First Person: I Regret Our Fixer-Upper House Purchase

Yahoo Contributor Network

My baby boomer husband and I, the quintessential tightwads, spent the first half of our marriage, through four kids, in a mobile home. We bought our first house in 2000 for $54,000. It was old, damaged and one step from getting condemned. Arguably, that's why it was a good deal. We both regret cutting ourselves too short on this home purchase.

Desperation Home-Buying

When I quit teaching full-time to raise kids and homeschool, we knew frugality was in order to survive on one income. We bought a small, older mobile home in 1990. It was cramped with two children and miserable when our family grew to six. We looked for a larger home, but couldn't find anything we could afford. By the time we found our current home, I was desperate and grabbed at this one. Desperate is not a good state to be home-buying in.

Tenant Headaches

Years of neglectful landlords and abusive renters had left our house in terrible condition. I'm not talking scuffed paint. I mean every window and door broken. The house needed new appliances, walls, electrical service, plumbing, roof, porches, siding, carpet, flooring, paint and plaster. The yard was a mess. The front ones was used for parking and there was no grass. There was no garage and an unpaved driveway. T hose were problems we knew about when we agreed in December to buy as-is. The current tenant and her six kids were living there non gratis and couldn't move till her Habitat for Humanity house was ready. When we finally closed in March, we found she hadn't paid utilities, had trashed the house (even more) and ultimately abandoned it some time during the winter (when everyone was bending over backwards to make sure she had somewhere to live). The city shut off the water and standing water burst a toilet and pipes. That collapsed ceilings on two levels, flooded the basement, ruined carpet, buckled floorboards and spread mold. The house passed inspection in December but now wasn't livable. We had to work round the clock to get it livable before the new owners took possession of our mobile home and we were left with nowhere to live. I will never buy a home that was a rental. Ever. Again.

DIY, Investment or Penny-Pinching (not all three)

We idealistically thought we could manage even with the unplanned damage. We thought we were stuck with it. We got a little help, but not nearly what was promised or needed. I did most of it alone with the kids (10, 8, 6 and 18 months). My husband was working 60 hours a week (including weekends), third shift, an hour from home. I cleaned, painted and repaired as best I could. The extra repairs cost $10,000 more than planned. We used everything from the mobile home sale (sold for $3,500 to get out quick and not lose this house). Our savings was drained. And still there were many things we couldn't afford and had to live without (driveway, sewer repair, non-user-friendly kitchen, new plumbing, new walls, dishwasher, electrical upgrade, breaker box, television antennae, landscape, air conditioner, shed). Some we got to later; most we've managed without.

Not That Cheap

And funny, what was ostensibly a "cheap" house, hasn't been that inexpensive. For all the aforementioned headaches, we still have a $650 a month house payment. We've barely touched the principal, the first 13 years of payments going primarily to interest. We have just paid off our other debt and can now think about refinancing. But I'm tempted to skip it, sell and get a nice little apartment with all the conveniences I don't have now. This "investment" hasn't proved to be all its cracked up to be.

Neglecting Needs

We knew how to live simply. We knew how to repair and keep things up. What we didn't know was how to to take care of ourselves. We set our self-expectations too high and expectations for others way too low. This house has taken its toll. We've had relationship and health problems from the house drama. I lost two stillborn babies. We'd never allow our kids to go through something like that alone and we shouldn't have made ourselves do it. We've learned you shouldn't buy a project house for a family unless you've got money, time and ability to make it livable. It's not healthy to cut yourself short.

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