...because home doesn't happen overnight.
02.25.11 / Um, No.

While we prep our home to put up for sale by owner {we’re hoping to have it listed within the next 2 weeks}, we’re also starting to look around at homes on the market to buy.  In fact, we’ve walked through a half dozen already.  I thought it’d be fun to share some of the ones that stick out…good and bad…even if we don’t end up purchasing them.  I guess I should start off by sharing what we’re looking for in our next house first.

  • Price:  We’re looking to downgrade our mortgage by more than $100,000 {yikes!} so we can realistically pay it off in the next 4-5 years.  We do have money saved up for a down payment plus we have significant equity in our current home {equity = appraised value – owed amount} both of which we would slap down on our next home’s mortgage.  We’ve already put a cap on how much we’re willing to spend to keep us from getting distracted by shinier homes that cost more.  It’s really a waste of time to look at homes that aren’t going to get us to that 5-year debt free freedom that we’re eyeing in the distance. We’re intrigued by foreclosures and estate sales that would give us an opportunity to get a great deal.  But we’re also looking at affordable private sales.
  • Size:  We understand that to cut our mortgage by $100,000 we’re going to have to cut down on other things too…square footage is one of those things.  We don’t have a minimum square footage in mind but instead are looking to find enough room for basic daily activities {eating, bathing, sleeping, cooking, relaxing, playing, laundering}.  Obviously, we’re not going to be able to keep all of our current furniture so we’re not looking for a home to hold it all.  Trying to keep open minds!  Ideally, we’d like 3 bedrooms but we’re open to 2 bedrooms {with our boys sharing a room} if the rest of the home is doable.  We’d require at least one full bathroom but, ideally, we’d like 1.5-2 baths.
  • Location:  We’d like to find something closer to Handy Hubby’s work.  Currently, he has a 40-minute commute one way and that’s with traffic and weather cooperating.  A minor glitch easily lengthens his commute to 1-2 hours one way, meaning he has to get up extra early or get home extra late.  Personally, I’d like to see more of him so the idea of making his drive to work shorter is very appealing.  I only work 2 days a week in the town we live in now.  It’s likely that my commute will be longer but I don’t work as much and *hopefully* it wouldn’t be a forever thing. {I’d like to offer design services full-time once our mortgage is paid off.}  Also, since we have 2 kiddos, we’d like to find a community with excellent public schools.
  • Workspace:  Because of all the house tweaking we do {and will be likely to do more of in our next home}, we’d like a space for projects.  A garage, unfinished basement, or outbuilding {or the space/ability to add one of those things} that’s sufficient to hold Handy Hubby’s tools is a must.  Fixing up our house is our passion so we’d definitely like the capability to do it on site long-term with most of the tools and equipment that we already own.
  • Condition:  We’re not opposed to fixer uppers or older homes as long as the cost of repairs and upgrades doesn’t put us past our spending cap.  Ideally, we’d like something that we could live in while we work on it or something that could be fixed to ‘livable’ relatively quickly and easily while we’re still in our current home.
  • Neighborhood:  We’ve already discovered that many homes in our price range aren’t in the nicest of neighborhoods.  We don’t want or need an upscale community but we would like to live in a neighborhood that is presentable…meaning people take care of their homes and don’t pile trash, toys and other random items in their yard or on their porch.  Not only does it just feel nicer to come home to, but it can affect the value of all the homes in the neighborhood.
  • Style:  We’re open to anything.  Bungalows, ranches, cape cods, one-story, two-story, bi-levels, tri-levels…we’re game.  I’m finding myself drawn to short squatty houses at the moment but Handy Hubby has always liked the idea of having bedrooms located on a second floor.  It’ll just depend on all the other variables.
  • Lot size:  In our dreams, we’d like to live on more land.  But with downsizing, we realize that’s probably not going to happen.  If anything, we’ll also be downsizing our yard.  As long as there is room for our boys to run around outside or a nearby park to play at, we’re okay with not having a huge yard.  It helps that my Dad lives out in the country on 10+ acres, so we can always visit him for some good scenery and outdoor exploration.  Who knows?  Maybe we’ll end up in a shack on some acreage!
  • Natural light: We’re like plants.  We thrive in natural light.  Put us near a window and we’re happy.  We’d like a home that offers natural light in the form of windows, skylights and/or patio doors. Which is why most condos/townhomes/row homes aren’t making our list.  This is a minor stipulation but something that could make all the difference…especially in a smaller home.

The biggest problem I’m having with most of the homes out there is my ‘dreamer vision.’  I can look at real estate pictures online or tour a home and my mind just starts racing with possible floor plans, finishing touches, room designs, improvements and furniture layouts.  I {fortunately or unfortunately} have an uncanny ability to see beyond wood paneling, damaged walls, stained carpet, dark cabinets, cumbersome traffic patterns, outdated fixtures and busy wallpaper to a home’s full potential.  I want to save just about every single one of them.  So much so that it makes me sad to say ‘no’ to it.

HOWEVER, there has been one home {that we viewed last weekend in person} that I couldn’t even begin to help.  I’m sorry, little house. First, let me say when I ran across it online I was super excited to see it because it was a foreclosure that obviously needed some work but had large rooms and 2 fireplaces.  It was ugly, but I’m kind of drawn to that…better before-and-afters, you know?  So, we went to see it and as soon as our realtor unlocked the door we were hit with an awful – I MEAN HOLD-YOUR-BREATH, GET-A-FACE-MASK AWFUL –  smell of mold and mildew.  {A virtual scratch-and-sniff app would work well here.} I don’t know if it was the toxic air or what but I couldn’t even picture furniture in that place.  I was picturing people being kidnapped and brought there against their will.  There was mold growing on the fireplace and floors.  We were stepping over mold!  I was nauseous.  Did I mention it smelled horrific?  Besides the smell, there were all kinds of problems.  The roof obviously leaked, the furnace had been torn to pieces {but not removed?} and in the garage electric had been run by {what it looked like} someone punching their fist into the drywall several times in a row and running the wire along the outside of the drywall.  In the midst of trying not to vomit, I did capture 2 low quality photos of this place.  Just to prove I’d been there.

Yes, that is faux black fur and a brass kick plate on an interior door.  And you might notice the room beyond with the fireplace…

It was an obvious, poorly constructed addition to the original structure.  And those vines and ivy on the ceiling, beams and doorway?  They’re fake.  Yep, someone purposefully tacked those up there {that had to have taken a while!} as decor.  The Silence of the Lambs vibe combined with the nauseating odor left us with no appetite…and it was lunch time.  I’m having a hard time swallowing just remembering it now. We got in our car thinking the same thing, “Um, no.”  Just to get the smell out, we would’ve had to rip the entire house down to the studs and start from scratch.  The fugly house I’d found online was everything I had expected and more…in a bad way.

On a lighter note, we’ve found a few homes that seem more doable and are going looking again this weekend.  Primarily, they’re foreclosures so we’re taking our heavy winter coats and flashlights since utilities are shut off.  We’re not in a hurry but we enjoy walking through homes and figuring out if they might/might not work for us.  We’re also prepared to make an offer if ‘the one’ turns up. We’ve discovered that while the real estate market in general is still down, foreclosures with potential don’t last long…at least in the areas we’re considering.  In the few weeks we’ve been looking, many have gone pending or sold already!  The inventory changes daily.  Making a ‘wanna see’ list has become my second job.  But it’s fun to us and we keep reminding ourselves why we’re doing it.

images:  1) Pundit Kitchen via I Can Has Cheezburger  2 & 3) Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

I really need to get a FAQ page together and have it as a tab on my home page.  It seems you all have a lot of the same questions.  Until that FAQ page shows up {please, Fairy Blog Mother?}, I’ll try to answer the most popular ones in the form of a post.  In just the last few weeks, I’ve had more than one question about the measurements of our kitchen cabinet hardware.  They are the stainless steel IKEA LANSA handles and I blogged about adding them to the cabinets here. They’re available in packs of two and cost ranges from $6.99 to $9.99 per pack.  They’re suitable for cabinet doors or drawers 1/2″ to 3/4″ thick.  They come in several lengths for various types of use. The sizes listed on IKEA’s website and packaging are the distances from screw hole to screw hole.  The length of the actual handle {longer than the hole spacing measurement} is listed under ‘product dimensions’ on the IKEA website.  We only used 2 sizes in our kitchen:  10 1/16″ and 6 1/4″…which seems to now be listed as 6 5/16″.

On our taller 42″ upper cabinets we installed the 10 1/16″ handles…

Above the microwave and refrigerator we used the 6 1/4″…

On the wider lower drawers we added the 10 1/16″…

On the narrower drawers to either side of the stove we added the 6 1/4″… {Note: the bottom door is really a pull-out trash/recycling center so we placed the hardware horizontally for ease of function.}

Finally, on the kitchen island we mixed things up.  The wide drawers have the 10 1/16″ handles while the cabinet doors have the 6 1/4″ handles.

I think the thing to keep in mind while picking cabinet hardware is the width/height of each door and drawer.  Personally, I like the hardware to mimic the size of the cabinet or drawer.  A big ol’ door would look awfully naked with a teeny handle.  Likewise, a smallish drawer would look pretty silly with a crazy big pull.  Keep things to scale.  You may even want to buy several sizes and hold them up to the doors/drawers before making a commitment.  Just return the ones you don’t use. I’d also suggest buying a few extras {we have 2 backup handles of each size we used} in case something happens to the handles and they need replaced.  If it’s been several years since you installed your hardware, there’s a good chance it’ll be discontinued.

Adding hardware to plain stock cabinets and even older outdated cabinets is a cheap upgrade.  We love ours.  Try it yourself!

FYI – I was not compensated in any way for this post.  I just love sharing great products!

images: all Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

Can I tell you how shocked, humbled, appreciative and inspired I am by all of your comments on the downsizing post?!  Really, they’re amazing.  And just what I need.  Would you believe me if I told you that I had fear of rejection after putting all that out there?  Well, I did.  I half-expected to get comments about how I wasn’t doing the right thing and that I should consider an attitude change as opposed to a career change. But that didn’t happen.  You all are so kind and encouraging.  I can’t thank you enough.  Ever.  If I could make all of you chocolate no-bake cookies and deliver them to you straight from the pot, I would.  I am so grateful for your support {I know, I’m sounding like a blubbering beauty queen cliché right about now} and it’s just further confirmation to me that I can do this.  THANK YOU.  From the bottom of my design-lovin’ heart.

As you might’ve guessed, things are pretty hectic around here.  Handy Hubby and I are in the process of listing our home.  We are going to try and sell by owner.  We listed and sold our first home {a starter home we had in Illinois…the home we lived in before buying this home to be closer to family} by owner, so we have some experience going that route.  Although, that was 3 years ago when the market was just starting to roll downhill.  We aren’t oblivious to the fact that real estate isn’t exactly flying off the shelves right now.  But two homes have sold relatively quickly on our street within the last 6 months, so we’re hopeful.  It will be a lot work – mostly leg and paper – but we’re prepared to do it.  We know our home will sell just not sure for how much or when.  It should be interesting.

Today I started whittling things down in the pantry.  Prepping and staging your home for a sale is much different than decorating.  Potential buyers are looking to buy the house and all it has to offer…not the stuff in it.  {Not to say we aren’t opposed to bargaining off decor if that’s what would get us a sale.}  It’s necessary to edit decor to show off the best things about the house.  The large, walk-in kitchen pantry has been one of my favorite things about this house.  I can stash all kinds of stuff in there, close the door and no one’s the wiser.  In fact, other than spices and cooking oils, we don’t have any food items in our kitchen cabinets.  And since I knew I needed to start somewhere, I felt like conquering a small room first would get my purging and packing wheels rolling.  Here’s what the pantry looked like before…

And here’s what it looks like now…

…after a little decluttering and reorganizing.  I ended up with 3 piles of stuff that didn’t make the final cut.  Recycle: broken down packaging, expired coupons and old recipes.  Donate: odds & ends we don’t use.  Gift: items I’m hoping a neighbor can use.  Wine, anyone?

My goal was to get most everything up off the floor and onto the shelves.  Cereal, vinegar and toilet paper overstock were the only things that wouldn’t fit onto the shelves.  Then I faced {if you’ve ever worked in retail you know what facing is} all the food items and tucked everything nicely into its respective basket or bin.  Some of you have asked about how I have the pantry organized, so I guess now is as good a time as any!  I try to keep all the heavy and canned goods on the bottom shelf.  That way if I or my kids drop them, they don’t have that much momentum crashing into toes. Plus, they’re some of the healthier things in the pantry that I like my kids to see as a choice. {Desserts, treats and baking supplies are kept higher up…out of kid sight…to keep them from being snuck into.  I’m mean, aren’t I?}

The other food items are categorized into baskets and bins.  There are breakfast, snack, bread, pasta, rice, gluten-free {Handy Hubby has been gluten-free for nearly a year!}, baking and treat baskets right now.  I like using loose bins to organize that way I can tweak things week-to-week as our inventory changes.  I just got groceries yesterday, so this is as full as it gets unless we’re hosting a big get-together.

The perpendicular wall of shelving holds items in the household category….kid art supplies, batteries, flashlights and a few cleaners.  Hopefully, keeping a few bins empty will let potential buyers see how much space there really is in the pantry.

On the third pantry wall {behind the open door} there is a dry erase calendar to track family events and work schedules, a hanging stepladder which conceals some large drawing paper pads and a rack system for storing the broom, vacuum extension hose and a small electric sweeper.

I’ve been spoiled by this large pantry.  There’s no doubt that downsizing our home will probably result in downsizing our pantry too…if we’re lucky enough to get a pantry!  That’s okay.  I’m up for a kitchen organization challenge.  I like sorting things almost as much as I enjoy interior design.  I plan on editing the contents of our kitchen cabinets before we move anyway.  Maybe tomorrow?

Oh!  And I’d like to mention I did all of this while talking to several banks about getting pre-approved for a home loan.  Let’s just say I could hear the bankers’ eyebrows raising over the phone when I told them our plan to downsize from a home that we ‘can afford’ to a home less than half the worth of our current home.

images:  1) Make Your Own Invitations all the rest) Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

02.21.11 / Downsizing

Do you remember my 2011 improvement list?  If not, let me jog your memory.

I’ve already made some headway on numbers 2, 4 & 5.  #2 – I’m currently enrolled in and studying the Sheffield School of Interior Design Course.  #4 – I’ve made an effort to only post about what I’m thinking, feeling, doing and loving at the moment.  If I’m not feeling or doing much, I’m giving myself permission to skip a day of blogging here and there.  On the other hand, I’m really trying to work on posts that have some meat to them and are applicable to those of you at home in need of inspiration, instructions, advice or just a good ol’ laugh.  #5 – I’ve always been pretty good at keeping stuff from taking over our house.  But we did declutter our outta-sight-outta-mind-basement recently.  I’d also like to reduce my stress level and debt…which brings me to the entire reason for this post.

We’re looking into downsizing!

As in downsizing our home and mortgage.  Quite a bit.  And, yes, that will require selling our current home.  Boo, I know.  But let me explain.

I started this blog a little over a year ago primarily to purge all of the design and home decor ideas that were whirling around in my head.  Along the way, I re-realized my love of writing.  It’s totally therapy for me.  What better way to combine two of my faves, right?  Interior design + writing = decor blog.  A little further along the way, I started getting some recognition that I had originally never sought.  It gave me a boost of confidence in my amateur design skills and eventually {after I tried for a long time to dismiss it} opened my eyes to the fact that I was {am} very dissatisfied in my current career field.  I’m a part-time pharmacist by day and wannabe designer at night, during kids’ naps and on the weekends.  I’ve considered the possibility that I’m having an early midlife crisis.  In fact, I’ve chalked up many a thought about a career in design to my female hormones.  But, really, the thought has turned into a yearning.  I feel it.  This is what I want to do.  And I’m very afraid just saying it.  Why?  Because I have a perfectly stable, part-time, bringing-home-the-bacon kind of job right now.  But my heart isn’t in it.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m so thankful that nearly a decade in retail pharmacy has provided well for my family and allowed me to stay home 4-5 days of the week with my two young sons.  I work hard when I’m at work just because that’s the work ethic my dad instilled in me.  But, again, my heart isn’t in it.  If it weren’t for my co-workers who crack me up and keep me going day in and day out, I’d surely detest it.  And if it weren’t for our debt {school loans and mortgage}, I would probably have quit by now.  Ew.  QUIT.  That’s such a loser word.  At least, that’s what I’ve been taught.

In the middle of a nervous {nearly} breakdown several weeks ago {that’s not looking so good for #3, is it?}, I confessed to Handy Hubby that I couldn’t keep doing this.  I think I scared him.  I scared me that’s for sure.  I went into the pharmacy field because that’s what I was supposed to do.  It was a reputable career.  I was a smart girl.  I’d make good money.  I’d live happily ever after.  Wrong.

“Never get so busy making a living

that you forget to make a life.”

-Anonymous

Boy, did I ever get busy.  So, after an honest heart-to-heart with my amazingly understanding Handy Hubby, we started crunching numbers.  Because that’s what engineers and pharmacists do.  We discovered that if we sell our current home, put the equity into a significantly smaller home loan but continue to make the same amount of payment that we are currently paying, we could very realistically pay off a smaller home in 4-5 years.  Of course, I would continue to work as a pharmacist during that time.  But that sounds a lot better to me than 15 years!  Which is how long I’d have to work to pay off our current home.  So, that’s the plan.  We’re putting our home {yes, the house that we’ve lovingly tweaked into our home} on the market.  It’s all very bittersweet.  We absolutely adore our neighbors.  And by neighbors I mean everyone on our street.  We love our neighborhood.

Since we plan on selling our home, that means we have to buy another one.  A cheap one.  We’re open to just about anything. {After all, my hubby is handy.} Foreclosures, estate sales, fixer-uppers, older homes, smaller homes.  We’ll make it work to live the life we want to live.  A little phrase that popped into my head out of nowhere one day continues to inspire me…We’re not looking for the house of our dreams rather the house that will allow us to live our dreams. Dreams being  1) a career in interior design for me  2) a home that we can own outright before we’re 40 years old  3) the ability to save for our sons’ college education and our retirement.  Can you believe the sacrifice Handy Hubby will be making for all this?  He’s wonderful.  He just wants me to be happy.  I will say though that there are probably a few husbands out there who would love for their overspending spouses to say one day…”I want to buy a cheaper house so we can pay it off in a few years and I can maybe quit this job that sucks the life out of me and do something I really want to do.”  I mean, it’s sure better than saying I want more house, right?  But, no, really Handy Hubby is awesome.  I’m not gonna lie.  We did butt heads.  He has a fear.  He’s afraid that I’ll quit my day job before we pay off this elusive smaller house.  But I’m here to proclaim in front of everyone, “Handy Hubby, I will NOT quit my day job until our mortgage is paid off.”  I’m not saying I won’t want to.  But I’m not that big of a financial risk taker.

I would like to go on the defensive here for just a second.  I’d like for you to know that moving my family to a new house and possibly new city isn’t for blog hype.  We’re doing it because it’s what we think is best for our family and the goals we want to achieve.  You’ve probably noticed that several big time bloggers {Young House Love, Bower Power, Design Mom} have pulled the ol’ house switcheroo recently.  It must be in the water.  I’m definitely not doing it to compete with or copy them.  Not that lil’ ol’ me could compete with them anyway.  Heck, they all moved/are moving to larger and/or more expensive homes.  We’re doing the complete opposite.

So what does all of this mean for House*Tweaking?  Well, even though we may be moving, House*Tweaking isn’t going anywhere.  I’ll continue to write about projects we’re taking on {staging and prepping here we come!} and keep you posted on any cheap house hunting news. Once we’re in our new {well, probably old} budget home, there’s sure to be some tweaking going on.  Probably more so since the homes at our price point are anything but flawless.  I’ll have to get extra creative!  I’ll throw in decor ideas and inspiration along the way…to keep you {and me} from getting bored.

So, what do you think of this news?  I’m incredibly frightened and excited at the same time.

image:  Dana Miller for House*Tweaking