...because home doesn't happen overnight.

It’s been nearly three years since we sold our previous home, The Underdog. We bought it as a dilapidated estate sale in 2011 in an effort to downsize and simplify – physically and financially. We spent the next six years renovating it and making it into a home for our family. We believed then, and still believe now, that it was the perfect house for us at that stage in our life. It was a time of tremendous personal growth in many ways, and we learned a lot. From home improvement subjects like vaulted ceilings, metal roofing, IKEA kitchens and leaky furnaces to more abstract ideas like living with less and valuing experiences over things, the Underdog taught us so much and we’re forever grateful.

I thought it might be interesting to address some of the more frequently asked questions we’ve received since selling and moving.

the black house

What made you decide to move?

There isn’t really one singular thing that coaxed us into moving. It was more like the stars aligned and things kinda fell into place in a serendipitous way. We were putting the finishing touches on the The Pee House but hadn’t listed it yet. I was researching Realtor and Zillow to come up with an accurate fair market price for our flip when I happened upon a property that caught my eye. It wasn’t that the house was beautiful or anything like that, but I was struck by the setting and location. It was a secluded, wooded acre on a cul-de-sac close to all the places we visit on a weekly basis – the kids’ schools, public library, grocery store, favorite local restaurants, parks, swim club, work, etc. I had no idea a lot like it even existed in our area!

I showed the listing to Steve and suggested we “just look at it”, no strings attached. He was reluctant and rightfully so. Here we were with two houses already, neither one of them even on the market yet. We had spent whatever free time there was over the last several months working on the flip and were looking forward to a break. I believe Steve’s exact words were “I need you to stop.” I’m a persistent little bugger though (sorry!) and eventually he agreed to see the wooded property. We viewed it the next evening with our realtor. We were both pretty quiet during the walk-through. I was less impressed with the house (brown, outdated, weird layout, larger than we needed) but couldn’t get over the lot and location. I couldn’t get a good read on Steve. We got in the car to leave and I thought, “Okay, I saw it, now I can get it out of my head.” Sometimes I just need to see a place in person, then I can let it go. Sort of like adding items to an online shopping cart then never actually purchasing them :)

But then Steve said, “So, what did you think?!” I knew right then and there he was game. We slept on it overnight but made an offer the next morning. We were told there were multiple offers, so we didn’t let our hopes get too high. If we got it, great. If we didn’t, we already had two perfectly fine houses, ha! Our realtor called us that evening after the kids were in bed to let us know our offer had been accepted. We just looked at each other like, “Guess we’re buying another house!”

Turns out, the owners’ need to push closing out a few months was what motivated them to accept our offer. They needed time to prepare for a move to an assisted living facility. We were flexible seeing as how we needed time to unload two houses. An extended “under contract” period was perfect for both parties.

The next day we hastily listed the home we were living in as a “Make Me Move” on Zillow. We hadn’t prepped the house for sale; we hadn’t researched the fair market value. I quickly wrote up a description and uploaded photos that I had taken for the purposes of blogging. That was our listing. We didn’t even stick a “for sale” sign in the front yard. An hour after the listing posted, we had a call from a woman asking if she could come see the house that day. We thought, “Why not?”

She came, she saw and she was verrrrry interested. She told us she was newly divorced and her current home was already pending and scheduled to sell in a few weeks. She was under contract on another house, but the inspection had not gone well. She was still within the time frame allowed to walk away without penalty and was frantically looking for a Plan B. She thought our home was perfect. Her realtor contacted us the following day with an official offer. Steve and I had discussed a price we would be willing to accept and the offer was well above it. We felt we’d be silly not to accept it even though we hadn’t really processed everything that was happening. Within a matter of days, we were suddenly buying a new home and selling our current home. It was dizzying and a bit scary but also exciting! The way things were quickly falling into place, it felt meant to be.

The only hiccup we encountered was the timing of closings. Our buyer was anxious to get in ASAP; the sellers of the home we were buying needed more time. As much as we didn’t want to, we figured we could shack up in the flip house for a few weeks if necessary. (But who wants to move twice within a matter of weeks?!) Luckily, our buyer ultimately agreed to push back closing.

In the meantime, we finished up the Pee House, listed it for sale and accepted an offer. We had three closings on three different houses (selling two, buying one) scheduled within four weeks of each other. Not to mention, we were gradually packing up our belongings to move our family. Steve and I were working full-time day jobs, too. Ahhhhhh! It was insanity. We closed on the wooded property first which meant, for a short period of time, we owned three houses. We used that time to sporadically move our belongings to the new house. After work in the evenings and on weekends, we’d pack up the minivan and drop off items at the new house. Steve scored two hours with legit movers for a steal on Groupon, and we utilized them for larger items like furniture, mattresses and the washer & dryer on the actual moving day (although, in reality, we moved over two weeks). Two days later we closed on The Underdog, and two weeks after that we closed on the Pee House. It was a whirlwind, but it all worked out in the end.

What items, if any, were included in the sale of the your previous house?

Along with all the normal fixtures included in a property sale, we left a few extras. The TV & boob speakers (good riddance!) in the living room, all window treatments, the master bedroom sconces and the fauxdenza & wardrobes in the mudroom / dining area all conveyed. The buyer also requested to purchase several items separately from the sale of the house: living room sisal rug, media cabinet, counter stools, desk stool, bunk beds, shoe cabinet and trampoline. We were more than happy to leave those items with the house – less stuff to move!

Fun fact: We have a set of garage cabinets that have made every move with us over the last 10 years. They’re old chemistry lab wall cabinets that Steve found on Craigslist. He loves them, won’t let them go. So we’ve always been sure to note that they do NOT convey in our house listings.

Do you miss your old house?

With all the work, sweat and tears that went into the Underdog, we fully expected to grieve and miss it. Surprisingly, that didn’t happen. We quickly fell in love with our new place and were super happy to see our old house go to someone so excited about it. That definitely made the transition easier.

There are things we miss though. I miss having a newer refrigerator with a water dispenser. Our current home didn’t come with a refrigerator, so we bought an inexpensive, used one from a local scratch-and-dent appliance store as a placeholder until we renovate the kitchen. It’s an older model with no water dispenser and minimal interior organization. (We use a Brita filter pitcher and have to refill it 3-4 times daily. It’s such a pain.) The door doesn’t shut properly and, just last week, the door handle fell off.

I miss bathrooms with windows. I miss natural light in bathrooms and being able to crack a window after a shower or bath. I miss the two small raised garden beds where we grew veggies, herbs and cutting flowers. The kids miss the trampoline.

But these are all just things that can be replicated to some extent at our current place in good time. We don’t regret moving. In fact, at least once a week, one of us says, “I love it here.” So, nope, absolutely no regrets. It was the right move.

Remember the flip house? (If not, you can read about it here.) We bought it during the summer of 2016 and affectionately (that’s probably not the right word) referred to it as The Pee House. Because that’s what it smelled like. I had every intention of documenting the renovation in real time but you already know that didn’t happen. However, I did take a bunch of “after” photos and thought I’d share them with you while hitting the highlights. You’ll have to overlook the inconsistencies in lighting as Steve and I were rushing around prepping for the open house. The house faces south and you’ll notice that the south-facing rooms have a warmer tint to them while the north-facing rooms along the back of the house have a cooler, greenish tint to them. This tour loosely follows the before tour so if you want to toggle back-and-forth between posts to see the differences it’s kind of fun to do!

The major changes we made to the exterior were new windows, new garage doors, new gutters and new light fixtures. Luckily, the roof was in excellent condition. However, the eaves were rotted and there were no gutters or downspouts. Steve had to cut the eaves back to allow for gutter and downspout installation. (Originally, there was no vertical surface for a gutter to tie into. Hence, the gutter-less situation we inherited.) Then he installed new fascia and vinyl soffits. Cutting back the deep eaves also allowed more natural light to reach the interior of the house. Bonus!

We cleaned up the yard with some pruning, weeding, mowing and mulching. It was probably my favorite part of the entire renovation. It’s amazing what tidying up a bunch of overgrown bushes can do for curb appeal. I so wish those peony bushes would have been in bloom when I took these photos! I have a comical memory of all five of us (yes, kids too!) spreading mulch in the dark the night before the open house. We had our car headlights on and directed toward the front entrance so we could kind of see what we were doing. We came back the next day to find a freshly mulched sidewalk. Ha!

Other than weeding and general cleanup, we didn’t touch the driveway. It was one of the “it’d be nice but not profitable” projects that, inevitably, didn’t make the cut. So was the front door. Instead of replacing it, I painted it a cheery red.

No more pistachio walls! The wall color throughout is Fog by Olympic in eggshell. It’s one of those chameleon colors that looks different – but great! – in each room. It’s light and airy but hides scuff marks. We decided to keep the wall color consistent throughout to make things feel as spacious and cohesive as possible. Ceiling and trim are off-the-shelf white because…profit.

To add the teensiest bit of interest, we planked the entry wall and painted it the same as the trim. The bench came with the house. It was left in the garage. Free props = the best props. A trio of hooks from Target adds function and contrast.

We didn’t have the original flooring tested, but it’s likely it was asbestos. There are two ways to deal with asbestos tile: 1) abatement ($$$) or 2) encapsulation (less $). We assumed the tile was asbestos and went with encapsulation which essentially involved covering it up with new flooring to prevent fibers from releasing into the air. The new flooring is SMARTCORE luxury vinyl in putnam oak. I really, REALLY like this flooring. The color is warm with a matte finish and the pattern varies enough so that it doesn’t look like a sticker repeat. Installation was straight-forward. No subfloor prep required! A separate underlayment is optional but we opted out since the planks come with an attached pad. However, if we were to install this flooring in our own home, we’d opt for underlayment just to make it a bit more insulating underfoot.

FYI – We did notate that the tile under the vinyl flooring may be asbestos on the home disclosure form just in case the buyer ever wanted to pull up the flooring.

The goal in the living room was to lighten things up so we replaced the heavy curtains with airy white ones layered over woven shades, added a ceiling light and painted. The only feasible spot for a TV was on the wall perpendicular to the window so we staged the room with that in mind. I hung a mirror opposite the window to bounce light around and give the illusion of a larger space.

All of the lighting, furnishings and decor hail from Lowe’s, Menards, Target or our personal stash. This was back when Lowe’s had an online furnishing store called ATG Stores and I was blogging more regularly. They offered up some items for staging but by the time The Pee House sold, they had rebranded to The Mine and changed up inventory before ultimately folding. I feel really crappy about that :( I’ll try to link to what I can still find.

This is the view from the couch looking towards the back of the house. Other than switching out the pendant for something more modern, staging the dining space and painting, we didn’t do much. I soooooo wanted to replace the door to the backyard with a windowed Dutch door, but it just wasn’t necessary. BUT WOULDN’T IT HAVE BEEN AMAZING?!

The rolling butcher block cart was my attempt to show how the space could multitask. Leave it in place as a drop zone for mail and keys coming in from the garage or for serving beverages when entertaining. Move it to the kitchen for extra prep space or for folding laundry. The porthole wall sconce is a perfect fit for the sliver of wall between the kitchen and living space. It’s like a minimal, classic piece of jewelry and puts off the prettiest ambient light.

The dining area was pretty tight so I opted for a bench against the wall instead of chairs all the way around the table. We tossed around the idea of something built in but chose to keep things flexible for potential buyers. Can’t you just picture built-in seating and a fun little gallery wall? It’s crazy to look back at this now because the breakfast nook in our current home has an eerily similar setup.

Of all the rooms, the kitchen makeover is the most dramatic. We removed an awkwardly placed closet, sold the metal Republic cabinets, closed up the wall fan, relocated the electrical panel to the garage and reworked the layout to include IKEA GRIMSLOV cabinets (R.I.P. GRIMSLOV) and a stackable washer and dryer. We considered putting the washer and dryer hookup in the garage but, when we thought about it more, it seemed better to have it in a temperature-regulated room. Who wants to do laundry in a cold garage?

Centering the pot lights from wall-to-wall (as opposed to cabinet-to-cabinet) is the biggest rookie mistake we made. Still irks me! Other than removing the closet, we worked with the original kitchen space. To save money, we left the perimeter walls in place and kept the sink and window placement the same. With some creative space-planning, we were able to include a gas range, microwave, refrigerator, built-in pantry AND add a dishwasher. The dishwasher panel (to the right of the sink) was a splurge but worth it to keep appliances from overwhelming the small space. I trolled the internet for weeks searching “no kitchen sink window” for inspiration and finally decided to keep it simple and do a single sconce above the sink. The vintage rug was a birthday gift I had bought for my sister but hadn’t given to her yet. Penny-pinching tricks! (Don’t worry, the rug eventually made it to my sister and happily lives in her kitchen to this day.)

The countertop is Saint Henry Black granite in a honed finished. It’s 2cm thick and thinner than standard because I wanted to avoid anything chunky in the small space. I ordered it from Polycor (super easy to work with!) and had it fabricated and installed by a local fabricator that we’d used in the past. I was going for the look of soapstone with the ease of granite and it turned out better than I had anticipated. We installed and painted the planked sink wall in lieu of a backsplash to save money and tie in to the planked entry wall.

We included a few inexpensive flourishes in this corner to make it feel special. The hanging fruit basket is conveniently located above a trash pull-out next to the fridge.

The shelves were DIY’d using four over-under shelf brackets and leftover lumber for $8 total!!

I’ve been dreaming of that floor-to-ceiling cabinet since we installed it three years ago. So. Much. Storage. We found the like-new stackable Bosch washer and dryer on Craigslist for a steal and it reinforced our decision to keep the laundry out of the garage. An upper cabinet and plywood cubby provide easy (on the eye) access to practical things like detergent, cleaning supplies, a broom and ironing board.

We didn’t touch the existing floor vent. It’s a bit of an eyesore but moving it would have involved messing with the concrete slab which we weren’t willing to do.

This is the view from the dining area looking to the living room and front door. Notice the two woven shades placed side-by-side to span the width of the large window. All the tricks!

The hallway on the left leads back to the bedrooms and bathrooms.

The windowless hallway bathroom was dark and dated. The wall tile was literally falling off so removing it wasn’t even a decision we made…it had to happen. It was already happening! We worked with the original layout to keep costs down. I chose off-the-shelf white subway tile and light gray grout to brighten things up. We took it floor to ceiling on the sink wall. A floating IKEA vanity is another attempt at giving the illusion of more space, plus it’s a cinch to clean underneath. The medicine cabinet is IKEA but, sadly, no longer available. We switched up the flooring in here since the wood lookalike vinyl flooring + wood lookalike vanity would have been too much…wood lookalike. We installed black porcelain tile that resembles limestone but at a fraction of the cost. A new toilet, tub, shower surround (featuring a cute and practical niche), exhaust fan and fixtures complete the room.

Each of the three bedrooms received new flooring, lighting and paint. You may recall that the smallest bedroom (pictured here) was the source of the infamous pee odor. Initially, we thought the moisture damage under the window was due to a window leak but later concluded (with help from our inspector) that it was only urine damage. Ew. No mold or mildew but, still, ewwwww. I did a bunch of research into getting rid of the odor. We were prepared to pay a professional if my attempts didn’t work but, luckily, they did. First, I sprayed the afflicted area (floor and wall) with distilled white vinegar, let it sit for 20 minutes then wiped it up. I did this approximately a half-dozen times. After that, I did several rounds (three?) of Pet Stain & Odor Miracle enzyme solution over a few days. I bought a gallon of the spring mint scent and used it all. I cannot express how amazing this stuff is!! Not a tinge of urine odor remained after using it, and I have an extra sensitive sniffer! Miracle stuff, I tell you. I did this early on in the renovation and followed up with Kilz2 multi-purpose primer then paint on the wall. Worked like a charm.

We chose not to stage the bedrooms because they’re on the small side and we wanted potential buyers to envision using them as they saw fit without furniture cluttering things.

A built-in linen closet between the first and second bedrooms is my favorite original feature of the house. I cleaned it out, gave it a fresh coat of paint (okay, more like three coats) and added faux leather pulls from Target. It turned out super cute and created a happy lil’ moment in the hallway.

Notice anything missing from the master bedroom? Yep, the window air conditioning unit was put out of its misery. We had central air added to the existing forced-air heating system. We kept all the original interior doors (surprise, they’re metal!) but updated them with paint and new doorknobs.

I hesitate to call this a master bathroom but it’s attached to the master bedroom so…”master” it is. Once again, we worked with the original layout focusing on cosmetic changes to minimize costs. We used a slightly larger off-the-shelf subway tile for the shower surround. The vanity and medicine cabinet are IKEA but appear to be unavailable now although this gray option is pretty darn close.

And that’s it! You may be wondering what work we hired out and what we did ourselves so here’s the breakdown:


  • electrical (panel relocation & upgrade)
  • central A/C installation
  • window installation
  • gutter installation
  • garage door installation
  • plumbing (gas range, tub, washer/dryer hookup)
  • water heater installation
  • drywall finishing (kitchen/laundry)
  • kitchen countertop installation


  • demo & reframing
  • exterior fascia & soffit installation
  • minor exterior masonry work
  • flooring installation
  • kitchen design, build & installation
  • fixture installation (lighting, faucets, shower heads, toilets, hardware)
  • tile installation
  • trimwork & paint
  • landscaping
  • general cleanup & styling
  • listing & selling

We listed and sold the house by owner. We held an open house late in the spring of 2017 after a nine-month-long renovation. Roughly twenty different potential buyers (or just curious folks) attended. The house was under contract within a week. We closed two months later, a year and a day after purchasing the house as an estate sale. The timing was deliberate. In our area, there are tax benefits to owning a property for at least a year and we fully capitalized on that. After all was said and done, we pocketed $20K. People who aren’t house people always ask, “So what does that work out to in terms of dollars per hour?” We just laugh. We’ve never done the math. My guess is it would be negligible.

Going into all this, we knew it wouldn’t be your standard 4-6 week flip. We fully expected it to take as long as it did with both of us working regular day jobs and wanting to do some of the work ourselves with three kids in tow. We’re happy with how the house turned out overall (no carpet, no builder beige – just a tidied up, lightened up version of the original) and we were stoked to get it on the market in spring when the demand is highest. Obviously, depositing $20K felt pretty good especially considering it was our first flip and we earned it doing something we enjoy. As a family, we made some fun memories, too. The kids still refer to it as The Pee House and always point it out on our way to the local library. They reminisce about climbing trees and picnicking in the backyard. In fact, while writing this they’ve each peeked over my shoulder and said, “Hey, that’s The Pee House!”

Are there things we wish we could have done differently? For sure! (That dreamy Dutch door being one of them.) But they would have cut into our profit and priced the house out of the range we were hoping to stay in after reviewing comps in the area. For me, the absolute hardest part of the entire process wasn’t figuring out what to do, it was figuring out what NOT to do. Would we flip again? Absolutely. Will we be quitting our jobs and starting a real estate investment company anytime soon? Um, that’s a hard no. We like the idea of keeping it a profitable side gig.

Peace out, house people.

BONUS: How many times can you spot the small vase of honeysuckle in this post? Haha!

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking