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How Buying a House Changed My Life | Before & After

For those of you following the process of building our new house, the third installment of that story is below the Before & After photos - "A Personal New Construction Story: Part 1.5 - Selling Our House"

A little over a year ago I wrote a blog about how me and my husband (boyfriend at the time) bought a house in 2015. He worked an entry level job, and I was a part time server at Red Lobster while going to school full time. We barely qualified to purchase by the skin of our teeth, and we bought the most expensive house we could afford since that wasn't much.

We spent $175,000 on a split level house in West Valley. Before that, our rent had just been increased to over $1100/month for our little one bedroom apartment. Our mortgage payment wasn't much more than that, so the decision to buy was a no brainer. Today, we sold that house for $300,000 - not even 5 years later.

Here's the front of it- the left is from when we bought it, and the right is when we listed it.

Now, I know what you're thinking... that we probably poured a bunch of money in it to flip it. Yes, it looks ten times better than it did when we bought it, but it may surprise you to hear that we only put about $20,000 into this house.

We replaced the front door (which had "BOO" written on it in permanent market when we bought it), put in new windows, did a face lift on the kitchen, painted the exterior, and remodeled the upstairs bathroom, and what's not pictured is we put a new roof on it as part of the sale. Add in regular maintenance items, the garden boxes in the back yard, and other smaller projects here and there, and we're somewhere around that $20,000 mark.

The increase in value did partially come from what we did to the house, but largely it came from the appreciation in home values that we've seen all along the Wasatch Front over the past 5 years. In our neighborhood in particular, lots of people that owned homes around us had also been fixing them up and remodeling them, so it helped drive up our own home value. This is why I tell everyone I know to buy real estate AS SOON AS YOU POSSIBLY CAN. It may not be your dream house, it may not be what you really want, but as prices rise it's important that you gain equity along with the rest of the valley, instead of throwing your money away on rent. We didn't increase the value of our home by $125,000 by doing a ton of work to it; we did some things, but mostly that value came simply by owning it.

We went from living paycheck to paycheck, buried in debt, barely able to buy a house to now having close to zero debt (besides student loans), and we're in the midst of building what is pretty close to our dream house in Saratoga Springs with a clear view of the mountains and Utah Lake. Regardless of how responsible we were, or how well we budgeted and saved, there's no way that we would be where we are today without buying that house 5 years ago. It just wouldn't have been possible.

So buy a condo. Buy a townhouse. Buy that split level house you're not in love with. And then upgrade in a few years, like we did.

Here are some more before and after photos:

Two things about these photos -

First, clearly it doesn't take a lot of money to make a big difference in how a house looks. Second, when you're selling your house, quality photographs and marketing MATTER. In some of these rooms we really didn't change much, but the after shots look much more appealing than the before. So when you hire a real estate agent, ask for examples of their previous marketing! I always hire a professional photographer - no cell phone photos for this agent.


A Personal New Construction Story: Part 1.5 - Selling Our House

For those of you following along with our new construction process - we had left the Richmond American model home in Saratoga Springs on March 2 under contract to build a beautiful two story house.

Most builders allow for purchase contracts to be written contingent on the sale of another house, but they have certain rules about when that house has to be sold, in this case we had 60 days to have it solidly under contract. We were scheduled to leave on a week long cruise on March 13, so we had exactly 12 days to get our house ready to list so that we could go live on the MLS the second we got back from our trip. Since we weren't planning on this happening so quickly we had a long list of things to do before we were ready to sell.

March 2-10:

We busted our butts trying to get our house ready to list! The number one thing any agent worth their salt will tell you when it's time to sell is to declutter. You're going to have to pack everything to move it anyway, so anything you don't need on a daily basis goes into boxes, and into a storage unit. Luckily we had a sizable shed, so we were able to carry all the extra furniture and packed up boxes into the backyard. We also deep cleaned the house - wiped down the walls, the baseboards, cleaned the windows, spot treated the carpet. There were also a number of small projects we wanted to get done: the outlets and light switches were all the dingy off white color from 1983, so we replaced them all with new bright white ones; we weeded the front flower bed, laid down weed barrier, and put in some nice mulch; we got some fill dirt and filled in holes in the yard from the dog; we touched up paint in almost every room of the house; we swapped out the light fixture in the bathroom to be more modern; and we had about 15 other projects on our list.

March 11:

Our cruise that was scheduled for March 13 was cancelled due to the pandemic. Since we were already planning on being on vacation for 9 days, we tried booking a different, shorter vacation to Puerto Vallarta, but within 48 hours after booking I was really sick, and since some of my symptoms could possibly be coronavirus, we didn't want to wind up quarantined for weeks from trying to go through an international airport. So we cancelled that trip too. Which was probably for the best, because not only did my illness get significantly worse over the next week, but the house also wasn't ready to list yet, and we were supposed to be ready for photos by March 23, so that we could list it on the 26th.

March 18:

At about 7:09 am, we woke up to a 5.7 magnitude earthquake, with the epicenter only a couple miles away from us. All of our pictures fell off the wall, our 90 gallon fish tank splashed water up to the ceiling, and we were quite literally shaken. Luckily there wasn't much real damage done to the house, so we cleaned up the broken glass, and then held on tight while we rode out over 200 aftershocks in the next few weeks, while we finished up the final details around the house.

March 27:

We finally listed the house! And that weekend the Salt Lake City mayor issued a stay at home order to protect her citizens from the spread of coronavirus. There was a lot of confusion as to what that meant - could Realtors still show homes to their clients? Were police actually going to punish people with misdemeanors for leaving their houses? We decided to pull the house off the market for a couple days until there was more clarification on what people were actually allowed to do.

Prior to this pandemic, you could list a house anywhere under $350k and it would be under contract in a single weekend with multiple offers, given that it wasn't a dump and that it was priced and marketed correctly. Luckily, I had the foresight to get a 3D tour done of the house so that potential buyers could virtually walk through the home if they felt uncomfortable being out in public, so even when it was off the market I was still getting calls about interested buyers, so we decided to put it back as Active and see how it went.

Within a few days we day multiple offers, and we put it under contract. We knew that the roof would probably be an issue before we even listed it, and that did come up as part of the buyer's inspection. We offered a very generous amount towards a new roof, but those buyers clearly thought they could get a screamin' deal because of the coronavirus outbreak, and they weren't satisfied with what we offered so they walked away, which was fine with us. We were in uncharted waters selling a house during a pandemic lock down, but I wasn't about to be bulldozed in to losing money I didn't have to.

April 13:

We put the house back on the market. We decided to address the roof ourselves, and I got bids from 8 roofers, and had one come out within 2 days to do the job, and for less money than we had offered our initial buyers for it. Because of the new roof, we listed at a higher price, and got multiple offers again - this time going under contract for $10k more than our previous offer in only 4 days. You could say we were pretty happy about it!

April 15 and 22:

April 17-June 4:

I'll summarize this part, because for the most part it's not interesting, but it is informative if you've never sold a house before. The inspection came back without any surprises. They did request that we do a couple of minor repairs, which we happily did, especially since they were doing an FHA loan, and those repairs probably would have been flagged by the appraiser anyways (i.e. installing a seismic strap on the water heater). Right around now is when we started moving into our rental, where we'll live until our new house is finished.

There was a delay with the appraisal, which lots of agents are seeing lately - some appraisers aren't comfortable going into people's homes with the pandemic, so they're turning down requests, causing the appraisers that are willing to work to be backed up. I tried to get the buyer's agent and lender to look into the delays early on to avoid any more of set back than was necessary. They didn't listen to me. So a week later, when they came to me asking for an extension on our deadlines I told them I would only agree to them if they took my advice and pushed to get the appraisal reassigned. Within 12 hours of doing what I told them, we had an appointment for the appraiser to come out the next day. The appraisal came back fine.

We ran into some more delays with the lender because with the initial shock of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. mortgage rates were ALL over the place, and as soon as they stabilized there was a rush of people wanting to refinance their homes with the low rates we're seeing, so the lenders have been crazy busy. In addition, part of the loan process is to verify employment and get certain financial documents, which they had a hard time getting their hands on because many offices were still closed from the shut down. In my opinion. some of these delays could have been avoided, but rather than start the process over to find a new buyer, we decided to see this through.

And as of today, June 4, we no longer own our first home.

For our new construction house, we did meet with our superintendent on May 21 for our "Pre-construction Meeting" to go over the next steps in the process, so stay tuned for the next blog with juicy details, and photos of our progress! As of right now, we have a foundation, and they're expecting the house to be finished by the end of August, which is sooner than we'd previously expected, so we're stoked!


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