Looking for an older home can be scary and exciting all at the same time. What are the most important characteristics to look for? How do you know which flaws are deal breakers? Cathy and Garrett have been renovating and restoring homes for over a decade, so they have seen the good, bad, and ugly of old houses. In our conversation, they answer some of the most common questions I get about shopping for an old farmhouse. This topic can be intimidating to someone unfamiliar with this realm, but Cathy and Garrett break it down in such an approachable way. Maybe you have no intention of purchasing an old farmhouse, but you want to add that vintage charm to your existing home– Cathy and Garrett have some great tips for that, too!
In this episode, we cover:
- The top qualities to look for in an old house
- Where to begin the process of renovating a house
- Awkward layouts in old houses and when it’s a deal breaker
- How to add character to a newly-built home
- What you need to know about a home’s foundation
- Tips for evaluating the natural light in a home
- The biggest red flags to look for in an old home
- DIY decor projects to complement an old home
About Cathy & Garrett
Cathy and Garrett Poshusta are not-quite-high-school-sweethearts (but they met in the 7th grade!), DIYers, and parents to the 3 coolest kids. They have spent the past decade renovating old homes in Washington state, bringing a fresh-meets-vintage design approach, DIYing everything they can, and making it all up as they go. Cathy & Garrett now showcase their homes and DIY successes (and failures!) on The Grit and Polish.
Join us in the Simple Farmhouse Life Facebook community!
Lisa Bass Welcome back to the Simple Farmhouse Life podcast. Today I’m going to be chatting with Cathy and Garrett from @TheGritandPolish on Instagram. TheGritandPolish.com. I get questions all the time from people on old farmhouses: what to look for, what scary things end up deterring you from buying one, what inspections to get. And I wanted to talk with somebody who has experience on that, and I couldn’t think of a better couple. This couple buys all kinds of old homes—I forget how many they told me they actually have purchased—over the last 12 years. They’ve been renovating them for rentals, for their own home, bought and sold them. So they have so much experience, and all the houses that they’ve done have been old. So I knew that they’d be the perfect ones because they’ve came across everything. I also got to have on two, both of them, so that the husband could share from his perspective as well. Usually I’m just talking more decor and that vision with the wife, but I’m getting both parties here, so very valuable discussion. Join us to talk about old farmhouses.
Lisa Bass Well, thank you so much, Cathy and Garrett, for joining me. I really appreciate it. I have admired your renovations and your homes for so long. So tell us a little bit about you and your home and your business, because you do a lot of short term rentals, correct?
Cathy Poshusta Yeah. Well, thanks for having us on. Yeah. Over the years, we have collected four rental properties. I think we actually had five at a time and sold one. And we’ve had Airbnbs in the past. Right now, they’re all on long term leases. During the pandemic, we kind of switched back to that.
Lisa Bass Yeah.
Cathy Poshusta But yeah, we definitely have Airbnbs, I think, in our future again.
Garrett Poshusta Yeah, we’ve been kind of making plans to try to maybe get back into that a little bit with some of our upcoming projects. But yeah, we’ve been renovating and doing house stuff for 12 years now. It’s been a while. And have done—I don’t know—seven houses over those years. And all of them have been old.
Lisa Bass Yep, exactly. That’s why I was like, “Ah, one person comes to mind,” because you have so much experience. You’ve seen probably everything, like a real life HGTV show.
Garrett Poshusta Yeah, we’ve seen a lot for sure. And the houses that we have done have been kind of the old side of old, for at least our area. They’re all like right around 1900s, 1910, 1920.
Lisa Bass Okay. Yeah.
Garrett Poshusta They’re right in that era, which is pretty common for a lot of the old housing stock in the Pacific Northwest.
Lisa Bass Right. Yeah, that’s about as old as you get.
Cathy Poshusta Yeah. All of our houses have been in Seattle and then also in a small town, Ellensburg, where our farmhouse is. So. Yeah, that’s as old as you get out here.
Lisa Bass Yeah. That’s pretty old, I mean, for most people. So I get a lot of questions in my DMs about people looking for a farmhouse— an old house. Usually whenever you buy a homestead or any acreage, a lot of times, it’s an old house that comes with it. It’s very rarely a new house. At best, it’s a fixer-upper, and people are nervous about that. There’s a lot of fear surrounding old houses. So I thought we could talk about red flags, but then also some of the reasons why you choose old houses, because clearly you’ve chosen to get into an old house multiple times throughout the last 12 years. So I guess we could start on the fun end of it. What are some of the things that draw you to? Like what kind of character are you looking for— features, millwork—that make you want to buy something?
Cathy Poshusta Yeah, I think my dream old house has always been one that we walk into that has never been touched, has never been renovated. There’s no ’50s flooring.
Lisa Bass Yeah.
Cathy Poshusta And so you get a lot of that original character. We have never actually found such a house. There’s always been— over the years, owners have always touched them. But yeah, we look for tall ceilings, good lighting, large windows, a nice flow. Those are two things that I think— like lighting and flow are two things that are hard to live without. And then, yeah, millwork, original floors. When I walk into a house that we’re thinking about buying, ideally I am just swept off my feet and completely fallen in love with it. And that kind of sense of loving a house has really done us well. Because when I do fall in love with a house, that means I’m going to have the energy to actually—
Garrett Poshusta Oh yeah. Because you know what’s coming down the road when you buy an old house because it’s going to be a lot of work.
Cathy Poshusta It’s gonna be a lot of work.
Garrett Poshusta You’re going to be—at times—questioning, “Why did I get myself into this?” But if you have that initial kind of spark of passion for the house, then that will carry you through until you get to the other end and the house is in great shape, fresh, and functional.
Lisa Bass Yeah. And Garrett, are you more of the— one of the spouses, but typically the husband who’s more looking at— like maybe, Cathy, you’re right away seeing the vision for how it could look. And then Garrett’s like, “How about the plumbing?”
Garrett Poshusta Absolutely. Yeah, that is exactly spot on. And the house we’re in is a good example. Cathy was basically— she walked in, and she was like, “We need this house.” She just fell in love with it at first sight.
Cathy Poshusta So this is our 1912 farmhouse that’s on three acres. At the time, we were living in Seattle, and we just saw this house pop up, and it’s in our hometown. And so we came over to look at it and I walked up. I didn’t even enter the house. I walked up the front walk and I was like, “I don’t just want to live here. I want to die here. This is the house.” But that was the feeling that really carried us through many times when we have gotten sick of these renovations— living through the renovations. Yeah. That feeling has really done us well.
Garrett Poshusta Yes. And I walk through it and I’m like, “Okay, this is cool, but it smells like dogs. It has a kitchen that is functional, but needs a lot of work. And there’s half painted walls and some water damage here or there.” And so I’m kind of— under all of this potential, I’m seeing a lot of work and a lot of projects.
Cathy Poshusta Yeah, you definitely keep us grounded when we walk through. Keep me grounded.
Lisa Bass You need somebody like that. In our relationship, it’s the same way. I fall in love with every house that we go into. Usually. If it’s an old house, I can see instantly through all of it, and the whole vision of it is right before me. But my husband’s like, “Um,” and then he starts bringing up some of the things that I should be thinking of, but I’m not. So whenever you look at a home that needs basically everything, are you able to see the big picture or does some of the stuff come along over time? What’s your process like for renovating a house?
Cathy Poshusta Usually when we’re getting a house, we realize it’s going to get completely renovated. So we look at it. We kind of decide. We have that initial feeling or we don’t, and we kind of talk about whether or not we want it. And then usually we go back and look at it again with a pencil and a paper and a tape measure, and we basically draw all the floorplans, and I start to get kind of a feel for how this house is actually going to look later on down the road, and see if we kind of can make things work. Because usually there’s a sticking point or two. There’s a really small kitchen or there’s—
Garrett Poshusta An awkward space upstairs that’s really hard to get to, and to make that functional, would require a whole bunch of work. So we’re always trying to balance the amount of effort that it’s going to take to get a place into a really nice, functional, inspiring home with the time and effort that it will take to get there. And sometimes it just ends up being the case that, even though it’s a cute place, there’s just a couple of hang-ups that just make it a little bit too much work. And so we’ve had to pass on a few of those.
Cathy Poshusta And I would say, too, with the renovations, we’re not like a “demo the whole house” people. We want to keep as much of the original house as possible. Not just for the charm, but also because when you tear out a wall, you got to put something else back up, you got to put up drywall.
Garrett Poshusta Deal with flooring.
Cathy Poshusta Yeah. So we really do try to keep as much of that original house as possible, and I think trying to envision it in your head right at the beginning and seeing— I think especially the flow, for me, is one of those hang-ups. Can you make it work? Does it already have a great flow? Awesome. But if it doesn’t, can you make it work so that you feel like that house is livable? Because I think that’s one of those red flags for me that makes me walk away. And there’s not very many red flags that make me walk away. But, that flow.
Garrett Poshusta Yeah, because we’re really trying to work with what the house has to offer.
Cathy Poshusta We usually have a vision to start, but then over time— well, it depends. We did do one house where we renovated it in six months or something. And so that one really— the original vision kind of kept throughout. But these houses, like the one that we’re living in right now, we’ve been renovating for almost six years and the vision has definitely changed. When we walked in, we were like— the kitchen is big for us, but we were like, “Oh, we should blow out the bathroom and connect the kitchen to the side yard.” We had all these grand visions, but as we started renovating, we really scaled down and realized we don’t really need a bigger kitchen. And we kind of like the charm of how it is. And we also don’t want to spend the money and time to do that. So we do adjust as we go. But I think initially when you walk in, making sure that it can work for you.
Garrett Poshusta Yeah. So our process is really pretty organic, and we do a lot especially of the finished planning, and this is kind of Cathy’s bag. But, a lot of that comes together as we’re renovating. Cathy’s picking the finishes—the paint colors and things—as she can see the space come together. And so we have a pretty organic process for the actual execution of the renovations, I would say.
Cathy Poshusta Yeah, I wish I could be like a Heidi Caillier or an amazing designer that can just see it all right from the beginning, draw out what I want, tell Garrett, “Let’s build this.” But I really have to see the renovation as it’s coming along, and so our plans always change, and the finishes always kind of adjust as we’re going.
Garrett Poshusta And the timelines extend out as we’re going through the process.
Lisa Bass Yeah. I mean, I’m the same way. I definitely pivot as I’m going, and I always feel like—whenever I think back to what my original plan was—that it turned out better because I adjusted as I saw certain things. There’s just so many things that you can’t even see. So right now, we’re renovating a bathroom, which is a small thing. But whenever the marble comes in for the top of the vanity, maybe this certain bowl would look better. I don’t know, maybe some people are more gifted and can picture the whole thing from the beginning, but I’m more with you, Cathy. I kind of adjust along the way, and it makes sense. So I’m interested in this flow thing. I feel like a lot of old houses can be really awkward.
Cathy Poshusta They can.
Lisa Bass What are some deal breakers? Like walking through the bathroom to get to the living room? Just curious.
Cathy Poshusta Yeah, I’m trying to think of some of the old houses we’ve seen that have had— a lot of times I think the kitchen is an issue. I mean, we are people that really do try to kind of adjust to a house. I think houses are awesome as-is usually, but in the last hundred years, kitchens have come a long way, and sometimes those really small galley kitchens are just really hard. And we have found that making sure you have a spot to eat in the kitchen or having a large opening to the dining room—some sort of ability to have people in the kitchen with you—is really important.
Garrett Poshusta Yeah. And so that’s a great example because, if it’s an easy fix to take out an adjacent wall to an extra space to expand that kitchen, then that’s like, okay, that really works. But if the galley kitchen is backed up to the downstairs and upstairs stairwell and an outside wall and now to expand the kitchen, we have to change the stairs. And then what does that do to the— you know, so you can get into those kind of situations where one thing leads to another thing leads to another thing. And so then we would be like, “Well, this probably isn’t the best.” But there’s always those considerations where maybe it’s just a little tweak or a pretty simple way to get this functionality and this flow back or do a little bit more of a family friendly, entertaining style space. But at times though, you have to embrace a little bit of the old floor plans, which tend to be—
Cathy Poshusta Quirky.
Garrett Poshusta Quirky. And sometimes there’s a weird room that’s like, “Why did they do this? I don’t know.” You’re always trying to work with that because that’s a little bit of the charm as well. And we haven’t done the super big great room—living, kitchen, dining—we do try to create eat-in space in the kitchen, but it’s also like they’re typically their own space. So we don’t really have any of those wide open floor plans that are kind of popular in the newer builds.
Lisa Bass Yeah, I think a lot of times, you can find out what happened whenever you dig a little deeper. So in our house, when you go up the stairs, there’s two rooms to the right and two rooms to the left, and one of them’s really small. And so we’ve always wondered, “Why is this room here? What ever would have been the point?” And then we’re renovating the bathroom and we have to take down one wall because— the way they patched it, we wanted to re-drywall it, and you find the evidence for an opening. And so I’m like, “This house was built pre-plumbing. So likely this room was bigger.” I still don’t know what it would have been used for, but I can see that they took a large portion of the room and turned it into a bathroom. And then we’ve discovered where evidence of a staircase was because there was two entrances into the house. That’s really interesting with old houses is discovering over a hundred years time— I think the reason that the quirky layouts happen is people have done things. And maybe sometimes they did it right, and sometimes they just were trying to get a bathroom really quick, and they did a stupid like flow thing.
Garrett Poshusta Absolutely.
Cathy Poshusta Yeah. It’s those stupid things that get you because they are the things that you have to spend a lot of time redoing.
Garrett Poshusta Backtrack. But yeah, that’s a great anecdote about some of the fun of these old places, too. As you’re renovating, you uncover this old threshold and you’re like, “Oh, there was a door in this wall. That was probably an original entrance.”
Garrett Poshusta Yeah, I was thinking about our laundry room because we did that when we did our kitchen, and there was this weird kind of interior window between the kitchen and what was the pantry, a dead end pantry. And we decided to make that our laundry room. So we took the window out, put a doorway in, and then in that pantry, we opened up the exterior wall to put in an entrance to the outside. And there was actually a staircase out there already. And there was evidence of like a screened-in porch type thing. It even had the beadboard ceiling.
Lisa Bass Yeah, that’s what our laundry room was.
Cathy Poshusta Yeah. It’s fun.
Garrett Poshusta Yeah, so you find all those cool things, and you can kind of piece together, based on these renovations that you do, how the house used to be originally, which is really fun.
Cathy Poshusta Yeah. And we are really lucky in this house because we actually know relatives of the original owners. So we got photographs dating back to the ’20s and ’30s, and it’s really interesting seeing the interiors because it’s hard to actually figure out where they’re taken because I think some of the doors have moved. So that’s kind of a fun thing in this house, too, that we’ve gotten to do.
Lisa Bass Yeah, whenever houses have been there that long, there’s just bound to be changes. Just think about—living in your house for six years—all the little things, over time, that you think, “Oh, this would serve us better if we moved this.” But over 120—like our house is 160, I think—things happen. Big life things happen over that time that really change things. Now, one thing I get asked a lot is “Why can’t you just add character?” People always want to build an old home, you know? And so do you have any thoughts to that? Like how you could add character to a newer home? This is totally off topic.
Cathy Poshusta Yeah. No, I love this. I would say that they really don’t build them like they used to. And so if you want to add character into a house, looking at salvage shops, shopping— like in Seattle, there’s three great salvage shops that we go to, and you can find old millwork, you can find old floors, old mantels are a great way, I think, to bring in a little bit of character. And it doesn’t have to be everywhere. I think it just has to be enough. And you can still get a really polished, really nice look with it, but just bring in a little bit of that character throughout. And of course, vintage furniture.
Cathy Poshusta And something that’s relatively quick— it can be a little expensive depending on the types of moldings that you choose to put in, but adding some moldings to a room can instantly transform it into something that looks a lot older than it is and has a little bit more character. Because I think that’s one of the defining characteristics of a lot of old homes is their millwork. It’s the moldings and just the craftsmanship that went into those aspects of the home that are so cool. And if you can take that and bring it back into your space with a little bit of molding here or there, I think that does a lot to really add that back in and create a little bit more of that original look.
Cathy Poshusta And that doesn’t have to be that expensive either. I don’t think it has to be wood. Plenty of these old houses have painted millwork. And just beefing up that base molding—I think right there—gives you so much more character in the house right away.
Lisa Bass Yeah, I agree. And like you said, we have salvage shops around here where we’ve had to replace certain— like we’ve added a window here, and we have done things where we needed trim, and we’ve gone to a salvage place and had real wood trim for— I don’t remember what it was, but it was really cheap. It was cheaper than if you probably went and bought cheap trim from Lowe’s, but it was just laying in a pile at a salvage architectural. So it would take a lot of planning, but some people just don’t have an option. Like they have a family farm, and they’re going to build their home, and they do want that charm. But when it comes to seeking out an old house or a lot of my listeners are looking for a three-acre or five-acre place, and a lot of times they come with an old house on it. There’s actually an old house for sale across the street from me on a lot of acres because that’s usually just what comes with it. So what are some of the scarier things? What are some deal breakers? I think we can start with the foundation and what to look for there.
Cathy Poshusta Garrett’s going to be a great person to talk about this.
Garrett Poshusta Yeah. I mean, that is one of the things that really can be an issue in these old places. Around our neck of the woods, we have a lot of houses that were built back then that have, essentially, not a foundation. Some blocks of cement and a little bit of wood down below that’s kind of propping these things up.
Cathy Poshusta That’s completely rotted out.
Garrett Poshusta Yeah. They’re slowly sinking into the ground, basically.
Cathy Poshusta We bought one of those houses two years ago.
Garrett Poshusta Yeah. And we did a complete foundation rebuild on it. We lifted the house and added a foundation.
Cathy Poshusta Yeah, it lifted up eight feet in the air so they could get equipment under it. They poured a new foundation, set it back down. It was cool to see that that is possible. It’s a little unfortunate we did that on such a small house.
Garrett Poshusta But yeah, those foundation type issues can be kind of scary. The things that would be key to understanding what is involved with your foundation are: is it poured concrete? Is there a continuous cement block or stone block foundation all the way around it? Or does it look like there is intermittent supports around the outside of the house— and that’s kind of called a post and pier type foundation. And those are the ones that typically have the most issues and probably would need a complete replacement. If you have poured cement, then you’re in better shape because you can sometimes do more repair type stuff rather than just scrap the whole thing and start over. So poured concrete foundations are a level up, so to speak, in the old houses. But it isn’t the end of the world. You can do it. Our project ended up being right around 30 grand for our new foundation. It was pretty small. A 20×26 footprint.
Cathy Poshusta But the lifting was 10,000 of that. And he said that even though the house is small, he charged us quite a bit because of how difficult it was to get— he sticks in these steel I-beams and then he jacks it up, but he had to dig and how difficult it was. So just because a house is small, doesn’t mean it’s going to be cheap to lift, and I think vice versa. But yeah, they’re out there. House lifters are out there, and it’s nice to know that it’s possible to do that if you love a house.
Garrett Poshusta Yeah. And that’s going to scare away a lot of people. Yeah.
Cathy Poshusta Yeah. You might get it cheaper.
Garrett Poshusta You’re going to limit the pool of potential buyers. And so if you’re willing to take on some of those risks and some of those projects in the future that you know you have to do, then sometimes you can get a little bit of a better deal and end up with a really cool place in the end.
Lisa Bass Yeah. You guys seem to know what you’re doing at this point a lot, but what’s the due diligence for a person who doesn’t? For us, I can just share my experience. We were going to buy a rental house about a year ago, and I thought the foundation didn’t look that bad. Then I had an inspector come. He said it didn’t. I’m like, “Let’s see.” So I brought in a foundation expert who gave us an actual quote before we bought it. And your guys’ is sounding really cheap to me right now because this was going to be 60 grand, and it was on a house that was 70,000. So it was like the numbers weren’t going to work because when it was done, it was not a house worth 130 or whatever. I think that’s what the numbers were at the time. But yeah, so like what is the due diligence that you recommend for people?
Garrett Poshusta Yeah, I think that kind of taking that process where you do get the professional inspection is going to be a way, if you don’t have really very much experience to get a good solid opinion. When we go check out a place, I’m bringing my flashlight, and I’m trying to get under the house and take a peek at what’s under there. And even if you don’t crawl under there, if you can just take a flashlight and look around, you can usually tell at least what the style of the foundation is.
Cathy Poshusta And if it’s dry, too.
Garrett Poshusta Yeah. If it’s dry. How the condition of the foundation is at least right next to that opening. And you could tell on the house that we just bought that it was— like there was rot—it was pretty obvious—and that the foundation was pretty gone.
Cathy Poshusta Yeah, you could jump in one part of the house and just feel it.
Garrett Poshusta Yeah, you could feel it. And also you don’t even have to go underneath sometimes. If you can tell the floors are out of level or sloping— sometimes if it’s not well-supported, you’ll get like curvature, like a little belly in the floor. It’ll feel a little soft. And those are all clues that the supports underneath are subpar and needing addressed. But in contrast, if you walk into a house and the floors are pretty level, and it feels solid, and you don’t notice any sloping, then you’re probably already in a good spot and in a place where maybe— again, the foundation might need a little repair in spots, but probably not a whole huge replacement. So those are a couple of ways that you could even just make a thumb in the wind kind of assessment right on the spot.
Cathy Poshusta And I think getting three bids is helpful with foundations. I know you hear about three bids, but I think the way people approach foundations is quite different. So getting three bids, if you can, is helpful because you might find a pretty big variation in pricing.
Lisa Bass Mm. That’s true. Yeah. Our first bid scared us off, but maybe it would have been something worth exploring further into. There is some level of floor sloping in old houses, even if they had good foundations. Have you found that to be the case? Because my house and our last house had spots where the floors were unlevel, but we never really had any alarms with the foundation.
Cathy Poshusta Yeah, I think that that’s probably one of those places where, in that particular room, you could raise and support the foundation that’s already there a little bit just because it’s settled over time and it’s still good enough to go. So if it’s the case where it’s just a room here or one little spot, then those might be something where just a little repair could bring that back up. And so it might not be a whole foundation replacement that’s needed. It’s just like a little small repair, which we’ve done those before, too.
Cathy Poshusta By “we” you mean you.
Garrett Poshusta Yeah. Another thing— you can look around the outside. If you can actually see if you see large cracks or settling then you know the foundation’s shifting and those things could be addressed. We had that situation here where the front portion of the foundation that was supporting the deck is completely split and you can see it from the outside. And so it’s like, okay, this deck is settling and it’s going to continue to settle unless something is done about that. So some of those visual clues from even the outside can kind of give you an idea that, okay, is this an issue or is it just something that can continue to be fine for a lot of years?
Cathy Poshusta So I have another big red flag for me, and it’s more I think enjoying the home, but it’s really the natural light because I think where a house is on the lot. Is it on top of the hill? Is it on the bottom of a hill? How is the daylight throughout the day? I think that really affects living in the house and it can be really hard to fix that. And so to me, that’s kind of like a deal breaker. One of a very few number of deal breakers. Not to say you can’t add windows because you certainly can. But if you just are at the bottom of a hill and there’s just no chance, like all your neighbors’ trees are shading you, that would be a walk away situation for me.
Garrett Poshusta Yeah. We’ve learned to value that particular feature of homes over the years since we’ve had a few of these. We’ve seen how each one—over the day and over the year—gets natural light. And there are some that are positioned just a little bit better than others, and you really notice that after you live in it for a while. And yeah, you’re not going to be able to pick your house up and move it down the street.
Cathy Poshusta Yeah, especially in Seattle where it’s cloudy a lot of the year in Seattle. So we found the houses that had the kitchen and the living spaces on the south side of the house were a lot more enjoyable to live in, because the bedrooms, you don’t really care if they don’t get a lot of natural light. But the living space you do, at least we do. And so we found where on the block the house is, and then which way it faces, where on the lot it is. These are little things that don’t affect the price per se, but I think they really affect how you can really enjoy a house.
Lisa Bass Yeah. It’s funny because I have a theory— and this is not based on any historical fact. I could be making this up, but in our house, the living space is on the south side and they put a really large window, like a picture window. And then the kitchen is on the north side. And actually we had to add a window because it was so dark. And my thought is that this is a Victorian house, so this is pre-refrigeration— that they were trying to keep the kitchen without light and heat for food preservation, and then they were trying to have the living space be flooded with light. So I don’t know. It’s just a theory.
Garrett Poshusta Yeah.
Cathy Poshusta Totally. And they used to plant— we have large elm trees that shade our farmhouse for a lot of the summer. And it’s a little bit of a bummer sometimes when you don’t have a ton of light in the summer. But it’s really smart because we basically don’t have to use AC for a lot of the year. And so they really thought about those things back before there were mechanical systems, and they’re really brilliant, and sometimes they work today and sometimes they don’t.
Lisa Bass Well yeah, that’s like, in our kitchen, adding the window. That wouldn’t have made sense for them to do because if you wanted to preserve your food—pre-refrigeration—having more light in the kitchen was a bad move. But for me, it made a lot of sense because I need light in my kitchen. How would you recommend that people assess this without hanging out all day with the realtor in the house? Because I agree with you, natural light is super important. In both of my old houses, no lights have to go on during the day, ever, and I love it.
Cathy Poshusta Yeah, I mean, it’s hard to do. I think looking at— when you do go see the house, really taking note. What aspect are you at? Is it sunny at the time? How big are the windows?
Garrett Poshusta Yeah. Because it’s like you go to a new place and you’re like, “I don’t even know where north or south is. I like the house, but I don’t know where my cardinal directions are.”
Cathy Poshusta Yeah, get your bearings.
Garrett Poshusta But yeah, that’s one way.
Cathy Poshusta And checking the windows. Are they on the south side? Where are the bedrooms? Where’s the kitchen? And I think trying to go back once or twice is really helpful. I know in today’s market sometimes you have to see the house and make a bid right away.
Lisa Bass I know. Sometimes you can’t even see the house these days.
Cathy Poshusta Yeah, yeah, exactly. So if you’re able to go back once or twice at different times of the day, I think that’s helpful.
Lisa Bass That’s true. So those are both good points, like your flow and your light. Those are things I hadn’t thought about. Some things that come to mind—I think for most people—are plumbing, wiring. And then we got the safety issues of lead paint and asbestos. I get those constantly. So what are some tips for that?
Cathy Poshusta Yeah, you know, that’s funny. None of those are actually red flags. Well, they’re not not red flags, but they’re not deal breakers for us. I think we go into an old house and we assume it’s going to need to get re-plumbed and we assume it’s going to need to get re-wired. We are really, really lucky because Garrett’s dad is a retired electrician, and he has wired every single one of our houses, and every single one of them has needed it. I mean, he’s pulling out junction boxes in a little rental we are doing here in town. And he was seeing— he was like, “This was going to—”
Garrett Poshusta The wires are literally crispy.
Cathy Poshusta Yeah. He was like, “Your house was going to burn down.”.
Garrett Poshusta Yeah, it was basically a fire waiting to happen. Yeah. So, yeah. We’ve been really lucky in that respect.
Lisa Bass Oh, shoot. Yeah.
Cathy Poshusta But Garrett does the plumbing. You taught yourself how to plumb, and you do the gas plumbing when we have gas.
Garrett Poshusta Yeah. Definitely. Really, I would say—for us—the plumbing aspect that we always actually inspect and get checked is the side sewer. And by extension, that would be like septics on— you know, if it wasn’t connected to municipal systems. So those are actually something that can cost a ton of money to fix. You know, a side sewer project could run in the tens—easily—of thousands and up. Whereas re-plumbing a bathroom or a kitchen is like you know, we’re talking thousand.
Cathy Poshusta Well, that’s probably doing that yourself.
Garrett Poshusta Well but yeah, you know— I mean, a side sewer or septic system is a really big deal.
Cathy Poshusta Yeah the side sewer is— like, we don’t really inspect houses when we go see them anymore. We just kind of know enough to kind of inspect them ourselves. But the side sewer is the one inspection we get with every single house because that is a very expensive replacement.
Lisa Bass Mm, okay.
Garrett Poshusta And, by extension, it would be septic if it was outside city limits or something. But yeah, those systems are definitely something that can suck up a ton of money if they have to be replaced or rebuilt. So we try to do our due diligence on those, and with the interior plumbing being a lot more of a known factor in wiring for us. But in old houses, you’re probably going to run into some combination of wiring, which is never fun. You’re going to have knob-and-tube, which is basically the original stuff that pretty much needs replacing for the most part. But a lot of times people will have upgraded something over the years. And so you can do this as you’re walking through the house. You can find out where the electrical panel is and if there’s actual flippable breakers in it, you’re kind of in the semi-modern electrical world. Whereas, we have had places that had these fuse boxes, which are literally like these little screw in fuses in place of breakers. And so if you see that, then you basically know you’re going to have to do an immediate— so that’s not something you can kind of put off. So fuse boxes would be one thing that is like, okay, this really is a high priority to address.
Cathy Poshusta Do you look at outlets? See if they’re grounded?
Garrett Poshusta Grounded outlets are another safety kind of thing that would really need addressed as well.
Cathy Poshusta Well, it would show that it’s been updated, right?
Garrett Poshusta Yeah. And so the difference between grounded versus ungrounded outlets are the grounded outlets will have the third little round hole in them, whereas some of the real old outlets only have two. And so if you see outlets—
Lisa Bass We have both.
Garrett Poshusta Yeah. So the two ones are not grounded, and so those are less safe, and it’s a good thing to—over time and as you renovate and things—to get those into a grounded situation. So that’s kind of a visual way that can go through the house and see. If all of the outlets have the grounds—the third little round thing in them—then you’re good. That’s a positive because the wiring has been updated, and you don’t have any super old outlets that can cause hazards.
Lisa Bass That’s good to know. I think most of ours are. I’m trying to think. I feel like there are a few outlets in here that don’t have the third prong. Obviously, you run into it because nothing will plug into it these days. So you notice, but I know we have a couple. But I think our house had been rewired for the most part at some point because we have all the flip breakers, and then most of them are grounded. But that’s something I can’t believe I’ve never known. I didn’t know to look for that. Now, when it comes to budget, I feel like if you find a lot of these issues, you have wiggle room in the contract for fixing some of these things. But also, at some point, you’re going to be taking a risk on not knowing what all you need to do. I mean, you can do your due diligence, but there are still going to probably be a few question marks. How does that look for you with figuring that out?
Cathy Poshusta Yeah. So usually when we look at a house, we look at the price and we try to estimate what we think renovating it will cost. And that’s obviously an unknown. And because we’ve done so many houses, we can kind of thumb in the winds get a good guess. And then I kind of look at that and what I think the house is going to be valued later, and ideally you are not going to be underwater on that house right then. But I think in today’s market, sometimes you will be. And then it comes down to that question: how long are you going to live there for? And is it just an investment property? Because that would be a deal breaker. Or is it your primary residence? Because a home is more than just numbers. You know, it’s a place to live. It’s not really an investment that you’re earning money off of or anything. So I think you have to kind of go through that question for yourself at that point.
Garrett Poshusta Yeah, everybody has to live somewhere. So you got to kind of factor that in as you’re going through these kinds of calculations. I think we’re lucky because we can do so many things ourselves. We are less scared about the work that comes along with these houses. We’re confident that if we run into something that ends up being a little more expensive, well, that’s okay because we are doing the labor element ourselves and so that gives us flexibility.
Cathy Poshusta And we’re also looking at spending that money as a long term investment, which I think is a lot different. Because if you’re thinking, “I’m going to sell this house in two years,” then, you don’t really have time to give you that equity. But if you are planning to be in the house for a long time, then I think it’s a lot less scary to put money into it.
Garrett Poshusta So I guess that’s one tip. If you are thinking about a fixer or something that’s going to take some work, if you’re also willing to take on a little bit of those projects yourselves, then you can gain yourself a little bit of wiggle room and flexibility if something comes up that needs done. And if you can tackle some of the smaller projects at first, then work your way into doing some of the bigger ones, then it’s a great way to increase the value of your house, learn some skills and gain some confidence as you go through this old home journey.
Cathy Poshusta Because it’s a journey.
Lisa Bass Yeah, it’s a journey. You guys have so much good advice to share. How many houses are you currently working on?
Cathy Poshusta We are currently working on two houses: our farmhouse, which is where we live, and we’ve been working on a bathroom and closet renovation for, I think, nine months, so they can drag out. And then we are also working on a little rental that we have in town, and that’s the one that we have lifted, replaced the foundation, and we really love it. It’s a cute little house, so we decided to finish out the attic as well, so that’s kind of a big project over there.
Lisa Bass Yeah. So Cathy shares over on her Instagram, and you have your blog too. But is Instagram what you would call your primary place for people to check you out?
Cathy Poshusta Kind of both. Yeah.
Lisa Bass Yeah, both. So many great projects. I was really inspired by a lot of your decor. So we’re talking about projects and renovations. Even just your gallery wall and how to create this vintage looking gallery wall with inexpensive tools and supplies. What are some more of your popular projects that people come to you for? Like, what are some of the top ones?
Cathy Poshusta Yeah, I think a lot of people are interested in easy decor. So I have a great pinch pleat tutorial that is an IKEA curtain and looks really high-end. That has been a super popular one. If you have old houses that have skeleton key locks and you want to find a key, I actually have a blog post on a way to possibly do that. We do a lot of art, a lot of vintage art. In our kitchen, we have some. What else do we do? Paint. Paint is really hard.
Lisa Bass Yeah, that’s one of my favorite projects of yours.
Cathy Poshusta Thank you. Yeah. Paint is a really hard thing for me, getting the color right. And so I do share all of our paint colors that we have decided on and usually the process which involves often at least one fail on the color.
Garrett Poshusta Yeah, we typically— you know, if we only have to paint things two times to get the right color, then that’s a win in my book.
Lisa Bass That’s good. Yeah. I think I came across your article on paint whenever I was looking to paint one of my rooms. I came across your— it was either best beiges or best whites or something like that.
Cathy Poshusta Yeah, we sampled a bunch of white paint colors last year that were kind of popular and that was kind of interesting to see all next to each other. But our favorite white is still Benjamin Moore’s Simply White. We go back to it every time.
Lisa Bass Good to know.
Garrett Poshusta We also do— some of our marble and stone stuff is another thing that has been popular.
Cathy Poshusta Garrett has taught himself how to fabricate stone countertops, so that is not something that a lot of people like to do. And actually, you probably don’t really like doing it, but it is something that we’ve kind of taken on ourselves, because in our small town, it’s hard to find someone to do it. So Garrett has kind of taught himself, and he does a lot of fun countertops. We add a lot of curves. And I love honed marble, so most of them are that.
Lisa Bass I’m picturing your sink in your— I don’t think it’s your kitchen. Is it your pantry?
Cathy Poshusta Pantry. Yeah.
Lisa Bass Yeah. Okay. I can totally picture exactly what you’re talking about. It is very unique. If you want to see it, go over to @TheGritandPolish on Instagram. Or you probably have a blog post on that particular sink, don’t you?
Cathy Poshusta We do, yeah.
Garrett Poshusta The other thing I think Cathy might be fairly well known for is gray hair.
Cathy Poshusta True. Yeah.
Garrett Poshusta She gets a fair amount of questions and just a lot of engagement around gray hair things.
Garrett Poshusta Yeah. Yeah, I’m a premature grayer. I don’t know why.
Lisa Bass That is such a thing. It’s. It’s funny how that’s such a thing, because everybody’s hair goes gray, but embracing it is like a whole thing, you know?
Cathy Poshusta It is. Yeah. It is.
Lisa Bass Yeah, well, it looks beautiful. I love it. So if you need some gray hair inspiration, gallery walls, antique prints, marble, wide variety of renovation and decor inspiration— you probably are one of my favorite decor accounts. Like one of those go-tos where you go to be inspired with paint colors and putting together rooms. So definitely head over to TheGritandPolish.com and Instagram @TheGritandPolish and you can follow along with all of your upcoming projects, which I’m sure there’ll be many of. Well, thank you so much, both of you, for joining me. I really appreciate it.
Cathy Poshusta Thank you for having us. This was fun.
Garrett Poshusta Yeah, thank you so much for having us on.
Lisa Bass All right. Well, I hope that you enjoyed this conversation. Make sure to go check out Cathy and Garrett over at The Grit and Polish. Such beautiful decor. You can tell that I’m very inspired by her whenever you scroll through her page. So many beautiful moments throughout her own home and the ones that she does. Also down in the show notes, there’ll be some links to some of her top projects that we talked about in the episode, and I hope that you’ll check that out. As always, thank you so much for listening to this episode of the Simple Farmhouse Life podcast and I will see you in the next one.
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