This Is Us

I didn’t participate in the thousands of crock-pot discussions that have peppered social media in recent weeks. Truth be told, I have only seen the pilot episode of This is Us. I liked it but not enough to watch another episode. At least, not right now. Milo Ventimigila wasn’t even enough (Team Jesse).  I’ve never really full-on embraced a weekly network television drama to the point where I have to watch the latest episode. It’s not in my blood. I’m sure I’ll end up watching This is Us the same way as Parenthood – on Netflix at my own pace.

But this post isn’t about the hit television show. Nor is about the Mark Knopler and Emmylou Harris song This Is Us from their 2006 album, All The Roadrunning (sigh – such a great album). Today is Valentine’s Day – the day makers of giant teddy bears and bad chocolate rely on to keep them in the black for the year. In our house, we acknowledge the day and exchange little gifts with the kids and each other but we’d rather chew off our own arms than go out to eat tonight and he knows better than to give me jewelry. Clay will be back after the sun sets so my gift to him this year involves bombarding his phone with questionable love-related GIFs and an inappropriate card I picked up at Target. Love is not dead in this house, folks.

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How We Became Accidental Landlords

We often joke that we know a lot about the home buying process and very little about selling a home. Since that cold evening thirteen years ago, when we publicly declared ’till death do us part in front of our family and friends, we’ve shared ten addresses together (I’d like to offer my apologies now to said family and friends who constantly have to update their address books on our behalf). Of our homes over the years, the majority we have rented, one was on post, and two were homes that we own. And still own to this day. Because life sure is a lot more fun with two mortgages <insert eye-rolling emoji>

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We bought our first home in a suburb of Raleigh, North Carolina when Clay ETS’ed from the Army when we were in our mid-20s. This house is what we thought we wanted – a suburban life in a new construction house with four bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms. We lived in an apartment during our time at Fort Drum, New York and logged many House Hunters hours. We knew what we wanted. At least, we thought we did. Our Raleigh home is a lovely house but we quickly learned that we wanted something different out of life than what we were experiencing at that point in time in Raleigh.

Long story short (and boy – is it a doozy of a story!), Clay became active again soon after we bought this home. Clay deployed to Afghanistan for a year shortly after our son was born and when he returned, it was time to move again. While we didn’t purchase this home at the top of the market, the odds weren’t in our favor when it came time to sell it. We put it on the market briefly but when people began to ask if it was available for rent, we crunched some numbers, and quickly realized that it made better financial sense to put this home on the rental market.

And here we are seven years later with no plans to sell because it has become a great investment over the years. It helps that we have a fantastic property manager and the Raleigh market is booming once again. It is doubtful that we will ever call this house home again, but it will likely be a part of our lives for quite some time.

Oklahoma House

We also own a home in Lawton, Oklahoma. We didn’t love our time in Oklahoma, but we absolutely love this house. It was built in 1983 and is on a large corner lot with trees, which are a precious commodity in southwest Oklahoma. We love ranch homes and the floor plan is everything we want in a house – it isn’t large by any means but at 2000 square feet, it is more than enough room for us. We had only lived in it for 8 (!) months until we were given surprise orders to Washington, DC, so it was in our best interest to rent it out when we left. Additionally, when we were looking to buy a home in Lawton, we did so with the idea that it would eventually become a rental property so we looked for certain features. We just didn’t think it would be so soon after buying the house!

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The backyard even has the most adorable playhouse, which makes this place perfect for young family. Sigh – I really do love this house. Our experience with being landlords to this house hasn’t been as positive as our Raleigh house (older home = more things need attention) but we are not losing money on it, so we can’t really complain. We’d like to sell this house in the near future because we’d like to eventually buy another investment property elsewhere and we’re just not comfortable owning three homes at this point in our lives. Unfortunately, we’re not that baller. Like at all.

When people discover that we own multiple properties (neither of which we actually live in), we are often met with a handful of questions regarding our situation, such as…

Did you use a VA loan to purchase both houses? No. We used a conventional loan for our Raleigh house and paid points to knock the interest rate down. We had the money for a sizable down payment and we could get a better rate with a conventional loan. We did use a VA loan for our Lawton house because we purchased it when rates were extremely low and the rate the VA offered was competitive with the conventional loan market. However, we do not have near as much equity in the Lawton house and looking back, I wished we put more down initially. But alas – shoulda, woulda, coulda.

Do you plan on living in either house again? Short answer? No. Long answer? I’ve learned over the years to never say never. However, both homes are in locations that we would never choose to live again ourselves but who knows what Uncle Sam has in store for us down the line.

Why don’t you sell your Raleigh house since the market is booming again there? Our mortgage is low, we are able to charge a nice amount for rent, and years ago we refinanced to a lower-year mortgage so the house will paid off well before we hit our golden years. In the future, we may revaluate but as of right now, we’re happy keeping it as a rental.

Are you going to sell the Lawton house? Eventually. The market is more volatile there so we are considering our options. Ideally, we’d like at least a week or two to spend there between the tenant moving out and putting it on the market. There are some projects we didn’t get around to before leaving that we’d like to do before making the listing live. If you know of a great Lawton real estate agent that is willing to explore some options, let me know!

What sort of issues have you dealt with over the years? Thankfully, nothing major. We’ve had plumbing issues, fence replacements, air conditioner repairs, furnace repairs, painting that need to be done as well as re-staining of the deck, an oven door fell off and shattered, an over-the-range microwave exploded, and little small jobs that a handyman addressed. Some years are better than others and there are many months where we don’t clear a profit due to maintenance issues. But that is all part of the home ownership game.

Will you buy a home where you PCS next? No. It is very unlikely that we will buy a home (instead of renting or living on post) as long as Clay is active duty for the simple fact that we won’t live in a place for more than 1-2 years from here on out. Some military paths offer more stability in one place but that is not in our cards, which we are totally okay with…because if we weren’t, we wouldn’t be doing this whole military thing and would likely be living in one of our two homes! Ha.

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Wichita Wildlife Refuge – Lawton, Oklahoma

Who else out there consider themselves to be accidental landlords? We didn’t plan on this when beginning our home-buying journey as young twenty-somethings but like most things in life – it’s best to keep an open-mind and see where the road takes you. After all, I never would have thought I’d live among buffalo and longhorn steers in the prairie, let alone own a house there. We’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way and I’m not going to lie – sometimes it can feel a bit overwhelming to have such a large chuck of our assets tied up in real estate. But what in life is worth doing without at least a little bit of risk? Now if you excuse me, I have to answer an email that just arrived from one of our property managers (not even kidding!).

Where We Love is Home

My favorite types of homes are those that tell a story. Perhaps that is why I prefer older homes to newer and my favorite way to decorate can pretty much be summed up by put everything on the walls! Home is somewhat of a unique concept for our family. Our eight-year-old son has lived in eight different houses over the years and our four-year-old daughter has lived in four. I may not remember the full addresses of all the houses that Clay and I have shared but all of them have been called home at some point or another. Home is where the heart is…all those needlepoints can’t be wrong, can they?

Recently, I came across an Instagram account that highlighted her neutral-toned Christmas decor – complete with a white Christmas tree and beige ribbon. Another account featured a tree with all new ornaments purchased this year in order to fit with the rustic cabin theme in their suburban home. More power to them. Many find such decor aspirational. But looking at such images just bums me out, which is probably why I’m not an interior designer.

Give me color. Give me kitschy. Give me handmade. Give me history. Give me a story. And most of all, give me love. Our Christmas decor features items collected over our thirteen years of marriage from a variety of locales. We don’t have matching family stockings because I don’t dare replace the stockings I bought for Clay and me in our first year of marriage. Artwork done by the kids is taped on the closet door. And is it really Christmas without at least one paper chain countdown?

Our tree is filled with ornaments from the various places we’ve called home and traveled to over the years. This year, we let the kids put the ornaments on the tree so there are bare spots and it is pretty far from magazine-worthy but it is our tree. And for that reason alone, it is the most beautiful tree in the world in our eyes.

Christmas cards we received are promptly taped on the door. I love how the cards serve as a visual reminder that we’re not alone every time we leave the house.

When my grandmother passed away earlier this year, my dad and aunts ensured that her ceramic Christmas tree ended up in my home. Her mother (my great-grandmother) made them for all the women in the family in the early 1980’s and I’m thankful I am able to now display one in our home. I found the plaid runner in a North Carolina thrift store years ago and no vintage corner is complete without tacky lights around the banister.

On our kitchen table is an advent yule log we made together at church. The bay window holds some of our less-kitschy items but let’s be honest – there is nothing of value on display. If you’re looking for super classy Christmas decoration inspiration, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Our home is full of mismatched furniture, items collected from around the world, and things from Target – lots and lots from Target.

Only time will tell if this will be our only Christmas in this house we are currently calling our home. Our children may not have a childhood spent in one particular house but they will always have a home. Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. stated that “Where we love is home – home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.” We have loved in many places over the years and we have learned that a house is simply that – a house. Flashy appliances, expensive countertops, large bathrooms, two-car garages do not a home make. Home is us. Home is anywhere. Right now, home is a house in northern Virginia built in 1966 with basement laundry, a car port, and mirrored closet doors. And during this 2017 Christmas season, we couldn’t ask for a better place to love.