Advice from a rockstar of DIY home improvement
If you are a homeowner, you know that there are lots of little fixes that need fixing all the time. Some are “needs” and some are “wants”. All of them cost money. But what if you could do them yourself? Some of us are handier than others. Have you wanted to do more of those fixes yourself? What about renovating a whole house?
Do it yourself fixes are a real interest of mine and that’s how I first ran across Teri Chew, a home renovation expert. I happened upon her Facebook group DIY Rockstars and was blown away by the projects she had posted. Gorgeous built ins, beautiful interiors and exteriors, beautiful design touches and practical improvements. We wanted to interview her to learn how she got into DIY renovation, and she was kind enough to share with us her journey into home renovation and great tips any homeowner can use. Her main website can be found here.
Teri is a single mom of four, bought her first home at 21 years old, fixed it up a little and sold it two years later and made $50,000. She bought her second home, what she refers to as her “accidental flip,” for $359,000, and sold it four years later for $475,000. Her next “accidental flip” house she bought for $255,000, and sold one year later for $340,000, having fixed it up while working a full time job.
Next, she bought a house, worked on it little by little for four years and made her sister, recovering from cancer, a homeowner for the first time in her entire life. After doing renovations while having a full time job, and tackling a number of other successful renovations, she’s now doing renovations full time, with 100% of her own money, and own labor (except for subcontracting out some minor things), acting as the general contractor on her current project.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got started in renovating homes?
I primarily started out of necessity. Being a single mom my entire life I couldn’t afford to hire people, so I learned how to do things and made a lot of mistakes along the way, but eventually I got better and better.
What are some DIY things that are fairly simple that homeowners could do themselves and save themselves a lot of money?
There are many things that are simple and inexpensive that homeowners can do that might seem more complicated than they are. Some examples are repairing drywall, changing out fixtures (lights/faucets), installing new trim and painting, just to name a few that make a big difference.
What would you consider some of the best home improvements that aren’t too expensive but add a tremendous amount of value?
Installing engineered hardwood floors or laminate would be an example of a great home improvement that adds a lot of value, Most people are anti-carpet these days, so people value hardwood floors or laminate more. Other examples are updating light fixtures, installing tile backsplash in kitchens, painting dated cabinets, and exterior improvements such as landscaping, new shutters, and updating exterior lights.
For someone who doesn’t consider themselves handy but wants to get into DIY home improvement, what are some projects they can try?
One of the biggest bangs for your buck is paint, which is a good place to start. Also, if it doesn’t look good the first time, you can just do it over!
For people looking to sell their homes, what are some things they can do that really pay off in terms of selling at a higher price?
In my experience, for people selling a home, baths and kitchens and main entrance to the home should be looking great with as many updates as possible. Remove any and all clutter, even family photos and things that may be of sentimental value to you. Stage the home with neutral decor so that it looks cozy, but not lived in. Of the houses I’ve sold and also lived in, I literally even took the soap out of the showers. Everything got stashed away so that it looked just like a model home that was decorated but not lived in.
When you evaluate a home to fix up and sell, what are some of the things that draw you to it?
One thing that draws me to it is the ability to add or change rooms within the existing layout. Other things are good bones, classic layouts, big windows, woodwork, porches, location, and of course price.
MEP’s (also known as mechanicals, electric, and plumbing) are generally the biggest killer of the budget and they cannot be seen. You could spend $40,000 on those three items before you’ve even made one thing pretty. It’s very important that you know what to look for.
When I find a low priced house, I usually already know that it’s going to need a full re-wire, new HVAC, and probably some plumbing work. You can’t resell the house these days with knob and tube wiring, for example. At least not for top dollar. Windows are another big item. I’m currently buying a house that has 27 windows, all of which need to be replaced. This type of thing can be a budget buster.
What was one of your toughest projects, and why?
I was working on what I call “The Blue House” when a woman knocked at the door. She said, “do you want to buy my house? This one looks real nice, what you did to it.” When I arrived there to look at it, 38 cats appeared from every corner and orifice of the house during the tour. My eyes and nose burned from the ammonia of the cat urine. I said nothing and continued to tour the house.
I saw 80 inch cottage windows and 11 foot ceilings, transom windows and curved plaster walls . I inspected the basement and noticed that the furnace was fairly new and there was no knob and tube wiring remaining, even though the house was old. Don’t get me wrong, the house needed everything else done to it, and there was not one room that did not need a complete overhaul. Not to mention the chain smoking cat hoarder that had lived there for over 25 years neglecting it!
I came down the stairs and said I’ll take it! During the project, we had to stop construction at one point and deal with a massive flea infestation as well as 14 cats left at the property.
What’s one of your most satisfying projects and why?
My most satisfying project is the house I refer to “The Blue House”. It was the worst house I ever bought, and probably the most beautiful of all of them when it was done. It was an old railroad farm house that was months away from being bulldozed because it sat vacant for five years.
I spent two years working on that house and it sold at full asking price within 24 hours of it being on the market. There was so much love and detail that I put into that house. But I do love them all… they are all begging to be made beautiful again. They just need someone to love them and put in the time, and yes, money. But sweat equity is the most valuable of all.
Another house that was very satisfying was the Church Street house. I bought that house on a shoestring budget. I used to dream of all the things that I could do to that house if I had some money. Little by little, month after month, I would take on one new little project for that house and scrape together whatever I could for money and find deals. Sometimes I even took all the furniture people left on the side of the road to use as wood for projects! It took me five years but eventually the house became beautiful.
It just takes consistent effort when you can find the time. A home is the biggest investment of your life and it should command your attention.