Home Improvements

When Perfect Isn't Available or Affordable

Perfection. While we all realize it's in the eye of the beholder and can be overrated, when you are looking for your new home, it's where we start. 

When I am meeting with a buyer, a good portion of our initial discussion involves their must-haves, needs, wants and nice-to-haves. While there are many reasons to hire a real estate agent to help with your home search and purchase, having a partner and consultant to regularly remind you of your motivations and musts is one of the top reasons.

In the DC metro area right now, we still are experiencing limited inventory (aka available houses), which means it is even harder than normal for most to find their perfect home. Given this, it's easy to get discouraged, especially when you find "the one," make an offer and lose out to another. But...that doesn't mean you should lose hope; rather, you should open your eyes to other possibilities.

In the past few days, I've talked to two buyers who have chosen/are looking at two alternative paths that often are ignored:

1. Buy & Renovate with a 203(k) Loan: While most people want to offer, close and move in as swiftly as possible, you can gain the edge and equity if you consider buying a property that needs some work to make it livable, to your taste or both. In today's "need it now" culture, finding that hidden gem means we might be able to negotiate a better purchase price and you'll get exactly what you want in the end. With lots of 203(k) loan options that allow you to access the cash you need to renovate (everything from a kitchen remodel to full gut job), if you can muster some patience, you can land that perfect home. (Check out Lauren Bowling's experience for more insight.)

2. Explore New Construction: If you have even more patience, you might want to consider designing and building your new home. While the DC area is much more densely populated than other areas of the country, there is available land (or land that can be made available by razing a poorly maintained/unsalvageable structure. Most home builders offer a range of plans that can be customized in countless ways to help you get just what you want - from layout to finishes. And, while a builder may tell you otherwise, you should make sure you have buyer representation with your own agent before heading into a sales office. (Learn more about the process from The Balance.)

In either scenario, a REALTOR® can help you consider all the options and direct you to qualified professionals to help you create your own brand of perfect. So, would you consider a rehab or new construction?

Amber Harris is the owner of At Home DC, an interior decorator and a licensed real estate agent with Keller Williams Capital Properties working with clients in DC, Maryland and Virginia. 

Making a (Back)splash in the Kitchen

When I started my home search in Washington, DC almost four years ago, I - like all prospective buyers - had a long list of my must-haves, nice-to-haves and dealbreakers.

As someone who loves to entertain, the kitchen was a key area of focus, primarily when it came to function (hoping to upgrade from a small, enclosed kitchen), but with an eye on aesthetics. One of those design elements was a sleek backsplash.

Touring dozens of homes, I saw a range of backsplashes (or lack of) - from simple 3-4" ones from the same material as the countertops to tiled, decorative backsplashes starting at the countertop (my preference). To make a long story short, the home that I ultimately bought had a 4" granite strip matching the counter. The easiest solution (and what I often see in updated kitchens on the market) is a decorative tile backsplash that starts above that slab. While I've encountered some of these that look decent, I personally still find most iterations like nails on a chalkboard.

Having just invested in a home (with virgin granite countertops, mind you) and all the associated expenditures, I couldn't justify replacing them. I was, however, able to find a tile contractor who would attempt to remove the slab. Of course, that came with warnings that the countertop could be damaged or that there could be gaps between the countertop and wall that would make installation of the new backsplash more challenging (read: expensive). I decided to throw caution to the wind, immersed myself in thousands of tile options, and set the date.

Despite being a fully renovated property with new interior walls, etc., the two-person tile team ran into two hiccups:

  1. Most of the slabs of 4" granite would not budget with a crowbar from the wall. In the end, after more cautions from the crew about potential damage and my approval, the team took hammer and chisel to the pieces. It was loud and time-intensive, but I breathed a sigh of relief that my countertops were still intact.
  2. In one of the corners, despite new drywall, there were gaps that exceeded the depth of the glass tiles I had selected. Luckily a skim coat was able to correct that.


Demo and about 1/3 of the tiling was done in one day, and I had a brand new backsplash on day two! I've included a slideshow below of before, during and after above, and I'll leave you with a few takeaways from my experience if you are considering a similar kitchen project:

  1. Ask friends for contractor recommendations and/or consult a reference site online (but I put more weight on personal experiences). You also can consider visiting a reputable tile supply store (I found the one I purchased my tiles from had cards for those they recommended handy).
  2. Get at least two bids, having them visit and see the space. I have found many contractors send you a more detailed questionnaire and even ask for pictures.
  3. Take home tile samples - even ones that you think might not work. You'll have to consider not just color, but size, layout and finish. Even though I was limited to a range of whites and greys by my existing countertop, there were still lots of choices.
  4. If your contractor is not providing materials, confirm that you have everything you need - from the tiles (with extra in case some are broken or there are other mishaps), grout, edging, etc. And, when you pick up or receive those tiles, check every box! I did when I picked up and discovered that a few boxes were the wrong color (luckily before going home and the tile store delivered the remainder due to the mistake).

I'd love to hear about your home improvement experiences and tips, as well!