How I transformed a dirty house into my dream home: Part One

by Melyssa Donaghy

As a single woman, taking on a large older home with endless cosmetic issues, neglected yard, sky high utility bills and a myriad of mechanical problems was daunting. Actually, it was terrifying.

I am one those people who would never feel fulfilled living anywhere but in an old house. I learned that without renovation experience or unlimited cash, anyone can create a dream home by taking small bites at a time, learning as you go.

I was lucky. My realtor, Nanci Haber’s prime directive for me was “location, location, location.” After six months on the hunt, and declaration I would not live anywhere less pleasing to me than my downtown apartment, my realtor was at her wits end. Like most house hunters, I had champagne taste on a beer budget.

One day, she told me about a neglected property on a beautiful avenue in one of Indiana’s most prestigious historic neighborhoods. I hated the house with its chalky white crumbling stucco, glossy black trim, cracked plaster, crusty peeling woodwork, painted-over wallpaper, ground-draping tree limbs and ugly carpet which hid the hardwoods. The Berber carpet was everywhere except the kitchen, bath and a six-foot square patch in the foyer where large granite tiles were mortared directly to the hardwood floor. Ironically, the selling agent marketed both the granite foyer and Berber carpet.

I could not see the potential in the house, but my realtor convinced me that I could take it on and transform it over time. She expertly advised that the property was my golden opportunity.

The math made sense. I needed the tax deduction and could afford the down payment and mortgage. It was $50,000 less than comparable homes.

It had a functional bath and decent working kitchen. I had a view of gorgeous well-maintained 1920’s mansions with park sized lots. I made the seller put on a new roof by exclaiming to my realtor there was no way I would move into a house with an 18 year old roof. I later learned she believed I would lose the house by making the demand. As it turned out, the seller was indeed motivated enough to meet the request.

I moved into a big dirty house with good bones in August 1998. I was so overwhelmed that I cried on that day. Then, I began its transformation with what I knew. I cleaned.

Over this series of monthly columns, I will share the details of my projects beginning with my early contractor mistakes before I accessed Angie’s List for referrals.

Angie's List advertising representative Melyssa Donaghy purchased a Prairie style stucco home in the Indianapolis historic neighborhood of Meridian Kessler in 1998. The home had “great bones,” but was a neglected eyesore. It is one of many gracious properties across the nation transformed by Angie's List remodeling contractors.


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