It’s been a goodly long while since last I’ve dipped the quill to ink and penned words to story. Why? Well, it wasn’t because I no longer enjoy writing (I do!). And it wasn’t because I’ve run out of story ideas (I haven’t! That’s precisely not the problem!) And it wasn’t because I decided to switch careers in order to embrace a lifelong dream of training salamanders for starring roles in Hollywood blockbusters. Imagine Transformers.. but with salamanders!
No, it was none of those things. It was because my wife and I (FINALLY) purchased a house, and it was a real fixer-upper. We weren’t necessarily intent on buying a property that needed so much work, but that’s the kind of property that fit our budget in the current (OUTRAGEOUS) real estate market. If you live in California, you likely share my bitter resentment for the way the Federal Reserve has inflated the market beyond all reasonable valuations. And if you don’t agree, you already own property.
I used to believe it was better to wait out the mania and buy when the fundamentals were right.
Wrong. I eventually changed my mind because I realized that a bubble can last far longer than an individual is willing to wait for it to deflate. My wife and I went through the same thing in Los Angeles in the last real estate mega-bubble that went from 2000-2007 (more or less). We were in a position to buy starting around 2005, but the waters were chummed with BS no-doc loans and hot money and so every decent option had 20+ offers the day it hit the market. It was madness and so we stepped back after getting outbid a number of times on a number of properties. Once the crash came and things were starting to get reasonable again (they never came back down to pre-bubble levels), we started to realize we wanted to leave Los Angeles. We wanted to leave for a variety of reaons. One of them being the cost of home ownership. We vacillated for years because our community of friends there is outstanding. (Damn you, friends!) Haha. Years and years of “Should we buy? Looking at houses. Maybe. Maybe not. Rinse and repeat.” A seriously unsetttled, shiftless feeling. It took us a long time to fully committing to the idea of leaving. During that time, we spent 2 or 3 years where every vacation was really an investigatory mission for a possible move.
Back to Oklahoma (where we grew up)? Norman? San Diego? Albuquerque? North LA? Ventura? Ojai? San Luis Obispo? Colorado? and the list went on. We checked out 15 or so places until finally discovering Sonoma county. Somehow, it had never been on our list until my wife saw a job opening up here. We checked it out one Thanksgiving weekend and that was it. SOLD. And we moved four months later. Change can be quick once a decision is reached. It took us too many years to finally make THE BIG MOVE, but we ended up escaping to Northern California in 2015.
Just in time to hit the next real estate mega-bubble. This one even bigger than the last. Remember, the last one that nearly brought down the global banking system? Yeah, this one’s even bigger. Well, after settling in with a rental, we started to look for a house to buy. Same old insanity, back again. Not quite to the same levels as West Los Angeles, but insane all the same for this area. So, we were faced with the same old, tired dilemma.
Should we try to wait out, again? With two daughters and knowing this is where we want to be. Could we hold out until the bubble popped again? And in my opinion, it will definitely pop. The fundamentals don’t support this level of valuation. But when? When is important because we were SICK AND TIRED of waiting for reality to arrive. 12 years of always being in the market to some degree. Always talking about it. Always having it be a thing that required negotiation, discussion, consideration. Ugh. Exhausting.
We came to the conclusion that home ownership had become “a thing” blocking our life path. It caused too much tension and disagreement over the years. I hated the process of looking and making offers, loving a place and then losing out to all-cash offers that exceeded ours. Having landlords that tried to kick us out three times in a two year period didn’t help. To be fair, they are nice folks. But as a family with jobs and kids in school, it’s stressful as hell thinking you have to move every six months before paying up another rent increase to hold out for another six months.
Yeah, not fun. So, it was time to make it happen, while still working within the confines of a budget and not wanting to be a debt slave to a house we could barely afford.
Enter the fixer-upper!
So, we did it. I mean, we really did it. It’s like choosing a 100% predictable recipe. In your best Julia Childs’ voice, “Take a dash of first-time home buyers, mix in a generous helping of serious fixer-upper, add in a dollop of people that have been itching to make improvements that didn’t make a property better for the landlord (which we’ve done way too many times), and you end up with a whole lot of home renovation. How lovely. The crust turned out buttery and crisp!”
So, yeah. We ended up adding quite a few projects as we went because we, well, we wanted to! If you’ve ever renovated a property, you know how it is.
Oh look, with the floors ripped out and walls that need drywall repairs and paint, now is the perfect time to rip down the wall between those adjacent closets and add a barn door to cover both! And if we’re going to do that, let’s make it a cool one with reclaimed redwood! (shown in a picture below.) Or, we’ve got a lot of drywall work to do, so we may as well rip some more holes in the walls to run new electrical to exactly where we want it.
Yep, that’s how you end up taking longer than expected and spending more than budgeted. But, it was so worth it. That sentiment usually follows the admission of being exhausted and broke, and we’re no different. We love our new (old) house. I built houses with Habitat for Humanity for about a year back in the day. Decades have passed between then and now, but working on a house is like riding a bike. It comes back to you, and you’re definitely going to get injured at some point.
All in all, I don’t love that it put my writing career on 100% hold for 3 months, but I do love the result (pics below!). In addition, it has reminded me how much I enjoy creating real things in the real world. In my previous career, I created visual effects for Hollywood blockbusters. Nearly 15 years of challenging, fulfilling work. But it wasn’t creating things you can touch with your hands. And now with my growing writing career, it’s a similar thing. A story can be amazing, touching, even transformative. But it’s still an ephemeral thing. A concept grasped by the head and heart, but not the hands. Even if you can buy a paperback. Which you should!
I’m talking about ripping up glued-down lineoleum and rotted plywood, and then installing and finishing wood floors. Work that requires blood and sweat. That inch long splinter that buried itself in my foot with just the tip poking out, for example, bled a good amount when I finally got it out. Or the electric ache between my shoulders after lifting heavy crap all long day, day after day. But each day ends with visible progress.
Walking on beautiful, warm floors that feel perfect even though they’re far from it. It’s creation. It’s real. And it’s reminded me that I need to do side projects like that to keep me sane. They help me stay grounded and energized. It’s too easy to get lost in the heady abstractions of storytelling and wake up days (or months!) later wondering where you’re going. Practical projects help remind me of short term goals with visible progress and goals.
In other words, a healthy attitude to maintain while writing. And the great news is that I now have an unlimited supply of much-needed home projects to do. Haha! I think that’s great news, right? It is.
Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean I’ve taken up new careers in carpentry, electrical, plumbing, painting, woodworking, and home design. Getting back to writing is long past due. And I’ve already dug in and knocked out an exciting short story set in the Recovering Eden series. You can check it out here:
It’s a thrill ride and a wonderful return to storytelling. I’ll do a quick post on it later.
Anyhoo, the home renovation was fun. It was super productive in both terms of the renovation itself and in helping me to reframe my writing career and how to get the best out of myself as a writer. And best of all, we now have a home. A place for our daughters to remember as home decades from now. We feel rooted and unbelievably blessed. The “thing” that was an obstacle in our life path is now a “thing” we enjoy spending time in and on.
And now, without further adieu, I will, of course, have to post a few before and after pics. Yes, please do indulge me.
First up, the kitchen!
Next up, the family room!
And finally, the dining room!
Yep, we changed a few things. And we love it!
So, that’s what I’ve been doing for the past 3 months. Now, it’s back to writing Sole Survivor, book 2 in the Recovering Eden series.
It’s great to be back!