EXCLUSIVE: And they have lots of home renovation tips for anyone thinking of following their example
A couple in Boston, Massachusetts, are building an Instagram following with their ongoing home renovation projects.
David St. Russell, 29, works at a SAAS company as an Operations Manager. Husband Stephen, 27, is an Architectural Designer working for a large AEC software company. They tell GSN that they met in High School.
‘Throughout high school we had mutual friends, went to the same parties, but didn’t exchange much more than a smile in the hallway.’
‘The pressures of student loans and increasing city rents’
‘We live and work in the City of Boston. Our current home is in Dorchester, a large suburban neighborhood of Boston. For the past two years we had been renting in the South End, a very nice, and very gay Boston neighborhood.
‘When our roommates decided to move across the country, we decided to look for a new home. Two days into the search for an affordable Boston apartment we found ourselves emailing a realtor… for a house.
‘We have been in this position before and are no strangers to the fact that we make really big decisions really fast. On our Instagram we mainly feature our current home, our third property and certainly our largest project.
The property is an 1894 Boston Victorian that was in need of improvement throughout.
‘We, like many of our peers, were facing the pressures of student loans and increasing city rents. We decided after a rent increase in 2012 that we should do something bold. Within the week we were looking at homes outside of the city with little idea of what would happen.
‘We had scraped together under $10k from savings and childhood bonds; just enough for a 4% deposit with a first time home buyers mortgage. The most important thing we learned… if you want something, just make it work, and sooner you do it the better.’
‘Don’t be afraid of the unknowns’
Their advice for others thinking about taking the plunge is to go for it – even if your property needs some work.
‘Don’t be afraid of the unknowns. Not sure if you can afford to buy a house? Go talk to a couple banks… you have nothing to lose. Not sure you are ready for that? Check out the BiggerPockets website/podcast, it’s a great resource for new real estate investors.
‘We had a million questions going into our first house and at some point they finally got answered.
They say that they turned to DIY through necessity.
YouTube tutorials and Home Depot
‘During that first flip we had little money for professional help which forced us to figure out almost everything on our own.
‘We spent hours reading, watching YouTube, and talking to people at Home Depot. We were able to learn how to do all kinds of things: build a custom fence, install a patio and deck, install over 30 replacement windows, tile a shower, install a kitchen, etc.
‘That being said, there were things we hired as they were out of our scope: installation of a glass shower door, granite countertops, siding, and total plumbing for a new bathroom.
‘The things you learn having completed any project is well worth the time it takes to figure it out.’
Their first attempt at tiling proved a steep learning curve.
‘Our biggest “we should have hired” lesson was the tiling the shower. We had never tiled in our lives and we chose to start with a 6-foot walk-in.
‘It took us forever and we made a ton of mistakes (why would you use grey thinset when you plan on using white grout?), that took days to fix. A project that could have been done in a couple of days took us weeks.
‘In reality, we couldn’t afford to hire the job and had no other option. Looking back we are still so proud to have done that project and feel like everyone should have to do it at least once.’
Invest in hardware
Thinking of following their example? The guys have plenty of other advice. Their biggest recommendation is to buy the tools you need. It’s a worthwhile investment.
‘We had little money and often used manual labor to substitute for a tool that would do the same job. For instance, we used hammer and nails for all of the trim in our first house.
‘During our last project in that house a friend let use borrow a nail gun and our lives were changed. We are still kicking ourselves for not just spending the $200 right off the bat. If the tool you need is too expensive don’t forget to check out craigslist. This goes for appliances too.’
Spreadsheets are your friend
They also say it helps to prioritize and keep a spreadsheet of the work that needs to be done.
‘We have sheets for everything. We spreadsheet our finances to see what we could afford and spreadsheet the entire rehab. Create a spreadsheet for your project. You need a master list of everything you think you need to get done.
‘Create a tab for the “large” projects that are whole house… New roof, windows, siding are just a few things we had on ours. Think about getting at least three quotes for each item so you can plan and budget for them.
‘Generally it’s better to stick to one room or project type at a time, like the bathroom or sanding the first floor. Then add on a few smaller projects, like switching out the handle for the toilet.
‘The small projects become big victories and keep you motivated through the long boring projects. When you complete a task, strike it out on your sheet. It feels amazing.’