...because home doesn't happen overnight.

flip house main

Confession: we’ve been trolling house listings since last fall. We knew that once our mortgage was paid off, we wanted to seriously consider potential investment properties. Initially, several scenarios came to mind: 1) Buy another fixer-upper to renovate and live in, and sell our current home for a profit. 2) Buy a rental property and rent it out while living in our current home. 3) Buy another fixer-upper to renovate and sell for a profit while living in our current home. We spent a lot of time studying the local real estate market, researching feasible real estate investment options, running the numbers, talking to realtors and seasoned investors and figuring out exactly what we wanted to gain from our investment. A new home? A sizable, one-time payoff? Steady, long-term additional income? A new experience? A challenge?

We looked at a ton of houses – online and in person. I can’t even make a guesstimate. A TON. We looked at all kinds of properties: foreclosures, short sales, HUDs, for sale by owner, sheriff sales, real estate auctions, old houses, new houses, big houses, little houses, estate sales and plain ol’ houses just, you know, for sale. At one point, we were this close to purchasing a parcel of land in a neighboring city and building an Airbnb first, then eventually adding a home for ourselves, but were stopped short thanks to zoning restrictions and a questionable lien on the property.

We discovered pretty quickly that it was going to take a property with loads of potential at a great price and some proper star alignment to get us to leave our current home. We’ve touched every surface, made it ours and own it outright. It’s the ideal setup for us at this stage in our lives. Plus, I think there’s something to be said for living in a home for a while after the renovation dust settles. So many homeowners move on to bigger and “better” things when their house is done, but we feel like, “What’s wrong with staying put even if it’s not our forever home, our dream house?” In reality, we’re very much enjoying the freedom our home has given us. That’s not to say we wouldn’t be tempted if the right house came along – at the right price, at the right time, in the right location. But, so far, it hasn’t and we don’t see any reason to force it. So we ditched option #1…for now.

Regardless of our living situation, Steve and I have been itching to take on another project. Home improvement is something we both enjoy. It’s a fulfilling outlet for us. We know houses are just things, but we can’t help seeing the potential in even the worst ones. And if we can turn a profit doing something we love, then heck, let’s try it! But not on TV. (Yes, there have been television offers but that’s not us. Props to the people who do it though!)

So as soon as we paid off our mortgage, we took out a home equity line of credit in order to make a cash offer on and renovate a fixer-upper. Mere days after we opened the account, we found the perfect investment property in a highly sought after local neighborhood. I toured it the day it went on the market while Steve was at work. (Scouring new listings had become part of my morning routine.) The minute I stepped in the door, I knew it was the one. Immediately after the showing, I called Steve and we decided to make an offer. We were actually driving up to Michigan for spring break later that evening and communicating with our realtor via phone to put in an offer. Sadly, a few hours later, we learned that there was a clause in the contract requiring owner occupancy for 12 months. Basically, we were required to sign a contract saying the house would be our primary residence for the first year. We had no plans to live in the house, and our realtor advised us against lying due to legal repercussions. So we had to let it go. Even though it was perfect.

Fast forward two months, a nearby dilapidated ranch caught our eye. (Sound familiar?) It was an estate sale to be sold in as-is condition and was located in a township void of pricey city taxes and within an excellent school district. (We had learned from months of research that “as-is” listings can be great investment opportunities.) Steve called our realtor to schedule a showing, but while we were waiting to hear back I noticed the listing had already gone “pending” online. When our realtor called back, we fully expected him to tell us the house was under contract, but instead he said we were good to see it that day.

“It’s listed as pending online. Is that not the case?” we asked.

“No. The listing agent said it’s a mistake. There have been major issues with a new listing database. There’s no contract,” he answered.

We saw the house later that day and made an offer that evening. Our lowball offer was accepted (most likely because we were paying cash, could close quickly and beat other buyers to it thanks to the lucky “pending” slip-up) and…SURPRISE!…we closed on the house last month. Since no liens, loans or in-person sellers were involved, it was the fastest closing ever. It went something like, “Sign here and congratulations.”

Although, the congratulations part felt laughable to us. “Congratulations! You just bought a second house! It needs a ton of work and smells like cat pee!”

As far as plans go, we’ve decided to fix it up and sell it as opposed to rent it out, although both are viable options. If it doesn’t sell (fingers crossed it does), we can always rent it out even though it’s not our first choice. (We’ve learned that we need a Plan B in case Plan A doesn’t work out.) Why sell? First, if renting the house were our primary goal, many of the improvements we’d like to make wouldn’t happen. Making improvements to appeal to renters is not the same as making improvements to appeal to buyers. Sure, we could go in and clean it up a bit and make a few so-so repairs and rent it out, but that’s not something that sounds too enjoyable or fulfilling to us. We like a good challenge. Second, the house is in the same township we live in, so we’re all for renovating it to maintain (and possibly increase) home values. Finally, we aren’t entirely sure where we’ll be living 10 years from now, and we don’t want to invest in a long-term rental and be responsible for it remotely.

I’m hesitant to call what we’re doing a flip even though, let’s be realistic, that’s what we’re doing. However, we have no plans to install the cheapest granite countertops we can find and slap down a bunch of carpet in a matter of weeks. Yes, one of our goals is to make a profit, but we don’t want to completely sacrifice style in the name of dollar signs. We love the idea of a thoughtfully designed, budget-friendly flip, and we’re fully prepared for it to take a little longer than the average flip. Is there such a thing as a careful real estate turnover? On the other hand, we also realize we’ll have to make some compromises since we’re not renovating the house for ourselves. We’re confident we can find a sweet spot between cheap flip and dream remodel.

I’d like to mention that we chose not to share our plans and house search in detail in real time on the blog because we wanted to be sure our decision wasn’t swayed by outside influences. We really wanted to stay true to ourselves and our personal goals. I hope you understand! The good news is I plan to document our flip experience much like I did our downsizing journey. If anything, we’ll all learn something, right?

So, yeah, we bought a house. It reeks of cat piss. And we couldn’t be more excited. Or scared. House tour coming soon! (Two words: pistachio walls.)

image: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

bitsy's 6

Have you heard of Bitsy’s Brainfood? I discovered Bitsy’s at Target a few months ago while running errands with the kids. I was searching for healthy snacks for our spring break trip to go along with the apples and pistachios I had already picked up, but the kids wanted something more exotic (i.e., less boring) than pretzels. Bitsy’s was an instant hit and quickly became a snack staple in our house. Since then, the Smart Cookies and Smart Crackers have made appearances in the kids’ school lunches (they’re nut free!) and our pool bag.

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The Sweet Potato Oatmeal Raisin cookies and Cheddar Chia Veggie crackers are our family’s favorites. Mabrey loves the alphabet-shaped cookies for practicing her ABCs. The boys like creating pictures with the tangram-shaped crackers. I like the fact that they aren’t loaded with sugar, are made with organic ingredients and were created by a mom duo who believe that healthy minds and healthy bodies go hand in hand. (Each serving of Smart Crackers contains a ½ serving of vegetables.) Naturally, Bitsy’s was in our food bag on a recent road trip to Michigan City, Indiana. (More on the trip coming soon!)

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Speaking of summer road trips, we have several planned for this year. That’s in sharp contrast to last summer which was way too busy for my liking. I had a hard time saying no to a few activities (for myself and the kids), and it ended up being too much. We spent a lot of time in the car going from home to activity, activity to activity, activity to home. The tedious driving nibbled away at our downtime. Before we knew it, summer break was over and we hadn’t savored it the way we’d really wanted to.

This year I vowed to do things differently in the hope of zeroing in on that sweet spot between complete boredom and excessive busyness. My summer motto? Don’t make it harder than it has to be. We’re saying no to the things that don’t really bring us joy and yes to familiar favorites and a few new adventures. The kids are sticking with a free, drop-in camp at a local park two mornings a week. (Seriously, it’s been my sanity saver for the past two summers. The kids liken it to a three-hour recess. So, so grateful for park programs!) Layne is playing tennis once a week, and Everett and Mabrey are taking swim lessons for two weeks. All three are enrolled in the summer reading program at the library, and we bought a family pass to our neighborhood pool.

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Saying no to other stuff is allowing us to squeeze in several road trips which we’re extremely excited about. It’s also giving us chunks of downtime to do whatever we want: read, hang out with friends at the pool, go for a walk, squeeze in a project or two, wander, wonder, flex our creative muscles, take a nap already!, watch a movie, visit a new park or nothing. I’ll be the first to admit that I feel guilty when my day isn’t productive/busy/hard enough. It’s like enough isn’t enough unless it’s just slightly too much. Why is that?

Bitsy’s is readily available at Target. If you’d like to give them a try, the first 200 readers can use this coupon to score $2 off any Smart Cookie or Smart Cracker.

How do you handle summer break? What activities are your kids involved in? Does it ever feel like too much? Too little? Any road trips on your calendar? I always love hearing your thoughts.

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*This post sponsored in part by Bitsy’s Brainfood. This post is not affiliated with or sponsored by Target. Thank you for supporting the brands that support this blog!

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

studio matsalla fireplace 1

I receive emails from readers all the time asking for advice on particularly troublesome areas in their homes. Unfortunately, I’m not able to respond to each one, but a problematic area that keeps popping up is the pesky angled fireplace. I would never suggest an angled fireplace in a new build, but sometimes they’re inevitable in homes bought by successive owners. The good news is I don’t think an angled fireplace should be a deal breaker if other attributes of the home are desirable: location, layout, size, price, potential, etc. In fact, they can really amp up the cozy factor in a space. Personally, I’ve never lived in a home with an angled fireplace, but I thought it might be helpful to share my thoughts on working around one. If I ever end up with an angled fireplace, there are a few general guidelines (no hard and fast rules) I would follow.

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clj fireplace

Update an angled fireplace, but don’t make it the star of the room. If an outdated surround is cramping your style, feel free to give it a fresh coat of paint, add trim, upgrade the mantel and/or install new tile on the surround or hearth to better suit your aesthetic. Keep the updates simple so that the fireplace melds with the rest of the space without creating a distracting focal point in a corner. If you opt for a mantel, keep it shallow. Amber Lewis painted the stone fireplace in her previous living room, while Julia and Chris Marcum added basic trim and paint to a contemporary version in their basement family room. In spaces where you don’t want the corner of a room taking center stage, allow the fireplace to become part of the background.

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rafterhouse fireplace

Don’t arrange main furniture pieces parallel to an angled fireplace. It’s so tempting to orient a sofa facing the fireplace. However, when dealing with an angled fireplace, it’s better to place the sofa on OR facing another wall in the room to establish a conversation area. This creates a more practical and appealing layout.

makerista angled fireplace

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Balance an angled fireplace with adjacent built-ins, shelving, a large window, french/sliding doors or furniture items similar in scale to the fireplace. In other words, place something of similar size on a wall at 135° in relation to the fireplace. This keeps your eye traveling around the room instead of dead-ending in a corner. In essence, you are creating a new focal point while still benefitting from the coziness a fireplace can provide. Gwen Hefner designed built-ins using IKEA bookcases for a client’s living room. If desired, you could bring in a media cabinet and TV instead. I wouldn’t recommend placing a TV above an angled fireplace!

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Keep fireplace accessories to a minimum. Placing a small accent chair, ottoman, planter or basket near the fireplace can help soften awkward angles. Just make sure you aren’t drawing unnecessary attention to the corner. Hang a simple mirror or piece of artwork above the mantel, or just leave it bare. This is one time you don’t want to layer a bunch of accessories on the mantel. Studio Matsalla added patterned cement tile to an angled fireplace but opted out of a mantel. A modern planter and round mirror are subtle decorative accents. (You can see how this fireplace fits into the bigger picture in the very first image of this post.)

I hope this gives those of you struggling with angled fireplaces some ideas! No need to sell your house ;)

images: 1,9) Studio Matsalla 2,4,8) design by Amber Interiors; photography by Bryce Covey for Style Me Pretty 3) Chris Loves Julia 5) Rafterhouse 6,7) The Makerista