September 2014 | By Graham Wood
RE/MAX Metro Atlanta Cityside
Jennifer Kjellgren knows every intimate detail of a major renovation project. A complete structural overhaul of her Craftsman home in the heart of Atlanta is now a year in the making, and she and her family have been living in a temporary apartment since February, when the actual construction began. She and her family have lived in the house for 11 years, but there have been things they’ve wanted to change since day one.
“We absolutely love where we live, but our old home and floor plan was not working for our family,” Kjellgren says. For one, she and her chef husband, Jonathan, have always loved to entertain, and there was never enough storage space or a large-enough kitchen. The three-bedroom, two-bathroom home also didn’t have a true master suite, and they didn’t have a space for guests (the couple’s daughter, Addison, took the second bedroom, and Kjellgren took the third as her home office).
Needless to say, the renovation is extensive. “We basically took the rear of our home off and built a new home and attached it to our historic home,” Kjellgren says. “We also dug a space for a wine cellar, so there were some extra structural concerns we had to address. We started with 2,300 square feet, and we will have doubled our space when it’s all done.”
She’s been documenting the entire process on her blog, OurAtlantaCraftsman.com, complete with photos from start to finish. Little did she know, the experience would also increase her market expertise, help her connect with clients considering renovations, and give her the ability to advise buyers and sellers on the realities of a major home makeover.
Why did you decide to blog about your renovation?
I knew it was going to be a big project, and I wanted to chronicle it. I also knew it would be therapeutic to get it out. The blog has been a fun project, and just looking back through the photos has really been cool to see how far we’ve come. We also have used this blog and the many photos we have taken as reference points for questions that have come up in the project, and that has come in handy on several occasions.
Was there a moment during the project where you said to yourself, “Why did I do this?”
Yes! I would say that my husband and I have had many of those moments, but they are fleeting. We know that what we are creating a home that is more to our lifestyle and that we will enjoy immensely. Now that we are two months away from completion, we see the light at the end of the tunnel and are getting excited.
What have you learned from your experience?
I’m learning patience, which is hard for me. We have also learned that we rushed it a bit in the beginning with the architect and have paid for that in terms of stress and having to hire someone [to redo some of the original work]. I’ve also been reminded of how important communication and setting expectations is. Renovating a home is very stressful, and anything that can be done upfront to alleviate some of that is well worth it. My husband and I have also done a great job of working on our strengths, each handling different portions of the project. This has helped tremendously.
How has your own experience helped you to better advise clients in similar circumstances?
Good communication and properly setting expectations are so very important, especially when there is anxiety involved. Buying or selling a home can cause all kinds of stress and anxiety, so I am putting myself in my clients’ shoes with this experience. Additionally, I forgot how hard the actual moving process is. Anything that I can do to ease my clients’ stress during all parts of the transaction I will try and do for them. I think in general, I’m more sensitive to their anxiety.
Do you think you have a better eye for renovations that justify a home’s asking price?
Yes. The market I specialize in is a mix of condominiums and historic homes. So many of the historic homes have either been renovated or a client is looking to renovate them. I better understand today’s cost of construction and some short cuts I was not looking for before.
Are there any real-life circumstances you’ve had with clients where your knowledge of the renovation process has come in handy?
Many of my clients have seen my blog and Facebook posts, and they know that I am renovating. They often ask me about it and will pick my brain with questions. I have been able to advise a couple that was considering skimping on an architect to do otherwise, and I have been able to warn several folks how hard a renovation is. I think new buyers, especially, get starry eyed. It’s definitely not for everybody, so it’s a conversation I probe deeper when it comes up.
Do you have an opinion on what types of renovations are most and least worth the cost?
Great kitchens and baths are important. Buyers want an open-ish floor plan between the kitchen and living spaces. Not everybody wants it to be completely open, but some openness is preferred. Also, a functional floor plan based on how a person lives in a home is really important and something I discuss with clients upfront. What are the uses of the extra bedrooms? Bigger is not necessarily better. There is a trend to scale down and only use what is needed. On that note, sometimes I think that we went too big, but our third level made sense while we were building, so we did it. Using quality materials (solid-core doors, natural stone) and being eco-friendly (energy features, reclaimed and repurposed) are sought-after. I think that specialty renovations like gigantic master suites, game rooms, and three-car garages will not yield the return that an owner put into it because it is very personal to them. But then again, it all depends on why they are renovating. There is definitely the enjoyment of use to take into consideration, as long as they are aware that it may not yield the return.
What types of renovations are most appealing to your clients?
Kitchens, master suites, garage additions (if applicable), and additional bathrooms are what I see the most of. There are many homes in our area either being bumped up or bumped out. Finishes that are consistent with the history of the home are also preferred.
Has your own project made you more aware of the quality of the housing stock in your area?
Absolutely. I have always appreciated older homes, and it is very apparent when you see a good renovation or expansion versus something that is not thought-out. I think seeing so much of what is not good out there has made me very sensitive to doing it right and seamlessly. There is nothing worse, in my opinion, than to see a beautiful old historic house with an ‘80s renovation attached to it.
How do you share your renovation knowledge with your customers?
My blog, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. It naturally comes up in conversations when we get to know each other, and I let them know that I’m open to share everything — the good, the bad, and the ugly, as well as our successes and mistakes along the way. It’s not over yet, so here’s hoping that the end to this story is a happy one.
Reprinted from REALTOR® Magazine Online, September 2014, with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. Copyright September 2014. All rights reserved.