What Is A House With “Good Bones”? Here’s What I Was Looking For…

Over the last years that I’ve been remodeling and decorating our house, I’ve had quite a few people say something to me like, “I have no idea how you looked at that house in its original state and saw potential!” I had someone else say that just yesterday, so it got me to thinking about this idea of houses with “good bones.”

I’ll admit that the house was bad when we bought it. And some things about it went beyond bad.

Interestingly, the thing I hated the most about the house the first time I saw it, and the thing that almost made me keep on driving and not stop to look, was the lack of a paved driveway. Of course, now I’m so glad that the house doesn’t have a driveway! When you look at most houses with a converted garage, the thing that makes it look so awkward is often the driveway dead ending right in front of that converted garage, making it very obvious that it used to be a garage. Thankfully, I won’t have that to deal with.

So I learned over the last years that sometimes, the biggest drawbacks of a fixer upper can actually turn out to be a good thing.

So what exactly was I looking for in a house?

Well, I knew that I wanted a fixer upper. I had just always dreamed of taking an old, neglected house and turning it into something that I thought was pretty.

(It still has a way to go, but it’s getting there!)

So I was looking for a house that had “good bones.” If you’ve watched any amount of home renovation shows, you’ve heard that term. But what I learned very quickly is that the term “good bones” is very subjective.

I’ll never forget my brother walking through the house the first time and saying, “Well, I’m just glad it’s you and not me.” (Ha! Little did he know that on several occasions, he would be dragged into my schemes. 😀 )

I’ll never forget the concerned look on my mom’s face when she walked through the house the first time, looking at the terribly outdated kitchen…

…and the ceilings that were all covered in polystyrene tiles hiding who-knows-what, and the awful green carpet in almost every room covering what we believed were hardwood floors, but we had no idea what condition they were in.

Entryway with old green carpet

I just remember her trying to be as positive and supportive as possible, but failing to completely hide the extreme concern she was feeling inside. On more than one occasion, she asked, “Kristi, are you sure you can do this? I mean, this is going to be so much work! This is bigger than any project you’ve ever done.”

And my response was, “I can do it, Mom! I know I can!”

I didn’t know. I had no idea. In fact, I was excited, but part of me was also scared. But I knew it was a challenge that I wanted to take on, and I’d regret it if I didn’t try.

But at least the house had good bones, right?

To be honest, I don’t really even know what that means. Did the house actually have good bones? What does that even refer to?

Almost immediately after moving in, we had to have the entire plumbing system replaced because the old, original galvanized pipes had corroded to the point that water would barely trickle through them. We also had to have the main sewer pipe from the house to the street replaced because it still had the original clay pipe that was broken and had tree roots growing into it, causing it to get clogged very easily. That whole plumbing upgrade was pretty darn expensive. I don’t remember exactly how much it cost, but it was thousands of dollars.

The house also had no HVAC system. Each room was cooled by a window unit air conditioner, like this beauty in the living room.

I think we used these for the first two years we were in this house.

And the heating system? Well, that was just downright scary and dangerous. We used the furnace the first winter we were here, but every time the furnace would come on, it would make a big, exploding sound that would literally shake the house. Every night when we went to bed, I would wonder if the house (and us in it) would survive the night.

Our second winter here, I refused to use that furnace, so we heated our entire house with space heaters. That was a miserable winter, and quite expensive. But at least I didn’t fear for our lives each night as we went to bed. I believe it was the following summer that we had the HVAC system installed, which almost cost as much as my car.

The original electrical wiring in this house was outdated and dangerous in some places — only 100 amp service, old and brittle wiring, open junctions in walls and the attic that were buried in insulation, etc. We upgraded to 200 amp service, and all but three rooms have been rewired.

We’ve also been replacing all of the windows. The original ones were single-pane, very drafty, and had been painted so many times that they no longer opened properly.

And some of the original windows were missing altogether and had been replaced with aluminum windows. We still have a few to replace in the bedrooms, but we’re over the halfway mark now with installing new windows. I’ve also replaced all of the doors, both interior and exterior.

So was the layout of the house a “good bone”? Not really. I’ve found so many things about this house to be very awkward. Remember the whole dining room episode? The builders of this house clearly intended for the room that I call the music room to be the dining room. But that wouldn’t work for us because a table and chairs in the middle of that room would make it impossible for Matt to maneuver through there. So I wrestled with where to put a dining room. I tried to turn the living room into a dining room, but that didn’t really work. I finally settled on the area that the previous owners called the den…

But because the only way to access that room is to walk through the kitchen, I still can’t bring myself to actually call it a dining room. Even though it’s our only eating area, I call it a breakfast room.

breakfast room after - upholstered benches, artwork, wall sconces and pantry doors

And while I’m very pleased with how it turned out, I still find the placement to be strange. If I had had the opportunity to design a house from scratch, I never would have designed it with this layout. In other areas, I’ve made major changes like opening up walls, widening and moving doorways, just to make the layout flow a bit better and make a little more sense.

So where are these good bones? The foundation? Perhaps, but we had to have it leveled, and it needs to be leveled again and have more piers added to the front bedroom.

The subloor? Well, I’ve literally replaced the subfloor in two rooms.

The walls? Well, major areas of the walls had to be completely removed and reframed.

Nothing remains of the original kitchen or hallway bathroom. All of the drywall and trim has been replaced, as has all of the exterior siding and the roof. The garage with the doors that were too narrow for my car has been converted at great expense to create a studio. We’re going to tear down a bathroom and the sunroom, convert the master bedroom in a master bathroom, add on a new bedroom, family room, and laundry/utility room.

So what “good bones” were there? Well, I guess in the end, we’re talking about some framing (a significant amount, to be sure) and the original hardwood floors in the original part of the house. Although, to be honest, I had no idea that those floors were salvageable when I decided that this was the house I wanted. They very well could have all been damaged and needing to be replaced.

So when it comes right down to it, I think the idea of “good bones” simply boils down to “I think I can work with this.” And that’s highly subjective.

Heck, just the fact that realtors place so much emphasis on wall color when you put your house on the market shows just how little tolerance buyers at large have for houses that may need some work. While others are quite content ripping the roof, siding, sheathing, and drywall off, being left with the foundation and some framed walls, and rebuilding from there, all while calling it “good bones.”

All I know is that when I saw this house…

…I said to myself, “I can work with this.” One room at a time, one project at a time, I knew I could work with it and turn it into something I could be proud of, and I wasn’t going to let a wonky foundation, or polystyrene ceiling tiles, or awful green carpet, or a dark outdated kitchen, or anything else, stop me.

What about you? Did you buy a fixer upper with “good bones”? What exactly were those bones that you were looking for? Or are you like me, and you can’t really put your finger on it, but you just knew it was a house you could work with?

You Might Also Like...


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Julie S
    June 20, 2018 at 10:42 am

    Ha! So… sounds like your house didn’t have good bones after all. IMO “good bones” means the proportions, placement, and flow of the rooms are pleasing even though the finishes may be fugly scary bad. Like you don’t have to do much to the actual walls/floorplan, though much carpet ripping, refinishing, wallpaper removal, etc, may be required.

    We got a house with all dated 80’s finishes and good bones! We did add in a wall to partly enclose the total open plan kitchen which was spilling out into other living zones too much, but the window placement, nooks, vaulted ceiling, and so forth didn’t need to be altered. And the house is really livable in the layout. I love it now that the peach wallpaper and vinyl sheet flooring is gone!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Theresa P
    June 20, 2018 at 10:42 am

    We’ve bought 1 condo and 2 houses in our lives, thus far. Our realtor when we were purchasing our first house said “you can change anything you want about a house (with enough money, of course), but can never change where that house is located”. I thought that was great advice and I think is applicable in your case. The best “bone” of your house is the huge, in-town lot. You can make literally millions of changes to your house, but you can’t change that!

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      June 20, 2018 at 10:48 am

      That’s a good point. Had this house been situated on 20 acres in the country, I never would have even looked at it. (I’m so not a country girl!) And had it been located on a tiny lot in the city or a suburb, I would have passed. The one-acre lot in town was the biggest selling point this house had going for it in my mind.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 20, 2018 at 10:45 am

    I am SO impressed with what you have done! People (like me) tend to build a big new house when there are so many houses with “good bones” that would make such a beautiful home. You deserve much praise for your insight and willingness to bring out the glory of this adorable home. I don’t ordinarily comment but just had to this time.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 20, 2018 at 10:52 am

    I bought a fixer upper in 2012, but only because my price range here in Baltimore, MD severely restricted what I could get. I spent almost 6 years putting blood, sweat, and tears (too much of all three) into it, and just sold it this year with significant profit.

    The “good bones” I liked were the sizes and layouts of the rooms. It was light and airy, even though there were only four major rooms.

    If the neighborhood were better, I might have stayed and continued working. But I just moved into a much newer and better maintained home, and already I feel like a weight has been lifted. Trying to stay ahead of the “issues” associated with an older, poorly maintained home was not my cup of tea, as it turns out! So, kudos to you! Keep trucking and make it your forever home 🙂

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 20, 2018 at 11:00 am

    While you have done the most wonderful job with this house, I would not have taken it on for one reason. The house was not level and you say it still isn’t. That scares the heck out of me! After all this work, if more leveling is required, isn’t this going to cause cracks in your baseboards and shoe molding? That is more work redoing and I HATE redoing things over and over! All of the houses I have ever bought have been on slabs so I haven’t had any major leveling problems. When adding hard wood floors, a small amount of self leveling material has been used, but that is easy and a one time thing. So, while I love all of your abilities and skills, this job is way beyond anything I would tackle!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 20, 2018 at 11:20 am

    Yup. I did not buy the house of my dreams, I bought the house I could afford. And back in 1991 that meant 9.5% interest with an FHA mortgage AND PMI!!! 😱 I was doing this solo and not making those big bucks a new RN gets
    So, over the years with each tax refund I did another project. I don’t have your talent/know-how so I kept the Trades well employed.
    I too, lived without AC for almost 10 years and a crappy kitchen (no DW)for at least seven. Two roofs, new windows, HVAC with asbestos abatement, siding, a new driveway, a bathroom gut, New landscaping and a privacy fence, later and I’m ready to sell. My neighborhood hasn’t appreciated in price like a lot of surrounding ones but right now it’s at its highest value given this seller’s market.
    I also paid it off in 22 years which I most proud of. I’ve done my share of projects taking my backyard from no grass to a lovely garden but for the most part I have to save up & hire out . My little house’s ‘good bones’ means that it is well-built (1948). When I put insulation up in the attic I just stared at the trusses and thought to myself “this is such a great little house”. I could wax poetic all afternoon but you and I have better things to do. Thanks for listening 😉

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      June 20, 2018 at 11:34 am

      I could feel the love in your description. 🙂 I didn’t know when we bought our 1960’s ranch style 8 years ago that I would want to tear into it like we have but it’s been great getting it tweaked to better suit us. Unfortunately, I no longer have the desire to do most of the work myself and it’s expensive! I would say “good bones” to me says the foundation is solid, the floor plan is basically good, it just may need some major updates like down to the studs. We’ve still got another couple years of tweaking till the major things are done. Another bath project is scheduled for August. More kitchen work in January. 🙂

      • Reply To This Comment ↓
        June 20, 2018 at 1:58 pm

        Thanks for your kind words. My beau and I will be relocating to Florida soon so I hope to get some of the “fancy” I didn’t get first time around!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 20, 2018 at 11:32 am

    So… tell us, are you happy with your decision? And are you putting more into this place than you would ever get back (Real Estate Value)? Do you forsee this to be your forever home? Please share. Kuddos to you for all that you have done, you do amazing work.

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      June 20, 2018 at 12:49 pm

      I am very happy with my decision (and it was all my decision — Matt was willing to buy anything within reason as long as I was happy 😀 ). I honestly don’t know if we’re putting more into it than we would ever get back. My neighbor just recently had a realtor run comps on his house, and I was (very pleasantly) surprised at the number. And then I got on Zillow last night to see what the numbers look like for our house and surrounding houses, and once again, I was shocked. In a good way. But it’s hard to know what will happen in the market long term, and where it might be at a time in the future if we decided to sell. But when we bought this house, we bought it with the intention that it would be our forever home, and we would spend whatever is needed to make it ours without regard for resale.

      • Reply To This Comment ↓
        June 20, 2018 at 1:56 pm

        Thanks for sharing, I am glad to know that even with all the work, and ups and downs, that you are happy. That is great.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 20, 2018 at 11:39 am

    We bought our first home while it was under construction 36 years ago and we were able to pick out everything, carpet, light fixtures etc and the house has a semi-basement meaning the walls are half under ground. We had two small children when we bought the house and added a third the year after we bought it. We considered buying another new house about 15 years ago and were looking at the new model home on a cold, windy day. Standing there in the living room, I could hear the windows rattling in the walls from the wind blowing and said to husband, “the windows do not rattle in our house”. When our house was built, the builder was trying to build a house that was super energy efficient 36 years ago. One with 6 inch walls instead of the standard 4, with higher than required insulation, and more. Today what our builder did is code here. This house is solid with ‘good bones’. So we decided to start remodeling instead. We replaced all the windows and doors, added siding, remodeled the kitchen and replaced our original deck. Then we replaced all our living/high traffic areas with wood flooring, updated both bathrooms. Seven years ago, we finished our basement with a fireplace, bedroom, 3/4 bath and dry bar with MW and small fridge. that is our guest room and family room…we hang out there all the time. I’m really glad we kept this one.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 20, 2018 at 12:00 pm

    It takes a lot to keep a blog going and this house certainly provided enough material to keep one going for a long time. The transformation has been awe-inspiring. If more people could envision what neglected houses could be, we could erase so many eyesores.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 20, 2018 at 12:06 pm

    Yes, I did buy a home with potential. That’s all it had. I bought a terribly run down lake cottage. But it has 80 feet of waterfront onto the lake and is steps away from the beach bordering a beautiful bay. I replaced everything. Plumbing, heating and cooling, electrical, sub flooring, roof, and all the framing and drywall. Plus changed the floorplan and did two small additions. My husband and did not want to buy it, it was in terrible condition. But I knew this was the one. I wish I’d had more money to spend on the finishes but most was spent just rebuilding. So it isn’t fancy but it is ours and it’s like new now.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 20, 2018 at 12:17 pm

    Christy, I too dreamed of fixing up an older home that reminded me of the 100 year old home I grew up in. Well my husband and I purchased a 31 year old brick home in Missouri sitting on a 2 1/2 acre plot of land, very secluded with lots of trees. The previous homeowner did some renovations and the house was beautiful. However, I knew there would be changes so the house would function for my family. Like you we replaced everything over a period of 17 years from 2 new roofs, gutters, windows, a new kitchen, flooring, plumbing, all new electrical, landscaping, and two renovated bathrooms. The satisfaction we got from making that home ours, all the blood, sweat and lots of tears made it my pride and joy. I have followed you for years, but never commented. Today I couldn’t help myself because when we purchased this house, I couldn’t figure out how to describe the good bones we saw in it, all I knew was that it felt like home.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 20, 2018 at 12:24 pm

    The “good bones” of my fixer upper were the footprint and ceiling height of the two rooms on the ground floor of the main body of the house, and the fact that it is a storey and a half (the upstairs rooms have knee walls because they are into the eaves). Oh, and the foundation under the main house was solid.

    Other than that – it was a horror show. That fact made it priced so low in my market that borrowing additional funds to renovate and build an addition to replace the one that was there (two rooms sitting on 12 x 12 railway ties – yikes!!) was an economic possibility.

    I have always been into decorating and it was my chance to put my stamp on a house of my own and not be at the mercy of landlords limiting the possibilities.

    Most of the grunt work was done right away – new electrical, new plumbing, new drywall throughout… and some of the work has been chipped away at over the years. I’m now at the point where I’m renovating the renovations. LOL. I’m making a couple of changes in the kitchen and replaced the flooring on the main level.

    All that is why I enjoy your blog so much. I can identify with your journey. I wish the internet and personal blogs had been a real thing when I started mine – I would have had a blog much like yours. LOL.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 20, 2018 at 1:30 pm

    I’ve been following you for years, but how long have you had the house? Would you pick that again or would you have a different view on a fixer upper?
    You do give me hope, I’m going to take on some big projects starting in the fall (2 bathrooms and my living room) and in the past I would have gotten a contractor, but I’m going to try and do most of the work myself, we’ll see……………
    Thanks, always love your blog!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 20, 2018 at 1:30 pm

    Maybe a little off the subject but didn’t you say awhile back that
    “Fixer Upper” was doing a house across from your Mom? (maybe I’m not remembering correctly) Did that ever come to fruition? Just curious.

    You are also my idol, what you have done and your “I got this” attitude. We worked on a house for 7 years. You have to be persistent and willing to learn–and willing to make mistakes.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 20, 2018 at 1:44 pm

    Several years ago, friends showed me the house (& 11 acres on a lake) they were buying, I asked if they had talked to their psychiatrist lately! (And I’m a builder’s daughter so I can usually see possibilities.) It was awful. But…11 acres on a lake. They have done a fantastic job. The house is small but absolutely adorable. And the land is beautiful. Beauty & bones…all in the eye of the beholder.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 20, 2018 at 2:15 pm

    I traded a new-build brick ranch in a “good” suburb for a pre-Civil War wreck on 2 1/2 acres some 20 minutes away. An old farmstead, old yews, tens of different species of trees, saplings as big as thumbs in the gutters (where there were gutters). A roof with a 7/12 pitch and SIX layers of shingles over the original boards (no sheathing). Balloon framed. As with most old farm houses, the rooms were “tacked on” as needed. A wooden ladder laid on its side held up the end of the kitchen. Mummified cats and moles under the flooring. Plywood screwed over the broken windows, NO central heat the first winter…Chicago area, used sleeping bags and knit hats at night, sno-mobile suits during the day. My Mom CRIED when she saw it. Five years (and a TON of work) later it was “to die for”. It was the property I wanted…I knew I could change the house.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 20, 2018 at 2:56 pm

    It doesn’t matter if the house has “good bones”; it’s much more important that the DIYer has good bones!😂😂😂👍🏻

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Janette @ The 2 Seasons
    June 20, 2018 at 3:34 pm

    We’re in the middle of a total gut job on a house that has good bones. From the roof to the windows, to the electricity, plumbing, HVAC, bathrooms, kitchens, mouldings, doors, hardware,etc. We’re adding a room, and we changed he floor plan a lot. We are keeping the front door and maybe the front door hardware as a nod to the house’s past.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 20, 2018 at 3:57 pm

    We bought a small 900 sq ft (plus a basement of the same size) house on a 1/4 acre lot three years ago. It was built in 1962. The basement was unfinished, and the layout of the upstairs, particularly the kitchen, was terrible. But the house itself was solid, with a recently refinished roof, and a relatively new furnace. The one big functional thing that we need to redo is the weeping tile, and it’s on the list for this summer or next. But the lot was big for in town with very little done with the yard (which was a bonus for us), and the location was good. The first thing we did was move the location of the stairs to the basement and gut and rework the kitchen ourselves in our spare time (which included tearing down walls, redoing electrical, an SUV moving plumbing). It took us well over a year. That was crazy, especially with me homeschooling and parenting four kids while my husband works full time! Three years later, we are still working to get the renos done, and sometimes it feels like there is no end in sight, but at the same time, it is incredibly satisfying to make a house suit our needs, and to learn how to do so many new things that neither of us ever thought we’d be able to. The only problem is that we may need to sell in the next few years, and the thought of doing that after all the work we’ve put into it is SO disheartening. I don’t think I could do this again, so if we do move, it’s going to have to be into a house where all we need to do is cosmetic stuff.

    • Reply To This Comment ↓
      June 20, 2018 at 3:59 pm

      *and moving plumbing… not “an SUV moving plumbing.” Autocorrect is so weird sometimes.

      • Reply To This Comment ↓
        Marianne in Mo.
        June 20, 2018 at 4:39 pm

        I laughed at “SUV” !!! You and your husband sound like me and mine, when we were just starting out. We learned as we went, and each time we felt like superheroes when we finished a project. When we decided to sell, after a LONG TIME in that house, I thought I would be sad, but I honestly wasn’t too sad. We had done as much as we could without going overboard, and I knew we had “a pig”, so as much as we dressed it up, it was always going to still be “a pig.” Hopefully, when you have to move on, you will feel pride in knowing you did good work and are turning the house over to someone who will appreciate the work they DON’T have to do! Good Luck!

        • Reply To This Comment ↓
          June 21, 2018 at 6:08 pm

          Thanks for your comment! I think that if we had spent a good chunk of time in the house, like 15 or more years, I wouldn’t feel so bad about leaving it behind, because I would feel like we had made the house into what we wanted and needed and then used it well for a number of years. But if we only stay here until the renos are at a point to make the house sellable (it’s definitely not at that point right now) and never get to use it in its “finished” state, I feel like that would be pretty hard.

          • Reply To This Comment ↓
            June 21, 2018 at 6:09 pm

            … then again, if we are able to sell at a significant profit, I feel like I would get over it faster, haha!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Marianne in Mo.
    June 20, 2018 at 4:30 pm

    While we have never bought an existing home, I have to say that even when we built, the “good bones” were primarily location, square footage, room flow and the lot itself. Our first house, that we stayed in for 27 years, was practically a rebuilt house when we sold it. We made a lot of changes, added square footage (downward and outward!) and did all we could without gutting it to make it truly what we wanted at that final stage. We still had a too small master bedroom and bath, and the kitchen needed more room as far as we were concerned, but we would have overbuilt the house if we had done those things. It was already considered the best house in the neighborhood. For us, we felt the area was slowly showing signs of depreciation – more homes being bought by absent landlords and going to rentals, a couple of which were actually rented to drug dealers! In our 50’s, with our children gone on their own, we decided to sell. Thankfully, we sold in less than a month, and the buyer needed 90 day possession! We had ALMOST enough time to build a new house, but we did move in with my husbands’ bachelor brother for two months. It turned out that our first homes’ neighborhood is about the same, no worse, no better, but we are still glad we moved on. While we only stayed in the 2nd house 7 years, we are now on a lake on one acre, but a bit away from shopping, in a house with the BEST floor plan for us – it’s the same as the 2nd house, with a few tweaks! I’d say LOCATION and best use of square footage are “good bones!”

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 20, 2018 at 5:03 pm

    We bought our first house just five summers ago, and while a few issues have come up (the semi-finished basement floods in heavy rains) the “good bones” that caused us to buy it are still front and center:
    It has a great layout… open rooms that flow well on the first floor, only five steps to get to the second (technically it’s a split level), big windows, wood floors… and a good sized garage that was easily converted to my husband’s woodshop.
    It has a nice size lot for our city, 1/3 acre, and it’s fenced with both a chain link fence but more… a large, mature hedge of shrubs and trees over 90% of the back yard. Privacy is easy and becoming even better as we add to the plantings.
    It’s almost a dead end street (just a small alley at top) in a neighborhood that is young people, some just starting families, and retired couples … friendly, helpful, safe.
    We could totally deal with the wallpaper from the 60’s and the kitchen remodeled in the early 80’s, and the furnace that didn’t heat enough hot water to even fill a small size tub. All of that is/was changeable… but the time it took those trees to grow? Just enough space for our work and interests? The nice people on our street? Those were our “good bones”.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 20, 2018 at 6:35 pm

    We did that as well! We really wanted something that was one story (thinking when I’m 85, I really don’t want to be climbing stairs). It has definitely been a fixer upper…still is a work in progress, but at least this way we can give it character and make it our own. To me (and I speak from experience), that is really hard to do in new construction. You go, girl! 🙂

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Sharon H
    June 20, 2018 at 6:58 pm

    Kristi, I think the good bones in your house are there today because of all the work you’ve done! It certainly has good bones NOW.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 20, 2018 at 7:13 pm

    So far I’ve never owned a home (I’m in southern California and with the insanity of the rental and real estate market here, it’s likely I never will!), but I’ve lived in a number of homes my parents owned over the years and to me, good bones deal strictly with the house itself, not the lot size, and not the location, which are separate considerations. A home in a good neighborhood on a good sized lot at a good price, that also has good bones? BUY IT!

    To me, good bones relate to the structure and integrity of the house, which includes foundation, solid roof and good walls and floors, a good, sensible layout, nice room size, and good electrical and plumbing. A good house that has been MAINTAINED. It doesn’t need to be new or turn key. Any of those things I listed may be in need of upgrading, you may even feel the need to tear down a wall or gut a kitchen or a bathroom, but you shouldn’t be afraid of falling through the floor, of the roof leaking or caving in, or of turning on a light switch (or the heater) and wondering if it’s going to spark and explode! In fact, you may feel the need to essentially update or reno the entire house, but a house with good bones is going to have a solid structure that likely doesn’t need any work at all. There are incredibly old homes in Europe and here in the U.S. that even with today’s lifestyle and preferences, can be considered to have good bones.

    Honestly, with all the work you’ve done on your home and in the process, some of the quirky, jury-rigged things you’ve found (like one of the walls in your breakfast room, and the bad foundation!) I would not consider your home to have good bones. I believe you’ve said the roof is new, so it’s got a good hat! HOWEVER, by the time you are done with it, it’s going to have excellent bones, *including* a great lot in a good neighborhood, so it’ll have location going for it, too. If anyone can turn a sad, old, neglected, run down home into a showplace, it’s you!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 20, 2018 at 7:57 pm

    Kristi. YOU and Matt are the bones.This house will be everything that ya’ll wanted. You will make sure that it’s the perfect place you both call “Home”..

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 20, 2018 at 7:58 pm

    I’ve renovated 4 homes in 10 years. Good bones for me refers to the basics (location, footprint, elevation on the lot, major structural elements, and most importantly, how it functions for you). Everything else is cosmetic (including moving walls). Keep up the great work!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Deanna Middleton
    June 20, 2018 at 8:27 pm

    Our “good bones” was that our 1948 house was descent to live in while we slowly renovate it, level for the most part, had central AC, and had a bit of land in a good location. It also has two great areas that can be renovated into additional space as funds allow. 💗😊💗

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 20, 2018 at 8:42 pm

    Brave you are! You have lived in the house during all this??? That is commendable. i bought a little house 880 sq ft and completely gutted it. Inside and out. The only thing we did not do was the roof. it is cute as a button but I did not live it it. The house was basically a frame. We moved walls and windows so it really was a new build. floor was unlevel so fixed that too. I AM SO IMPRESSED you did it by yourself. I did not. If I had I would still be be done. you are a smart hardworking woman! That’s why I read your blog. Enjoy.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Mrs Mike
    June 20, 2018 at 9:43 pm

    We bought our rental house (about a month before you bought yours!) and most people would have agreed that the house had ‘good bones’. Our landlord even tried to get us to talk to the VA and have them approve it for more (we declined). We knew the house needed a lot of work because he literally did the absolute minimum in repairs and most of what was done was a band aid. Five years later we’ve had to gut and re-do every bathroom in the house due to water damage, replace the HVAC and duct work, and we’ve replace all the appliances in the house as they died a slow death from brown outs because of the shoddy electrical work. What’s best about this house is the neighborhood it’s in and my amazing neighbors. We’re still updating and making changing things to our taste, and I don’t regret buying it, but ‘good bones’ is questionable!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Margie E
    June 21, 2018 at 12:51 am

    30 years ago it was the right number of bedrooms and location, close to both offices. We very proudly added a full 1st floor bath and an office. A porch lift and stair glides as Jim’s polio progressed. And two roofs, windows, siding, insulation, plumbing, and wiring. Kitchen and bath gut jobs and our 1924 colonial was just what we wanted. But when Jim died, I found a condo and gave the kids the house. I did most of the painting and finishes before I moved. I am adding stuff as I go. I do smaller projects now. Good bones. Another phrase for home!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Kate Hollingsworth
    June 21, 2018 at 5:38 am

    Our house had timber floors and that’s all it took for me to think it had “good bones”. I could see past the pee stained carpet, the roach infested kitchen, the sheets on the windows. We’ve renovated every square inch of this house and the thing I love the most is … those beautiful timber floors. xx

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Rhonda K
    June 21, 2018 at 8:28 am

    I love all that you have done. Couple of questions: Did you have a budget in mind for the entire project? Do you feel like you have stuck to it? I think every project I start out on costs me more than I planned. Any tips for staying on track?

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 21, 2018 at 9:55 am

    I think you hit the nail on the head. It’s a “house you can work with.” It’s also a house that has the right features from the get-go that you can’t change (like a certain sized yard) or features that you want that you perhaps can’t afford to change (like a garage or the right number of rooms or a working heating system, etc.)

    When we were buying our first home, we looked at two houses in particular. One, I really liked for its size, character, property size, etc. But it needed exterior siding work (everything was peeling and rotting), a brand-new heating system (original steam boiler with asbestos wrapped plumbing), and a brand-new kitchen floor-to-ceiling relatively soon (the kitchen was really old and had water damage and crooked cabinets and the space was tiny).

    The other house was a vacant foreclosure. It had 6 inches of water flooding the basement because the sump pump had failed, smelled of cat urine in the mudroom, and had old lady flowery walpaper and pastel teal paint over half the trim. Not our style at all. But I could WORK with it. It had a huge private yard, a great neighborhood, all working mechanicals, a working (yet ugly) kitchen, and a beautiful big living room built for entertaining. Everything bad about the house was fixable. I could work with it. And the immediately needed work was within our budget. My wife wasn’t so sure initially 😉

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Rebecca B
    June 21, 2018 at 12:26 pm

    I like your discreetly sarcastic comment about the A/C window unit. “This beauty in the living room” ha ha. I have often wondered what people lived there before you. The were probably elderly and finished it the way they wanted it in the 60’s and never updated it again. You have certainly had your work cut out for you and I often wonder how you can handle that you may have bit off more than you can chew. But you’re doing it! This house is going to be great in a few years and hopefully you will be able to sell it and make a good profit. (Because once it’s done, what are the Kristi fans going to do then?)

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    [email protected]
    June 21, 2018 at 1:56 pm

    We are remodeling an old 1900s farmhouse on 10 gorgeous acres. It does have good bones to me because I like the floor plan (2 story, 4 bedrooms on top, large kitchen) and location plus the acreage. I love the front porch. But it needs so much work! Top to bottom, inside and out! It was much like yours, Kristi, and we still have a long way to go. Then there will be gardens, landscaping, orchard, animal pens and barn to fix up, too. But when it’s done? Oh…it’ll be my own slice of paradise. I can see it all in my mind. We’ll get there someday. It’ll be worth it to have just what I want, but a low mortgage payment.

    You have taught me it isn’t always crazy to buy a diamond in the rough. Also to use color and not decorate for John Q. Public, but for me. Because once this little beauty is done, no way I’m selling, even if we could profit hundreds of thousands! This will remain all mine so that one day we can just relax and enjoy it.

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 21, 2018 at 2:01 pm

    As I read through the comments, I was trying to decide what “good bones” means to me. When we were looking for our house, I remember my husband repeatedly saying that he wanted central air, a concrete poured basement, and outbuildings. Those were his “must haves”. After our first walk through, he was ready to make an offer. All I could think about was how ugly the house was. He talked me into making an offer by encouraging me that I could make any changes that I wanted to the inside. So, I think “good bones” to me would be 1) Is it the type of home you want (1 story, 2 story, bi-level)? 2) Does it have good square footage for the way you live? To me, these are things that aren’t easy to modify or just too costly. Not that it’s inexpensive to renovate, but perhaps more attainable. We are about 5 years in and we have borrowed space to add a bathroom, renovated a bathroom, removed a wall and put in a brand new kitchen, and updated two bedrooms with paint and flooring. I love our house…minus the 2 rooms that haven’t yet been touched. They’re livable and my husband is ready to focus on the exterior. He claims our house has no curb appeal. I live on the inside 🙂

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 21, 2018 at 4:35 pm

    I inherited my flat, which is about 25 years old. I did have some choice, as there were two flats. I preferred this one (and thankfully my brother preferred the other one), mostly because it’s much cooler in the summer, warmer in the winter and quieter all year round. My brother on the other hand preferred the other one, mostly because of the street view I think. So basically, what made me prefer this one, made him prefer the other (one man’s meat is another man’s poison, as they say).

    Another (but very secondary) reason I preferred this one is because the layout seems to be more straightforward, and amenable to modifications. Which is an odd thing to say really, because the layout, as it was, made for insufficient spaces. And because it took me two years and countless ideas to actually find ONE way that I could change it and make it suit my needs. To do that, I completely demolished the kitchen and also part of a wall, making the part that was left look like a column. Bear in mind that we are talking about bricks, mortar and concrete, not the kind of houses you have there. And it was only me and my father.

    I remember the night after we demolished the wall, my dad was full of doubt but like your mom, didn’t clearly say it (unlike my mother who had very clearly tried to convince me to do something “normal”). And after he left I was looking at the mess and I had a panic attack of “OMG I destroyed part of the building!!!” But like you said, you know you have to at least try it! And you push onwards. Renovation took a while, but the flat has turned out great and admired by all who have seen it – warmly approved by a decorator too! You have to be daring if you are going to do something different, and you can’t make an omelet without breaking an egg (or in this case, rebuild without demolishing what was there before)!

    What was your (and everyone’s) scariest moment?

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    Carol Willis-Holden
    June 22, 2018 at 9:32 am

    You are amazing! I’m also assuming you got a great deal on the house because, good bones or not, there was a lot that was just mandatory fixing up! I’m new to your blog, but I love everything you’ve done and are doing! You are a total inspiration to me!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 22, 2018 at 11:44 am

    Timely question! I’d say good flow, good layout and footage that works for your lifestyle, well maintained, structurally sound, laid out on the lot harmonius of good location, sensible design and good location that works for you.

    Personal things I’d include is if the house works with your non negotiables and needs and if you think you’re up to changing the things that’ll make the house work for you.

    Yesterday I looked at 2 houses in a quiet country community. One house fit (though it had an offer) my “good bones” because it was solid and cared for. It was nearly original and “retro” and the mechanicals like water heater, etc needed replacing, but I could totally work with that.

    The other house was a farmhouse on large acreage, but had been rented by some guys who left it messy, worn out, and stinking of cigarettes. Changes inside and out! No way! But for somebody with the budget and will to fix it, “good bones” for sure!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 22, 2018 at 11:49 am

    It’s also fun reading on how people have approached DIY. I like to read Retrorenovation.com, with lots of stories on how folks have renovated their older homes to look more like the 40s-50s-60s even 70s, with cool results! It’s all what you’re looking for, I guess!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 22, 2018 at 8:36 pm

    Seems to me that you’ve pretty much replaced almost everything! But you DO seem to have a gorgeous yard! Or at least the “bones” of a gorgeous yard!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 24, 2018 at 9:26 am

    You are amazing! You should feel incredibly proud of what you have accomplished! I don’t know how you have the energy and determination to do and redo spaces over and over until they feel right to you! I really admire you!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 27, 2018 at 5:05 am

    My husband and I have decided that at some point we will downsize from our 3000 sq ft 3 story 4BR/3BA house (on a 1/4 acre lot on a hill). We are in the process of renovating the home his parents bought in 1945. On the plus side, it’s in California’s Napa Valley, a 4 minute walk to a nice grocery store and a 20 minute walk to downtown Napa. It’s 1231 square feet and one story. My 97 year old Father in law lived alone in it after my mother in law died until he also passed away. On the downside, it was built in 1938, and due to my father in law’s disability, has about 60 years of deferred maintenance.

    Since we took ownership a year ago, we’ve torn out all the concrete hardscaping and had new pavers put in (front walk, long driveway to a detached garage behind the house, and a large patio). Like you, we had the main sewer line and the main water line replaced. We replaced the old floor and wall furnaces with a new forced air central heat and air system, and we had the old water heater replaced with a tankless one. We also had a photovoltaic system installed. That’s what we had done.

    Here’s what we’ve done ourselves so far. Replace the picket fence in the front of the house with a new fence and arbor. Build a decorative wall out of wine bottles in the back of the house. Put in a new garage door with opener. Tear out the old cellutex bedroom and gypsum bathroom walls and acoustical ceiling tiles in the 1955 addition my father in law built in the 1950s. Gutted those two bedrooms and a hall bath to the studs. Knocked out some walls and built some new ones to convert that 1955 hall bath into an ensuite master bath. Put new plumbing, sewer, and electrical systems in the addition. Leveled the foundation in that part of the house, and replaced the subfloor in one of the bedrooms. Took out five windows and installed three new ones and two French doors. Insulated those three rooms and installed a vapor barrier. Ordered all the fixtures and cabinets for the new master bath. Next up is to install the walls and tape and texture them. Done the layout for the new kitchen and laundry room (which will be phase 2 of the remodel).

    Phase two will include knocking out the lath and plaster walls between the kitchen and original bedroom, which will become a dining room, and that bedroom and the living room. Replacing the old knob and tube electrical system in the old 1938 part of the house. Restoring the 6 over one double hung redwood framed windows. Updating the kitchen and laundry room. Putting new cabinets in the mud room. Converting the tiny current dining room into an entry hall. Replace the front door. Finish off an unfinished outbuilding into a studio for me (there’s a large workshop attached to the garage for my husband). Refinish the hardwood floors. Decorate. I’ve refinished some furniture for that already. The furniture we have is too large in scale for this little house. We currently live about an hour and a half from the house we are remodeling. Our current house is about 3000 sq ft and three stories on a quarter acre lot with a large vertical drop from one end of the lot to the other. Good thing we are “retired.”

    Phase 3 will be landscaping, though we’ve already done some of that. We will also be redoing the front porch and entry. In between, we’ve got some travel plans. Whew! I watch your progress with interest!

  • Reply To This Comment ↓
    June 27, 2018 at 5:19 am

    PS, We had our current house built in 1984/5 the same time we were planning our wedding. It’s the house we raised our kids in. I like the house, but it’s 4BR/3Ba, and too big for the two of us. I like to say that it’s in the middle of everything and not within walking distance of anything (except a park). Plus my husband is ecstatic about the thought we won’t have a pool at the new (old) house, which is the house he grew up in. I have photos of the Napa house taken at the time my father in law bought it in 1945. I’m going to make a time capsule with them, the original 800 sq ft floor plan, my husband’s family’s picture, more recent photos, the current floor plan, our pictures. I’m going to stick it all in a tin and encase it in one of the walls. When we took the walls off, we found a header over a window my father in law had signed when he built the addition. My husband signed and dated the other end of it. 😁. The next time someone does a remodel, they will find a few surprises!