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House-iversary Week: Lessons Learned from Our First House

You know how last week, I was all: “It’s House-iversary week!!” And then it got to be THIS week, and I’m still going on about it? I meant “week” in the sense of: “a period of time whose length is still undecided.” I guess I had more to say about the last five years than I realized.

At some point, someone’s going to need to learn how to shut me up.
Good luck with that.
I spent my whole childhood moving from state to state, so the idea of finally putting down roots and settling for a while had so much appeal to me. It spoke right to my little heart and romanced me to the core.

Still, it hasn’t been the smoothest ride. There are a few things we would’ve done differently, if we could hop in a DeLorean, scoot back in time McFly-style and have a little chat with then-childless-and-optimistic Andy and Kelly.

If we could change things…

  • We would’ve hired out the hardwood floors! We are DIYers to the CORE. I mean, it’s in our blood. But gluing down hardwood floors is a tough, tough job. (Nailing them down is a totally different story.) It took us six months of backbreaking work completed in three- or four-hour chunks after our full-time day jobs to finally get the whole downstairs covered. We love it now, but in retrospect? It would’ve been money well spent to pay for that.
  • I would’ve handled the kitchen TOTALLY DIFFERENTLY. I made every design mistake you can make: listening to what others thought and not choosing what I love, making choices to try to “work with” other things I didn’t love, etc. More on this in the next post. (Unless y’all can figure out a way to make me hush before then!)
  • I would’ve spoken up! We only hired out three jobs: painting the exterior of our house, installing our silestone countertops, and installing our carpet. In the latter two cases, the subcontractors made errors and I let them slide because I didn’t want them to think I was a jerk. Now, we live with weird, unstretched spots of carpet and imperfect countertops – for which we paid full price – because I just didn’t want to create conflict. “Get a backbone, sista! The subcontractors don’t have to like you!” That’s what I want to scream at myself.
  • There are about four million decorating decisions we made that I’d probably do differently, but I think they all stem from a few mistakes I’ve made over and over: choosing paint colors too soon (more on this in another post!), buying what “works” instead of what I love, and just a good ol’ lack of patience.
  • This is mostly because of blogging, but GEEZ how I wish I could go back in time and take some “before” photos! Even without the ol’ blog though, it’s nice to be able to look back at how far you’ve come. (It was fun for Andy and me to do when we shared before-and-after photos in last week’s posts. You know, the first seven days of House-iversary week.)

But we wouldn’t change…

  • The location of our house. I’d heard the real estate mantra “location, location, location!” just like you. But I didn’t really get it. Your neighbors matter. Without actually trying, we accidentally ended up with a great location, but we really should’ve thought it through a little better!
  • house2

  • Living on a level lot. This wasn’t even really on our list of must-haves, but somehow we ended up with a house on a level piece of land. That’s not so easy to come by in the hilly Atlanta suburbs, but we’re so glad we stumbled upon this one! It gave us lots of opportunity to redneck-it-out and add our deck and DIY playground, so now we live in our backyard when the weather’s nice. (So, like, not in July. Or when there are mosquitoes. But I have high hopes for September!)

  • DIYing most everything else. ESPECIALLY our iron balusters. I think it was going to cost $800 to pay someone else to do it, but Andy installed ours and it was a simple, easy job, that only cost us about $150 or so! (Here’s how to stain your railings and how to install iron balusters.) Beyond that, we found that hiring out work never resulted in a better end result. We’re more willing to take the time to make the job perfect than a contractor. There are still jobs that we couldn’t have done ourselves – like installing the quartz counters – but we don’t have any regrets about doing it ourselves in most cases.
  • Buying within our budget. The bank was willing to loan us more than twice what we were comfortable paying, but we had run the numbers and knew our own limits. We wanted to buy a place we could afford even if only one of us was working, because we wanted the option to stay home with our kids. (If we had spent what the bank would’ve given us, it would’ve been a major emergency for us when this happened.) I never, ever, ever regretted buying less house than the bank would give us. Leaving freedom and flexibility within our budget has been one of our best decisions.
  • On a related note: saving up for each improvement and paying for it in cash before we do it. That way, no home improvement projects are constantly lingering in the form of constant debt.

I have a million lessons learned from our kitchen alone, which I’ll be sharing with you soon! What would you do differently in the purchase of your house?

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  1. Julia @cuckoo4design says:

    I so hear you when it comes to speaking up to contractors. I have learned to do that, but sometimes I have to send the hubby on top of my complaints because some just don’t listen when it’s the good ol wifey complaining ;(

    • I second that. Or is it third it? 😉 Anyway I had one guy that just smiled a stupid smile every time I saw him doing something I thought I made perfectly clear he should not do. Which happened to be the same thing, 3 different times in an hour. Finally I said “why do you keep doing what I specifically asked you NOT to do?” He said “don’t you worry, I know what I”M doing”. I said “obviously you don’t because YOU are working for ME.” We ended up with a barren, torn up backyard full of red dirt that took a year to fix! Needless to say my husband was not happy when he came home and believe me the guy heard about it. Very frustrating. And we have definitely learned that we take much greater care to do things the right way than anyone we have paid.

  2. we always pay for home improvement projects out of our bank account rather than out of our credit account- it can be stressful but much better in the long run! these are all great ips for first time homeowners.

  3. So we both have fairly new houses. Nice to see new-home bloggers.

    I love the iron ballusters! I’m going to pitch that idea to the wife. Only $150 too? Nice.

    I hear ya on the floors. As a blogger, it’s hard to pay someone to do anything. You want to write how-to posts, save some money, etc. I’m considering having someone drywall and mud our basement when we finish it. If that ever happens. It’ll be a tough call.

  4. I loved this post – in fact I felt like I was the one writing it in several parts! I have done the same thing with contractors. You don’t want to hurt their feelings so you let things slide. I have a few friends who are very “demanding” (to say it nicely) and they would never have stood for some of the things I have. It’s a great reminder not to be a push over! I also agree about the location! THE most important thing we ever did was choose a neighborhood we loved. But I also chose some builder quality things in my house because I was afraid of spending money and I didn’t think it would matter that much. To this day, we are still switching things out and it is very frustrating. Of course, looking back I think my taste has also changed so that might not really be a regret! Your home is beautiful and I have enjoyed following along in the transformations! Have a great week!

  5. It’s not too late for your carpets. You can get them restretched. We had that done before we sold one our homes. Makes them look perfectly installed.

  6. It is such a learning process buying, remodeling, hiring out, making design decisions! I love that you didn’t jump on the super size mortgage band wagon like so many did and worked with in your budget. Financial freedom is priceless 🙂 You have a beautiful home and family. Such a blessing 🙂 xo Kristin

  7. I still have to remind myself to get a backbone when we do hire out! lol! It’s like I didn’t want to be want of those high maintenance clients…but hey, at least those people get exactly what they want, right? I’ve heard this comes more easily as you get older…so there is one plus to aging! 😉 And the flat land & a flat driveway is a must for our next house, should we ever move. Dribbling a basketball and learning to ride a bike is a touch more difficult on a driveway with a slope! 😉

  8. Love this post! We’re pretty amazed, too, at what we’ve learned in the 8 years we’ve owned our home. The two major things I would do differently in our next home: Add a pantry and install a patio instead of a deck. I’m exhausted from painting that sucker year after year! Oh, and I saw the other comment about getting your carpets re-stretched and I agree. We had the company come out and do just a couple of spots and it was very inexpensive so two thumbs up for that:)

  9. “we found that hiring out work never resulted in a better end result.”

  10. Can you share the name of the company you got the iron ballusters? I love the look!

    • I need to dig around and see if I can find them and just do a whole post on that process! I’ll see if I can find it!

  11. I don’t mind at all that these posts have taken over a week! It has been so interesting to see how your house has transformed! 🙂 And I think learning to listen to ourselves and not others when it comes to design choices is something we all have to learn. Also, one thing I love most about your blog is that you always stick within your budget and make wise choices with your finances. As a “normal” person with a budget, it is refreshing to see a design blogger with similar financial beliefs.

  12. I am eager to read your next post, so please don’t shut up. 😉 I think I made soooo many errors in our first house and am already a bit nervous that my lack of patience (huuuuge issue for me) will make me do the same thing when we’re ready for the next.

  13. Such good thoughts! I, of course, would have done nothing differently, but then again I’m all sleep deprived, so right now I would just lay down and sleep if I didn’t think the baby would run riot over me:)

    I love everything you did, and budgeting for the “what if I stay home” was total brilliance:) those little ones can change everything, can’t they?

    Can’t wait to see you in person at Haven in a few weeks!


  14. Very interested to hear that you would have hired out the floors! Our downstairs is all hardwoods, but we have four bedrooms worth of carpet to deal with eventually. We’ve never done floors before. And yes to that hard to come by flat lot! I’m pretty sure that was the single biggest thing that made our old house take awhile to sell (and it was, not coincidentally, our main hesitation about it when we bought it).

  15. We did our own flooring (floating engineered and tile) and while we have a few small gaps here and there (or wider grout lines in some places), I know that if I had paid for installation those gaps still would have happened. And then I would be mad that I paid so much for installation and had gaps! I know that no one will ever notice them unless I point them out, and I saved a couple thousand dollars. So the pride of being able to accomplish what we did outweighs a few little gaps!

  16. We have all been there… but it is nice to be able to own your mistakes, learn from them and still enjoy your home! I have the same thoughts with mine… and I am sure it will not be the last!

  17. I love your blog! You always have great suggestions and are really funny 🙂 thanks for sharing your journey!

  18. It’s House-iversary week-mo! That’s a week that goes a little mo’ into the month…true story! Well, now it’s a true story after we put it in writing. 😉 Once again, I relate to everything here. The people pleaser in me would hate to confront a contractor if they did something wrong but you really should since they are working for you. And I agree that our DIY handiwork is just as good or better than a contractor because we have to live with it and want it done well. Looking forward to your kitchen lessons post!

  19. Patience? What is patience? 😛 My biggest problem is constantly wanting to redo color schemes. I’m not sure a time machine would help…

  20. Quick tell us all the mistakes (not that any part of your house looks like you made any) we shouldn’t make as soon as possible. I’ll be doing my Kitchen over very soon, like in the next 2 weeks! 😀

  21. Oh! and please don’t let anyone make you be quiet, reading these is the best part of my day/week!!

  22. You are so right about the level lot — ours has been a challenge to enjoy and keep up because it is so hilly. Would love to hear your thoughts on the kitchen!
    xo Heidi

  23. Great lessons! I really hate confrontation too. It will be interesting to see how I handle the contractors on the house. I like being the nice one, so maybe I can make Nick be the jerk! Ha!

  24. You are so lucky to have such a BIG beautiful home!! We lost our home when hubby lost his job 5 years ago and are now living in a tiny 2 bedroom/1 bath house (there are 5 of us so sharing that bathroom is NOT fun!). Since we are living off of 2 part-time incomes, we don’t have any budget at all for hiring help so we’ve learned to do all of our home repair/decor projects ourselves. It’s a giant PITA but we’ve learned a lot!

  25. Keep these house aversary posts coming. I agree with so much of what you said you learned and recommend. If we would have bought the size house the bank said we could I would still be working and sending my baby girl to daycare. I would much rather have the chance to stay home with her.

  26. I think the bank approved us for 3x what we spent on our house. With the economy the way it is we weren’t willing to risk being house-poor. We know we aren’t in our forever home, but that’s okay. My husband is an engineering supervisor and his workers can’t believe we choose to live in such an inexpensive house.

  27. This is a great post. I can relate to all of this. One thing my husband and I have found works with contractors is the good cop / bad cop thing where your spouse let’s you blame their concerns on them. I love it but my wife is super picky kind of thing.

  28. Dude, I hear you on speaking up to the subcontractors. I’ve gotten a little better, but I usually just make John call them. He just sounds so much tougher than me. 😉

  29. I didn’t realize you were over a week. My days all blend together. Not sure if that’s good or bad.

    We were just talking about things we’d change if we were to build again. We’re 5 years out and there is very little that we’d change. Except we need some sort of storage shed and a screened in porch. Young Nate and Michelle didn’t have a lot of yard crap and they liked the sun. Silly kids.

  30. I love house-iversary week! Keep it coming! It is so great to read others’ takes on what they love and what they would have done differently in their homes. I definitely have my own lists, but I like to store up others’ wisdom when I think about projects going forward. Thanks so much for sharing with us!

    ~Abby =)

  31. We’ll be in our home this Fall for 3 years. It’s our first house ever so we made a lot of rookie mistakes that we won’t repeat when we move down the line. Such as:

    – no sidewalk in front of the house crossing the driveway as this has made parking cars a juggling act
    – bigger garage
    – more privacy in the backyard
    – actually check out the neighbours to make sure that more families with kids live there as we moved to the suburbs for the kids & picked the one street that has almost none
    – a good laminate floor over engineered hardwood and in a lighter colour
    – no carpet on the stairs (I mean really now…)
    – make sure to check if you qualify for busing for school, don’t assume

    ITA with you about hiring out. It’s all fun to DIY until you’re in over your head. It’s your house, get it done right and def speak up!

  32. 7 years ago we bought a house in Texas and when recession took place I was not able to bear all expenses, so me and my wife decided to give our ground floor on rent and we did the same and earned a good money out of it.

  33. I have found the one my heart loves. And that is you and your house. We are in the process of buying our first home and I am now in the process of getting lost in your blog. LOVE it all. So thank you.

  34. This is why we all need a starter home, to get our decorating mistakes out of the way! So when we are 50 our homes will look like Diane Keaton’s in Something’s Gotta Give because by then we will have learned everything, right…?

  35. I am terrible at standing up and having backbone. Not all bad, because I don’t like rude people, but when you’re spending money on something you’re going to have for a long time, you want it done right.

    Love your house! It is beautiful!!

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