In mid 2019, our friend Erik was nearing the end of his lease in downtown Orlando and was scoping out houses closer to work north of the city. Meanwhile, we were sitting on a house we were kind of bored with, seeing that it had appreciated 40% in value while staring down an upcoming roof replacement. We hatched an idea: what if Erik bought a house big enough for the three of us? Then we could sell our house and use the opportunity to shake off the boredom and prepare to move permanently out of Florida. Sounds exciting!
This is a visual story of how we found that house, fought through the upgrades and moves, and made it something workable to ride out the pandemic in. And mostly because I just love a good before-and-after gallery. 🙂
The Strange House Sale
We looked at a lot of houses north of Central Florida: Deltona, Deland, Orange City, Sanford. And they were all…old, and rundown. Which was fine: Erik had already flipped a house in Detroit and wasn’t opposed to doing it again. But it was hard to imagine a house like that accommodating all of us. Especially since I was looking at an hour-long commute, up from about 20 minutes.
After a few options, we revisited one we’d viewed previously and written off: a pretty simple, two-story 4 bed/3 bath with an interesting floor plan: 1800 sq ft, identical master bedrooms in the same corner on each floor, an open plan living/dining room, and a small kitchen. No covered patio, no pool, a yard choked out with overgrowth and vines, but a template house with plenty of room.
But it was expensive for the area and distance from the interstate, and it had a failing roof (i.e., shingles missing), a busted AC unit, outdated appliances, and badly needed paint and carpet replacement throughout. It was also being sold as “for sale by owner”, meaning communication via realtor was slow and unreliable.
After the second viewing—and considering the inventory we’d seen elsewhere and how quickly the good ones were selling—Erik decided to move on it. He planned to try to talk down the owner on the price due to the state of the roof and appliances. On first ask, the owner offered to replace the roof and AC. Erik asked instead to lower the price of the house and let us replace everything, and the owner just…accepted. Boom, $20,000 off the price in a single ask.
Erik closed in early July and we helped him move in immediately. We approached our realtor and got everything moving for our house sale (and I’ve written plenty about that experience). The early agenda for the Dandy Lion (what we called the new house):
- Replace roof and AC
- Paint the whole interior
- Replace carpet
- Replace kitchen appliances and purchase an island
- Start to address the yard
The owner left a lot of junk: a broken vanity, disintegrating paint buckets, tons of trash on the curb, expired cleaning supplies, decorations, vases, a large wooden lizard, a plastic sign that said “Beware of Attack Turkey”, and $80 in cash in a plastic bag on the hot tub. The AC was done quickly (it’s sort of hot in Florida in July) and the roof replacement was scheduled for September. Time for paint and carpet.
Paint and Carpet
With us potentially moving in soon, the upstairs was painted first. Erik tackled this alone with some help from local friends Alex and Ty while we were on vacation. We chose basic neutral colors (nothing fancy) and the transformation was stark and immediate. The hardest part: the stairwell. Erik’s solution was…creative.
Downstairs was naturally lit only by the back sliding glass doors and a large kitchen window, so we lightened the tint a little. We left the kitchen for later as we expected more changes prior.
The carpet replacement was pretty straightforward. With the painting done, we got some inexpensive beige plush carpet to replace all of the upstairs and the stairway.
Kitchen, Phase 1
Erik found a pretty nice July-4th deal on a modern appliances set, so we got to work prepping for replacement. We removed and replaced the: refrigerator, microwave, stove, dishwasher, washer, and dryer.
Along with the appliances, we also did the following upgrades:
- Replaced the broken blinds in the kitchen window with nice, faux-wood thick blinds
- A kitchen island under the window for more countertop space
- Track lighting to replace the… vintage…fan?…in the kitchen
- Pendant lights over the sink and hallway through the kitchen
- Pegboards from IKEA on either side of the sink-area opening
- Mounted the wooden lizard figure left by the previous owner over the island
Upstairs Master Bathroom
The original upstairs master bathroom was…a mess. The floor was tile and cracked all to hell. The vanity was old and falling apart, and like the rest of the house, the paint was terrible. Even after ripping up the floor, we discovered discoloration from repeated water seepage.
Over the course of many days and weeks, we:
- Replaced the sub-floor
- Painted the room the same color as our last house (cool grey)
- Used LVP faux-wood flooring as the new flooring
- Purchased a vanity to match the flooring and…delicately placed it in the corner after maneuvering the plumbing in creative ways
- Installed a new toilet and fancy faucet for the vanity
- Found a fancy faux-wood mirror and medicine cabinet
- Installed modern vanity lighting
- Used some ceramic floor tiles for a custom backsplash
- Added nickel towel rack
- Installed IKEA shelving behind/over the toilet
Around this time we also made similar, minor upgrades to the guest bath on the other side of the wall: new paint, a new matching IKEA shelf, and a new towel rack. Erik also upgraded the downstairs master bath with a painted vanity, above-toilet storage, and replaced the fan with a fan/light combo.
Setting Up the Living Room
Our stuff was moved to the new house in stages: one truck-full in July and another in August. It was mostly piled into the garage and living room at first, but quickly we decided to lay it all out the same way we did at the previous house: a couch in the center, a coffee table in front, a sofa table and barstool chairs in the back, and end tables on each side. The dining room table fit perfectly off to the side with four chairs and two new stools.
We added and built a lot of shelving: a couple large anchor bookshelves from Target in the back; a few open, wooden media shelves from Amazon throughout; a metal shelf from IKEA for devices and chargers; and two matching TV stands from IKEA to span the front wall. I saved the back corner of the room for my computer desk.
We stood up a lot of lighting throughout and outfitted each fixture with a Hue bulb: four floor lamps and six table lamps. We eventually added wall-mounted shelves above the TV and attached some Hue lights to the back of the TV. Combined with the pendant lighting from the kitchen, the space is edge-lit from 16 Hue color bulbs, four on each wall.
Once our Orlando house was on the market, we made several small trips north until everything was relocated. This was done well before the house had sold—our first offer fell through at the last minute, which was a supremely frustrating experience.
Our house ended up getting an offer in early October and, after some back and forth, and we officially closed on November 1st.
While the inside of the new home needed a little work, the outside needed a ton. Most of the yard was overgrown with small deformed trees, huge twisted and thorny vines, and plenty of weeds and palmetto bushes. It was so dense that we didn’t even notice the property had a six-foot privacy fence in the back until after we moved in.
The man-made parts didn’t look much better. The outside of the house was dingy, mildewed and covered in settling cracks. The exterior lights were rusted, the driveway was slimy, the yard was a mess, and…there was the hot tub. It technically worked but was falling apart, had never been maintained, and honestly, a hot tub in Florida without a screen cover? Hard to imagine that being enjoyable.
I randomly started pressure washing the driveway on one of my work-from-home days and finished it quickly. Erik had a service clean the mildew and gunk off the exterior shortly thereafter. In early November, Erik paid to have gutters added to the front edge of the roof.
We cut and capped the electric line to the hot tub, and then promptly (and literally) flipped it off the patio. I circled around back with the pressure washer and gave the slab a good once-over.
Around the same time (early November), we started clearing the yard. We really had no strategy—just go in, pull some vines, see what shakes out, clip the dead limbs and vine roots, dig up the tubers, rinse and repeat. We started in the front yard on the wooded lot side and worked over the next few months to the back and other side of the property.
With the patio empty, we decided to erect a patio cover using a kit. Erik’s parents came down just before Thanksgiving and we all worked outside, simultaneously clearing the yard, constructing the cover, and working on the kitchen (more on that later). Erik couldn’t get rid of the hot tub easily, so we started to “disassemble” it via sledgehammer, hatchet, and sawzall. By December, we’d successfully cleared the lot all the way to the back corners, disposed of the hot tub, and put up peg boards in the garage.
I got the opportunity to go to travel in early December. While I was gone, Erik and Rob worked on building out a pre-fab shed in the recently-cleared space. When I got back, we leveled the center of the backyard and built out a simple stone fire pit, just in time for the short Florida winter.
Countertops and Cabinets
Since day 1, we wanted to do some major upgrades in the kitchen: paint, countertops and sink, cabinets, and a backsplash. This work finally got underway in October. Erik ripped off some of the countertop edging, painted all of the walls in the room, and ordered custom quartz countertops and a sink. There was enough of the quartz slab leftover to cut into a (very thick) backsplash for the stove area. I was very thankful for the increase in sink size. 😌
Prior to Erik’s parents coming down to help, we ordered new custom cabinet fronts. Erik experimented with stain colors and eventually stained all of the new cabinetry. When his parents were down, we lacquered and installed the doors with new hardware.
Exterior Paint and Edging
Over Christmas break we moved on to house paint and edging. Erik tested some colors, purchased a few 5-gallon buckets and started on the west wall on Christmas Day. As he worked his way around the house (as weather and time permitted), we also built out edging around the house using landscape timbers, weed barrier and many bags of red rubber mulch. Eventually we also wrapped the shed in a similar edging.
As the paint covered the settling cracks and the edging smoothed the rough transition between the foundation and surrounding ground, the improved look of the house really started to come together.
Extra Parking and Landscaping
As we were nearing the end of our planned work outside, we decided it would be cool to have a 3rd parking space next to the driveway. Turns out it’s popular in the area and with the right stones it looks rather neat. We planned the size of the area, outlined it with the same landscape timber edging, dug out the area about four-inches deep, and laid down weed barrier. Erik ordered five tons of chipped granite rocks and had that dumped off while we were attending AGDQ and spread it to taste. It looked awesome.
We connected the new space with the house edging, using the same timbers and some stone pavers, to form a “flower bed” under the kitchen window and around the palm tree. One of Erik’s friends with some experience in gardening came down around this time and helped plant new shrubberies and crotons, placed a few potted plants, and finished off the area with red wood mulch. I started painting the landscape timbers and Erik painted the front door a cool shade of green to cap off the work.
By early February 2020, we were pretty happy with the state of things. We took care of some random things: painted and re-attached the banister; replaced the exterior lighting; fixed the guest bathroom door hinges; and replaced the mailbox. And then…COVID.
The finishing touches came after we all adjusted to pandemic life in March. Our first COVID upgrade: a hose holder on the side of the house. By the end of June we painted the remaining timbers, added shelving to the utility room, and created a paver border around the patio and fire pit area, filling the new spaces with white drainage rock. Erik built out some custom benches for the fire pit area one Sunday afternoon, and I helped sprinkle a peppering of orange river rocks in the space between the patio and pit to add some color.
One random week in July we decided to section the backyard off into “mulch” and “straw” zones and slowly filled the yard with pine straw, six bales at a time (it was a good excuse to get out of the house). In September we finally bought a truck-full of cedar mulch and spread it in the remaining areas. We placed some concrete fence post pilings (found while clearing the yard) on the border of the two mulch types for a weird redneck border feel.
Through the end of the year, we extended the rock from the makeshift parking spot out to the road (so we could get in and out more easily) and planted a couple crotons around the mailbox. I’m sure we’ll find more to do, but there’s always more to do.
Before and After
The Dandy Lion has come a long way since a year and change ago. When we bought a house with a failing roof and failed AC, I knew we’d be improving it a little, but I don’t think I could have imagined how much nicer it was going to get. Here are some before-and-after shots, from Summer 2019 to Fall 2020:
And just for good measure, here are some glamor shots I couldn’t find good “before” images of that we’re just really happy with:
That’s probably it for the Dandy Lion household. It’s sad to think that we may not ever host a party or get-together in the place again (if we move or Erik sells before herd immunity takes hold), but it’s been exactly the experience I’d hoped it would be when we moved in a year and change ago. Minus COVID of course. Considering we had to be trapped inside for most of this year, I feel very lucky to have been able to spend it here. 🐾
(The first upgrade: pulling the palm out of the ground; the guitar-playing gator propped by Alex; the giant underground tubers that we dug up forever; a snake in the fire pit)