Little house, part one

We were always getting ahead of ourselves. Engaged at 18. Married at 19. First baby at 20.

The little house caught our eye when we shouldn’t even have been looking. It was January of 1989, 7 months after I graduated from college and three semesters before John graduated from college. We were paying $280 a month rent and couldn’t afford more than that.

The little house was the ugliest one on the block: paint peeling, bedraggled yard, empty windows. But it looked square and sound and it had a basement, and the sign said that it was a VA repo. Maybe, just maybe we’d be able to afford it. I stopped on a whim, and tromped footprints in the snow under the windows, peeking in and dreaming. I wondered if there was the slightest chance we could afford it.

When I got back home and mentioned it to John, he told me not to get my hopes up. How could we afford a house of our own when we could barely afford rent? We had my student loans, plus payments on a car we’d bought the month I graduated and landed a job at the local hospital. Even if the house didn’t cost much, what bank would approve us?

John let me call a real estate agent anyway, both of us expecting to find out it was more than we could afford. Most houses in that area of town were selling for $40,000-$50,000 in those days, which on a 30 year loan was a hundred or two hundred bucks more a month than our rent.

Our hopes rose when we found out that the house had been on the market for over a year and had recently been reduced to $28,000. Maybe, just maybe we could swing this.

Walking through the house, we fell in love. The house had been built in the 1930’s but there was fresh white paint and beige carpet in a cozy living room. A miniscule dining room with dark-paneled walls. A tiny slope-floored kitchen. A tired bathroom with vertical wallboard that had seen better days. Two bedrooms with huge floor-to-ceiling closets. Arch-topped shelving built into the plaster of the wall between the living room and the hall. A tiny arch-topped phone nook.

Plus there was that basement, giving the house a total of 1800 square feet, palatial compared to our rental.

The basement was a little scary, though. The original house had been moved onto a new foundation, and not enough attention had been paid to the joining point between the old house and the stairway addition. The sloped roof had leaked, causing the sheetrock on the stairway ceiling to come off in chunks. Sheetrock and insulation littered the stairs. It looked like it had been bombed. The basement looked only marginally better: bright blue carpet in one big room. Orange 70’s shag carpet and a mirrored-glass wet bar in another room.

The house needed love. And sweat, lots of it. And money, bucketloads.

We didn’t have any money, but we trusted that our willingness to work would counterbalance that problem. We made an offer, and were approved for financing. We were amazed to find that the house payment would be $220/month, $60 less than we were paying for rent.

Two months later we were joyfully moving in.

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  1. so now I wanna know more..more I tell you. 🙂 I bet that house was an adventure. 🙂

  2. Fun story! Can’t wait for the rest.

  3. Aaah, the innocence of youth…

    (It was so nice to not overthink things when we first got married, because we didn’t know any better!)

  4. That’s a beautiful snippet of your life, Mary! I want to know what happens next, too. I always find that in your twenties you can put up with just about anything, and fix just about anything!

  5. So great. Brings back great memories of my own!
    Sean and I bought our first home a few months before we married (I was 19) because it was cheaper than renting. He moved in while we worked on the cracked, falling down plaster in almost every room. Our mortgage was $210 a month. Boy do I miss that tiny mortgage!

  6. Sweet story. Sounds like it’s the same size as our house.
    I’m eagerly awaiting part 2.

  7. more, more!

  8. I’m especially intrigued because this “little house” is the same size (1800 sq. ft.) as my current house, full of seven people…

  9. Our first home was a ranch and was about that size. Now we’re in a 1840’s 3,000 sq. ft. farm house. Our family of 10 loves it! Lots of room! But…we all fondly remember our “little house”. I can’t wait to hear more! 😉

  10. Keep talking! I want to hear the rest.

  11. Oh, tell us more!!!! I love to hear about ramshackle houses that are loved and loved until they become a home.

  12. we have 11 folks in 1640 sq ft. tight fit, but not too bad.
    anxiously awaiting the rest of the story!!

  13. I really enjoyed reading this. Can’t wait for part 2. Oh, to be 19 and invincible again! 😉

    BTW, thank you for posting the link to Kelli’s blog Living In Grace a couple weeks back. I had never read it before, but I followed that link, and I read. And today I got to start the process to see if I’m a match…all because you posted that. Thanks for continuing to pray for her!

  14. how timely! we’re looking for a house in socal right now which means we will get little, shabby, and needing lots of work. because that what our budget (BARELY) allows for. DO keep telling, Mary! this is wonderful encouragement for my heart!

  15. I have been married just over a year and we just signed a contract on our first house. it is 1400 sq feet and needs a lot of love, which we are willing to do – but do not have the “know how” or money to do it! but we are ready, and also ready to pay as much for a mortgage as we are in rent…and it NOT go in a black hole! we have one child, a 2 year old and she will now have a yard of her own! im ready for this adventure and it is so great to hear about other couples who took the leap into small houses that needed TLC. god provides opportunites, i firmly believe that these are those circumstances! god bless!

  16. Shannon says:

    LOL, your small house is bigger than mine, LOL, but I only have 4 people, 2 cats, and 2 dogs living in mine. I’d love a basement, but they are not common here.


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