Seeing a Space

PART 1 of this JDH Journal

Disclaimer: I am not sure what I am going to do with this series of posts, but I have forever wanted to document this life experience. I am just hoping to make this a weekly walk down memory lane…


The space is an 1890 farmhouse. 1700 square foot duplex sitting on 8 acres in the middle of the suburbs in need of an almost 100% renovation. Being able to see this space and having a vision for it was not easy and took the kind of faith where we were sometimes scream-crying “trust the process”.

When we purchased this property in 2019, it was hard to envision what we wanted and where we were going to go with it beyond making it our dream house where I could have horses. The house and property had been vacant for five years when the sellers finally decided to lower the price $200K (yes…that much) and the husband and I could finally afford it.

We went under contract in September 2018, but since I wanted to use the property for horses, I had to file an approval, present to the town’s zoning board, and pray they would grant us this opportunity – all of which couldn’t happen until December 3rd – two months of inspiration-stymieing stagnance.

The Zoning Board meeting itself was a televised meeting, our kiddos watched us on the TV at Grandma & Papa’s house, a colleague’s parents watched us on Facebook live, and our friends were flooding our texts with good luck messages. I think the husband said the first sentence of our proposal and I went on for the remaining 40 minutes; voice shaking in a few spots, armpits soaked through; it was my 4H presentation days relived in adult form except I was competing against town by-laws instead of other horse-obsessed teenagers. Looking back at my almost decade-long experiences in 4H, it felt like I had been preparing for this exact moment without even knowing it. I guess my 4H leader mom was right when she told us all that “we would use these valuable skills” as an adult.

The Zoning Board opened the floor for other town members to voice their support or concerns regarding our proposal. One man stood up and walked tentatively toward the podium. I braced for this battle. I calmly shuffled my notes and tried to control my face; the one that sometimes reads a little aggressive, the one that almost is daring someone into a challenge. I had been warned about “these suburb people and their anti-horse ideals” and now it was happening. The husband’s pinky stretched toward my forearm; the gentle reminder to use honey not vinegar.

His name is Tim, a neighbor a few houses up. He put his hands in his pockets and leaned a little into the microphone; his mustache almost touching. “I just wanted to come here to say that I fully support this plan for this property.”

Wait. What? Did he just say he was supporting us?

“This property has been vacant for quite some time now and I think having a family back in that house, using that property would be a blessing…” He went on, but honestly all I could think about was hugging this man that I didn’t know, but would hopefully be our new neighbor. He nervously glanced in our direction and said that he hoped he would see us in the neighborhood soon.

Well as you have already assumed, since we now own the house, our town saw our vision and agreed that horses wouldn’t ruin the area and approved our application unanimously. There were a few stipulations, but we could move forward with the sale of the house. It was finally happening.

It was a snowy night, but we went out for ice cream to celebrate.

Now, I wish I could say that it was all cupcakes with rainbow sprinkles after that, but after a questionable septic system inspection, we withdrew our offer to purchase the home on December 23rd. Both of us knew we were completely gutting the house so no home inspection would be needed, but we did want to make sure we had a solid septic. This particular inspection meant that a new septic system would be needed. We just could not afford it on top of the 98% remodel of the home. I was crestfallen after celebrating the victory on December 3rd. I couldn’t believe we weren’t getting the house after almost four months of being under contract.

But wait, we own the house? So what happened?

The sellers recognized that anyone buying the house would have this same concern, replaced the septic, and called us back in mid-January. We were back under contract and now looking for financing. Now, we were trying to get a specific loan that would honor our approved mortgage amount, take the purchase price of the home and then give us the difference for remodeling. Apparently, that only happens on TV renovations because by February we were still without a mortgage company who would give us what we would need to purchase the home and make renovations.

At this point, with the roadblocks we were facing, we almost considered all of these as signs to walk away. Seriously, how many more hoops would we have to jump through? It wasn’t even a cute house and did we really want to do this level of renovation while teaching full-time, caring for our 3, almost 4 year old son and two dogs?

I guess we did. We decided to take out a home equity loan from the house we were already living in and use that loan to make the renovations. After the tenth night around the computer spreadsheet with all of our financials laid out, we decided we would get the HELC loan, carry two mortgages, and pray for the best.

May 16, 2019, we signed the papers that officially made this house ours. I wish I could show you the video of the husband carrying me through the door or of our little guy pressing the doorbell yelling about a pizza man, but it would require a WordPress premium plan and I am not about to do that…so you’ll just have to imagine it.

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