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Remodeling Tips From A Veteran Of The Fixer Wars...

March 2009

The words "remodel" and "renovate" can strike fear into the heart of many, but if you have some time and a willingness to learn you can beautify and increase the value of your home, condo, or investment property without punishing your wallet.

As the owner of a San Francisco-based Real Estate company we've helped many clients envision the remodel possibilities for properties marketed as fixer uppers, provided contractor referrals, and find off-the-beaten path construction supply stores. I've gathered most of this knowledge from doing my own projects. However, it's important to note that when I started doing my own projects long ago I initially had no idea what I was doing...

What launched me down the path 'learning construction' was when a double sink needed replacing in our master bath and I got a quote of over $600 plus the cost of the sink to have a plumber do it. That sounded like an awful lot of money to me so I read tips on the internet, quizzed the folks at Home Depot, bought the necessary supplies, and dove in to do it myself. Although it took me all day I managed to install it - without leaks - and my days of calling professional help for everything were over.

This may sound a little daunting to some, so here are some quick tips on how to learn how to do your own home improvement projects:

    • Hire contractors/knowledgeable handymen who work by the hour to do some things and watch closely. Ask questions. Offer to play assistant (this will present an incredible opportunity to learn some tricks of the trade and will save you a lot of money by cutting down on overall work hours).


    • Take some free home improvement classes offered at Home Depot.


    • Watch the home improvement reality TV programs.


    • Read DIY (Do It Yourself) articles on the internet.


    • Ask the sales staff at hardware and DIY stores for advice.


  • Watch the home improvement reality TV programs.

Additionally, here are some quick tips for saving money:

  • There are places where you can get materials much cheaper than the usual DIY places - Home Depot, Lowes, etc... - that people go to, especially if you're willing to inspect the products before you receive them. We installed some granite in a kitchen once - the same granite we saw at a big DIY warehouse store - for about 75% less.
  • Ask questions. I found a tool at Home Depot for cutting in when you're painting two different colors that cost less than $10 and saved hours. You'll find that with the current economy staff at DIY locations are much more available to help.
  • Use the Internet. We found a glass tub door for less than $400 including shipping, but look beyond price. Another store had it for $250 but charged $225 more for shipping.

In the end, with as many old buildings as there are in San Francisco and as expensive as real estate is, you can save (and make) a lot of money by learning to do some basic repairs/upgrades on your own. By doing a little legwork and getting referrals from friends, family, and business associates you can usually avoid getting a bad contractor. Also, if you're like me, you’ll find being able to step away from your day job and working with your hands refreshing and invigorating.

If you have questions about a project you'd like to try doing, would like contractor/materials referrals, advice on what to look at when buying a fixer upper, and/or help finding a fixer upper to buy feel free to send me an email to

Happy hammering... 

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