Want to see how we bought a house that needed some love and renovated it into a furnished rental? This is the blog post that shares all the before and after photos, the products we used, the steps we took, and lots of money saving ideas along the way. Welcome to our rental house renovation!
We bought the little rental house in December of 2019. It happened to be such fantastic timing because my husband was able to take 2 months off of work to do a lot of the work himself. He’s not a contractor but a lineman who builds power lines. Nearly 20 years ago, he worked in the construction trade. I have no real renovation experience. I mention this to share our level of expertise before starting this project. It was a little more than the average bear but not a lot.
When assessing all the things that needed to be done, we considered what we could do ourselves, learn via YouTube, asking friends in the construction industry, and what we were willing and able to pay to be done. The budget we had in mind was to keep the costs of renovation under twenty thousand dollars. We were able to stay under this number, thank goodness.
If you want to check out the listing, see it here!
Lot & Location
We found a place that was a small size (1000 sq feet) in a great location- Main Street of our little town. It is surrounded by the neighbor’s backyards, making it feel private as well as centrally located. We own the driveway (rather than having an easement) which was really important to us.
Before: along two sides of the house the flooring was painted and worn OSB. The center was wood (not hardwood, but wood) flooring that needed sanding and refinishing. The best choice for a rental and for our budget was vinyl waterproof click in laminate flooring. I really wanted wood, of course, but it would have cost twice as much to make new wood line up and match the existing wood.
Waterproof vinyl flooring was installed after they leveled a few uneven places. The cost was about $6000 for the flooring and installation. This is usually where people comment that “you can install it yourself!” And that’s true. We probably could have. My husband had a limited amount of time off work and we had to decide which projects he could do quickly himself versus who we could pay to do a job quickly. In hindsight, we’d still have a pro install it, as it took 2 days I think, and they had the tricky job of leveling some really uneven parts. The result is a waterproof, beautiful floor that’s cohesive throughout the house and it’s super easy to clean. I stained the wooden threshold that goes between the living and kitchen to match the black tones of the flooring.
The bathroom needed a vanity. We got this one at Lowe’s and the tiny size was most critical.
Attic crawl space
The crawl space was insulated with old feed sacks and cardboard, and had to be cleaned out before the re wiring project (more on that later). My husband and I drug filthy newspaper, cardboard, and feed sacks out of the crawl spaces and tossed them out the upstairs window. We vacuumed up decades of filth and prepared the space for my husband and our electrician to spend a lot of time in there re-wiring the whole house.
My husband and our electrician (life-long family friends) did all new wiring, re-wired what needed to be re-wired, and updated all outlets. They put in several new light fixtures. There was no ground and now all outlets are up to date. They were able to work together (they were such a great team!) to get a ton done that made the electrical safer and better. Now there’s a switch at the bottom and top of the stairs, for example, to light the stairway, and a porch light off the kitchen, etc.
A carpenter friend of my husband’s tore out the doorway of the pantry to create a laundry nook where we put a small capacity GE washer dryer pair on Sears Outlet. Getting a dinged up set from the outlet offset the cost of the small size. Delivery took nearly a month but for the price it seems worth it. A great tip I got from a customer service helper was to buy items that you need to match or correspond from the same outlet. Buying from different outlet stores in different cities created multiple problems but getting the set from the same store assured they’d match, arrive the same time, etc.
Washer and dryer were about $1200 total and my husband’s friend wouldn’t let us pay him for his work but it was a few hours of work for him to rip out the wall.
As I write this, we’ve had about 2 months worth of renters in the space and I just had the current renter share that the dryer belt broke. This makes me unsure as to the value of going to an outlet. I have our private repair man planned to fix it asap but at this time, the jury is out on if the outlet was worth it.
We also paid a plumber to plumb the nook as it was only a pantry before and had no plumbing. That was $600.
At first we weren’t sure if we’d refinish the upstairs at all. The floor was wood but kind of a disaster in terms of there were holes, it was majorly uneven, there was the book nook that had been kind of badly dry walled by someone in the past but never finished, and it felt initially like it would be easier to leave it unfinished. Indeed, it would have been easier. Of course, we decided to “just do it” and finish the whole space so it added 300 sq feet to the house and has been one of the best decisions of the whole project. We are so glad we did it; even though I didn’t know if we’d remain married after trying to do the drywall together lol.
Initially I thought I wanted the shiplap that existed to remain but a wise man (our electrician) pointed out how drafty, dusty, spidery, and impractical that would be. My husband dry walled the whole upstairs (300 square feet) with my help and this was the worst part. The attic ceiling was tricky, it’s heavy, awkward, and my husband is a perfectionist which makes for beautiful finish work but also for very slow work. I then got a five minute tutorial from my husband’s uncle who is a drywall guy and I had to tape and texture the whole dang thing. This was also the worst part because I’m honestly not that good at it and I hated it with all my heart. At the end we decided we just won’t rent to sheetrockers. It isn’t perfect and that’s okay because the price of labor was free and it’s so dramatically better than it was before. My husband had to rebuild one window wall with OSB which took a great amount of time (see note about him being a terrible perfectionist above). Sheet rocking the stairwell was also terrible (!!!) My husband tore the stair treads off (after they’d been painted of course) to get the drywall hidden and it looks very nice.
Approximate cost to drywall the upstairs: $12 a sheet, and as this was at a stressful time of the project I don’t know how much we ultimately spent. I paid more in effort and patience than I’d like to in the future. I’m not the accountant in the family- that’s my sister.
It was a few hundred bucks, took a week maybe, and I’m glad it is over 🙂 If we got another rental and we needed to save money, I’d probably do it again because we know how but I’d dread it. One tip I can say is those Sheetrock gloves were totally worth it; they made holding the Sheetrock for my husband so much easier; that stuff is so slippery!
Chimney in the Floor
We found the original brick chimney in the floor of the upstairs. It was weirdly closed off from extending to the bottom floor in the small bedroom closet- it was encased in wood (closet ceiling and upstairs flooring) rather than removed and I thought it was worth trying to remove the bricks. This was something I’d work on while waiting on Ruben to need my help, waiting on paint to dry, etc. I used a hammer to gently tap the bricks loose and haul them outside. In hindsight, took a lot of time and I guess I’ll use those rad old bricks somewhere.
We had a local auto body shop fabricate a railing for around the top of the stairs. I think the original was little more than painted 2x4s. It’s beautiful, hell for stout, and was money well spent. Approximate cost: $900
Some of the existing doors had knobs, some not, and most needed to be replaced. We found the cheapest knobs that could be locked at Van Dyke’s Restorers and they were $100 each. Our contractor friend (so many of them!) informed Ruben that either we spend $100 on the handles or $200 on all new doors that come with handles. It was a difficult job because I couldn’t do it, Ruben was back to work by the time we found these knobs, and we ultimately paid our contractor friend to finish all the things that weren’t done when Ruben went back to work and he was amazing. It took him minutes to do what we would have squabled about for hours.
Windows – 16 windows- double pane vinyl
Our window guy Craig Hubbard (you’re not going to find a window guy with a better sense of humor I can guarantee) said that replacing old windows is like getting your teeth whitened and straightened and I think that’s a fantastic metaphor. The windows in the house were single pane double hung windows that had no screens and many were upside down so they’d smash your finger when you tried to open them and some were painted shut. We love the new windows and were so glad it was an easy fix. The cost was about $6000 for the windows and installation and we would do this again in a heartbeat.
Want to see what happened to the 16 old windows? My brother in law built my sister a beautiful greenhouse with them.
The Weird Upstairs Window
It extends 5 inches BELOW the floor line. I couldn’t tell you why it does, but our window guy explained the cheapest and best thing to do was to replace the window rather than try to build more wall. I think he was right.
The Book Nook
This nook is probably 5 feet 6 inches at the peak and we kicked around lots of fun ideas for this space including putting a hammock in there. However, when my mother in law gifted me her used, tan leather loveseat and it fit like a glove in front of the weird window, making it safer and blocking the window trim that could only look moderately normal since the window goes BELOW the floor, it became the Book Nook. I got a shelf at the thrift store, painted it a light grey (it was a veneered Walmart style cheap bookshelf) and filled it with a rainbow of Reader’s Digests. There’s a throw blanket and pillows and it’s perfect now.
I bet we painted 10+ gallons of PNG Paint (our lumber yard brand) Snowbank White in this 1000 square foot house. I try to do projects in a way that feels less overwhelming and for some reason going one or two gallons at a time felt more achievable than getting giant 5 gallon buckets. I started in the linen closet room because it was the smallest and felt the least overwhelming. Deciding on the white was easy; it’s the color my dear friend Emily helped me choose for my living, bath, and kitchen in our home. It’s a bright white and we did semi-gloss so it is easy to clean.
I agonized over the decision of the paint color of the beadboard paneling in the kitchen and tested several colors and decided on Nightwatch (a dark green) and I love it. It really fits the mountain feel of the house and used it on the stair tread, and in the linen closet room beadboard. When I showed my brother the stairs, he immediately said they looked like my godmother’s signature paint color and he was absolutely right. It’s a perfect Julie green 🙂 Each gallon of paint was interior semi gloss and was about $35. It was a part of the project that I could do by myself, fairly well, and it had a huge impact for not a ton of money.
What they say is true: using good quality paint and brushes/rollers MATTERS. It makes a mediocre painter seem much better. My most important advice I could share is this: To paint faster, paint more slowly. This was a lesson it took me a long time to learn but it’s the Gospel truth. You get DONE much sooner by going slowly and doing a better job. I painted every surface- the inside of the closets (floor and ceiling, even) kitchen cupboards, and essentially every other surface you can think of. Painting the inside of the cabinets and drawers seemed silly at first but it makes them feel fresh and clean (and indeed, easier to clean later) and I feel like painting the inside of cupboards and cabinets is an often-skipped step. Paint them! For the kitchen cabinets my mother in law helped me (her whole family has so many really good painters, she and Ruben’s grandma helped!) and we left the doors on the cabinets- they are in good condition but my husband Ruben was worried about taking the doors off and on and how well they’d go back together as they fairly old and not the highest quality. I’m so glad we did this- I gave my mother in law a tiny brush and she painted around all the hinges and we did the whole set of cabinets in a few days.
It was a standard white before and I wanted it to pop a little more. I painted it Nightwatch green and considered getting a copper kickplate for the bottom but felt like they were pretty expensive for something that’s only pretty. Maybe someday!
I also painted the strip of linoleum left over in the door threshold with black enamel which I had leftover from some project. It’s super hard and shiny and it might look kinda funky but it definitely was better than the random linoleum strip that was there. I did this for the kitchen door threshold as well.
Light fixture painting
Several light fixtures were dated so we primed and painted them black. This was a cheap, easy fix that was something I could do while other paint was drying, while we were deciding on all the other “big” issues like flooring, without much money at all being spent at all. I spray primed and painted several for probably $10.
Magnetic stove shelf: I got this shelf from this Etsy shop and it was such a good buy. It’s perfectly sized for the tiny space and gives a space for a spoon and the salt and pepper when cooking.
This was a small thing but I was glad to add to the kitchen. We got a Waste King with a colossal capacity (I didn’t realize exactly how big it was until it arrived).
Bathroom sink and vanity: this was a little over $100 from The Home Depot. My husband picked it out on a whim and because of the tiny size it had to be, there wasn’t much to choose from. It’s a perfect size and the brushed nickel fixture matches the curtain rod.
L shaped shower curtain rod
$100 from Build.com – excellent customer service and this was the correct size for our existing tub and shower.
I may write a separate post about how I’m listing this rental but the short version is it is a furnished rental. This is where I got the furnishings.
Mattresses: Linenspa brand- Amazon
Beds (upstairs and large bedroom) Wayfair
Light fixtures in kitchen, stairwell, small bedroom: Wayfair
Small bedroom twin bed: Family bed painted by Pioneer Autobody
Duvets, throw blankets, kitchen towels, shower curtains, blender, : all used from Poshmark. I set a limit of $15 on most items and didn’t spend over that. I love Poshmark because they have an offer feature that’s easy for the buyer and not annoying for the seller. I just offered (keeping in mind the fixed $7 shipping) and if the seller didn’t accept, I moved to the next item in the search. Search is super easy on Poshmark and made it so easy to find what I wanted. If you want to join Poshmark, sign up with my code JENNY_GOMES to get $10 off your first order. It’s my favorite way to get used things online.
Curtains: JCPenney linen-look blackout – I have these in my living room and love them.
Green leather loveseat: Yard sale $75 totally worth it
Tan leather loveseat upstairs in the book nook: gifted from my MIL
Short dresser upstairs: thrifted and refinished $40
Sheer curtains for living room: thrifted $2 a panel. Guys. My local thrift store is the BEST and I bet yours is too. SHOP THRIFT STORES. There’s GOOD stuff there. It was my FIRST place to go for any furnishing. It doesn’t hurt to ask if they have a light fixture of a specific size, or a table of X dimensions. I got so many things there and gave them new life with a thorough vacuuming and a little stain. I also got the curtain rings there too.
Dining table and chairs: Wayfair. I love their super specific search function. I could search for the exact size I wanted. It had to fit both under the window, or nestled into the wall, AND under the telephone nook. I searched our local thrift store and Facebook market and ended up spending $200 on the table plus the 4 chairs. Bonus, they look so sharp with the floors. They are really pretty I think.
2 upholstered chairs: $40 total, painted with an exorbitant amount of fabric paint and wood stained with Varathane stain in Ebony. If I did this again, I’d search for another way to buy the paint than during a quarantine and via Amazon. I needed so much more paint than I realized. I think I needed nearly 10 bottles of 4 ounce paint. The result was not that soft, but fantastic looking black. It was less money and time than re-upholsterering and I love the way they look.
2 wooden chairs: thrifted – $20 total -Sanded both, stained one with the same single can of Varathane Ebony stain.
I can’t say enough about staining furniture rather than painting it. I’m a mediocre painter at best and I think that stain is SO much more forgiving than paint, has a dramatic effect easily, and is buildable (you can add or take away color as you go). I topped most of the things I stained black with clear polyurethane (I used a cheap foam brush) and just let it dry for several days. I especially loved how the black stain instantly made a ho-hum piece of furniture stand out. I also stained the threshold going from living to kitchen with the black to coordinate with the flooring better.
Various end tables, bench by the doorway, the linen closet dresser: my good pal Hailey. She was moving and sold me a ton of things for next to nothing, God bless her.
The sander I used for everything: a random orbital sander. Please note that I know nothing about wood working BUT I made $10 thrift store items look like $50 with this sander and $5 in stain. First use rough (80 grit) sandpaper, then fine (120) and stain. So easy! If you’re going to refinish great grandma’s priceless dining table, ask someone else. If you want to redo a yard sale score, do as I did.
Cleaning supplies for the house including mop, kitchen and window cloths, etc: Norwex. It’s super high quality microfiber and I love it.
The Side Yard
The front yard was in good shape and the back side yard was a total jungle. It was completely overgrown with blackberry vines. It felt vaguely creepy because you couldn’t see from one end to the other and and it was completely unusable. During my breaks from the drudgery that was drywall, I clipped every damn vine. I hauled them into piles and later, I asked a friend of my brother’s to rototill the side yard. The rototiller made it so smooth and perfect and deterred regrowth of the blackberry jungle for at least a bit. I really thought so long about a fantastic set of plants to include but in reality, the most sensible choice is grass. At this time, I haven’t planted any yet but hope to soon.
As we don’t live right next door to the house nor do we have a yard of our own (lots of practical reasons why, but unusual I know!) we decided to hire a landscape pro to mow twice a month and I’m so, so glad we did. He does a great job, hasn’t been late or missed a day yet, and it takes a chore off my plate.
My husband’s cousin is an incredible custom cabinet builder and he built us a hickory microwave cabinet. This served as a beautiful addition to the kitchen, got the microwave off the counter, and serves as a hood over the cook stove.
Linen Closet Room
There’s a weird little room adjacent to the master bedroom AND the bathroom that has a under-the-stairs cupboard in it (very Harry Potter) and we decided to use it as a linen closet. I put a great dresser (thanks, Hailey!) in there and I use it to store extra linens. If we had a huge budget/were going to live there ourselves, we would have removed the wall to the bathroom and made it one big bathroom or a Jack and Jill bathroom. But, we didn’t have a huge budget, and for now, it is just a linen closet.
Linen Closet Floor
Days before the flooring was going to be installed, we discovered a soft spot in the linen closet floor. This was after the awful drywall and at the end of Ruben’s two month stint as a sometimes unwilling DIY guy and this small, not a big deal discovery almost sent the both of us over the edge. It took a day of work, some pressure treated wood, a handful of those small Snickers bars, and he fixed it. See, NOT a big deal! 🙂
If you read this far, God bless you. This is easily the longest post I’ve ever written. I hope it was helpful in showing what we did ourselves, what we paid help to do, and how I did the parts I did myself. My lesson coming away from this 6 month project was to bite off what you can chew. Take small projects and do them first. Decide what you are willing to learn to do, and decide what’s way out of your comfort zone, but don’t be afraid to learn something new. Learning is how we grow and we often thing learning is just for kids. It isn’t. We need to learn too, whether we are 28 or 78. I’m naturally not a fan of risk, and buying an investment property was a risk, absolutely. Figuring out how to drywall was a risk. Spending money on furnishings was a risk. But now we have a gem of a house we are renting to great visitors, it’s doubled in value surely if not more (in part to Covid, and to our efforts), and if we wanted to live in it, we could! Drop your questions in the comments below, and let me know if there’s anything else I missed in this post!
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