Let’s Renovate!… Right?

I swear, the frontal lobe of my brain, the part that makes decisions, is being driven by a teenager trying to learn stick shift. It’s a constant stop and go, slowly creeping forward a couple inches, stalling out on a hill, then drifting back several feet. And when it comes to purchasing a home, the weight of such a colossal decision, it’s as if I passed a joint to the teenager driving decisions in my brain and now he’s super paranoid about every. single. thing.

It probably doesn’t help that my husband and I have different versions of what makes us feel secure in a situation. His safe words are: forever, never, and always. He lives in absolutes, despite the fact that absolutely none of them have come to fruition yet. My safe words are: maybe, probably, and *shrug*, which is, in fact, the foundational way of our world.

So naturally, when we moved to Pittsburgh in May 2020 and my husband, Travis, said the next home we buy was going to be our forever home, that teenager on his stick shift that makes all my decisions, well, he stalled. It’s important to note, Travis also called our previous home in Destin, Florida our ‘forever home’. And before that, when we were set on moving to Providence, Rhode Island, he said that was going to be our ‘forever location’. I think we’re both lying about our abilities to be decisive, just on different spectrums.

I had squatter tendencies that lasted over a decade, spanning across the US, until I met Travis and he explained to me I should stop renting rooms off Craigslist.

Let me back up a little.

Even before we met, my husband and I led a nomadic lifestyle. He had a multi-decade career in the military resulting in several deployments overseas and constant locational change across the US, all in the name of our freedom. I had squatter tendencies that lasted over a decade, spanning across the US, until I met Travis and he explained to me I should stop renting rooms off Craigslist. We met in Las Vegas in 2010, got married in 2012, moved to Destin, Florida in 2014, and had a child in 2015. Before child, we talked seriously about living on a sailboat full-time. We talked about adopting fancy cats. We talked about me apprenticing with a cheese monger. After child, we talked about… savings. And whether or not to do Elf on the Shelf. And other stability-like topics that normally had me running for the hills. We mainly talked about locking down a location to live, and that we wanted to be somewhere near family. That somewhere was Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the burbs. All my siblings are in the area, my mom is a little over an hour away, and I’m originally from the outskirts of the steel city. It just made sense. So when Travis retired from the military in early 2020, we sold our beach home and made our way up to an area that statistically has more overcast days than Seattle.

That’s right, we moved during the pandemic, in it’s earlier days of May 2020. We hadn’t bought a house yet but thankfully, my sister and her family were gracious enough to let us hunker down on her third floor. Ahhh, to be a squatter again, it comes naturally.

For months, we looked around for a home. It was a hard market. First off, I wasn’t used to the homes here. We actually built our previous home from the ground up. So I didn’t anticipate all the complications and idiosyncrasies that come with purchasing a 100+ year old home. I also was having a hard time grasping the sweeping price points from one street to the next, seemingly dictated by proximity to the little village in the center and, of course, schools. Some homes would fly right off the market while others would sit. It was such a big decision, and my husband was so desperate for me to sign off on a home he was telling me we should buy every home we toured, literally. We walked out of one home and he asked what I thought. I said I liked it. He responded with a suggestion to offer full asking price.

My anxiety level was maxed out. Something had to let up, and something did. My sister owned a home four doors down from her that was converted to three apartments back in the 70’s, and the first floor tenants gave notice they were moving out. We had a place to live, albeit a rental, until we found our ‘next forever home’.

Which is how this all ties up. Because my sister and her husband were looking to unload the home. I was super familiar with the house, having visited it for many years when my sisters family lived there. It was the devil I knew. And given just about any home you buy in this area needs some form of renovation, why not renovate this…. right?

We bought it in September, taking our first step towards a huge renovation. A home built in 1906, with an addition added on sometime in the 1970’s, converted to three apartments shortly thereafter, an original slate roof going on 114 years old, and tenants on the 2nd and 3rd floor that have been here a lot longer than us. It’s painted 3 different shades of blue/teal, but not in a ‘this makes sense’ way, more like a ‘I found a color close enough so I’m going to patch this siding with it’ way. There’s a poetry box out front for random patrons to drop poetry in, and a neighborhood cat so unruly she’s already sent my cat to the hospital.

The purchase is settled. Time to learn to drive, kid, because we just made a decision, and it’s a big one. It’s going to require lots more decisions and there isn’t a Waze or Google Map that can direct us to our arrival safe and unfazed.

I don’t know if it’s better to build from scratch, renovate, or purchase a plug-n-play home. It depends on your propensity to make good decisions, your budget both monetarily and in the concept of time, and your willingness to add some worry lines to your forehead. Through this journey, I hope to share my successes, definitely my failures, and my thoughts on taking on such a huge renovation. Maybe it’ll give you the insight you need to take on or run from such a project. Maybe you’ll think I’m insane. Likely both!

Wish me luck!

Here we go!

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