My Historic Money Pit

This week marks our one year anniversary of moving to Astoria, Oregon. We bought an amazing example of Craftsman architecture with a spectacular view of the Columbia River. I’ve shared in detail about manifesting our dream home, and in many ways, it still feels like a fairy tale.

Yet, now that we’ve been living here for a year, it’s time to share about the “money pit” side of the story. While I still am in awe of our beautiful home, the realities of how much this house is going to cost us sunk in this past winter. Like the feeling of living in a money pit. It’s not quite as bad as the exaggerated 80’s movie, but it’s certainly more than we ever bargained for. While the house is cosmetically gorgeous, virtually all of the mechanicals are in desperate needs of repair/replacement.

That feeling has sunk into my stomach ever since we returned from an aloha-filled trip to Hawaii only to find combined sewer overflow flooding our basement. To be honest, this wasn’t the first time, we had a smaller flood within weeks of moving in, with our first big storm.

We had been “lucky” for several months not to deal with it, and in the mean time had spent several weekends getting the basement ready to rent out, thinking that it was an occasional issue that we could deal with. Yet, this last time it proved more than I could manage. Instead of spending hours and hours mopping up and ripping out the carpet, I called a restoration cleaner to deal with the “Level 3 contamination.” In the process, they also tore out the trim and first two feet of drywall, and what previously looked like a cute studio is now torn to shit. Between the plumber and the cleaners, I know we’re in for over six thousand, plus needing to repair the walls and flooring. I was crossing my fingers that this could be paid by our insurance, but now it appears that it isn’t covered.

Here’s the list of expenses that we’ve paid since moving in:

  • Basement “restoration” to clean up the flood: $6,203.04 plus interest.
  • Roof – Replaced the original hundred year old cedar shake roof, plus $3,600 to fix the garage enough to put a new roof on it, I’m frankly glad there wasn’t more rot: $34,024.35
  • Gutters with screens– A necessity in Astoria: $8,348
  • Appliances – Every appliance except the microwave had issues within few weeks of moving in, so we now have new fridge, dishwasher, stove, microwave, and washer/dryer: $4,225.17
  • Bedrooms painted – It technically wasn’t urgent, but needed to be done to feel like home. We did “splurge” on Benjamin Moore’s eco-friendly : $1,000 labor, $404 paint
  • Tree work – Maybe this wasn’t a must, but we had the trees pruned and cabled, soon after one limb nearly dropped on our van. It did buy us an amazing view: $6,075
  • Electrician – We actually need a whole lot more done, but this was just to get the stove installed: $119
  • Plumber – Our first plumbing call after the first CSO incident: $257.59
  • Misc. DIY fixes: $8

Total to date: $60,664.15

Here’s a list of the work we can’t afford yet:

  • New furnaces and water heaters – the house is so big that it needs two of each and the current ones are over thirty years old.
  • Insulation and weatherization – aside from great storm windows, the house leaks like a sieve.
  • Fix basement walls and floors – this frustrating because it feels like a temporary fix
  • New sewer line – The kicker is that the previous owner told us that she paid was a sewer scope that came up fine, we wasted money on a lawyer trying to see if we had any recourse.
  • New toilets – we’ve had chronic leaks – the upstairs toilet flooded to the main level Christmas – now the main level toilet is completely plugged – the basement toilet is a hideous black.
  • Fix main upstairs shower tile – this was leaking and now a “band-aide” fix of putting unmatched tile just in the basin is going to cost us
  • Fix slanting back stairs – It feels like you’re about to go off a diving board
  • New garage door – the current one is rotten and has visible holes

And our “wish list”:

  • Blinds in our bedroom
  • Built in dining nook in kitchen
  • Bathroom flooring to remove ugly carpet…

Now these lists aren’t including all the miscellaneous things that really ought to be fixed, notably the foundation needs to be replaced for the price of at least $150-200k.

The only saving grace is that we are working to refinance and the house appraised at $500k, after buying the housing for $350k just last year, so at least our $60k hasn’t gone entirely down a money pit.

Unbelievably, I still love our home and am happy we bought it, even if it is a labor of love.

Peace,

Darcy

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Tips to Create an Engaging AirBnB Listing

Listing your place on AirBnB is a pretty straightforward process, and you don’t need to be very tech savvy. However, an engaging listing is essential to attracting your ideal guests. Asking yourself a few key questions will make the listing flow and attract the guests you want. Take a moment to ask yourself:

  • Who is your ideal guest? Do you want just couples? Or is your place naturally set up for families? Would you prefer to meet tourists or friends/family of locals?
  • What is unique about your place? AirBnB guest aren’t looking for a bland boring hotel room. They want to stay in places with character that reflects the local culture.
  • What’s attractive about your neighborhood? Guests are looking to you to learn about the local attractions like restaurants, and want to know that there are interesting things to explore that they wouldn’t find by booking a room downtown.

Here are my top 8 tips for creating an effective and engaging listing:

  1. Create a personalized listing. Guests want to know a little about you in order to feel comfortable with booking your place and sleeping in your bed. Make sure to post your favorite travel pic (guests too…we hosts want to know what you look like!) and tell guests about why you’re hosting. Many guests respect the fact that you want to save up for a big trip or need to replace your roof (like us!).
  2. Speak to your ideal guests. Now that you know who you want to attract, speak to them. If you know foodies would love the local farmer’s market and restaurants, compel them to visit.
  3. Use your title wisely. You only have a short title to catch people’s attention. Make sure to have key search words that will get the attention of potential guests. Our current title is “Transit/Kid-friendly Yard/Patio). Initially I included something about the skyline view, but decided that even though we have a decent skyline view that guests would want to stay at our place more because it’s close to all sorts of transit than because they can see the Portland hills (plus, our view isn’t the best in town).
  4. Be completely honest. AirBnB is built on honesty and trust. Be forthright about any negative quirks your place might have. As long as you are upfront about any issues, your guests will likely be willing to overlook some typical imperfections (like at our place not all of the old windows open up, and we use fans instead of AC).
  5. Take great photos. The cliche is true, pictures do say a thousand words. Make sure they are taken in great light and with minimal clutter.
  6. Create a Welcome Book. You can create a great “guide book” through AirBnB online. It’s super easy to plug in your favorite restaurants and give a quick review to give your guests and idea of the places they can visit in your neighborhood. Our guests have really appreciated this. We combined this with a “Welcome Book” that includes info about our neighborhood and the basic house rules. Plus, it helps cut down on your back and forth communication with guests…our first several guests wanted to know several basics, like how to get to the streetcar two blocks away, and it was obvious that we needed to give our guests a little orientation.
  7. Keep your calendar up-to-date. With our location so close to downtown, we’ve been booked literally every weekend that we’ve make available to guests. But it’s a bummer to have to turn folks down because your place isn’t available. So, make it easy on both of you and make sure to keep your calendar current. With that in mind, our initial strategy was to keep three weeks in August open, knowing that we would only take a vacation for two weeks. In the end I had to turn down the guests who wanted to stay as we were returning home.
  8. Review your guests. While this step happens after your initial listing, it is essential to your first impression with potential guests. Sometimes you won’t have too many details to give, but if your guests left your place in great shape, make sure to give them a great review. We’ve been very lucky with all but one group (who seemed to use our place for a fraternity reunion…leaving us with three cases of beer and three huge bottles of booze…I don’t want to know how much they drank over the long weekend! I’ll share more in my “Lesson Learned” post).

I hope this helps get you started on your AirBnB hosting journey…let me know if you have any tips of your own or more questions. If you decide to host, please use our Airbnb host referral link.

Happy hosting!

Darcy

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Family-friendly Budget Template

Try our Family Budget Template

Just as my twin sister, Miel, disentangles her finances from her recent divorce, I feel like I’m starting from scratch again with our budget.

After my family bought our dream house and Hubby got his dream job, now it’s my job to create a new budget. In hindsight I know that I should have done this months ago, but I was too busy unpacking, settling in, paying contractors, and celebrating the holidays. Now nearly six months after our move, I am finally ready to create our new family budget.

The good news is that I have an awesome budget template to start from…it’s actually one that Miel helped me create for this blog five years ago. We made the budget template specifically for families and all the expenses that come with them. It’s also easy to personalize our budget template. It’s nice to see that it’s still as valid and important of a tool.

I know that my family will benefit from the time and energy that I put into creating and consistently updating our budget. When I’ve been really “good” at updating it, we’ve been able to save more quickly than I ever imagined.

Truthfully, it’s been a source of tension lately, since we don’t have a current calculation of our exact monthly bills, which changed a fair amount when we moved. We also spent a toooon of money on home repairs when we first moved in, which I’ll save for another post soon.

Yet, I know that I also have mixed feelings, not wanting to focus on our lack of money and to plan for things that our current budget doesn’t actually allow for. That’s where I think gratitude comes in, and by acknowledging how you are currently providing for your family makes a difference. To put things in perspective, I was in the grocery store when I overheard a Dad saying to his son how he had to work for an hour to earn $10, enough to buy a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread. Even when money might seem tight, I know that practicing gratitude helps me feel abundant.

Have you used our budget template? Do you update it daily, weekly or monthly?

Happy budgeting!

Darcy

PS I’m going to post a Google Doc version for everyone else who has moved their finances to the cloud, like me.

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Disentangled after Divorce

entagledIt takes some effort to disentangle your finances from another person. If you’ve done this before, then you are probably nodding your head.

The process of delving into couple’s finances typically takes it’s course of time, depending on how your relationship develops. I tend to take the dive right in approach in love, though I suppose it actually took seven years of marriage to actually have a functioning joint household account (though we opened savings accounts for goals before we were ever married). It can take a much greater effort to disentangle your assets after a marriage has ended.

My divorce finalized in August, but that is really just the beginning of the disentanglement that comes after divorce. This is exacerbated if you shared businesses and the like with your ex.

The task is one of those that has loomed over me and felt like a weight this entire fall. Luckily when I finally set myself to it, it was less of an effort that I feared it might be. It was more of a mental block. I did have to change numerous automated transactions for various mortgages, condo fees, and utilities. Now I’m down to closing a final account to call it done.

My lesson here is that the barriers we face in finances are most often in our head and are not financial at all. We make things more difficult than they have to be.

What is on your list of financial tasks that you are making harder than they are?

Cheers,

Miel

Year End Giving

Year End GivingAnybody who has ever worked for a non-profit organization knows that the last quarter of the year makes all the difference in an annual budget. As someone who started giving philanthropically early on, I also take time to reflect at this time of year and consider what causes are most important to me that I may not have had a chance to give to thus far this year.

Everyone’s giving looks different, but I find it personally interesting to see how and why people choose where they give (or don’t give). Here is an overview at what my giving looks like this year, and why.

Rotary International Foundation – As anyone who is an avid reader knows, I’m a big Rotarian and highly support the great work that Rotary does around the world. I started doing a $25 monthly contribution last year, ironically when I was first on maternity leave and without a consistent income in the future. I did it in part to manifest wealth and giving in my life. At the end of the year I also contributed extra to make use of a matching that was offered by our club. My total giving for the year will be $400, plus additional credit will be matched.

InStove.org – I am also now on the Board of Directors for InStove.org, which makes the cleanest, safest, most fuel efficient stove in the world. As a new board member I have chosen to stretch myself and give an initial donation of $1000, along with my time and volunteer hours to leverage that funding even further. I realize that my grant making capacity makes a monetary contribution minimal in comparison, but I feel that it helps to show faith in the mission and support this incredible work.

Lewis & Clark College – I have also contributed to Lewis & Clark College for a number of years. Since I initially had a difficult time paying my way through LC, I feel particularly indebted to the institution that changed my life in so many ways for the better. I typically give $100 per year to LC. Perhaps one day I will increase this.

Kiva.org – I haven’t gone to the same level of commitment as my sister has, with her experiment giving $1000 through loans with Kiva. I figured I should at least top off my current account and be inspired to give a bit more. I just gave to a women’s group in Burkina Faso. It is only hard to choose between so many worthy folks wanting a little help.

EduCongo – Another great cause that I support and just gave a to. My dear friend Lou Radja is a fellow Rotarian and does tremendous work with a school that he and his father built in DRCongo. For now I’m giving enough to pay for a year of school fees for a student ($60), but I will be attending a fundraiser for EduCongo in the spring and plan to give more then. I also hope to make it out to visit the school at some point as well.

While I may not feel as flush without a steady paycheck coming in, as I have most often enjoyed, I still feel that it is important to give. It creates a virtuous cycle and keeps the giving going.

Cheers,

Miel