Desiree & Vinson: DIY Home Renovations

This is story 3 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Creatives Series. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know 11 individuals who are passionate about creating. It was interesting to learn where each individual drew their inspiration from. I wanted to shift the attention on other Creatives and tell their stories on what motivates and excites them in their respective field. Thank you to everyone who participated in this series! – Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

Vinson and Desiree are a semi-newly engaged couple that bought their first home together in October 2021. The couple both transitioned to fully remote work during the pandemic and felt the struggle of their 1 bedroom apartment. They didn’t have much room, talked over each other in meetings, and their rent was only going to go up from there. It has always been a dream of theirs to buy a home, and with the help of their realtor and loan officer, their offer was accepted on a fixer upper home in Rialto, CA. It was anything but an easy journey from beginning to end, with a lot of twists and turns and unexpected expenses.

Vinson and Desiree wanted to document their journey of being “broke millennials,” renovating their home on a budget. Their Instagram page, @GenerationBrokeAF, was created mostly as a joke, but mainly as a way for them to document their progress on their new home. They officially got the keys to their home in January 2022, and ever since then, home renovations are all they eat, sleep, and think about. Vinson and Desiree knew that buying a fixer upper home meant that they had to put in a lot of work, especially since they would be DIY-ing the home mostly themselves to save some money. But they knew it would be worth it because they’d be literally creating and DIY-ing their dream home together.

“We also have an uncle that is a contractor who has helped us tremendously and taught us how to do things ourselves so we can save where we can,” they shared. “Between the two of us, Vinson is very hands-on and handy, builds and rips things out, etc. Desiree is more artistic vision, tying in our styles from before to after, etc. Together as a team it works and it’s been a fun, challenging, scary, exciting journey turning what was once the ‘ugliest house on the block’ into our ‘first dream home.'” 

Being homeowners was always something they wanted in their future. Desiree decided to take the first step and got pre-approved first. Then they got pre-approved together when they decided it was a journey they were going to embark on as a couple. Once they started the home buying process, they realized that it was do-able. They knew it was not going to be easy and things were going to be tight, but they felt ready for the challenge.

Vinson and Desiree didn’t know what they were getting themselves into, but once they started the process, the only choice was to keep pushing forward. However, they did have a list of things their future home must check off before they even considered it. The couple knew off the bat they wanted a single-family home rather than a condo or townhouse to avoid HOA fees – a payment that must be paid to cover the building’s maintenance like fitness centers, repairs, paying for the staff, etc. Being in a safe neighborhood was also a must so they could walk their dog, Bruno. And they knew they wanted their future home to be in an area that was up and coming with a lot of development and new growth in the near future. Vinson and Desiree wanted to be close to freeways and shopping centers – basically not in the middle of nowhere. With all of these standards, the couple had to find a home that fit their price range.

So, their shopping journey began. The two looked at so many properties every weekend with their realtor for about 4 months. Every weekend they were booked back to back for viewings, and sometimes that even spilled into their weekdays as well. Vinson and Desiree started to feel very discouraged as first time homebuyers because the market was hot around late 2021. The pair was getting out bid left and right, but they had to stay on their tight budget. They didn’t budge on the number they had in mind, and kept their realtor in the loop. He didn’t sugar coat it when he knew Vinson and Desiree didn’t have a chance with a certain property.

When Desiree got news that she was going to be transitioning to full-time work from home, it changed the game. Now, the couple didn’t have to worry about work commutes, so they started looking at other cities which were not possible before. Vinson was gone visiting his family the weekend Desiree found their home’s listing on Trulia. It was a Saturday morning and Desiree sent the listing to their realtor to see if they could squeeze in a viewing in between the other appointments they had booked for that day. They had an appointment to see their house later in the afternoon, but were already in the area after finishing up a viewing at a new build community, so they decided to stop by earlier. Call it divine intervention, but Desiree so happened to run into the previous owner who was fixing his motorcycle in the driveway. They started talking, the start of a strong rapport.

“As soon as we walked in, it was UGLY,” Desiree said remembering the first time she saw the inside of their home. “It was dark, they had stuff everywhere, there were punch holes in the wall, missing vanities, practice flooring in the living room, a poop green carpet – it did not show well at all. But I saw the damn potential – the huge backyard, the vaulted ceilings, the natural lighting, the location, the neighborhood, and LOVED it.”

Looking back, Desiree believes it was a good thing that Vinson was away that day because he would have hated their home. Even Desiree’s family who was with her that day were skeptical of the house because it was so ugly and “not for the faint of heart.” Still, Desiree saw the opportunity to make the house their own, and somehow convinced Vinson that it was a good idea to put in an offer. Their realtor also reassured them that they had a really good chance this time around because the house didn’t show well. And most importantly, they met the previous owner by chance. This worked to Vinson and Desiree’s advantage because they later discovered that they were not the highest bidder on the home, but because the previous owners had met her in person and liked her, they accepted their offer. Their home was the very first official offer they couple had ever put in.

It was hard for others to see the potential in their new home. But they knew that this was the best shot they had in investing in a home for themselves. They knew they were willing to put in the work, time, and sacrifice into something they wanted to be theirs. For Desiree, she felt all the emotions realizing they finally had their own home – scared, overwhelmed, excited, nerve-wrecking. While Vinson felt like it was a surreal moment because they were unable to live in the house once they started renovations. They wanted to do a fixer upper DIY home one day, but they never expected it would be their first home. Still, they feel privileged to be able to thoughtfully design their home. The whole renovation process has been so awesome to see because they see their hard work come to fruition.

During their homebuying processes, people, including their realtor, would tell Desiree and Vinson that “the house chooses you.” Now, they see the bigger picture of how everything happened the way it was supposed to, like deciding to just drop by hours before their actual tour time to check out the house. Had Desiree not gone, she would’ve never met the previous owner and believes they would’ve just been another paper application. And they thank Vinson’s dad for that divine intervention. When they first started the homebuying process, they lost Vinson’s dad to stage IV pancreatic cancer. So they always feel like they have a guardian angel on the other side to give them that helping hand right at the perfect time. Vinson’s dad also had an amazing tool collection, which the couple is using to build their house. It’s a comforting feeling because it feels like his father is building the house with them.

When they bought the house, they couldn’t move in immediately. They wanted to make the house their own and knew they had to start renovations. Vinson is a natural handy man, but doesn’t have a professional background in construction. However, his parents bought a fixer upper in 2015 that they gutted and rebuilt. It was a longer and bigger project than their home. During that time, Vinson observed a lot and started to help the construction workers and his parents during the building process. Because of his past experience with renovating houses, Vinson was confident gutting his own house as well. He’s also very detailed and does a lot of research before starting a new project in the house, so he somewhat feels like he knows what to expect and look for. And when he doesn’t, he asks Desiree’s Uncle Johnny, their general contractor of their home.

“Vinson and him work really closely together and because we are family, Johnny allowed us to have a more hands on experience with the renovation,” Desiree explained. “To this day he teaches and advises both of us, but especially Vinson, on whatever needs to be done so that Vinson can get hands on experience and Johnny can tackle the more difficult things that Vinson doesn’t feel comfortable doing, like anything electrical. It’s been awesome having him just a phone call or text away as a resource.”

Desiree and Vinson had a general vision of what they wanted their house to have. They both wanted a lot of light and wanted to renovate and design in a way that made the space feel bigger. But you never truly know a home until you’ve gutted it and see what you’re working with. They look to Instagram and Youtube for decoration inspiration and DIY hacks. And the open houses didn’t stop when they bought a house, the couple still enjoys going to open houses for more ideas on how to remodel their home. They like to go in different houses and imagine how they would remodel it if the home was theirs.

If buying a house taught the couple anything, it’s how to compromise. Desiree and Vinson fought and disagreed a lot from demoing the house to decorating. When they’re at a standstill on a decision, they ask a third person to tiebreak it. The other option is taking turns on who gets the final say – if someone got one thing, they’d have to compromise somewhere else in the house. Vinson wanted shaker style cabinets and doors throughout the house, which was more expensive, so Desiree was not in favor. Vinson got that compromise along with the decision to add extra lighting to their original plan. On the other hand, Desiree won more on the design, like the lighting fixtures, the size of the counters and bar area, and the color scheme of the house. They laugh that compromise is still a struggle to this day.

Before they officially moved in, Vinson and Desiree would work on their home on the weekends after work. There would even be times where they had to research or manage logistics while on the clock during work. Renovating their home took all of their free time. For 9 months it’s all they could focus on – it was the topic of every discussion, the only thing on their minds, and literally the only thing they could do since they were on a strict budget. And no 2 days of renovation ever looked the same. One day you’re determined to find materials at the best price, another day you are physically working non-stop the entire weekend, and another day you have no choice but to sit and wait for things to arrive.

It was Desiree’s idea to start their Instagram page, @GenerationBrokeAF. The running joke was the couple was too broke to do anything. After buying the house, they found themselves having to miss out on a lot of social events, stopped going out to eat so often, and really having to buckle down on saving money. On top of that, all of their free time went to the house, so the change of lifestyle had them feeling super left out. They got tired of explaining why the house was taking up so much of their time, and felt as though the people around them didn’t really understand how deep into it they were. So, they started the page to share their journey with family and friends, but also document the memories to look back on later. Seeing their journey through Instagram finally had those around them understand why they were so MIA. Desiree tips her hat to Vinson for demoing the house almost entirely by himself.

“It’s awesome for us to look back, compare the before and after photos, and see how much we’ve accomplished,” Desiree shared. “When we’re in it everyday, it’s harder to see the progress. We really wanted to show the REAL behind home buying and renovating – it’s ugly, sweaty and expensive but that the sacrifice is worth it. Also, we make it a point on our page to reiterate that it takes a village of support to succeed and that it’s okay to accept help and normalize it.”

The most difficult part of their journey so far is the money and patience. Vinson and Desiree feel like it’s a constant outpour of money, and once you begin the process, there’s not really a choice but to keep going. On top of feeling like all your money is just being funneled into one place, you feel like the process is never ending. They describe the process of rebuilding a home as “painfully slow.” It took a little over 9 months for Desiree and Vinson to make the house even livable. And in those 9 months there were a lot of unexpected things with the house that came up: termite damage, ticks, broken AC system, broken water heater, dead rats, etc.

Still, Vinson and Desiree try to save where they can. They started to DIY as much as they could, and admit that they don’t really know what they’re doing and have to go down a rabbit hole of research – mostly YouTube and other DIY-ers on Instagram that are also sharing their journey. When their vision for a certain part of the house proves to be too pricey, they’ve learned to achieve the same look for less money rather than changing their vision and opting for the cheapest option. Their most important relationship is with their contractor, Uncle Johnny, because he has the connections. A tip they have is: spend more money on durable materials for higher traffic areas in the house, but use less durable items for less traffic areas. You can achieve the same look for way cheaper if you realize what will be used more and what won’t.

Their home renovation process has really forced them to think outside of the box, especially since they’re working with a limited budget. It has tested their creativity in many ways. Sometimes what they wanted initially is not possible, so they have to pivot their idea around the skeleton of the home. For their kitchen, their original plan was to knock down some walls to make the area feel more open. But the walls they wanted to tear down were too load-bearing and would cost too much money to do. So they decided to make small tweaks like strategically picking their color scheme, extending the wall partition to a counter bar, and widening the door opening about 23 inches, which achieved the open kitchen feel they desired for a lot less money.

“We also had a coat closet downstairs, and the door placement ran into the garage door and the half bath door!” They shared remembering what they had to work with. “It was very tight. So what we ended up doing was just walling off the wall to that closet, and moving the door to the other side and turning it into a pantry for extra storage. It was a small, easy, and affordable change but made a huge difference in the house design.”

There were moments where the journey was super rough, but Desiree and Vinson knew that quitting was never an option. From the beginning they knew that buying a home meant all hands were on deck, they were tight on money and literally had no choice but to follow through even if they were showing signs of fatigue and regret. Stopping was never in their cards, especially when they have a whole village behind them backing them up. They want to emphasize how they didn’t do any of this on their own. The obvious person that they are so grateful for is Uncle Johnny for sharing his knowledge and tips with them. But the support continues to pour in from everyone in their lives. From their realtor and mortgage lender who made it possible for the to say they’re homeowners, to their moms who have supported them emotionally when things got tough, financially when unexpected expenses came up, and physically when they made sure they ate and let them stay rent free during the renovations, to their friends being understanding of the process and not guilt tripping them, to aunts and uncles sharing discounts and design ideas, to cousins showing their support, to neighbors looking out for the house while they’re away, their list goes on, and they are very thankful.

Buying a home and renovating it taught the couple a lot. The most important thing they’ve learned is how to compromise with each other. They have been together for 7 years, so patience is a must when you mix home renovations with your relationship. Their typical dates now consist of home improvements around the house. Desiree and Vinson had to learn how to manage their emotions with one another, especially when they were hungry, tired, sweaty, dirty, and frustrated from working on the house all day or having another unforeseen mishap occur. Desiree and Vinson also stress the importance of taking your time – though the journey may be long, in the end it is worth it. They’ve learned not to rush the process because it will just result in wasting your time because it has to be redone, and it wastes your money because you have to account for more materials.

And Desiree and Vinson know what it’s like first hand to wait and be patient. It took about 9 months of them working on the house every weekend and during some weekdays to finally move in. They just recently moved into their house! They admit that the house still has a lot of things to be done still, but it’s more than enough for them to live in – finally! The couple is so thrilled to finally be able to enjoy their home, which they’ve worked so hard on for the majority of 2022. They don’t think their home improvements will ever be completely over. They know that their home will always require maintenance and it’s an ongoing project, but now they feel confident to tackle on whatever projects that their home will need in the future.

As for their Instagram page, Desiree and Vinson still plan to use it even after the major renovations are done. They’ve found it hard to keep up with posting content on the page because the couple is not big on posting much on their personal socials either, but they’re working on consistent content to continue sharing their journey. They’re excited to share more of their smaller DIY projects, and it has motivated them to come up with a list of projects they can continue to work on.

For Desiree, her favorite before and after in the house is their kitchen and pantry closet, while Vinson’s favorite is their master bathroom. There’s so much work that went into each room that most people won’t even know or notice, but that makes the end product that much more satisfying for them. But now that they’re finally moved into the house, their favorite part is finally being able to hangout with friends and family again. They love that they can invite family and friends over for dinner, game nights, movie nights, or even no reason at all but to just hangout – this is what they envisioned and waited so long for.

Vinson and Desiree want their readers to leave with this:

“We’re literally just two young adults in this stupid expensive overly inflated housing market trying to get our foot in the door,” they said. “We had no idea what we were doing but we knew we wanted to own. If we didn’t take the risk by just calling our realtor and having a conversation with him about what was possible and what our next steps should be to be able to own for the first time, we wouldn’t be here. We didn’t even think it was a possibility so soon! We also are very blessed with the village of support we have. We hope our story at least inspires other young millennials to know it’s still possible to be a first time home buyer in this shitty market and it’s worth the risk and sacrifice if you have the opportunity. We are paying less than what we would have in a two bedroom apartment. Our home value has increased 24% since we purchased 10 months ago, and we think once appraised with the renovations it will be much higher. There’s no way we could have saved that much paying for rent where we get no return. Fixer uppers are kinda fun and we hope to be able to get into real estate and flip one day! Vinson loves it and might even consider doing more contractor work on the side as a hobby. Don’t be intimidated with fixer uppers! It’s crazy what new floors and paint can do, if you can see past what’s in front of you.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s