Kitchen Remodel on the Cheap


july-4Yep – this is an actual picture of my actual kitchen when we moved into our house. One person could fit comfortably and two people could fit as long as one person was holding his breath.

It was completely enclosed except for that teeny tiny window above the sink. It was dark. And closed in. And generally not a place that I wanted to spend much time – which sucked since we end up spending a lot of time in our kitchen.

So, being the impulsive – “I can do this remodel on the cheap” – person that I am, I decided to start pulling down cabinets and walls. My husband just shook his head. He’s a planner. He wanted a plan, but that’s not how I roll. I just jump right in with both feet, armed only with a general vision and my completely unfounded faith that I can do anything I set my mind to.

july-7As I began the demolition, I was amazed by all the hidden treasures in my kitchen – like this random fan hidden above the cabinets over the fridge. The most frustrating find though, was when I realized that that lip above the cabinets was not just a lip – it was the ACTUAL CEILING! Which meant that I quickly learned how to tear out the ceiling…and clean up all the insulation and random bird’s nest that fell down with it.

The best hidden treasure was the window. Whomever put in the cabinets had basically boarded up that teeny tiny window which meant that when I took the cabinets out, I now had a HUGE window already there! Woo Hoo! It almost made tearing out the ceiling worth it.

The next step was taking out the drywall. I NEVER want to even look at drywall again. I hate that stuff. Its heavy and awkward and despite its simplicity, it makes a mess.

july-8Here is my sexy sexy husband ripping into the ceiling while the drywall crumbled everywhere!

Once I got the new drywall up and mudded, I stopped. My energy for this project ran out completely.

My brother was horrified that our outlets were just dangling there (he probably had a point) and my husband and daughter were annoyed that all of our dishes were in the living room.

Don’t get me wrong. I was desperate to finish this thing, but I could not force myself to do one more thing to it. I was totally spent. So, I hired a handyman and I don’t regret that decision at all. It took him three days to finish my hack job and that included the time he spent politely fixing the parts I had already completed.

I put in the counters and the back splash (don’t be too impressed – the counters are contact paper and the back splash is just peel and stick. Totally ghetto but NOBODY WOULD KNOW…until now. Now I guess everyone knows. The point being: you cannot tell unless you look really closely).

I painted the bottom cabinets and replaced the hardware with some fancy hardware my mom gave me. Bought and put in the shelves. Replaced the big fridge with two little ones (one for food and one for drinks which we keep in a different room).

Ready for the reveal?

july-11It feels like its 10 times bigger! I love the light that comes in through the bigger window and the range hood (which we bought but had our handyman install). I also replaced the lighting with track lighting to light the corners.

july-9july-12july-10Now for the fun part! The cost breakdown. Forgive me – I was really diligent about recording expenses at the beginning and got less and less so as the project progressed.

crowbar: $20

counter tops: $40 – white marble never looked so good…just don’t look too close

drywall: $120 – included the mud, sanding and all the other things needed

truck: $20 – to drive the drywall home

electrical stuff: $12 – new outlet covers and boxes

haul away: $275 – I could have rented a truck and taken the stuff to the dump myself, but I wouldn’t have saved very much and the extra money was totally worth the hassle I saved.

shelves: $50

new plates: $20 – if you are going to do open shelves, you have to have nice dishes

handyman and all the supplies he bought: $1300

backs splash: $88

fridge: $50

hood: $200

paint: $30

hardware: free – thanks mom

light fixture: free – thanks buy nothing group

TOTAL: $2225

Not too bad for a complete kitchen remodel.

Should You Rent Or Buy?

downloadMy husband and I bought our first house when we were 25. “How smart we are!” We thought. “How cleaver and good with money we are!” We’d basically made it, right? Here we were: young, with our own house. We had basically succeeded at life and were most likely going to be millionaires. Our parents praised us. Our friends were in awe. Life was good.

Our first house had made us feel so successful, why not buy a second? So, we did. Instead of selling our first house, we bought a second house and rented out our first. Unfortunately, we bought this second house in 2007 (right before that giant housing crash that happened). “Oh well,” we thought. “We are still ridiculously cleaver. As long as we don’t sell until the market recovers, we’ll be fine.” Again, our parents and friends were impressed. Now, we not only owned our own home, but we were landlords! Winning at life again!

The market crashed, and being ever on the lookout for a good deal on real estate, we bought three homes between the years of 2008 – 2011. Now, there was no denying it (not that we were): we were the most clever people on the planet. We were going to be rich any day. As soon as the market recovered, we’d sell and bring in bank!

Fast forward to the recovery of the market. We sold one property at a profit of 55k! Woo Hoo! Our plan was working. We just put two of our other properties on the market for a substantial profit – patting ourselves on the back and doing the happy dance.


Until I sat down with the numbers and calculated exactly how much we stood to make. After all the repairs, maintenance, taxes, dues, fees etc… our actual profit was really small…and it got even smaller once I calculated capital gains tax. But, hey, we were still going to make a profit so that’s good, right?

I then calculated how much we would have made had we invested that money in the market rather than in real estate and I was floored.

Assumptions about this comparison:

  • The money I’m comparing is the down payment, taxes, dues, insurance and repairs. NOT the mortgage or interest since I figured that money would be spent regardless on having a roof over our head.
  • Being extremely conservative, I took an extra 10K a year off of our “investment” money to account for having to pay a higher rent than just the amount we payed for our mortgage and interest.

After taxes, our Shoreline property will provide us with: $45,000

Had we invested that money instead, we would have: $114,000


After taxes, our Pinehurst property will provide us with: $80,000

Had we invested that money instead, we would have: $208,000

Yes – I calculated paying taxes on the invested money as well. What I did not take into account was the following:

  • The stress involved in buying/selling a house
  • The time spent driving to the rental homes
  • The time spent managing the rental properties
  • The inconvenience of having to deal with renters and their problems (and we had great renters) at all hours.

I can hear you now: “Well, you obviously didn’t wait until the market was high enough. You must not have sold for that much higher than you bought.”


Each property is selling for around 90K more than we bought it. The problem is that that money gets eaten up in fees and taxes and repairs.

“Well, you must have put too much into repairs.”


We purposely bought newer houses so that we wouldn’t have to fix them too much.

Please don’t get me wrong, there are many reasons to own your own home that have nothing to do with finances. It is for these reasons that I do NOT regret owning my own home now.

  1. You can do whatever you want to your house and garden. No one can dictate what color the walls have to be or how the garden looks (unless you live with a strict HOA in which case, I do not envy you at all).
  2. You are secure…ish. As I’ve watched the housing prices soar in Seattle, the rental prices are keeping up. I have many friends who were forced to move because their landlord raised the price of their rent by hundreds of dollars a month. I can’t imagine having to leave my neighborhood, my daughter’s school and my friends because my landlord wanted to make more rent.
  3. When something goes wrong, you fix it. This may not seam like a positive, but when I was renting, I really hated having to call and wait on my landlord to fix things that were broken. Sometimes they wouldn’t fix it, and if they did, who knows how long it would take. I much prefer to be in control of how my home works.
  4. You don’t have to worry every time you spill something or scratch the wall. When I was renting, I lived in constant fear that I wouldn’t get my security deposit back which meant that I would get really nervous every time a glass of wine spilled or a wall got dinged. Owning my own home has allowed me to chill out a bit and not stress the occasional sharpie on the wall masterpiece.

In short, if I could go back in time and do things differently, I absolutely would. I would have rented until buying the house that we currently live in. If I wasn’t that smart, I would have at least sold my houses instead of turning them into rentals. Do I regret my decisions? Not at all. I learned so much by going through this process of buying, renting and selling. More information is always better. I just wish I had thought to collect this information before buying five houses!



Spending Money Like We Just Don’t Care

downloadJuly 1st was a day on our calendar that we had circled in big red sharpie…Or, at least we would have if we still used a physical calendar. On our Google Calendar it looked like a giant list of meetings and to do items. It was a day when all the chaos of our lives converged into one 24 hour period.

I mentioned that we were selling both of our rental houses (the housing market in Seattle is on fire and while we think that it will continue to go up, we are quite happy with where it is now and plan on jumping ship while buyers compete for the privilege of buying from us) and it just so happened that both tenants gave notice at the same time.

In order to reduce vacancy loss, we needed to get the houses fixed up as quickly as possible and ready for the market.

Have you seen a rental house after the tenants move out? Everyone is messy, but there is something about living in a rental property that gives people the freedom to be just a little bit more messy. I really wish I had taken a before picture of our houses. One of them was piled high with stuff everywhere and puddles of dog pee all over the ground. The other was a patch work of miss matched painted walls and childhood graffiti. This is not a dis on our tenants at all! We had amazing tenants who were kind and always paid the rent on time, but people are messy.

So, we had one day to meet the contractors and fix up all the little things to get the houses ready for the market….and of course I was working all day that day.

I have the best job in the world in that most of the time, I get to choose my hours and make my job fit with the rest of my life, but there are times when that just isn’t possible and Friday the 1st was one of those times. I was shooting an 11 hour wedding. I thought about asking the couple to reschedule but figured they would probably say no.

This left Adam and Ilya to take care of all that house stuff while I was taking care of my work stuff.

We were dishing out money right and left: new floors, new paint, wall repair, tile repair, cleaning and staging. I felt like that person in movies with a giant wad of cash who haphazardly peals $100 bills from the top and tosses them around. Except I don’t carry cash. And it actually looked more like handing over a credit card every five minutes, but you get the idea.

A ton of time and energy went into the preparation of July 1st. I had to call flooring people, call painters, call contractors, call the stager, and coordinate with them and the renters to set aside times for them to come give me a quote. Then I had to drive all the way up to the properties. Not a big deal, you might think, but then you obviously don’t live in Seattle. It was at least an hour drive each way and that was if I was lucky! Then, most of the contractors never even got back to me or if they did, they charged way too much so I had to do it all again. It took a solid month of coordinating people to get everyone lined up and ready to go.

We even ate out several times this month because we were both working so much. All of this meant that I was dreading actually looking at our finances.

Could we have done things even cheaper than we did? Absolutely. Would it have been worth the utter exhaustion and misery it would have put us through. Nope. Being frugal is a balance. Your health and well being are valuable. I hired a contractor to repair a wall and tile entry way for $250. It took him all day and he used all sorts of fancy equipment that I don’t have. When he was finished it looked like new (something that would NOT have been the case had I attempted this project myself). Worth. Every. Cent. Same goes for the new floors and the painting of our incredibly high ceilings and the staging.

I sat down to look at our finances for June with a heavy heart and was floored when I got the results. For all the thousands and thousands of dollars we spent on rental properties for the month we only had to dip into our savings to cover $1500. Our regular monthly income covered the rest of it. I can’t even image what this would have done to us if we lived paycheck to paycheck. We would have gone into huge amounts of debt and spent years paying it off, but because of how we live, we were able to cover the entire cost of fixing up both houses using just our monthly income (and $1500 which we will pay ourselves back next month).

If there was any doubt in my mind that living simply and focusing on our saving rate was the way for us, they have been obliterated. Once we sell these two rental properties, we will hopefully be able to pay off our mortgage and be debt free! One step closer to financial independence!