Linda Duchaine’s home in Colonial Heritage is over 15 years old, but it looks and feels brand new.
Once inside the front door, which features a sidelight and transom, the décor radiates an incredibly calm vibe. Everything is open and airy. For paint, Linda chose a neutral, muted Sherwin-Williams taupe with crisp white trim accents throughout the home.
The open concept floor plan allows for easy flow between the living spaces. To the left of the foyer, there’s lovely formal living room with an oversized bay window. To the right of the foyer, a gracious, well-appointed dining room leads to a spacious and gleaming kitchen.
“Before” and “after” pictures tell the tale of a complete gut job.
With new stainless-steel appliances, a gourmet gas stove, quartz counters and backsplashes, the kitchen is a dramatic space indeed. A built-in island separates the kitchen from the generously sized family room which leads out to a patio with new pavers that echo the colors and design of interior flooring.
An enormous first floor primary bedroom has been transformed into a delightful space in which to retreat at day’s end, or any time actually. Every fixture, cabinet and surface has been updated in the en suite bathroom and a tub was replaced with a state-of-the-art shower. Additionally, there are three other good-sized bedrooms, three bathrooms and an office.
The lines of the dwelling are elegant, clean, and simple throughout, providing the perfect backdrop for the stately furniture and art Linda has collected over the years.
Must haves: Good vision and a great realtor
Linda bought her townhome in Williamsburg, Virginia in fall of 2021. With the help of her realtor and his contractors, however, in the span of two months, Linda moved into her forever home.
“You just have to have a little vision, and a great realtor,” she says. “John Womeldorf was my realtor, and he was a tremendous help. John was able to size things up instantly. He knew what was good with the house, and what was not so good. Instead of focusing on the sale, he was very collaborative.”
In real estate, clients are often “word of mouth” but not in this case. Linda stumbled across John’s “Mr. Williamsburg” website while surfing the internet back home in Massachusetts.
“I sent him an email and I told him that I was moving to the area,” she says. “Within ten minutes, he responded. He asked when I planned to move down and he helped me at every step of the way. And remember, we were in a pandemic.”
One of the first things Linda did was show John a flyer featuring her townhouse in MA. That home was the “golden standard” that she wanted to replicate here in Williamsburg. He lined up several homes for her to visit, and she quickly fell in love with the Colonial Heritage community.
“I was actually looking for a 55+ neighborhood because that’s what I lived in before,” she says. “From the start, I loved the feel of Colonial Heritage because as big as it is, it feels like a neighborhood.”
John initially showed her several other houses in the community. Several homes fit the bill, with first floor primary bedroom, tall ceilings, a yard and greenspace. Ironically, the house that spoke to her was the one that would require the most work.
She remembers how overgrown the shrubs were, making it hard to even get inside the front door. Once inside, she noticed that everything was rather dark and heavy.
Linda was not daunted.
“John kept saying that this is a lot of house for the money. It’s a townhouse, part of a three-unit dwelling, but this home has 2,954 square feet.”
If you are thinking about buying a fixer-upper, here are some things to consider:
Are the repairs going to be cosmetic or structural?
Cosmetic fixes are those that would make a house prettier, like replacing unattractive awnings or painting or landscaping. In other words, things that won’t cost a lot of money or require a lot of contractors.
But if the problem is structural, fixing it will it be expensive and possibly time consuming as the house might not be in good shape. Structural problems would involve anything that requires a contractor or knocking down walls, like trouble with the foundation, termites, or plumbing.
Though the home Linda bought was structurally sound, she still needed a contractor because of the scope of work she wanted to accomplish.
On the plus side, the home is spacious, solidly built and boasts many lovely features like crown molding, chair rails, columns and ten-foot trayed ceilings. Doorways are also gracious in size, allowing for wheelchair access in the event it ever becomes necessary.
On the minus side, the property was dated and, in Linda’s opinion, did not show well. Fortunately, she was able to see past the outdated fixtures and window treatments, the worn floors, and the heavy furniture. Laminated floors were replaced with engineered hardwood maple which she purchased from Lumber Liquidators. Cabinetry, granite and fixtures were installed in all the bathrooms.
Do you have the time?
Linda is an executive with a New York-based company, so she is able to work remotely. She moved to Williamsburg in order to be closer to family. She says that a home renovation can be disruptive to your life. For that reason, she took John’s suggestion to rent an apartment in town while renovations were going on.
“I highly recommend doing that,” she says. “I would not want to live in a home being renovated. It’s just too stressful. It was great being in Williamsburg because I was able to swing by and check on things, but things will not always go according to plan.”
For instance, Linda ordered all of the flooring in June, and it didn’t come in until September. That was just a supply chain issue, not anyone’s fault. Instead of fretting over what was late or not being done, Linda focused on other tasks.
“I picked out all of the lights at York Lighting in Yorktown,” she says. “Then there was paint to choose, and closets to order and I was lining up all of that stuff. Plus, I have 29 windows, so that meant I had to order a lot of blinds.”
Do you have a budget?
“You have to have a budget,” says Linda. “There’s no way around that.”
Like many who relocate from metropolitan areas like Boston, New York, and Washington, DC, Linda found that her budget was more than sufficient for the estimate John provided her. His connections came in handy too.
“John has so many contacts and connections in the business,” she says. “And that leads to discounts and just doors opening, really. From Sherwin Williams paint to a plumbing company, I got good deals and prompt service.”
To come up with her budget, she started getting estimates and is grateful for John’s guidance and network of professionals.
“I got estimates for everything I wanted to accomplish,” she says.
Realtors often get involved in fixing houses they’re trying to sell, so she was delighted, but not terribly surprised, that John has a great network of local people with whom he works on matters related to renovations and repairs.
“He promised me that the day I closed on this home, his renovator would be here. Well, he was here that afternoon and the renovation started immediately.”
Linda’s settlement took place on September 3, 2021, and she moved into her new home on November 3. “John has a lot of integrity. I know I got a good deal financially and he helped me get it, even though he knew my budget was higher than what I ended up paying.”
What to expect when you buy a fixer-upper
From her first tour of this property, Linda was able to see the possibilities, but there was a question lurking and that was “what are we going to find behind the walls?”
Fortunately, a home inspection revealed that there weren’t any structural issues. Some modifications were simple to accomplish, like replacing light fixtures and ceiling fans. Despite the fact that the home has nearly 30 windows, Linda still found it to be dark at first, so she had recessed lighting installed throughout.
Other infrastructure modifications, of course, were more complicated. Though Linda worked directly with John’s contractor, she made sure to keep John in the loop.
“John delivered on every promise he made,” she says.
In the end, the timing was perfect and there were no major hiccups. Linda started house hunting in Williamsburg last June and made my offer that same month.
“It helped that I knew exactly what I wanted from the outset. I will say, too, that John Womeldorf is one of the most trustworthy and knowledgeable realtors I’ve ever worked with. She has been very happy with her home and her community.
“I just love the people,” she says. “I feel so at home here.
Psssst! I wanted to let you in on a little secret. While I am a real estate agent…I am a different kind of real estate agent. I am creating a revolution in realty by combining everything you love about this area all into one place. Known around town as Mr. Williamsburg, I combine my extensive knowledge of the Williamsburg, Richmond, Northern Neck and Hampton Roads areas with my expertise in helping buyers and sellers navigate the ever-changing local real estate market to create a top-notch experience that checks all of your boxes.
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Your real estate journey is just that…yours. I get that it’ll be unique. It needs a marketing plan and a committed real estate professional to guide you every step of the way. To talk further, you can reach me via phone or text at 757-254-8136 or through email at [email protected].
I look forward to serving your real estate needs and welcoming you to this place that I’m lucky enough to call home!
John Womeldorf, Mr. Williamsburg