Surviving Homeownership

I have finally moved in and settled down, both into our new house and into my new job, and feel sane enough to resume blogging. As someone who has rented apartments for the past 8 years, the transition to homeownership has been a roller coaster of fear and excitement. Kevin can attest to the stress I have put myself through over the past 2 months. Between closing on and deep cleaning the new house, packing and cleaning the old house, traveling for Thanksgiving, buying presents and traveling for Christmas, ending my old job, and starting a new job (phew!), I declined into a constant state of anxiety.

To anyone considering undertaking a new adventure, I highly recommend tackling only one life change per annum.

Though excited about all of these huge changes, I was freaking out about everything. I called Kevin at work in tears one day, certain that I had found a termite and that we would now have to pay millions of dollars to deconstruct and rebuild the house. I still don’t know what kind of bug I found, but after hours of research, I determined that it was not a termite, and I can now differentiate between termites and ants. To any experienced homebuyer, bugs are a natural part of moving into a house that has been vacant for several months. However, I found so many and such variety of bugs that I was sure I would never be able to live comfortably in my new house.

This, of course, was irrational. A month after our move (and some serious self-pest-control initiatives), I rarely see a bug inside the house, if ever, and Peanut keeps watch over the backyard.

Peanut on the prowl.

For the record, some of my other freak-outs included the following:

  • Situation: Someone down the street was burgled.
    • Fear: Robbers.
    • Irrational Carly Conclusion: We need a monitored alarm.
    • Final Outcome: We’re fine. We have a dog for an alarm.
  • Situation: There is an off-colored spot on the ceiling.
    • Fear: The ceiling is leaking.
    • Irrational Carly Conclusion: We need a new roof.
    • Final Outcome: We’re fine. It’s not leaking. The roof is 3 years old.
  • Situation: There was a funny smell coming out of an electrical outlet when the cover was removed.
    • Fear: There is mold in the walls.
    • Irrational Carly Conclusion: We need a new house.
    • Final Outcome: We’re fine. Every house has some mold. Nothing is perfect. Life will go on.

These days, I feel like my normal self and am absolutely loving being a homeowner, mostly because it means that I will not be moving my house-load of crap for at least 5 years (fingers crossed). Having moved three times since July 2012, the thought of never moving again is a sweet release. I have also learned that owning a house means that, yes, unplanned repairs will be necessary, and they will occur at the most inconvenient time in your life possible, but most things are manageable and don’t require an immediate emotional breakdown. Plus, we’re aggressive savers; if we have to pay for a repair, we probably will be able to, or we will learn to live without (looking at you, toilets that won’t stop hissing!).

So what are the perks of owning a home? I’m still discovering them myself, but here is a collection of what I love so far:

  • Trash pickup and recycling. No longer do we have to trudge copious amounts of drippy garbage a quarter mile across the apartment complex. The trash man comes to us! And, since we now have recycling bins, we barely make any trash at all; most of what we use goes to recycling or the compost bin. We only throw away un-compostable food and un-recyclable plastic. Our huge reduction in waste makes me really excited.
  • Fixing it up. I never thought that laborious work would be fun, but it is when you own your house! Things like re-sealing the roof, digging up bricks, cutting down dead trees, deconstructing and burning the rotten shed, and replacing small plumbing fixtures are all fun adventures rather than tasks from hell. (As the installer of all things I can’t do myself, I’m sure Kevin has a different opinion.) And small improvements make a big difference; it feels (and smells…) like a totally different house from the one we purchased. Every time I improve something, I imagine the house smiling on the inside, happy to be so loved and cared for after years of neglect. (See also: anthropomorphism.)

New faucet!

  • Decorating. Want to color the walls with crayon? Chalkboard paint? Go ahead. The house is your canvas. No permissions necessary.
  • Mailbox. I have a real mailbox, and it doesn’t require a key or a stroll, and it’s right outside my door!
  • Hanging out on the roof. (No commentary needed.)
  • Wanting to be cleaner. When I lived with my parents, I was always in trouble for having a messy room. My argument (however untrue) was, “It’s my room and I like it this way!” My father’s retort, without fail, was, “Well, it’s my house and I don’t want it to look like a pig pen! When you own a house, you can do whatever you want!” Naturally, this logic really appealed to me. Once I moved out for college, I never moved home again, and every place I lived did, indeed, look like a pig pen. But now that I own my dwelling, I want to make it nice. I want it to be fresh and clean, and I don’t want to leave dirty hideaways that might appeal to bugs. Being a homeowner has made me so eager to keep clean that I find myself with some kind of cleaning device in hand nearly every day. Thanks, Dad. I get it now.
  • No HOA. Though homeowners’ associations provide a lot of benefits, they also cause a lot of undue cost, stress, and pain. I’ll mow my own lawn and skip the community pool (inevitably full of germs, icky band-aids, and piss) in exchange for doing what I want with my land and structures, thank you very much. The last thing I need is another level of government telling me how to live my life. (See also: Libertarianism, HOA tyranny.)
  • Cheaper than rent. Okay, so maybe the house payment (which equals mortgage + taxes + insurance) isn’t cheaper than my Gainesville rent was, but it is cheaper than my Tampa rent was—and it’s 600 SF larger.
  • Fenced-in yard. I no longer have to endure the freezing morning air while my dog takes her dear sweet time sniffing out the perfect place to unload. She can stay out as long as she wants and freeze her teats off; I’ll stay inside and drink coffee. (Side note: I just learned how to spell “teats” and also that Googling “teets” is NSFW.)
  • No shared walls. Time to see just how high we can turn up that sub-woofer before our ears explode! TURN IT UP TO 11!!!
  • No annoying maintenance guy who leaves his skinned hunting prizes on the hood of his truck to dry out during the day and then steals your plants because he thought you had already moved out of your previous apartment, even though some of your items were still clearly sitting inside the living room!! Yeah, you know who you are, creeper. RIP jasmine, rosemary, basil, and lantanas. I hope you’re not dead.

Of course, I’m sure there are plenty of things I will miss about apartmentship, like stress-free living, sharing walls (a bane, but at least someone might hear you scream if you’re in trouble), and mega dumpsters for disposing of large items (or bodies) easily.

Speaking of getting rid of bodies, Gainesville’s handbook for garbage collection strictly prohibits disposing of dead animals in your residential garbage cart. So while we may be surviving homeownership, someone’s pet did not. RIP, Fido. Despite an unceremonious removal from this life, your memory lives on in every new-resident garbage-collection pamphlet.

Our First Home

Last week, I posted about our house hunt. Last Friday, we signed our contract for…House #3! Kevin and I are officially tenants in common with rights of survivorship!

Our house, which does happen to be in the middle of our street.

Although House #3 was more than we initially thought we wanted to spend, it has a 3-year-old roof and a brand-new A/C, which means that two of the most expensive renovations we would have to do to a home are already taken care of (for now). The only major repair we will have to do is re-pipe the entire house, hopefully 5 to 10 years from now. Our house was built in 1969, and it still has the original galvanized steel pipe, which we will have to replace with PVC eventually. The location is pretty central and yet close to the highway for Kevin’s commute. The yard is huge, and I love the screened porch. The bonus room is a nice addition too, though for now it will just house all of our yard equipment until we can knock down and replace the rotting shed.

The closing was more fun than I expected. We signed our names so many times that my signature morphed into scribbles toward the end. I had imagined that it would be terrifying, like a trial or something, where we would have to answer for all the information in our loan application. Instead, it was an easygoing sit-down where the title lawyer explained our entire contract to us as we signed what I consider to be a document more binding than marriage. We also received a very sweet note from the sellers wishing us well in our new home, and our Realtors gave us a gingerbread-house kit as our first Christmas decoration. (By the way, if you’re ever thinking about buying or selling a house in Gainesville, I cannot say enough great things about our Realtors, the Suskins.)

After the closing, we headed to Lowe’s to start on our first few projects: painting and yard work. The two guest bedrooms and the two bathrooms need to be repainted, as they are ghastly colors that no one should have ever chosen. The worst offender is a lavender room that is not only hideous but also poorly painted. There is paint on the ceiling, on the molding, etc. It’s like a mother asked her child what color her room should be, and the child replied “purple, and I want to paint it myself!” Our first project was just getting the Killz primer on the lavender room walls.

Man at work.

Our painting agreement is that Kevin does the edging and I do the rolling. This works well for us because I am too much of a perfectionist to do the edging (I would spend hours mulling over one inch of edging), while Kevin cares just barely enough to make fast work of it while still doing a wonderful job. Plus, I like to use the roller.

By day 2, we had primed all of the rooms and finished the first cost of paint in the lavender room (I say “first” because it may require a second coat). The new color is “Sisal,” which, as we learned, is an agave plant that is so loved that it has its own website.

The lavender room…post lavender.

We also spent some time digging up nice stones and bricks in the backyard. We imagine there was once a lovely walkway back there, but it has become so overgrown that we have to dig it all out, inventory it, and create a new path. Kevin began digging for his future garden too. He spent over $50 in weird vegetable seeds to plant, but I gave up vegetable gardening a long time ago, so this is all up to him.

Dig and dig and dig and diggity dig.

And we also brought Peanut by to check out her new yard and to make sure there weren’t any ghosts. (As I learned from The Conjuring, when your dog refuses to enter your new home, and then you find him/her dead in the yard the next morning, move out of that house immediately.)

WEEEEEEEE

From what I can tell, Peanut loved it, and she christened the yard in the same way Kevin did the house—with a lovely pile of waste. Unfortunately, hers was not flushable.

(PS: One day, this blog will be about wedding planning again…)

Planning Poor Does House Hunters

In September, Kevin came up with his worst idea yet: buying a house. (And it’s the worst because it has required the most amount of effort on my part and has resulted in five new gray hairs.) Throughout our relationship, we have debated the pros and cons of homeownership, and each conversation eventually concluded that it is better to rent; if nothing else, it’s certainly easier than owning a home. However, the financial guru in Kevin couldn’t ignore the falling interest rates and the low home prices, both of which are only going to rise in the coming months. And as long as we live in the home for at least 5 years, it will be cheaper than renting in the long run. So after days of debate, I too became convinced that buying a home is the right thing to do right now. And who doesn’t love looking at houses?? (The correct answer is Kevin.)

So, in October, after doing my research, we chose a Realtor (a local husband-wife team) and began looking at houses. Overall, we only saw six properties before we found “the one.” I know I dogged House Hunters in my previous post, but in truth, I love the show and applied to be on it. Since they never called me back (grrr), I have devised my own HH experience for your reading pleasure. Here are three houses we saw, one of which we chose. See if you can figure out which one we picked! (And no telling if you already know the answer!)

House #1

House #1

3 beds, 2 baths
Price: $94,900
Year Built: 1957
Square Footage: 1,401
Area of Town: NE Gainesville near Waldo Road and NE 23rd Ave

The Realtors chose this house for us based on similarities to other homes we picked out. It has some nice upgrades, like a bonus room, newer kitchen appliances, and an updated guest bathroom, and the owners were offering to replace the roof as long as they received a competitive offer. It has a nice flow and a great backyard, which includes a storage shed and a tree house (much to Kevin’s delight). Plus, this house is way under our budget, so we could easily make a competitive offer and get the new roof.

Updated kitchen

However, although I loved this house, Kevin really didn’t like it.

Nice backyard, and an unimpressed Kevin

It has little curb appeal, the A/C unit needs to be replaced, there is no screened porch (one of my wish-list items), and the bonus room seems more like a strange attachment. We both dislike the neighborhood; it is just outside our favorite area (downtown/Duckpond) and yet not really walkable or bikeable. Also, the schools are not the best, and the area is so residential that we would be driving some distance for everything—groceries, movies, restaurants, etc. I also dislike that the laundry area is outside of the house in the carport, though it is something I could live with.

House #2

House #2 (really bad picture but it’s the only one I took of the front exterior)

3 beds, 1.5 baths
Price: $109,000
Year Built: 1956
Square Footage: 1,080
Area of Town: NW Gainesville near University & NW 34th Street

Before seeing this house in person, I thought we would really love it—and we do, for the most part. It has a great updated kitchen with porcelain tile floors, new roof, newer piping, beautiful parquet wood floors throughout, neat built-ins, great natural light, and a lot of that vintage charm we are looking for. It is within walking distance to the movies, Publix, restaurants, and a gym, and it is so close to the university, so renting it would be really easy in the future. Although it has only one full bathroom, the half bath is good enough for us and adds a little extra value.

Living area with beautiful floors

Updated kitchen

Weird bonus room as viewed from the backyard

While Kevin and I both like this house a lot, we have some concerns. First, the backyard needs a ton of work, and several trees overhanging the roof need to be cut back. Also, the house has a very strange bonus room that can’t be accessed from the main house (we had to go through the carport to get to it), and yet this room is the only way to get to the backyard. So, if I wanted to let Peanut outside to do her business, I would have to walk her out of the house via the kitchen, into the carport, through the weird bonus room, and out the bonus room back door to the backyard. I also don’t like that there is no screened-in porch or outdoor space. The weird bonus room could be converted to a porch and connected to the house by replacing the wood siding with screen and replacing some interior windows with doors, but that would be a lot of work, effort, and money. We also don’t like the windows; except for the windows in the bonus room, all of the windows are the slatted kind (which are very energy inefficient), and they aren’t screened. This is one of the smaller houses we saw, and we wouldn’t gain much more square footage than we currently have in our townhouse. To top it off, there are dead bugs and rodent droppings everywhere and weird, not-to-code construction problems (like a cable wire running from the outside, through a hole in the slatted window, into a bedroom). Despite its charm, it seems like it may be more than we can handle in a first home.

Yet, we love the bones of the house and the area, and we think we could really make it our own (with a good cleaning and some porch construction!).

House #3

House #3

3 beds, 2 baths
Price: $129,000
Year Built: 1969
Square Footage: 1,476
Area of Town: NW Gainesville near the intersection of Newberry Road and NW 8th Ave

We decided to view this house, even though it was above the price range we set for ourselves. However, everything is negotiable in real estate, so we figured we could make a deal if we chose this house. There is so much to like about this house: huge backyard, fantastic curb appeal, new roof, new A/C unit, updated kitchen (with gas range, which Kevin swooned over), and a cute screened-in porch with brick flooring and a metal roof. It has more than enough space for us, but I’m sure we would find ways to fill the house. I really like the flow of the house (it reminds me a lot of the house I grew up in), and there are several fruit trees in the backyard (fig, kumquat, and orange!). There would be very little we would have to compromise on here, and yet there are plenty of opportunities for us to make small improvements to really make the house our own. Plus, the house is close to the mall, the highway, North Florida Regional Hospital, shopping, restaurants, and the university, so we could probably rent it to a family or serious student down the road.

Kitchen and dining area with screened-in porch access

Bonus room (formerly a carport)

View of backyard from porch (and shed in disrepair)

As for negatives, it’s not my favorite area of town. The main road nearby can get congested during rush hour because of its proximity to the highway, but the house is still within a short drive to most of the places we visit. We would be further from downtown, which we really dislike, and we would probably have to cancel our downtown gym memberships, because we would never go. The street the house is on is quiet, though we could hear some noise from the main road when standing in the yard (but we live in a city, so this doesn’t really bother us). Also, I don’t like the carpet. It’s in good condition and seems newer, but it’s not a color I would choose. We also discovered a minor electrical problem, and there is a shed in the backyard and a few trees that would need to come down ASAP. And, of course, it’s above our preferred price point.

So…which house do you think we chose? We are closing on one of these houses soon (assuming there are no issues with the financing…fingers crossed), and I will update later with the answer!

Also, I’m pleased to report that Kevin did not mention “man cave” once in our search! I doubt the thought even crossed his mind, though our Realtor did mention it in one of the houses we looked at, and I had to give him an abbreviated spiel about the idiocy of the man cave.

Planning Poor Does Hiawassee

In October, Kevin and I drove to the picturesque mountain town of Hiawassee, Georgia for a mini vacation. Between fighting over music choices, discovering we had no beverages in the car except for alcohol, and pulling over every 50 miles for Kevin to mark his territory and/or eat, the 12+ hours we spent driving felt more like a mini prison sentence. But there is no one I’d rather be imprisoned with than my handsome, charming fiance (awwwwww). (Ask me for an updated answer in 25 years.)

Our other purpose for the trip was to witness our friends Rob and Amanda tie the knot. They had a lovely ceremony followed by a raucous reception. To redeem the self-deprecating photos of posts past, here is the only decent picture of us ever taken. Since we are both rather un-photogenic, consider this equivalent of seeing a leprechaun.

IMG_1297

Our betrothed friends had made lodging arrangements for out-of-town guests at their beautiful resort venue, but in true Planning Poor style, we stayed where we could get the best rate. My family used to vacation in the mountains, and I knew I could find a backwoods cabin (a la Cabin in the Woods) for a steal if I Googled hard enough. (You can find anything if you Google hard enough.)

Eventually, I found Boundary Waters Resort and Marina, a small inn on beautiful Lake Chatuge. The rates were low compared to other hotels in the area, the owners were offering a buy-two-nights-get-one-free deal, and guests received free kayak and canoe rentals! That was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

Entrance to our room.

Entrance to our room.

View from our porch.

View from our porch.

Unfortunately for Kevin, eating 20 bacon-wrapped scallops, indulging in rich, Southern cuisine, and/or imbibing an unlimited amount of alcohol (all of this at the reception) was an offer his stomach had to refuse.

The morning after the wedding, I was roused from sleep by Kevin leaping from the bed and charging toward the bathroom like a female rhino in heat. (Strangely, this is the exact opposite of his trajectory the night of his proposal.) What I heard next I will refer to simply as sounds-that-shall-not-be-named, followed by a shower. An hour later, I dared to enter the bathroom; I found Kevin lying on the floor, wet and naked, and sandwiched between two towels, using a smaller towel to cover his eyes. The poor boy was paralyzed with nausea and pain. Since I am a wonderful fiancee, I immediately laughed……and then drove to the local grocery store (Ingles, which is better than Publix, if you can believe it), where I purchased generic Pepto and Advil for Kevin and a box of fresh pumpkin and blueberry muffins and a Starbucks coffee with soy milk for moi. (Yes, Ingles has a Starbucks in the store.) (Yes, mountain people drink nice coffee too.) I wonder what the cashier thought of that purchase…

I was hoping Kevin would feel better by the extended check-out time I thoughtfully negotiated, but he didn’t, and I knew he was not going to make it down those 180-degree, winding mountain roads on the return drive, where there are no shoulders to pull over if his stomach decided to expunge more of its contents. Thankfully, we were able to get our room for another night, which left me with Barfo Hublou, an entire day to do nothing, and…CABLE TV!

We don’t have cable at home because we don’t need cable to survive. We get plenty of entertainment from our Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime subscriptions, all of which cost less than cable. Thankfully, Kevin isn’t a sports fanatic and thus doesn’t require ESPN, which is the only justifiable reason to have cable TV these days.

However, that doesn’t mean I don’t miss cable, especially HGTV (specifically House Huntersalthough I recently discovered that Amazon Prime has several seasons available for streaming). Kevin despises HGTV. But how much can he protest when he’s sprawled on the bathroom floor unable to pry the remote from my cold, house-hunting hands? The answer is not at all. And so it was with maniacal glee that I watched endless HGTV…all…day…long.

Now, any half-brained chimp could watch two or three episodes of House Hunters and figure out the formula: A person or couple needs a house, the Realtor shows them three, they pretend to think about it really, really hard, and then they purchase one and you get to see how they like it 3 months later. However, it takes several marathons of House Hunters to realize all the things you hate about these house-hunting people and/or couples (and you know you hate most of them). Here are my top pet peeves, discovered during what I have termed the Hiawassee HGTV House Hunters Barfo Hublou marathon.

The Man Cave

I like to think that most men on House Hunters are the kinds of men fathers want their children to marry. For the men/couples 40 years and older that appear on the show, this is usually true. For those under 40, I am almost always duped into liking them until they walk into a basement or bonus room and utter: “YES! ROOM FOR MY MAN CAVE!”

For those who don’t know, the “man cave” is a room where men go to watch TV or play games or do man things, and generally the intent is that women aren’t allowed in. I can’t even begin to tell you how much this term annoys me. All men who say this sound not only misogynistic but also like prehistoric cavemen (which is why they probably belong in a man cave anyway). Why can’t the woman be part of the room? Why are only men allowed to congregate in front of and scream at televisions? Why is the woman relegated to the kitchen to cook for the men in the cave? If you are buying a house with someone, you should be able to tolerate them enough to share all rooms with each other. If Kevin ever utters the word “man cave” on our house hunt, it is over. Don’t think I won’t leave him for a non-man-cave specimen on the spot.

The worst part is how these caveman episodes end. When the male is especially excited about the man cave, House Hunters (without fail) ends the show with the man reclining in some fancy couch he bought himself for his man cave while his wife/girlfriend/future divorcee makes and delivers a meal to his lap. I don’t know how they get the women to agree to do this. While we’re reversing the progress of the female gender, why not slap on some 1950s-inspired high heels, polka dots, and aprons too?

The Double Vanity / Gigantic Bathroom

One of the interesting parts of HH is learning what people find important in a home. For some, updated kitchens with granite counter tops and stainless-steel appliances are the priority; for others, it’s all about the double vanity and/or the gigantic master bathroom. I have learned that, for many people, sharing a sink with their significant other is unthinkable. But as I watch these episodes, I have to ask myself, “Do these people understand the literal meaning of what they are saying?”

I love when couples start out the show by saying, “I NEED that double vanity! We are so tired of bumping into each other!” and then HH has them childishly recreate their morning bathroom routine. (I even saw a guy step out of the shower in a towel once…very weird, HH). I guess I can’t understand why this is so important because Kevin and I get ready at different times of the morning, and we have more than one bathroom, so if he is using one sink, I’ll go to another. No big deal. But for some people, this is a huge deal. I just can’t help but giggle when a couple walks into a bathroom and squeals with delight, “YES! The double vanity I’ve been looking for!” Uh…hello? DOUBLE vanity. That means by wanting those sinks, you are twice as vain as you are with your one sink. But because we are so used to “vanity” not meaning the same thing when it is used to describe bathroom sinks, no one ever realizes what this sounds like to that rare, intellectual viewer.

As for the giant bathroom, I don’t understand why people want a larger place to do their dirty work. Not only is it more to clean and sterilize, but some house hunters act like their bathroom will be their main living area—a place to relax and unwind. Maybe it’s because I’m not a bath person, but I don’t want to be in my bathroom any longer than I have to be, especially if I have to be in there after Kevin on taco night. I get in, get clean, and get the hell out. I don’t understand the need to relax where you defecate.

After spending nine hours lying on the hotel bathroom floor, though, maybe Kevin does