Doing the work ourselves made it ‘ours’
My husband and I knew we didn’t want to rent the half-a-duplex in which we were living after the end of our first year there. I paid the first year’s rent in full four months before we married and we were living on my husband’s income after we married, while I spent our first year learning how to be a wife. With $70,000 earmarked for a house, from an inheritance I received the year before, we set out to find a place for which we could pay cash and fix up ourselves.
Five houses seen, all forclosures, got us thinking that our goal was impossible. Though they were all within our price range, the amount of work it would have taken to make them livable would have required various professionals to do so and use up more than we had invested beyond the earmarked funds, thereby facing us with the possibility of a mortgage. While having a mortgage isn’t a bad thing, we both desired that I continue my duties as domestic engineer while he worked, for as long as we could afford it. Having a mortgage would have made that difficult, if not impossible.
Then we saw the sixth foreclosure.
Late one January afternoon, we were greeted by a two-story, 1920s house with black shutters, white siding and brick, an open and an enclosed front porch and chain-linked, fenced-in backyard. Three common rooms, a galley-style kitchen with a stove and a small full bathroom made up the main floor and three bedrooms with one attached bonus room and another full bathroom made up the second floor, sandwiched in by a large, concrete basement and pitched attic. There was little to no visible damage to any of the doors, floors, walls or ceilings, little to no interior or exterior structural problems and the carpet looked almost immaculate.
This was it … our house. We had even less doubt about it after bringing in an electrician and contractor to unofficially inspect it and advise us as to the very little work that would need to be done to make it livable and up to code.
The listing price was $69,900. We set out to offer $65,000, in hopes that we could have a little left, in case we might need to replace the furnace. Before we could make an offer, though, the house disappeared off of the market. Our realtor investigated and learned that a holding company in Texas bought the note and was expected to relist it at a later date.
A week later, the house was back on the market … for $49,900! SOLD! By Feb. 22, 2011–one day shy of our four-month anniversary–we were holding the keys to our first house; a house we OWNED.
After purchasing an unoccupied residency insurance plan to last us until we could move in, we paid to have the utilities activated and hired the previously mentioned electrician to rewire the downstairs, basement and garage (replacing knob-and-tube) as well as someone to replace the gutters (some of which were hanging off of the house.) Once the rewiring and gutters were done, my mother-in-law and I spent a good two days cleaning the walls in all the rooms that my husband and I planned to occupy, so that he and I could spackle and paint the rooms ourselves.
The first room we spackled and painted was the living room, the first room you walk into. We decided to paint it a pink-hued white, with the stairwell wall accented pink, because the nicer of our two couches had a pink and blue pattern in it. While I used a small roller to paint the built-in bookshelf, my husband used the larger roller to start painting the wall from the far end. Some paint spilled onto the carpet, which was no concern because we had planned to have it professionally cleaned before moving in, but my husband impulsively decided to cut out the soiled part to see what was under the carpet.
Immediately, we stopped painting and sought out to recruit friends and family to help us tear up carpet in the entire house. Within a few weeks, the house was filled with a dozen people banding together to do just that and, in under a day, the carpet was gone in the living room, dining room, family room, office and spare room (our bedroom was not carpeted and we left the carpet on the stairs to minimize sound impact.) We were pleased to find that most of the floors did not even need refinished, except for a small, water-damaged spot in the spare room floor and the entire dining room floor, because linoleum had been glued onto the floor prior to its carpeting.
My husband scraped up the linoleum a few days after tearing up the carpet and we hired a professional to do the refinishing, a week or so prior to our move-in day.
After the carpet came up, we continued painting. We painted the top off of the chair-rail-lined walls of the dining room pink, because red color shades are said to stimulate appetite. We left the bottom half its original color. The family room was painted my husband’s favorite color: green. Because most of our black furniture — my husband’s other favorite color — would be placed in there, we opted to double the room as my husband’s “man-cave.” Upstairs, the office–first room on the right– was painted the same green as the family room and our bedroom was painted a purple-hued white, with one wall accented purple, because the border along the top of the wall is pretty with purple patterns.
The only rooms we didn’t paint prior to moving in were the bathrooms, the kitchen, the bonus room (attached to our bedroom) and the other spare room. The kitchen had a pretty blue wall paper, which we accented with a country-style border, the bathroom walls were tile and the bonus room was (and still is) used for storage.
We installed support beams to shore up some of the slightly dipping floors in the family room, kitchen and dining room and bought a new toilet seat for the upstairs bathroom, globes for the ceiling fans and a hand rail, all at the ReStore, and all of which we installed ourselves. We had friends over to help install our dishwasher, as well as repair a gas line in our basement and we decided that we didn’t need a shower in the bathroom off of the kitchen, so my husband and his father removed it, put up drywall and replaced the shower with shelving that we purchased from Home Depot.
Not long after we moved in, my husband replaced both our back screen door and upstairs bathroom faucet, put down aluminum thresholds in the doorways to use as room separators and placed small joists throughout the basement ceiling to stop some of the main floor hardwood planks from bouncing while we walked. Within a year, we took down the border in the spare room, painted and furnished it and, a few years later, my husband took up the carpet on the stairs, fixed our fence gates and, with help from a friend, we rewired the downstairs bathroom light switch. A few years ago, family members helped us blow insulation into our attic as well as level off the brick sidewalk in front of the house. Eventually, we plan to retile the kitchen and both bathrooms, put new insulation under our siding and replace our chainlink fence with a picket one, all without professional help, if we are able.
Doing the work ourselves has made the house more than a home … it has made it OUR home.
Meredith Peachey is a reporter with the Lewistown Sentinel.