I was sitting today, typing away for another post, and found myself writing a familiar line once again: It’s probably going to be a couple of months before we can even list the house. And suddenly, I had that feeling. You know? The feeling you get when a friend complains about her boyfriend/job/roommate for the one millionth time? That overwhelming feeling that makes you want to stand up and scream:

Oh my God! Just sell the damn house already!

Yep, I’m officially irritated with my own problems. Which is kind of funny, when you think about it: I’m over hearing (reading) myself talk (write) about the same thing over and over again. Lots of people decide to sell their house. They spend a month or so getting it ready, list it, and move on. I’ve been talking about selling my house FOREVER. So, I had to ask myself the big question: What is the deal? Is there a valid reason I haven’t sold my house yet? Or am I just procrastinating?

I found myself getting completely frustrated. I decided it was time to take a step back, analyze the situation, and decide whether there was a good explanation, or if I was just making excuses for not getting things done. Here’s what I came up with:

1) The Money. The biggest reason I haven’t listed the house yet comes down to money. Which is weird, because the biggest reason for selling the house is also money. There were a few things, like remodeling the bathroom, that I knew I’d need to do before I could list the house. So, I needed time to save up the money. Most of my extra money in 2013 went to the sewer project and porch (also both necessary to sell the house), and to various medical bills. I set a goal of saving $3,000 for the bathroom remodel. I tried not to spend any money on other things around the house (windows, the laundry room, etc.) until I had all the money set aside for the bathroom remodel. But, technically, I had that money in February. Why didn’t I start talking with contractors sooner?

2) The Polar Vortex. Part excuse, part valid reason: This winter in the Midwest was brutal! Brutal, I tell you! I’m not a cold weather person to begin with. I won’t go as far as to say that I suffer from any mental health issues due to the colder weather and shorter days. But I do find myself spending more time hunkered down at home, relaxing, and generally being lazy during the winter months. To top off the unusually extreme cold, we also got a ridiculous amount of snow. Several times I went to the house intending to work, only to turn around because I couldn’t get down the street. There were days I couldn’t even leave the apartment, the snow was so bad. The roads were closed numerous times. I had planned a few days off work to go over and work on the house, only to be snowed in at the apartment. And, of course, when people spend more time indoors during the cold weather, they share more germs. And more germs equals more illnesses. I had planned another long weekend at the house, only to end up spending the time off in bed, sick.

3) The Relationship. The snail’s pace on getting the house ready to sell was also partially due to my relationship. I’m pretty much living at the boyfriend’s apartment anyway, and have been for some time. We discussed me selling the house, and even discussed me moving in to the apartment. But he never actually asked me to move in. And when I’d ask if he was okay with me moving in, he’d make a joking remark about how I was already living there. Semantics, I know, but I wanted to know that I was doing what WE wanted, not just pushing him in to what I wanted.

I’d probably be selling the house regardless at this point. The market is improving, and the house hasn’t been much of an asset for me. Actually, it’s held me back from taking numerous opportunities in the past. If I weren’t moving in with the boyfriend, I’d probably get my own apartment. But I’m not exactly in any rush to exchange a mortgage for a rent payment.

Last month, I finally worked up the nerve to address my concerns. I’m not sure why it took me so long. We discussed what me moving in would mean for us. We discussed our goals, and what we both wanted for the future. And we decided together that me moving in to the apartment was the next step that we both wanted to take. If we can’t get a good price for the house, we discussed finding a renter, and what that would mean.

Since that conversation, we’ve both made a lot of progress towards getting my house ready to sell. There’s finally a light at the end of the tunnel. Granted, it won’t be tomorrow; there’s still some work left to do. So, you’ll have to bear with me writing more about my house, and I’ll have to have some patience with the process. But things are moving in the right direction.

Reasons? Or excuses? Turns out, a little of both. And I’m okay with that. After all, change is scary. And I’m only human.

- Cindy W.

Part of the reason I started this blog is for accountability. I feel like if I put my plans and goals out there for the world to see, I’ll feel more pressure to follow through on them. I also like the idea that people will weigh in on what I write about, and maybe I’ll learn something better, or see things in a new way. I’ve been working the last couple of years to acknowledge my faults and my weaknesses, and learn to overcome them, or at the very least, work around them.

But sometimes I find myself in a gray area. There are times I find myself feeling strongly about something, but then questioning my intention. Simply put, I don’t always trust myself to be making the best decision, or make decisions for the right reason. Let’s be honest, we’re all clouded by our feelings, experiences and beliefs.

The thought recently occurred to me: Why don’t I start putting these “gray” scenarios on the blog, and let others weigh in? I can give a little bit of background, and a description of what’s going on, and people can tell me whether my thinking is sound, or if I’m letting my emotions (or biases) taint my judgement.

Thinking Straight: Mutually Beneficial? Or Taking Advantage?

If you’ve read some of my older posts, you’ve probably figured out that I don’t always use the best judgement when it comes to my family. I’ve made a lot of very bad decisions to help family members out (especially my sisters). And in almost every case, it’s ended up hurting me, financially and emotionally.

So, I’ve been working hard on separating my financial life from my family life. I’m learning to say no. I’m learning that it’s not my responsibility to save my siblings from themselves, or to protect them financially. I’m still very close to my siblings, and spend a lot of time with them.

Recently my boyfriend called me out on something, saying that it was an example of me letting my sister use me. I disagree. But then, as I said, I don’t always trust my own judgement:

I’ve been working on getting my house ready to be put on the market. And, like most people, part of gearing up to sell (and move) means getting rid of a lot of stuff. Right now, I’ve been getting rid of a few things here and there: Clothes I know I’ll never wear again, nick-knacks that I don’t really care for, etc. Once I get closer to moving, I’ll be getting rid of a lot more stuff. When two adults decide to combine homes, there’s bound to be a lot of excess; Two sets of dishes, two couches, excess furniture. The list goes on and on.

Yard sales can be a wonderful way to make some extra cash. I had a big sale last year, and made some pretty good money. But they’re also time-consuming. And exhausting. And boring. I don’t mind doing them every so often, maybe once every 2-3 years. But in general, they aren’t my cup of tea. Plus, it’s not like I have tons of excess time; I have a full-time job, a ton of things I have yet to do around the house, a blog, etc. And I don’t want a bunch of boxes sitting around my house until I have a sale.

You know who does like having yard sales? My younger sister. The girl seriously has 3-4 yard sales a summer. She’s already had 1 sale this year, and plans on having many, many more. She doesn’t have a job right now, and has joint custody of both of her kids (who are both in school during the day), so she has the extra time to devote to doing a yard sale. We could get into a whole discussion about the choices she’s making in her life, right or wrong, but that’s a completely different discussion. The point is, I have stuff to sell. And she has the time, and the desire, to sell it.

So, we worked out a plan: I drop boxes off at her place as I clear things out, she marks it, sells it, and takes a % of the profit. Most of the stuff she puts in her yard sales, but I leave it up to her as far as how she sells it (Yard sale, Craigslist, eBay, etc). I also leave it up to her to decide how to price the item.

In my opinion, this arrangement benefits both of us. Sure, I could sell the items on my own and make more money. But I don’t have the time, or the desire. Some of the bigger items I may put on Craigslist or something myself, when the time comes. I’m on the fence about it; I had a really bad experience selling a bedroom set several years ago with a crazy lady who continued to hound me for a week, so I’m a little paranoid now. If it was all left up to me, I’d probably be dropping a lot of items off at Goodwill. Actually, I’d be rolling around with a car packed full of boxes for weeks on end, before suddenly having an urgent need to empty my car for some event, and rushing to Goodwill to dump everything, without a second to spare for them to make me a receipt. So I wouldn’t be making any money AND I wouldn’t get the tax deduction. Again, being realistic about my faults!

I make money from selling things that I would be getting rid of anyways, with as little time commitment as possible. My sister makes a commission for the time and effort she puts into selling it. Win-win, right? Yeah, the boyfriend says no. In his opinion, my sister is profiting off me. She’s making money from selling things she doesn’t own. He sees this as another example of my family taking advantage of me. He also feels like there are better ways she should be using her time, like getting a real job. I’m not disagreeing with that point. But, it isn’t like I’m dumping so much stuff on her that it’s becoming a full-time job. So far this year I’ve given her 4 small moving boxes worth of stuff (mostly clothes), which she marked the day before the sale.

What do you think? Is this a mutually beneficial arrangement? Or is my sister taking advantage of me? And am I enabling her to not get a real job, by supplying her a means to make some cash?

- Cindy W.

Last weekend I met with a Realtor. I admit, the meeting was a little premature; It will still be another month or more before we’re ready to list the house. But, given that we’re putting some work into the house now, I wanted a professional opinion on where we should be concentrating, and on how much the house might be worth.

The Realtor I selected has worked with several people I know on both buying and selling houses. He’s had several listings in my neighborhood in the last few years. He’s been in real estate for many years, and works as a team with his wife and daughter-in-law on all of their listings. Overall, I’m comfortable with his opinion.

When I called him up originally, I explained that my house was small, and rather unique for my area. He laughed when he came to my house, and breathed a noticeable sigh of relief. He explained that typically when someone uses the word “unique” to describe their house to a Realtor they expect very, very bad things. Like hoarding, or homes that haven’t been maintained in decades. Neither of those apply to my house. Even with the small square footage, my house is more open than most houses in the neighborhood.

Almost a week passed, and I was starting to worry that I wouldn’t hear back from him. Then on Saturday I finally heard back from the Realtor. He’d pulled comps from recent sales in my area. Then he extended his search into the 5 surrounding zip codes. And then he extended his search a little bit farther. After extensive research, he’s comes to the conclusion that my house is worth…

Absolutely no idea.

Sigh. Not exactly the response I was expecting, but I’m not exactly surprised. It turns out, unique is exactly what my house is. Usually when pulling together comps, a Realtor can look at sales of similar houses in your area, adjust for variables that are different for your house, and come up with a good idea of your home’s value. But my house is nothing like anything in my area. I own a 1920′s house, in a 1950′s/60′s area. My house is small, but only because it has fewer rooms. My living room and kitchen, while small compared to modern houses, are larger than the cramped living rooms and galley kitchens in my neighborhood. And who has a 10 x 10 laundry room? Half an acre may not seem like much, but it’s 3 times what most of my neighbors have.

As I mentioned in my last post, most of the houses that have sold recently in my area have been in dire need of some work. The furnace, air conditioner, water heater, and all of the appliances in my house are new. The roof is only 7 years old, and has a 25 year shingle. The siding, gutters, and porch are all new. The kitchen is newly remodeled, and by the time it hits the market, the bathroom will be too, along with all new windows. I refinished the old hardwood floors to save money, which is unheard of in my vinyl and carpet neighborhood. And the granite tile kitchen counters (which I did because it was cheaper than special ordering laminate counters for the odd corners)?

The good and the bad of my house make it really hard to compare to anything else in my area. On the plus side, the Realtor feels that the tax assessed value of $48,000 is really undervaluing my house. But the question remains: By how much? So, what do I do from here? His recommendation is to wait until I have the house closer to market ready, and then having an appraisal done. The downside is that appraisals cost money. The upside is that it will give us an idea how a bank would value the house, which should help head off issues if the buyer is looking to get a mortgage on the house (and most buyers would be).

The true value of my house right now is whatever someone is willing to pay for it. Realtors try their best to pinpoint that number through various calculations. But the reality is, sometimes that number is a little harder to estimate. I’d rather pay a little more upfront (for an appraisal) to create an accurate listing that doesn’t over or under value my house.

The only thing to do now is push ahead on getting the house ready to list!

- Cindy W.

This past weekend was a super busy one. My boyfriend and I spent most of the weekend at my house. When I bought the house 7 years ago, the previous owner left me a “burn pile”. This pile of tree limbs, bushes, and random wood stretched at least 40 feet along the back fence, at least 6 feet wide, and was taller than me. I was told by neighbors that as long as the fire was contained, we were allowed to burn things in our yards. So, year after year, I spent at least the first month of Spring breaking things and putting them in a fire pit I’d purchased. Friends and family would come over for small bonfires. But new limbs would fall, and bushes would get dug up. I made noticeable progress, but never got anywhere near clearing out the pile.

I’m a born and raised city girl. Where I was raised, if someone was burning stuff in their yard you knew a breakup and an arrest were imminent. The boyfriend’s a country boy; If you can get it lit, you can burn it. He laughed that I was trying to get rid of my enormous burn pile in a fire pit. He piled a big section of wood in the middle of the yard, poured some lighter fluid on it, and let it go. In two days we demolished the entire burn pile, some leftover wood from projects we’ve been working on, all the fallen limbs in the yard, and all the old kitchen cabinets (which were in too bad of shape to be sold). He also cleaned out the gutters and roof, and I did some work inside the house. I’m absolutely amazed at the progress we made.

In the course of the weekend, I also had a few conversations with the neighbors, and met with a Real Estate Agent. The agent was super excited about my house, and says he doesn’t foresee an issue with getting it sold. Yes, the small house size (680 square feet) and big lot size for the neighborhood (over half an acre) make it unique, but the upgrades I’ve done will make it desirable. He’s supposed to be getting together some numbers for me. He did say one thing that made me worry; houses in my township typically sell for close to their tax assessed value. He had an old assessment that listed the house at around $43,000.  I’m guessing that was the assessment from when I bought the house; When I bought the house the tax assessment was for around $43,000, even though the house sold for $54,900 (and appraised for slightly more). I looked up my current assessment, which is $48,300. Not the end of the world, but not really what I wanted to hear either.

The neighbors were even more of a buzz-kill this weekend. One neighbor informed me that the house to the east of mine is going into foreclosure. The older couple who lived there passed away in 2012/2013, leaving the house to her brother, who had lived with them for many years. The main house is about the size of mine, and was built by the man’s Grandparents. His mother had added a monstrous two-story garage/apartment behind the house in the 1950′s. Both the house and the addition are in bad shape, and need a lot of work. And apparently they had taken the equity out when the market was high; They now owe more than that property is worth. The Real Estate Agent said it isn’t ideal, but if we get the house listed in the next 3 or so months, it shouldn’t be a huge deal.

In an attempt to be a good neighbor, I’ve been letting the neighbors I talk to know that we’re fixing up the house to put it on the market. When I first told this to the neighbor to the west of me, he seemed really excited: “Let me know before you talk to a Real Estate Agent. I know someone who might be interested in buying it, for the right price.” He started digging a little deeper this weekend, asking what I wanted for it, etc. When I said I wasn’t sure on the value yet, he moved in for the kill: “You know, a Realtor friend of mine looked into it, and houses in this market have only been selling for $47 per square foot. How many square feet is your house? You really can’t expect much more than that. You can save yourself some money by not going through a Realtor at least.”

Alright, first off, yes, the most recent sales have been at a low cost per square foot. However, those sales have been for townhouses a few blocks away, and all of them needed extensive renovations. Most of them hadn’t been updated since the 70′s or 80′s, and were pretty torn up inside. The most recent sale on our block? A 3,000 square foot home. The average house in our area is 1,200 square feet, and houses in the 900 square foot range are fairly common. Of course a house that’s more than twice the size of any other house in the neighborhood isn’t going to go for top dollar!

The whole conversation peeved me off. He got pretty aggressive in trying to convince me that selling my house for $32,000 was a good deal. He also made it known that he would be looking into the contractor that I was using to ensure that he was using a licensed plumber for my bathroom remodel (this guy owns a plumbing business). To top things off, he started badgering me about moving my fence again.

Ah, the fence. About a year ago, I had a surveying company come out and survey my property. I designed the company’s logo and website for them when they first started (like 5 years ago), and in exchange they were supposed to survey my property. They just got around to it. I didn’t have any real need for a survey, but years ago I figured it would be nice to have one, in case some day I wanted to add-on to the house, and build a new garage, or whatever.

My house has a 6 foot, wooden privacy fence that extends around the entire back yard. I loved that the yard was already fenced in when I bought the house, since fencing in that big of a yard would have cost a fortune. Like in most old neighborhoods, they didn’t survey before putting up a fence. They just put up a fence. Actually, several of the neighbors got together and installed the fence. The guy across the street (who helped) admits they were mostly drunk when they did it. They still did a nice job.

According to the survey, the fence on the east side of the property runs right on the property line until halfway through the backyard. From there it juts out about 3 feet, and then continues on to the back of the property. I had talked to the old man who owned the house (before he passed away); he knew the fence was on his property. He was one of the ones who helped install it. And the way they did it made perfect sense to him for some reason that I couldn’t really understand.

On the west side of the property, there is about 1 foot between the fence and the property line, with the fence being on my property. The neighbors on that side have been talking about fencing in their yard for about 5 years. I’ve told them numerous times that I’m fine with them tying in to my fence. When my yard was surveyed it pissed them off. As it turns out, their garage sat just over the property line. The garage was really old, and was there long before any of our time. Who cares? Actually, it was in such bad condition they ended up tearing it down, but they’re still bothered that it wasn’t fully on their property.

They recently had a survey done, so they could move forward with their own fence. The survey agreed with the one done on my property. Every time I see them they ask when I’m planning to move my fence. Again, the fence is on my property. Most areas require you to have an easement between your fence and your property line anyways. If I were going to move part of the fence, it would be on the east side, were it crosses over into the neighbor’s property. Their problem is that when they build their fence, if they tie onto my fence, 1 foot of my property will be inside their fence. If they don’t tie to my fence, that’s one very long side they have to purchase fencing for, and pay labor on installation. Whereas, if they convince me to move the fence over 1 foot, to run along the property line, they can tie in and be on their property, without spending extra time or money.

My understanding is that since the properties have all changed ownership at least once since the fence was installed, and no one contested the placement prior to this, the property lines become “assumed”, and the fence can stay. And even if I had to move the fence, I wouldn’t have to move it on the west side; I’m well within the property lines there!

Overall, I feel like we’re making a lot of progress on the house. I’m hopeful that the Realtor will have good news on the value, but I’m prepared for the worst. I’m also preparing myself for the fact that my neighbors will likely create difficulties as I go to sell my house. Luckily, I’m not actually staying there, and don’t have to deal with them on a daily basis.

Just goes to show that good fences don’t always make good neighbors!

- Cindy W.

The bids are in! I received a call last week from Contractor B with his estimate. If you’ve read Part 1 and Part 2 on my bathroom remodel, you probably knew that I’d already made a decision on who I would be using. But I couldn’t really make a definite decision until I had all of the information.

Here are the basics:

Contractor A: Contractor A is a large-scale company that does a lot of remodeling work. They have great references, but I haven’t actually seen any of their work. Which wouldn’t have mattered anyway, since they planned to subcontract the entire project to another company. Also, it would be many months (3+) before they could even schedule the remodel. Yikes!
Estimated Price: $4,600+

Contractor B: Contractor B is the owner of a small company. I know several people who have used this company, and have seen their work. They aren’t the type of company that does high-end remodeling projects, which is fine for what I need. His team would be the ones on site doing the actual work. And they can start in about 2 weeks, and will have everything wrapped up before the end of April. Contractor B gave me a “range price”: The low end is what the remodel will cost. The high end is because we aren’t 100% sure what caused the subfloor damage, so he wanted to build in a buffer if there was extensive plumbing or joist damage, etc.
Estimated Price: $2,000-3,000

That’s a pretty big difference in price! A big part of the price difference has to do with Contractor A subcontracting the work out; He has to account for profit for 2 companies to make it worthwhile, instead of just one.

I knew that Contractor B would be more affordable, but I preferred him even before I knew his price. From talking with him, I felt like he was much more knowledgeable about older homes. He also seemed more in tune with what was appropriate for a house in my market. His suggestions were logical. He talked me up on replacing the toilet. There’s nothing wrong with my old one, per se, but a new, average model ($100, instead of the $40 one I have) toilet would pull the room together better. And yet he talked me down on other things, like replacing all the brushed nickel fixtures with brushed bronze, which could have run into hundreds of dollars. I trust that his company is going to do a good job on this project. I didn’t really know what to expect from Contractor A. The guy who came out to my house was only minimally knowledgeable of bathroom remodeling. Plus, he wasn’t even with the company who would be doing the work.

I’ve hired a variety of contractors for a variety of projects over the years. You never can be 100% sure on how things will turn out. It’s important to do your research. Talk to several different contractors. Talk to people who have worked with them in the past. From there, the most important thing you can do is trust your gut.

The big decision is made. Now it’s time to get this project rolling!

- Cindy W.

Over the past year, I’ve become addicted to reading about personal finance. Especially blogs. I love reading real life stories about how others have succeeded, or how others are making progress on their financial journey. I’m constantly searching for something new, which is weird, because there isn’t really anything “new” in personal finance; good advice stands the test of time, and doesn’t really change. Maybe I’m just looking for new voices to encourage me on my journey.

I’ve taken to reading a lot from Trent @ The Simple Dollar. I like his writing style, and overall feel like I’m getting something out of what I read there. The other day I was reading his answer to a Reader Mailbag question, where someone asked the question:

What does it mean to live “paycheck to paycheck”? You say 72% of America does this but what does it mean and where does that number come from?

Trent answered that he had recently updated that number to 76%, which means that “76% of Americans have less than six months of living expenses in savings. That excludes credit, retirement accounts, and homes.” That information was taken from an article he linked to at CNN Money, that cited a survey saying:

Fewer than one in four Americans have enough money in their savings account to cover at least six months of expenses, enough to help cushion the blow of a job loss, medical emergency or some other unexpected event, according to the survey of 1,000 adults. Meanwhile, 50% of those surveyed have less than a three-month cushion and 27% had no savings at all.

I was shocked by the 76% statistic, until I read how living paycheck to paycheck was being defined. By that definition, you could have a 3 month emergency fund, and a million dollars in retirement savings, and still be living “paycheck to paycheck”. To me, that isn’t living paycheck to paycheck. But maybe my definition is wrong? I mean, what does it really mean to live paycheck to paycheck? So, I did what any modern American would do: I Googled it. Investopedia defines living paycheck to paycheck as:

An expression used to describe an individual who would be unable to meet financial obligations if unemployed because his or her salary is predominantly devoted to expenses. Persons subsisting paycheck-to-paycheck have limited or no savings, and are at greater financial risk if suddenly unemployed than individuals who have amassed a cushion of savings.

I’ve lived paycheck to paycheck before. To me, living paycheck to paycheck is when you have nothing to fall back on, and need the next paycheck just to get by. Or maybe you aren’t even getting by on what you make. Living paycheck to paycheck means you depend on every check to survive. That you couldn’t afford to skip even one payday. That’s living paycheck to paycheck.

According to the 76% statistic, I’m living paycheck to paycheck. Do I feel that way? Of course not! And it isn’t being in denial. I make enough each pay period to cover my expenses, and put some away for the future. I have enough in an emergency fund that I could cover all of my expenses for about 2 months, without any other funds coming in. If I dipped into my house stash, I’d be just below the 6 month mark. While I wouldn’t want to lose a paycheck, I wouldn’t be in a dire situation if I did.

Emergency funds are also a very personal thing. Look at any blog post about emergency funds and you’re going to find a wide discrepancy on what people consider necessary to keep liquid. Six months? Three months? A year? Some people prefer to have most of their money in investments, and use credit to smooth over life’s little ups and downs. Are those people living paycheck to paycheck?

What does it mean to live paycheck to paycheck? Are you part of the 76%? Do you agree with that definition?

- Cindy W.

At the beginning of 2014, I set a New Year’s Resolution to grow my net worth by $10,000. I ended 2013 with a net worth of only $1,216. It’s three months into the New Year, so I thought it would be a good idea to track how well I’m doing so far. As of March 31st, I have a net worth of $7,722. That’s a gain of $6,506! Whoot whoot! I’m 65% there!

Not so fast! Sure, the numbers look great so far. But, there’s more to the story than that. Right now I’m stashing cash to sell my house. It’s a little deceptive to say I’m that far towards my goal, when a large chunk of that will be spent over the next few months to remodel a bathroom, replace some windows, and finish out a laundry room. So, how do I know where I actually stand?

Luckily when I set my goal of gaining $10,000 in net worth, I also broke that goal down into three steps:

1) Grow my 401k by $5,000+

2) Pay Down $2,000+ Debt through “Regular” Payments

3) Put at LEAST $3,000 (but hopefully closer to $5,000) towards Debt Repayment

Ah, yes. As you can see, my plan wasn’t about stashing $10,000 in the bank. Sure, that would be great and all, but I’ve got “bigger fish to fry”. I’ve got debt to payoff! And a retirement to save for! So, how am I actually doing so far?

1) The 401k: I currently have a balance of $10,155 in my 401k plan through work. I ended 2013 with $8,891. That’s $1, 264 in growth so far this year, or about 25% of my plan. Which is right where I should be at the end of the first quarter.

2) Debt Payments: I ended 2013 with $78,512 of debt, including the mortgage, a car loan and a student loan. I currently have $77,192 of debt, which is a decrease of $1,320. I planned for $2,000 in regular debt payments, so I’m 66% there already.

3) Extra Debt Payments: $0. I won’t actually start on this until after I sell the house (or after I feel comfortable with where I’m at with the house). Technically, I think some of the amount in #2 should actually go here, since I tend to round-up on my monthly payments. Splitting hairs just makes it difficult though, so I’ll just leave it all lumped together and say I’m 0% on this one.

In reality, only $2,584 has gone towards my “mini-goals” of growing my net worth by $10,000. Still, that puts me right at 25% of my total goal. Breaking it down this way makes it easier to see where I’m truly at on my goal, without clouding it with the money for the house. That being said, I’m hoping I can walk away from the sale of the house with some cash to throw at my extra debt payments. I won’t know for sure though until the deal is done and the papers are signed.

It’s good to know that no matter how I break it down, I’m still on track to make my goal for 2014. I love it when a plan actually works!

- Cindy W.

The first quarter of 2014 is coming to an end. Honestly, it’s been a pretty great year so far. Financially speaking, anyways. I’ve made tons of progress towards my goal of growing my net worth by $10,000* in 2014.

Here’s where I stand financially as of the end of March:

Net Worth as of March 31, 2014

Net Worth as of March 31, 2014

Obviously month-to-month growth is starting to slow down. In March I bought a couple of special order windows for my house, along with all the stuff needed to install them (caulk, shims, spray sealant, trim, etc). I foresee April and May being big spending months, as far as the house goes. I need to order 3 more windows, have a variety of other small tasks around the house that need taken care of, and hopefully will be paying someone to complete my bathroom remodel.

I have $6,000 set aside right now, strictly for the house. I’m also putting my “extra” $170 each week towards the house. There are a lot of small projects that need done before I can list the house. $50 here, $100 there, really does add up! I also keep throwing money into this fund for any unknown expenses I may come into when the time comes to sell. Selling the house will definitely put me in a better position financially, since it will free up a lot of money each month. If things go well, I’ll also walk away with some cash that I can immediately use towards debt repayment. I still intend to meet my goal of having my student loan paid off at the end of 2014, even though I currently still owe $6,616. I just need to get the house taken care of first.

It’s hard to watch things roll along slowly; It’s human nature to want the big wins. But the most sustainable way to reach financial independence is slowly. Once I’m there, I’ll have developed the habits to stay the course.

- Cindy W.

*I started 2014 with a net worth of $1,216.

Yesterday I posted the details of my upcoming bathroom remodel. It’s a pretty basic project, and I’m expecting materials to cost less than $1,500. Tuesday I met with two contractors. I found both through referrals. My biggest concern going into the meeting was how they interacted with me; Past experience has taught me to trust my gut. The contractors who I’ve been kind of blah about, their work was mediocre. The one I felt wasn’t listening to me, and kept pushing discussions off “for later” was terrible. That experience ended with the involvement of the BBB, me sending them a “cease and desist” letter, and both of us threatening with lawyers. The contractor I hired to finish their work I loved, and I loved his work. Of course, he only does exteriors.

Luckily, both contractors were pleasant, easy to talk to, and actually listened to me. But they were still very, very different.

Contractor A: This contractor was referred to me by my cousin. She had friends who used this company, and she was looking to use him herself for a major project, but is opting to go with someone who specializes in historical homes. The guy I met with was young and friendly. He took tons of measurements and pictures. We talked about the entire project, and he made several recommendations.

Scratching the surface a little, it was obvious this guy was a salesman, and had never really done remodeling work. He kept saying he’d have to check with “his guy”. He also made a comment about my tub, and how it was totally plumbed wrong: “Why did they put the faucet up there, and then cover up that hole? Obviously there’s a hole in the tub for reason!” I let what he was saying sink in, then pointed out “that hole” was the overflow. And seriously, it’s exactly like every other overflow in every other tub I’ve ever seen. “Oh yeah. We’ll still have to completely rearrange all the plumbing.” Um, why?

He said he’d be willing to quote the job broken out, but they preferred to do the whole job. He said I wouldn’t really save much money doing the “small things” myself. Which seemed a little odd, since we were putting the minimum at me demoing everything but the tub and subfloor, then them replacing those two items and the surround. The toilet, sink, walls, flooring, etc. would all be my responsibility.

When we started talking about timelines, he pointed out that it may be a week or two before he could get with “his guy”. A little more digging turned up that this is a large company that outsources all their projects to subcontractors. The company I was meeting with would not be the company doing the work. Most of their subcontractors are booked months out; When I said I was hoping to do the job within the next 3 months, he said it wasn’t likely to be possible.

Contractor B: The second contractor did a variety of jobs for my Aunt and Uncle, and completely remodeled another cousin’s bathroom. Honestly, I don’t like my cousin’s bathroom, but only because it isn’t my taste: Dark, shiny blue walls, etc. The few very minor issues they encountered the contractor came out and fixed immediately, at no extra charge. I met with the owner, who is actually out on the job sites, and has his own crew.

It was obvious that this guy knew his stuff, and had worked in old houses before (mine’s a 1929). He pointed out that the subfloor was often several layers in old houses. That isn’t a big deal, but if they ripped out several layers, they’d have to build it back up to be level with the rest of the house.

I know from my family members that his prices are very reasonable. At the same time, he has no issue with me doing some of the work myself. I wouldn’t want to do a vinyl sheet myself, and it would definitely save time and money to have them do that. He did point out that they don’t charge a lot for toilet installs, since it’s quick and easy, so it might be more worthwhile to just have them do it as soon as the floor is in. I’ll admit, installing toilets isn’t high on my list of things to do. It’s favored to garbage disposals and ceiling fans, but still not something I enjoy. And he said if I had the vanity repainted when they were done with the floor, they’d reinstall it for no extra charge.

He expressed concern that they wouldn’t be able to get to it “right away”, since they have several projects ahead of mine. I told him I was hoping to have it completed in the next three months. “Oh! I meant we couldn’t do it in the next 2 weeks! We’d have it done before the end of April, no doubt.”

The Problem

The problem with being an avid Do It Yourself-er is that you have a good idea of the cost of materials, and you don’t put enough value on your own time. I could do the entire bathroom remodel for around $1,500. But it would take me forever. I’d definitely have a lot of waste, especially trying to do the subfloor. And it would pull me away from the other projects that need done. I could spend years trying to finish up everything on my own. Or, I could buck-up, and pay someone for the things I don’t enjoy and am not skilled at.

The big question is: How much is that labor worth? Both contractors agreed the project would take less than a week. Contractor A stated they usually can’t do a bathroom for under $5,000. He came back with a “rough estimate” Wednesday of $4,600. Ouch! That’s over $3,000 for labor! Over 2/3 the cost of the project! I don’t have an estimate yet from Contractor B, but he told me it might take a week. I don’t expect his estimate to be nearly so high. I’ve budgeted $3,000 for this project. I can put more money into it, if need be, but that takes away from other projects.

Some people are probably thinking I’m being unrealistically cheap. You hear all the time about people spending tens of thousands of dollars on bathroom remodels. But you have to take into consideration the type of remodel. This is going to be a “basic remodel”. No tile. No garden tubs, with separate shower. No electrical. No drywall. We’re not moving anything. And we’ll be reusing some items, like the vanity, and some of the fixtures. It didn’t cost much over $3,000 to remodel my kitchen, which included all new appliances, cabinets, granite tile counters, and new flooring, lighting, paint, outlets, etc. Granted, I did all of that work myself, so I’m counting labor at $0.

Contractor B’s estimate will be the deciding factor, but I’m pretty sure I already know who I’ll be using. Price is a big factor. But, I also have concerns about hiring a company that is only acting as a middle man. I’ve had terrible experiences with that in the past. Contractor B seemed more knowledgeable. Plus, I’ve personally seen his work, instead of just relying on second-hand testimony.

Overall, I feel positive about this project. And that’s a great way to start any remodel!

- Cindy W.

Sometime during 2014*, I plan to put my little 1 bedroom house on the market. As I’ve mentioned before, there are several projects, big and small, that need to be done before the house can be listed. One of the biggest projects is the bathroom remodel.

The Back Story

I bought the house 7 years ago, and did a lot of minor “make do” repairs and upgrades to get moved in quickly. You know, painting, cleaning, replacing the carpet. Inexpensive things to make it look nice and feel homey, while I slowly went through room by room and did more detailed renovations. The bathroom had cosmetic issues, but the “bones” were good. I painted. I updated the light fixture, and bought a bigger mirror. I kept the vanity (which is actually kind of awesome), but bought a new one piece counter/sink, and replaced the fixtures. The linoleum was worn, so I replaced it with cheap stick-on linoleum squares. The blue tub was horrible, but that could wait until I remodeled. I did switch out the matching blue toilet for a very basic, $40 toilet. A couple hundred bucks and the bathroom looked fine.

When a job sent me halfway across the country 4 years ago, I paid my much younger brother to stay at my place and watch my dogs. Hint: Having a 20-year-old boy watch your house may not be the best plan. There was damage. There was a plumbing issue that, rather than call me about, he tried to deal with on his own. The kick-plate on the screen door got ripped off. I could go on and on.

When I’d replaced the old linoleum when I moved in, the subfloor was perfectly fine. When I came back home, there was a big soft spot between the toilet and the tub. Close enough to the wall that it didn’t pose much risk. I’m not sure if the plumbing issues that weren’t resolved correctly caused it, or if carelessness in closing the shower curtain all the way, and getting lots of water on the floor, caused it. Regardless, the subfloor was ruined. I didn’t see an immediate need to deal with it; it wasn’t getting any worse, and it was a perfect spot for my clothes hamper. But the reality is, it needs to be fixed before I can sell the house.

The Remodeling Project

So obviously, there’s some work that needs done in the bathroom. I’m an avid Do It Yourself-er, and might do some of the work myself. There are a couple of things that have to be done that I simply can’t do, or am not comfortable with doing at this time. There’s no way I can get the tub out; It’s one of those old, heavy, painted metal (cast iron?) tubs. The contractors I’ve met with have said it will have to be cut in half just to get it out of the house. And the drain is so old it’s pretty well fused in. Even if I wanted to keep the tub (which I don’t), it would at least have to be removed to replace the subfloor. And that’s another thing I’m not comfortable with: Replacing the subfloor. Woodworking is not my strong point.

Alright, so tub and subfloor are the main things that I really need a contractor for. The rest, technically, I can do myself. I’ve done them myself many times over. But the questions remain: How much should be done? Do I have the time to do much of it myself? Or should I hire out the whole job, and concentrate on the many other projects that need done?

Here’s where I am so far:

Tub/Shower: The tub and the surround need replaced. Currently there is tile, but I’ve decided for the sake of time and costs to just tear that out and replace it with a nice, basic surround. One contractor told me the surround they use gets attached directly to the studs, so I don’t have to worry about the condition of the drywall under the tile, since it gets ripped out.
Cost: $500. That seems to be the mid range for the sets I’ve been looking at.

Sink: Honestly, the sink vanity is nice, and I get tons of compliments on it, so I don’t see the point in replacing it. When I bought the house it was a basic finished wood, which didn’t seem to compliment the style. I painted it a chocolate brown, and it looks good. I plan to add a fresh coat of paint. The top is still in good shape, so it’ll stay as well.
Cost: $20 for paint.

Toilet: There’s nothing wrong with the toilet, per se. But it’s cheap, and looks cheap. And toilets don’t cost that much. Might as well replace it.
Cost: $100-150

Subfloor: Subflooring is cheap, at about $20 per board. You could cover my whole bathroom with no more than 3 boards.
Cost: $60

Floor: My plan was to match the floor to the kitchen floor, which runs about $2 per square foot. It’s a nice vinyl tile, which is very sturdy and looks great. The bathroom is about 10×6, so it wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg to do. Less than $300, once you took out the space for the tub. The contractors all agreed though, they’d rather do a vinyl sheet flooring. With the moisture in the bathroom, it’s probably a better idea, and they tell me a nice floor would only run about $100 for materials. Vinyl is the best choice in my neighborhood; It’s what most people expect in a house, so going for something like tile wouldn’t have a good return.
Cost: $100

Plumbing: My original thought was to replace all the plumbing fixtures, which are currently brushed nickel, with bronze. In my opinion, it has a more high-end look. Both contractors told me not to bother; There’s nothing wrong with my sink fixtures, so why replace them? One contractor told me the shower/tub fixtures he generally uses only run about $80, and they look nice.
Cost: $80

Lighting: If I leave the plumbing fixtures the brushed nickel, then there’s no reason to change out the lighting fixture (or the towel bars, etc). That saves a lot of money, and means the project requires 0 electrical work. The outlet is already GFCI. The vent works fine.
Cost: $0

Paint: The bathroom is currently a nice, pale yellow, which isn’t bad, but I plan to switch it out for a light beige color. Basic, neutral, clean. The trim would be painted a nice, creamy white.
Cost: $80. That’s on the high side, since paint prices vary.

Trim: There really isn’t much, just the baseboards. And with the size of the vanity, and placement of the tub, there isn’t much to worry about.
Cost: $20-30

So, we’re looking at just over $1,000 for obvious materials. Should probably throw in a couple hundred bucks for the unknowns and incidentals: Plumbing pieces, screws, etc. Even if I decided to splurge a little, I don’t see materials costing over $1,500. And most of that is considering retail prices; Contractors can usually get things at a discount, or can buy in bulk.

On Tuesday I met with two very different contractors, from two very different types of companies. Tomorrow I’ll post about what I thought. I’m still waiting to get the estimates in, so nothing will be decided until I know more about what they plan, and how much it will cost.

- Cindy W.

* I hope to list the house sometime in the next 3 months. The boyfriend thinks that’s overly ambitious. We’ll see!