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March 14, 2018

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Top 8 Must Know Tips For Taking On A Fixer Upper

There was just something about living in a character home that always appealed to me. The sound the floors make, the beautiful architecture and I just didn't have any fear of the work involved in fixing it up! We just figured we would figure it out as we went. When my husband and I first got married, we bought an old house in Calgary that had been built in 1954. We ended up gutting right down to the studs and completing a massive renovation on. After that home, we decided to get into the rental market, purchasing a couple of houses that needed some pretty major renovations. That of course brings us to our current house, which had been converted into multiple rental properties for almost 45 years prior to us owning it. Needless to say, it needed a HUGE amount of work to bring it to what it is now but again, we wouldn't change it for anything. Over the years, we have learned so many lessons, some the hard way, about what it takes to take on a fixer upper! I have complied my top 8 tips for taking on a fixer upper and some never seen before, before and afters of what our house looked like pre renovation. I hope these help some of you along your renovation journey's. Let me know your thoughts by leaving me a message in the comments below.


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Get a proper home inspection

We learned the hard way with on this one as our first home was purchased without one and turned into at complete mess once we started the renovation. Unfortunately with older homes, there will be somethings that you just can't see without opening up the walls. Insulation, bad wiring etc but having a proper inspection will get you a very good idea if you have any surprise lying in wait for you.here...

Top 8 Tips for taking on a fixer upper before and after

Set a budget

But give yourself a big buffer! Setting a budget will help you stay on track no matter what but on any renovation, the risk of going over the budget is high! Make sure you are prepared for this!

Top 8 Tips for taking on a fixer upper before and after

Set a Schedule 

Be realistic. A schedule is always a good idea in any project but know that most jobs will take longer than you think, especially if you are counting out outside trades to finish it for you.

Top 8 Tips for taking on a fixer upper before and after

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Be ready for surprises

Now like I mentioned before, having a proper home inspection done should help to prevent any surprises but be ready because they will happen. In our first home we started taking off the wall paper and the drywall underneath literally came crumbling off with it. After we took down the rest of the drywall we found the master bedroom's light fixture was hooked up with nothing more than an orange extension cord and the outside walls of the home had newspaper for insulation! Make sure you are ready for theses types of situations in older homes. Budget for them!

Top 8 Tips for taking on a fixer upper before and after

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Think outside the box

When you are updating an existing home, unless you have a budget that is through the roof and are able to move walls etc you may need to think of all options for your flooring plan. Maybe the current pantry becomes a laundry room or the closet becomes a bathroom, The home we are currently in had the laundry off of the kitchen at the bottom of the back staircase. We ended up moving the laundry upstairs and making the space directly off the kitchen into a pantry/office area. It is now a much more practical and usable space.

Top 8 Tips for taking on a fixer upper before and after

Make it right

One thing I have come across time and again when renovating is shoty, slap together, patch jobs! I have seen everything from Duck tape holding up the shower insert, staples used  to put up wallpaper and even floor lino under the shingles on the roof instead of proper underlay! Do your research! Find out what products are the best out there and don't try and save a buck by using something else. You will only cause yourself more headache down the road. If you can't do the job right, make sure you have enough in your budget to hire someone.

Top 8 Tips for taking on a fixer upper before and after

This Edison bulb ladder light fixture is one of my favourite DIY pieces from the kitchen renovation. Click Here for a step-by-step tutorial on how to make your very own Industrial Edison Bulb Chandelier

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Know when to hire a pro

Be realistic about your abilities. There isn't much my hubs haven't taken on ourselves, but there are some things that your time and end result will be well worth the money. This past year we did hire out a team of carpenters to properly frame out the inside of the attic. This was a HUGE job and one that would either make or break the entire rest of the project. The money we spend was well worth the time we saved and the job was done right!! Also make sure to always use a licensed and insured plumber and electrician as messing up those aspects can ruin a project.

Top 8 Tips for taking on a fixer upper before and after

Although Deb loved this laundry space, she found it wasn't functioning the way she had originally envisioned. A little while ago Deb decided to give the space a little refresh and it looks Ah-mazing! Click Here to see the finished space.

Prepare to take the good with the bad

  • One of the things I have had to come to gripes with living in our current home is I am not going to have all the bells and whistles of a new build. BUT I also wouldn't get the character I love in our home in a new built. I am ok with not having a master ensuite because I have a gorgeous bay window with original hardwood floors instead! Sometimes you will just have to be satisfied with the space and make it work as it is!

Top 8 Tips for taking on a fixer upper before and after

I hope you enjoyed my top 8 tips for taking on a fixer upper. My journey on all of our houses was such a mix of blood, sweat and tears but SO MUCH FUN along the way!!  I wouldn't change our experience for anything! Do you have any other tips for taking on a Fixer Upper? Leave me a message in the comments below as I always love to hear from you.

  1. Hi, found you on Instagram decosocial. Loved seeing your before and afters here. You and hubs do beautiful and amazing makeovers. I so agree on new homes often not having any character.

    1. Thank you so much for stopping by!! Yes I am all about the old stuff ♥️

  2. Joy Hynus says:

    Awesome space!!! We are hoping to finish the attic in our home in the next year and this gives me hope! Our stairs are similar to yours but are in the bathroom, lol. We have an open space in the hallway where we are going to put a new, larger staircase for access. I can’t wait to get started after seeing yours!

    1. Thats so exciting Joy!! It is seriously my favourite place in our home now 🙂 Good luck with your reno!!

  3. Through doing our own fixer uppers my hubby and I have learned not to focus on “our style” when renovating! We have renovated flip houses or kept them as rentals, and we’ve reminded ourselves “we aren’t living here” often. I don’t really like dark floors but many people do! So rather than spend extra cash on my favourite flooring we pick something nice and popular. Same with paint! The last house we did had warm brown tones everywhere. If I was living there everything would have changed! But instead we made the colours flow and it’s a very warm space that many people like. Our favourite style is not everyone’s favourite and at the end of the day how much we profit depends on whether we focus on what we personally like, or the generic style most people like.

    1. Such great tips Kelsey!! Thank you for the comment! I completely agree about the rental or flipping paint colours! We always do what is most durable, cost effective and easiest to wash when doing our rental properties for the same reasons! 🙂

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What started out as a duo of Brittany and Deborah has now expanded into a TEAM! 

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Deborah McDOnald


AKA @bvintagestyle

Small town girl living in a 1903 Heritage home she dreamed of as a child.


Brittany Hislop


AKA @white.farmhouse

Living a simple life in a rural Alberta town and painting her house white as she goes!

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