There should always be a good reason as to why renovating a property and in the end it usually comes down to money. You might have to do it because something is broken or just really worn down, or you do it just to improve the attractiveness. For us it was a bit of both but we also wanted to have a good feeling about the house.
As we love the FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) concept we wanted to use that way of thinking and acting during this renovation. This meant loads of value for money and loads of creativity!
What people see
This is tricky and there is no right answer, we all see different things based on our experiences etc. We know that first impression counts and when marketing your place you will most likely be using pictures. This is the case for us, most people will be booking the place based on the pictures. It was easy enough for us to understand that we needed to make sure it looked modern, clean, fresh and spacious as those are features that most people like.
Of course you don’t want to trick people into something by making loads of adjustments or Photoshop your pictures, they have to be authentic! If you are not showing pictures of what the place actually looks like, guests might get very upset and annoyed when they get there. That could lead to bad reviews which means fewer guests down the line. Ideally you want your guests to rave about your place and your hospitality and reviews are super important. We always check for reviews ourselves before making a booking and I’m pretty sure you do the same when you are on vacation?!
What does that mean?
The first impression of the house should be nice looking, clean and modern. This can often be done quite easily with some wallpaper and some paint (if you don’t know what to do, check out Youtube or outsource it). Additionally you want to have some pieces of furniture that capture the attention of your guests and make a lasting impression on them. This is the feeling you want them to have when they see the place on your photos and when they get there. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect, unless you charge a very high premium.
The surrounding area of our place is attracting people who love outdoors activities (just like we do), so we really just had to think about what we would find appealing as well as what larger families or groups of friends would look for and try to incorporate certain parts that would attract all different clienteles. Our next post will go into details about what type of guests we have attracted initially and how the renting proceeded.
What it looked like when we bought it…
Below are some pictures of what it looked like when we bought the house.
Thankfully my brain works fast in seeing and finding opportunities and clearly showing me the end result in my mind (visualization is a great tool that I use every day!). Instantly I knew what it could look like using a rather limited budget.
We wanted to do as much as possible, as fast as possible and we wanted to do it the FIRE way. The more money we can keep in our pockets the better and as we were going to rent it we didn’t want to splurge, though it had to look really good!
We would get full access to the house on the 27th of December and living 300km away, all we could do during the days prior to getting access was planning… We were going to head down there on the 26th of December, purchase some things I needed on the way down and then work on the house until the 13th of January. That was the date we needed to be back home, two weeks prior to the expected birth date of our daughter.
This would give us a bit more than two weeks where I could work on the house every day and I was also counting on my retired parents giving me a hand which they for sure did! There was not only work to do in terms of renovation, but we also needed to fully furnish the house and purchase all the household goods our guest would need to feel like at home.
What we “needed” to get done
If you want to rent a place, it needs to have everything your guest will need in terms of furniture, kitchenware, lamps, household goods etc… This was definitely a priority and something that can be tricky to purchase beforehand unless you have a pretty clear picture in your head of what it’s going to look like when it’s done. If you want a good end result, you have to do the work with this vision in mind and then work your way backwards (re-engineering). Every move you make along the way will affect the overall end result. Therefore you constantly have to understand the impact of all and every decision you make along the way when renovating and furnishing a property from scratch.
Since the purchase, I had been thinking about all the stuff we would need for the house and a few days before we were going to drive down to the house, I started listing things in an excel spread sheet. I went from room to room in my mind and just wrote down what we needed for those rooms so that I could start planning (how and where to get those things). Most of the kitchen things were easy to buy as they are quite standard. Furniture on the other hand was a bit more tricky. Before having decided wall paint or wall paper, it’s hard to purchase furniture or any other pieces of decoration as you want it to match each other.
Priority number one was to fully furnish this house with four bedrooms, one social room, dining area, two bathrooms, hallways, sauna and shower. Some stuff we could take care of immediately on our way to the house (you have got to love IKEA!). The days before we had spent hours online trying to decide exactly what to buy and we actually managed to get all that stuff. We also got some wallpaper from another shop and a couple of bed side tables, oh yes, the car was packed!
I had also checked online what wallpapers were available in the town close to our house so that I knew the color scheme for at least two of the rooms. One of the challenges with buying a property in a smaller town is that you might not be able to find all the things you need for a renovation and if you do, you most likely have to pay a premium. We knew in advance what stores were in the closest vicinity and for a couple of them, we became very frequent customers over the following two weeks.
The first thing to do when we got down there was to find and purchase wallpapers for three of the rooms and white paint for the ceiling plus all the stuff you need in order to apply the wallpaper.
In my optimistic mind, there was so much more I wanted to get done than “just” furnish and get some wallpapers up but time was limited and we needed to go back by the 13th of January. Also I wasn’t sure to what extent my parents would be able and willing to help. I only knew that we needed to have the house in good shape for renting when we leaving on the 13th. A firm deadline is a good thing to have as then you really make shit happen, fast!
What I was hoping to get done
I wanted to do a complete renovation of all the rooms and at least paint the two bathrooms as well as the sauna area. After the first couple of days when we started to paint the ceilings prior to putting up the wallpapers, I realized that I could not stand the ugly brown ceiling skirting… We decided to paint them as well and that made a massive impact on the overall impression. Unfortunately, It was not only the ceiling skirting that were brown. So was the floor skirting and all the doorposts… The doorposts alone meant that all twelve of them had to be painted 3-4 times! I guess the good thing was that once you had started with one, you knew you had to get them all done!
When thinking outside of our realistic time frame, I would have wanted to redo some of the flooring as well. This would have looked great and I also would have loved if we could do the stairs between the two floors… Although we had to set the bar high, sometimes one needs a reality check (my kind parents helped me with daily reality checks)!
What we actually got done
During those weeks, I spent all my time on the house, both physically and mentally. I don’t think I have ever used the internet or social media that little since the beginning of the internet era. Fair enough, I used it to find and buy stuff for the house but nothing else and every day I spent 10-14 hours in the house working and delegating.
I am so grateful for all the help I got from my parents who were there almost every day working with me and also for the support from my pregnant partner and my mother in law who came down to help us out with all the paint work.
What we accomplished:
- Furnishing the whole house (might be a few pieces missing but I’ll let you be the judge by looking at the pictures) meaning buying, collecting and decorating.
- Painting the ceiling (including plastering) in seven rooms.
- Putting up wallpaper in four rooms plus on three additional walls (dining area, relaxing area and in one of the bedrooms).
- Painting the walls in one of the bedrooms, the sauna area and both bathrooms as well as the staircase (all of them three times each!).
- Painting the doorposts (twelve of them) and skirting (floor and ceiling) in five rooms plus three hallways, all of them had to be done three times each.
- Painting all twelve doors four times and replacing all the handles.
The above also required us purchasing everything we needed in order to do the work which required a bit of daily organizing and planning. Fortunately we had two local stores with very good prices, one DIY and one for furniture. We were also constantly on Facebook Marketplace (well, at least every evening) and Craigslist (the Swedish version of it) and visited local vintage stores to see if we could find some cool furniture.
I am honestly really happy with all the things we got done on such a limited amount of time and using our FIRE skills for sure kept our expenditures to a minimum. In hindsight, some of the decisions would most likely have been different, especially considering the time it took to do some of the work compared to buying new products instead. We did it the FIRE way which meant creativity and value for money and we are very happy with the outcome. Let us know what you think when checking out the pictures below.
Pre and post renovation (with some comments)
The entrance and hallway was very dark before and that was something we wanted to change.
What we did: Painted the inside of the entrance door as well as the other three doors in the hallway and replaced the handles. Painted the door posts and floor skirting. We put up a hat rack, bought a stool, the large mirror and the shoe rack.
Rough cost all in: 65 USD and yes, this includes any furniture you can see and the big wall mirror (as we did everything ourselves, we have not taken any time spent into account)!
What we did: We wanted a nice piece of furniture in the center of the room whilst still keeping focus on the great views from the windows and terrace. This whole dining set we actually bought second-hand and painted ourselves (yes we did a lot of painting!). Buying it new would have been around +1,000 USD and in total (not taking time into consideration) our outlay was around 100 USD. We also painted all the floor skirting and put up wallpapers on two of the walls (the one with the brown leather chair and the one with the leather sofa). The doorpost to the social room was also painted as well as purchasing the lighting fixture and putting it in place. This area is one of the first things customers sees so we wanted to give them an impression of fresh, bright, open and spacious. Basically an area to enjoy with family and friends.
Rough cost all in: 500 USD and yes, this includes any furniture you can see (as we did everything ourselves, we have not taken any time spent into account)!
What we did: Painted the ceiling (some plastering first), all the skirting (floor and ceiling) as well as the doorpost. We also had to do some plastering of the walls before putting up new wallpaper. All the furniture was bought and brought in.
Rough cost all in: 300 USD and yes, this includes any furniture you can see (as we did everything ourselves, we have not taken any time spent into account)!
What we did: Replaced all the handles to all the cupboard doors and drawers. Painted the wooden elements (used to be red) in grey. Installed new ceiling lights and bought all the home appliances and kitchenware.
Rough cost all in: 400 USD including all kitchenware and home appliances (as we did everything ourselves, we have not taken any time spent into account)!
What we did: Put up new wallpapers, painted the floor and ceiling skirting, painted the ceiling. The doorpost was painted as well as the door and we also replaced the door handle. We bought and installed a ceiling lamp, got some furniture (we only had the bed frame from before) and decorated the room.
Rough cost all in: 250 USD and yes, this includes any furniture you can see (as we did everything ourselves, we have not taken any time spent into account)!
The teenage bedroom
What we did: Put up new wallpapers, painted the floor and ceiling skirting, painted the ceiling, bought and installed a ceiling lamp. The doorpost was painted as well as the door and the door handle was replaced. We kept the old fitted bed but did the decoration and put in the additional furniture.
Rough cost all in: 240 USD and yes, this includes any furniture you can see (as we did everything ourselves, we have not taken any time spent into account)!
The kids bedroom with the cool wallpaper
What we did: Put up new wallpapers on one of the walls, painted the other walls, painted the floor and ceiling skirting, painted the ceiling. The doorpost was painted as well as the door and the door handle was replaced. Bought the furniture and did the decoration.
Rough cost all in: 250 USD and yes, this includes any furniture you can see (as we did everything ourselves, we have not taken any time spent into account)!
The extra bedroom
What we did: This room was completely missing ceiling skirting, so we had to put that up! We also put up new wallpapers, painted the floor skirting, painted the ceiling, bought and installed the ceiling light, bought the furniture and decorated the room.
Rough cost all in: 320 USD and yes, this includes any furniture you can see (as we did everything ourselves, we have not taken any time spent into account)!
What we did: Threw out the old bathtub, the mirror cabinet and then we removed all the handles and knobs (quite a bit of plastering required). We painted the ceiling and ceiling skirting as well as the whole bathroom. Replaced the cabinet with a nice mirror and added a storage cabinet below the sink.
Rough cost all in: 300 USD (as we did everything ourselves, we have not taken any time spent into account) but we need to install another shower here which will add another 3-400 USD.
Relaxing area and sauna
What we did: Painted the walls and put up the wallpaper (floor will be painted shortly as well) and just decorated the area to make it look nice and appealing. The door to the sauna was painted, the shower was replaced and the walls around the shower (where there were no tiles) were painted. The door was also painted and the handle replaced.
Rough cost all in: 180 USD and yes, this includes any furniture you can see (as we did everything ourselves, we have not taken any time spent into account)!
If we sum up the above we get a number of 2,500 USD. Although this is not taking everything into account, but adding another 1,000 USD would cover everything we did during those weeks apart from gas used for driving back and forth to the house and to shops. That is what I would call a FIRE renovation done on the interior! The exterior and what we intend to do there will have to wait till the summer!
I hope you can see the difference, for us who saw the place from the beginning, we for sure can!
If you ever go to Sweden and want to rent the place, you can find it here: House with view of Isaberg – for active travelers!
What I learned…
By being organized and effective working towards a deadline you can accomplish a lot. A FIRE mentality will for sure make your money last longer and by being creative and intentional with your moves, you can create a great outcome. I am of course also extremely grateful for the help I got from my parents during these weeks, blessed to have them.
One must have a good understanding of the rental market and the attractiveness of the property so make sure you do your research. In the following post, I will share with you how this particular property, by the end of January (after being on the market for about a week), was almost fully booked for February.
In terms of the actual renovation part, there are a few things I most likely would have done differently:
1: Buying a bit more expensive wallpaper and for sure wallpaper which doesn’t require you putting the glue on the actual wallpaper, it is so much easier if you put the glue on the wall directly and then just place the wallpapers. Buying cheaper wallpaper means lower quality (paper) which in turn means that it is much harder to work with which causes frustration. I would make sure to always buy non–woven wallpaper. This will probably cost a bit more but the result is very likely to be better and it will cause less frustration and you will save time.
2: Depending on how frugal you want to be and how much time you have you can either paint or buy new skirting. In hindsight, I should most likely have bought new ones instead of painting the old ones. The results will not be as good when painting and it would still be a low expense. Also when using tape to mask when painting, there is a good chance that when you remove the tape some of the paint comes off too….
3: There is a massive price discrepancy between different stores. I am used to compare prices but we had to buy some special paint for the bathroom and there was only one provider of paint in the vicinity which meant that the price was about double compared to what a large chain would have charged. As we were buying a lot of different things, we were always comparing to the extent we could. Having more time to plan and purchase, one could have been even more economical (on the margin!).
4: You can recycle your paintbrushes if you intend to use the same color several days in a row by just placing them in a mug of water. The paint or glue roller we placed in a plastic bag till the next day. Small things but they all add up!
5: You don’t have to replace doors (even if there are cheap ones available), you can actually just paint them to improve the impression. Again, it just depends on how you want to balance time vs money.
Actions to take:
- Check out the next post! Buying a property part 5 – Putting it on the market!