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Before and After: This Atlanta Condo Got a Massive $35K Upgrade

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Taylor Smith)

This condo had a lot going for it—high ceilings, fireplace, lots of windows, and a spacious feel despite an efficient footprint—but it also bore evidence of its previous life as a generic rental property. Its new owner was determined to give it a bunch of character and a totally personal feel.

First, let’s learn a bit about how and why this condo was chosen:

When I first bought this condo, It was the cheapest listing in Marietta [Atlanta] that included a fireplace. It had previously been used as a rental property and it showed. The carpet was so dirty that it was sticky, it smelled, and you could tell that it had not been taken care of for some time.

I set out to buy a place to renovate in the first place so the struggle was finding something that had good bones and also good character. However, I had been renting for over a thousand dollars and my place wasn’t even nice. I was fairly confident that I could remodel something to look great and still pay less than what I was paying in rent and I was right!

Let’s see what the cheapest listing in town looks like now…

(Image credit: Taylor Smith)

Taylor Smith—@taylerrtrash on Instagram—has given this straightforward condo so much personality. The fireplace is now so much more modern and sleek, and it perfectly echoes the television above. Eliminating the cutout in the wall also makes the space feel fresher, and the black-and-white wallpaper is adorable yet minimal. Speaking of black and white, I love how Taylor created a bright monochromatic backdrop but then added warmth through the furnishings, flooring, and accessories. The sofa is elegant yet cozy, and its tufts are reminiscent of the pattern of the plus signs. This room looks ideal for chatting, TV-watching, and curling up with a book; not many small living rooms work for all three.

(Image credit: Taylor Smith)

The bedroom had a paint color I love and a nice big window, but I can’t stop thinking about that carpet. Taylor shared a bit about the home-buying process:

I originally purchased the condo back in December 2017 for $89,000 which is nothing for Atlanta real estate. I had an alert set up so that anytime something with my criteria was listed on the FMLS, I would get a notification. I tried to find places where I wouldn’t require me to move walls or make major structural changes to get the look I wanted because those types changes add up tremendously rather than strictly cosmetic changes. I also wanted to pick a small condo for my first project just because it is a lot less risky because you don’t have to worry about any exteriors and they are generally smaller which cost less to renovate.

After losing some great deals because of competitive offers, I had learned my lesson. in order to win this offer, I had to offer full listing price with no appraisal contingencies and a short due diligence period. However, I knew it was a good deal because I had been watching the market closely. The day that the place was listed, I put eyes on it in person and placed an offer, because in this market, the good deals get done in days.

(Image credit: Taylor Smith)

The bedroom is now so fabulous, with the dark wall adding drama while the white walls bounce the natural light. Taylor has cleverly coordinated the decor with that of the living room—without having it match. The background is once again black and white, there’s plenty of pretty wood, the bench leather is similar to that of the sofa, and the throw pillows tie in to the brown cowhide rug. I especially enjoy the concept of bookshelves-as-nightstands—why only have access to a small stack of books when all of your books can be within reach of the bed? And continuing the wood flooring into the bedroom was a classy move, and a rug can be thrown down for cold mornings, if it ever gets cold in Atlanta.

(Image credit: Taylor Smith)

This is a builder’s standard kitchen, although the appliances look too high-end to be truly standard. This is a perfectly serviceable kitchen that seems to use its space efficiently.

Once again, Taylor has been good enough to provide in-depth insight, this time into the renovation process:

Because my family has a homebuilding company and I work in the homebuilding industry, I was certain that I would be able to renovate this small 795-square-foot condo no problem. After all, it’s just scheduling the trades, right? Wrong. With help from family, I had completely demo’d it and other than a small leak into my downstairs neighbor, that was fine. However, when I began to try to find plumbers, electricians, etc, it was incredibly difficult to get large companies to come out to my little condo for an affordable price. Even my company’s plumbers were going to charge me an arm and leg to just come disconnect the water for me.

I knew I needed to reevaluate my plan so I ended up meeting a gentleman through one of my customers who has his own remodeling company. I ended up hiring him because he had the local connections (me not being local to the area) that I just didn’t have. So although I was technically paying a middle man, which I originally planned not to do, I still think I saved a lot more money than if I were to do it on my own because he had the connections with local trades that I just didn’t have. Plus, it just took a lot of the stress away from me too.

All in all, I replaced the ceilings because that is apparently more cost efficient and easier than scraping the popcorn off, I replaced all the trim with the modern trim, the kitchen cabinets and appliances, the HVAC unit, the water heater with a tankless one, all of the carpet and tile with laminate hardwood, [and] remodeled the bathroom. Total renovations cost me about $35,000.

(Image credit: Taylor Smith)

The range hood gleams, the pendant glistens, and the countertops are lustrous. The kitchen still has all the brightness and cleanness of a white kitchen, but the new navy cabinetry adds major color and the delicately patterned backsplash provides texture and interest. The new open shelves allow Taylor to use dishware as decor, and it looks like the shelf contents could be consolidated to store a few more things. Although Taylor did mention that floating shelves are not much cheaper than upper cabinets.

The cement tile is from Villa Lagoon Tile, the appliances are Whirlpool, the quartz countertops are from IKEA (but actually made by Caesarstone), and the navy cabinet doors are by Semihandmade, as are the brass handles.

After so many upgrades, Tayl0r is rightfully pleased with the results:

It’s honestly great to have somewhere to come back to after work that has the finishes of a million-dollar home. One thing I would do differently is go ahead and hire a remodeling professional from the beginning and not try to do all myself.

(Image credit: Taylor Smith)

Here’s another photo give a bit more of a feel for the condo as a whole. The dining area is petite and lovely; it must be a wonderful place to sit during the daylight hours. And once again we see that smart condo-wide coordination in effect: the bar stools’ leather matches that of the sofa and the bedroom bench, the art has the same palette as the piece in the bedroom, and there’s more of that wonderfully dark floor.

After five months of renovation, Taylor has some excellent advice to share:

Don’t get too emotionally attached. You have to constantly remind yourself that this is as much of an investment as it a place for you live. If you put those real hardwoods throughout or those custom cabinets in, you may never get your money back. You certainly want your place to be nice, but if you know you won’t ever get your money back from an improvement, better to skip and have things your next home.

Although I was fairly good about sticking to my budget, I still went over and I have not encountered anyone who ever came under their budget on a remodel. So make sure you have enough cash saved up for when you run into unexpected bumps in the road, like a pipe needing to be moved or having to move your gas line further into the wall.

Also, it is probably going to take longer than expected. I started work in January and didn’t move in until May. For an 795-square-foot condo. There is a saying that you can pick two of the following: cheap, fast, and good quality.

A big struggle with condo renovations and something to be mindful of is appraisal issues when you go to sell. If there have not be any recent renovations in your building, it may be difficult to get an appraisal to equal what someone will pay for your place. So if you find where someone has already renovated a unit and sold it successfully in your unit, you already have a head start! You can use that for your baseline!

Thank you, Taylor Smith!