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Why we bought a small house on a small budget

Well, this is slightly embarrassing.

I had a project idea ready to go for this week, but remember all the work we are doing in my studio and laundry room? Because of that, I have now packed up ALL of my paint brushes and I accidentally buried them in boxes in the crawl space. So, no projects this week.

The basement project was moving along at a great (though exhausting) pace when we hit the snag of all snags. Yesterday, (Saturday) we spent the entire day waiting for our giant, solid wood utility cabinets to be delivered. They really are the next piece in our puzzle before we can move onto to other parts of the room. Well, wouldn’t you know – the delivery truck was forced to make a sudden stop when a car swerved in front of him, and seeing as our delivery was the only one left for the day, ALL our solid wood Cabinets toppled on the flatbed and were SMASHED.

Needless to say, I was devastated and a little upset. We are still waiting to see what the store comes up with in terms of a solution for us. I’m confident something will happen – just not sure what form it will come in. No one was hurt – thank goodness. But our timeline is a little off now. Accidents do happen.

I guess it’s clear, the more fun projects will resume shortly. I cannot wait to show you all the really fun solution I found for my craft supplies.  We were able to fully assemble those while waiting for the truck. (UPDATE! They are now on their way 🙂 Stay tuned!! The store took amazing care of us and has helped us get new cabinets! The excitement grows!)

Our budget for this basement project, despite all the set backs, is still only around $2500. All of this planning for renovations and dealing with challenges has really got me thinking about why we bought this small house. I’m not going to lie. There have been moments where I’ve found myself trolling the real estate listings for a home that doesn’t need this much work. I have been dreaming of fewer large projects (and expenses) and more fun decorating projects.

But then, as if the universe was speaking to me, a reality check came via blogland.

One of my absolute favourite bloggers, Dana from House*Tweaking, wrote a post last week about how she and her family down-sized about five years ago, into a home they gutted, made their own and now have completely paid off. They are mortgage free. Their home is beautiful. It works for their family of five. Dana can afford to blog full-time and (it appears) she is able to spend a lot of quality time with her family.

Oh ya. That’s why Dan and I bought this house.

Let’s hop in the time machine for a minute and roll back the clock to three years ago. It was this week back in 2013 that we first laid eyes on our house. It actually makes me emotional just thinking about that day.

We were itching to get out of our 700-sq foot condo and into a home with a yard and storage. We really didn’t have very much on our ‘must-have’ list.

  • three bedrooms
  • two bathrooms
  • a separate dining space
  • a yard
  • closet space

We had spent most of the previous month trolling around new build homes on the other side of the city. They were gorgeous, move-in ready, shiny and NEW. But they were all either in the middle or top end of our budget range – or the range the bank told us we could afford.

This was us, three years ago this week

This was us, three years ago this week

Then one day, for whatever reason, we took a drive on a Sunday and followed the coast about 15 minutes outside the city. In the exact opposite direction from where we’d been looking. And there it stood. An open house sign on the lawn of a home on the best street in the neighbourhood that just wouldn’t sell. Similar homes around it were selling in less than a week. This home had been sitting on the market for almost six weeks.

We didn’t even look at the listing price before touring the home. By the time I’d reached the upstairs, I had tears in my eyes and I just knew that we’d buy this house, and do as Dana did. Take our time. Fix it up. Make it work for us. Make it sing.

Then I cried even harder when I saw it was listed 50% below the price of the other homes we’d been touring. FIFTY PERCENT.

It hit all our must haves:

  • three bedrooms
  • three bathrooms
  • separate dining room
  • bonus storage space
  • huge yard

And to boot, because we looked a little outside of the neighbourhoods we had been touring, our home is even a bit larger than some of the newer builds we toured.

With the money we’ve saved on housing costs and our mortgage (not to mention the size of the downpayment we needed to put down), we were able to:

We extended the kitchen and added a new dishwasher.

We extended the kitchen and added a new dishwasher.

  • pay mostly cash for our wedding
  • pay cash to have the back yard shed ripped down and re-built (I still absolutely LOVE the colour we painted it!)
  • completely upgraded the heating systems
  • paid for significant tree and root removal (not fun, but it would’ve taken us years to do DIY!)
  • buy all new beds/mattresses for the bedrooms
  • reconfigure the top floor to create a drool-worthy walk-in master closet
  • upgrade most of the light fixtures
  • upgrade the electrical in the entire house
  • update the kitchen including adding a dishwasher
Our brand new back yard shed

Our brand new back yard shed

There are probably a gazillion other things we could add to this list, but you see, the smaller house and smaller budget has given us incredible flexibility in terms of making this house our own and tackling projects that increase its overall value.

I honestly don’t think we could have done as much in as little time if we’d purchased a home at the top of our budget range.

So, I will stop myself from searching the real estate listings for now. We have committed to living here for at least a decade, and I think running through all of these positives was just the thing I needed to snap me out of it.

Sure, I’m sitting in the family room writing this post – staring at boxes upon boxes and raw lumber and tools, all mixed up with my breakfast dishes and Dan’s work files – but it’s because we are making this house our own. Step by step. Room by room. We are making it sing. The cabinet fiasco will work itself out somehow – of that I am sure. And soon enough, I’ll have a pretty picture of my new studio and laundry room to add to our blog roll.

So I’ll just blur my eyes and ignore the renovation mess. Instead, I’ll choose to see potential and a more flexible and adventurous future.

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Monday 18th of April 2016

Hi Erin, We have not long moved into this house. We sold the big house and with the price we got for it were able to repay the residue of that mortgage, buy this house outright and have a reasonable pot of money left over to do things to it.

Eight weeks in and we have a new kitchen. Did I say new? The cupboards were bought from someone who had looked after them but was now going to pay a huge amount for something newer and up to date. We got our paint brushes out and have a beautiful two tone kitchen that suits our slower, country live. The cooker is reconditioned and every thing else came with use.

It has given us the chance to down size, have gone from 4 beds to 2 and to be able to re purpose, adapt, paint etc the things we have and love. Not only that, as we very much on the wrong side of 30, or even 40, it is stretching our creative muscles and keeping us fit.

We have friends who are approaching retirement and still are paying a big mortgage and it makes me wonder, when there is only the two of them rattling around a similar sized house to the one we sold, why they are doing it. Keeping up with the Joneses? Doesn't seem worth it to me. Once we have done enough here to make life comfortable we will ease of and do a lot of exploring as we moved to a new area too. Lots to do and lots to see.

I will just add that the positive feedback we have had about the start we have made in its turn has made us very proud of our new home. I hope that you are as proud of yours and I know that you will keep reaping the benefits of not overbuying and enjoy the challenge that your home gives you.

Big hope that all goes well with the store's solution to your smashed units. I can understand your disappointment.

DIY Passion

Monday 18th of April 2016

Hi Sue! Thanks for the kind comment and insights. I'm glad we aren't alone in making this type of choice. I totally agree that it's satisfying to know we are financially sound - and yes! doing all these projects is a great work out ;) As for the cabinet solution... It is already solved! The new delivery is expected tomorrow... so if you're watching our Facebook page, I'll post a little update on there. I'm all about not losing my cool and just seeing things through. I firmly believe everything works out in the end as it should :) Annnd... I might be a *little* excited to get all that storage in place!

Emily @ Table & Hearth

Monday 18th of April 2016

It is so impressive what all you guys have accomplished for your home, and I'm sure you have so much pride for the work you've done. I can't wait to see how these other projects make it even better :)

DIY Passion

Monday 18th of April 2016

Thanks Emily - I know you are in the same boat. Your projects are awesome... I especially love your patio makeover for last year's One Room Challenge. Your DIY table is outstanding!!


Monday 18th of April 2016

Erin, you and your husband are so smart to purchase a home you can actually afford and pay off. My husband and I have a smaller 3 bedroom 2 bath home with a full unfinished basement attached 2 car garage and a separate 2 car garage. We have plenty of storage, but there is so much I want to do to this house to make it ours, but the main thing is it is paid for and the money we save each month can go into our retirement. and we have a savings for the house, we had a patio cover added to the house, the separate 2 car garage, I have spent so much money on landscaping, but the point is when you buy a house within your reasonable budget and get it paid for there is just so much you can do to make it your own when all your money isn't going to a huge payment each month that takes two incomes to make. Yes I look at the magazines and see the big gorgeous homes that make drool, but I know that is unrealistic for us. I have never understood why people buy these big beautiful homes they know they really cannot afford, they become slaves to the houses, and if something should happen to one of their incomes they end up losing the house or they have to sell it as fast as they can and many times take a big loss. I really wish there was some kind of financial required course in high school all four years to teach young people how to buy within their means and save money each month. If you start small and make improvements to your property pay it off sell it then you have a huge down payment to buy a bigger home. If you have a thirty year mortgage and you make just one extra payment a year you can pay your mortgage off ten years early. (I wouldn't want a 30 yr mortgage) You just can't imagine the freedom we feel knowing we have a home paid for and when we retire we don't have to worry about a mortgage payment or rent, just taxes haha. We now can make the changes we want to make to our home without going in debt, all materials paid for in cash and if we have to hire someone we can pay for it without getting a loan, when you don't have a mortgage payment you can save a lot of money to do the things you dream of doing to your home. My next big project will be to finish the basement, I just have to figure the layout and what I want. Some of it we can do but I.m sure there is some we will have to hire out like the cabinets and possibly the flooring, depending on what kind of floor we decide on.

DIY Passion

Monday 18th of April 2016

Such sage advice Patty :) People ask me all the time what my 'dream' is .. and I say to own my home and to be on HGTV haha! But in all seriousness, there is a sense of pride for sure in DIYs - but there's nothing wrong with hiring out too! I hate landscaping... so I always try to convince Dan to hire out for that whenever we can ;)

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