Sunday, August 4, 2013

Accidental House Flippers - We've Moved!


If you're visiting for the first time, you'll find that our blog covers our home's transition from an outdated 1950's ugly duckling to a much more modern and bright family home.

If you've been following our projects for a while, it may seem odd (and sudden) to learn that we recently sold our home and moved.  Why?

Here's how it all happened.

When we bought our house in 2008, which took almost a full year to find, we knew we'd found our Forever Home.  It was dated and needed improvements, to be sure, but the previous owner had lived there nearly fifty years and did take quite good care of it.

When they replaced the windows, they went top-of-the-line.  When they replaced the toilets, they went top-of-the-line.  Um, hold on, let me think.  That about sums up the updates done on the place, save for a 1980's melamine kitchen.

But for a couple of starry-eyed newlyweds like us, the giant yard was perfect for our dogs and the cool 1950's split-level layout was just so retro and awesome.  Someday, with time, we could change the look of the place and be proud to have people over.

My husband and I both worked full-time and weren't home all that much anyway, so there was no rush.

But first, the basics:

A Numbers Game

It needed a new roof.  It needed air conditioning -- it was unlivable in the summertime.  After a year or two of not tending to the numerous garden beds (you can thank our work schedules for that), we were overcome with Jurassic-sized weeds and we had to have the property re-landscaped to have all that dug out and sodded over.

So far, so good.  There are always costs associated to moving into a new house.

We also decided to forgo vacations for a while and have an in-ground pool put in.  Why go away when you can vacation every day in your own backyard?

Two years in, I got pregnant and had Baby #1, our sweet baby girl.  Around here, you get a year off work at a certain percentage of your salary.  Pretty great.  When my year was up, I decided to pursue a new business idea rather than go back to my old job (marketing director at a movie company) which, although very exciting and challenging, was far from home and very stressful.

My husband owns a restaurant with his brother and brings home a steady paycheck, so we weren't all that worried about money -- also because the new business I wanted to start was very promising, and all the pieces started to fall into place very quickly for it to take off.

(Note: someday soon I'll tell you all about this new business idea but until it comes to fruition, let's just call it the new business ;-)

As the months went by, our little girl got busier and chattier and impossibly more adorable, and we continued to improve our home one project at a time, during every spare moment we had. 

Suddenly, I was pregnant with Baby #2.  We were so happy!  As babies do, this got us thinking.  How are we going to prepare baby's room (we had to move a lot of stuff around).  How will the timing of baby's arrival affect the new business?  Stuff like that.

About halfway through my pregnancy, my fast-moving new business concept hit the skids -- an unforeseen turn of events that is perfectly normal in the course of a growing business (which is not to say it wasn't utterly heartbreaking) but which meant that I couldn't get the project back on track at least until baby arrived...  and then, I'd have a newborn to look after.  Not the ideal time for me to be running around to meetings all day and seeing things with razor-sharp strategic focus.  I had to be realistic.  My family is my #1 priority, so pursuing the new biz would have to wait.

Did I mention our oil furnace had conked out by that point?  Ah yes, and it could not be repaired.  We needed a new heating system entirely.  (It was for the best -- we'd planned on getting rid of the oil heating as soon as we could afford it, and switch to an electric system.)

Trouble was, we couldn't afford the new heating system. 

We couldn't afford the air conditioning system, which was on a payment plan.  We couldn't afford the landscaping, which was on our credit line.  We couldn't afford the pool, which we'd gotten a bank loan for.  We couldn't afford to pay our credit cards. 

I had writing and marketing gigs here and there, but building a freelancing career had not been my focus.  We had to face the music.  We were living on one income in a home -- in a life -- that required two. 

The Hard Truth

Even thought we'd cut out all non-essentials years ago (cable TV, new clothes, dinners out, etc), we lived tighter than ever.  We tightened the ol' belt strap a few notches more and only bought bare essentials for groceries, gas, and everything else.  (Thankfully, our generous families and friends continue to donate us tons of baby gear, toys and clothes, so we we're fully stocked and save tons of money in that department.)  Yet still, every month, the debt grew larger and larger with interest.

I figured everyone goes through this.  Everybody goes through rough patches with money, right?  I had read that your 30's are especially hard because unlike during your 20's (when you're typically single and working on your career) and in your 40's (when you're in the peak of your earning potential and your kids usually require less gear and full-time daycare), during your 30's the average family is in full expansion mode.  Buying houses, buying cars, having babies, needing daycare, and so on.  It's the costliest phase of our lives and often our incomes are reduced, as one parent stays home completely or works fewer hours.  Understanding this made me feel marginally better.  But it didn't solve our problems.

The good news is, this state of affairs turned us into DIY'ers out of necessity, and it's a part of our lives that we actually really love.  The bad news is, we had to sell our home.

The Silver Lining

The very fact that we had done so many improvement projects on our home was our saving grace.  Once we made this very hard decision, we met with a terrific real estate agent, Steven Barrett, who confirmed we could expect to make a very good profit on the sale (which for us meant that, if we found another home at a very low price, we could pay off our debt entirely).

We worked like mad to complete all unfinished improvements and stage the house for the sale, rushing because time was of the essence.  More on that in another post!  The foot-traffic to come visit our home was booked back-to-back in those first few days of the listing.  Luckily, we lived in a desirable neighborhood where the prices were holding up decently, and we really stood out from the other similar listings at the time.

In less than 2 days, we had a two good offers.  We accepted the better one, thrilled.  In ten days, once all the conditions were met, this would all be over.  We continued showing our home, just in case, but our agent was more selective about who he showed it to.  Some people fell in love with the photos online and were very disappointed they'd missed the chance to see the house, so we agreed to show it to the really motivated buyers... because you just never know.

Note:  Lots of people were wowed by the look of our home and asked how long we'd lived there, sussing out if we were house flippers.  A year or two is a dead giveaway, although it's possible to do it in our almost-5 years.  I suppose the fear of a flipped house is that some people may think that although it's pretty, changes were made on the surface to unload a property quickly.  But this was no flip, as each decision had been made with our family's long-term enjoyment in mind.  This made answering our visitor's questions all the more difficult...  But I digress.

The offer fell through.  We were back on the market officially for less than a day before we received two more offers, this time even better than the first ones.  Two competing offers came in at full asking price.  And each was only valid for an hour or two that same evening.  High pressure!  But it was about more than price at this point: it was about the buyers' financial situation, about moving dates (with baby on the way, this was a sticky issue), and so on.  We were just floored.

While this was happening, Steven got a call from someone representing a couple that was planning on presenting an offer the next day.  He turned them down, saying it was too late.  The following morning, another call about an offer that was signed and ready, and what time could they come in to present it?  They too got the news that it was too late.  6 offers.  4 of which we were formally presented to us.  This was just madness.

A Sad Goodbye

In the end, we sold it to the bidder who went over asking price and was able to prove, on paper, the bank was backing them financially.  (The other guy just had not yet done that step, so that made him more of a risk factor.)  We eeked toward the 10-day mark with our fingers crossed...  hoping for no more hiccups...  and it was done.  We breathed a collective sigh of relief.  What an emotional roller coaster.  Thankfully Steven was just extraordinary and we were in such good hands, I'd recommend him 100% no questions asked.

Now we had the daunting task of finding a new house we could love as much for a ridiculously low price.  And because we did not want to pay for any big-ticket items ourselves (we'd been down that road before), the house would have to be newer and come with some basics.  In no particular order, we wanted A/C, electric heat (not oil!), a new roof.  Good windows.  A bright, open layout. A safe play area for the kids.  A fenced yard for our dogs.  Bonus points if there's a patio door leading to the yard (in our old house we had to access the yard through the garage -- it had been another project on our list).  Parking (we're too old to look for street parking!)  3 bedrooms, all together on one floor.  And in a different neighborhood, one that is much closer to my husband's restaurant.

While it was very difficult to find and we almost lost hope (we regretfully did not work with Steven for our home search because it was in a different area), we did find a cute little house that fit the bill.  More on that in another post.  Is it our forever home?  No.  But it is a soft place to land for a while.

As the weeks wore on and I approached my delivery and moving dates, I spent all day packing boxes and decluttering.  Moving is a real time of self-reflection and shedding of unwanted stuff.  It's quite cathartic, if you let it be.

Of course we had to mourn the loss of what would no longer be: family pool parties in our great big yard, Christmas morning in our living room, our little ones becoming little people within those four walls, good times spent with friends, our quiet and welcoming street, our kind and friendly neighbors.  But I guess you just can't think too much about that stuff, or you'll go nuts.

It was never about the house.  It was about a concept of what our lives would be there.  Right now I guess you could say we're redefining our concept.  We're in an in-between stage, not quite settled but not quite unsettled either.

* * * * 

Wow, if you've made it this far you know more about the last few months than most people we know, including most family members and close friends.  We often couldn't bring ourselves to talk about all this.  I don't know about you, but sometimes it's just easier to talk about things after they're passed.  Maybe it's just too emotional, or maybe when there are so many events going on at once you get lost in the details.  Thanks for sticking with me.

The Next Chapter

One day, we may revisit the idea of a Forever Home but for now, we're making a life in the new house; open to meeting new neighbors, getting to know the neighborhood, doing new improvement projects, creating a happy life for our kids.  We don't know yet what the future holds.  That's both exciting and a bit scary at the same time.

I'm sure there are lots of different ways our story could have played out.  One major advantage of moving closer to my husband's restaurant is having him home a lot more so we can build our family together.  For us, it was a necessary choice between hanging on to our house and having a lesser quality of life brimming with financial hardships or moving away from our comforts to buy ourselves time to realign and refocus with clear minds and hearts.

The best statements of account we ever received.  Amount owing: $0.00

Credit Line Outstanding Balance: $0.00

The reason I decided to share this deeply personal stuff is because sometimes things don't work out the way we plan, and that's okay.  You might be going through some hard times, and there may be some tough decisions ahead that you don't feel all that qualified to make, or all too excited about.  And that's okay.  Things get better.  You get through it.  Do not give up, and do not be swayed by well-meaning others who may not know the whole story and see you making decisions, inevitably, through the lenses of their own lives and experiences.  You know in your heart what needs to be done, and you have enough courage to do it.

Our sweet baby boy arrived in May and is just a joy to be around.  He arrived 13 days after the move (exactly one week after his due date), which was exactly what we had been hoping for!  His mellow disposition and angelic face is just what our souls needed after these difficult few months.  The fact that his big sister adores him so much is just icing on the cake.  In fact, she may adore him too much -- but that's a whole other story.

Introducing Baby Kai


  1. Aw Val! This is such a GREAT post. So very refreshing to read somehting so honest and open! I am SURE that this new house will be filled with love, good memories and a whole new set of DIY projects. Kep em coming!
    xox to the fam!

    1. Melissa, thanks so much for the great feedback. We truly appreciate it. You're a terrific supporter and we keep going with this whole crazy blogging thing for peeps like you ;) All the best, xo

  2. Beautiful post Val, my favorite blogs are the ones who share a little bit of their lives including vulnerability. We all experience highs and lows and that's what makes us interesting and better people. What's nice about this post is that you will read it in a year or two and thank yourself, you will move on and the details of this experience will fade with time. I wish I had written and posted our journey until now. Thanks for sharing xxoo

    1. Kim, I'm so glad you found this post relatable. It was the most personal I've ever gone online and I'm glad I did. Scary at first -- but ultimately you're right, we all go through highs and lows. Maybe if I'd read more of what someone else had gone through - and came out OK on the other side - it would have somehow made it all a bit easier, maybe less intimidating. That's what I'm hoping for, for my readers! All my best, xo

  3. Hey I know this is off topic but I was wondering if you knew of
    any widgets I could add to my blog that automatically tweet my newest twitter updates.
    I've been looking for a plug-in like this for quite some time and was hoping maybe you would have some experience with something like this. Please let me know if you run into anything. I truly enjoy reading your blog and I look forward to your new updates.

    my web-site - Irene

    1. Hi Irene, thanks for your feedback. You bring up a great point about creating a Twitter feed, so I set off to find out how to do it for my own blog! I did it in under 5 minutes. I'm on Blogger, are you as well? I found an article that walked me through it (in slightly broken English but very helpful nonetheless). You can find it here: If you're already familiar with the process of adding HTML gadgets to your blog, then all you need is this Twitter page that creates the widget for you:
      Hope this helps!

  4. Aw Val!! I didn't see this one before. I just read it all the way through. You write so beautifully and honestly. I had been wondering why you sold your old place. I feel a bit emotional now and am struggling to put into words what I wanted to say (and hey, I'm a writer too!) I think so many people have had the 'hard money times' so they can relate (we certainly can) but I think it takes a lot of courage to dig yourself out and make a big change for the better. It is sad that you lost your forever house - but wonderful that you had the courage to do so knowing at this time it was the (hard) decision to be made for you and your family. Not surprised so many people were so keen on your home with all the love you poured into it - I would have felt very proud. And despite having to 'downgrade' to a house you like less - how wonderful to be out of debt! That must be so freeing. I agree with Melissa - this is a GREAT post. I love reading pieces like this that are so open and honest. It is so, so hard to do though - I feel like I need to be more like this on my own blog. You inspire me - in more ways than one! :)

    1. Maya, how could I possibly have not responded to your wonderful comment? I must have read it from my phone. My apologies ;) Sort of doing an emotional year-in-review thing and reread this whole post (I tend to avoid it) and thank you for your kind words. It means the world to me that my writing has touched you. Here's to a new year full of great moments that give us something fun to write about, and bad moments that make us better writers. xo


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