The leak in our bathroom ceiling

Ah, the joys of homeownership.

Remember the peeling paint in the bathroom ceiling that I mentioned last week? The peeling paint that I felt certain was due to humidity from the shower and lack of adequate ventilation? Well, I was wrong. The paint is peeling because we have a leak in the roof.

It seems to be a small leak, but it's a leak nonetheless.

Monday morning, I noticed that there was a tea-colored water stain in the area where the paint had peeled. "I don't like that," I thought, and I snapped a photo.

[Photo: A stain in our bathroom ceiling]

I drove up to the family box factory, where my brother and I spent several hours waiting for Mom to be discharged from the hospital. While we waited, we sorted through her paperwork to be sure we had everything in order. We updated her personal-finance records. We chatted about the future.

In the end, Mom was not released from the hospital on Monday, so I drove home in the heavy rain. When I arrived, I checked the water spot in the bathroom ceiling. Had it grown? It had.

[Photo: A *bigger* stain in our bathroom ceiling]

So, I ventured into our attic for the first time.

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Keeping a home improvement projects to-do list

My Christmas curse continues! You see, for a long time now — almost thirty years — Christmas has become synonymous with home problems for me.

This all started in the first home that Kris and I owned back when we were newly married. We woke one Christmas morning to find that the water heater had overflowed, flooding the laundry room and much of the converted garage. Unfazed, we cleaned up the mess and spent our holiday without hot water. It was fun!

Since then, I've experienced a long line of home problems on Christmas day: frozen pipes, broken gutters, fallen fences, and more. And this year? Well, this year's issue was minor...but may lead to a major repair.

The house that Kim and I bought last August is in good shape. We made sure of that during the inspection period. Still, no home is perfect — and a house built fifty years ago has a few warts.

"Did you know something's wrong with the ceiling in the hall bathroom?" Kim asked on Christmas morning after she finished her shower. "The paint on the ceiling seems to be peeling."

"What?" I said. I went to take a look. Kim was right. The paint on the ceiling seemed to be peeling.

"I'll bet that's from moisture," I said. I found a footstool and climbed up to take a closer look. I turned on the ventilation fan. "Wow," I said. "The fan doesn't seem to be pulling any air. That's the root issue."

I toyed with the peeling paint, which was a mistake. The brittle stuff crumbled and fell to the floor in large chunks. "That's so strange," I said. I picked up a few pieces of debris. "Is this only paint? It seems so thick."

"It looks like it's just paint," Kim said. "But many layers of paint. Who knows? It could be something else underneath."

Paint peeling from our bathroom ceiling

So, now we have the first urgent home project in our new place. It's not a huge deal, obviously, but it's something we want to repair sooner rather than later. It's just a matter of finding time. (This seems like something we should be able to fix ourselves rather than hiring out.)

This issue has actually been a blessing in disguise. Everywhere I live, I keep a master list of repairs and projects. But I hadn't yet drafted that list for our home here in Corvallis. This morning, I remedied that.

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Grading homes: The system I used when picking a new place to live

This morning — because the sky was clear and I hadn't anything better to do — I let the dog lead me on a six-mile walk. For two hours, we wound our way through the streets of Corvallis. We sniffed drains, barked at squirrels, and in every way had a merry old time.

If I'd allow her, Tally would spend hours every day sniffing drains around the city.

Tally, sniffing a drainage ditch

As we walked, I reflected on how fortunate Kim and I were when we decided to move here. We were deliberate about our choice, sure, but it was still something of a gamble. Sometimes research and experience don't align. In this case, they have.

Why We Love Corvallis

After four months Corvallis seems like a perfect fit for us. There's so much we love about this place, such as:

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A useful new tool to help you pick a place to live

Every now and then, The New York Times gives us an awesome new personal-finance tool. Back in 2007, they created an amazing rent vs. buy calculator, which they've diligently updated and maintained over the past fifteen years. A couple of weeks ago, they unveiled their where should you live? tool. [Warning: possible paywall, which is unfortunate.]

Here's how it works:

We created a quiz using data for almost 17,000 places across more than 30 metrics. Realtor.com shared housing prices with us; Yelp contributed tallies of restaurants, music venues and gay bars; and AccuWeather helped us collect statistics on temperature, sunshine and snowfall, to name just a few of our sources.

We want the quiz to be useful to anyone who’s thinking about moving — not just affluent, highly educated people who are working remotely because of the Covid pandemic. We’ve included data on affordability, jobs and abortion rights, which could be relevant to young people deciding where to start their careers. And we’ve quantified health care quality, snowfall and crime rates — criteria that might be top of mind for retirees.

To use the tool, you select from 35 different factors that matter to most people, factors ranging from population density to climate to racial diversity to political affiliation. You can even emphasize the qualities that matter most to you. The tool tells you which American cities best match your preferences.

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We offered to buy a home for $128,000 over list — but it wasn’t enough!

Sunday evening, Kim and I made an offer on a house. The Greenwood Place (as we'll call it) was listed at $649,000. We offered $677,777 escalating to $777,777; no repairs required; and a $50,000 appraisal gap waiver.

Our offer was not accepted.

The Greenwood Place

That's right: Two months after selling our home — and three months after beginning to search for the next place — Kim and I have waded back into this crazy housing market. We're not sure how long this process will last (or what the outcome will be) but we're prepared to be searching for many weeks, if not months.

Both our mortgage broker (Michael S.) and our real-estate agent (Michael K.) tell us we're doing things exactly right for this market.

  • Kim and I both have credit scores over 800. "Everything looks unbelievably perfect here," Michael S. told us in June. "That's amazing. Perfect credit."
  • We've sold our previous house and are currently renting a place while we search for another. This allows us to make offers without home sale contingencies.
  • We're willing to take calculated risks to increase the strength of our offers, but we're not willing to compromise our financial health in doing so. "You can borrow $850,000 all day long," Michael S. told us. "You'd probably have zero difficulty qualifying for $1 million." We don't want to borrow a million dollars though because doing so would severely compromise our other goals.

All the same, there aren't many homes on the market right now. Demand far outpaces supply, which is driving prices up and creating insanely competitive situations. It doesn't matter whether we're doing everything right. We're still going to run into folks who can make cash offers at more than $128,000 over a $649,000 asking price.

Our plan? Be patient. Remain vigilant. We don't need to buy a home at the moment — and, in fact, perhaps it would be best if we didn't — but we want to be prepared to pounce if/when we find the right place.

Today, I want to share a bit of our thought process as we attempt to buy a home in 2021.

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We sold our house!

June has arrived and it's glorious! The sunshine and warmer weather make living in Oregon wonderful this time of year. October is better, but June is a damn fine month here in Portland: wild roses, blackberry blossoms, and strawberries; birds, squirrels, and bicyclists; outdoor dining, evening strolls, and morning coffee on the porch.

I've been in a great mood for the past week, and it's not just because of the weather. It's also because, after three months of hard work, Kim and I have sold our country cottage. We're not sure what the future holds, but for now we're renting a small place in the Lake Grove neighborhood. It's fun!

And now that all of that work is finished, I can turn my attention to other things — such as writing about money. To kick things off, here's the story of what I've been up to for the past few months, of how we sold our house in this crazy real-estate market.

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An uncertain future

On February 17th — in the middle of nine days without power due to an ice storm — we had the foundation contractor out to re-inspect our house. We experienced some settling last fall, and I was worried that might indicate deeper problems.

For thirty minutes, the contractor explored the crawlspace while I sat in the living room, fretting. When he finished, he came up to tell me what he'd found.

"Look," he said, "my assessment is the same as when you had me out here three years ago. Your foundation is fine. It's not failing. The house isn't falling down."

I felt a wave of relief wash over me.

"That said," he continued, "I do think you'd feel better if you were to reinforce one section of the foundation. It looks to me as if you're seeing some minor expansion and contraction of the soil, which is what's causing your settling issues. It'd cost about $9000 to remedy that."

Plan for reinforcing foundation

That evening as Kim and I huddled in our powerless living room, bundled in coats and jackets and using flashlights to read, I made a confession.

"I want to move," I said. "I know we both love this house and this yard, but it's taking a toll on my mental health."

"I know," Kim said. "I know you've been struggling. Ever since we moved in, I've seen how you've grown increasingly depressed and anxious. I'll do whatever it takes to make you happy, but I think maybe you should give up on your dream of owning an old house."

She's right. I love old houses but my personality isn't suited for them. They stress me out. (My ex-wife and I owned an old house too — she still lives there — and it caused me endless stress, as well.)

For the next couple of weeks, Kim and I spent many hours discussing our best course of action. Then, one month ago today, we made a decision: We would sell the house as soon as possible (to take advantage of the crazy Portland real-estate market), then rent a place for a while as we made a careful, calculated decision about where to live next.

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How to prepare for a natural disaster

My world is on fire.

As you may have heard, much of Oregon is burning right now. Thanks to a "once in a lifetime" combination of weather and climate variables -- a long, dry summer leading to high temps and low humidity, then a freak windstorm from the east -- much of the state turned to tinder earlier this week. And then the tinder ignited.

At this very moment, our neighborhood is cloaked in smoke.

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Selling our home was the best financial decision we have ever made

Hello! My name is Wendy Mays, and I'm super happy to share a bit of my story. In the past couple of years, my husband and I have taken several big steps to change our financial future.

From the outside looking in, it appeared we had it all: a perfect family in a beautiful, Pinterest-worthy home in sunny San Diego, California. We'd reached the pinnacle. We were living the American Dream.

Wendy's dream house

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Outsourcing my life: Why I pay others to do tasks I could do myself

When people talk about saving money, DIY is one of the first things that comes to mind.

Do all of this (and more) and you could save hundreds of dollars a year.

And that’s great. I know lots of folks that enjoy growing a lush garden resulting in delicious produce (that can be canned or frozen) in due season. There are people in my life that find doing laundry calming, and others that will happily take on any domestic project that comes their way. Personally, I enjoy doing the dishes.

While I’m happy spending time on the things that I like, there are certain things that I hate doing — and that I will happily outsource to others.

Am I perfectly capable of cleaning my home and mowing the lawn? Sure. But why should I spend the time doing these things when I can pay someone else to do them? Here are some reasons I spend money to outsource parts of my life.

Why I Outsource Tasks I Could Do Myself

I Can Make More Money

The number-one reasons I outsource tasks I could do myself is that by doing so, I make more money. Wait, what?

When I talk about spending $200 a month on lawn care or $20 an hour on house cleaning services, many people are surprised to find that I make money by outsourcing these mundane chores.

I’m a freelance writer, so any time I free up can be used to write an article, interview a source, or work on edits. Rather than spending two hours cleaning the house, I can pay someone $40 to do it instead — and make $500. That’s a net gain of $460 each week, or about $1,840 per month.

There have been times that I take my laptop with me to get the oil changed. Jiffy Lube takes care of it for $65 and I can do work amounting to about $200 in the time I’m sitting there. That’s a net gain of $135.

In the past, I’ve used services like Blue Apron and HelloFresh to plan my meals and deliver the ingredients. That saves me the time and hassle of meal planning and grocery shopping, and allowed me to focus on other things. However, with my travel schedule, these types of services haven’t been meeting my needs.

Instead, with Instacart now available in my area, I’ve switched to getting someone else to do the shopping, while I use a service like $5 Meal Plan to plan my meals and provide me with an ingredient list.

No matter how I do it, though, the cost of these services is much less than what I can make doing a little extra work. Whether you want more time to work on a side gig, or take action to grow your business, the investment you make in outsourcing can yield dividends later.

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