I’m in a Long Distance Relationship With My Home Remodeling Project

By being long distance for this remodel, my fiancé is taking the brunt of the work. I’ve seen him go from super excited to more recently, dead-eyed.
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Emily Macrander
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By being long distance for this remodel, my fiancé is taking the brunt of the work. I’ve seen him go from super excited to more recently, dead-eyed.

I’m in a long distance relationship with my home renovation. And I'm engaged. Like with this ring, I thee dry wall.

My fiancé and I have been long distance since a few months after we started dating about three years ago.

Now, he’s my fiancé and living in my future home in Minot, North Dakota. I'm living in Texas, where we met, planning our wedding. I'm moving up after the wedding in September.

We bought the home shortly before getting engaged. We’re both first-time home buyers and really weren’t sure what we were looking for.

My fiancé and our realtor did all of the looking at homes and we quickly learned that a property that photographs well doesn’t necessarily translate to a good home in real life. Crafty photography can cover a bad floor plan and even the most telling pictures cannot reveal the overpowering scent of cigarette smoke in some of these homes.

Every evening via video chat, my fiancé and I would consult our ever-growing and shrinking spreadsheet of possible homes. I’d fight for the cute blue house with the vintage tin backsplash that I saw on one of those home search websites and he’d shut me down with a simple “It doesn’t have a garage.” Buzz kill.

It wasn’t long before we found the home that we’d eventually purchase. It was perfect, or at least the twisted and redefined definition of perfect that we ended up at after a few months of looking. It’s a 1950s red brick, one-story home, near downtown, with a “finished” (by some lenient definitions) basement, a two car garage and a large backyard.

The house we ended up with was neither the first nor the last on the list. It was neither the most or least expensive. But it was the first home we went into and both immediately said, “OK. We can work with this.”

The house we ended up with was neither the first nor the last on the list. It was neither the most or least expensive. But it was the first home we went into and both immediately said, “OK. We can work with this.”

The house was at the way low end of our initial budget and we knew that we’d want to put money into the house to make it more livable for us. My fiancé loved that the basement featured a full kitchen and two bedrooms that could be rented out.

Shortly after closing, my fiancé paid for me and his mother to come up from Texas and visit. His plan was that the three of us would spend the week painting. That didn’t happen. We did a lot of odds and ends shopping (to the tune of about $1,000) and made endless lists of must-haves and would-be-nice-to-haves. 

We picked out paint for all of the upstairs bedrooms and chose matching door handles. Half way through the trip, though, we realized that if we were going to paint, we were going to need to paint the ceiling and that was a task that none of us were prepared for. Enter our first home contractor and exit $3,000.

About a month after my trip to North Dakota, my fiancé’s father and mother came to do what was meant to be a whirlwind remodel of our basement.

Unfortunately the creepy baby doll and the trumpet did not come included in our home purchase. The quilt-curtains and DIY built-in shelves did.

Unfortunately the creepy baby doll and the trumpet did not come included in our home purchase. The quilt-curtains and DIY built-in shelves did.

So, before I could say “contractor,” my fiancé and his father were demolishing walls in the basement. But as these things happen, his father got very ill with a stomach bug while the renovation was happening and ended up running back and forth to the (newly moved) toilet the whole week. 

Nevertheless, for less than $3,000, they moved the water heater, rearranged the walls to make room for another bedroom and a walk-in closet, completely gutted the bathroom and rewired the basement. All in a week, more or less.

But then things started to happen. A worker from the city came by to install a new water meter and began commenting about how the work was not permitted and quickly found several places in the remodel that were not up-to-code. He also pointed out that our gas water heater was now venting into the basement and could potentially, you know, blow up.

My fiancé began to lose confidence. At this point we had another contractor (worth another $3,000) hard at work finishing odds and ends in the basement. We agreed that it would be a good idea to bring in an outside electrician to examine the work.

So that guy came. It turns out that electricians aren’t crazy about commenting on work that they didn’t do themselves. I mean, go figure, right? So we set about the long process of making our remodel legal and safe.

By being long distance for this remodel, my fiancé is taking the brunt of the work. I’ve seen him go from super excited and ready to plow down walls, to more recently, dead-eyed and eager that we “just finish the basement.”

I’ve seen pictures and taken video tours, but since the remodel work began on the house, I haven’t been there. It’s hard. It’s hard for me and hard for my fiancé who is having to mostly go at it alone.

My fiancé Jarrod and I during happier, pre-renovation days.

My fiancé Jarrod and I during happier, pre-renovation days.

We’re learning a lot along the way. That's what you say when things suck. Remodeling is not easy, things will come up and things will cost a lot more than you initially expect. So far we've spent in the arena of $11,000 remodeling our future home and it will be a long way before we see the night. Our original remodeling budget was $5,000.

There are moments when I dream about some of those slightly more expensive and less charming turn-key town homes that we looked at, and I’m sure my fiancé does as well. 

Thus far, we’re in it and we’re getting through it. And we’ll just have to wait and see how this remodeling experience affects our next home purchase.