We’ve been homeowners for a month. Wow, how’s it going?! I should probably update. It’s hectic! Even if you’ve been out on your own for almost half your life (ahem), and lived in a dozen rental properties in that time, that does not prepare a person for the eventuality of home ownership. It is really not for the faint. It’s wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a lot of work. Here are a few highlights.
Paint is a huge deal. The question I got most from pretty much every angle was, “If your house is brand new, why do you have to paint? Don’t the builders paint the house?” and I realized people were picturing us moving into a house with raw drywall. Yes, they painted. We even got to choose what color they used. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to choose the finish, and my first lesson as a homeowner was that having the right paint finish is a really big deal since we’re finally in a position to choose that sort of thing.
We have small children, and having experienced flat paint on many apartment walls over the years being promptly destroyed by small fingers, we opted for satin paint. Yet, we’re frugal (read: first world broke thanks to things like student loan debt, child support payouts, and professional licensing fees) so instead of hiring a painter, we had to figure out how to do this job ourselves. My partner already knows a ton about painting. He’s owned a lot of houses before. I have never painted in my life, but figured, how hard could it be? I was all in for our DIY painting job. Due to my inexperience, we decided that it would be too hard to do an actual color on the walls, plus we liked the color we chose from our builder, so we set out on the search for satin finish clear coat. Apparently, this is a popular thing in Europe, but isn’t often used in the US. Nevertheless, Valspar does make such a product, but only in quart cans. We bought 52 quarts of it, and tested it on a patch of wall in our apartment’s master bedroom closet. It really is a brilliant product. I looked forward to getting it onto the walls of our house.
When it came to painting, I learned the hard way that it is much harder than it looks. My partner had found in the past that he liked a certain type of mechanical roller that stores and distributes the paint as you go along. I thought it sounded like a wonderful idea, and was looking forward to a nice easy time. I could not have been more mistaken. One thing I did not bargain for was how heavy those rollers would be! I could barely lift it, far less paint effectively with it. I did two walls with that thing, and I don’t think I even got 50% coverage. I felt so hopeless, like we would never get the job done before the movers came with our stuff. My partner came up with a better idea, though. He put a regular roller on a long stick, and with that, I managed to paint most of the walls with ease. He did the high spaces and the intricate things. I took care of the large areas that I could reach.
Ultimately, it worked out well, and I feel proud every time I see our satin finish walls, or feel how smooth they are. Also, one month in, three kids under 10 in the house, and there is not a fingerprint to be found. 10/10 would take on that job again.
BASIC SHIT HAS TO GO
Having lived among builder grade fixtures for my entire life, I had no idea that the two episodes I’ve watched of HGTV shows (I couldn’t even tell you which ones) got into my head as much as they did, but by the time we closed, I was severely disappointed in the fixtures, lighting, and mirrors the house came with. I wanted nothing to do with nearly everything except the things I got to choose like our beautiful cabinets, granite, and subway tiled backsplash. If I didn’t choose it, it had to go.
I learned that my partner is really handy, and has a better eye for things than I had thought. He didn’t even mind the builder grade stuff, but humored me in upgrading our entire bathroom to brushed nickel faucets, side by side mirrors framed in black wood that matches our cabinets, and a custom shower head combination that I really regret living this many decades without. Our bathroom is starting to look really good. We left the kids’ bathroom alone for now, figuring we’ll upgrade it when they get a little older. Builder grade stuff is ok for kids.
Next, we have to do the kitchen. I didn’t like that faucet either, although my partner had no problem with it. I’m not sure he will ever let me live down how much we paid for the new one. It was more than my student loan payment, but it was really the only faucet I wanted after I saw it. Nothing else would do, so we got it. Of course, it’s good we did, because our original faucet broke a couple weeks after we moved in. A lesson for everyone, builder grade stuff is not meant to last.
Then there are light fixtures. I never hated that basic flush mount lighting until I saw it in my pretty new house. Now I can’t stand it, so we got some really cool looking fixtures for some rooms, ceiling fans for others, and sleeker looking flush mount lighting for hallways and bathrooms.
Of course, while we do have custom cabinets, there is work to be done with all of those as well. Door and drawer hardware is a big deal! We got some that I thought I would like, but was actually way bigger than I had anticipated. It was ridiculous looking, so it had to go back. We got some different hardware that looks really good, and we have to put that on all the doors and drawers still, in the kitchen and all the bathrooms. This includes the aftermarket cabinets we hung above the toilets in the upstairs bathrooms. Of course, since our new bathroom lacks drawers, we installed tip-out storage, which is one of the most ingenious inventions I have seen in years.
THERE ARE SERVICES TO COORDINATE AND RULES TO LEARN
Before we knew it, our sod had grown to such a point that if we didn’t get it cut, we would get fined by the homeowners’ association! That went by fast! So of course, we had to find a lawn care person in our suburb. This was harder than it seems because most of the sites I’m familiar with like Home Advisor and Task Rabbit deal only with jobs within the city limits. Since we moved to an outer suburb, it’s harder to find contractors. We did eventually find someone to do our lawn, and we won’t get a fine. I’m glad that part is over with.
On that subject, our HOA is a real trip. Everything about them on Yelp, Google, and FaceBook says they do absolutely nothing. Of course, one look at our neighborhood, and you can tell that’s not really the case. If they did nothing, it would not look as nice as it does. Even so, we didn’t give it much thought, and when we got a warning about leaving our trash cans on our driveway (in front of our garage), we were surprised at first. This, after receiving a warning from the city about leaving them on the street 24 hours after trash had been picked up. Our garage is still in disarray with all the things we need to put together and figure out what to do with, so we were just keeping our trash cans outside until we got it figured out. Guess we can’t do that anymore.
Also, our community pool has a monitor who really reminds me of the school lunch lady from elementary school. My partner tells me this is normal. It is my first time living somewhere that there’s an HOA, so it was new to me. I’m not really a pool person anyway, so it hardly matters, but I still thought it was funny that we were being babysat while we used the pool we pay for upkeep of through our HOA fees.
I am just hoping we don’t get a citation for the pallet of lumber that’s on our driveway right now. We’re building a deck for the spa to go on, and it’ll end up around back, but we haven’t had time to do any of the outside stuff yet because we’re so busy trying to get the inside stuff done.
FURNITURE IS TRICKY
This is not unique to home ownership. Every military person knows the struggle of trying to fit furniture from one house into the next house. I thought I was prepared for this. There’s a key difference, though. There’s a permanence to home ownership that doesn’t exist with renting or post housing, so the idea of just stuffing everything where it might fit, and keeping things that aren’t a good fit for this house, is suddenly distasteful. There isn’t going to be a next house, at least not in a couple years like there always was before. This house is where you ended up. This is the house you have to fit, and it’s worth doing major furniture restructuring to accomplish a good result at that.
This is doubly interesting when two grown adults have moved in together, and both brought a lot of stuff with them. We were in our apartment for two years before buying our house, but we knew that we were going to get a house, so we kept a ton of stuff that didn’t fit in our apartment either because we had no idea what would fit in our house. We ended up with way too much stuff! Do you have any idea how many bookcases and beds two grown-ups with their own homes bring to the table (and how many tables, for that matter)?! I’m not even being facetious when I say we could probably outfit at least five college students with the number of bookcases and Ikea side tables we collectively own.
The thing is, though, just because you have a lot of stuff doesn’t mean it’s the right stuff. Don’t be afraid to just scrap it and buy something that fits perfectly. I would never have done that while we were renting, but now it seems almost foolhardy not to.
LIES AND DAMNED LIES
There is so much that one thinks about moving into a new house (and I’ll admit, I thought these things, too) which is so patently false that it absolutely stomps you in the face with the reality of the situation. “It’s new, it’s perfect, you can just move right in and that’s that.” Oh my god, no you can’t. There is a 100% chance the air conditioning will be wrong. The paint will not be the finish or the colors you wanted. Appliances may malfunction. Sod might die. You just never know. New houses look so shiny and fresh, but they are just as much work as an existing home! You’re literally the test pilot for this huge machine, and with that many moving parts, things absolutely will go wrong. You will be on the phone to the builder a lot. There is a reason new homes come with warranties. This is true no matter what builder you use. We used a mid to high-end builder, and we still had the air conditioning people out three times in our first week. It’s going to happen. It’s inevitable.
Yes, we are a month into home ownership, and our house still looks like a goddamned construction zone. We haven’t put up anything in the yard yet. Most of our kitchen is taken up with plants, which all have places to be, but we don’t know exactly where yet. We have spent thousands of dollars each at Ikea, Lowe’s, and Amazon, getting everything we need to make this blank slate of a house our own, and every day, more of it gets put together, placed in its intended spot, or otherwise put into service. Is all this necessary? From a food, water, and shelter standpoint, no, it’s not, but from a quality of life standpoint, I think it is. I love looking at all the things we’ve improved and added, and knowing that this is ours. This is what makes our house, our home. I can’t wait until it’s finished, of course, but the ends definitely justify the means.