Rental Bathroom Overhaul

Yesterday I wrote about how I renovated the basement in our latest property and the bathroom reno was definitely the most labor intensive.  Because I had so much painting to do, I let my contractors do the all the work, but I did tear out everything for them before they started to save some money.  So I tore out the sink, vanity, toilet (ewww…), and shower walls.  It was fairly easy to do, it just took a while.  I had renovated a bathroom down to its studs before so I had experience this time around.

As a reminder, this is what it looked like post purchase:

Old Bathroom

Spectaaaaaaaacular right?!  What you don’t see is the vinyl floor coming up on the other side of the toilet where the years of urine overshot had made the glue unstick.  Gross.

So, to tear out the bathroom, I just worked my way from the front of the bathroom to the back.  Disconnecting the faucet was first, then I ripped out the vanity.  The mirror and light fixture came next.  Then the nasty toilet was on the chopping block.  All this took me a half day to do mostly because the vanity did not want to come out easily.

Basement Bathroom Torn Out

Removing the shower walls took the longest and was the most dangerous.  Imagine shards of ceramic slivers flying toward your body.  Goggles, long pants, and a long sleeve shirt were a must.  A crowbar and hammer made easy-ish work of this but knocking that hammer against the crowbar was LOUD, so I suggest ear plugs.

Basement Shower Torn Out WideAfter the walls came down, I pulled up the shower pan.

Basement Shower Torn Out

The last thing to do was the floor which the contractors did because it was vinyl and they used a blow torch to melt off the glue to pull up the floor.  I don’t own a blowtorch and honestly, after wrestling with the shower all the day before, I was happy to do nice, easy painting in another room.

So, after all my frustrations on the world were unleashed in that bathroom, I went shoooooooping!  Seriously, picking out new tile, paint, faucets, etc. is the best part.

I initially went to a specialty tile store since they were having a “huge” 20% off Memorial Day sale and spent about $1,200 on tile.  After all that time picking out the tile with the bonehead sales guy (I say bonehead because he tried to steer me to all the expensive, hard to care for stuff even though I told him it was for a rental), I just said, “Yeah, sure $1,200 sounds totally reasonable.”  I then went to Lowe’s and worked with a guy in the tile department who said, “A rental?  You definitely don’t want to spend a lot.  I know just what you need!”  He totally got me (reno soul mates) and I had all the tile I needed for $250!  Of course, I canceled the first outrageous tile order.  Big box stores really are the best for this kind of stuff…

After buying a toilet, vanity, faucet, and fixtures and having my contractors install it all, I had this:

New Whole Bathroom

I used Repose Gray by Valspar on the walls and that tied in beautifully with the tile on the floor and the accent tile in the shower.  I used white subway tile with a medium gray grout to modernize the space.  Because there’s not a lot of storage space, I installed a shelf above the toilet and also a medicine cabinet with a mirror above the sink.

Basement Bathroom Front

All said, because I did all of the demo, the bathroom total came out to be about $3,000 with labor.  It was more than I wanted to spend, but for the rent I was asking, I needed the bathroom to look swank and it will pay for itself in less than 4 months so for me, that’s a win.

After seeing the contractors put the bathroom all together from beginning to end, I think that next time, I’m tackling the entire project myself… except for the plumbing in the shower… that still scares me because of the whole leaking-behind-the-wall thing.  I’d try all the rest though.  Me and my crowbar and new tile saw that I still need to purchase… ahhhh, new project, new tools!


We Got Another Rental!

I’ve been MIA lately which means that I’ve been super busy with life and more specifically, with buying and rehabbing a rental property.  We already have one that we lived in before moving to our current home.

Townhouse FrontIt was our starter home and has so many memories for us since we lived there for almost 12 years through the births of all our babies, first steps, first words (I’m getting teary!).  Tuscan was 6 when we moved away and we drove by the other day to check on the place and he said that he LOVED living there and has so many good memories of playing manhunt, trick or treating, running around with his friends, and just being a little baby doll (my words, not his!).   I’m so glad we kept it!  It brings in fairly good cash flow per month and we refinanced a few years ago with a 15 year mortgage since we knew we’d still get some cash flow with a 15 year so in about 10 years, this puppy will be paid off!  So, that’s our first rental.

With this second rental that we just bought in March, the plan was to rent out the basement and to have our “home office” in the top two levels.  I was looking for something that was close to our current law office because we plan on keeping a professional office there to meet clients since we don’t want them in the “working office” and we didn’t want to travel a lot between offices.  Further, I wanted a fixer upper- that was a must because I wanted an undervalued property and you can’t find those with properties that are in tip top condition.

I posted on (a real estate website that I highly recommend) on how I purchased the place and the podcast host, Joe Fairless, of The Best Real Estate Advice Ever read the posts and asked if he could interview me for his show, so if you want to find out the nitty gritty on how I found, negotiated, and purchased the property, you can find that here.  *I’m a star! (not really)*

Enough shameless publicity…  To make the numbers work for this property I had to fix up and rent out the basement so getting that area ready was top on the list.  There’s a good sized bedroom, a laundry room, a full sized bathroom, and a living room with a fireplace that goes out into the fenced backyard so there’s a lot of room in the apartment.

The first step was curb appeal since the front yard was a weedy mess and I didn’t want people scared off before stepping foot inside.  So I spent a couple days digging, planting, sweating, and getting really dirty.  I loved it though!

This is what the left side of the yard USED to look like:
Old Front Yard Left

And now it looks like this!

New Front Yard LeftThis is what the right side of the yard USED to look like:

Old Front Yard Right

And now it looks like this:

New Right Side of Yard

So with the curb appeal taken care of, it was time to move inside.  The biggest eyesore in the basement was definitely the bathroom, so that had to be practically gutted.


Old Bathroom

And, it now looks like this:

New Whole Bathroom

Much more modern and clean looking!

New ShowerThere’s so much that went into the overhaul, that I’ll leave the details for another post.  In short, it went from ugly to swank for not a lot of cash.

I also painted the entire basement to include the fireplace (yea, it looks so much better!) and the ceilings (yuck!).

Basement living room before:

Old Basement Living Area

And after:

New Basement Whole Room

New FireplaceAnd last but not least, basement bedroom before:
Old Basement BedroomIt’s a terrible picture I know, but here’s what it now looks like with lighter paint:

New Basement BedroomAs I was remodeling, I showed it to a couple people and the second person took it even though the bathroom was completely ripped out and such a mess!  I had all the finishes laid out though so that he could imagine what it would look like.  The only hard part was that he needed to move in a week and a half so I had to work sometimes until midnight to get it ready.  Honestly, it felt like one of those house flipping shows where I’m under the gun, working hard, WILL IT BE READY IN TIME!!!  It was… because I’m awesome and had no other choice. 🙂

So the renter’s moved in and now I’ve moved on to fixing up the upstairs. More on that to come!

I LOVED the experience of buying this house, fixing it up, and being a landlord so my goal is to buy another this year in September and to keep buying a couple a year for the foreseeable future (if my husband doesn’t divorce me over it…).  I’ve been reading a lot on the subject as well as listening to podcasts and just overall researching how and where to buy real estate and I’m excited to buy the next one!

Quick Breakfast Room Update

I wasn’t planning on replacing the chairs anytime soon in the breakfast area but when I saw these at Home Goods, I had to have them!

Back Side

The old chairs were more or less the same color as the breakfast table and that made for a boring breakfast area since there was no color anywhere in the space.


The old chairs were not very comfy and also we had five of them that fit awkwardly around the table.

These new chairs (which just happen to be in one of my very favorite colors!) give the area a punch of color.  I love the modern lines and how well it relates to the light fixture.  And they may not seem like it, but they are super comfortable.  They have a groove for your butt that makes them heaven to sit in!  I also like the juxtaposition of our Craigslist barn wood table and the chairs.

Front Side


What I told myself to get over the guilt of purchasing chairs when we already had perfectly good ones was that the old chairs dinged the window molding (which they did) and also the ledge on the half wall behind the chairs (which they did).  Because the new dining chair profiles are so low and because they are upholstered, there will be no more dinging.  I just have to paint the old dings which I will get around to…

Whole TableI bought five of these chairs but only put four around the table since adding the fifth would be too tight.  The fifth one will be switched in and out as we need it.

We are buying another property soon and the old chairs will go in the new house so they won’t just be relegated to the basement to die a dusty death.   We’re actively looking and it’s so exciting!  At least I think so.  It will be our second investment property.  More on #2 as we find something!

Changed my Mind! Closet Rehab

In my last post, I thought it would be a good idea to remove our closet that blocks the flow of one of our main thoroughfares.  However, after thinking about the fact that the flooring might look choppy since we’d have new flooring right next to the old, we decided to keep the closet for now.  We’ll remove it when we renovate the entire kitchen since we plan on expanding the kitchen into the space where the closet currently resides.

Because the kitchen renovation is a ways away, I thought I’d at least try to make the closet more functional for now.  The closet had one high shelf with a coat rack.  We have a coat closet at the front of the house already so another one didn’t really make sense especially since we needed more practical storage.  Also, the shelf was so high that for us shorties (that would include my entire family), we’d have to get the step stool to reach the shelf or risk things falling on our heads.  The closet also had the last vestiges of the ugly mustard color that poisoned the entire first floor when we moved in.

Here’s the nasty flashback:Full Living RoomTry not to cringe at all the ugliness!

I have a lot of wood in my shed left over from the treehouse we built a couple years ago, so the only thing I needed to buy for the shelves was caulk and a few smooth trim pieces for the front of the shelves.

Here’s the before:

Old Closet


And the after:

Finished Dresser

To make the shelves, I found this video particularly useful.

I’ll just touch on the basics since the video does a good job of explaining how to install the shelves.

1.  First I painted the closet the same blue color as I used in the kids’ bathroom (Palladian Blue by Benjamin Moore).

2.  Measure and cut your ledgers.  The ledgers are what hold up the shelves and should be the same length from the back to the front of the closet as your shelves.


That’s me measuring.  🙂  I try to put any pic I can of me in these posts since I rarely have any!

LedgersThese are the ledgers.  I marked the studs first to make sure I drilled into them.  I also made sure to use a level so that the ledgers wouldn’t be all wonky.  I sunk the screws below the surface of the wood so that I could dab wood putty on the holes later and paint over them.  I also put one coat of paint on the ledgers before they were installed so I wouldn’t have to paint as much when they were on the wall.  Also, don’t worry about any gaps in the corners because they will be covered with caulk.

3.  Cut the plywood to fit on the ledgers using a circular or table saw (I used a circular).  I made sure that the plywood was as long as the ledgers so that I could nail trim pieces along the entire front of the shelves.  I cut the shelves a little shorter than the width of the closet so that they could easily slide in but still sit comfortably on the ledgers (the video explains this pretty well).

4.  I cut trim pieces for the front of the shelves to make the finished product more polished and nailed them in place.  I also caulked all the ledgers and plywood pieces to the wall to make them look more “built in.”

Ledger Caulk

caulk v. no caulk

5.  Get some baskets and organize because you’re done!

Top ClosetAll baskets are from Tar-jay.  All our dog paraphernalia, reusable grocery bags, and cleaning supplies are now neatly corralled.

This was a fairly easy project that was definitely budget friendly since I had most of the materials already.  Now, things are at a good height and instead of just one high shelf, we have three shelves for more of our crapola.

Next on the list is tackling the master bedroom.  Painting is first!  I LOVE painting!  Not really.

Door Knob Switch-a-roo

We are slowly purging all things ’80s in our house and the interior door knobs have died a Milli Vanilli death.  It may not seem like a big change to update door knobs, but it really is- especially when the ones you originally had were outdated and in some cases, broken.  These are the old ones:

Old Knobs

And now for the new ones:

New KnobThe knobs are Weslock – Elegance Collection, Impresa knobs

Much better, right?

I liked the fact that these have a backplate because of the way they look (fanciness) and also because they cover any “mistakes” in taking out the old knobs.  All nicks, scratches, and scrapes in yanking out the old knobs are covered by the back plate.

Installation was easy and it took about 10 minutes per knob.  The only tool that I needed to buy was a one inch hole drill bit  to enlarge the hole that the latch slid into.  The other tools I needed was a Philips screwdriver,  a flathead screwdriver, and a drill.

The steps were simple:

1.  Take out the old latch and knob by unscrewing the latch and pulling it out and unscrewing the knob and pulling both sides of the knob out.

Taking Off Latch


Taking off knob1

Taking Off Knob

2.  Remove the old strike plate by unscrewing.

Unscrewing Latch

3.  Enlarge the hole where the latch slides into (if needed) with a one inch hole drill bit.

Hole Bit

Drilling Hole

4.  Slide the new latch into the hole but don’t screw in yet.  Remember that the curved part of the latch faces the strike plate.

Putting Plates Together

5.  With my knobs, I had to take off the interior knob to access the screws on that side but you may not have to.

Taking Knob Off

6.  Insert exterior knob first (normally the one without the screw holes on the backplate or knob base).  If it’s a bathroom/bedroom type knob, it will have a lock on it and obviously the lock goes on the inside of the room. Closet/hallway knobs do not have a lock.  Stationary knobs are ones that don’t turn and that can be used on pantry doors, linen closets, etc.

Putting Plates Together

7.  Align the parts of the interior and exterior knob with the latch and screw together.  Make sure that the backplates are straight before screwing.

Back Plate

8.  Screw in the latch.


9.  Install the new strike plate.  You might have to notch out a bit of wood if the hole is uneven or not deep enough.

Notching Hole

Latch1Note: Some knobs come with multiple strike plates and you just have to match up the old one with one of the new ones.

Different Latches10.  Test the knob to make sure that the latch fully lodges into the strike plate hole when you close the door.  If not, then you need to adjust the strike plate either forward or back to catch the latch.

New Knob

And that’s it.  Easy peasy.  I had the kids each do one knob installation from beginning to end to teach them some basic DIY.  I try to have them do at least one piece of every project I do because I don’t want them to be DIY-helpless as adults.  Anyway, if they can install doorknobs, anyone can.

My next project won’t be so easy…  I plan on removing a closet near the garage door.  Another not so endearing trait of our 80s house is that there is no open floor plan.  We have boxed off, distinct rooms so removing the closet is a first step to making the flow a little better and opening things up a bit.  I have an electrician coming on Monday so I need to at least remove the drywall from the closet before he/she gets here.  More on that soon!



Look back at 2014

Our house has changed a lot in a year and although the “big” project didn’t get done (the kitchen), most of the other rooms have been renovated or at least updated this year.

In January, I updated Trajan’s room and he now has a big kid football themed bedroom:

Trajan's Room Final


Egg Chair Whole Room

In March, with the addition of a mid-century dresser for a TV stand and a gray chair in the corner, the family room remodel was finally completed:

Room Wide AngleIn the spring, I started painting our new deck (we had someone build it):

DeckIn May, Tuscan got a big boy soccer themed room:

Lit Up Marquee


Wall Book ShelfIn July, the dining room remodel was finally done:

Wide Angle

In August, with impending guests coming to visit, I carved out an area in the basement for a guest room:

Whole RoomPillowsWe took an awesome vacation to the Bahamas for almost two weeks in late August:

IMG_2246And after a small break, we insulated the attic in December:

Insulation Hair


I’m looking forward to 2015 and lots and lots of projects!  Our bedroom (the master) is finally on the list and that’s what we’re tackling next.  Also, we are planning on buying another investment property in the spring, and I can’t wait to dive into more projects at that house.  Happy 2015 everyone!


Blown-in Insulation in the Attic *Messiest Project EVER*

A couple years ago we had our home energy audited.  For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s where a company comes in and assesses how much energy your home consumes and they also evaluate what measures you can take to make your home more energy efficient.  One of the things that they noticed is that we had almost no insulation in the attic.

No insulationYou can see the bare spot we had in the corner and those spots were all over the attic

Even without the energy audit, I knew that we were lacking insulation because the top floor was always freezing in the winter and blazing hot in the summer.  It got so bad in the summer, that we thought of moving our room to the basement to escape the heat.

I had seen videos of people blowing in insulation and thought that it was do-able especially since the energy audit company quoted us a hefty price for them to blow in the insulation.  The labor was a little over a thousand since our attic is so big.

I won’t go into all the details of how to blow in the insulation especially since there are such good tutorials online.  The one I found most helpful was this one.

The short of it is that it is a super messy job that requires two people.  One person blows in the insulation and the other feeds the hopper.  Walkie talkies are must for communication.


This is the hopper

I chose to work with recycled insulation because it’s more environmentally friendly (super important) and also because I hate working with fiberglass. Even if I cover myself from head to toe, those annoying fibers get everywhere and make me feel like a cactus.  They also lodge in my throat and I end up coughing for hours afterward.  I’d rather pay a little more money to not feel like I was poisoning myself with fiberglass.

The insulation comes in packages that are easy to transport and aren’t heavy to lift in and out which was important to me since I mostly did that part myself.  The hopper is really heavy and it takes two people to lift it into and out of a vehicle, but it was free to use from Home Depot if you buy 10 or more packages of insulation.  I think I bought about 200 packages so they let me have it for a few days to finish my project.

InsulationThis is just a small sampling of the packages of insulation I used.  All these fit in my van (that’s right, I’m a master van packer!).

The insulation needs to be fed into the hopper and it goes through a long tube up to the place where you want it blown.  The kids, my husband, and a friend (thanks Donna!) helped with this while I blew.  The process of blowing was LONG because I wanted an R60 rating up there and that means I had to blow in 20 inches of insulation all over the attic.  Home Depot gives you measuring guides that you attach to the ceiling, but I found that a measuring tape worked much better.  I just measured every few minutes to make sure I was at 20 inches.  A thin stick with a mark at 20 inches would have actually worked even better.

Prep work was fairly straightforward.  The only thing that I had to do was to replace the cardboard rafter covers with styrofoam ones so that the insulation didn’t creep into the vents under the eaves.

Before and After Covers

The styrofoam covers were easy to install with my electric stapler.  I just had to remember not to put down the stapler pointing toward me since it has a sensitive trigger.  I almost got a staple to the arm that way.

I was also super grateful for the tetanus shot I had to get a couple years ago after a little incident involving a razor blade when building our treehouse because I got stabbed and scraped in the head numerous times by rusty nails poking out of the ceiling.  Wearing a hard hat is not a bad idea.

Gloves are also a must for splinters as well as a respirator so that you don’t breathe in the insulation.  The insulation dust goes EVERYWHERE and you don’t want it in your lungs!

Also, this might be a no-brainer, but don’t drink a lot before you head up to the “job site” since it’s a pain in the rear to stop and dust off to use the bathroom.  I learned that lesson the hard way and had to vacuum the path from the attic to the bathroom a few times.

By the time I was done with day 1 of the project, I looked like this:

Insulation HairI look like a snow princess… at least that’s what I told myself.  The kids said I looked like an old lady…  They’re mean.

My last piece of advice is that you have to be very clear communicating with your hopper loader.  At the very end of the job, I lowered the tube into my closet from the attic, and I told my hopper loader that we were done. He thought I said to turn on the hopper and this happened:

Closet DisasterDOH!  I spent an hour vacuuming all our clothes and shoes.  The insulation was everywhere!

Overall, despite the huge mess and cost (about $1,500), this project was a winner.  The first night we noticed the difference in how much warmer the top floor was than before the insulation.  We have a programmable thermostat and by the second night, I programmed it to be 4 degrees cooler at night because the first night we were sweltering.  It’s almost stuffy on the top floor whereas before it was drafty.

We now have to find a way to make the basement and main floor as comfortable as the top floor because there’s a 5 degree difference between the floors.  New windows on the main level are part of the solution, but that’s down the road.

By the way, there’s no “after” pic in this post because I couldn’t take it right after I was done since there were dust particles everywhere and you couldn’t see ANYTHING.  I sealed up the door with insulation on the sides and on top and trying to get up in the attic again would mean getting insulation all over my now clean clothes in the closet, so no pic!

Just imagine an endless sea of gray, puffy, warm cloudiness…