Being stuck at home for months has inspired us to plan some big changes for our house. And apparently we aren't the only ones. After a lot of thought we have decided to dedicate a significant chunk of money to some big changes that will make our home even more functional and beautiful – we're excited! We are planning a backyard update including a studio space, a kitchen renovation, and new floors throughout the house.
Let me tell you a bit about how we came to this decision. This summer our 1,776 square foot house, which normally feels like a great size, felt a lot smaller without anywhere to take our two energetic boys plus having a baby who was napping three to four times a day. Whenever Maeve was napping and the boys were being boisterous I found myself wishing that we had a separate wing or floor where the boys could play without being told to be quiet. (I still feel that way although I don't think they've ever actually woken her up so I stress about it a little bit less now.)
So, while nursing, I started browsing house listings on Zillow. I also saw that Zillow has our home value listed at $350,000 which feels INSANE since we bought our home for $200,000 in 2009. Two houses on our street that are smaller and less updated than ours have already sold for $350,000 in the past few months. We've paid down our mortgage to $125,000 so if we sold our house we could walk away with $200,000+ in profit. Holy cow. We wondered if we should sell our house and invest the profit into a bigger house in Gilbert.
But after a few weeks of looking at houses online and calling to inquire about a couple of properties we realized that buying another house right now did not feel like the right move. Yes, we could sell our house for a lot, but then of course we'd have to buy into a high market. To get a house that was bigger, has a pool, and in a location we love we'd need to spend at least $525,000. And for that amount we'd get a house that was...fine. It would be spacious and have nicer finishes than our current house but we wouldn't be buying our dream house. Part of this is because of the inflated market prices. Another factor is that houses in this area are all of a similar stucco-suburban-tract style which isn't our favorite. When we considered these factors we felt less excited about stretching ourselves financially to buy a house that was just okay (to us).
At the same time Chris was casually looking at job postings for dean positions at universities in the Pacific Northwest and Canada. We haven't been seriously considering moving but we do seem to daydream about leaving Arizona every summer as the 110+ degree days stretch on (and on). Chris also loves the idea of taking a higher leadership position at a smaller liberal arts college. He feels the urge to leave increasingly hotter and drier Arizona more than I do although we both agree that leaving family and the community we've found would be hard. I always want to be open to a big move if it means a great career opportunity for Chris but it would have to be a really incredible opportunity. So far that opportunity has not presented itself.
So with moving out of the state and within Gilbert not looking likely, Chris and I had a conversation about what we'd want to do to our current home to make us want to stay here for the foreseeable future. We said: better backyard space, a quiet place for our creative pursuits, new floors, and a new kitchen. Usually when we talk about making big changes to the house we lose interest when we consider how expensive the changes would be. But the big changes felt less daunting as we considered making our home a more functional, pleasant space to live coupled with leveraging our current financial situation (savings plus taking advantage of a cash-out refinance). After several conversations and talking with our parents to be sure our reasoning was sound we decided to go for it.
I'd love to share what house updates we're planning plus how we're going to pay for it all. The home updates we've made/are planning to make and approximate costs include:
+ Improve the backyard including extending our back patio, improving the patio around the grill, outdoor furniture, and landscaping. With the exception of new outdoor furniture, this has been completed. I owe you photos of these changes soon! ($7,000)
+ Adding a studio space in the backyard. Kind of crazy but we're adding a whole new room to our backyard. It will have electrical and be heated/cooled but will not have plumbing. We are so excited for this! We ordered a 10x12 pre-fab modern studio through Kanga Room Systems. Isn't it cute? It should be getting shipped to us soon. This will allow Chris to have a quiet workspace during his work days and for both of us to have space separate from the family hubub for our creative pursuits (Chris's violin hobby and my writing and podcasting). Having a backyard studio space also means we can use all four of our bedrooms in the house for bedrooms; currently one bedroom is set up as an office. This investment feels like it will go a long way in making our home functional for a family of five. There were a couple of hiccups getting HOA approval but we are cleared for building, whew! (~$20,000)
+ Renovating the kitchen. New cabinets, new countertops (currently we have granite tile countertops which are...not my favorite), new appliances, and the overall goal of making our kitchen more functional. Our cabinets have a lot of wasted space and our tiny pantry could use some help. (~$20,000)
+ Installing new floors throughout the house. We plan to have wood-look luxury vinyl plank throughout the house with the possibility of finished concrete floors in the bathrooms. (~$15,000)
To finance all of these improvements we're using a combination of savings plus $50,000 from a cash-out refinance. A cash-out refinance is a type of mortgage refinance in which you refinance your home for more than you owe on the mortgage and then get that extra amount in cash. Here's how the cash-our refinance broke down for us: We had $125,000 and 11 years left to pay on a 15-year mortgage with an interest rate of 2.875%. For our new mortgage we took out $50,000 of equity in our house (i.e. $50,000 in cash gets transferred to our bank account) which increases our remaining mortgage to $175,000. Our new mortgage is a 15-year mortgage with an interest rate of 2.65%. Our total monthly payment increased from $1,250 to $1,337. We felt comfortable doing this because we don't anticipate our home ever being worth less than $175,000 so if we needed to sell our home any time soon we wouldn't be underwater. Plus we're able to still have a 15-year mortgage while increasing our monthly payment by less than $100 which is still very comfortable for us.
I feel so good about our decision. I think it aligns with our values of family, community, and living within our means. The biggest reason for us to stay in Gilbert is to keep living near family. Chris's family lives nearby, my family is an easy two hour plane trip away plus my parents have a second home here. We also feel good about staying in Gilbert and specifically on our street because of the community we've found and cultivated. We've put down roots in the 12 years we've been living in Gilbert (11 in our current home). When we feel comfortable sending the boys back to school we love being able to bike to school. I find a lot of satisfaction in living in a modestly sized home that is within our means but improving it to our tastes.
So that's what we have planned! The kitchen and floor renovations are going to take time and planning. Plus we'll need to move our while those updates are happening. It hasn't been a great time to have contractors come into the house to help us plan so those updates feel a little bit on hold but I'm hopeful that they will happen in 2021.