After nearly 18 months of planning and 6.5 months of construction, we finally moved into our new home on Oliver Street back in February! We’re still pinching ourselves as we walk around our new house because it hardly seems real that we’re finally living here. 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:
Before You Buy:
- If there are few houses in your neighborhood that you would jump at the chance to own then you always need to have your finances in order to be ready quickly when the right opportunity comes up. Go through the pre-approval process with a trusted loan officer every year or so to make sure you can qualify quickly when you need to.
- Work with a deeply experienced real estate agent who can help you value the home you are considering for renovation in its current condition and after your planned renovation. Your agent should be able to review your plans and specifications with you during your planning process and comment on resale considerations.
- Put your professional team in place before you identify ‘the one’. Our architect, Shawn, stepped foot into Oliver ST for the first time along with us. Our interior decorator, Sarah, followed quickly thereafter. We had a trusted relationship with our builder from two previous projects. Our loan officer, Eric, and his team have been my go-to for 15 years. If you don’t have your team yet then your agent should be able to recommend several professionals for you to interview.
- Keep a file (digital or otherwise) of houses that you like. Use Pinterest, Instagram, etc.
In the Planning & Permitting Phase:
- Give yourself as much time as possible in this phase. We rented Oliver Street out for an entire year to give us ample time for planning and permitting. As eager as we were to get started, the 12 month lead time let us really mull over various options and give deep consideration to different design choices.
- 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.
- 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.
- Bring food to the job site on a regular basis. We brought doughnuts and hot coffee nearly every Saturday morning. As a special treat, we served a Thanksgiving lunch for everyone working the Friday after Thanksgiving.
Designing and renovating our house on Oliver ST has been one of the most fun and rewarding accomplishments of my career. The final product exceeded even my greatest hopes for what this home was going to be and we look forward to many happy years here with our boys.
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.