June 16, 2016

Making a home out of our house

Making a home out of our house
By The West View

A few months after our engagement, my fiancé, Emily, and I started thinking about buying a house. We thought about what we would like in a house and considered location, but like most people, our budget came first.

We didn't want to come away from the purchase “house poor.” Our philosophy is: Two people working full-time to make a big house payment leaves little time to enjoy a house. It doesn’t matter how much you make or where it’s located, if it’s sucking the life out of you to keep it, it’s not worth it. The tricky part is finding a house that you'll enjoy on a tight budget.

So the search began.

When we chose a house and started to tell friends and family about it, the very first question from everyone was, "Where is Poplar Grove?" The next question was something like,“Wait, where?” The next one,“Why there?”

Emily and I met in a neighborhood on the edge of Sugarhouse, technically Millcreek. We had both landed in a small patch of 5 bedroom condos that had filled up with students and single adults. Access to movie theaters, five different grocery stores and a plethora of great restaurants kept life interesting.

Moving to Poplar Grove was a change of pace. It’s a forgotten patch of Salt Lake City, in between Glendale and Fairpark, offering few amenities.

However these neighborhoods all have something really great going for them – they have old, single-family homes with unique character that just need a little love. So we snatched one up. And yes we brought the love!

A previous owner of our house must have been a huge Cubs fan; the word “Cubs” was painted across the kitchen wall in huge green enamel lettering. That should give you an idea of our budget. It should also tell a little about what I was willing to fix for the right house and size of lot. Emily had no idea what she was getting into and I leveraged that. Heavily.

The most recent owner had started “fixing” the house – removing walls, replacing some plumbing, fixing electrical – all while living there and not really completing any one project. It was a bit of a mess. The caveat to this was we could literally see what we were getting into because the guts were hanging out all over the place. Well, I could see anyway. Emily, who is now my wife, has been very understanding and as long as her kitchen turns out, all will be forgiven.

So, here’s what we did: We worked out a master plan for our house. Looking at the whole picture was a bit overwhelming, but creating a plan and executing it in pieces made it more manageable.

We looked up the history and found old photos of it in tax records. We really got into the history. We know the name of every person who’s ever owned this house for the last 100 years. I wanted to know of any tragedies or possible ghosts. We’re all good there.

Our plan also included what might happen in the future. What if we want to build an addition? What is the best use of the space that we have? Should we make any major changes to the floor plan?   

We also wanted to see how efficient we could make the house. We added a high efficiency furnace and air conditioner, new windows and lots and lots of insulation.

The house was built in 1905 and there are elements of old construction that surpass what we do today, but there are other elements that are seriously lacking. In our renovation, we took advantage of the good and updated the bad.

During the course of renovation, we were asked many times if we were flipping the house. “Flipping” (buying a cheap home, fixing it up and turning around and selling it for a profit) happens all too often, especially in our neighborhood. I was told a couple of times that we were putting too much money and effort into our house. “You’ll never get the money back out of it,” they said.

We’re not trying to get money out of it, we’re making a home out of it. And it’s not just a home we’re working on, it’s a better community. If as a community, we inform our leaders of our needs, we can fix the bigger issues in our neighborhoods, but we have to make the effort to improve our homes too.

I am very proud of the work Emily and I have done to our house. We have worked hard, sacrificing trips and purchases, weekends and holidays, but from this point forward we will just have to maintain a house instead of rebuild one. We can say “we did it” and that it’s truly ours.