Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Big Plans

Immediately after closing, my initial reaction was to run in that house with a gallon of paint and a roller and start tearing things out and painting those walls.  However, my practical side kicked in and we decided to instead make a to-do list.  First, we had to figure out what had to be done now, and by a professional, and what we could save up for and DIY later.  Luckily, the house was structurally sound and had no structural or system issues.  The foundation was solid, wiring updated, and furnace, water heater, and hvac were in good shape.  So here is the master list (the things crossed out are done, and we'll walk through those projects room by room):

Living room

-          Paint all walls
-          Paint all trim/doors white
-          Rug
-          curtains
-          New entertainment unit (to hide the wires)
-          Art over bar
-          Art on wall behind sofa
-          Drop zone
-          Crown molding
-          Refinish hardwood floors

Dining area
-          Paint all walls
-          Paint all trim white
-          Rug
-          Centerpiece
-          Bench/storage under window
-          Gallery wall
-          Treatment under breakfast bar (bead board?  Stencil?)
-          Replace light fixture


-          Paint all walls
-          Paint all trim/doors white
-          Replace countertops
-          Replace sink/faucet
-          Replace appliances
-          New cabinet hardware
-          backsplash

Downstairs Hallway
-          paint all walls
-          paint trim white
-          wall treatment (stencil?  Stripes? Wallpaper?)
-          jewelry closet
-          art
-          refinish hardwood floors

-          paint all walls
-          paint trim white
-          replace light fixture
-          add separate switches for light and exhaust fan
-          install medicine cabinet or mirror
-          re-glaze tub
-          deep clean tile/grout (shower)
-          deep clean tile/grout (floors) 
-          organization system for under sink storage
-          art

-          paint all walls
-          paint all trim white
-          replace carpet
-          art on walls

Bedroom 1 “Master Bedroom”
-          paint
-          paint all trim white
-          replace carpet
-          curtains
-          bedside tables
-          art
-          replace light fixture

Bedroom 2 “Dressing Room”
-          paint
-          paint all trim white
-          replace carpet
-          storage system and/or armoires
-          repaint dressers and dressing table
-          repair dressing table
-          art
-          curtains

Bedroom 3 “Man Cave”
-          paint walls
-          paint trim white
-          paint ceiling
-          new carpet
-          replace light fixture
-          fix short in light fixture

Bedroom 4 “Office/Guest room”
-          paint walls
-          paint trim white
-          new carpet
-          replace door
-          book shelves and/or built-ins for storage
-          find solution for full size box spring
-          extra sleeping solutions?

-          paint all walls
-          dry lock the walls
-          paint concrete floor
-          fix furnace drainage issue
-          have furnace serviced
-          organize all boxes in storage
-          clear space for treadmill/TV
-          art on walls
-          seating (futon?  Small sofa?)
-          arrange laundry area
o   rug or stencil floor
o   new light fixture
o   brighter paint


-          stain back deck and front porch
-          pressure wash exterior
-          repaint porch beams and door surround
-          remove broken storm door
-          paint front door
-          paint mailbox
-          paint house numbers
-          hang flag
-          grade dirt around home to prevent leaking/flooding
-          repair fence gate
-          stain or paint fence
-          clean gutters
-          landscape front yard
-          landscape back yard
-          plant grass seed and fertilize back yard


Possible Construction projects:
-          finish basement
-          add a bathroom or half bath
-          add a screened-in porch

Since anything we had the contractor do would be rolled into our mortgage (and paid back with interest) we wanted to only have the contractor do what was necessary because it was either (1) out of our skill range, or (2) something we couldn't live with for the time being and didn't have time to do ourselves.  In the end, we decided to have the contractor tackle the following:

  • paint the living room, dining area, kitchen, bathroom and stairwell (we painted the bedrooms ourselves to save money)
  • drylock and paint the basement
  • paint the concrete basement floor
  • fix wiring in the bathroom to have the fan and light controlled by two seperate switches
  • dispose of old countertops and appliances and install new countertops and appliances
  • install new sink, faucet and garbage disposal in kitchen
  • repair drainage issue with furnace

Friday, October 18, 2013

Finding the Gray Cape Cod

When Brad and I started our house hunting adventure, we had the benefit of having been married and living together for over three years and had lived in three different rentals together.  We had a good idea of what worked of us and what didn't, and we were able to make a list of our priorities.  We made two lists, "dream house" and "must haves", hoping to settle somewhere in between. 

Brad's must-haves:
  • flat, private back yard
  • East side of Cincinnati or Northern Kentucky
  • No more than a 30 minute commute to UC
My must-haves:
  • updated kitchen
  • budget friendly (must be able to make mortgage payment on only one salary if necessary)
  • at least three bedrooms OR a finished basement/media room
  • no more than a 45 minute commute to downtown (and I mean from the moment I walk out the door to the moment I walk in my office)
Additionally, we wanted, but didn't require:
  • 1 1/2 - 2 bathrooms
  • garage
  • master suite w/ walk-in closet
  • energy efficient
  • charming
Of course, I have had the ideal house in my head since I was a child.  Quaint, cottage-like (is that a word?).  Light tan or gray or white with black shutters and a red front door. 

The budget was non-negotiable for me.  I graduated law school in one of the worst years for new attorneys.  The legal market started shrinking in 2008 and by my graduation in 2010, most firms weren't hiring entry level associates, and those that were were paying MUCH less than starting salaries in the past (while, unfortunately, the cost of tuition and student loan rates were not decreasing).  Since we got married, I was laid off from two different firms due to economic downsizing, and Brad was laid off when the college he worked for merged with another college (and subsequently merged-out his position).  Luckily, these events didn't overlap, but we did have to struggle to make it on only one income.  I didn't want to ever be in a position where we couldn't make a mortgage payment because something had happened to one of our jobs, so I was a budget-Nazi.  (Did I mention the second firm that laid me off was a mortgage foreclosure firm?  So yeah...a history of lay offs with intimate knowledge of the foreclosure/mortgage industry makes for one crazy, paranoid home buyer).

I could write a novel on the amount of houses we looked at and the weird/interesting/unique challenges each presented, but I'll spare you.  The last house we looked at REALLY excited us.  It was in an ideal neighborhood.  The MLS photos looked like it had a wooded, flat back yard (which is unheard of that close to downtown Cincinnati) and the kitchen looked updated.  Add four bedrooms and 1 1/2 baths and we were ready to sign before even looking at it!

We went to the home, and it was nice.  The kitchen was updated, but not my style. It was also very small and closed in (you could stand in the middle of the kitchen and touch the walls on either side). The 1/2 bath was in the unfinished basement and didn't seem practical at all.  The yard was private because of foliage, but not fenced in.  Still, it was good.  It had all the must-haves.  But I didn't have that "feeling".  I just didn't feel like it was home.

As we were leaving, I noticed the house across the street looked vacant, the storm door was off a hinge, one of the outdoor lights was hanging off the front of the house, and there was a white piece of paper on the door.  Foreclosure.  Likely budget-friendly.  Bingo.  I told my husband we should check it out, so we trespassed  trekked across the street.  Sure enough, the home had JUST been listed as a foreclosure.  We walked around back to the fully fenced-in back yard with a big, beautiful deck!  We looked in the windows and, once I got over the HIDEOUS yellow and salmon decor (except for the upstairs bedrooms, which were pleasant shades of dull lilac and glow-in-the-dark bright green), was pleasantly surprised at the relatively open floor plan. 

Our realtor made some calls and got us inside and I instantly loved it.  Now, I had to overlook the outdated appliances, gray laminate counters with holes, hideous salmon and yellow paint (and by paint, I mean everything was painted: walls, baseboards, window frames, doors... EVERYTHING), and scratched up hardwoods.  But the place had potential, and it just felt right.  I could see us living here. 

Once we found out the price and budgeted the renovations we knew we couldn't handle ourselves, we were thrilled to find out the list price plus renovations would still cost FIFTY THOUSAND DOLLARS LESS than the house across the street, which was an almost identical home, and was also fifty thousand dollars under the average home price in the area.  My inner-cheapo was doing a victory dance at the investment potential. 

We put in an offer, and then we waited.  And waited.  And waited.  The home was owned by Fannie Mae at the time and y'all, let me tell you, the federal government is sloooowwww.   They finally accepted our offer after "reviewing" it for three weeks.  Inspection cleared, we obtained a renovation mortgage which would cover the purchase price plus the costs of the contractor-completed renovations, hired a contractor, and we were off!

Here is what we started with:

Exterior (notice the front door that won't close)

Exterior rear (and deck):
Kitchen (isn't she lovely in all her Big Bird yellow glory?)

The salmon living room:
the colorful upstairs bedrooms:
As you can see, there is a TON of work to be done (and about a thousand gallons of paint to be used).  For now, we're going to enjoy our new hot mess home!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Our houses

My husband Brad and I originally moved across the state from South-Central Kentucky to the greater Cincinnati area in 2007 (when he was, at the time, my boyfriend Brad).  I had just recently completed undergrad with a degree in partying, travelling and procrastinating Psychology.  Brad had recently resigned as Director of Admissions from said undergrad (yes, that's exactly as dramatic and scandalous as it sounds, maybe more on that soap opera later, if you're lucky ;).  He was looking for new jobs while I was applying to law schools, and it worked out that he got a job offer at the University of Cincinnati at the same time I got a scholarship offer from NKU Chase College of Law.  The stars were aligned.  Our fates were sealed, (insert cheesy cliche here) and we moved to northern Kentucky for what I thought would be a temporary, 3 year move.  Six years later, we are still here and LOVING this city.

I rented an apartment near school.  Brad rented a small house near me and the Kentucky/Ohio border.  But Brad  (tired of battling the bridge traffic every day on his commute) soon rented a beautiful, old Victorian in Cincinnati's oldest, historic neighborhood, Columbia Tusculum:

I was reluctant to give up my Kentucky residency (ya'll, something about being an Ohioan kind of made me want to throw up a little). The home was beautiful and open and charming, but had recently housed college students and was in terrible shape.  As he did with all his rentals, Brad cleaned and repainted the whole place.  When we got married in 2010, I moved into the old Victorian and we loved it.  While I adored the charming house and neighborhood, the utilities in the big, old, drafty Victorian were out of control (and out of this broke student's budget), so again we moved.

We loved the neighborhood, especially the local restaurants like Green Dog Cafe, Eli's Barbeque and Bella Luna, so we relocated to a smaller, more energy efficient rental in the same neighborhood.  The house was a 1930's three (small) bedroom, one bath cape cod:

The size was perfect for just the two of us.  Again, we cleaned and repainted and made the rental as cozy and inviting as we could.  The only thing we couldn't live with was the leaky, moldy basement.  When the house next door became available, we convinced the owners to rent to us to allow the housing market to rebound before selling, and she surprisingly agreed.  So.... we moved again, this time next door:

We lived in our last rental for two years.  This was the first rental we didn't have to paint (except for one wall in the living room that was damaged by the prior tenant) and we LOVED this house.  Look at that landscaping (all professionally done before we moved in)!  However, living in this house for two years made us realize what we did and did not want in a house.  First, the neighborhood.  While we LOVED the historic, charming neighborhood, the whole neighborhood was built on a steep hill, which meant foundation and water issues in almost every house and no flat yards. (Duri ng our house-hunting adventures, I started despising the words "flat, yard, and private". The husband was OBSESSED).



Second, the home itself was choppy.  The kitchen was big, but it was separated from the living area.  The dining room was large and charming, but we realized we rarely used the formal dining room and this was a waste of space.  We also realized there were a lot of features HGTV and pinterest and home blogs and friends and family made us believe we "needed" in a home, that we really didn't.  The closets were small, there was only one small full bath (there was a weird little closet with a toilet that we referred to as "world's tiniest bathroom"), and there was no designated laundry space (the washer/dryer was in the dry and mold-free partially-finished basement).  And while that wouldn't have worked for a lot of people, it worked for us. 

Near the end of our lease term in the summer of 2013, our landlord informed us she was planning for retirement and wanted to sell the property.  She offered to sell it to us first.  We were tempted, but ultimately decided the yard was a deal-breaker for Brad and the price was a deal-breaker for me (more on the rationale behind that decision later).    So we began looking at rentals again.  They.  Were.  All.  Horrible.  We're not high-maintenance people; all we wanted was a decent single-family in a safe neighborhood, but there were nightmares in almost every rental we looked at, and the rent was so expensive!  Home prices and interest rates, however, were still low.  After meeting with a mortgage broker and getting our pre-approval, we decided the time was right to buy.  I was out of school and a practicing attorney at a great firm downtown.  Brad was loving his job at UC.  More than that, we really fell in love with Cincinnati (which still feels a little "big city" to this Kentucky girl) and realized this was no longer the temporary destination we thought it would be.  Cincinnati was now home.  Nothing was holding us back, so we embarked on the stressful, time-consuming, frustrating exciting journey as first-time home buyers, and ended up with a charming, fixer-upper, gray cape cod: