We’d always dreamed of buying a home on a lake – but they come on the market so infrequently, and when they do, they sell so fast that we never imagined our dream would be realized.  But it did - well sort of.

The lot on the lake was perfect –but the house itself?  It was dark and dirty with a horrible, foul odor. The seller, a heavy smoker, had lived there for 20+ years and had three large dogs. We quickly discovered that the dogs were not housebroken, and about a week after we moved in, we realized they were also infested with fleas. It was a rough start to living our dream.


For the next nine months, we lived in the midst of gutted chaos. To say it was overwhelming at times is an understatement but living our own version of a home improvement show was ultimately worthwhile - and one we’d recommend to others, but with a few renovation survival tips to live by!


  • Before buying a beast of a “fixer-upper” get a thorough home inspection by a qualified engineer to ensure the structural integrity of the property. If you plan to take down walls, you’ll need to assess which are load-bearing, and take into account the cost to install the proper structural support. Visit your town building inspector to determine what permits are required for your specific projects.


  • Hire a reputable contractor and work together to establish clear expectations of the project scope, timelines and budget. Be open to the contractor’s suggestions and ideas! Some of the best features of our project were ideas from our contractor!


  • Watch home improvement shows and visit websites such as Pinterest for new ideas and trends! Create an inspiration board – and reference it often during those long days of renovations to keep in mind that the turmoil will be worth it in the end.


  • Establish a realistic budget and keep in mind that major projects such as opening up walls or ceilings, can uncover unexpected issues that may incur additional costs. Your best bet is to build in a budget reserve of 3 – 5% to ensure you’ve got the funds to correct the problems. For us, having a Home Equity Line-of-Credit provided a lot of peace-of-mind in knowing we had funds available throughout the entire process.


  • Renovations are stressful for pets too. Try to establish a quiet room in the home where you can isolate them away from the construction. Be sure to put up a sign on the door instructing your workers that pets are inside, and not to enter.


In the end, the best advice is to be realistic. Renovations are dirty and dusty; they can be frustrating and the process will get old.  In the midst of the disarray, I was stressed out and feeling ready to just be done. My husband planned a weekend away from all the chaos and it was the break we needed. We came home excited to see the project through to conclusion, and now complete, we love living in the home of our dreams.