Alma Project Update + New House Inspiration
June 9, 2014
So there’s good news and bad news on the housing front. Let’s start with the bad, or shall I say, the disappointing setback. You may recall I was given the task in February to furnish a house for our local COTS (our charitable efforts we dub the Alma Project) and I embraced the challenge and off I went thrifting for the cause snagging furniture to use for the project. Then two months ago, I was asked to hold off on any further improvements because the city that owns the house was all of a sudden considering selling it and four others instead of extending the long term leases to the transitional housing program.
There were many meetings and pleas before the city council to not sell and to continue to foster the program which transitions people from homelessness back to society. Two weeks ago we were told despite the protests that the city decided to sell so the disheartening news is the houses are no longer available for the program. I’m really saddened by the situation, but we’re determined to find other houses from private donors to lease to program, I’ll keep you posted if any land in our lap. Many of those thrift store purchases I’ll be selling and donating the proceeds to COTS but two I’ll keep for …
…the good news, at least for us, which is that after a long and arduous search, Matt and I found a house to buy and last week it became ours. First I should say to those who have asked, no we are not moving! We love our current house and its location. I have no intention of redecorating it, I love it the way it is, and we have absolutely no plans to leave. This is the tale of our search for a second home to upgrade and renovate.
We’ve always loved architecture and remodeling, we spend a lot of our time discussing how to improve homes, spaces, and yards, and what we’d do if given the opportunity with a particular home which is why we set out to buy another house. I haven’t taken official “before” pics of the home we bought yet, I will soon, so meanwhile here’s our story mixed in with some inspirational images for the upcoming remodel.
So as you know Matt is a real estate appraiser and broker and together we have fixed up houses and condos within our means since the 2000s and even expanded and remodeled our primary residence beginning in 2006. But after the recession hit it was game over on investing for awhile while we waited for the market to stabilize. Real estate has been volatile for years, hitting rock bottom everywhere, but now in many communities the market is showing signs of appreciation.
We haven’t bought real property since before recession, we decided to wait instead and save our money and invest when the time was better for us. We paid off our debt and started placing money into a savings account every month.
Of course it’s important to have diverse investments but we love real estate the most for the simple reason you can fix it up, put your personal stamp on it, and then sell it for profit in a good market or hold on to it as part of an investment portfolio. It’s what we do best, he’s the appraiser, I’m the decorator, both of us are DIYers and together we decide what fixtures and finishes work best in the renovation process.
We almost bought a house in Salt Lake City with my sister last year, but then they found one on their own, we were thrilled for them, so we turned our attention back home to California. And for six months we tried to purchase real estate in our own backyard.
*Ahem* That was maddening, to put it lightly. In much of California, it’s a seller’s market again. We looked at over 50 fixer upper homes for sale in our budget and made multiple offers on homes within 20 miles of our current home. None of our offers were ever accepted, we were outbid every time by all cash buyers and we just couldn’t compete.
It was extremely frustrating process that we endured for months. As nice as the weather is out here, what’s true is that California real estate compared to the rest of the nation ranks as the least affordable.
So in order to buy, we had to change strategies.
We turned our attention out of state and decided to buy a house in a nice residential community in Nevada around the corner from my parents house where real estate per square foot is one third of what it is in our backyard.
When we factored in holding costs and travel expenses, we discovered that we still came out ahead in the investment equation. We finally got a contract on a dated older home that needed a lot of upgrades and had the home inspected and ordered the appraisal. I really loved and wanted to fix up that house, especially that kitchen, I started to get excited and started pinning ideas to Pinterest.
BUT. As we all know, it’s important to not start measuring for flooring or window treatments until the deal is closed. It’s deflating to get your hopes up and start remodeling in your head only to find out later there is a problem. Which is what happened to us in March. The appraisal on the house we were buying came in way under the contract price and the seller wouldn’t drop the price to that value. And we weren’t willing to pay more than the appraised value. Left at a standstill, we canceled the deal and had to start searching again.
The good news is we found house to a house in April to renovate (with a pool!) and finally closed on that property last week. We’re going to be travelling back and forth fixing it up, we’re both self employed so we can make it work with our schedule. It will take a year to complete the process but it’s our new blank canvas and we can’t wait to get started.
The bonus is the house is so close to Mom and Dad in Las Vegas, we get to spend a lot of time with them when we come to town to work on the renovation. We’re sure it will have great resale value when all fixed up and they can keep an eye on it in our absence.
We realized we cannot do all of the renovation ourselves so the big stuff will require help from some contractors but the cosmetic projects (painting cabinets, tiling backsplashes) we can do ourselves. It will take longer since it’s out of state but I’m a dreamer and a doer and with that combination, the house will be beautiful when complete.
The vibe we’re going for with the new house is a mix of Mediterranean influence and a touch of tropical/coastal: Palm Beach meets Portofino, Santa Barbara meets Santorini, Miami meets Marrakech. It will be a little oasis in the desert with colorful patterned tile and textiles, a mix of natural and stained wood and white; the objective is to blur the lines between indoor and out.
We have some headaches ahead, things we’ve never tackled before (popcorn ceilings, pool repair) but other spaces we’re excited to redo: bathrooms and kitchens. The plan is to enjoy the process and embrace all of the crazy things that come with fixing up a house, the unexpected surprises and the learning that comes with it. It will be an adventure…
I’m off to meet with contractors at the house this week. I’ll share “before” pics of the house soon. Summer is jam packed with camps and road trips and projects on the new home in Nevada. Let the fun begin…