Coronavirus Renovation Diaries: When You Can’t Move In, Renovate First

Coronavirus Renovation Diaries

Welcome to the start of a new series for Embrace Home Loans. I’m Tara, one of the blog writers for the site. While I usually bring you mortgage and real estate content, this time I’m doing something a little different. I’m going to be blogging about my experience renovating during a global pandemic.

In this first installment, I talk about why I chose to renovate right now and how the pandemic has already put a kink in my renovation plans. Read on to learn more.

Homeowner holding the keys to her new condo
Me, holding the keys to my new home, totally unaware of the coming renovations.

How Coronavirus encouraged me to start renovating

I bought my first home — a sun-filled condo in the heart of Center City, Philadelphia — just under the wire. Stay-at-home orders were only starting to become the norm when I went under contract. Luckily, since I had signed a purchase agreement before these measures were put in place in my state, I was ultimately able to close on the property, even though real estate was considered a non-essential business at the time.

Unfortunately, it turned out that I wouldn’t be so lucky in the moving process. I had originally planned to move into my new home right away, but the City of Philadelphia is still under a stay-at-home order, which makes moving complicated on its own. Plus, my building has had three confirmed COVID-19 cases, so they have some pretty strict limitations in place for the process.

View from the homeowner's condo in Philadelphia
The view from my balcony. It’s my favorite feature of the unit.

Right now, only tenants and owners are allowed to access the units. Essentially, while I’m allowed to go inside, no one else can come with me. Not the movers and cleaners that I had been planning to hire, nor my parents, who had also agreed to assist me with my move.

Given those restrictions, I’m more or less prohibited from moving in until they are lifted. While I could technically make the move happen, if I could handle it all on my own, I have a physical disability that makes it impossible to move without help.

For the time being, that means I’m making a sizable mortgage payment on a home I’m not living in. To make myself feel better about it, I decided to keep my time in quarantine productive and take care of some renovations that the unit needs.

The homeowner's 1970s kitchen, before renovations
My current kitchen is not my favorite feature. It is, however, a 1970s original.

Why the delay might actually be a blessing in disguise

It’s honestly not the worst thing that I have the time to do renovations. Personally, I bought my unit for the view and the amount of sunlight that came through the windows, but its condition leaves something to be desired.

During my initial showing of the property, I learned that the unit had been a rental for many years. While I think the last tenant took care of the place, I did notice that a lot of things that a homeowner would have likely replaced had been left as-is. I went under contract knowing that it would need work eventually.

The homeowners 1970s bathroom, before renovations
My bathroom is also from that same decade.

However, when I saw my unit for the second time during my final walk-through, I was surprised by just how much work was needed. My agent went to open a cabinet in the kitchen and it almost fell down on her. I also learned that my fridge makes a noise like a rocket ship taking off, that the carpets are stained, and that the bathroom sink doesn’t turn on very easily, to name a few things.

Once I described my kitchen to my contractor over our initial video conference about the project, he was able to put the unit’s condition in context for me. He told me that I still have the original, builder-grade kitchen from the 1970s. The matching cabinets and the blue tile in the bathroom indicate that’s original as well.

Tile and flooring the homeowner picked out for her condo renovations
Everything I picked out at the flooring and tile store.

Getting started renovating during a pandemic

That information, coupled with the fact that Philadelphia’s stay-at-home order is projected to be in place for the foreseeable future, made it easy for me to decide to go ahead and do a full-scale renovation of the unit before I eventually do move in.

Currently, the plan is to fully remodel my kitchen and bathroom and to put in new flooring. I’m also considering having my contractors do some auxiliary services like removing an ancient intercom system that’s embedded in my wall and repainting once everything is finished.

That said, renovating during a pandemic is not easy. The restrictions on who’s allowed to come and go in my building also apply to contractors, which means that my project can’t officially get started until they’re eased. I’ve heard rumors that will happen on June 1st — and I can only hope they’re true.

In the meantime, my contractor has tried to move things along by having me make my selections and ordering my materials. That way, when the restrictions do open up, he can hit the ground running. So far, I’ve put on a mask and gloves to go to a flooring and tile store to pick out those items. Cabinetry and countertops are next on my list.

While there’s no telling what other roadblocks Coronavirus will have in store for my renovations, one thing’s for sure: It’s going to be an interesting experience. Stay tuned for more updates.

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