water against the foundation can cause issues with the foundation. 
  • Signs of pest damage: Holes, channels, “rotting” or soft wood can all be signs that the home has more than human occupants. Termites can be bad news so if you see any of the signs we mentioned above, you’ll definitely want a pest inspection to find out more. You don’t want to discover that bats or a raccoon live in your attic on the first night sleeping there and you don’t want to put off the expense of termite damage for later. You also don’t have to bring a full on home inspector into the mix if this is your only concern too, which is helpful when you’re making an offer or being budget conscious!


  • Drywall cracking: Monitor for drywall cracks, anything large enough that you could stick a coin through. Small ones are normal in every house after settlement and small movements overtime. Large cracks or any that can be seen in the same area on multiple floors can signify a larger issue.
  • Uneven floors: As you walk, feel for any unevenness in the floor. It’s not always a serious issue, but worth getting a second opinion on to make sure it’s not a larger settlement issue. 
  • Leaks: Keep an eye out for leaks in the ceiling, walls, around baseboards, etc. A shady seller might also try to cover these up with paint, so pay attention to any fresh paint in random areas around the home.
  • Smoke & carbon monoxide detectors: Make sure these monitors are visible and readily available throughout the home. They’re required by building codes now, but some older homes might have skated by. It’s always a good idea to have a smoke detector in each bedroom, one on each floor in the hallway or main area, and at least one carbon monoxide detector in the house, usually on any bedroom level.

What were some of the things that you noticed during a home walkthrough? Did you buy the house or move on? We’d love to hear your stories! Stay tuned next week for our kitchen + bathroom checklists. 

Managing House Hunting Stress & Anxiety

Every new step in life brings its own set of stress and anxiety – and the home buying, selling and renovating process is no exception. Even in our mid-20’s, we’ve definitely grown a few extra gray hairs over the past year selling our old place, buying a new one and immediately jumping into renovations. There’s always stress when money is involved and there’s no escaping that anxiety of hoping everything falls into place the way you hope it does.

One upside to this is that you’re not alone! There are plenty of other people who are or have been in the same position that can help you along the way and that always always helps. 

While we were the first of our close friends to purchase a home, our parents were a helpful resource when it came to asking our realtor questions we hadn’t thought about or preparing for potential scenarios that could arise while we planned a sale and purchase at the same time. On the renovation side, we’re fortunate to have Andy’s experience, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t been stressed about material timelines or potential disasters we could find under the floor or behind the wall. 

We had no idea how much beautiful outdoor scenes would play a role into our house search in the future. We love being so close to trails and wildlife preservations.

Managing stress is incredibly important in this process, so here are a few things that have helped us manage ours during our buy/sell process and every major home renovation we undergo:

  1. Break Your To-Do List Into Smaller Tasks

We’re to-do list people and if you aren’t, this is probably a good time to start! There can be a lot to juggle simultaneously while you’re buying, selling, or starting a new home project and it’s helpful to have somewhere to keep track of it all so you don’t miss anything. Some steps are going to seem small, like calling to schedule inspections on a new or existing home, and others steps are going to be big, like tiling an entire shower. It’s helpful to break them up into even smaller tasks when possible to show yourself  momentum and stay motivated as you check things off. 

  1. Lean On Your Community 

When you’re embarking on a new buying/selling or home renovation journey, it’s important to have smart and supportive people in your corner to help you when you need it. A smart, reliable local realtor will be your biggest asset with a new buy or sell because they can help manage anxiety by guiding you through the process and anticipating your needs. With a home renovation project, it’s always a good idea to have a contractor or handy-person in your contacts to ask quick questions or swoop in if you need a last minute assist. Both of these individuals can provide you with practical, helpful advice that can help with feelings of anxiety. Talk to your friends and family too — your regular support system — within reason! We all have those friends and family members that love to provide unsolicited advice, and while we all know they mean well, it’s important to tell them when you just need a sounding board or when you don’t need advice so you can focus on what you want. 

  1. Know When to Take a Break

It may seem like taking a break from shopping for a home in an aggressive market or a big renovation project isn’t a good idea – and there are certain moments where a pause isn’t a good idea, especially if it means you’re losing money. But taking a step back can be a valuable moment to get a better perspective on a situation and squash persistent feelings of stress and anxiety. You might see a challenging step in a project more clearly or make a new assessment on your wish list for your next home – time away can help you reset and decide what’s important to you. A break also doesn’t have to be long! Enjoy a nice day or afternoon outside with family or friends or take a weekend trip to step away. You’ll be surprised how diverting energy for even a few hours can be refreshing in the midst of a stressful moment. 

One last piece of advice — always keep the end goal in mind. I think you could say this about any major life moment or project, but we found it to be especially important here because the end goal is a new home or a new space that you get to enjoy everyday! In moments of major stress, like when we ripped up our entire kitchen and could barely use the microwave and fridge for a few weeks, it was important to take a moment to recognize why we were in this position and think about the dream kitchen that was on the other side. That vision helped us carry on while we could only use one outlet or have to keep blocking the entrance to the kitchen so the dog couldn’t get into an active work zone.  

But sometimes, even the end goal isn’t enough. If it’s getting to the point where the stress is more than the end product is worth, it may be time to reassess the situation you’re in and take a different path. Your mental health and motivation is critical in making these things possible, so it’s important to acknowledge when something isn’t working out and causing you too much stress. Take a break from the home search if you’re not finding what you want or call in a second opinion on a project that you wanted to do yourself. Taking a step back can be really helpful in managing stress and keeping you on track. 

Again, all of these projects can and will be stressful, but it’s all worth it in the end! When you take it step by step and lean on your support system to help, things are much more manageable.

The First Week in Your New Home

The first days in your new home are some of the most exciting times! All the work that you put into buying and potentially selling your last place has finally paid off – and the big part of the moving process is (hopefully!) over. Unpacking boxes and deciding where things will go can be overwhelming, but you really have all the time that you need to make your house a home – which for us is probably just before we decide to sell it! 

In addition to assembling the furniture so you’ll have a place to sleep and collapse in front of the TV after a long day of moving and unpacking, there’s a couple of other early, little-known steps you can take to truly make your house your own. We will warn you, they’re not the cutest things that will instantly make your house perfect and beautiful, but they’ll give you peace of mind as you settle in. 

  1. Change the Locks

The first and probably most obvious first step is to change all the locks in your new home. You don’t know who had a key from the previous owner and no one ever wants an expected visitor. This also includes reprogramming any garage codes or openers too. All items are easy to change with a simple call to a locksmith and can be taken care of immediately after closing. 

  1. Clean Everything and Change the Toilet Seats

Again, another well-known step, but it’s important to clean all surfaces before you move into a new home, even if they look like they’ve been recently cleaned already. The thought of a daily shower in a stranger’s bathroom isn’t appealing to anyone – so take the time to give everything at least a Clorox wipe down. Who doesn’t love the smell of a newly cleaned house anyways? Also – if you’re not planning on getting new toilets for a room renovation, buy yourself some new toilet seats. You don’t know how long they’ve been there and it’s something you’ll use everyday. They’re cheap and easy to replace with a screwdriver! 

  1. Change Air & Water Filters

One of the most important things – if not the most important – in your new home will be the cleanliness of the air you breathe and the water you drink. Change your air and water filters immediately upon moving into a new home, especially if it’s an older house. You won’t know the last time that they were changed and unless you personally watched the filters be changed prior to closing or move-in, it’s always a good idea to update them yourself so you can get on a schedule of when they need to be changed moving forward. If you want to take an extra step with the air filters or your new home has an old home smell, you can clean out your ducts to make sure that the air is as clean as possible. 

  1. Forward Your Mail

The last thing that you’ll want is to miss mail at your old address, so take the extra step of having things forwarded at the post office to your new one while you change over your address with your bank or other vendors. It’s also a good moment to delete any previous addresses from places you frequently order from, like Amazon, or food delivery. We’ve had our fair share of orders going to the wrong location in the past! 

  1. Watch for Leaks, Creaks, or Anything Out of the Ordinary

It’s likely that you received an inspection before moving into your new home that would have caught any major damage or problems. However, it’s important to remember that the inspection is just a snapshot of what living in your new house would be like. A sink might be able to show that it can run for two minutes, but may leak after cleaning up dinner. You’ll want to be on high alert for anything that could be wrong with the house over the first week, in case it’s a symptom of a larger problem. That being said, there will be noises that you’re not accustomed to, especially if you’re moving into an old house. You might not sleep well at the beginning because you hear everything and that’s okay. You’ll know when something isn’t right – even if it’s your first home. 

Most of these tips are practical knowledge that a good realtor or even close parent will tell you as you embark on your home buying journey. However, they’re not innate to everyone, and they’ve certainly helped us and our friends in their first weeks at their new homes. We had to be especially dedicated to cleaning when we bought our most recent home because of the pandemic and certainly plan to keep that level of cleanliness up in every new home we purchase. 

What are some of the first things that you’ve done in your new house? We’d love to hear your tips and tricks in the comments!

How to House Hunt in an Ultra-Competitive Market

House hunting during the peak spring market is kind of like the crazy chaos you’d imagine in stores on Black Friday or with the release of a new Apple product. There’s a heightened sense of anxiety in securing an appointment at a home with multiple showings, coupled with a fear of who else might want your dream home and what offer they’re putting in to try to beat yours. It’s basically a competition; you want to win and you want the discomfort of the situation to end as quickly as possible. 

While there will always be anxiety around buying and selling a home, or any major purchase for that matter, but there’s a few things that you can do to prepare yourself to manage the stress of house hunting and get the outcome that you want. 

It starts by developing that comprehensive budget, location and wish list that we discussed in our last home buying post (and if you haven’t read that yet, would recommend starting there first). This list will help you narrow your search to homes that best meet your criteria and set you up for success before you even go to a showing. 

Here’s a few other tips we have for finding homes in a competitive market:

  1. Check listings early and often

When you sign with a realtor, you’ll gain access to your local multiple listing service (MLS), where your realtor will flag potential listings that fit your criteria. It’s important to check MLS and Zillow/Redfin/etc. daily while you’re searching for a home to keep pace with other buyers. It’s hard to predict what a seller is looking for in a buyer and consistently checking new listings will ensure you’re seeing potential properties as early as possible. A common tactic is putting new listings on MLS as “coming soon” on Tuesdays and active on Thursdays to drum up interest for the coming weekend. If daily searching is too big of a commitment, checking in on Tuesdays and Thursdays will get you the most benefit for your time. 

  1. Be flexible

On top of the looming financial commitment, house hunting is a major time commitment. You have to be willing to sacrifice entire weekends or your hard earned paid time off to see homes at a moment’s notice. You also need a realtor who has a similar mindset – if they aren’t replying to your interest in seeing a home the same or next day, they might not be the best person to help you navigate the process. A typical weekend morning for us during our house hunt was checking MLS, calling our realtor to schedule an appointment and out the door with coffee in hand all within 45 minutes. You have to be vigilant and consistent to get the best results. 

  1. Be prepared to make an offer at (almost) any point

In any market, it can be hard to determine what a seller is looking for in a buyer, whether they just want to sell the home for the sticker price and get out or if they want to see how much they can get through a bidding war or by asking potential buyers to remove contingencies from their offer. A good realtor can help you try to figure out a seller’s motives, but both scenarios require a quick, competitive offer. This is where your list comes in handy again – if the property checked your most important boxes, you can be prepared to make a decision faster and smarter. Similarly to your realtor, your lender (if you have one) should also be prepared to help you prepare an offer on relatively short notice. They can work together to ensure that your offer gets in during the seller’s timeline and delivers your best chance at being approved. 

At every stage in the process, it’s always incredibly important to ask your realtor a lot of questions. In a competitive market, you have to be ready to make an offer within hours of seeing a home and you need to treat almost every showing as if you could be seeing your future home. Ask their opinion on any potential major expenses, like a foundation crack or issue with the roof, that you might be able to mention in an offer or potential renovation considerations for future investment as you might want to go with a lower down payment to leave cash leftover for the project. Get a feel for the neighborhood if you’re not familiar with the area and understand the local HOA and community amenities too. Minor details like this will become major to you if you decide to purchase the home. 

We wish we could tell you there was an easy fix to anxiety around buying a new home, but as with most things, the only thing you can do to manage it is try to be as prepared and informed as possible. Although, take solace in the fact that you’re not alone and that it’s still an exciting time when you’re looking for a new home, even if it comes with some discomfort. 

What was your most memorable home walk through experience? We’d love to hear about it and compare stories!

Finding the Right Realtor & Lender for Home Buying

There’s no avoiding the stress and anxiety that comes along with buying a new home. It can become more manageable over time, but there’s always opportunities for unprecedented circumstances to pop up – like a revealing inspection or a sudden change in financial status or a global pandemic. It’s hard to keep things picture perfect from when your offer is accepted to when you sign at closing, as much as you might want to. 

To add another layer for new homebuyers, online-based real estate apps can push specific agents and lenders to make the process appear too easy and seamless.  Don’t get us wrong, Zillow, Redfin and other apps are powerful tools in your arsenal, but booking a showing through an app or relying solely on the app’s metrics for comps will give you an unrealistic view of the process. A relator’s institutional knowledge about the housing market and the area where you live is invaluable when you’re walking a house and they have better tools at their disposal to share comps and help you make a strong offer. The same goes for an online lending app. They might give you a good idea of your price point, but the ones with looser terms and lackluster backgrounds might be the reason why your offer isn’t picked over another. 

Relying on apps might be the cheaper option, but you’re buying a house. If you thought it would be cheap to do it right, you’re probably making the wrong investment decision. 

Penny needs just the right spot for lounging in the backyard!

For all of these reasons, and many more, it’s incredibly important to find a realtor and a lender who can support you through your home buying experience and make it smooth as possible. They will be the ones fielding your phone calls when you want to make a showing appointment at 8 a.m. and an offer at 1 p.m. on a Saturday – and then negotiate through late Sunday night. You have to develop a sense of trust and constant lines of communication. 

The best way to begin your search for a realtor and lender is through your own network. Have any family, friends or colleagues in your area recently purchased a home? Ask them about their experience with their realtor and lender and see if they have any recommendations for a specific agent or company. A mutual connection is a great way to build a relationship – and how a lot of these agents like to do business! 

It’s completely appropriate to interview your realtor and lender prior to choosing to work with them, whether they’ve come recommended by a friend or not. Here’s a few traits you’ll want to look for:

  1. Strong Local Experience

Every city, town, and even neighborhood has its own nuances and your realtor should have experience with the areas where you’re searching to help you find the best option for the best price. Your dream neighborhood might have an expensive and restrictive homeowners association or have planned construction in the coming months that will make a quiet space much louder and busier. Your realtor needs experience to know what will best suit your wants and needs as a buyer. If they’re locally based, they’ll also likely have strong insight into competing offers and might even know the listing agent or one of their colleagues, which can help you get a leg up in the process or maybe alert you that you shouldn’t make an offer on a home if they don’t have a good reputation. Similarly, having a lender with a strong local reputation can make your offer more attractive to a seller and their listing agent because they’ll likely be familiar with their company. 

  1. Diligent + Timely Communication

Communication is key to having a good relationship with your realtor and lender. You will likely be exchanging more texts, calls, and emails with these two throughout the process than with your friends and family. In an aggressive market, there will be days where you need your realtor to show up at 8 a.m. on a Saturday to see a house that only popped up the day before. You’ll want to put in an offer a few hours later and your lender will need to be on standby to crunch the numbers with an updated cost breakdown so you know what to include in your offer package. Communication also shows commitment – to you, your home buying process and to their own pay day. 

  1. Willing to Educate 

As we both bought our first houses, the education component that our realtor and lender brought to the table was invaluable. There’s too many terms, tactics and potential outcomes throughout the process to go it on your own, so finding someone that can patiently educate you throughout the process is important. Not only will it help you become a more educated homebuyer, but it again shows their commitment to the process and your potential referrals for your network. 

Our realtor is a family friend, which can be really common in an area with a housing market like others, but we know that we’d pick him even if he wasn’t. He has years of experience and sales growth under his belt and an office in the same zip code as our current house, making him the perfect candidate for future home buys in the area. He referred us to our lender, who Andy used for his first home and we used again for our second, and the relationship will only grow from there! 

If it seems like we’re a little crazy about the quality of realtors and lenders, it’s because we are…kind of. The two are going to be your partners in this process and you always want to assemble the best team for the best outcome. That doesn’t mean you can’t find that person on Zillow or consistent “for sale” signs around the neighborhood (connections need to be made somehow!), but make sure you do your research first and find people who are as committed to helping you find a home as you are. If they have the three traits we mentioned above, you’ve found the right people for your home buying experience. 

For our friends in Northern Virginia, we highly recommend Rob Cox Real Estate and Intercoastal Mortgage.

What Happens When You Buy a House in a Global Pandemic

When we made the decision to purchase a fixer-upper in the 2020 spring market, we did not anticipate that our life change would be accompanied by a global pandemic. Upon reflection, it’s hard to explain how everything happened and we’re incredibly grateful that everything worked out in our favor. 

Our home buying process started like any other – we narrowed our search to a few areas with our realtor and we began touring homes that fit our must-have list and budget. We found a home that we loved fairly quickly in late February and put in an offer, but the seller ultimately decided not to sell the home after further consideration. Little did we know that our timeline was going to become urgent in a matter of weeks. 

We toured our current home about a week later. At that point, the pandemic was something that our realtor was talking about as a potential hurdle for his business, but he wasn’t concerned about our ability to make a purchase and close. Although, it was pretty clear at this point that it was going to become serious soon. We made an offer that was accepted the following day and we were set to close on April 1. 

Andy found two old N-95’s that we covered in drywall when we started cleaning out the old house – but it was better than nothing!

In the midst of this, Andy was also selling his first home. His first home was beautifully renovated (more on that to come in later posts!) and we weren’t concerned about it selling quickly, but it was truly a balancing act. The sale wasn’t contingent in technical terms, but we needed the money from the sale to close on our purchase together and, now we had threats of lockdowns and stay at home orders coming soon. 

Andy listed the house a little over a week later and Alexa began working from home that same week. The tours were set to begin the following week, scheduled from Thursday-Saturday and culminating in an open house on Sunday. Andy ultimately decided to cancel the open house for health concerns and we chose to sleep at one of our nearby parent’s houses for the days of the tours to minimize opportunity for us to interact with potential germs. It was a move that might be risky to homeowners in a certain market, but Andy had received multiple offers on his home at that point and we felt comfortable that we would settle on a strong offer without the open house. 

13 offers later, Andy settled on his top two and the home was under contract the following day. We then began the mad scramble to pack up our home and prepare for our transition. This part of the process was pretty traditional, as was our closing with our title company. We wore masks, used hand sanitizer and left the office as quickly as possible – which our facilitator told us was something that he could get used to. Andy’s sale had a potential emergency situation when the female buyer went into labor on her closing day, which was the very last thing we were expecting in the moment that we were living in, but still signed the paperwork to make sure everything was executed on time. You go girl. 

We settled into our new home (or began ripping things apart!) as things in the outside world continued to escalate and even then, we were shocked that we had somehow pulled it off. The experience was a great lesson in learning how to pivot, maintaining a positive attitude and being flexible when life doesn’t want you to be. They’re lessons that everyone has learned over the past year, but they’re helpful in any home buying experience, pandemic or not. You have to be willing to make quick decisions, accept when things don’t go your way and find ways to work around it. With a little faith, you’ll realize that you end up in the right place. 

Also, about 25 days after we closed on the house, we also adopted a rescue puppy named Penny. While we don’t necessarily recommend bringing a new dog into a renovation environment, big changes have a habit of all happening at once and we wouldn’t have had it any other way. 

Our Penny – exploring her new home!

Did you buy a home in the pandemic? What was your experience like? If not, share the craziest part of your home buying stories!

The Beginner’s Guide to Searching for Your Next Home

We’ve all been a victim of shopping around for our dream home on Zillow – us included! We draw the lines around our preferred location hoping that something in our price range pops up, or look at the multi-million dollar mansions in another zip code to see how other people live. It’s fun and shows you a bunch of possibilities for the future. A quick sidenote: If you don’t follow @zillowgonewild on Instagram, we highly recommend it, especially if you love seeing the inside of crazy houses like us. 

When it comes time to search for your first or next home though, checking Zillow turns into a full-on treasure hunt and the choices that you enjoyed having when you were idly browsing can become a little daunting. That’s when it’s time to close the app and make a list – one of many you’ll make throughout this process. 

There’s three things that you have to think about when you’re planning on buying your first home: price, location, and must-have features. These are the top three factors that will impact every home purchase you make and determine which properties you consider for purchase. 

It might seem like these are in order of importance – and ultimately price will be the most important factor in your purchase – but it really depends on the buyer. One buyer might be fixated on a certain price range with a reasonable commuting distance to work, while another wants a two-car garage in their dream neighborhood. A location could be a must-have while a must-have could determine location. All of these factors are dependent on one another in the decision making process, so you have to begin by deciding what is most important to you in your next home. 

Here’s a few things to consider in each category as you begin your search: 

  1. Price. Before you consider buying a home, you have to know how much you’re willing to put down on the home and, if applicable, an estimated monthly mortgage payment. Start by determining how much money to have to spend on the home upfront – whether it’s an all cash offer or down payment. If it’s a down payment, you’ll also want to think about what percentage you’ll want to put down. 20% is considered the gold standard, but some states will let you go as low as 3% if you’re a first-time home buyer. From there,  you can approximate a price range that will guide your initial search. Hot tip: You’re going to be able to afford a home that’s more expensive than you thought – stick with your budget and your gut, or you’ll probably end up house poor.  Doing the prep work ahead of time will help you feel confident in what you can afford and where you’re financially comfortable. It is never too early to start talking to a lender to help you form your price range and has the added benefit of getting you pre-approved just in case the perfect home pops up unexpectedly. 
  1. Location. Deciding on a location is such a personal choice. Whether you’re a city, suburb or rural dweller, your location will be the biggest determinant of if you get the price and any of the must-haves you want. You’ll know where you want to live most based on proximity to work, school zones, leisure activities, or other important lifestyle factors. One tip that could help your search is having a few zipcodess or neighborhoods where you’re willing to look, otherwise you could get stuck searching for a needle in a haystack or willing to pay more than you should if you are just waiting around hoping for one of a handful of homes to hit the market.
  1. Must-haves. What are the main features that you need to have in your next home? A backyard for your pets and kids? Multiple guest rooms for out-of-town family? A space for a luxurious bathroom to unwind? Whatever they are, create a list that can help you narrow in on properties to see. It’s important to be reasonable – we’ve all seen that episode of an HGTV where someone wants a laundry list of home features that is not reasonable for their price range. Start by making your list long and then pare it back or number it in order of importance. This will help you visualize your ideal home and help you determine what non-starters are when you’re previewing new listings.

We’ve hinted at this already, but after you narrow in on the main elements of each of these factors, you then need to decide your level of compromise on each one. Are you willing to increase your budget because you found a home in an ideal location or it has one additional feature on your must-have list? Are you willing to get your hands dirty and put in some work to an old kitchen or decaying backyard if that means spending a little less? If you’re willing to do extra work, prioritize having the space to do it as opposed to it being done for you already. 

When we were searching for our current home, Alexa was interested in a city that was never on Andy’s radar, so much so that we weren’t even considering the city and surrounding neighborhoods. But when we weren’t finding anything we liked in other locations after a few weeks, our realtor urged us to look in this spot. Three properties and some aimless driving around later, Andy was hooked. It’s where we live now and want to purchase our next home too, where only 12 months prior our Zillow search circle wasn’t anywhere near. 

You have to know where you’re willing to compromise and your own limits as you search to find the best property for you – and a big part of that is also seeing homes that meet certain aspects of your criteria. You might fall in love with a home that isn’t an open concept or in a neighborhood you hadn’t considered. Come to every showing prepared with your list, but also know where you’re willing to make compromises too. 

With your prepared price, location and must-have list, you’ll be able to set up a meeting with a real estate agent and lender confident in what you’re looking for and what you can afford to spend. A good real estate agent will help you walk through this, but going into your first meeting with them already having most of this worked out will significantly streamline the buying process and help remove some of the uncertainty and stress of early home shopping.

What’s on the top of your must-have list? Comment below and let us know!

Setting Expectations for Quality in a Home Renovation

Whenever we’re outside working on the yard, our neighbors always ask about the progress we’ve made on the renovation, commenting on the saws that have become a staple of our lead walk or what they see us hauling in from the truck each weekend. DIY draws attention and it’s very rewarding! 

Despite having high standards for our own, non-professional work, it is always important to set the right expectation for how the final product will turn out. The flips that you see on HGTV look immaculate because they’re professional and while you can replicate some aspects of that work, it’s likely not going to be the same if you do it yourself.

In any DIY project, it’s important to begin by taking stock of what you feel comfortable and uncomfortable completing yourself. For example, if you’re renovating a bathroom, you probably want to call a plumber to help you with any changes to underground or behind the wall plumbing issues. But, you might be comfortable laying the shower tile and installing the new vanity and sink yourself. 

Do you expect the plumber’s work to be perfect? Yes, especially because you can’t have your shower leaking or flooding and you paid a professional to do professional work. Do you expect your tile and sink to be perfect? No, but if your guests can’t see the pipes under the sink, it might not matter as much. 

Everything you see here – except for materials – is completely DIY!

DIY is a money-saving tactic and you have to decide where you’re willing to save money on quality. This isn’t an excuse for bad or lazy workmanship, but you can’t sweat an imperfect paint job or a slightly uneven tile if you’re doing something on your own. It’s a part of the learning process – and the fun! As mentioned earlier though, you should absolutely expect near perfection and professionalism if you hire a contractor or tradesman to complete a project. You’re investing money in their ability to deliver and that’s what they need to do. 

If you’re newer to DIY, start by completing early projects in areas that might not draw as much attention. If you’re looking to learn drywall repair, start inside a closet where the end result will be blocked by clothes or storage bins. You wouldn’t want to start out with redoing the whole ceiling of your bedroom that you’ll find yourself staring at every morning and night.

When we were in the midst of our kitchen renovation, we found ourselves on the high end of our budget and needed to find places to save. We initially planned to have our island professionally painted, but we decided to paint it ourselves to save on cost. Instead of buying a paint sprayer that a professional likely would have used, we opted for a high-quality paint and primer from Farrow and Ball and a fine roller to get the cleanest finish possible without a sprayer. We knew that with the lighting and layout, there’d be very few angles that would allow you to see some of the small paint imperfections and texture from a roller. 

We decided to paint our kitchen island ourselves, saving a portion of our budget for finishing other parts of the kitchen or if we had an emergency situation later on.

Looking at it now, most people wouldn’t notice the imperfections at all unless they wanted to get under the cabinets with a flashlight. If a professional would’ve given us a 10/10 finish, we pulled off a solid 7/10. For us, doing it ourselves for about $200 and two days of work was much better for our budget than the quote we received for $1200. By choosing to DIY our paint job, we were able to keep our slightly upgraded appliances that we had been looking forward to for months.

As we mentioned in one of our previous posts, your budget will be full of negotiations in order to maximize your vision within your budget. Figuring out where you can or can’t DIY sometimes depends on where you can or can’t compromise on quality. We’d love to think that everything we make is perfect, but it’s far from the truth. We have prioritized stretching our budget through the projects knowing that we might have an occasional out of level tile or bubble in the paint finish, but this is all a part of the DIY process and all a learning experience.

Where have you compromised on quality to save on budget? We’d love to hear your crafty ways of DIY-ing your own spaces to save!

Your First Project: A Budget

Planning a new room renovation or project is such an exciting time. Whether you’re creating plans for a new cozy bedroom or giving your half bath some much needed TLC, the most important step is to align your vision with your budget. This part can make building something new a little less exciting, but definitely more fulfilling. 

Big ideas are fun in the moment, but it can lead to dissatisfaction with the finished project when the budget didn’t support the plan. Thinking within your budget – and let’s be honest, maybe a little over it to prepare yourself – can help you set realistic expectations and keep you on track during a project. It’s not the easiest first step for a home renovator either. Most construction projects come with an automatic “extras” fund because you can’t always plan for everything, but it is important to try. 

The budget process can be exhaustive, mostly because it’s really abstract. If you’re new to home renovation projects, it can be helpful to call in a contractor or two to provide you a quote on a space and get a general idea of what ballpark budget you’ll need. From there, you can also do some online or in-store research on fixtures, materials, and finishes to estimate costs. 

To put it into some perspective, we created a budget for a bathroom remodel to give you an idea of our process. Note, these figures aren’t indicative of a true bathroom renovation, but this should help you outline how you’ll plan a renovation once you have a rough budget. 

Let’s say we want to update a full guest/kids bathroom. We set aside $5,000 for the project, but know that we have an extra cushion of $1,500 that we’re saving for another project later if we need it.

Next, assess what we are working with in the bathroom. The bathtub has seen better years, but still workable and the floor tile can stay with a good scrub. But the rest of the bathroom has got to go.

Once you know what we need, we can move onto the fun part of imagining the space and creating a wish list. We want: 

  • A tile accent wall with built in shelves
  • A new bathtub/shower combo
  • New floor tile
  • A new toilet
  • Convert our single vanity into a double
  • A new mirror
  • A new light fixture
  • A fresh coat of paint

This is the part where you can shape your budget around your needs and your wants. Your direction will be a negotiation – not just with design, but with components of the budget. 

For example, getting a double vanity means we need to bring in a plumber to move pipes behind the wall and a new light fixture means bringing in an electrician. These trade costs, in addition to buying the new vanity and light fixture, can add up. In this case, maybe you decide to keep the workable bathtub and floor tile in order to get the plumber for the double vanity and you get a light fixture that you can install yourself. It’s all about what you want versus what you have the budget to do. 

Here’s two budgets that help break down the bathroom renovation step by step, which can also help you create a timeline of what needs to come first. Realistically, there are dozens of different paths for this scale of project, based on renovator preference and need, but these examples can give you an idea of where to start. 

Option 1

Plumbing/electric/HVAC: $1,000 (3 different contractors needed)

Double vanity materials: $1,750 (cheaper finishes but double the material)

Refresh floor tile and tub: $250

New toilet: $200

Misc accessories: $300

Light fixture(s): $500

Drywall and paint: $500 (do it yourself)

New shower wall tile: $500 (porcelain)

Option 2

Plumbing/electric/HVAC: $250 (DIY)

Single vanity materials: $1050 (nicer cabinet and top)

New tub and floor tile: $1000

New toilet: $200

Misc accessories: $500 (real metal TP holder and robe hook)

Light fixture(s): $250

Drywall and paint: $750 (paying someone to do the work)

New shower tile: $1000 (marble)

In addition to helping you stay financially on track, writing out and walking through your budget can help you visualize where you can gain and lose in order to create your vision. Again, getting a more expensive tile might mean that you need to save on the tub or the light fixtures. Outlining each item with estimated costs can help you move numbers around if something comes in over or under budget during the project. 

You should also anticipate that you likely won’t hit your budget right on target. It can happen (and is always welcome!), but you should always anticipate spending a little more and prepare for any unknowns that could pop up. Pricing out the anticipated route is important, but budgeting or having access to the funds in case things arise is also important for long term success in your DIY life. 

You should also have a backup plan for a worst case scenario – you’re unable to finish a project and you need to call in some help. This is also where getting some of those initial quotes from contractors can come in handy. If you get too deep into the work and can’t finish it, you’ve already had someone come out to estimate the project and know their costs to complete. You always want to have a professional on hand, just in case! 

A budget helps you maximize the execution of your vision, while protecting you from overspending or under delivering. No matter the size of your budget, or the project, your budget is the outline for your project that will evolve overtime, but always remember that it is adaptable as long as you have the funds. Don’t be afraid to move around numbers as the project progresses, or decide to spend more because you saved earlier or vice versa. You don’t necessarily need all your ducks in a row to embark on projects, but starting with even a modest budget outline can help you stay grounded and financially responsible. 

How do you like to budget for renovation projects? We’d love to hear your techniques!