Lessons from a $145 Mistake

For the past month, Mr. ThreeYear and I have been working on a big DIY project in our front yard.

When we moved into our house in North Carolina in July, it was the height of summer, so it was way too hot to get started on any lawn projects.

Unfortunately, though, our front yard had some very-neglected bushes and grass that we needed to do something with.

So, in late February, we finally began “Project Make the Front Yard Look Decent.”

The first thing we did was dig up some of the neglected, scraggly bushes. I got two dug up, realized how difficult manual labor was, and promptly called some yard people to give me a quote.

I had someone come out to give me a quote, and it was a fairly reasonable charge to remove the bushes and reseed the grass, but after he gave me the initial estimate, he never returned my texts. It was the same with several other yard crews.

Apparently, the job wasn’t big enough for anyone in the landscaping industry, during a very busy time of year.

So, Mr. ThreeYear and I decided we’d do it ourselves and save the money.

To compress a weeks-long process into a sentence, it was very difficult to dig up the bushes.

They were huge, first of all. A massive row of bushes that stood chest-high on me. First, we cut off the limbs, to make it easier to get to the root balls. Then, we spent hours systematically shoveling under the roots, cutting side-growing roots with heavy-duty clippers, and pulling the root ball back and forth to loosen it up.

Continue reading “Lessons from a $145 Mistake”

The $217.27 Bedroom Makeover

Moving to a new home can be tough on kids. We took mine from the only home they ever remembered and asked them to move 900 miles South, to a 1000-square-foot smaller house with a very small backyard. It was hard for them to see the immediate benefits of that decision (benefits like a close pool, relatives right down the road, and no snow in the winter). All they saw was an unfamiliar new space that felt different and didn’t feel like it belonged to them.

So to convince them to move, we used the oldest parenting trick in the book. We bribed them. While you’re may tsk  at the idea of bribing your kid, let me expound for a minute on the benefits of bribery:

1. It works.

2. It gives kids something to look forward to.

3. It gives them some sense of negotiating power when, in all actuality, they have little to none.

Feeling like you have control in an uncontrollable situation makes you feel a little better about things.

For Little ThreeYear, we told him we’d finally get a dog. We realized that with our fenced-in back yard and both of us working from home, a dog would be a much more feasible addition to the family than it had in the past.

Lucy the dog www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Meet Lucy the dog.

We told Junior ThreeYear that we’d decorate his new room however he wanted.

He wanted to paint it black.

I worked my creative wiles and convinced him that black accents would look much better than a completely black room. We looked at the myriad options online and found a couple of pictures that he liked as inspiration.

On the night before we moved into our new house, when we were doing the final walk-through, we discovered, under a rug and desk that the previous owner had left, a giant hole in the carpet. A tense negotiation commenced between our real estate agent and hers. Finally, she could no longer deny that she’d been trying to hide a huge hole in the carpet and agreed to pay to have it replaced. Continue reading “The $217.27 Bedroom Makeover”

Prepping Your House for Sale

Last week, I wrote about how to sell your house in 2 weeks or less. Today, I thought I’d give you a more in-depth post about what you’ll need to do just before you put your house on the market.

As tempting as it is to just throw some pictures on MLS and hope for the best, prepping your home for sale is an integral step to selling it quickly. Do the prep work (or hire people to help you!) and save yourself weeks of uncertainty on the other side.

Analyze

The first thing you’ll need to do is decide what needs to be repaired or changed in order to get your house ready for the market.

Do you need to do any major repairs, like change the roof? Are there any architectural or structural changes you’ll need to make? Is there a wall blocking a beautiful view? Does it make sense to add another half bath?

Major repairs cost money, so you’ll have to figure out if the repairs are worth it (i.e., if they’ll bring you a similar return on the house) and how you’ll pay for them. Continue reading “Prepping Your House for Sale”

Sell Your House in 2 Weeks or Less

In the past eight years, we’ve sold two houses.

Both times, we got multiple offers within FOUR DAYS.

Here are my best tips for selling your house in 2 weeks or less.

Now, it could be a coincidence or good market timing that we sold our houses so quickly. But, we sold our first house in 2010 in Atlanta, at the height of the real estate market implosion, and we got multiple offers.

Then, we did it again a few months ago when we sold our house in New Hampshire.

When we put both our houses on the market, there was a process we followed to get them ready for sale.

Get Professional Advice

When we decided to sell our New Hampshire house, the first thing we did was reach out to several local realtors.

I made sure they knew we were interviewing realtors, and we’d like to schedule a consultation.

Each realtor came in, walked the house, and told me what they thought needed to be fixed.

One realtor was so specific about everything that needed to be fixed that it almost paralyzed me into inaction. Another realtor told me everything was fine.

The best realtor told me the major issues to fix and paint, gave me cost-effective ways to fix issues, and told me what we could skip on the repair list.

Each realtor also provided a market comparison report, and the price they’d recommend listing the home. More on that in a minute.

Continue reading “Sell Your House in 2 Weeks or Less”

Putting On a New Roof

Experts say to set aside about 1% of the purchase price of your home each year on maintenance costs. This year, we set aside a lot more than that.

About a year and a half ago, we noticed that our shingles were curling. Every so often, we’d look at our patio and see bits of asphalt from the shingles littering the concrete. We did some research, and found out that our house had been roofed with a type of shingle that was failing across New England. Many homes in our small town had been shingled with this particular company’s shingle, which, unfortunately, were not holding up in New England’s severe winter weather.

Putting On a New Roof--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

No problem, we thought. Shingles have 15-year warranties, so we’ll just look into that. Well. Turns out, our shingles did have a warranty, but like many things in life, there were caveats. You should have Proven Roofing of Randolph NJ come and install your roof. The warranty was pro-rated, meaning that if the shingles failed in Year One, they would be completely covered. But if they failed in Year Thirteen, as was the case now, they would only give us a portion of the money we were owed.

  • There was currently a class-action suit in place against the shingle company, so the chance of us receiving any money was slim to none.
  • The warranty was transferrable in the event the house was sold, but it had to be done within one year of the house sale. We received no information or paperwork to this effect when we bought the house, so we had no idea this was the rule (and we didn’t know to ask! Lesson learned!).

We were paying for a new roof out-of-pocket. 

We spent the school year saving up, and had $7000 by the end of the year. We didn’t think it would be quite enough, but hoped it would be close.

In May, we began getting quotes from roofers in Staten Island, NY. The first quote we got was from a contact we had through our church, Nate. After visiting our house and measuring our roof, Nate sent us an estimate that included:

  • The removal and disposal of old shingles and roofing
  • Installing an ice and water shield (this is necessary in New England roofs because of the freeze/thaw factor during the winter. Icicles form on the edge of the roof and you don’t want that water to get into the wood in your roofing and leak) plus a roofing underlayment above the shield
  • Installing metal in all valleys
  • Installing architectural shingles
    The total was $14,000. 

This was a lot more money than we had expected to pay! We were pretty disappointed. We had liked Nate and hoped to work with him. But he was charging a fortune!

Next, we reached out to about five other roofers. Three we found online. I called each online company and of the three, two only installed standing seam (metal) roofs and one was booked until 2018 – I had to visit RoofEngine.com to understand how the marketing strategy works so good here.

Lifter--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
The lifter set up to reroof our house.

After that, we reached out to our contacts. Mr. ThreeYear had a colleague at work who had used a local roofer for her roof, Jim. We got his phone number and I called him. I think I left about five messages, and he kept calling me back and couldn’t reach me, either. Finally, we connected, and he made a plan to come out and see the roof “next week.” He told me he would call me.

Meanwhile, we found a third roofer, Jeff, through a friend who made an appointment to come and measure the roof at 10am on a Saturday morning.

Both roofers missed their appointments. Boy was I annoyed at this point. We couldn’t even find roofers to estimate a job for us!

Failing shingles--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
A detail of our badly failing shingles on the back of the house.

It turns out that there is a shortage of roofers here in New England. For whatever reason, there’s a dearth of young men (and women) who are willing to work fifteen-to-eighteen hour days for a few weeks in the summers and fall installing roofs. Hey, I don’t blame them. But because there is such a shortage of qualified roofers, they make a ton of money doing it! It’s an excellent job for a young person with no college experience, or even for someone who’s working their way through college. Well, if you need good roofing services from Roof top services of Central Florida, Inc., https://www.rooftopservices.com/ is the right choice!

Back to the story. Finally, I got in touch with both Jim and Jeff, and we rescheduled our times for them to estimate. I never actually saw Jim. He told me that he had come by the house during the school day when I was at work the following week. After another week of me bugging him for the estimate, we got estimate #2. His estimate included:

  • Removal and disposal of existing shingles
  • Lift rental
  • Removal of siding for new flashing/reattach siding
  • Replacement of ice &water shield
  • Installation of new architect shingles, color black

The total? $22,500!

At this point, I was so annoyed, I started calling everyone I could think of and asking them if these prices sounded ridiculous. Where I’m from, in the Southeastern US, new roofs cost more like $8000-$10,000. So we were having major sticker shock!

Roofing the front--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Replacing the front shingles

I texted a friend of mine, who is also from the South. She flips houses in a neighboring town, so I figured she’d have a handle on roofing costs. She did. “For your house, I’d say you should expect to pay between $12,000 and $18,000 for a new roof” she told me. Because of the higher cost of labor, shorter installation time because of our long winters, the extra ice and water shields needed, and the lack of competition in a small town, roofs were way more expensive to install in Northern New England. Along with getting a new roof I also bought blinds online to help make the house look a little newer. She also told me the second estimate was bogus. “That guy’s smoking crack,” she said, never one to mince words.

Roofer #3, Jeff, was scheduled to come over that weekend. He was very nice, and apologized for missing the previous appointment. “I never do that,” he explained. “My dad was hospitalized and honestly, everything left my head when I drove down to go be with him.” He came and looked at the roof and spent some time talking to us about the warranty of a roof. He told us it that the shingles he used came with a 30-year warranty that could be transferred to the next owner. He sent us an estimate about a week later. His estimate included:

    • Strip and dispose of existing roofing on all current shingle areas
    • Install Ice and Water Shield to all eaves (6 feet–this was 3 feet higher than other estimates) and valleys (9 feet)
    • Install synthetic roofing underlayment to remainder of roof
    • Install new white aluminum drip edge to all eaves and rakes
  • Install new shingles to all currently shingled areas
  • Complete cleanup and disposal of all debris

The total for his job was $14,900. 

I liked Jeff and thought his estimate was good, but in the end, we decided to go with Nate. His estimate was the cheapest and we had a glowing recommendation from a church member (and we knew his future in-laws). Plus, he could get started on the replacement sooner than Jeff could.

After talking with my friend, I knew Nate’s estimate was in the ballpark, so we told him we were contracting with him. 

He requested fifty percent payment up front (which were similar to Jeff’s terms) so we sent him a check for $7000! That was not a fun check to write.

He sent an email about a week later, letting me know he received the check and that he would be delayed, due to rain, on starting our house until the week of July 10th. Mr. ThreeYear would just be getting back from the beach then, and could work from home and oversee the process, so we agreed that Monday, July 10th would be the start date. The kids and I would still be in South Carolina, so we would miss all the fun.

On Sunday, July 9th, Nate and his crew brought over the lift and the staging, and got it set up all around the house.

Newly shingled overhang--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
A newly shingled-overhang by the garage.

The next day, Mr. ThreeYear called and told me the guys had shown up at 6:30am. There were two of them that day. The ended up working all day, with very few breaks, until 8:30 at night!

They told Mr. ThreeYear that since they had such a limited window of time to get work done in the summer, they had to work like crazy to take advantage of the good weather.

The next day, another roofer joined them, and all three men worked the next couple of days to finish the roof. Mr. Three Year sent me pictures of their progress. He worked from home all week, listening to the banging and hammering. I’m so glad I wasn’t there and he was to oversee everything!

Back of the house--www.thethreeyearpexperiment.com
The back of the house, newly shingled.

He even had to deal with an anonymous neighbor of ours, who called the police TWICE! Apparently, she complained that our roofers had left nails in the road. This was patently untrue–Mr. ThreeYear said they were careful, and he even checked the road–there was nothing. We do have several temperamental neighbors, so I’m not surprised! Mr. ThreeYear calmly talked to the policeman who came out. He even dealt with the fact that the man thought he was a roofer and not the homeowner! Hispanic men deal with a lot of prejudices, let me just say. Luckily Mr. ThreeYear just laughed it off.

Finally, on Thursday, the roofers finished. We asked them to also power wash the house, so they did. They had a really hard time getting off years of grime from the vinyl siding, but Mr. ThreeYear bought Magic Erasers for them, and that worked. They even removed two defunct satellite dishes from the roof that we no longer used.

Satellites in my eyes--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
The roofers removed our defunct satellite dishes while reroofing the house.

When we saw the “After” pictures that Mr. ThreeYear sent, we were amazed! The house looked brand new! We wrote Nate a second check for a little more than $7000 (because of the power wash) from our savings account.

The finished product--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
The finished product–Mr. ThreeYear even trimmed the shrubs in front.

This year, our home maintenance costs were a lot more than 1%, including what we calculated to install windows on the EZ Window Solutions website. But I’m very glad to have a new roof and a clean house. I’m also glad I was out of state during the project.  And we’re more knowledgeable about the process than before. Next time we’ll use the services of Flat Roofing Toronto. When we sell our house in a couple of years, I hope the new roof will be a draw (Check out TransitionRoofing.com for more information).

How about you? Have you had any major home improvement projects lately? 

Breaking “the Rules”

Last weekend both of my boys celebrated birthdays. This year, those celebrations looked a little different than this time last year. Last year, I decided to do a homemade birthday party extravaganza. Unlike Mrs. BITA’s homemade party, which seemed to be lovely and fairly easy to put together, or Mrs. Frugalwood’s family gathering, the ThreeYears’ homemade Minecraft party was a lesson in what not to do when creating a homemade birthday party.

Breaking the Rules--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

Don’t get me wrong. The party was a straight-out hit. I had no less than four small people tell me “this is the best party ever!” with zero trace of sarcasm in their tiny voices. They were having major fun, which may have had something to do with the Brewing Station, with six bottles of sugared soda that they got to “mix” into different potions.

But the party planner almost did herself in. In my efforts to do it myself, and reproduce Pinterest, I drove myself nuts. I made a homemade Minecraft piñata, for the love of all things holy. I created the aforementioned Brewing Station, and affixed handmade labels to each of the two-liter bottles of soda in six phosphorescent artificial colors. I made recipes for the potions they could create, and had my boys weigh in on how realistic the colors were for each potion (“No, Mom, that’s a Potion of Healing, which is red, not green”). Continue reading “Breaking “the Rules””

How to Create Beautiful, Frugal Flower Gardens

Do you love to garden? Is Spring your favorite time of year, when the flowers start blooming and there’s color bursting out of every bed?

I absolutely love to create flower gardens. I also know I could spend a small fortune buying plants and shrubs to create the perfect landscape around our house.

Flowers--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

Since our family is on a three year journey to double our net worth and become location independent, it’s not a priority to spend a lot of money on landscaping when we’ll be selling our home soon. But I love to constantly improve our gardens and so, have learned to save lots of money but still create beautiful flower beds.

Continue reading “How to Create Beautiful, Frugal Flower Gardens”

DIY Mayhem in May

This month, the shower arm in our bathroom has broken, it has taken four different light fixture tries to replace the kitchen light above the sink, and our kitchen faucet has sprung a major leak. Not only we’re getting tips for scheduling a roofing maintenance check, but also quotes from roofers in the area to replace our roof. Because there’s a dearth of roofers in the area and the cost of labor and materials is so high, our best quote is $14,000. Yes, that is correct. The cost of a used car. One year of private school education. More than a years’ worth of groceries.

On May 14th, Mother’s Day, it snowed. It rained for fourteen days straight before that. Last week, we got two medical bills for a total of $2,000. We’ve been negotiating a new diagnosis with doctors and the school for our youngest child.

We’ve also had some awesome things happen this month. Mr. ThreeYear became an American citizen on Friday and my dad came up for a surprise visit. After the rain and snow, we got a week full of 80 degree weather and the flowers are blooming. Everything is green and alive. The school year is winding down–as of Wednesday, we’ll have just four more weeks.

American Citizen--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
We are officially a better nation now that Mr. ThreeYear’s a citizen!

We’re healthy, have a stable and happy home life, reliable jobs, and money in the bank to cover our expenses. In the grand scheme of things, the problems that have besieged us this month are minor annoyances. Continue reading “DIY Mayhem in May”

Updating Our Pendant Lights

Hi! If you’re new here, I’m Laurie and my family and I are on a three-year journey to location independence by doubling our net worth so we can move abroad.

During our three year experiment, one of our goals is to get our house ready for sale. To that end, we asked a realtor to visit last month and give her opinion of what needs to be done to make the house ready. It turns out, a lot. But the good news is, we have time to tackle all of these projects slowly, so we’ll be able to do a lot of the work ourselves.

Mr. ThreeYear and I are not DIYers. And we’re not especially detail-oriented. But we are committed to amplifying our skill set and learning in order to get the house ready. Continue reading “Updating Our Pendant Lights”

Closet-to-Bathroom Conversion

Part of our family’s plan for becoming location independent in the next three years is to sell our house and convert the equity into equities (excuse my bad finance joke there). We bought a short sale in 2012 and have lived in the house for five years. By the time we’re ready to move, we will have lived here for seven and a half years. Which is exactly half the length of our 15-year mortgage. (If only that meant half of the house would be paid off…. But I digress…).

Since we were fortunate enough to buy an undervalued property, we’re hoping to sell the house for quite a bit more than we paid for it, but to do so will mean some strategic investments. When we moved in, for example, there were no appliances in the house. The previous owners, hoping to get as much equity out of the house as they could before they left, even took a downstairs stove (critical for heating the house), so we had to replace that.

One of the biggest investments we’ve made is adding a downstairs guest bathroom to the house. When we moved in, there was only one bathroom on the first floor—the master. If you’ve seen our Semi-Minimalist home pictures, you’ll see that while our bathroom is a spa-like oasis (not my decision, but a very nice feature), our guests felt a little bit uncomfortable using our bathroom when they came for dinner. And we had to make sure our bathroom was always guest-ready before they came. That could be a big hassle.

Continue reading “Closet-to-Bathroom Conversion”