Has it really been a year since this whole process started? According to the closing documents, it has. It’s hard to believe Ellie and I have owned a home for a whole year now and we haven’t broken down in tears or buried ourselves in mountains of debt. I’d argue we aren’t even barely keeping our heads above it all, we’re practically walking on water. Maybe not every day or in every aspect of owning a home, but really it feels like we’re doing okay. Let’s break it down.
One of the biggest parts of owning a home is paying for it and when you’re there the first year, there are a lot of unknowns in terms of costs. Going into it, I didn’t know how much it cost for monthly electric, heat, water and other expenses. We paid some of these when we rented but those were different and smaller spaces we didn’t have as much control over. So how did things go with the house? Unexpected, to say the least.
Monthly water bill average: $63
Monthly heat/electric bill average: $131
Those are bills on top of our mortgage. We also had a more predictable internet bill, and we worked to get our phone bill to a manageable number. We have other monthly expenses, but on average the cost of everything only fluctuates about $100 every month. I track everything in a spreadsheet because I’m genuinely curious about how my money is being spent.
The best parts of the year came when Ellie and I received raises and when I started my new job. That increase in income, even a small amount, makes you sleep a little better at night. Even with all the new expenses this year, I’ve been able to squirrel away a few hundred dollars into my savings account every month. I think for the first time in many, many years I feel comfortable when it comes to money and having a grasp on my bills really helps ease my mind.
One thing that is hard to predict about a house is who you’re going to live near. Sometimes you get great people and sometimes you get nightmares (especially if you live in a sitcom). In our case, I think we ended up with great people as neighbors. On one side of our house, the neighbors generally keep to themselves but are perfectly friendly. On the other side of the house, the neighbors are good for a chat and keep to themselves. Absolutely wonderful.
We do have a busybody on our street, and that kind of thing annoys me, but I probably stand alone on it. I have my suspicions that it was this person who reported the half-inch of snow we let go unshoveled at the end of the year. Nearly everyone on our block was issued a citation for it, and that citation actually seemed to bring us together as a community. We looked out for each other this winter when it snowed and we shoveled each other’s walks. It was nice and I hope it continues.
Ellie likes to call our house a”fixer upper” and tried to convince me a year ago that our house wasn’t really “move-in ready”. I disagreed with her then and I disagree with her now. I think our house was perfectly livable, but there were things that needed to be done to make it Danny and Ellie’s house and to make it comfortable.
We knew when we bought the house we wanted to get the windows replaced. They were original, lacking latches and storms and screens in some places. Partially for our security and partly for appeal and energy-saving, we knew it had to be done. We also knew we couldn’t do it ourselves. I don’t think I ever wrote about the new windows we had installed last June, but it was an ordeal. I’d rather not get too deep into it because I have some strong opinions about what happened.
What is important is that we have new windows which are under warranty for the next fifty years. We have a nominal monthly payment on the financed part of the windows, but it’s hardly noticeable and it is interest-free.
Much of my summer was spent gardening. I prefer to grow vegetables. Ellie, I learned, really enjoys growing flowers. We both got to experiment and flourish in our new space. We’re already planning our garden for this coming year. I have a dozen or so vegetables I want to grow and I’m going to take some lessons from last year and hopefully improve the experience. For example, many of my plants were too close together. I ended up with tomato and sugar snap pea bushes. Also, some of my planting choices were not ideal because of where my garden holds water and where it doesn’t.
The goal this year is to get even more fruits and veggies right from the backyard. Ellie is planning to expand the variety of flowers she grows.
I never thought mulch would be a project, but it was. When I responded to an ad on Craigslist for free mulch, I expected some not all the mulch needed to cover my driveway four feet deep. It took somewhere around a month to move all that mulch and our yard looked great when it was done. But seriously, too much mulch is a problem. I’m nervous to see what things look like once the world comes to life again this spring. Will things still look as fresh and beautiful as they did when they were freshly mulched? Did I put too much mulch on things and now nothing will grow back? Only time will tell!
This is a still in progress project, but I hope to finish this in the coming months. I think there are only one or two projects left to do. So far, Ellie and I have replaced the mirror and the lights, removed a medicine cabinet, installed a bathroom fan, covered a wall in decorative wood plank, put a shelf on that wall, and converted the extra shower to a closet which included building some shaker style doors to close the closet.
The remaining project I have to do is to address the counter and sink area. I’m gathering what I need to make a concrete countertop. And we already have the sink and the faucet to go on top of that. If we feel it’s necessary, I’ll refinish the cabinet to match better.
Some of the things done for the house were done purely for comfort and less for utility.
I built a kitchen table. Can you believe it? I have this as a decoration, but it’s a very practical decoration. We use it every day.
One of my gripes about the house right off the bat was that there was no dining room or space. We needed to shove a table into a corner of the kitchen. That’s fine and all, but it felt cramped and like the builder didn’t expect people needing to eat in their house. We had a small four-person table and chairs and it seemed to dominate the kitchen. Once I built the small two-person table, it really opened up the space. Plus, we stopped using half the table as storage which was a huge plus.
Who doesn’t like to have some nice wall art? What about when that wall art allows you to create more wall art? Well building and adding this small chalkboard to our entryway helped at a bit of Ellie and Danny feel to the house. The chalkboard wasn’t the only thing we put up on the walls other than paint. The other stuff has been store-bought and Ellie has been gathering it slowly throughout the year. She’s really putting her own style in the house and it’s looking great. I can’t wait to see where she takes it in the coming year.
Installing a dishwasher might have been one of the most exciting things that have been done to the house since we moved in. Sure, new windows are nice but once you look out them, the view doesn’t really change and you stop interacting with them. But with a dishwasher, it changes how you live your life. No longer are you a slave to the sink. Just load it and go. This, like the bathroom fan, was a project I needed my dad’s help with. He and I knocked it out in a day. The best part is that as long as we keep this kitchen configuration, replacing the dishwasher will be a lot easier than installing one from scratch.
Here’s the thing, after a year of going hard on making the house a home, I have no plans on stopping anytime soon. You should see my list of projects I want to get taken care of. It grows more than it shrinks. Not because I’m not working furiously to get things done but because I just want to work on the house more and more. Here’s a taste of some of the projects we are planning:
- Finish the basement
- Finish the basement bathroom
- Concrete countertop for the bathroom
- Build a trellis for the grapes
- Resurface the driveway
- Tear down and rebuild the sun porch
- Build a TV stand/credenza
Since moving into our house last March, I haven’t had any regrets. There have been many learning experiences, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I don’t know what the future will hold with the house, but I’m sure it will keep me busy and I’ll enjoy the time I put into continuing making the house into my and Ellie’s home.