My friends thought I was crazy when I bought an old ramshackle house in Cottesloe. Phrases like ‘Money Pit’ and ‘You’ve ruined your financial life’ were thrown around like piñata candy, but I’d fallen in love with.. well, I can be honest now; I’d fallen in love with what any sane person would describe as a squat shack on a sandpit. With spiders.
I needed to get fit, and I wanted to get into the property game, so I thought my partner and I could renovate it ourselves over a year or so, and sell it at a (huge) profit, or just live in it. I’d foolishly watched DIY shows and bought magazines with gorgeous beach homes that were basically selling pipe dreams. It was quite the motivator, so we got started.
Now, just to set the scene; we had no experience at renovating a house AT ALL. I mean, we walked into this place and basically just stood there drinking beer for the first couple of hours. We then ‘got serious’ and sat amongst the rubble and made a list of things we’d need. After a few days of simply clearing the garbage and dust out of the place, and discovering rotten walls and ceilings, I realised I’d made a terrible mistake; although I kept that to myself. Weeks went by, and although we spent every spare moment there, after two months there was seemingly no difference other than the crap-shack was slightly less cluttered. We decided to get a professional to look at it, give us advice and then do the work ourselves and pretend we knew all along what we needed.
Jerry (not his real name) took his time in the house; he wore a hard hat which was a little worrying. Especially since he only put it on after spending about 20 minutes in there. Basically, the prognosis was ‘You are an idiot’ and he recommended we demolish and start from scratch. It wasn’t a lost cause, it was just going to life-ruiningly time consuming and expensive. He gave us the numbers of a few tradies that would fix whatever we ruined along the way.
The next year was a blur; if I could edit it into a montage, about 50% of it would be crying, and minor injuries. One highlight was finding out how to install ceilings, realising that the beams were rotten, removing them, replacing them and then re-installing (new, of course – we’d ruined the first ones we’d bought) the ceilings. That was literally 4 months of our time. We had helpers along the way, some that just stood there and pointed out things that we should have done at the beginning, and others that were great at lugging heavy stuff around.
One thing that seemed one of the most simple things to do ourselves, was install new windows, sills and all. It’s not. I can’t stress how insane that is, given that our only experience was watching a highly edited Youtube video of a seasoned professional doing it. After almost getting a divorce because of the hated windows, we hired a professional and got them all done in a few weeks. This, after spending two weeks ourselves installing one. One.
When the house finally was structurally approved for living, it was looking pretty.. boring. It was light years away from where it started, but we’d basically managed to build a pretty box with no character. Exhausted, we set about hiring, that’s right! Hiring home improvement guys to install all the fittings and beautifications. I slept.
One thing I had my heart set on was plantation shutters – I’d seen them in movies and TV shows featuring the Hamptons in New York (Like, Revenge!) and they looked so simple and classy. Again, I thought they’d be something my partner and I could do ourselves while the bathroom and kitchen guys did their thing, but again, we were wrong! We’d installed ‘odd’ sized windows (remember those?) and so we’d need some custom designed shutters. Luckily, we found a guy in Subiaco called Dean who patiently listened to our horror story, and then just quietly got to work with his crew and made magic!
When it was all completed, the first thing I did was have a bath. I’d never had a house with an actual bath in the bathroom. We ended up keeping the place, at the end of the project, it actually did end up costing less than building dollars-wise, but time wise, we’d wasted tens of thousands of dollars of man hours. I would absolutely do it again, but if you’re contemplating an owner build, I recommend getting counselling before-hand, as only the tough survive!
Erin Warbrook spoke to a friend who would rather remain anonymous about her DIY nightmare! Erin is a freelance writer from Perth, Australia and is fascinated by the DIY trend!