Looking back on our ongoing home renovation adventures, it's hard to believe where we've been, where we are now, and where we're planning to go. No, I'm not talking about a literal movement of location, more of a maturation process that we have both gone through during this eye opening, challenging, difficult, but ultimately rewarding process.

Wendy on day one, 15 minutes after settlement on the house.

Did I say "rewarding?" Absolutely, but the fresh faced kid versions of us who bought this house in 2003 with barely two pennies to rub together after their first mortgage payment simply didn't have a clue of what lay ahead. Honestly, how could they have, they'd never lived through what we have lived through. They didn't get it, their friends didn't get it, and their family didn't get it.

Move in day, 2003, with my parents and our friends Mary and Michael

Today, many of our friends get it, some of our family gets it, and only a handful of strangers can understand why we put ourselves through this grind.

Now more than eight years later, we're older, more experienced, and on our best days...(maybe marginally) wiser. However, to many outsiders looking in, be it friends, family, or strangers, the people who've not lived through a DIY renovation don't typically have empathy for or understand what we've chosen to take on. But then again, we don't really expect them to.

Wendy and I have a lot of friends, family, and acquaintances who are intrigued at what we've taken on. And many strangers who are befuddled by ongoing renovations. These people tend to ask a lot of questions when we get together, and each one is sometimes asked with a hint of judgement. Here are some of our favorite and most often asked questions that we feel is usually served small side of judgement.

Q: Are You Done Yet?

This is pretty much question #1 for anyone who knows or learns we have been working on this house since 2003. It is such a loaded question, but has such an easy answer.


But that's not the full answer. The honest answer is that we'll never actually be done. Projects come and go, and we will complete each one in due time, but the work on a house, especially an old house going through a restoration and transformation like we've undertaken, will never actually be fully complete. 

I was talking to a good friend about this topic recently at a baseball game. He said, "You know, I realized that you and Wendy will never actually be able to say 'the house is done.' That doesn't exist in your vocabulary." This is the best synopsis of our efforts a friend has presented us to date. 

No matter the state of the house there will always be projects. Large or small, easy or nearly impossible, we have a vision for our home that is ever changing. We're always going to adopt new ideas, approaches, technologies, design choices, and feelings for what should be. We just hope that when we decide our time in this house is up, the next owners will take over and continue the work, regardless of the state of "completion." I realize this is a tall order for future owners, and one not certain to happen, but a guy can wish.

Q: Why Don't You Just Hire Someone to Finish the House?

Surprisingly, we get this question quite often from people who feel like we are taking too long to complete any given project. My quick answer is sometimes shocking, but not unexpected.


For me, the majority of the satisfaction, fun, and overall enjoyment I get out of this process comes from the fact that we are doing it ourselves. The only work we hire out are the tasks that I don't feel comfortable doing myself. 

There are always going to be tasks that are necessary to have outside professional assistance on, be it from a safety, expertise, or legal standpoint. This doesn't mean that I won't be very involved in the process, and it often means that I will think we can handle it the next time on our own because it really wasn't that difficult (to put in a load bearing beam with cement footers for example). No matter what, I view expert professional services as help in completing a larger project, not as someone who will ever do the project for us. 

On the roof with Mike from Lyons Contracting for our leaking skylight replace

Add to these facts that we have the patience to fully research every aspect of a project, take our time with the tiniest details, and are willing and able to stop mid project and alter our approach if we see something that can be done better or more efficiently, adding only to the time the project takes and not the cost, and you have a recipe for a successful journey. 

I often tell people who don't really understand why you wouldn't hire someone for everything, "We have more time than money, and I'd prefer to spend the time than the money on a project." This helps to put it in terms that are more easily accepted, but the reality is closer to "There's no way we have the money to pay someone for the time and effort we're willing to dedicate to this project...and if we did, they'd probably still do things wrong that we'd have to redo." 

Did I mention how completely anal we are? :-) 

Q: So when you're done, are you going to sell the house?

Taking into account the first question about "being done," and allowing the fact that we will reach a point where one could consider our work on the house complete, the question is really asking if would we then sell our house and move onto another house? The answer to this one is far more difficult than to the first two questions.

Maybe? Probably Not. 

I don't know if you can tell, but we love our house. We didn't love the building we bought in 2003, but we loved the potential we could see. We haven't enjoyed every single minute of the difficult and sometimes infuriating process, but we love the end result and what we've been able to accomplish. It may sound strange, but our house has become a member of our family. 

We may come to a point in time where we feel like we need to move onto another house, and that point in time may come sooner, or later, but we honestly have no idea.

The point of this process isn't to flip a house. We are pouring blood, sweat, and tears into this house, and we are not doing it with the intention of allowing someone else to reap the rewards of our hard work and effort without first enjoying it ourselves. The point is to live, grow, learn, and appreciate our home and our lives to the fullest. And we can't do that effectively if we're just looking at this whole process as a way to make some money and move on. 

Best case scenario, we can move onto another house and another project, but we won't have to let go of this house. This is a "winning the lottery" type scenario, but it would mean we can keep this home and our pride and joy as long as we're alive. It's a lofty goal, I know. But we have put ourselves through a lot over the years. Afterall, when you can look like Wendy did on the first evening of home ownership shortly after I tried to "fix" a piece of baseboard in our master bedroom and and did more damage than intended, you know it is going to be a tenuous ride.

Sorry honey! And Sorry it took me about six years to fix it.

The whole adventure of renovation and living in Old Town Alexandria is about the experience and impact on our life that we will allow it to have. It is unlike anything you can really understand until you've actually been involved in it. And more than anything, you must possess the desire for the end result that trumps the annoyances you experience during the process. 

As much as we appreciate the experience and would love everyone to jump into an old home renovation with both feet, until you have the desire for the end result and ability to see past the dust, our overkill approach to DEY (Do Everything Yourself) may not be the best way to approach home ownership. In DIY, the "it" you are doing is far more quantifiable, and is typically a better starting point to see if you fall into the category that has the desire and need to do everything themselves.

I know some of our readers are the hardcore renovator, others are DIY hobbyists, and others are people looking for ideas or inspirations. If you have a story like ours, or great questions that you are often asked, please leave of a comment and let us know. It's a labor of love to work on homes, but quite a rewarding one at that.

Comments 2


7/30/2011 at 11:48 AM
You aren't crazy; many people ARE judging you. First of all, the majority of people you encounter, other than say, neighboring old house owners/enthusiasts, don't want the work involved in fixing up and maintaining an old house. In fact, many want everything brand-spanking new where they get to pick the colors, the carpeting, etc. -- and they think it's perfectly normal to have an HOA telling them what they can and can't do. So, right there you have many people who think you're nuts to take on what you're doing.

On top of that, they can't understand why some of your projects take so long or remain unfinished (like your MBR baseboard) while other ones are started. Some folks demand quick closure on their home projects and have a low tolerance for others who stop and start, or work on multiple projects simultaneously as they get new inspirations.

Having lived in our old house for 24 years, I know it will never be finished. While our in-house DIY efforts are not the most ambitious, the outdoor and landscaping projects over the years go way beyond what most would aspire to. When we feel like we're getting those judgmental vibes from family members and questions like "when are you going to finish X project?" I consider what they've accomplished at their houses (either DIY or paid others to do). It then strikes me that because their aims are "we can't start anything that will take too long to finish" and/or be inordinately disruptive to the daily routine, overall they have much less to show for the time they've lived in their homes (I'm talking about people who do care about their home here).

Admittedly that sounds judgmental in its own right or maybe I'm rationalizing -- and I'm honestly not making a practice of keeping score -- but the implied criticisms do bug, and we're proud of the many things we've accomplished. Further, we're far from paralyzed by guilt or shame about what we have yet to accomplish! One can very well be anal about the details but not about the "deadlines".

Sorry so long; obviously this struck a chord with me. Thanks for providing this forum for others who've shared similar experiences. I'm rooting for you --
7/31/2011 at 9:41 PM
Hey guys (I'm always confused as to which one of you two is writing this blog).

I feel the same way, and I've taken the DEY approach on my house, but I'm at even more of a disadvantage since I'm single. It seems to take twice as long when there's no one else to help or encourage you. If you have the time, have a quick look at my blog. I just recently started it, so I'm posting a mix of current posts, and back-entries of what's been done over the past year and a half since I bought the place.

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