Interview with a Fixer Upper


If you’ve ever watched one of the hit TV shows about renovating fixer uppers, you’ve probably seen a dynamic duo completely transform a home.
In just a short half-hour show, an almost unrecognizable structure takes the place of what used to be a dilapidated, outdated disaster.
However easy it may seem on TV, a fixer upper can take months or even years of hard work and dedication. You should also be prepared to learn valuable lessons from mistakes and learn to compromise on your planning process.
Country Charm in the Big City

This is the case for Andy Williams and Lauren Van Houten, owners of a farmhouse fixer upper in Detroit.
Williams reflected on his journey to homeownership while sitting in a country style kitchen at a charming wood table inherited from his great grandparents.
“Even looking through the warts, I knew this was the house for me,” said Williams.
Williams purchased the fixer upper as his first home at a foreclosure auction in April 2014 for $7,000. The historic 1915 farmhouse stands at 3,000 square feet with two main floors, a basement (1,500 square feet) and a walk-up attic (1,400 square feet).

Surrounded by a few acres of vacant lots, the house was ideal for Williams, who was looking for something similar to the wide-open spaces and country charm he had growing up on a cattle farm in the Tecumseh-Adrian area of Michigan.
He recalled zeroing in on this specific neighborhood as a farm manager for Hantz Woodlands LLC when the company adopted the square mile surrounding the area to clean the lots, tear down blight and plant hardwood trees.
Because the house was purchased at a foreclosure auction, Williams had no idea what to expect on the inside. After he closed on the home, he recalled the “disaster zone” that had accumulated over years of neglect.

A lack of running water and heat for several years caused the plaster to crack, and most of the woodwork that he admired had been painted over. “At first it was hard to see what was underneath there,” he said.
When it came down to it, however, he admired the home because it contained a lot of the original historic character.
“My main thing was the original woodwork because I wanted to sand it down and stain it,” explained Williams.
A Little Elbow Grease

Williams handled the demolition mostly on his own, along with stripping and staining all of the woodwork.
“I’ve been learning on the job,” Williams admitted. “I had never stripped and stained woodwork before in my life before I started this. So that’s all been on-the-job training. I had to work through that and figure out the best way that worked for me and the woodwork I had.”
Williams hired out workers for the early renovations, ripping out the whole boiler system and installing a new forced air system with furnaces in the basement and attic, new plumbing and electrical, and a new roof.

He attributes time commitment as the main difficulty of a fixer upper, with his project coming up on two years.
“Obviously the con is the time and money commitment,” he explained, “But the pro from that is [when] you put in all that time and sweat and work in, once you start seeing the dividends of it, then it makes everything that came before it much sweeter.”
Currently, the first floor renovation is in the home stretch. The drywall is due to be finished in a few months, and all the woodwork on the first floor will soon be sanded down and stained, with shiny new windows and a fresh coat of paint to follow.

“It’s been a long two years, but now I’m starting to see the fruits of my labor,” Williams said. “If you have your hands on the project everyday, it makes it more personal and it gives you more skin in the game. Being able to come in here and have an open mind in terms of customization has been a positive.”
His and Hers

Williams expects the first floor to be done in this summer. His main motivation is he and his fiancée, Lauren Van Houten, are getting married on the property in August. Van Houten works as an interior designer for MarxModa.
The idea of a fixer upper isn’t foreign to Van Houten, as her parents renovated homes in her hometown of Carleton, Michigan.
“As a young girl, I always loved designing, so I thought it would be so cool to renovate a home,” added Van Houten. “I enjoyed doing personal building-type projects with my dad so that was something I always wanted to do.”
The pair is planning the home’s interior design. With Williams an antique aficionado and Van Houten’s affinity for midcentury modern, they plan on incorporating both styles in the home.
“I love the juxtaposition of midcentury modern and an older historic look,” said Van Houten. “My vision is keeping the historical elements with more of a progressive look. I’m excited to mix the two and create more of an eclectic look that represents both of us.”

Williams expects to spend around $150,000 on the renovation process, driving the home value up to $150,000 – $170,000. He anticipates total renovation to be complete in five years, accrediting the timeline to the amount of woodwork on the second floor.
He recalls passersby knocking on his door and asking to buy the house, to which he wholeheartedly responds, “It’s not for sale.”
“I’m going to die in this house,” he joked. “I have two years of memories wrapped in this place. There are so many stories that go with this house that I could never get rid of.”
Word from the Wise

When asked for advice to anyone considering purchasing a fixer upper, the duo had a lot to say.
“Know what you’re getting yourself into,” Williams advises. “Do your homework on the mechanicals and the foundation because that’s the stuff that is extremely hard and expensive to fix.”
He also recommends seeking counsel from professionals throughout the entire project, searching for internet resources and joining message boards on home improvement.
“Also, expect to have more of an organic approach to the house,” adds Van Houten. “You have to be able to change. There’s always something that you didn’t think about initially that will come up. Expect the unexpected and be ready to change it.”
Did this story inspire you to purchase the fixer upper home of your dreams? Talk to one of our Home Loan experts today about financing for your fixer upper.
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