| Investing | By Anslie Stokes

If you’ve known me for a while then you likely already know that renovating houses is a passion of mine. Growing up the daughter of a custom home builder gave me a front seat to the process and I’ve been completely hooked ever since buying my first (9’ wide!) house in Foggy Bottom just out of college. My most recent project, 4401 Burlington PL NW, is just wrapping up and I’m thrilled with the transformation.


Together with my business partner, Shawn Buehler at BFM Architects, we purchased a tired old house in American University Park in March. We planned a thoughtful renovation that sought to maintain the character and integrity of the home with updates that will allow the next family to put down roots for years to come. We’ve executed that plan over the past 3 months and will bring this house to the market next week.


I took a moment this week to reflect on the process and put down in writing what I consider the key takeaways for anyone considering buying a home in DC and undertaking a major renovation in the current Covid environment that is substantially impacted by supply chain and labor shortages:

In the Planning & Permitting Phase:

  • Give yourself as much time as possible in this phase. We started our planning process the moment we were confident we would secure the house and submitted for a permit and ordered windows the day our offer was accepted.
  • The permitting process will take longer and  be more frustrating than it should. DCRA is a beast to deal with and there is no path forward on a major renovation that doesn’t involve a green light from DCRA.
  • Have a very clear understanding of when your builder needs your selections by. Aim to make your decisions well in advance of those due dates. It can seem daunting to get started on decisions but start you must and as soon as possible. Most decisions are interwoven so rely on your professional team to help you break them down and come up with rules for consistency and to help track everything from concept to execution.

During Construction:

  • Visit your construction site as much as often as possible during the process. Take notes during any meeting with your professional team. Take progress photos every day. Pro-tip: start a shared photo stream or Instagram handle to keep them in one place. These can be fun to go back and look at but they can also help solve issues down the road.
  • Buy yourself a heavy-duty tape measure and carry it with you at all times.
  • Invest in professional photography just before insulation and drywall go up. This will give you “behind the drywall” photos to reference in the future. These are literally invaluable. Pro-tip: a 3D virtual tour is absolutely critical at this stage as well.
  • Properly insure the property and confirm your builder’s insurance coverage prior to starting work.
  • Properly secure the property. Put video cameras up if possible. Make sure your builder secures all tools and anything of value that must stay onsite overnight. As soon as the windows and doors are in, make sure a plan is place for them to be locked each night.
  • Have your contractor regularly check the street for nails/screws/construction debris if their trucks are parking on the street.
  • Insist that all construction debris be hauled off regularly (ideally daily).
  • Change orders (both owner driven and as a result of unknown conditions) will likely equal about 5-10% of the total construction budget. Budget for this ahead of time.
  • Insist on your contractor abiding by DC construction working hours.
  • Construction is incredibly noisy and at times messy. You do, after all, have to crack a few eggs in order to eat an omelet for breakfast. Your neighbors will be impacted by both. Stay in regular communication with everyone around you.

Designing and renovating our project on Burlington PL NW has been a fun and rewarding project this year and we can’t wait to introduce it to the market next week.

Do you have questions about the renovation process in DC? Have your eye on a house in your neighborhood? Want to be ready in case an opportunity comes up? Reach out  now! It’s never too early to lay the foundation for a successful renovation.

The Stokes Group is a team of dedicated professionals who have passion for the real estate business and will advocate for our clients with the utmost honesty, integrity, and confidentiality. We believe in building solid relationships with our clients and that starts by getting to know who we are. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram.

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