Blog-i-ver-sa-ry Week! Happy Birthday, House!

It’s been one year since we closed on our house!  Which means it’s time for a little bit of reflection….

It’s been one year since we crazily decided to put in an offer on *this* house – the very same weekend I was prepping for a major examination that damn near killed me.  I think the stress of the test sent me over the edge and I “came to Jesus”, so to speak.

It’s been one year since we walked through this bland, boring, and uninspiring house with its unhooked plumbing, uninstalled sink, nil appliances (which we had to purchase from the get-go) and falling-off-the-wall microwave and thought, “Yup!  This baby’s ours!”

It’s been one year since the “stars aligned” for us to take possession of this foreclosed reject in a nice neighborhood with two parks close by and a whole bunch of eyesores.

Dear House, with your leaking gutters, holes in the walls, shoddy caulking, leaky windows, stinky and stained carpet, grease-covered kitchen cabinetry and tape stuck to the floor where the previous owners desperately tried to cover up all of the damage done to the baseboards and filthy builder’s grade painted bland walls – we still bought you because *we* knew you could be beautiful

You were ugly, that’s for sure.  You were a 4-year old house that looked like it had lived through ten!  A photo will go unpublished of me looking at this walk-through in revulsion the first time we saw it.  But we kept thinking back to you and we saw potential where others saw “maintenance nightmare”, achy backs, and dozens of gallons of paint.  This house definitely had its detractors (still does!), but there were a few things we just simply couldn’t find anywhere else…

Mt. Hood from our Master window....hazy in the hot summer of '09

We loved your big kitchen and your beautiful view!  We loved your three (3!!!!) walk-in closets, your upstairs laundry room, and your quiet-as-a-whisper street in the quiet neighborhood closer to the city.  We loved that we could take Maggie to the P-A-R-K without having to put her in a car (or jump into a ditch or walk on a busy road in order to get there) and, more importantly, that we could add a fence to our backyard to improve our dog’s quality of life as well as ours!  We loved that all of the houses across the street were custom “model homes” and ours was definitely the zit on the street.  We loved that you weren’t the biggest, the most expensive, or the strangest house on the block.  You were juuuuuust right….perfect for a little Botox!  We loved that you fit into our budget and could give us a “project” to keep us busy.  And most important of all, we loved that you were definitely a fixer that nobody else wanted and nobody else had loved….

And dear house, you have been a *lot* of work.  But you’ve been worth it!  And I love you more today than I did a year ago.  I knew I would learn to love you in time (and ensuing backaches, headaches, blood, sweat and tears – oh, and bruises, too!).  Baby, you’ve come a long way.  And we’re not done with you yet….not even close….so don’t get too comfortable….there’s lots more to come….

We love you, house!  Happy First Birthday!  Thanks for keeping us busy 🙂


Blog-i-ver-sa-ry Week! A House Hunting Retrospect!

We interrupt this regularly scheduled programming to encourage you to head over to today and check out a little mention that our Laundry Room got.  Check it out – we’re feeling ver-klempt!  Cassity, you’re the BEST!!

Since we’re still celebrating our one year anniversary of living in maison du Tell’er All About It, I thought I’d give a little peekaboo into our house hunting extravaganza and a little bit of why we decided to go with this house over some of the many dozens of other homes we looked at!  I know it sounds silly, but trust me, you’ll understand who we are better by the end of it.  Here goes nothing!

June, 2008: Dr. J graduates from Ohio State University (and gets Doc-tah-fied!) on a blistering hot, humid miserably Midwestern day (the ceremony was outside) and we begin the big transition of packing up our lives in Columbus, Ohio to begin life anew in Portland, Oregon where Dr. J landed himself a killer job (that’s ‘killer’ as in awesome, NOT ‘killer’ as in hired hit man)!

They don't call him Dr. J for nothing! He was smart enough to wear a t-shirt and gym shorts underneath this wool robe.

We decide to rent first before commiting to buy mostly because we want to have the ability to scope out neighborhoods and get a feel for our newly adopted hometown.  We pick out a ridiculously cute new-build pet-friendly Craftsman-y bungalow and on our one-year wedding anniversary (hey, we’re nothing if not romantic!  Who *doesn’t* want to spend their first anniversary sleeping on the floor in an empty house??!!) begin moving ourselves in!  The plan is to stay for about a year, save up some cash, and then purchase a house after I get a job in Portland.  Hey, we’re 28 and we’re not getting any younger!  Not only that, but Maggie is really tired of being tied up to a rope when she goes outside to do her business…

August, 2008: L-blogger finally moves to Portland after closing up shop at her old job and driving Maggie cross country to Portland with her best friend and brother in-law in tow!  Cheesy Momma and Doggy tourist photo ops are in abundance.

September, 2008: The glow and excitement of moving to a new city is quickly shattered when the economy decides to tank.  Two job offers on the table are pulled and much hand-wringing and stress ensues.  Looks like the house hunt is definitely on the back burner for at least a few more years!  Finding a job becomes priority numero uno!

February, 2009: Still jobless and with our debt-to-income ratio rapidly rising, we become intrigued by the idea of an $8,000 tax credit for first time homebuyers….maybe we should buy now…Dr. J has a great job with a steady income, we are renting and don’t need to sell anything, and we’re pretty tired of living in rentals where we can’t make any changes to the house to make our home more personal and our lives easier.  Besides, it’s always been our dream to live minimally on one income and have a second income for “everything else”, so forcing a purchase while we are a one-income household sounds like the ultimate test in frugality.  Looking under the couch covers for spare change becomes a daily occurrence.

April-June, 2009: We do the typical house-hunting tasks – apply for a loan, get approved, settle on a pricepoint, and put together a “laundry list” of needs, wants, and nice-to-haves.  Here is a little rundown of the things we *need*:

  • Good location – something that is closer to the city, but not too close to kill Dr. J’s commute (which is to the furthest west end of the Portland ‘burbs, which kind of limits our location options).  A quiet street is absolutely non-negotiable – our present location is on a very busy road and waking up at 4am with the grocery store delivery trucks bounding by is becoming a nightly annoyance.  It would also be nice to have a “walk-able” neighborhood where we can take Maggie on nightly strolls without having to cross said busy street or hop into a ditch to avoid traffic….ugh!!
  • Garage – Dr. J has tons of power tools.  Power tools take up room.  Power tools need either a shed or a garage.  Shed is preferred, garage is acceptable.  Garage and shed will become woodworking meccas for possible home improvement projects and renovations.
  • Decent yard size – neither of us are big into yardwork, but we figure a decent sized patch of grass for the Magsters is absolutely non-negotiable.
  • No major renos – we decreed that for our first homebuying experience, avoiding *major* renos is probably a safe bet from the get-go.  I.e. – everything needs to be mostly “functional” for the way we live.

It’s probably pretty obvious from the list above that we didn’t include anything like granite counters, hardwood floors, and/or anything else that was “taste specific”.  We were pretty much dead-set that any house we purchased was going to be a fixer and we were happy to break a sweat to fix up an ugly house in a good location!  I have my heart set on an older fixer-upper home (read: pre-1940) with character and expect to have a viscerally emotional response when I find “the one”…

May, 2009 – We look at houses all across the city, pricepoint, age, and varying states of repair and disrepair.  We even look at a ‘two-for-one’ viewing that had two foreclosed houses side-by-side that both needed some serious love.

They are both rentals, one had stood empty for about 9 months, and both are in piss-poor shape, bland, filthy, foreclosed and out of our price range.  NEXT!  However, I am intrigued by the beautiful view and parks within walking distance, though unimpressed with the state of the house and lack of character or charm.  I am still praying that we find an older, pre-war home that just needs some minor surface treatments.  That viscerally emotional response has occurred several times, however, reality is beginning to settle in…

June 5, 2009 – It’s the last weekend before I have to take a major examination which will hopefully help me land a job quicker and I am majorly stressing.  Dr. J and I are kind of hem-hawing about what to do regarding looking for houses because we are beginning to tire of looking at the same kinds of homes over and over again (i.e. newer build homes with nary a shred of character in sight) and I’m at my breaking point (probably induced by this examination breathing down my back for which I keep failing the practice tests).

I decide to call a friend who has also sat for the examination to get some advice and just generally chew the fat about everything going on in our lives.  She props me back up again (and encourages me not to pull out of the exam – more on that later) and then we get to talking about the house hunting experience and a lightbulb literally turns on in my head!  I realize that as “dreamy” as it sounds to buy an older home with character, the reality in a city like Portland (whose older, character-filled homes are in great abundance on the eastern side of the city) is that it’s much more difficult to buy an older home within our budget and within a reasonable commute distance – i.e. they are in short supply on the western side of the city where we dream of living.  And as romantic as it sounds to have a beautiful older home, a 90 minute commute one way every day just isn’t gonna cut it for being gas/eco-friendly *or* for having a decent work-life balance.  The other caveat is that Dr. J and I want to be able to travel to far away places and having a home that might eat into our travel budget via renovations is looking less and less desirable.  Lastly, we’ve seen many beautiful homes that didn’t need work and we were pretty set on finding a fixer that needed some love – why pay for somebody else’s renovations when we can do that ourselves?  Cue rational L-blogger, exit viscerally emotional response to finding “the one”.  So we thought back to all of the houses we looked at on the western side of the city (closer to work) and thought about the ‘two-for-one’ showing which was out of our price range.  We check the MLS listing to see if the smaller one is still available.  It miraculously is *and* the price has been decreased by about $20,000!  Interesting…

June 6, 2009 – …we call our realtor first thing in the morning to tell her we are going to put an offer on that ‘two-for-one’ showing.  We show up to our realtor’s office with my exam flashcards in my hand and checkbook in Dr. J’s.  We hurriedly sign the paperwork so I can get back to studying…

June 10, 2009 – I decide not to cancel the exam.  I take the exam and pass!  Phew!!!

June 10 – July 15, 2009 – Somewhere in there our price is accepted by the bank after a good deal of annoying back-and-forth (and us continuing to look at other houses “just in case”).  We float through the rest of June and July packing and getting ready for the move in a blazing hot summer, including scheduling the inspections and appraisals, purchasing appliances (the house had been ripped of its fridge, range, and washer and dryer), and planning for some minor facelifts.  Somehwhere in there while searching for decor inspiration, I stumble across this website and become intrigued by the idea of starting a blog to detail all of our renovations….hey, I’m still not working!  Why not?!

July 13, 2009 – We sign all of the paperwork (I think my hand still hurts to this day), but due to some weird Oregon law, we actually can’t claim the keys until July 15th.

July 15, 2009: Since our house was owned by a bank….and since banks are not in the real estate business…there were a few unfinished details that prevented us from claiming the keys.  It had something to do with back HOA fees that hadn’t been paid by the bank (see aforementioned comment “banks are not in the real estate business”).  As a result, the key hand off is pushed back a day.  However, we get money in our pockets later on down the line for overpaid interest!  Yippee!

July 16th, 2009, 6:00pm – we show up to our house, claim the keys, Dr. J carries me over the threshold, and we open a very special bottle of wine that had been given to us on our wedding day two years earlier:

It says "For the night you close on your first house - it won't stain the carpet!"

Maggie enjoys her first meal in the new abode…

…and Dr. J rips down the “For Sale” sign so that we can officially call this foreclosed dump our own!


All of the sudden, we went from being renters to homeowners with a whole boatload of responsibility and work to do like re-caulking and attaching our plumbing in the kitchen:

Dr. J and his Dad at work on our first weekend of ownership!

…painting what little we could prior to move-in (you can read about how we painted these stripes in our laundry room by clicking here and even how we completely reinvented the room by clicking here):

…and trying to stay cool in 100+ degree heat.  And while we were at it, we managed to start a blog to document our progress and keep our family and friends involved.  And 12 months later, we’re still at it!!  And we’re not even halfway done yet!  When will we be finished everybody keeps asking?  Probably never.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way…

So that’s our tale of house hunting and how we decided on a foreclosed fixer (and completely changed our philosophy about houses halfway through the search).  Anybody else have a similar story?  Anybody else wanna share?  Do tell!

What to inspect after the home inspection…

The home inspection.  It’s a scary moment for a new homeowner.  What will the home inspector find that we didn’t find?  Will it cost us hundreds thousands of dollars to repair?  Do we have to repair it straight away or can we wait a few months?  These were a lot of the questions that were logging some serious frontal lobe time while we were at our (almost purchased) home back in July!  In fact, when J and I showed up, our home inspector had already made himself at home on our roof, inspecting our shingles, and when we showed up, we were surprised how quickly and efficiently he went through our house while we merely twiddled our thumbs with anticipation…

Luckily, nothing truly came as a surprise to us.  We purchased a house that had been vacant for quite some time and was void of any and all furnishings, window treatments, and/or anything else that could potentially mask some sort of problem from a potential homebuyer.  And while we knew our laundry list of “To Dos” was going to be quite long (even before the inspection), we also knew pretty well what lay ahead of us like a lot of painting, repairing window seals, installing miscellaneous things like a garage door opener, and even “reinstalling” some items like our kitchen sink, which the previous owners just couldn’t seem to live without.  Gives a whole new meaning to taking everything but the kitchen sink, huh?:

But one thing that crept up on us after the dust settled, before we had truly unpacked all of our boxes, and something an inspection was never able to catch was a leaking hot water tank.  From day one (or perhaps day two), our water tank decided to give us a little bit of a water board treatment from the get go.  Terrific (insert sardonic tone here).  After some research online and calling a few plumbers who specialize in Hot Water Tanks, we figured that there just wasn’t an appropriate (or legit) way to repair it.  The Hot Water Tank was going to have to be replaced.  Fast forward almost 7 months and we still haven’t replaced it!  Originally we had plans to replace it in November, but then life intervened and told us not to, so we figured sometime after the first of the year would be the best time to do so.  Sooooo….it’s after the first of the year!!  And what have we been doing?!?!  Sitting on our duffs, that’s what!

Well, the time has come….the time is nigh….the end is near….and we are procrastinating to high heaven on replacing a very essential, yet very boring, item in our house.

How will this all play out?  Stay tuned.  This weekend we will begin the trek to find out just what we will be buying, how we will be installing it, and the who, what, where, whys, etc.  Ooooh….super duper exciting.  Can’t we just get back to painting and hanging curtains?  Sheesh…

The Foreclosure Crisis hits close to home…

So I think it goes without saying that the current real estate market sucks with a capital S-U-C-K-S! This was certainly evident when we were looking for our house where almost every other house we looked at was either in foreclosure or a short sale. Our house itself was a foreclosure, so we understand the whole “buying low” phenomenon. However, we are saddened to see so few people taking advantage of that opportunity. So this is an article directed at any person out there that is even remotely able to buy into the housing market right now.

When we went to the first showing of our house, it was actually two showings for the price of one! There were two houses for sale right next door to each other and both were in our price range!

Both houses were a little worse for the wear and obviously needed some major TLC. We ended up going with the smaller of the two houses because, let’s face it, we didn’t need that much space for two people and a pup! There were also a few aesthetic differences, but other than that, the two houses were essentially the same.

Now that we’ve moved into the smaller of the two and the previous tenants have moved out of the house next door, we’ve been keenly aware of realtors and prospective buyers who have come a-calling! In fact, we were outside working on our house this weekend when another family stopped by to look at the house next door and after they were inside for a good 30 minutes, they stopped by to talk to us about the neighborhood, what we knew of the house, etc. While it had been awhile since we had been inside, we had no idea just how bad it was! The windows are apparently leaking (which was also a problem for us, but we have managed to stay on top of it and fix it as we go), there is mold growing inside of those leaks, there are holes in the walls (another problem we have dealt with in our house), and it has suffered from overall deferred maintenance. It’s a pretty sad situation, but none of the problems are so difficult that they can’t be fixed.

What we’ve realized is that most prospective buyers simply aren’t as “brave” as J and I were. And by “brave”, I simply mean energetic! When people see a house that has been built inside of 5 years ago, they assume a great deal about a property; i.e. newer house = no problems and no ridiculous upkeep! However, these homes were, I hate to say it, built at the absolute height of the real estate boom, so they were built fast and furious without much regard for aesthetic details and/or longevity in mind. The smell of new carpet was enough to dupe most buyers in this neighborhood into buying, but after living in the house for a few years, our neighbors all have the same complaints; builder’s-grade cheap finishes (poor flooring, mouldings, and fixtures) have not held up over the years and so many of our neighbors have done already what we are doing which is replace much of what the builder initially procured for this property.

So therein lies the conundrum – a newer-ish house is for sale in our neighborhood, it is in foreclosure, so likely owned and “managed” by a bank that is responsible for selling it. While the bank has absolutely no desire to keep the house, they are, as they say, not in the business of “selling houses”. Therefore, the property is likely to be sold “as is” and in a newer neighborhood, nobody wants to buy a house that is less than 5 years old and requires a lot of work – unless you’re insane like us! Sweat equity is money in your pocket down-the-line, but so long as our house sits next door to a vacant home I don’t think that we will have any problem with our property values skyrocketing…at least not yet!

So, in the end, while J & I are very secure in our home purchase and all of our hard work is really starting to pay off, I think we would feel better if there were some equally insane neighbors that would move in next door and really spiff up that pad as well. Honestly, if somebody did move in next door, they would easily see an awesome return on their investment a few years down the line….

Here’s hoping that there is a prospective buyer out there willing to give this house a good owner ;-).

Goodbye Old, Hello New!

Hi, Readers! (all 2 of you!)

Mad props to my Mother-in-Law (wow, that’s a lot of hyphens) for trekking to Portland today to help me clean out the old house! It’s as good as, if not better than, it was when J and I moved in a year ago! How time flies! The house was full of great memories and I really will miss it! Even though it was just a rental, it really felt like “home”.

Now that we’ve closed up shop on the old house, some people have started to ask about the new house and how it compares to the old and why we chose the particular house we did. So here’s our mini house hunting story…cue music!

When J and I started looking for homes a few months back, we had created a “grocery list” of things that we wanted. We specifically categorized (of course, me, Miss Organized!) our list into two categories: Neighborhood Wants and House Wants. Those lists were further subdivided into “Need to haves”, “Want to haves”, and “Nice to haves”. The “Need to haves” were absolutely non-negotiable. Those included things like a 2-car garage, a quiet street (this was a *huge* issue in our rental home), closer to downtown and yet still not murder on J’s commute, 2-4 bedrooms, a large functional kitchen, and enough yard space for Maggie (our Mascot dog) to roam free without too much space for it to be a maintenance nightmare! Of course, we dreamed of other things in our home, but those were the most essential.

Our house search included bigger and smaller homes, older and newer, cheaper and more expensive, smaller and larger yards, bad neighborhoods and good ones, you get the idea. We probably went to around 30-40 viewings of homes just to get a “taste” of what Portland had to offer (not including the 200 or so we checked out online – God Bless the Internet and Google StreetView!). We seriously considered putting offers in on about 3-4 of those homes and the reason we didn’t on those are as varied as the homes themselves. Some houses were too far out, too much hassle (short sales being some of the worst hassles we could have dealt with), and/or too much money for how much renovation we were going to have to eventually put into it. Another consideration for most of these homes were the neighborhoods. After having spent the better part of two years devouring every home show imaginable on HGTV, I started to realize that you should never *ever* buy the best house on the block, nor the biggest, nor the weirdest, etc, etc. If you can live with a little bit of a bad paint job, ugly fixtures, etc, then the best bang for your buck is a house that needs just a little bit of TLC. You can change a paint job or a light fixture but you can never change a neighborhood or location. What are the three most important rules to real estate? Location, location, location!!!

Another consideration for us was a promise that J and I made to each other when we got married, which was our love of travel and our serious desire to see far and away places before kids essentially end our traveling days. We realized that the cute little 1920s bungalows we fell in love with were going to eat up a lot of our time (and money) such that we wouldn’t be able to travel as much as we would care. We had to think not just of what we wanted in a house, but what we wanted out of life. This was a consideration that took us awhile to realize was a “Need to have”.

So that got us thinking back to this newer-build foreclosure we saw in the cute neighborhood with the school just behind it and a park just in front… It was definitely the worst house on the block and it needed a lot of work, love, and paint, but J and I were confident that it was something we could handle! And we have many ambitious (and bold) plans for our space and we plan to do it all on our own. And so after a whirlwind weekend of “Come to Jesus” moments, we took the plunge and made an offer! More on that story another time!

It’s an adventure! We hope you’ll stay tuned for the journey!

Peace out!

PS I really do plan to upload more pics to this site once we get the house a little more “finished”. Stay tuned!