Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Renovating Our Vocations

“What happens if you love it so much you want to live there?” It’s a question my husband and I have been asked by family and friends about the waterfront home we bought earlier this month to renovate and sell.

My initial answer was, “we can’t afford it,” which is true. After two years without a job, my husband has launched his home renovation business, and it would be bad business not to sell the product.
Beginnings of sunset from the project house bulkhead
Recounting my latest, “we can’t afford it,” response to my husband, he reminded me of another more important reason we will sell the project home: It’s illegal for this corporation, which we’ve started with Kevin’s 401K, to buy property for us to live in.

But I think there’s more to both the question we’ve been asked and the answers we’ve given, something that goes deeper than the property’s projected beauty and it’s stunning location, a question along the lines of: “You’ll be pouring your heart and soul into this house, how will you be able to part with it?”

It’s in our nature to be drawn to beauty, humans crave beautiful environments: architecture, design, landscapes, and art. We surround ourselves with objects we find beautiful, and we often go to great lengths to procure or create beauty in our lives and in our homes.

When we focus that creative energy outward, we are by design, asked to give away the things and ideas we have birthed and labored and loved into being. Parting with our creations is a dilemma most of us confront in our vocations but maybe not always in our jobs (when I worked in fast food and at a restaurant, I had no trouble parting with the food I prepared).

In my experience as a homeowner, when it came time to sell both of our former homes, we wanted everyone who toured to love our houses the way we did, but they didn’t, and they couldn’t. They didn’t have any history there. They hadn’t birthed and raised children and built decks and added rooms like we did with our first house. They didn’t see raw acreage come to life with water, electricity, septic, a house, and a swimming pool that was filled with teenagers and church folk and extended family, like we did with our second.
Our second home which we had built on acreage.
With our second house particularly, sold at the trough of the recession, we felt insulted by the initial (and even the final) offer our buyers made. Neither offers were close to the appraisal or the actual costs (mostly sunken costs of utilities and septic and grading) we accrued to build the house. It was painful to see our home devalued so, to lose money upon selling it.

The experience has made us wiser. We were careful in purchasing the home we live in now, making sure we could spend a hundred thousand dollars on necessary improvements and come out ahead should we need to sell in a few years. And now, as we’re renovating a property with the express purpose of selling, we are constantly asking ourselves, “just because we can, should we?”

As people who are flipping (buying, fixing up, and selling) a property we find ourselves wanting to create the most beautiful home that appeals to the broadest spectrum of people: nothing quirky and original, no fabulous amenity that has no resale value. A third bedroom yes, a garage yes, a new roof yes, but will the more visually appealing metal be worth it if we have to spend thousands on septic improvements? Bulkhead and landscaping improvements, yes, but how elaborate?

And so we are tempering our creative genius against the dollar, which, I think is what a wise businessperson must do. We are learning to expand our thinking not only to the physical: shingles or metal, but to time as well: custom sized-windows cost more than standard, but that means no labor costs for reframing window openings and replacing siding. How do the final numbers compare?

My husband and my daughter (who is an architecture student and our intern for a month) discuss bathroom fixtures and window and door placements and treatments over dinner, prepare drawings, and enter data in spreadsheets while they work at the job site each day, finding an equilibrium between beauty and practicality. I chime in my opinions, and I marvel at how we have come to this place.

My husband branching out from the corporate world, and me from full-time motherhood and parish ministry, both of us having been engaged most often in tasks where the results are intangible, are now working in the most concrete terms (and with actual concrete). My husband has been remodeling homes since he was seventeen, always for and with his family, always as an avocation, a hobby.

But now, we step into the stream of laborers, craftspeople, and artisans, a handful of whom we have met while getting bids for work on our project house. Each of them has an eagerly shared story, a compelling path to this work they love. We join them now, as the literal work of our hands becomes the effort that will put the actual bread in our mouths, the wine in our goblets.

As creatures born to create, we will devote our intentions and our visions into transforming dilapidated dwellings into homes that are beautiful and functional and we will part with them, selling them to the highest bidder.

Months from now, this house will belong to its next inhabitants, and become a stranger to us. In the meantime, before it is gutted and chaotic here, we are pretending it is our summer home, kayaking some evenings, roasting marshmallows around a bulkhead campfire, and even camping under the stars (clouds actually) one warm night.
My husband kayaking from the project house

Roasting marshmallows with our daughter, an architecture student

Camping on the bulkhead

Renovation and sale has become our vocation, but it’s also a blend of art and commerce, of soul and body, of the bewildering mixed bag that constitutes our lives as humans, unfolding before us in one 2100 square foot home on one acre of land on the banks of Puget Sound.