On the home front: How to turn a bad relationship into a good investment
You could say that my house was an impulse purchase. I had just reached the year mark with my boyfriend (hereafter referred to as “the BF”), and although we had talked about living together, those conversations weren’t going the way I had hoped. So one Sunday afternoon, while I was out running errands, I spotted an open house sign in a neighborhood where a friend lived. What the heck, I thought. I’ll take a look.
The neighborhood was Midway Hollow, one of the areas I had half-heartedly shopped while house hunting a few years prior. Back then I worried about spending the money on so big a purchase, and I hadn’t really found anything I loved, anyway. God bless my real estate agent, who is a longtime friend of my mother’s. She was patient and kind and took my anxiety in stride. If it weren’t for her relationship with my mom, she might have fired me as a client.
When I stepped inside the modest 1950s ranch, I felt more comfortable than I had in any other house I had seen. I also felt more at home there than I did in the BF’s contemporary duplex, which was stylish if a little cold — a place where I spent a lot of time but in which I never felt entirely welcome. (Hello, red flag!)
The kitchen needed an overhaul, but the layout was right-on. The house required a lot of work, sure. But it was obvious to me how to do it.
At that point, I didn’t make a move. But a few weeks later, I was still thinking about that house — and the BF showed no signs of committing — so I called my Realtor to ask if the house was still for sale. It was.
The kitchen needed an overhaul, but the layout was right-on in this 1,200-square-foot charmer, and sunlight poured into the living room and third bedroom through a bank of windows along the back of the house. It required a lot of work, sure. But it was obvious to me how to do it.
The next few weeks were a whirlwind. There were many visits to the house — with my Realtor, with my mom, with my Realtor and my mom, with the BF — and many phone calls and meetings with contractors, because before I would make an offer, I had to be sure I could afford to renovate the kitchen. Never mind that the deal also was hinging on the seller accepting way less than the list price.
The BF was extremely supportive, of course. He claimed it was because he wanted to me to have something that would build equity, that it would be a good investment for me. That was true, but all I heard was, “Please buy this house, Jennifer, so that I don’t have to worry about your moving in with me.”
I don’t need him, I thought. I don’t need any man. I’m going to buy this house, and it’ll be mine, all mine. The BF even joked that I would be quite a catch as a homeowner. (Say hello to red flag no. 2.)
Even though the house had been on the market around six months, by the time I worked up the courage to make an offer, another buyer had surfaced. So accompanying my lowball offer was a letter to the seller, explaining that I wasn’t offering her less just so I could flip the house.
I listed all the reasons why I wanted to live there, from the towering fir tree in the front yard to the brass chandeliers in the entry and the dining room — fixtures my mother hated but I adored. (They just needed a coat of paint!) I told the seller that funds were tight because I was a single professional just trying to buy her first home. I left out the bit about the lousy BF. That would have been too much, I think.
After two counter offers (one from her, one from me), we finally agreed on a price. And so the work began. I spent every weekend — from sun up Saturday to sundown Sunday — working on that house, learning the joys and hardships of home ownership. The contractor and his crew worked diligently on the kitchen, but I primed and painted it to save a few bucks.
Speaking of painting, my family (mom, stepdad and sister) and I painted every square inch of that house; now I know why painters make so much money, and they earn every penny. We also replaced every outlet cover, light switch cover, air conditioning register, doorknob and light fixture. We left no surface untouched.
My boyfriend never felt at home there the way I did, which turned out to be a blessing. Because when I look around my place, thankfully, I don’t see him anywhere in it.
Where was the BF in all of this, you ask? To be fair, he did help refinish the hardwood floors in two of the bedrooms. In fact, I never would have tackled that myself if he hadn’t assured me we could handle it.
The BF came up one weeknight to help prime the kitchen. But he was not there with me every weekend, and when I did (reluctantly) ask for help, he often made excuses. Oh, and he didn’t arrive with a bottle of Champagne the first night I slept in my new place. (How many red flags is that? I’ve lost count.)
We did continue to see each other after that — for longer than I care to admit — but he spent almost no time with me in my remodeled ranch. (Not surprisingly, he preferred his place to mine.) When he was there, rather than congratulating me on the great job I did, or telling me how proud he was that I pulled it off, he talked about what else I ought to do or how he would have done it differently.
He never felt at home there the way I did, which turned out to be a blessing. Because when I look around my place, thankfully, I don’t see him anywhere in it.
But I do want to thank him for not loving me enough to move in with me. Turns out, I loved myself enough for both of us. Despite the recent fluctuations in real estate prices, I have built up some equity. And, after a recent refi, I now have a shorter-term mortgage for the same monthly payment.
But perhaps most important, I have created a sanctuary to call my own. I can paint, repair drywall, refinish hardwood floors and install blinds; if I weren’t so scared of getting shocked, I’m sure I could replace light fixtures too.
My impulse purchase turned out to be an excellent long-term investment. Does it make me a better catch? Who cares? I’m married to my home.