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Prepping a House for Resale: Bathroom Transformation on a Budget

Updated: Dec 16, 2020

After completing the dinning room and living room revamp at my mother-in-law's house I still had about a month left in Kansas City. You know me, in sticking with my #2020yearofcreating goal, I still had time to help out with another project and I had heard rumors of the terrifying state of a bathroom upstairs. Let's just say, the rumors were needed some major help.

The bathroom already had a strange sort of Jack and Jill layout. It was designed to be shared by two kids, each with their own bathroom and a shared shower. There was essentially a toilet room, connected to a shower room, connected to another water closet and then linked to a dressing room.

Based on the layout, there was one major flaw, the shower room in the middle of the two bathrooms had absolutely no ventilation. There was no window, no fan, nothing. It was a mecca for mold. Additionally all the rooms had been wallpapered in the 60's, when the home was built, and at some point and time someone had painted over the wallpaper. Because of the trapped moisture, the wallpaper looked like an intriguing piece of modern art that you would find at the MoMA. It bubbled up in some places, crackled like lead paint in others. It looked really cool if it were contained to one canvas. However, it was everywhere and it needed some major help. Any future buyer would have taken one step into this room and then called off the rest of the tour of the house for sure.

So here was the scope of the work we settled on:

1) Clean the bathtub of black mold and fix the leaking faucet

2) Re-caulk the shower

3) Strip all the wallpaper back

4) repaint the walls and cabinets

5) if time, re-grout the tiles

Step 1: Clean the mold and fix the faucet.

This step was fairly straightforward. I scrubbed, and scrubbed a lot with bleach and Ajax. Because the shower has no ventilation, I made sure to keep both the entry doors wide open and had a fan running the whole time. Nothing like getting lightheaded due to bleach.

In terms of replacing the faucet, we had it replaced by a plumber because he is a close family friend of my father-in-law and it just made it easier. He was already at the house working on something else. However faucets are fairly easy to replace yourself and there are tons of youtube videos that can help you out. Just make sure to turn the water off first. :)

Rusted faucet that needed to be updated

One thing I did learn though, and is something to keep in mind when I am working on other investment properties is that if you use a prefab shower initially to save money, it could end up costing you more down the line.

When there are issues with the plumbing behind each solid shower wall oftentimes you will have to replace the entire thing because it comes as one prefab unit. If you have a leak in the wall, you will need to pull the whole thing off to get to the plumbing issue. Tiles are sometimes easier in the sense that you can pull out some and get behind where you need, and then put them back or replace them. With solid shower walls, it's all or nothing. So just something to keep in mind.

I also learned that water faucet components aren't always interchangeable between different brands. For example, we had a Delta faucet in their shower, and bought a Kohler faucet to swap out (thinking we had a major win because we found them on sale at Costco) but it wasn't possible to simply update that part. Kohler and Delta are incompatible. We ended up having to go back and purchase the replacement piece from Delta to get 'er done.

Also any custom work, while it looks amazing when it is new, ages poorly and makes it very difficult to replace down the line. If you are updating an investment property, unless it's a high end rental, stick to faucets have standard measurements and can be swapped out easily.

Step 2: Re-caulking the shower

Such a simple step makes such a major difference and to be honest, it is literally the easiest thing in the world to do!

First cut out all the old caulk using an razor blade. Even if parts of it still look good, I like to take it all out and replace it so it is brand new and watertight. Then I wipe it all down and clean it all up out of the tub. Make sure you clean it to the point where it is dry. You don't want any moisture on the surface or else the new caulk you put down will not adhere correctly, which is the point of caulking to begin with.

Cut out and remove old caulk

Next, I use painter tape on both sides of each joint I intend to caulk. I tape it up so I can get a crisp, clean line similar to as if you were painting a stripe on a wall. Then I load up the caulk in the gun, do a little test run on a paper napkin to make sure it's working smoothly and then spread an even line over all the joints in the shower or tub.

My favorite part is to go back with the caulk smoother (a simple tool that can be found for a dollar at most hardware stores), although you can use your finger if you want. I smooth down the caulk into a smooth, crisp line and let that dry for at least 24 hours.

During that time the shower is out of commission. Make sure it doesn't get wet because then it will undo all your hardwork. In my experience, even the caulk that says it has a faster drying time, like four hours, really should still be left to dry and set for 24 hours. It will ensure that it takes a strong hold to the shower surface and creates that waterproof barrier you are hoping for.

And when I go back the next day, I pull up the painter's tape and am left with those stunning clean lines that I love so much! It's simple and it refreshes any tub or shower. One final tip, I recommend using white caulk instead of the clear caulk because it looks so much cleaner. You can do clear caulk, however if black mold starts to grow under it again, it will look dirty a lot sooner, which defeats the whole purpose of your revamp!

Using painters tape to prep the areas where you plan to caulk

Step 3: Stripping back the wallpaper

The nightmare wallpaper before...

I remember as a kid that my dad always told me to avoid purchasing houses with wallpaper if possible. Now I know why. This is a picture of what the bathroom walls where looking like when we started. I guess I should also fully disclose that this was custom wallpaper from the 60's and not the wallpaper of today (which has come a very long way, I might add). This wallpaper was thick, hand painted, textured and put on the wall with a paste that was made to last. Lucky us!

Another shot of the wallpaper before and a glimpse at the other room after the wallpaper had been taken off and painted.

So first thing we did was buy a wallpaper scorer and score all the walls that had paper on the surface. What we didn't realize, but I should warn you so you can learn from our mistakes is to try not to press too hard on the wallpaper scorer because sometimes it scored the actual wall beneath it, which then require puttying later (an extra step we didn't anticipate).

After we scored all the walls we then sprayed the wallpaper remover on it. To loosen it and make it easier to peel off. We were hoping it would just melt it away for us. In some areas it did, but in other areas we would still have to put in some muscle to scrape it off. Despite the inconsistency it quickly became our favorite product because it saved us an enormous amount of time. All you have to do is spray a scored section and let it sit for 5 minutes. The remaining wallpaper will mostly bubble up and be ready to be scrapped away with a trowel.

The wallpaper in the girls section of the bathroom. This had been painted over as well.

My hero. Wallpaper remover.

We ran out of the wallpaper remover fairly quickly and since we were working late at night, the store was closed. We didn't want to loose steam on the project so we googled a back up solution and what we found was vinegar and hot water should also do the trick. It worked, but not as well. However it could be a much more budget-friendly and eco-friendly option should one choose. Wallpaper remover is a tad expensive if you are doing a lot of surface area.

So after what seemed like days and days of scraping, we finally got all the wallpaper off! Our arms were sore but boy oh boy were we relieved to have that phase of the project behind us. One additional tip that we learned the hard way was to clean up the fallen wallpaper as you go. We did not. And as you can imagine, all of those little pieces of wallpaper that were wet hardened and became stuck to the tile floor. Thus causing us another unexpected step which was to wet them again and scrape them up again!

Step 4: Repaint the walls and cabinets

My favorite step, painting the walls

Pulling from the color scheme downstairs we chose to paint the bathroom the same color. There were 3 primary reasons for this:

1) We wanted to create as much cohesion as possible throughout the house.

2) We wanted to use a color scheme that modern buyers liked and responded well to.

3) We wanted to ensure that the bathrooms remained gender neutral that way any family, with sons or daughters could envision themselves there.

All the painting coming together...

I'll admit, the grey ended up looking more like a light blue up there. But ultimately it worked.

Before painting we did have to spackle some holes on the wall that we made either from scraping the wallpaper off too hard or where the wallpaper scorer scratched it up slightly when when it went through the wallpaper. Additionally we sanded all the walls down prior to painting just to ensure all the wallpaper was removed completely, and if there were any little stubborn bits left (which there were) that they were smoothed over and would be concealed when painting.

When painting a bathroom you always want to go with a moisture resistant paint. Either semi-gloss or high gloss for the trim usually works best. But you want it so that the moisture won't soak into the wall, it will just run down the wall.

We started with the ceilings and painted them white first. That way if there were an bits that dropped, it would be onto a surface that still was going to be painted afterwards.

Next we did the walls and cut in by hand around the top. I would only recommend this if you have a steady hand. If you don't use the painters tape to create that crisp line.

Lastly we finished with the trim and cabinets. We used the same color as the ceiling, to create cohesion and consistency.

Step 5: Re-grouting the tiles

I ran out of time for this step, unfortunately, because I had to head back to New York. The wallpaper scraping took a lot more time and effort that we originally though. But when I left town, I left the grouting in the capable hands of my sister-in-law. Next time I'm in town, I'll give you a photo update.

One part of the bathroom cleaned up and staged

So what were my takeaways from this project?

  • Even if you can't spend thousands to update your bathroom, a clean, freshly caulked, grouted and painted bathroom can go a very long way.

  • Make it gender neutral. More buyers will be able to picture themselves in the space.

  • If possible keep it in line with the rest of the house. Color schemes are a great way to connect it to other spaces.

  • Remember what I said before, fix any element that screams "tear down." You want buyers to see something as nice, livable for the time being, but a project down the road eventually. You never want them to think, I couldn't live in this space if my life depended on it.

Take a little money, update a space and I guarantee you that you will make that money back multiple times over when you go to resale! Happy updating!

Look at those crisp walls

Vintage pulls found around the house, along with a vintage mirror! And voila! This bathroom is ready for a buyer showing!

Hope this was helpful,


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