From Spotlight: House Hunting? Match Your Needs With Your Budget

How I Turned “What I Could Afford” into My Dream Home

When you can’t afford what you want, you’ve got to be creative.

Renovated kitchen in the Trombley Home
Image: Eve Trombley of Decor Deconstructed

That moment when you realize the home you want to buy is not the home you can afford: What do you do?

Eve and Jason Trombley didn't give up. Nor did they wait until they could save up for their dream home. They were ready to buy, so they did. Even though it wasn't what they first imagined.

Then bit by bit, they turned it into their dream home.

Here's their story:

Eve and Jason Trombley
Image: Eve Trombley of Decor Deconstructed

Homeowners: Eve Trombley, 40, and husband Jason Trombley, 39

Their home is in: Schaghticoke, N.Y.

Type of home they wanted to buy: Custom built, down to every detail

What they bought instead: A 1977 ranch fixer-upper

Sale price: $167,000

Before the Trombleys renovated their home exterior
After the Trombleys renovated their home exterior

Image: Eve Trombley of Decor Deconstructed

Why did you choose this house after giving up on custom building?

Eve: The location. It's in the country, close to our jobs, family, friends, and in a good school district. It was also reasonably priced and had the potential for a facelift without being overwhelming.

The bones were good. It didn't have expensive, pressing issues. We weren't going to have to jack the foundation up or reinstall a furnace and heating system.

(Here's how to tell if you should buy a fixer upper.)

What did you want to change about it?

Eve: The exterior needed a paint job, the fence and landscaping were kind of a hot mess, and we ended up having to replace the well pump within the first year of living here.

We were planning more to improve the floors, gut the bathroom, replace light fixtures, that type of stuff. We really hadn't intended to touch much in the layout other than finishing the basement and adding a bathroom.

But the longer we lived in it, the more possibilities I saw in it. I really need to live with something and think about flow as well as symmetry before settling on the best options.

And that led to bigger changes?

Eve: Oh yes. After we had lived here three years, I figured out the kitchen and dining area could work better, so we completely redid the space. The two spaces were open to each other, and the fridge was encroaching on the dining area.

Before the Trombleys renovated their kitchen
Image: Eve Trombley of Decor Deconstructed

So we closed a hallway off the kitchen with a wall, and put the fridge there.

After the Trombleys renovated their kitchen
Image: Eve Trombley of Decor Deconstructed

It kept the kitchen from being the thoroughfare for the hallway, and in a way it created more floor space. Then we built a doorway between the dining area and kitchen that made each space more defined, but kept the floor plan open.

We also put a doorway between the kitchen and the living room that mirrored the one between the dining room and living room. It made the three spaces flow together much better.

What's still on the to-do list?

Eve: We are planning to build a 16-foot-by-24-foot deck off the back of the house so we can have both an eating area and a sitting area. I want to put board and batten with wallpaper in our hallways soon-ish.

We're going to add a bedroom for my son in the basement, a formal office/studio space for me, and add a toilet and sink down there. And our bathroom is a mess; it needs a new tub, sink, and toilet.

Yowza. Will you ever be finished?

Eve: I have some more big updates in mind. I'd say in about three years we should be mostly settled with what we want to do — if we stick with the existing footprint and don't add on to the house.

I really need to live with something and think about flow as well as symmetry before settling on the best options.

Eve Trombley

Of all your projects, which has had the biggest impact on your life?

Eve: Definitely the reworking of the kitchen/dining room/living room layout. We used to only seat four people in the dining area; now we can seat six comfortably and up to 10 for holiday dinners.

We can talk to guests in the living room now while we're in the kitchen, so the space is better for entertaining.

Home dining room decorated for a holiday dinner
Image: Eve Trombley of Decor Deconstructed

How much have you spent on renovations? Ballpark estimate is fine.

Eve: Around $20,000. That tally is 99% just materials. Everything has been DIY. Jason works in construction, so we've done most of the work. And he has a network of handy friends to help him with different projects.

Wow, having a husband who's a carpenter with generous friends is handy. How much do you think you saved on labor?

I would say we probably at least $10,000 to $20,000, but I'm not super well-versed in labor costs.

What do you think your house is worth after all your work?

Eve: We would probably be able to sell it for about $190,000. Things like the pool have been expensive and can go either way with resale. But we weren't concerned about recouping the cost if we ever sell; it's been worth it because we use it so much.

Swimming pool at the Decor Deconstructed home
Image: Eve Trombley of Decor Deconstructed

What's the hardest part of a home renovation?

Eve: The middle of a project can feel monotonous and never-ending. There's often a point where you think, "What did I do? I should have left this alone!"

You may need to step away for a week or two so you can recharge and come back with new motivation and fresh eyes. It's all normal.

What advice would you give to someone tackling their first home renovation?

Eve: I would say not to bite off more than you can chew. Look at your obligations to figure out how much work you can put into a house. If you can only work on the house on weekends, it might be better to go with something that is livable and doesn't need to be torn down to the studs.

Also, make a list of all the things that need to be done, per room. And expect to spend more money than you planned. And more time.

Has it been worth all the work?

Eve: Yes, it has, and here's when I knew that. The original owner of the house stopped by. She brought photos of what the house looked like when she owned it. We could see there had once been an enclosed porch off the dining room, like we're planning to add!

It made me feel even more connected to the house. Maybe we were meant to buy it.

(Here's how another couple changed their minds once they started house-hunting.)

A headshot of Leanne Potts
Leanne Potts

Leanne Potts is an Atlanta-based journalist and serial home remodeler. She's tackled five fixer-uppers and is working on a sixth. She's written about everything from forest fires to dog-friendly decor and spent a decade leading the digital staff of HGTV.