MAY I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE! Literally the most exciting thing to ever happen in my life just happened! I bought a house!
And quite honestly, it kind of came out of nowhere.
If you’d asked me at the beginning of this year what the chances of me buying a house within the next few years was, I would have said SLIM TO NONE. But then, well, 2020 happened and literally everything got flipped upside. In terrible ways but also a few good ones. And then all of a sudden I found myself as something I dreamed of being – an actual homeowner.
Since you read this blog I probably don’t have to explain to you that California (particularly LA) is a pretty hard place to get your foot in the door of the real estate market. I’ve wanted a house since I was, I dunno, seven. But it always seemed absolutely impossible until I did it. But I’ve kind of known it was like that – homeownership does truly seem impossible from the outside, until you do it and you’re like OH THAT’S IT?!? I kind of learned this from watching Emily and Brian buy their first house years ago. Like, LA seemed like an impossible place to find a family home in and then BAM, their careers and real estate prowess aligned and they found a place!
So I guess I knew in the back of my head that someday I’d probably be able to randomly buy a house but I had no idea when that day was coming or how on earth I’d do it fully alone with no help from family or my wealthy, gorgeous husband (because he doesn’t exist). But in my wildest dreams, I never expected it to happen this year. And then Covid came basically right as I was finishing up shooting my HGTV show “Build Me Up” (which you can still watch on HGTV Go!) and I kind of looked around like, “OH MY GOD WHAT AM I GOING TO DO?? HOW AM I GOING TO MAKE MONEY???”
Because it can be kind of confusing to understand the way people like me make money (or quite honestly, what my actual job is) let me break it down for you. While I started as a designer, for the last few years I’ve made most of my money hosting TV (mostly HGTV), brand partnerships, and content creation. So, mostly I was paid to design stuff and then yell at everyone about it. But when Coronavirus hit, brands all stopped spending money so one of the main ways I was making money evaporated into thin air.
Luckily, I had already begun to pivot back to working with design clients again AND had just started making and selling art and home decor products via my website (please go buy them right now!). I realize how incredibly lucky I’ve been this year (and, quite honestly, I have no idea if it’s gonna keep up, running your own little business is ROUGH). But somehow magically as the economy was tanking I managed to continue bringing in an income and because I was spending money on literally nothing, I was able to save a bunch. I actually hadn’t really processed how much money I had been spending on travel, clothing, and God-knows-what the past few years and without anywhere to go or any real reason to get dressed ever, I kind of saved a lot. Thus, this year, I magically found myself in a financial position where I finally had a chunk of change to use as a down payment.
Meanwhile, the city of LA was falling apart around me. Everything that I loved about it was closed (museums, parties, the gym, etc). Restaurants were open, but they were full of people BREATHING DIRECTLY INTO EACH OTHER’S MOUTHS whilst drinking mimosas, spitting into the air. Half my friends had become full-on shut-ins (like me) and the other half were going to ‘Rona Raves’ every weekend. Quite honestly, I’ve had a really hard time processing this year. It’s made me realize that I am extremely judgy and puritanical about some things – mainly following rules that have to do with keeping other people safe. So seeing people party and not take the virus seriously started to REALLY grate on me. And I hated that part of my personality, I hated having to confront my own judginess. But it also pissed me off that people were just acting like nothing was going on, getting on planes to go to Mexico, getting covid, then bringing their covid back with them on the plane potentially infecting (and killing?) people in the process (some friends of mine literally did this and I’m clearly still furious about it).
I’m a city guy, kinda always have been (even though I grew up in the woods – I’ll get to that) and always will be. I probably have too much FOMO to want to live somewhere that isn’t LA or New York permanently. But, I came to the realization this year that if there were ever a time NOT to be in one of those two cities it’s probably the next 1.5-2 years (please God let this be over by summer!). I simply have no interest in paying LA rent to be trapped inside my apartment as people parade outside my window licking each other’s faces while a terrifying virus ravages the city (sidenote: there are people in high-risk categories in my family who I see regularly, so it’s really less about my own fear of the virus than my fear of contributing to community spread that could lead to someone getting ill or worse).
Now, because I am the least efficient storyteller ever and incapable of keeping it short, here is where the story gets even DEEPER. I grew up in one of the most magical places on earth, a place that haunts my soul daily and dreams nightly. I grew up in Yosemite National Park. If you’ve been following along for a while you probs know this. But if you haven’t you’re probably like “WHAT? IN THE PARK???” Yes, I grew up in a tiny cabin underneath Yosemite Falls. And I didn’t truly appreciate it until my parents retired and had to move (the homes inside Yosemite are rentals for current park employees only so once you retire you have to GET OUT).
When my parents left the park in 2014, it kind of felt like losing a member of the family. Yosemite had been so ingrained in my personality that it felt weird not to have any sort of ties to the area anymore. Over the years I’ve come back a number of times and it’s always felt super weird to stay in hotels. For me, this is an area I come “home” to, so not having a “home” to cook dinner and relax by the fire in was very strange.
Ever since my parents left, I’ve dreamed about buying a house in the area where I grew up. There are a number of communities outside Yosemite National Park (and some within) where you can own a home: Yosemite West, Wawona, Foresta closeby, and further out Mariposa (where I went to high school) and Oakhurst. I’d always thought it would be nice to own a home in Yosemite West, about 40 minutes from Yosemite Valley where I was raised, where some of my friends from grammar school lived, but I’d never seriously looked at properties in the area until this year.
Now, since this story has gotten kind of long, let’s recap:
- I have always dreamed of owning a house.
- LA is expensive and I’m probably a lot less rich than you’d imagine.
- I basically lost my main income source and had to figure out new and old magical ways to make money this year. Wheee!
- I ended up saving a ton of money, enough for a down payment, by doing literally nothing fun all year long.
- Coronavirus took away all the things I loved about LA and turned my friends into irresponsible idiots.
- I grew up in Yosemite and missed it.
- I wanted to get out of LA until Coronavirus ended.
Honestly, at this point the story can be solved with simple arithmetic. If you add all of the above together you end up with the following:
I BOUGHT A HOUSE IN YOSEMITE (ADJACENT)!
Like many design lovers in Coronatimes, I’ve spent quite a bit of time fantasizing about moving to a far off place while browsing Zillow every night. So when I came across a rare steal in the town of Fish Camp, just two miles from the Southern Gate of Yosemite, I jumped on it and drove up to take a look.
When I saw the house, I fell in love with it immediately. Sure, it’s kind of a strange ’90s box. But it had many attributes that are VERY hard to come by in this area:
- Size (3000+ square feet)
- Flat lot (many of the homes in this area are on dark, steep hills meaning that they have to be super vertical, often up to four or five stories tall)
- It was in relatively good condition structurally, meaning I could spend money on fun things you can see rather than boring things like rebuilding a foundation.
- It had land (half an acre) with space around it.
- It would make for a great “before/after” story (hey, I love a Cinderella story!)
Okay, so here’s how this whole house deal went down. I found the listing and was immediately like OH MY GOD I NEED THIS. Somehow, I’m guessing through Zillow, I reached out to a real estate agent who met me at the house and showed it to me. I found out when I toured it that someone had already come in over asking, which was annoying because the asking price ($595K – a steal by LA standards) was at the higher end of my budget and I wasn’t sure I could go any higher. I felt pretty discouraged but I’d heard that writing a letter could help and also being super easy to work with (ie not making a ton of demands of the seller) could be really helpful if you truly wanted the house. So I basically told them I wouldn’t come in with a ton of contingencies and that I’d make amazing use of the house and carry on its tradition of being a place for family to gather (previously, this house was a shared vacation house between siblings).
From start to finish, the buying process was 2.5 excruciating months. Which, in the scheme of things I know is ridiculously short. When you think about it, it’s actually kinda wild that the very first house I ever looked at, and the one I really wanted because of the size/lot/etc ended up working out. Both of my siblings bought houses in Sonoma County near my parents in the past two years and had a much different experience, getting outbid over and over and having a really hard time finding homes within their budgets. So I consider myself pretty lucky that I looked at a house, inquired about it, and somehow magically ended up getting it.
Oh, one thing I’m not mentioning here because honestly just thinking about it exhausts me, is that the second I closed on it, it nearly burned down in a terrifying wildfire. You can read more about that in the post I wrote over on my blog.
So, what’s next? Well, the end goal with this house is to create a large space where my family can gather and be close to Yosemite, to have a physical tie to the place that holds such an important place in each of our hearts. I KNOW THAT SOUNDS SO CHEESY BUT IT’S THE TRUTH I’M SORRY OK??? My eventual goal, and to be honest I’m not TOTALLY sure when this is going to happen because I spent literally all my money buying the house, is to renovate this house to look as if it were built in the same year the house I was raised in was built, 1929.
My plan is to change every single surface in the home, from the windows and doors to the siding and even the finish of the interior walls. So, basically this project is gonna be super expensive and I’m gonna need to get some big paychecks to afford it (read: it might be a while). To get an idea of the vibe of the project, head on over to my Londo Lodge Pinterest board:
I really want to make this place, which currently feels just like a big, boring box, into a place that evokes nostalgia, that feels like an old, historic home. I want it to be a place my family gathers for holidays or that my parents and siblings feel free to come use for weekends away. And maybe someday I want it to be an heirloom property that goes to my future child that doesn’t exist or to my niece and nephews.
The first phase of move-in has involved a LOT of learning. For being a first-time homeowner, I chose kind of a difficult house. Here’s a list of some of the things that make it challenging:
- It’s on a well. So when the power goes out (which is not uncommon here) the water stops flowing.
- The only thing that is connected to any sort of municipal grid is the electricity, so I have to make sure water and propane systems are operating/refilled/maintained.
- There is no trash service, so I have to drive my trash and recycling 45 minutes to a dump where I dispose of it myself. You can apply to get your own dumpster (which I did) but it’s $260 a month and there’s a super long waiting list.
- It’s on a septic system, which had to be rebuilt before I moved in because tree roots had grown into it. Oops.
- It has central heating, but the heater malfunctioned the first time I turned it on and had to be repaired. Another few thousand dollars down the drain…
- It’s rural so services (ie handyman, delivery, general help) are difficult to come by. You can’t just look something up on Yelp. Our version of Yelp is going to the general store and asking the people who work there if they know anyone who can help you.
The list kinda goes on, but I won’t bore you. I actually like the distraction of all of this problem solving (most of the time). But the point is I chose kind of a hard house as my first one, so it’s taking me a minute to get fully settled in. For example, I spent the afternoon today chopping wood, then stacking it, then moving a small portion of it into the garage so it would be easy to grab to add to the fireplace (this is a big ass house, it’s hard to keep it warm when it’s 9 degrees out!).
My plan, as it relates to You Personally Reading This Blog Right Now, is that I plan to make the house cute ASAP by doing a series of mini-makeovers throughout the house that work with the house as-is but spruce it up with paint and some new furnishings (which I plan to keep for the final, renovated look). I’m doing this A) Because I view this house as kind of a fun design lab to play with ideas in B) Because I know a lot of you out there, including literally me right now, can’t necessarily afford to fully renovate their homes and I want to provide some tips on how to work with your house in its current state and C) Because I can’t help myself, I literally can’t resist playing around with the design of my home while I wait for a bigger renovation.
So, FOLLOW ALONG WHY DON’T YOU? I’ll be documenting this whole journey here on Emily’s blog and on my blog as well! Okay goodbye!