How to spot a diamond in the rough

May 24, 2017

When it comes to home buying, there are plenty of duds out there– badly designed, badly remodeled, or just plain bad-all-around homes that aren’t worth the investment to try to make them good.  There are also plenty of gems– homes with hidden potential that just need a little (or in most cases a lot) of TLC to bring out their true potential or return them to their original glory.  So how do you spot a diamond in the rough? It’s one of the questions I get asked the most so today I’m sharing my top five tips for finding a home fit for a renovation.

This hot mess is what we saw when we drove up to our house for the very first time.

You could barely even see the house.  Everything was overgrown and crumbling from sitting vacant for eight years.  So how did I know it could become this?

(shot from our halloween tour last year)

1. Good bones

Okay so everyone says that, but what does it really mean?  Here’s what it means to me:  the home had good square footage, the layout was workable with some changes like taking down walls, etc.  Also, I knew we could keep the brick rather than replacing all of the exterior material.  Nothing was so terrible that it couldn’t be fixed, and fixed within our budget.  We didn’t want to tear everything down and start from scratch– we wanted to restore a home and not only return it to its original mid century glory, but improve upon what was there and truly make it a gem.  I also knew there were some neat features we could keep and really highlight, like the original floating granite fireplace.  Check out the front living room before and after:

(shot from this past Christmas, but it was the closest to the original shot framing)

You can check out the whole front living room reveal here!

2.  Location

There were a dozen different cities we could have moved to, but this area had everything we wanted long term: close proximity to the mountains and canyons, high property value in a desirable area, great schools, easy freeway access, and its just so pretty.  I suggest coming up with a list of musts and wants and figuring out your main priorities.  If a short commute is a big priority, don’t look at homes an hour away from your office.

3.  Livable

If you plan to renovate while living in your home, it can save you a lot of money.  However you can’t live in a home without a kitchen or a bathroom or functioning plumbing or electricity.  Our last home was completely livable.  Ugly, yes.  Needing updating, yes.  Functional, yes.


See our last home’s master bedroom here!

Our last home’s kitchen post is here!

It was easier to see beyond the dated and drab design because the changes were purely cosmetic.  We chipped away at the remodel one room at a time while we lived there and while there were times that were challenging and messy, it was doable.  That wasn’t the case with our current home, so we lived in a rental during the renovation.

4.  Character

Don’t shy away from all of those little quirks that make a home unique.  Instead, find a way to incorporate them into your home and make them conversation pieces.  Everything doesn’t have to be cookie cutter or catalog worthy.

I’m all about making a home truly unique and also working with what is already there.  Because our home is mid century, there were some original furniture pieces which we purchased from the owner and refinished to use in the home.  We also purchased some vintage pieces, including this mid century daybed which may be my favorite online classified find to date.  Incorporating true mid century original furniture and decor mixed in with the new helps bring the home back to the era it was built in, therefore adding character.

We also added those corner built-in shelves (tutorial to make your own here!) to take what would have just been an empty awkward space and give it some pa-zow.

5.  Structurally Sound

Don’t underestimate the importance of a thorough inspection.  If your foundation or load bearing walls are toast, that will KILL your budget and also may require tearing the whole house down and starting over.  Be sure to find an inspector you trust and have them check every single inch of the home.  If it’s a costly repair, it may be a dud.

I hope this list was helpful!  The main message here: don’t be afraid of some ugly.  It can turn into beautiful.  Like going from this….

To this…. 

See our current master bedroom here!

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  1. Ter'e says:

    Your house looks glorious now. So light and bright. Did you guys paint your own cabinets???? If yes, what product did you use???
    We did exactly what you did. Knew our house was ugly and in need of many repairs…..it had sat abandoned for two years. I can’t even tell you the probs it had — but I saw thru all that. All cosmetic. We lived here, thru the reno. We are retired…..so it was tolerable.
    Now???? It is the jewel of the neighborhood. Even our neighbors have stepped up their game.
    The kitchen cabinets, tho???? Solid, but gross. They must be painted!!!!!
    BTW, I hoped to see a pic of the girls. I know they are growing like weeds.
    Nice post!!!!L

  2. Patrick says:

    What an amazing transformation. Looks so much better with the bright colors! I really like the living room, with that massive wooden table in the middle. Brings some contrast into it all 🙂

  3. Laura says:

    I love home renovation and just had the pleasure of my first flip…restored 1898 Queen Anne Victorian from duplex to single family. Wish I started blogging before/during the project vs after, but I was busy with hands-on work. I also renovated homes that required living in an apartment. Now I’m renovating our 1876 Italianate room-by-room. Looking to your wonderful website for inspiration. Thanks!

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