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This coming weekend, we’ll be moving into the new house – and OMG, there is so, so much to do before then! While the entryway, ceiling and room partitions will be corrected by contractors, we’ve been pouring all of our free time into making the home liveable before we fill it with boxes. (We did find a teensy moment to escape the dust and yuck on Saturday morning though; there’s a lot to do, yes, but it’s just as important for us to enjoy summer in the city, too.)

This morning, I found myself cracking up over Daniel’s description of what the movies make you think buying an old home is like. Many, many times this weekend, Scott and I asked each other, is this our 80s flick montage moment? Should we have a paint fight right now, then roll on the floor laughing? (Huey Lewis plays in the background, naturally.) The not so funny part is when I wouldn’t let go of the idea that we were in our very own Money Pit.

It’s not all bad though – rather, we made huge progress over the last couple of days. While we wait for the contractors to come in and do their thing (which, fingers crossed, should happen at the end of this week), we spent our time getting the second floor up to snuff. It is/was by far the most out of sorts of all the building’s units; the lingering smells are headache inducing, the wall splatters are sticky and gooey, and bugs (I refuse to say roaches; I won’t do it) scurried across the floor and ceilings. (We’ve since killed ’em off. Mostly.)

At several points, I started to lose faith (nope, I’m not going to lie!) that anything remaining on that floor should be banished to the dumpsters (i.e., the entire bathroom, all light fixtures and random tchotchkes left behind), but money is one of the biggest factors to consider right now, and so, crooked vanity, you stay. Old toilet, you stay, too. Guest and laundry room with subfloor? Well, we’ll hide you by closing the door for now.

Anything we could do (that wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg), we did do. We scrubbed the walls with disinfectant, we coated every surface with clean, white primer (to help eliminate odors), and we pulled out the second floor kitchen. With all the cabinets and fixtures attached with nothing more than a few screws, the whole get-up was out in 30 minutes.

We removed the old, filthy shower doors from the bathroom, took down the medicine cabinet, and scrubbed every inch of every surface. Scott primed the walls in there, too, and while we’re not excited to shower in there (we held a mini pow-wow to discuss our near future, and we both decided the first floor bathroom would be a safer, more sanitary choice), it’s already looking much better.

Ripping up the carpet in the two smaller rooms and scraping up the stained (and slightly damp) pad lifted out odors almost instantly, but these rooms are still waiting for their scrub down – which will have to happen this week.

But through all the mess, we reminded each other to have fun! It seemed we were never quite on the same page – while I gritted my teeth and cursed the dirt and grime, Scott would be humming his happy tune, and vice versa. At one point (during a moment of panic: are we crazy?), I straight up asked Scott, what are you so smiley about?! (I can be moody, FYI.) His answer lifted me right out of my funk – We’re building our home, and I’m here with you.

By Sunday night, we were straight-up beat. It’s a good exhaustion though; we sleep like rocks, and to be quite honest, the sense of accomplishment is rewarding in ways we couldn’t imagine. And of course, Scott’s right. Together, we’re building this home for our little family.

  • Cait @ Hernando House - July 15, 2013 - 12:27 PM

    Wow, so much progress! You two are amazing!

    I totally understand feeling moody, but it’s going to be so worth it! Glad you guys are balancing each other out and lifting each other up through the rough patches!ReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 15, 2013 - 12:34 PM

      Thanks, Cait! Yes, Scott definitely balances me out, that’s for sure!ReplyCancel

  • Tina S. - July 15, 2013 - 12:38 PM

    “We’re building our home, and I’m here with you.”

    THERE is your 80s movie moment. Look outside and imagine John Cusack holding the boombox above his head…

    “In your eyes….the light, the heat, in your eyes….I am complete”


  • Emily @ Our Waldo Bungie - July 15, 2013 - 12:40 PM

    You guys are rockstars! I cannot WAIT to see what you do with your new place!ReplyCancel

  • Kim Horn - July 15, 2013 - 1:01 PM

    Sounds like Scott is an amazingly awesome and sweet husband! I can’t wait to see all the things you do to your new house. I’ve been reading your updates faithfully!ReplyCancel

  • It will all be worth it! We have yet to actually finish one space, but it’s still very rewarding to look back at the ‘before’ shots of the studio and compare it to where we are now. You guys have already made massive progress and hopefully at least your noses are noticing a difference (bye bye smelly rooms!)ReplyCancel

  • Laura at Rather Square - July 15, 2013 - 1:28 PM

    Truly amazing progress! It seems like you are doing everything right – getting surfaces clean and prepped (the boring part) before doing any painting or building (the fun part). Did the priming help with the odors?ReplyCancel

  • Emily @ Adventures of a Dog Mom - July 15, 2013 - 1:36 PM

    I love this, “We’re building our home, and I’m here with you.” That’s so cute!ReplyCancel

  • Jill - July 15, 2013 - 1:41 PM

    Besides the unmentionable pests, this was my FAVORITE new home post yet! SO CUTE!ReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 15, 2013 - 2:04 PM

      Tina, too funny. Now that we have a second floor, we could re-enact the scene accurately!

      Laura, Scott swears that the priming helped, and I’m on the fence. I can still smell the scent of that “unit” ever-so-slightly, but Scott thinks it’s just because it was burned into my nostrils (and now the smallest whiff of it drudges up the memory). We’ll be back at the house almost every night this week, so hopefully more time will tell… It was a pretty big improvement overall though!ReplyCancel

  • Kiira - July 15, 2013 - 2:02 PM

    That last picture is perfection.ReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 15, 2013 - 2:05 PM

      Kiira, to think I almost didn’t include it because it’s a little cheesy :) But I love some cheese.ReplyCancel

  • Amanda - July 15, 2013 - 2:03 PM

    “we’re building our home, and i’m here with you” has just become my new mantra for keeping calm and happy in the midst of rage-inducing home improvement projects. thank you Scott!ReplyCancel

  • Hannah K. - July 15, 2013 - 2:15 PM

    Keep your heads up! You’re going to do great work — and it will ALL be worth it!ReplyCancel

  • Nina - July 15, 2013 - 2:45 PM

    You two seem to be moving at reality show speed! Great job. I love Scott’s reply to you. I’m sure you can make a cute print of it to frame on your newly prined & painted walls. :)ReplyCancel

  • Kim - July 15, 2013 - 4:22 PM

    Nina, we FEEL like we’re moving at reality show speed! With the upcoming move, there’s still so much more to do…ReplyCancel

  • Jane @ The Borrowed Abode - July 15, 2013 - 6:15 PM

    This is so wonderful! I am beyond excited for you guys, and I can’t wait for all that is to come. Woohoo!!!!!ReplyCancel

  • Michelle DuPuis - July 15, 2013 - 9:02 PM

    You guys are too cute. I hope you frame that last photo and hang it in your NEW house! :-)ReplyCancel

  • Helen - July 16, 2013 - 1:20 AM

    Scott is so sweet. Hate to admit, sometimes men are just more rational, sometimes. :-)ReplyCancel

  • Carrie @DreamGreenDIY - July 16, 2013 - 9:14 AM

    That last photo – Perfection!ReplyCancel

  • Giuliana - July 16, 2013 - 10:19 AM

    You guys are Adorable!! I remember dismantling the kitchen in our new home before we moved in as well and now 10 years later, we sit at our kitchen island and reminisce about those great crazy renovation days and we smile and laugh. As overwhelming as it can get sometimes, they were awesome days too. Last pic-LOVE IT!!! Good Luck!!ReplyCancel

  • Nicole - July 18, 2013 - 9:49 PM

    That last picture! Adorable!ReplyCancel


The new house is 2,000 square feet – that’s almost 3 times the size of our little condo. To be honest, we were thisclose to being turned off by the size of the house, but when we thought about the room to grow (for whatever our family’s future holds, the Shops and the ability to foster siblings for Jack) and the home’s long term potential, well, we couldn’t sign on the dotted line soon enough. For the first time in our lives, we’ll have a home for the long haul, in a town that we just can’t get enough of.

With that said, we’ve been asked, what will happen to the little guy? (I realized only later that including this photo of Jack may have been slightly confusing; that little guy is a keeper.) You know, this condo that birthed the Shops, this blog, and our slice in the city that we couldn’t wait to return to after every anniversary excursion. Well, we’ll be renting it. Of course this decision meant one less stressor during this new-to-us renovation adventure – less stress than listing it for sale on the market, we should say – but it didn’t mean that we’d be willing to lease and forget. No, we still very much want to be a part of the condo’s new life.

We researched our options, and we could have very easily handed our information over to property management companies – a pricey (but valuable) option. We had phone meetings with several that we felt comfortable with, but knowing that we’d be staying in the same neighborhood (and just a few blocks over) meant that we could be more hands on. And so, we’ve found ourselves as landlords.

This, in turn, left some to ask, well, how will you handle that? What did you do? You know there are a lot of Chicago laws and rules that happen when you’re a landlord, right? (To that last one, there are a lot of Chicago rules and city regulations in general, so what’s one more?)

In short, we chose to list our home on Domu. Rather than deal with the stress and too-many-emails from Craigslist, we went with Domu for a few reasons: 1) It’s Chicago home rentals only, 2) the layout was clean and structured, and 3) we liked that we could track pageviews, respondents and any listing edits in one place. Not to mention – and perhaps this was the biggest plus for us – it seemed to have a more captive audience of serious apartment hunters. (Let’s just say, the emails we received through Domu had far fewer typos than most Craigslist ads we’ve posted in the past!)

After 15+ showings in well under a week, we received a handful of promising applicants – and along with Jack and the girls, we met each and every one in person. We were able to deactivate our listing after 6 days, and after the most grueling decision making process and another week of discussion, we rented the little guy to a couple that we felt would love the home as much as we do (did? The tenses are getting confusing as we’re still limbo-living). Did we think a little too long about this? Yes. But it was so, so important to us to choose someone that felt good in our gut, and someone who walked through the home with that look on their face – the same one we had when we walked from room-to-room the first time, too.

This is where the hard(er) part came in: how do we do this? Like, actually rent? For us (and again, after a brick ton of research), we went with Lease Runner to manage the applicants (each interested renter had to fill this out), the lease itself, and ultimately, the processing of automatic monthly payments. Their customer service has been amazing, everything can be managed in one place, and the application fee helped to weed out any on-the-fence hunters.

With many of our own friends acting as landlords (as they move away, sniff, sniff!) and a handful of readers coming up on their own similar situations, we hope that you’ll find this information useful for wherever you are! Keep in mind, however, that every town/state may have their own tenant/landlord regulations, and all the information you’ve ever wanted to know can be found on your own city website (i.e., there are particular ways in which to handle security deposits, etc).

Leaving our little home will be hard, but we also feel incredibly happy for its new lease on life (oh, how punny!). With the paperwork (and decision making) behind us, we can now look forward. It’s going to be exciting, you guys.

PS: Neither Domu or Lease Runner asked us to write a review. We just really, really love(d) working with them!

  • Hannah K. - July 12, 2013 - 6:54 AM

    Oh how great! Congrats – and what a new and interesting adventure of landlordship!ReplyCancel

  • Sheila - July 12, 2013 - 8:38 AM

    Thanks for this. I am considering renting my townhouse and will probably go with a management company but learning about your process is helpful.ReplyCancel

  • Alichia - July 12, 2013 - 9:22 AM

    Glad you found someone! Rental market in Chicago has been right, so not surprising you were done in 6 days! One word of advice, ensure you talk to your insurance agent, homeowners insurance doesn’t cover all that landlord insurance does (I leaned this from working on the Allstate business at an ad agency).


    And yes Jack seems like a keeper ;)ReplyCancel

  • Tina S. - July 12, 2013 - 9:35 AM

    Aww! Look at you two, being all grown up and stuff! ;)ReplyCancel

  • Kim - July 12, 2013 - 9:39 AM

    Alichia, excellent point! Yes, we also spoke with our insurance agent to get us all set up for the rental AND our new house. Thanks for the information!

    Tina, it’s about time, don’t you think?ReplyCancel

  • kristin - July 12, 2013 - 11:29 AM

    Ugh. I grew up with parents who did monthly rentals and then my husband thought it was a good idea… and let’s just say that I’m SO happy we just sold our rental property. I do NOT want that headache ever again my whole life (renters shouldn’t be considered perfect until you see the place after they move out). I agree with Alichia, make sure your insurance is in the know and take pictures of the condition of the place while doing the inspection with them so they know you have them for future reference.ReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 12, 2013 - 1:15 PM

      Kristin, fair warning! Thank you for the tip and advice.ReplyCancel

  • Laura @ Rather Square - July 12, 2013 - 1:47 PM

    My husband and I are landlords for our condo as well, since we bought our house to live in. It’s been a pretty good experience so far, and very helpful since it’s kept us from having to try selling it in this market. As long as we can find good renters, we’ll keep it until the market improves.

    It’s funny you went with Domu and that the clean layout and ease of use worked well for you… because I designed it! I used to work for the design agency that concepted, designed, and helped develop the Domu website and advertising, and I was the lead on that project. Glad you had a positive experience!ReplyCancel

    • Kim - July 12, 2013 - 2:14 PM

      Laura, awesome! Well, you did a great job – and the whole team at Domu was wonderful! (They actually asked us if they could put our condo on the rotating front page, which really gave us a boost in showings.)ReplyCancel

  • Kalli - July 13, 2013 - 3:22 PM

    Aw, Jack’s little face! He’s like, “do I get to go with you guys?” Glad you found renters-man you’ve got a lot of balls in the air right now!ReplyCancel

  • Leila - July 15, 2013 - 11:36 AM

    Quick question. We are thinking about moving from California to Florida. We have a house here that we want to rent but buy something else over there. How did you go about buying a second house while still having a first mortgage ? ( Im assuming you have one )

    Was the second time buyer thing hard for the banks to approve or this is normal ?


    • Kim - July 15, 2013 - 12:33 PM

      Hi Leila, good question. Our first mortgage was taken into consideration when we were approved for our second mortgage. Our lender had to take that into account when they gave us the amount that we were approved for, meaning, it wasn’t as high as it would have been if we didn’t have the mortgage on our condo. I wouldn’t say that it was harder to approve, we were just approved for a lesser amount! The lender has to assume that we won’t be renting our condo, meaning that we were approved for a price if we were to pay both mortgages ourselves.ReplyCancel

  • Helen - July 16, 2013 - 1:30 AM

    I live in Los Angeles so I couldn’t be much help on Chicago landlord/tenant rights. I did rent out my house on Craigslist and was so lucky to meet a young couple that loved the house, plus- they have two rescue dogs, so it was a perfect match! Before they moved in, I put a bottle of wine, a box of dog treats and toys and a note said “welcome home”. I thought starting and maintaining a good friendly relationship with the tenants can’t hurt. :-)ReplyCancel

  • Kim - July 16, 2013 - 9:12 AM

    Helen, that’s so sweet! I hope things are still going well with the tenants?ReplyCancel

  • Helen - July 20, 2013 - 1:53 AM

    Yes I did maintain a good relationship with the tenants. That was a few years ago. Sadly for the tenants I moved back in last year (so the fur balls can have a yard) They were ok about it but I felt very bad. Good luck with your move! Can’t wait for the updates!ReplyCancel


Before we shared the tour with you, Scott and I did some serious damage to that house. And by serious, we mean serious good. Our bones are sore, our backs hurt, and we’re still finding bruises that we don’t know how we got – wait, when did I get this one? – but it was worth every ache and pain. We took the long holiday weekend to knock through drywall, run to the hardware store every day and eat more fast food than we’d like to admit. We had a lot (like, a lot) of fun, sweated off 10 lbs each (okay, maybe not really) and drank an ocean of water between the two of us. (By the way, that’s dust and old-home-dirt on our legs – not bruises!)

We’ll be moving into the new house in less than 2 weeks (where in the world did the time go?), and in between packing up our own home and trying to find an hour of down time before we hit the sack, our goal is to accomplish three things:

  • Repair the sagging ceiling on the first floor, which will also level the second floor
  • Open the entryway (taking it from a closed off two-flat to a welcoming single family)
  • Knock down those crazy crooked room partitions – one on each floor

THING ONE: THE CEILING. After the a few swings of a sledgehammer through the first floor ceiling, we were welcomed with lath (and crumbling plaster) – thin, obnoxious strips of wood hidden behind the drywall, quickly becoming our worst enemy. In order to repair the sagging ceiling, the joists need to be straightened out, and in order to do that, the ceiling had to come down. The lath turned it into an almost-2-day job, but Scott knocked it out of the park!

THING TWO: THE ENTRYWAY. While Scott sledged away on that ceiling, I took a hammer and reciprocating saw to the entry. (The saw, by the way? It’s my new best friend.) Down came the first floor door, the nook room closet (opening it to the entry, which will soon become a much needed coat closet), and a partial section that closed off the stairs. All that will help us to keep an official entry, but we’ll create the warm welcome to the whole home – rather than the closed off feeling it once had.

During the demolition, we uncovered an original archway – an arch! While it’s not the same shape as the arch on the second floor, it’s just as adorable. Unfortunately, the arch would make for a very narrow opening (the only downside to the nineteenth century design – well, that, and the f*@!ing lath), so we’d like to recreate it on a larger scale (going wider and taller), as an ode to the architecture.

THING THREE: THE PARTITIONS. Remember this crooked room partition on the second floor? During the last (cheaply done) renovation to the home, the first floor partition was blasted open without being properly supported. (The first floor partition, by the way, will also need to open completely to correct the issue.) Over time, this doorway – and the floor beneath it – drooped. To get to the root of the problem, we opened it up, and found…

… a brick chimney! My heart is set on keeping the chimney there (the pale brick is calling to me!), but after discussing options with contractors, there’s a slight chance that the chimney could also be pulling the floor down. (We actually discovered that the chimney was lopped off halfway down, and it’s currently being supported from the middle of the first floor, up. It’s not being supported at all from the basement – womp, womp.) Further digging from professionals will determine its fate, but fingers crossed it can stay – somehow.

So, what’s next? Now that we’ve spent several days demo-ing the drywall, lath and cracked plaster (with a few more nights of work on the agenda), we’ll be turning towards the professionals to correct the joists, properly move the studs and replace the drywall the right way. By demolishing most of the walls ourselves, we’ll be saving a big chunk of change (not to mention, learning a few things along the way), and while we’re still in talks with contractors, they’ve been supportive of our decision to take on some dirty work with these four hands. They’ve even gone so far as to point out other punch list items we can knock out – literally – to further line our pockets.

With our moving date right around the corner, we know we’ll be walking around contractors while the ends are properly tied up, but that’s okay. Our only concern is the unknown – what other issues might they find? What can we afford now, and what will need to be a “someday (soon!)” to-do?

What we do know is that we’re sort of in love with the sledgehammer. And reciprocating saw. And this challenge, you know, in general.

  • Carrie @DreamGreenDIY - July 10, 2013 - 7:21 AM

    Can’t even describe how giddy this makes me. Go team Vargo, go!!!ReplyCancel

  • Marlene @ Jade and Fern - July 10, 2013 - 7:46 AM

    Wow, amazing that you did this much yourselves! You guys are on fire!ReplyCancel

  • Rachel - July 10, 2013 - 8:50 AM

    How cool!! I love your new home and you both have accomplished so much in such a short time. I hope the contractors come back with good news about your chimney (I love chimneys also so I really hope it can stay :-)).ReplyCancel

  • Kim - July 10, 2013 - 9:10 AM

    Rachel, waiting has been so excruciating!ReplyCancel

  • Gloria - July 10, 2013 - 9:13 AM

    That arch and that brick!!! I hope you can keep it, and if you can’t keep the chimney, I hope you find a way to salvage it and repurpose it somewhere else in the house. It’s beautiful!ReplyCancel

  • Cait @ Hernando House - July 10, 2013 - 9:17 AM

    You guys are amazing! So much work in such a short time! I really hope the chimney can stay, and I can’t wait to see the recreated arch!ReplyCancel

  • Laura @ Rather Square - July 10, 2013 - 9:22 AM

    This demo is really impressive! I’ve never used a reciprocating saw, but now I want to.ReplyCancel

  • Kim - July 10, 2013 - 9:25 AM

    Thanks, guys. Wish you could all be here to help – ha!

    Laura, I had never used one before either, but it’s my new love. (Second to Scott and Jack and the girls.)ReplyCancel

  • Kiira - July 10, 2013 - 10:49 AM

    Wow, you guys are amazing. I would be so scared to take that on. Old houses are amazing…so many fun things hiding in the walls. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more buried chimneys…and that little arch is to die for!ReplyCancel

  • Heather {A Fire Pole in the Dining Room} - July 10, 2013 - 11:09 AM

    Awesome work guys! Man, plaster is the worst! We have more than our fair share at the firehouse, except it’s plaster on top of a metal lathe, which is fairly impossible to patch. Long term I think you’ll be happy that you’re replacing it with drywall (and that your roof/floors don’t sag, obviously ;) )ReplyCancel

  • Shannon - July 10, 2013 - 11:35 AM

    Woooo!! This is awesome!! Way to go guys!

    Now, why the heck would anyone cover that arch and chimney?! People are nuts! Glad you’ll try to salvage/replicate if you can!! :)


  • Angela - July 10, 2013 - 12:14 PM

    Smashing! I am serious when I say I will lend a hand for some sweet DIY handy-type-people learning opportunities. Let me know!ReplyCancel

  • Kim - July 10, 2013 - 12:22 PM

    Angela, that is a seriously dangerous thing to say!ReplyCancel

  • Rachael - July 10, 2013 - 1:21 PM

    Wow, you have accomplished a ton already! Nice work, and keep the pictures coming!ReplyCancel

  • Lilea - July 10, 2013 - 7:00 PM

    Oh what memories this brings back! We renovated an old house, room by room, down to the studs. We had sagging floors, buckling plaster walls and doors that no longer fit into their jams. Our friends really thought we were crazy! Enjoy!ReplyCancel

  • Julia @cuckoo4design - July 11, 2013 - 6:11 AM

    Wowza you guys are on a roll! Good luck!ReplyCancel

  • Alexis - July 11, 2013 - 11:01 AM

    This is so exciting to see!!! Congratulations! I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you guys that things go smoothly, I’m looking forward to seeing more of the process.

  • Kimberly @ Turning It Home - July 11, 2013 - 2:00 PM

    I love that chimney! Boy, do I wish there was a wall in my house I could tear down. Ha!ReplyCancel

  • Tina S. - July 11, 2013 - 2:40 PM

    Of all things discussed, the one thing that really stuck out to me was that contractors are helping you guys by pointing out other items you can take care of yourself to save some money. It’s so rare it seems to find people who will be honest with you on what you can do on your own versus just doing the job to earn the bucks.

    Our current landlord is going to be the contractor for our new home, and he’s been open and honest from the get go on what we can and cannot do, so it’s been nothing but inspiration and giddy feelings! Yay! for nice people!

    I still have a hard time picturing the layout or your plans for the house, but I’m loving watching all of it come together!!!ReplyCancel

  • Kim - July 11, 2013 - 3:29 PM

    Lilea, I’m sure our friends think the same of us!

    Tina, I really need to make a floor plan, huh? It’s actually a pretty simple layout, but I understand that the photos (and the angles from which I shoot) can make it a little confusing.

    But you’re right – YAY for contractor’s understanding our situation and not trying to suck us dry. YAY for nice people!ReplyCancel

  • Michelle - July 12, 2013 - 3:55 PM

    They chopped off the bottom of the chimney?! Insane. Well, if you can’t save it in the house you could still keep the bricks and use them in the yard. We tore down an old and dangerous(although awesome) 1940’s outdoor fireplace, and used the bricks as edging around our gardens. If we had enough I totally would have used them to make a little patio or something. I’m so excited to see how you fix up this house! Old houses are the best. :-)ReplyCancel

  • Kim - July 12, 2013 - 5:40 PM

    Michelle, GREAT idea!ReplyCancel

  • - July 15, 2013 - 2:41 PM

    So many treasures to uncover! That arch is downright dreamy. We hope that the fun finds make the hard labor not feel quite so grueling!ReplyCancel

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