Friday, January 1, 2010


So we went and saw the tan house in person again on Thursday morning - in the daylight, this time. (This is a post about housing searches. Consider yourself warned.)

It's amazing how much you can see in the daylight that electric light doesn't show. I know first-time home buyers are super-prone to being freaked out by minor (or moderate) cosmetic issues that should not dictate their decisions. But it's just hard not to notice when something will require work you may, or may not, be competent to do.

Some observations that might resonate with anyone who has a freakish total recall of all my room redos for the tan house: the family room/library (with the knotty wood walls), first of all, does not have raw wood crown molding. It has white wood crown molding with a dark-wood-colored faux finish. OK, I can paint that white. Oh, but some of the molding is actually just slats aligned to look like the other molding (which elsewhere in the room really is molding). Um. OK, replace those. And you know those boards that form the walls? They're really thin. Maybe 3/8" - very flimsy. They haven't been treated with anything (I was right about them being raw wood), and so they've become very dry. Behind the wood stove, one panel even developed a foot-long crack. The owners immediately and diligently fixed this - with packing tape. No, not joking. So at this point, I'm thinking, rip off the boards, install drywall, and paint. Paint the crown molding (and the baseboard heaters, which also have a wood-look faux finish!). Put real crown molding where there's fake now. Rip off the flimsy wood strips that form the current latticework ceiling and maybe put in a real coffered ceiling on the same pattern?

After my husband saw how much needed to be done, his enthusiasm for the house dropped quite a bit. His favorite house, which is nearby, now has a price dropped to $20k less than the asking price for the tan house, and is decorated magnificently throughout (albeit not to my taste), but is also a rather longer commute for me, has a tiny yard, and is not in as nice a neighborhood, and definitely has a less useful layout, suddenly looks like a much nicer option to him. I don't know. I can't really see us living in that house. I need to keep thinking.

I was thinking that we should figure out what each of these houses is likely to sell for. And then what the more serious repairs to the tan house are likely to cost (the basement has a water problem, so that would have to be addressed). If the tan house is as good or better a price after those numbers, then we need to know how much all the cosmetic repairs would really cost. Two rooms need hardwood floors and the kitchen needs tile; we don't know whether the upstairs (all of it) has hardwood under the wall-to-wall carpeting, so that might be another thing. I intend to paint every room, and wallpaper the dining room (and a little wallpaper for the bedrooms). See above for the family room. Plus maybe built-in bookshelves someday (though that's no emergency). And we'll ultimately want to do something with the upstairs porch. I think the real cost of those things could be, well, I have no idea. If it would be $50k (before we even started major remodeling, which I don't really plan on much of), then it's a bad idea. If it would be $5k, that's very different.

Plus, you know, they're both big houses. I'd have to keep them clean. And in my head, I see the family coming over for Christmas, or a house full of friends - that's what I see every time I picture living in the tan house. I never picture coming home to an evening of cleaning a four-bedroom house. I don't spend a lot of time picturing my longer commute. I think it would be around an hour each way (it's now about 45 minutes in the morning and 35 in the afternoon). That sounds manageable, I think, but to be honest, I'm already exhausted all the time. Given how little energy I have, a merely full-time job is a big drain already. I sincerely believe that the home update projects will make me really happy and I'll have the energy to do them (especially if we have the finances to get the materials we need and professional help where appropriate). But how much energy will I have left over to wash dishes and do laundry?

One of the things I look forward to is working just part-time. Twenty hours a week sounds like something I could do with energy and still invest in hobbies, exercise, the community. All the things I want to do. But I'm not sure I even have the option of working half time. And assuming I could do so and merely halve my salary, well, I mean, if that were possible, obviously it would put us in a worse financial position to increase our housing costs over renting! I think we could still make all our payments and everything, but obviously renting is cheaper.

Am I being irrational, in general? I want to own a home. And I want to go, eventually, certainly not this year, to working part-time. Those are sort of emotional things I want, and I suppose they fit in some way into my attempts to mold my childless life.

On the other hand, this is a really good time to buy a house - prices and interest rates are both low. We're thinking we'll be in the area a while (ten years? Five? Twenty?), so it makes sense to buy. It actually would be good for us to have a little bit more space. While we like the house we're renting, we could use a real guest bedroom, we need more room for books, and we notice how nice it would be to have a room big enough for dancing or a table that seats more than four (six in a pinch) more often than I'd have expected. (Wow, those sound like pretty lame reasons compared to "even if they share, the kids need two more bedrooms.")

It also seems rational to want, eventually, to work part-time. I'm not planning to check out while my income is still really needed. But my dh's income should increase over the years (it's OK now), and we don't have college tuition to save for. And not every man has a wife with appreciable earning power - in some sense, my salary is a luxury. It's not crazy to want to work less than full-time (eventually) and own a it?

And this purchase would be calculated on the idea that I can work if I need to. If we actually got pregnant (God forbid!), it might not be a matter of working until the finances worked out. What if I put myself in the position of having to put a child in daycare because we couldn't afford our mortgage otherwise? (I suppose a lot of our other expenses might drop if we were home with a baby.) And what if my husband loses his job? His employment situation has been volatile since we've been married. It isn't really his fault, but if we were on just one salary, even for a brief period, the mortgage would really pinch.

I know I have cold feet. I wanted a house - I want a house - or do I want the idea of a house?

(And on an only apparently unrelated note - is there anything I can take without a prescription that will boost my energy levels? That would cut out quite a few of my concerns right away.)


  1. You are asking some really good questions..and in my own humble opinion..that tan house sounds like a lot of work and money. Do you know what kind of shape the hardwoods are in under that carpeting upstairs??? If they just need sanding and refinishing..I don't think it's an unbearable expense but to replace them would be a good chunck of change. I can't imagine ripping down the flimsy wood walls and putting in insulation and drywall being that cheap either. I think those kind of repairs..esp the water in the basement..are more than cosmetic. If the house your dh is now liking isn't what you'd need to let him know. You both have to live in the house...and you don't want to regret decisions. Buying a house is one of life's top stressors for a reason. It's a huge expense, it's a committment, it's work, but in the end it's home and it's yours!

    I love being part time myself...I just love it but after this year...that could be all done for me. That's okay...I'm sort of ready to get back into the work force...only as a teacher though. :)

  2. prayerfuljourney - I appreciate your points. I will note for clarification: we know that fixing the water issues is definitely not cosmetic, and it would be included in our calculations of the purchase price of the house. There is insulation in the family room already - I admit I have never hung drywall, but the drywall itself is all that would be needed.

  3. Are you going to have a savings buffer after the purchase of the house? Knowing we had a well-padded savings helped to calm me a bit when it came to many of the concerns you have on the cost of fixing the house, DH’s job security, my job situation (although I wasn’t planning on being a SAHW at the time), etc. I will readily admit that DH & I do not agree on how much of a “buffer” is needed, but he lets me have my way so it works out (I need a lot more for security than he does.)

    Having just moved from our fixer upper first house, I think you are so wise to reflect on how much all of the needed stuff is going to cost . . . especially since your not set on what kind of future income you may have. We seriously underestimated the costs (you can see wood rot until the tile is up, for instance). A lot of the things you mentioned, however, seem to be cosmetic repairs which is good (they would still scare me a bit, but just because I’m not familiar with those costs), but keep in mind if there are maintenance repairs (roof, siding, air/heat, water heater – all of which we replaced) that will NEED to be done during that time and if you will have the cash on-hand in savings to pay for it. I took pictures and VERY detailed notes at each house viewing. DH & I would go over those at night and research cost of items that needed to be repaired. When you call someone on repairs, they really can’t give you a concrete number, but they can give you an idea of a price range. (This, by the way, was on the 2nd home purchase. We weren’t that wise the first time around).

    As an aside: I would ask to look at comparables before you ever go see a house. I do not think that is the norm, but it was the only way I worked this 2nd time around. I had the agent email me the comps the day before we went to see the houses. Before I stepped in the house, I had an idea on what “I” thought it’s likely selling price would be. I would adjust that after I saw the house, but I think if you look at comps after-the-fact, you let your emotions play into it. It is a home, but it is also a business transaction and it’s best to keep emotions low. Also, because you are looking at doing cosmetic repairs, keep your eyes on how houses in the area (which maybe more up-to-date or improved) are selling so you have a re-sell value idea.

    Cleaning the house . . . eh. You’ll get a system. Do not worry about that. When we were moving to our larger house, my aunt told me it was actually easier to keep a larger house clean than a smaller house. I thought that was such crap, but I am finding it to be true. I do not know why that is. Maybe it’s just because everything has a place. You’ll find the energy and yes, it does energize you when it’s your own house, especially if you are looking to be there for a while. If, however, you’re just going to be there for 5 years (like we were) you can start to resent all the work.

  4. YES, there is something you can take to increase energy levels.

    Question. Are you so fatigued right now that you need immediate, short term help FIRST before a long-term plan? If so, get some guarana seed. It's a short term adrenal booster.
    Kola nut is also a short term adrenal builder.
    Yohimbe is an herb that is an amazing short term energy boost - 1 capsule a day early in the day is plenty for most. It's one of the few herbs where you shouldn't take to tolerance. A little is a lot.

    Fo ti root is a thyroid tonic, builder and strenthener. It's also a reproductive (!), liver, and kidney tonic. Take it for weeks or months to build the body's energy foundation.
    Triphala is legendary combination herb which heals almost every system of the body. It is a glandular tonic with extremely high Vitamin C levels. Long term support.

    There are many more natural solutions to fatigue! I bought the book Herbal Defense some time ago and I swear, I use it for reference every few days. It's a pretty worthwhile investment.

    Best of luck - it sucks to be tired. It really, really sucks.

  5. I will tell you from experience, that whatever problems you see just from walking through, and are uncovered during the inspection, you can assume that there are TWICE as many that won't reveal themselves until you've been in the house for a few months or even a couple years. Most of the repairs we've done on our house weren't even on our list when we moved in because we had no idea they existed! We've had to do major repairs on the fireplace, basement (we had a flooding problem - included sump pump and drainage pipe issues), electrical issues that have popped up, mold in the walls, water leaks, major bathroom renovations (we had just planned to replace a shower, but serious problems were revealed when it was removed), and we are just now starting on the cosmetic things 3 years into it - refinishing floors, replacing tile, landscaping, etc. And now it looks like we have to replace water heaters, a/c unit, and probably the roof. In the three years we've lived here, we have spent over 80% of our free time just trying to maintain the property, and only about 10% on actually improving it. We save the other 10% for fun stuff, so we don't go completely nuts...
    We've also learned that we are completely reliant on two incomes b/c the upkeep is way more expensive than we planned on. We didn't buy a "starter home", we bought a house that we could see ourselves in for 20 years - plenty of room for kids and company. Unfortunately, as first time homebuyers, we just didn't realize what we were getting into.
    I'm not trying to scare you away from buying a house - no one could have talked us out of buying this house once we had set our minds to it. But...we didn't plan on not liking our jobs, or me having endo, or possibly needing $20k to adopt. On the other hand, having the privacy and little "oasis" of our wooded property in the middle of the suburbs has been one of the things that has gotten us through these last couple of years! It's not been all bad.
    I just wanted to warn you not to underestimate the time and energy a house that needs work requires. Our house was built in 1979, so it's not Victorian or anything like that. My husband used to work as a carpenter before he joined the Army, and he's had some experience with electrical work and plumbing as well, so luckily we haven't had to contract out anything yet (except the fireplace)...otherwise we'd have been in trouble.
    All that said, I wouldn't necessarily warn you against buying a house that needs work as much as warning you against buying house that requires two incomes. We'd certainly buy an old house again - and probably will when we get out to New Mexico, because we enjoy the character and uniqueness that come with older houses. We'd just go into it with our eyes opened :).
    Anyway, as I'm typing this huge long comment (sorry!), DH says if you want to come by and get a taste of some home renovations before you make your decision, he'd be happy for some help! Haha, he can dream :). But, I'd be happy for you to come visit anytime (I wouldn't make you work, don't worry).

  6. I don't have any advice but hope you are able to work out a house soon that is convenient for you, that is not an overwhelming amount of work, and that you both are happy with.

  7. I'd be more worried about a wet basement (depending on what exactly that entails--a touch of occasional dampness during a biannual downpour or the River Jordan every time it sprinkles) than all the cosmetics. You can do them gradually. Paint and wallpaper you could do yourselves, and drywalling, well, get someone to do all the rough and nasty work, then do the finishing yourself.

    But it is hard to maintain a big house, where there will always be something going on that needs attention. With a longer commute, that may increase your stress levels. But if you love the house, and are excited and eager to make it a home, then hey, that will balance any additional nonsense out.

    If nothing is quite right, keep looking. We jumped a bit too quickly into buying our current house, in part because we couldn't stand sleeping on my MIL's floor another month. It was a bit more than we could handle in the end, and remains partly unfinished (i.e. we have a shower to put in, and some trim to install, and lots of painting left).

    But if you can stand a bit more time in your current digs, try to be patient. If a place feels like too much work for you, it most likely is.

  8. Nope, not irrational at all! There are many variables to consider when making such a purchase.

    In terms of energy, all I can suggest are tired old favourites: exercise and water and good food.

  9. Hi there!
    Yes, I became a CASA/GAL on a volunteer basis and I got my first case the week of Christmas. Thanks so much for visiting my blog.
    We were shown no fewer than 60, yes 60 houses when we were house hunting for our first home but the time and effort was worth it in the end. It's a huge stress but also gives you an enormous sense of accomplishment. Good luck!

  10. I totally understand. We just bought a house and when we went back in for the inspection I was all "uuuuuugggg". The place was SO dirty and needs so much work. (basic work like painting and such). How did I NOT see that the first time around?? Anyways, I'm still glad it's going ot be our new house, but oy, I certainly had a blind eye the first time I saw it!