Old Scars

The reason we do the things we do, believe what we believe is always based on our own personal life experiences, from politics, to religion, to simple perception. There are far more reasons behind what we are doing and why it is so important to us.
I bought my first home in 2001, at age 21. I used my $10k 401k as the down payment on a $149k condo in San Diego, I wish I still had it, it was adorable. When other people were putting custom parts on their cars and going to the club, I was trying to buy a house.
I sold that condo two years later and made $50k that was the down payment on our first home in Sacramento, a new construction 3/2 that I still own as a rental. We are bad landlords because I have a sentimental attachment to that house. It was where we lived when Sean and I got married, we keep it immaculately, not ideal for a rental.
I worked at banks and credit unions through college. Would take classes in the morning, then work full time, then classes in evening. When we moved to Sacramento in 2001 I took a job at Washington mutual processing mortgages and worked up to underwriting. When the market started changing in 2007, I lost my job for the first time. I loved that job, thought I’d be there for the gold watch, it was a shock.
I took another job underwriting, the money was great, but I hated the job, my boss was condescending, it lasted six months before they went through layoffs too. Last in, first out. It was rough. We were trying to get pregnant at the same time, dealing with endometriosis, and the ground kept moving.
I took a job as a temp and was placed with the state of CA. Right after getting placed I found out I was pregnant, at the same time I was trying to get hired. I let them know I was expecting and they hired me anyways. I cried that day, a stable job with the state despite the fact they knew I was pregnant. I worked there for 7 years, part time after my first baby, and had 3 kids, took a year off with each one.
Baby #3 was the deal breaker for working part time. It was the point where daycare was more than I was bringing home. It was the hardest choice ever. I appreciated that job so much, no one ever leaves the state, right?? The month my pension vested, I went out on my last maternity leave and didn’t go back.
At the same time I was going through this transition, the mortgage companies Sean worked for were shutting down too. Within 6 years, we lost 5 jobs between the two of us, severance packages left and right, his always seemed to come when I was pregnant too. It was devastating. I don’t think I’ll ever look at life the same after what the real estate market crash did to our psyche. Before that we thought we would grow our careers and income and made choices accordingly. After We started basing all decisions on whether we could afford it even on unemployment. We were constantly scared, looking for the next shoe to drop. It dramatically effects how you make decisions.
The job losses and uncertainty through the market crash changed us forever. I don’t think we will ever be as optimistic as we might have been otherwise and for that I am sad.

The House That Wasn’t

Before I can tell he story of the house that will be, I feel like I need to tell the story of the house that wasn’t. It is a huge part of our story in how we made the decision to get to this point.

In 2015 we finally found a house that we loved, or so I thought. It was as close as any had come, seemed like a good choice at the time, so we made an offer. It was 2445 sqft on 2.5 flat acres, 3 bedroom, 3 bath, needed some updating from being built in the 1980’s, but was still very much livable. It was listed at $545k, we offered $490k and they rejected it, not even a counter. We sat for a few more months, watching and looking, and they lowered the price to $525k. We went in at $500k and they asked for us to pay some costs and accepted!

The transaction on that house was not a smooth one, it was full of bumps along the way. This was a scary choice for us, we needed everything to feel right, so the bumps made it really hard to feel concrete in our decision. We had thought about cancelling he transaction, but the thought of loosing our deposit made it too much to bear. We thought that worst case scenario, and considering all of the houses we’d seen that were much worse, we could at least sell it if things did not work out.

We closed on the house in March, hoping that we could do some remodel work and move there when the kids finished school in June. We started tearing out walls, flooring, you name it, The goal was to turn it from a 3 bed/3bath to a 4 bed/2 bath, doing all of the work ourselves. It felt like from the get go, things just went wrong. If I was a believer in signs, they were screaming at me. To this day I’ll swear it was built on an Indian burial ground. Sean practically lived here while I watched he kids and got them to school. He was exhausted, working a full time job then running a one man remodel. It was tough on us all.

The kids and I would go out on evenings and weekends and do as much as we could. After four months of stress on our family, our budget managing two houses and a remodel, we were done, I couldn’t even think of wanting to live there. We decided to rent it out, try to get back on our feet, and revisit it later. Thankfully it was a competitive rental market, we had a completely remodeled house, and a lot of interest.

We chose a tenant that seemed like a good fit but we soon started seeing signs it was not going to be what we hoped. On her business page, we noticed that she’d hosted a large party at the house for her business, calling it “business name ranch”, uh oh! In a subsequent visit to the house we noticed that there were 14 mattresses stored in the garage, and the outbuilding held camping and recreational gear to sleep 50+ people. When we approached that the house could not be used for business purposes, we came to the agreement that it would not work for either party and both exited the lease agreement.

That brings us to he next tenant 😦  Within a month of moving in, the well dried up, no water to the house. It was a drought year and an old, shallow well. We had someone look at it, first bid…$12k, on top of the fact that we were just recovering from a remodel, it brought tears. The next bid was $5k, so we drilled a brand new well. A few months later we got a call from a neighbor that our great tenant had taken his tractor and plowed through the 5 surrounding lots, including federal BLM land with total disregard to lot lines! Neighbors were pissed to say the least. We approached him and he defended it and got argumentative with us, the relationship soured and two moths later we got a text saying he was leaving with no notice. The house was empty again, two tenants in less than a year, we couldn’t take anymore, It had been nothing but a bad experience from day one, so we listed the house for sale.

We listed it for $599k and got an offer for $595k fairly quickly. Their inspections of course found things that ours hadn’t, and we ended up going down to $580k to essentially buy them a new deck and new roof, like the only two things we hadn’t redone. We were just glad to be done with it. It had been a year of hell on us and our family. I can look back on it now, but in the middle of it, it just felt like a constant storm raining down on us. I value the experience, but hope we never are there again.

So now what? Back at square one, no new house, or idea what to do.

A New Direction

Back at square one, no new house, still wanting to move and a year of new experiences behind us, we looked at our options. Thankfully, despite being a mistake, the house that wasn’t turned out to be a profitable mistake. We had spent a year remodeling a house. Every time we got to a project, it started with us saying “What were they thinking???” Nothing in the house was as we would have chosen it. Despite all of the work we’d done, we would have had to sink another $100k into it to truly make it the house that we wanted.
We talked that the only way to truly get the house we wanted was going to be to build it ourselves. Why not? Sean has tons of construction experience, I have vision and design ability, really why not? We started looking at vacant lots with a general idea of permit costs and building costs. Honestly, the lot we ended up with is the 2nd lot we looked at, but there were many more after that.
We looked at cheap lots, under $100k, high end lots up to $350k with views of the lake. Our priorities were as flat as possible, not too rural, land but with a neighborhood feel, utilities reasonably close, in a great location. The first lot we loved we made an offer on while we were still selling the house that wasn’t and they accepted contingent on our sale. They ended up getting another offer before we closed, and we were bumped out of contract. In hindsight, that was a good thing because we like our lot much better. Our lot was just around the corner, in the same neighborhood, but is flatter and better laid out.
The problem is that they were asking $265k and the one around the corner had gone for $200k. We offered $200k and they rejected. After a few months of reminding them that we were interested, they came down to $225k and we accepted. Fortunately we were able to use the profit and down payment from the house that wasn’t and pay cash for the lot with the old owner carrying a small $25k loan until we start construction.
The lot is in a gated community with a small hoa of $500/year that maintains the private road and the gates. Most of the homes were built in the 1990’s so the neighborhood is mostly built out. The owners of our lot had planned to build on it, but when the crash happened they bought elsewhere and got stuck holding he lot for 10+ years. It has two wells already drilled and came with house plans for the house they had planned to build, but unfortunately was not the house we wanted to build.
So now we had a vacant plot of land, big dreams, and no clue!

The Reason

I have been asked so many times, by so many people to tell the story of our custom home build in the form of a blog. This is a once in a lifetime experience and I’m also hoping to record it for our family to have to look back on and maybe inspire people that this is not impossible. The majority of this will be written from a cell phone app, before I go to bed at night, but I hope this becomes a great story.
The reason? My 3 boys are always the reason, for everything we do. This is more than a house to us, this is our dream. If I were to psychoanalyze, it probably relates back to not having one true place that I grew up, we moved all the time. I want a place hat we can always come back to, where we can set down roots, where my boys can be a tree, and maybe climb a few, 3three in a tree.
For years we’ve looked at houses. In 2010 I broke my ankle looking at a house and that was nowhere near the first one. The house we live in is 1910 sqft, on @ 1/4 acre, nowhere near a palace, but it is well utilized sq footage. We have plenty of closet space, a formal living and dining, all of the kids have their own rooms, we have a pool and swing set, go to the best school in the area. Sean and I have redone every room of this house since we moved here in 2009, Noah was just six months old, all of our boys have come home here, this is the only home they know, it will be a tough act to follow. Every home we have looked at, and there have been many, has been compared to this one, it had to be better in every way or it was a deal breaker.
I have always been very conservative, have a degree in finance, am a saver, better safe than sorry. But because we don’t play big, its hard to win big either. Thanks to buying in the market crash, our mortgage payment here is $800, you cant even rent an apartment for that anymore, this is the safe choice. We’ve struggled with the mental battle of making he safe choice vs. always wanting something more, it feels like settling. We started to feel more pushed out than pulled when we saw the neighborhood becoming something we no longer felt like we could call home forever. A few years ago squatters burned down the house behind us, we watched it burn while we wet our fences to keep it from causing damage. It sat as a burnt out shell for years, being used for drugs and loitering. Every time my boys play out front, I have to sit on the front steps to watch them. We just wanted more.
This is our dream, not world traveling, I prefer to stay at home. I love everything to do with home decorating and DIY. If HGTV were the only channel on TV, I’d be a happy camper. I’ve been envisioning his house in my head for years. We have no safety net. When we decided to do this, we had to be in, so we are ALL in!