House Buying Advice

Have any? Share it, please!

As my husband and I try to start over after dealing with two layoffs, we are looking forward to buying a house again. Our previous savings went into sheer survival, and as of today we now have $25 in savings! Wahoo! Still, just having that and not the previous zero balance—and keeping our regular bank account bobbing above water rather than in the red—is encouraging.

I would love to know what first-time home buyers with tricky situations might recommend for people like us—people like many Americans. It seems like a great time to buy a house if you can afford one, for sure; but what do we look for? Where to start? How much should our savings goal be? Sure, it’s going to take us years to build that savings pot back up, but I have to have a light at the end of the tunnel to look toward, and I want to know what it’s going to look like.

Right now we are caretaking for a house, so I know we don’t want something old—no lead paint, no asbestos, no leaky basement preferred. I know sellers and realtors can be a bit sneaky about these things, so are there any buzzwords or questions to make sure we ask? The last time we did this we were incredibly young and naive, even giving money as “deposits” that we never got back. What do we need to look out for?

Any responses (or posts) about this would be greatly helpful!

The Ultimate Natural Home: Cob Houses

For those looking for a more natural way to live, or an inexpensive way to build a home on their own land, a cob house may be just the thing.  Cob is a mixture of sand, clay and straw that is mixed together to create a molding material.  It is strong, comes from nature, and can last for hundreds of years if maintained.

There are so many benefits to building with cob, that is difficult to say which is the best.  Cob is natural, requiring no mechanical extrication or pollution to create.  Cob is insulating, so homes will stay cooler, although extra attention may be needed to keep warm in very cold climates.  Cob leaves nothing behind, so when it is time to build a new home or move on, cob can be allowed to return to the earth with no garbage left behind.

Cob is also very customizable.  You can create beautiful arching homes with unique design features, and you can easily add on as needed.

You can learn about building a cob house through a workshop or by reading books, and if you have willing helpers, can do it in relatively little time.  The bulk of your home will cost little to no money, and you can salvage recycled materials such as windows and doors for the rest.

Cob homes are beautiful, natural and the epitome of ecofriendly.  If you choose to build a cob house, you are building something that is sustainable, unique and can last a lifetime.

Rent to Own Land

The dream of home ownership is fast approaching unrealistic for many Americans, as banks tighten their lending requirements and require higher down payments, while at the same time our finances are looking bleaker with many pay cuts and layoffs.  Rent to own land, or land that is financed by the owner, has long been looked down upon as a foolish debt to take on, but if you want nothing more than a place to call your own and are financially unable to meet today’s lending requirements, it starts to look like a better option.

In some cases, you can buy land with no down payment from an owner who is willing to finance.  Some savvy business owners make a living by selling land this way.  From their perspective, it is a brilliant business model.  Land does not depreciate like other tangible assets, so even if a buyer defaults, they can still sell it for the same price, essentially gaining a whopping amount of interest by letting someone rent to own and then selling it to a new buyer.  It could almost be better for them if you default, but a high interest rate on the balance ensures that they make money either way.

From a buyer’s perspective, rent to own land can get you the satisfaction of land ownership when all other options are unavailable.  When all other doors are closed, that high interest rate is well worth the price if it means you can have the freedom of your own place.  Most rent to own land companies do not report to credit agencies either, so if the unthinkable happens and you must forfeit the land, your credit will not be  compromised.

Rent to own land is not the ideal solution to owning your own property, but it is an option to consider when all others fail.

Taking the Leap Into Home Ownership

Home ownership is one of the most important events in a person’s life.  What a great experience to finally achieve that level of independence, to know the stability and pride of having a place you can call your own.  For some, that is the goal that pushes them to work day in and day out at a day job, and for others, it is a dream they feel they may never attain.

For many years, the dream of home ownership was relatively easy to obtain.  You could even buy a home with little to no money out of pocket, which is what got a lot of people in trouble with their home loans.  These days, the purse strings have tightened, and buying a home is something you really have to work toward again.  That just make the prize ever more special.

For those of you who feel as though owning a home is out of your reach, it will always be so long as you believe it cannot be done.  You can start today to save whatever you can afford, and little by little, you will build a reserve that will one day allow you to make a down payment.  It’s really a matter of prioritizing.  If you have extra money for a daily mocha, use it instead as a deposit into the savings account for making dreams come true.

Once you are able to take those keys in hand, it will be the culmination of all of your efforts, and there are few feelings as sweet as walking through the door of your own home for the first time.  So, keep your chin up and your eye on the prize, and make a few sacrifices here and there to make that dream of owning your own home a reality.

Why Are They Curio Cabinets if We Don’t Put Curios in Them?

This is a question that has bothered me for a while now.  When we put items into a curio cabinet, we call them things like knick-knacks or collectibles.  What we don’t call them is curios, even though the word exists, and has since 1849.  Short for curiosity, curio means something novel or bizarre, according to, so maybe it is too wild a word to reflect the mundane things we put in curio cabinets today.

Most cabinets hold things like Precious Moments collectibles, our family’s heirloom china, or a combination of random things we have collected over the years that hold special meaning to us.

If we no longer place curios in curio cabinets, shouldn’t we change the name of them?  I mean, am I the only one who feels a little bit betrayed by the fact that if you’re looking for curios, you won’t find them in a curio cabinet?

Perhaps they should be knick-knack cabinets, or display cabinets, or…something!  And if changing them to reflect what they hold isn’t going to happen, maybe we should start referring to the things we find special enough to store there curios again.  Though they may be common or not particularly special to someone else, if they mean something to us, they would fit the definition of curios.

So what do you think?  Should we start calling the things we place in a curio cabinet by their true name, or is it time to change the name of the cabinet itself?  In any case, who is with me that this misleading combination should be changed?

Sandbaggin' It

"Does your area flood? How do you prevent flooding in your home?"

In our area, flooding is not really an issue.  We get little rain during the summer and our winters are snowy.  Once in a while, the snows will melt almost overnight, and then, watch out!  This year, we had so little snow that the thought of flooding never crossed my mind, until I walked out of my office and nearly drowned.

We had one night of unusual rain on top of just a few inches of snow, but that was enough to start a minor flood that made its way into our garage and then into the house.  Fortunately, the area it flooded was only an unfinished room so no flooring was damaged, but it’s the principle of the thing!

I imagine most of my readers are urban, so you probably have systems set up to slope the water away from your house.  Our driveway used to slope that way, but years of grading the gravel down flat have built up the dirt around our parking area, and now we have flooding issues.

So for the next few weeks while it melts completely away, we will be hopping over sandbags to get into our garage, and hopefully it will be enough to stem the tide.  This year will hopefully be the year we finally do something about the driveway, so next year I won’t have to look at another sandbag!

Does your area flood?  How do you prevent flooding in your home?  Do you, like us, keep a supply of sandbags on hand for the melting season?

"Shadow Inventory" and The Stagnation of the Housing Market

It's going to be awhile before we see some upward momentum.

The U.S. economy is an enormous oceanic barge that is attempting to steam ahead with an anchor still down. That anchor is the housing market. A dark spot in the U.S. economy, despite some more positive outlook by the general public, the housing market still looks much like it did three years ago when the economy sank in the first place. There are a number of variables contributing to the lag in the housing market’s return, and one of them was recently illustrated in a TIME article. Known as “shadow inventory”, millions of homes still sit idly by, not even on the market, dragging down neighboring home prices as banks wait to offload the toxic properties they already have so they can start clearing them out.

There’s broad consensus among real estate experts and economists that housing prices will not start nudging up again until the more toxic properties, foreclosed homes and short-sales, are cleared from the market. Banks are willing to take losses (sometimes significant losses) on these homes so that they are no longer liable for them. Thus other people and businesses are forced to sell lower to stay competitive. However, that shadow inventory, millions of homes that are just waiting to go on the market, are in a similar state and will continue to drag prices down with them. The trouble is, they’re not even listed yet. They’re simply vacant (sometimes not, with owners just waiting to leave their already foreclosed upon home until the bank can list it), and waiting for  an auction sign in their yard.

Banks hole on to these shadow properties for a number of reasons. For one, it costs money to put hoems up for sale, even at auction, and they may be having trouble keeping the homes they’ve already got for sale. Also, many banks withhold some of these properties because flooding the market with even more distressed properties will futher drive the cost down. Obama’s recent efforts to help people underwater on their loans may help to relieve pressure, at least temporarily, for people that are struggling under the pressure of their mortgages, but if these distressed properties are not offloaded soon, within the next couple of years, it could have seriously detrimental effects on the people already living “on the bubble”.

It’s likely that as other sectors rebound more readily, some of the extra inventory in the housing market will be consumed simply for commercial, industrial, or new residential properties. Some of that can be taken care of with new federal incentives, as well as some rezoning on the part of municipalities. However, it’s still likely that we are years from seeing an upturn in the housing market, perhaps a decade.

DIY Chalkboard Paint

A friend of mine is expecting her first baby soon, and unlike me, she is organized and creative.  She posted a photo on Facebook the other day of the coolest thing ever – a whole wall done up in chalkboard paint.  She posed next to it with her big pregnant belly and some things she had written for her baby to see in pictures later.  It was really touching.  Now, my kids have all made the great escape from my belly, but it isn’t too late to give them a chalkboard wall, which is possibly the coolest.  Idea.  Ever. 

While you can buy premade chalkboard paint at most stores, you can also make your own chalkboard paint, and it’s easier than you might think.  Best of all, you can make it in any color you want, so your chalkboard could be hot pink or puce green, for example.  How cool is that?

All you need to make your own chalkboard paint is latex house paint and non-sanded tile grout.  The non-sanded part is very important.  You can get grout at any home improvement store, so you should be able to pick up the paint and grout in one shopping trip.

In the tutorial I am referencing, the batch you make is very small because it is intended for a smaller project.  You should be able to increase both in equal amounts and get enough for a whole wall.  If I ever get the time and ambition to do this project, I think it would be over the top cool to make squares of different colors, like a big multicolored checkerboard. 

This is just another one of those great projects that turns out way easier than you would expect, allowing you to do it yourself for much less money.

Awesome Cabinet Handle Idea

I am always on the hunt for unique, thrifty ways to decorate my home, to create a space that is unique and that I can enjoy spending time in.  The cupboards in our home are the original ones installed thirty plus years ago and are definitely due for a little sprucing up, so when I stumbled across this design idea, I was really excited.  You can find old silverware for very little money at yard sales and thrift stores, so why not make something unique like silverware cabinet pulls?

You will need a metal bit for your drill to pierce through the top and bottom of your spoon, and a form to shape them on.  For thinner spoons, a food can would probably be about the right diameter and would hold up to the pressure.  For a thicker metal, look for a thick wooden dowel, such as the kind in your closet.

If you go to a hardware store, you should be able to find screws that match the color of your spoons, but if not, get paint to match if it is very important to you that the colors are the same.

This project would probably be a little ambitious for an entire kitchen, but I want to try finding enough for our kitchen cupboards anyway.  It would go great in our shabby (chic) kitchen!

If you aren’t the crafty type, you can buy them premade from the site below, for $24-$28 per pair, which seems a reasonable price to pay for having it done for you.

Handmade Living Room Décor

If you are crafty or thrifty, or a combination of the two, you can make your own living room décor for a fraction of the price of buying new.  From elegant drapes recycled from old sheets to fluffy throw pillows in brilliant colors, you can make many of the items commonly used to decorate a living room.

For just a few dollars, you can get enough fabric at the fabric store, along with a big bag of poly stuffing, to create your own unique throw pillows.  These work great to help change up a room’s stale décor, because they can be easily replaced with new colors or swapped out for season changes.

If you can knit, crochet, sew or even just tie knots, you can make your own throw blankets, too.  The best part about making your own is that they will be the perfect size and completely unique – you get to decide exactly what you want.

An old lampshade can be cleaned up and decorated with embellishments to bring new life to a worn out light.  Make collages from your favorite photos or get adventurous and paint your own wall art for a look that is totally you.

Shop your local thrift store to find odds and ends that can be arranged into unique coffee table art, or stitch together scraps of funky fabrics for a wall hanging that is sure to turn heads.

With a little creativity and some inexpensive supplies, you can turn your living room into a haven you will enjoy visiting, without breaking the bank.