Walking Towards FIRE: Selling Our First Home

Today’s entry is another discussion on my walk towards FIRE. While the term is usually reserved for “Financial Independence, Retire Early” my journey will be “Retire Eventually” like others who aren’t as keen on retiring early. Given that I’ll only be 36 in March, it’s hard to imagine spending my days either not working and focusing solely on leisure activities or working hard as an entrepreneur. The latter doesn’t strike my fancy and given the stability my family has here in the Phoenix valley, I can’t go trot the globe on my own. That would be too awkward.

My family’s next adventure is a pretty great one, although it is locally focused. With just a little over three and a half years under us, we sold our first home. This is the next step for us in walking towards FIRE. Some might find it amusing, but when we purchased the home, it was bought solely in my name. We didn’t think it was much of a big deal but in the state of Arizona if you try to purchase a home without your spouse, the spouse has to sign documentation agreeing to this decision. For us this route was necessary in order to qualify for the home. My husband’s mounting student loan debt would have count against us and this avenue helped us reduce our overall monthly expenses. By moving from renting to holding a mortgage, we easily saved $300 a month on home expenses.

I must take a moment though to mention our choice to use a VA home loan is something that Dave Ramsey (the creator of Financial Peace University) is opposed to and while I can understand his viewpoint, the volatility of housing markets also provides a solid reason for us to use a VA home loan. This option allowed us to purchase a home without a downpayment, allowing us to move sooner on a home purchase in an area that is still plagued by rising rent costs.

That is not to say there wasn’t any money we had to bring to the table to close. It was just over $3,000 of closing costs for us in 2016 and we were able to build up that portion of funds based on our combined use of VA education benefits, which shows yet again how much our decision to serve has had some positive snowball effects we weren’t expecting to see when we both separated.

I am not a financial advisor so I am not providing any advice on how one should enter the housing market for home ownership or investment purposes, but it was a calculated risk we took. If the housing market had taken another dip like it did between 2008 to 2011, we were comfortable staying in this location based on other community attributes. 

We downsized from a rental that was approximately 1,500 square feet with a good size yard to the home shown below that comes in under 1,300 square feet with a patio approximately 11′ by 17′. It was a no frills property; the prior owner did not do anything to change up the builder grade finishes. While I would have liked to undo more of the vanilla qualities of the home, I am happy with the things we accomplished (other than my poor quality interior paint job). I am most happy that I advocated for two things for this property, the removal of a heinously oversized tree and painting the home in a dramatic color scheme, specifically fighting the HOA on my choice to paint the brick.

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MLS Photo from 2011 although we purchased this home in 2016. By then, the tree on the left had grown quite a bit.
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Since the tree was planted in the front yard, it was the responsibility of the HOA to maintain. The tree eventually posed a risk to our property and the neighbors’ home, so I requested the HOA pay for its removal and eventually the HOA tended to the matter.

For people who don’t live in HOA neighborhoods, a homeowners association acts like a quasi-government. Since we paid $80 a month for community maintenance, I am not sorry the HOA was on the hook to remove the tree. We were not the only home and people impacted by the unsightly tree. It became the roost for the bulk of the pigeons living in the neighborhood and the sidewalk was constantly littered with bird poop and tree debris.

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The landscaping crew hired by the HOA did not clean the sidewalk each week to deal with the pigeon waste, so on some occasions we were dealing with it directly and the water cost was ridiculous.
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Post-tree removal 2019

I won’t say we were excited about the HOA’s demand letter to paint our home last year, but I was excited we didn’t have another neighbor with the same adventurous spirit we do when it comes to paint colors. We eyeballed these colors awhile ago and kept hoping no one would beat us to the combination. The job costs us $2,000 but it was money well spent, and I only wish we had time to get my poorly done interior paint job/the poor paint job by the builder tended to before the home went on the market last year. The interior problems did not dissuade the next home owner, but I wish it was something we could have done for the next family.

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I am happy to share this journey with you all because I recognize owning a home is still, for many, part of the American dream and when it comes to financial success, one opportunity for financial diversification. On a personal level, it is quite meaningful for me. After being unemployed in 2012 and again in 2013 I started to feel like home ownership would take an extremely long time to accomplish. In spite of our setbacks, our first dabble into real estate went well.

I couldn’t do a perfect “before” and “after” as I didn’t properly photograph all spaces before/shortly after moving into this place and making our mark on it, but here are some transformations.

I believe we paid approximately $400-$500 for the island. We had a coupon for American Furniture Warehouse, but current retail shows it selling for $688. The island was sold with the property along with the Samsung fridge we brought with us to the property.

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In 2017, the yard underwent a little makeover with wood panels from IKEA and the addition of artificial turf to replace some of the gravel. In 2019, the space was further enhanced with a fresh coat of paint.

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We went with components from IKEA’s ALGOT storage to make the laundry space more functional. This storage system was also added to our hallway closet and the master bedroom closet.

The master bedroom has not seen much a transformation other than the improvement to the closet. We learned this year, after getting the home ready to show, the space looked better with the curtains taken down. We originally added blackout curtains to improve our sleep as the master is an east facing room, but the home doesn’t have a lot of square footage and an easy way to improve its feel was to remove items on the walls.

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And just some fun things I’ve learned about myself along the way…

I suck at painting. I love the deep color, but I struggled with different types of painters tape trying to get it to adhere to the textured walls and baseboards. Another mistake I learned along the way is to buy all the paint you need together. I forgot the type of sheen I needed and so our office has two different sheens. This past year, I also learned the original sheen was no longer available for the paint. Thankfully, we still had a small sample of it and used it to clean up the areas where Gregor dented some of the walls, both from his body and from running into the gate that subsequently scrapped a significant portion of lower wall facing the bottom of the staircase. Pet parenthood is a fun experience….sometimes.

And in case you didn’t notice it, the home originally did not have a peep hole. We had a good laugh at ourselves for not noticing it when we originally purchased the home.

Upstairs Hall 2016

So, here’s to saying goodbye to our first big project and one of our biggest financial risks that paid off.

We are truly blessed and I’m excited for what the next chapter holds.

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