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elizabeth_boisvert

Can you help me figure out what type of professional I need to consult

We recently bought a 70s bilevel that is in livable condition but needs a lot of work. The issues run the gamut from structural to aesthetic and everything in between, but nothing is really an emergency. We were lucky to be able to afford a home in our area at all, but post purchase we are left with very little cash to make improvements. My husband and I have very little planning and design savvy, and we‘re feeling paralyzed about how to prioritize projects when so many things feel necessary. I’m confident that over the next five years or so we’ll be ae to manage most of the improvements, but the money will come in small chunks. At the moment it’s not even very well furnished because we moved from a tiny rental furnished with a mish mash of cheap IKEA or Craigslist items. Everything looks ugly. But if we only have $5000 to spend right this minute, do we use it on aesthetics? Or the water pressure issues? Mold remediation? Insulation? Does it make sense to spend $500 on needed kitchen cabinet/pantry space for the short term when we know we need to completely redo the kitchen and there are other so mang other important things that need attention?


so I’m really wondering if anyone can recommend resources for planning out a long term home renovation that will happen slowly over the course of 5-7 years while we live in the house. We are so overwhelmed that we’re doing nothing. Is there a design professional that would be able to help us plan this all out, help us figure out how to prioritize projects and funds, decide between immediate needs and aesthetics vs long term goals?


Any advice appreciated.

Comments (30)

  • Janie Gibbs-BRING SOPHIE BACK
    5 years ago
    last modified: 5 years ago

    Hi Elizabeth,

    Congrats on your new house! Fully get the CL & Ikea part, lol!

    When you had the home inspector come in, what did he earmark as the most important?

    If your new house has mold, that would be my first priority before anything else.

    You mentioned structure. Have you communicated with a structural engineer? An absolute must, and that can be very expensive.

    That would be my starting point.

  • rebecca_adia
    5 years ago

    personally, I wonder if you need a free friend with house savvy ;) or this board!

    $5K is not $50K and so I, personally, as a fellow homeowner wouldn't be thrilled about spending $500 or more of it on the services of a professional to help you prioritize. Perhaps some pros will chime in to say I'm very wrong and if so I'm extremely willing to stand corrected!

    but if not. . .what about listing here all the things you feel you need/want to do?

    the issues from the home inspection. . .the aesthetic issues. . .using this space as a sounding board to help you sort through your own thoughts.

    Again-- I may be way off base. I'm just cheap when it comes to paying people to think for me. . . it has to be something I truly can't sort through on my own or by pushing the limits of what I can get for free from casually talking to experts. ;)

    Like you, we don't have a ton of extra money floating around. . . if we did, I'm sure I'd approach life differently.

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  • User
    5 years ago
    last modified: 5 years ago

    Well congrats on your new home! Yes, buying a fixer when you know nothing is a very overwhelming experience but it will work out.

    We were in your shoes 13 years ago when we bought our house. My poor DH is brainy, not handy and we were BROKE! But it was livable and time was on our side so we took it. We lived on subflooring for 6 months while saving for and laying our wood flooring, our masterbath gut job took a full year to complete. Once we got the flooring down and the new roof done, we focused on one room at a time, paying cash as we went. It was hard at first but once I found the Gardenweb of forums, it became much easier to work through.

    If it were me, I would not spend money on a planner when there are forums who can help you. These forums, Google, Youtube and all the amazing blogs out there are your friends.

    You’ll get lots of opinions here, but that’s knowledge from people who’ve either been there or work in the industry. All the feedback will help you to make informed choices.

    For now, other than making sure it’s clean, I wouldn’t worry about the asthetics...focus first on the mechanicals and safety of the house so they are sound. Not fun I know but the fun part will come soon enough.

    Mold issues should come first because where there is mold, there is problem with moisture. So where is the mold and what kind of water issue is causing it? It could actually be a very easy fix. Have you had a plumber take a look at it?

    Next IMO would be the water pressure because nothing water related will work well without it. Again, what is the cause? Do you have well water or city? Have you gotten some estimates so you know what you’re dealing with?

    ETA: I didn’t see the structural comment and agree, a structural engineer is someone you need to consult with to figure out what’s going on and that would be high on the list of priorities, either just before or just after the water pressure.

    Insulation? Where in the house do you want to insulate? If it’s the attic, that can wait, especially if you’re not in a colder part of the country.

    I would not waste (yes waste) 500.00 on cabinets when a complete redo is in the plan. Try to think outside of the box a bit and find something you can use temporarily on the cheap, Habitat for Humanity is a good resource for that. Ugly is ok, you’re on a journey and it won’t be ugly forever and who knows, maybe that 500.00 for the planner will fix the mold issue.

    Now, working on the mechanicals first doesn’t mean you can’t start planning for the asthetics parts now too. Start looking through pictures to figure out what you like and don’t like, you can work on researching appliances, colors, cabinet choices, tile options, counter choices, lighting. Pinterest is great when it comes to finding the newest trends or hacks you can use. Make boards for each room and pin away.

    That’s how I’d approach what you’ve described so far. Trust me, once you’re not so overwhelmed, you are going to have so much fun! Having a vision helps later on!

  • beckysharp Reinstate SW Unconditionally
    5 years ago

    But if we only have $5000 to spend right this minute, do we use it on aesthetics? Or the water pressure issues? Mold remediation? Insulation?

    Aesthetics from now on come last. I'd splurge on a small pot of flowers outside to keep yourself happy and cheerful, but from now on, your goal is to fix up your house.

    Did you have a home inspection before buying the house? If not, get one from a reputable, highly recommended home inspector and make sure you get a prioritized list.

    Are water pressure, mold remediation, and insulation actual issues? Or just (I'm crossing my fingers here) hypothetical examples you chose?

    The issues run the gamut from structural to aesthetic and everything in between, but nothing is really an emergency

    You need to start from the top -- structural -- and then slowly work your way down the list, before any of the structural issues which are "manageable" now become emergencies. This can be a slow slide or, more likely, happen in the blink of an eye when you least expect, or can afford, it.

    You also want to minimize paying lots for things that will cost a little to repair now. Deal with any mold and mildew now before the situation become hazardous and your paying for both a mortgage and rent when the house becomes a hazard to live in. Deal with insulation before you spend far too much of your precious income on heating and cooling bills, because you've wasted heat and cooling on the outdoors instead of the indoors.

    Does it make sense to spend $500 on needed kitchen cabinet/pantry space for the short term when we know we need to completely redo the kitchen and there are other so mang other important things that need attention?

    Unfortunately, no, it doesn't. That's one-tenth of your budget, which is needed elsewhere at the moment.

    In your Ikea/Craigslist collection, do you have a Billy bookcase or something else which could be temporarily repurposed, in or near the kitchen, for extra space? I can sympathize, because the 1950s house I've lived in for the past 24 years since we got married has a very small kitchen. I turned part of a storage room in the basement into a pantry with some rescued, "found" shelving, and about seven years ago we finally built a dining room addition off the kitchen. So it does take time to do all of this and get things the way you want them : ) .



  • saratogaswizzlestick
    5 years ago

    Our first house had some of the same issues. You need to elaborate on structure issues. Is your house racking and developing cracks, is load not distributed or is is something that can wait like moving walls? If it is true structure that would be number one. For mold there is a lot you can do yourself at low cost to address that issue. We hand dug and exposed the foundation and applied waterproofing. Look up how to get rid of mold. People always suggest bleach but I have found Borax to be more effective and easier to use. Of course getting rid of mold will not be successful unless you eliminate the moisture problems first. For furniture and shelves Freecycle, Craiglist and yard sales. what is the nature of your water pressure issues? Are you on a well? Have you measured how many gallons per minute you have? Best of luck with your new house, you can make amazing transformations happen if you are willing to work hard.

  • aprilneverends
    5 years ago

    you want your house to be safe and sound, first of all. Or else it's not a good shelter. Which it should be.

    Then you want it to be as functional and as livable as possible, conductive to every day (water pressure etc)

    Then of course you want it be nice..lovable, to you, and inspiring

    Your mood will be uplifted by simple things like a flower pot, while you embark on making your house safe, sound, and all the rest

    Arrange whatever comes your way(c)-and it won't be ugly while you do your improvements

    and congratulations..overwhelming but I'm sure exciting times nevertheless

  • Elizabeth Boisvert
    Original Author
    5 years ago

    These responses are amazingly helpful, and very clarifying. Thank you all for being so thoughtful.

    To clarify a few things:

    - I am fairly certain there is mold in the lower level, which we aren’t really using at the moment. The original owner ran a flower shop out of the converted garage and kept refrigerators in the lower level rooms. A compressor leak ruined the floors, and I suspect mold is hiding behind the baseboards, under the stairs, etc. So that moisture issue was a one time thing.

    - our main bathroom has rotted baseboards near the shower and the floor is a bit squishy near the tub. It’s also an oddly arranged 70s monstrosity with all original vanity, medicine cabinet, toilet that required multiple flushes, and a faulty mixer in the shower so the water temperature is unpredictable. Obviously the whole room needs to be redone, but that’s another place I expect mold.

    - there’s a weird hole in the converted garage covered in plywood. There are many pillbugs down there. It’s like a horror movie. (But again, we’re not really using anything aside from the laundry room downstairs yet because the floors need to be done and some wiring/drywall to divide the space)

    - what I meant by structural: the back deck is built right over an addition room behind the old garage, so the water gets trapped between the deck boards and the flat roof of the room. There is obvious rot on the wall of that room around the window, and I suspect/fear there may be ants taking advantage of the situation. This is probably the most complex of the immediate problems.

    - the front half of the roof will need to be done in a year or two (the back was replaced when a big tree crashed through it at some point)

    - the driveway is crushed stone and the snowblower hates it

    - we spent way too much on heat this winter. My husband (who is actually very handy, just not good at planning/vision) is dying to tie a wood stove into the plumbing for next winter. He’s an arborist and wood is free :)

    - we foresee the house being hard to cool as well, just due to the layout and a huge west facing picture window that creates an oven in the afternoon. We were hoping to install a whole house fan.

    - the electrical definitely needs work. Most but not all of the wiring is copper, and there are few overhead lights, just outlets on a switch in each room. All of the outlets are old and the plates keep cracking when I plug things in. The old flower shop has lots of mystery wires and switches that must have operated light up signs and whatnot.

    And to be clear - I expect to spend at least $100k in home repairs over this time frame (5-7 years). We just won’t have the money all at once.

    Mold first. That sounds simple. I can do that. I am much more willing to accept the disarray of our living space if I know we’re making progress.

  • aprilneverends
    5 years ago
    last modified: 5 years ago

    I'm not sure mold is simple. From what you're describing. I'd call an inspector, to take probes and everything, and provide a report, with advising on further action. Maybe it's simple(doubtful), or maybe requires professional remediation.

    I encountered mold(not just a bit of mildew) problem twice-at my work place(was not allowed to operate until full remediation and clearance report for the city done. The state was CT, at the time)-and with my DD's dorms here in CA-there, was actually private, co-op type of a building..I must add that my DD is immuno compromised so the report made me especially worried..it was that bad. I did a lot of reading, and advised her/other students how to approach the issue so the main guy in charge of funds would be receptive, since he didn't seem very keen on spending money at first.. they did partial remediation in most affected rooms, including hers, since the rooms were deemed inhabitable, especially the one where the main leak started. If you ask me-wasn't nearly enough, but much better than nothing. Special vacuums, all that jazz.

  • User
    5 years ago

    You’re way underestimating that laundry list of issues costs. The most worrying is the deck/addition, which sounds like a complete teardown, and the bathroom, which needs immediate attention if you aren’t going to end up in the basement below.

    If you do the rebuild of the deck and addition, that’s a 80K-100K job right there from a Pro. The bathroom is 20K. And that’s being conservative as to whether the water damage is only a bit of mold, which, given the descriptions, is not the case.

    Right off the bat, you need to double your anticipated budget, and immediatize your priority to deal with the active leaks that you have.

    You might just get rid of that deck and addition and not rebuild. But here’s going to be issues where it joins the house to deal with that still need addressing.

    I cant believe that your home inspection didn’t make you want to walk away from this. It’s one thing to get a fixer upper. But it’s quite another to get one with so many serious structural issues right off the bat and no money to deal with them. That only allows things to get much worse, and more expensive.

    No whole home fans in any climates where you attempt to use AC. You’ll get severe moisture issues and rot with that. Whole home fans are only for mild climates where you really do not use AC.

  • User
    5 years ago
    last modified: 5 years ago

    Yes, mold first BUT the main bathroom has water leakage that needs to be addressed as well. If you can post pictures, that is going to help people see what you are talking about. Your detail is good but pictures are better. :c)

  • katinparadise
    5 years ago

    following

  • beckysharp Reinstate SW Unconditionally
    5 years ago

    Mold and eliminating all water/moisture problems first. Don't underestimate the (potential) mold problem(s) especially if, as I suspect from your profile photo, you have any kids.

    In addition to finding a decent, reputable independent inspector, you need to find a decent, reputable builder who specializes in remodels and also learn as much as possible about how to fix these problems yourself.

    I will put in a recommendation for reasonably priced Ikea vanities, because it sounds like you need to deal with that main floor bathroom sooner rather than later.

    What region are you in? How hot are your summers? How cold are your winters?


  • Elizabeth Boisvert
    Original Author
    5 years ago

    The bathroom issues are frustrating because I will eventually (years down the road) want to adjust the structure of that space. It’s a pretty awkward design that works ok for now. I want to fix whatever issue is going on with the water and the floor, otherwise we would probably just live with the ugly bathroom until more important issues are dealt with. As it stands, we will probably lay inexpensive vinyl tile, replace the vanity/mirror/sink and toilet with simple models for under $500 and do nothing to the tub. The biggest cost mystery is the extent of the water damage.

    The addition/deck issue is a big one, but hard to imagine $100, even with a rebuild? I haven’t seen estimates that high even for a full garage, and this is just an 8x10 offshoot behind the garage. Our inspector was concerned, but not overly so, and found the deck structure safe. I’m mulling this over more now.

  • User
    5 years ago

    If your vanity is viable until you can gut the room, then maybe you can just paint it instead, that’s a really easy update. I did that with a perfectly good vanity upstairs that was pretty dated looking, Paint and new knobs can really make a difference.

    As for the addition/deck area, I wouldn’t guess any costs. I know it’s hard not to, but get a couple of estimates so you actually have a factual number. Until you do, you’re basically just pulling a rabbit out of a hat, kwim?

    Sometimes the guys you request estimates from will have really good fix options too, something you may not have thought of on your own.

  • Saypoint zone 6 CT
    5 years ago

    I don’t know what your addition/deck situation looks like, but I can tell you from recent experience that you can spend $75k on a garage. Maybe your project is not that extensive. I would expect that if your bathroom floor is squishy, the tub has to come out to fix it.

  • beckysharp Reinstate SW Unconditionally
    5 years ago

    Our inspector was concerned, but not overly so, and found the deck structure safe

    Where did your inspector come from -- real estate agent, friend of the seller, independent referral, Yelp, Facebook?

  • Elizabeth Boisvert
    Original Author
    5 years ago

    We chose from a list provided by our realtor. I can’t remember now why we chose that particular inspector. He seemed knowledgeable and gets good reviews online.

    The deck is built over the addition but they are not connected. The addition is in very bad shape, but the deck itself feels and looks sound. I can’t imagine why someone would think that design was ok.

  • rebeccamomof123
    5 years ago
    last modified: 5 years ago

    Do you have children living in the house? If so, that mold would be #1 on my list because it could be a very real problem for developing respiratory systems.

    I’m overwhelmed, just reading through the list I can only imagine how you feel being the one to execute on this and pay for this. We’ve been in our home for 15 years and we’re still chipping away at our prioritization list. Our water pressure is so poor, that we can either bathe, run the dishwasher, or do a load of laundry but none of them together. We are just getting to that on our list now, 15 years later, to the tune of about $3600 to replace the pipe from the street to the house.

    Safety is #1. No question. Any cosmetic updates you’ve even considered, just cross off right now. Revisit that in five years.

    If it were me I would start reading up as much as possible and I would start lining up as many estimates as possible to get professionals in the house, start a folder with estimates, and tap their brain. Depending on your level of patience and how much time you have to dedicate, you might consider lining up HVAC, plumbing, electrician, general contractor. Then prioritize the list based on safety impact.

    I live in Massachusetts, and we have a Mass Energy Saves program, whereby the State sends in an energy professional for free, and they evaluate the house for energy efficiency. They look at heating and cooling system, windows, insulation, and electrical. See if you have something similar in your state.

    You can do this! Don’t be discouraged by negative comments, your bought this house for a reason, hopefully you got it for a steal. Slow and steady.

  • saratogaswizzlestick
    5 years ago

    Here is a link on how to get rid of mold.https://www.familyhandyman.com/cleaning/mold-and-mildew/how-to-remove-mold/view-all/

    This would be a priority for me if I were you. My guess is your basement reeks because you don't like to use it. Rip out the floor and baseboards and thoroughly scrub and treat for mold using a respirator and covering up. Mold migrates and you don't want it to keep spreading. The bathroom is concerning as the floor is spongy. It could be water, termites or carpenter ants. This is not something you can just use peel and stick tiles to correct. Rip out the tile and examine the subfloor and repair or patch as needed. Then put some vinyl or something inexpensive down. If the addition is in very bad shape and the deck is self supporting and not connected to the deck tear it down especially as you feel it may be attracting ants. Pictures would be very helpful. Real estate agents don't usually recommend someone who will queer the deal. In the future I would suggest finding your own based on qualifications and stellar reviews. Are you both fairly handy?

  • User
    5 years ago

    Well my goodness!!

    Agree...get a moldy guy out there to give you some idea of cost and make that job one. You can only do one thing at a time, here...

    Please, though...just take 50 of this 5000 and you and your honey go out to a kind of nice restaurant...DO NOT talk about houses or repairs ;) This whole thing must be draining on both of you..

  • roarah
    5 years ago

    If I were in your home I would fix all water leaks from both your structure and plumbing first, this means replacing the roof, all rotted wood and the deck addition issue then mitigate mold. If you do mold first without fixing the other things you are throwing money out the window for it will return.

    next I would fix the plumbing and electric issues.

    then I would insulate the house to save on energy costs. These savings can maybe help you buy the wood stove you DH wants but first upgrade your insulation and Windows.

    Unfortunetly 100k does not go as far in real life as it does on HGTV but all one really needs is a safe, healthy and warm home in reality and hopefully that can be done within your budget. Function always before form.

  • aprilneverends
    5 years ago
    last modified: 5 years ago

    as far as I understood they repair while they mitigate..I suppose different crews at work, but one can't just remediate without replacing whatever's damaged. one needs to get estimates though-what's happenning, where, what it entails..it is overwhelming, we also spent couple months just being in shock and drinking wine, even though ours didn't present any safety issues unless being disturbed. Then one takes a deep breath and starts calling..

    and sources for leaks should be all taken care of, no question

    I'd start with a mold guy and a GC..to put some picture together

    insulate the house..drywall comes out for that..you might be surprized at the state of black paper too..we patched ours, overall was not bad.. or else would be easier to take the house down..asbestos-we had to remediate it 'cause was everywhere..but yes, now the house' s insulated)) and we're in Southern CA, no snow-but makes sense for a house to be insulated.

    roof-was still fine yet we did have to change lots of stuff there since was at the end of its cycle.

    and we didn't have leaks, mold, etc

    nothing structural too. and wiring was fine. still..life experience I could easily live without lol

    but hey..everything learned in comparison. I had this phrase I'd be telling myself "Nobody shoots yet? okay then". I got it in my head to automatic level. It popped up even when I didn't need it. Like a broken record. Yet it helped. In order to do stuff one needs to keep himself functional..))

    as for Craigslist etc don't worry..half of our place is craigslisted, etsied, ebayed, blahblah. One of the best affordable ways to create, with time, a cozy and meaningful place for your family. So as to that part-a day will arrive and you'd be, like, wow, all the stories I have in our house.

  • simplify52
    5 years ago

    Get someone in to test the type of mold. My Mother passed away due to mold. You need to fix whatever it is that is causing the mold first then remediate that mold. I would NOT live in that house until the mold has been eliminated. Is it in just one area or multiple areas of the house? Please read about mold. It will scare you and educate you at the same time.

  • rebecca_adia
    5 years ago

    Just wanted to chime in to say—please don’t be overwhelmed by all the different opinions! Keep responding, keep engaging, and people will continue to post on this thread. ( and if you have any pics to share, I guarantee that’ll drive even more comments!)

    And the more people who chime in, the more you’ll get a sense of what the clear majority opinions are vs what the outlier opinions are, statistically.

    Then you can start calling some professionals in your area to get quotes for some of the big items.

  • Elizabeth Boisvert
    Original Author
    5 years ago

    I AM quite scared about mold. But we don’t have any confirmed. I’m just suspicious of those places that have had water issues. The only ongoing water issue is the room under the deck. That space is quite separate from the rest of the house. So I think at this point the mold task is just looking to see if and where there is mold before completely panicking.

  • wmsimons85
    5 years ago

    Sorry don’t have much to add but wanted to follow. I do think it is a great idea to start with determining if there is mold. That will at least make you rest easy that this has been stopped. The longer you wait on this issue the greater the risk it can grow. Finger crossed there is none.

    You are a very brave person to take this on but once the serious issues have been addressed, it sounds like an exciting and challenging project. Look forward to following your progress.

  • User
    5 years ago
    last modified: 5 years ago

    Elizabeth, by what you described earlier in the main bath, I would think that there is at least a 50/50 chance of mold in the subflooring or elsewhere, so when you have the house inspected for it, that area should be inspected as well.

    Can you post pictures of the deck and addition? If they aren’t attached, I have to agree with the pro who suggested tearing the addition down entirely, sealing up the house and moving on to other things. It might be a good option for a quick fix and something to consider.

  • Elizabeth Boisvert
    Original Author
    5 years ago

    I need to look more into the mold inspection process. Does it have to be all done at once? I’d really prefer to get the bathroom project out of the way because it’s in our main living space, but I think we can only afford one project at a time.

    I’m inclined not to rebuild the rotted addition. It’s raining today but I’ll take some pics of it tomorrow. I don’t think it’s possible to salvage it because it’s such a poor design, but we may be able to get a need rear entrance out of it and kill two birds with one stone.

    I’m gathering some contractor and mold specialist referrals, and even though this thread has been scary, I feel much more focused on what needs to happen, so thank you to all.

    We were quite lucky to find a home in our town that we could afford, despite its problems, and I think we will be able to slowly invest in the repairs and improvements. $100k later we will consider whether to restructure or relocate, but at the moment there’s not a single home in town for sale for less than $100k above what we paid. So I’m hopeful.

  • User
    5 years ago

    Well, we're here to cheer you on. I've lived through a mostly to the studs gut job (and by that I mean that I did it. Not much was hired out) and it can be overwhelming at times. But one step at a time...

    Plus Ryan Gosling has faith in you.

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