Becoming Homeowners: Our Biggest Project
JJ saw the house first.
Friends had seen the “For Sale by Owner” sign in front and called him to take a look. He took a walk through with them that afternoon, and by the time he came home from work that day, he told me we were putting the house under contract and that he couldn’t wait for me to see it.
When people heard that he had put a house under contract before telling me or taking me to see it, they were incredulous. But I just shrugged and smiled. We were a good team, and I had no reason not to trust him. We had looked at so many houses together by this point that we knew we were on the same page with what we were looking for. I knew he wouldn’t make a decision like that without good reason.
As soon as we had a contract and we were able to walk through it again, I met him at the house and wandered through the rooms while he and our friend talked to the owner. A few minutes later, JJ met me in one of the bedrooms, his eyes full of hope. “How did I do?” he asked eagerly. “Do you like it?”
I looked around at the peeling old wallpaper, the layers of paint and linoleum, the tiny (tiny!) bathroom, the lack of lighting, and the closets that weren’t even deep enough to put hangers in the normal way. It needed a lot (a lot!) of work, and at first it was hard to see past that. But then I glimpsed the hardwood floors, the french doors into the living room, the open space, the extra bedroom, the room for laundry in the back hallway, the way the afternoon light flooded in through all the windows. And I knew that he had found something special.
It was a good house in a good location, for a good price, and with a lot of work, some paint, and creativity, it was perfect. It seemed like it had just been waiting for someone to take pride in it again, to bring out its original charm, and give it some love and sweat equity to make it shine.
And it was going to be ours.
I looked back at him and smiled. “Yeah,” I said. “I like it a lot.”
Our first five years of marriage were spent in rented apartments in NJ—high housing prices and property taxes, paying for grad school classes, and a low salary were among the factors that made it difficult to save much for a house during that time. We also didn’t see ourselves staying there long term, so we were content to stay in our quiet little apartment with its many perks like a yard, an empty apartment above us, and the downtown within walking distance. When we moved to Maine, we moved in temporarily with relatives while we began the Great House Hunt. We had just begun looking into real estate and the rental business, and as we prepared to move, it seemed like money we didn’t know we had just came out of nowhere and piled into just enough to make a small down payment on something if we could get the right price (and an FHA loan). God was providing for our needs even when it felt like we had nothing to go on!
It took a few months before the right one showed up—a three unit tucked away on a quiet end of a street that came right out to downtown at the other end. It was a hundred years old, and had not been well maintained by the previous owner, but we could tell that it was sturdy and just needed some TLC and some updates to make it work. It was the right price, and we were approved for an FHA loan coupled with a construction loan for some of the updates needed, the two biggest being electrical and a new back deck/stairway. After four more months and six different closing dates, we finally signed papers in the beginning of December and got right to work! The first floor was already vacant, so we plan to move in as soon as we finish the majority of the renovations needed in that apartment, and then start on the other two.
So far it’s felt like we haven’t been able to put anything into the house yet, like all we’ve been doing is taking away from it. But with the peeling back of all the layers of paint, paneling, linoleum, and old wallpaper, the character and beauty of this house has already started coming through.
(Pssst—We’ll post longer updates here every once in a while, but in the meantime, you can see more peeks at our progress on our Instagram!)