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Reclaiming the Homestead: A Real Life Fixer Upper

devon 6 Comments

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Completely renovating an old home is nothing like you see on HGTV. A real-life version of Fixer Upper is full of hard work and hardship, with hopes of a sweet reward

Reclaiming the Homestead: A Real Life Fixer Upper

Devon 6 Comments

Completely renovating an old home is nothing like you see on HGTV. A real-life version of Fixer Upper is full of hard work and hardship, with hopes of a sweet reward.

In case this is your first time visiting my Reclaiming the Homestead series, you can read more about our journey here and here.

I am going to do something right now that I have never done on this blog.  Something that I might not do in front of my grandmother.  Bad words will be said.

I am going to cry total and utter bullshit on HGTV and almost all those fixer upper type shows.

Sorry, Grandma.

Living our real life fixer upper story has been far from the slick Hollywood polish of the Property Brothers, and has little of the charm of Chip and Joanna Gaines.  I haven’t been able to bring myself to write a full blog update on the progress in a couple months because I am so damn depressed about it. SO damn depressed. My pictures show little progress. I am constantly telling myself that I am indeed fortunate and lucky to be renovating this derelict property into a beautiful, functional, practical homestead.  But the process thusly has been fraught with frustration, miscommunication, miscalculation, anger, and far too many tears to count.

And at the point that I write this – my fixer upper homestead currently has no walls and only the upstairs is insulated.  The electricity hasn’t been turned on and there isn’t a pump in the well.  And the new owners of the rental we are living in take possession of the house in two weeks.  So, meet our new home.  The 23’ travel trailer:

temporary home

Our hopes are to get at least two of the kids’ bedrooms finished and at least one bathroom complete in the approaching days so that we aren’t cramming all seven full-time residents of our home into this tiny space.  Not that that is even possible without performing some horrid origami with our bodies.  All furniture and non-essential personal items will get sent to a storage unit (oh-my-gawd, when did the rates on those get so high?), and my attention will divert from this blog for a couple weeks while I play painter-trim-hanger-tile-setter-floor-refinisher.  It will be worth it, but we are at the stage where nothing can go wrong.  Nothing.  But it probably will anyway.

Not that I ever believed that the shows on HGTV were an accurate account of a real renovation, I mean – if it takes This Old House four to six months to complete a remodel, how does Drew Scott do so in six to eight weeks? It is an enormous sleight of hand trick employed by powerful production companies to attract advertisers that pander to families wanting an updated kitchen or luxury ensuite (who even said “ensuite” ten years ago? Ugh…). Want reality? Here are the real-life lessons learned from my reclaiming the homestead version of Fixer Upper:

  1. Budget Short-Comings Are Going to Hit You Where it Hurts:  Despite literally THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS of dollars saved by doing much of the work ourselves, we do not have the funds to cover all of the projects we had hoped to.  The roof will have to wait (it isn’t in great shape, but it isn’t leaking either) and all the fencing and livestock shelters, and my husband’s wood shop are coming out of our pocket as we can afford them.  Why?  You see, a miscalculation happened, or more accurately no calculations happened.  Despite persistent checks on the budget, the $9k over budget for framing repairs went undisclosed until a few weeks ago.  Our general contractor admittedly dropped the ball tracking the repair expenses, and a cascade effect of adjustments are still being made.  Even more frustrating is some purchases were made when we were under the impression we had the budget afford them – and some of those purchases can’t be returned or exchanged.  Meaning further compensation in other areas.  Let it be known that our contractor’s craftsmanship is excellent, but I feel that his project management skills are, ahem, lacking.  Lesson Learned:  Don’t trust anybody to do the math for you. It is your renovation and your money – ask, erhh DEMAND, regular budget meetings to keep your expectations on target and your contractor accountable.
    fixer upper side view
  2. Sub-Contractors Gonna Drop it Like it’s Hot: Literally, six weeks went by waiting for our plumber to finish his damn job so that we could proceed with other related projects.  You see, the dirty little industry secret is that some subcontractors will ditch your regularly scheduled, regular rate paying job in favor of high-value emergency jobs. I guess if my pipes had burst or my sewage backed up, I would want to be prioritized too…  But, I am two weeks away from not having a house to live in, folks.   Furthermore, if you live in a high demand area like we do, firing the sub and finding another may even put you further behind.  Lesson Learned:  Nobody is going to show when you need them to.  I wish I had a working solution here, but I don’t.  You are at the mercy of your subs.
  3. Inspectors and Permits Will Have You Chasing Your Tail: Funny story – initial inspections of the septic tank revealed that it would be fine.  Sanitation inspector shows up and tells us that it must be replaced not repaired.  The permit is applied for (to the tune of $1800) with the expectation of a 1-2 day turn around…  Two weeks later the permit is finally approved.  Then the plumber takes an emergency job and doesn’t complete the tasks necessary for framing, insulation, and drywall to take place.  Meanwhile, the electrical inspector suddenly decides that he won’t sign off on the main house until the addition is wired.  Delaying insulation and drywall in the main part of the house.  On second thought, this is not a funny story.   Lesson Learned:  NOTHING is cut and dry.  Everything will be a hassle and take exponentially longer to accomplish.

    upstairs bedroom
    Finally, one of two bedrooms ready for finish work!
  4. The Wrong Things Will Be Delivered: Without fail, the wrong something (or two or three somethings) will be delivered. Sometimes repeatedly.  One of our casement windows was broken during shipment.  When the replacement arrived – it was wrong.  Yesterday, a pair of French doors were unpacked for installation – also, wrong.  So, I have a southwest facing wall in the shadow of the Oregon coastal mountain range in the middle of a rainy January wide open to let all the elements in.    Lesson Learned: If it can go wrong it probably will.
  5. Overkill Happens: There are things that we just don’t know much about – like electrical.  And having lived for four years in a 100-year-old home, we were just really excited about having a new and electrical system that doesn’t trip due to constantly overloaded breakers.  Never thought to question just how many lights and outlets would be needed per room.  Rumor has it that our contractor likes to install the “Ferrari” of lighting and electrical systems.  Our electrician has confirmed that while we were spared the “Ferrari” treatment, we definitely ended up with a high-end Mercedes of electrical loads.  Did I mention that our budget was more “built Ford tough” than European import?  I thought it went without saying. The net result of the electrical overkill (other than the possible lack of necessity and extra expense) – my husband trenching for a dedicated electrical line to the yet-to-be-installed well pump in the pouring rain and through massive tree root systems because the amperage on the house was too maxed out to tie into.  Lesson Learned: Know what you want, and even what you don’t want/need.  It saves you money and time.

This may read as a) a scathing indictment of our contractors, b) me complaining a lot, or c) both.  Maybe it is all of the above.  But this is real life and a real-life fixer upper.  There are no producers paying contractors for their undivided attention, no paid product placement, and our “blooper reel” is filled with anxiety attacks, tears, and the occasional foul language.  Maybe not so occasional.

I knew that this process would be hard.  I certainly didn’t think it would be an HGTV cakewalk.  We are not rich people and this is our one shot to do it and do it right.  Reclaiming the homestead is the investment in our future, our income, our identity.  It means more to us than a luxury shower or stainless steel appliances.  This fixer upper is a symbol of far more than status.  It is the sum total of heartache and dedication, the faith that somehow, someway everything would work out when times were dark and bleak. And they were bleak.   So forgive my hints of wrath and indignation here, because this little fixer upper is the result of every drop of blood, sweat, and tears that my husband and I have endured in our lifetime.  It is the home where we will plant orchards and raise stock, where our kids with finish growing up in, where they will return for the holidays, where we will rock future grandbabies, and with any luck where our hearts will grow old and content.

Meanwhile – if you need me I all be cooking dinner in the trailer, two feet from the toilet.  At least it has one.  The house might not.

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Fixer Upper House on the Homestead

Devon

Devon is a writer and author on subjects of holistic and sustainable living. She has a degree in Complementary and Alternative Medicine from the American College of Healthcare Sciences, and her first book, The Backyard Herbal Apothecary, was published by Page Street Publishing in Spring 2019. Devon's work outside of NittyGrittyLife.com can be seen at LearningHerbs.com, GrowForageCookFerment.com, AttainableSustainable.net, and in the magazine The Backwoods Home. Devon's second book, The Herbalist's Healing Kitchen, will be published Fall 2019.

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6 Comments

  • Ellen January 11, 2018 at 1:27 pm

    Oh Devon, I can’t even imagine how difficult this is. And knowing it will all (finally) be ok, hardly helps in the moment. I look forward to the day we can all look at photos of your beautiful homestead. Wishing you strength and endurance.

    • Devon January 11, 2018 at 5:22 pm

      Oh, Ellen — you really get it! Thank you! I am so grateful for all that I have, but this is far from easy. Last night news came the ____ building inspector wants us to change the paid for and installed insulation in our addition. Seriously, man? Nobody has even heard of the building code requiring this…

  • tessa January 20, 2018 at 7:25 pm

    This would be funny if it weren’t true. One of our problems is the severe lack of skilled labor and/or anyone with a work ethic. Not everyone need to be in IT, people! We need skilled carpenters, electricians, plumbers so that the good ones aren’t run ragged and so that we can have some honest competition going on so people will show up as scheduled. They’ve gotta eat, but you’ve gotta pee – there has to be a happy medium.

    • Devon January 23, 2018 at 4:59 pm

      Thanks, Tessa! Lack of skilled labor… That is the story in my area. Trying to encourage my kids to go into the trades. There is so much demand!!! Alas, the plumber FINALLY finished his job yesterday. We are getting closer!!! {Literally too — now living in the travel trailer in what used to be the front yard}

  • Laura January 28, 2018 at 3:33 am

    First: hugs! Know what you’re talking about. My husband and I moved to bare land nearly 3 years ago. We got a trailer like you for the summer and bought an old ATCO trailer (like us, created in the 60’s!) to live in until we can afford to build a real house. The first year we used space heaters for heat, we hauled water and, well, we are still using an outhouse.oh, and we live in Alberta where winters are cold.
    Second: Totally, totally worth it and oh so gratifying! I wouldn’t trade this life for anything. I believe you will come out the other side so happy and proud of yourself!! Every crappy step that you’re experiencing now will be a badge of honour (and courage, let’s face it).
    Kind of s long answer but I’ve been where you are and wanted to let you know this is a blip. You’ve got this!!!

    • Devon January 29, 2018 at 9:29 pm

      Thanks for the long-distance hugs and encouragement, Laura. It is nice to hear from other major renovation “survivors”!!! This journey has been so very frustrating and exhausting. The trailer is far from comfortable and we are doing the best we can at the moment. I think we will be in the house in two weeks — not a moment too soon! It is a sloggy, muddy, race to the finish line!

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    About Me

    About Me

    Meet the Nitty Gritty Mama, Devon!

    I am an herbalist, farmer, cook, and forager. I get my hands dirty and am not afraid to do things the "hard way". Sharing my Nitty Gritty Life with you! Read More

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