Best Laid Plans

Do you ever make a major decision and wonder… Is this the right thing to do? I’m not talking about intuition. I’m talking about logic. I’m a firm believer in following your gut for most things in life. But when it comes to making decisions (specifically in terms of finances), that could impact your future I often struggle between logic and the fear of making the wrong decision.

A little over a year ago I convinced myself and my husband that we should consider downsizing from our “forever” home. The economy in Alberta has been in a downturn for coming on 2 years, and my fear was getting stuck in a big mortgage and me potentially without a job (I work in the “big bad” oil and gas industry which had and continues to see the effects of challenged oil prices). My suggestion was simple, I put an unrealistic number on a piece of paper and told my husband if we could list and sell our house for at that price we should consider it. Well much to my excitement, my real estate agent came in higher than that crazy number. After a very long discussion, my husband and I agreed, as much as we loved our home, it was just four walls and roof. And quite frankly, in my opinion, not worth what the market was suggesting. We decided that it was a smart decision to downsize and potentially look at a fixer upper, something we could earn some sweat equity on. My husband is a bit of a handyman and loves to “make improvements”, so it seemed like a logical choice. Not surprisingly, with the help of my amazing real estate agent (@adventuresinrealestate), she sold our home in 10 days at 99% of asking price. I was stunned and a little in a fog. We had a little more than a month to find another home, pack and move. We stuck to our plan and found a home in 3 days that fit our big grand plan. A house that was less expensive and slightly smaller, with the added perk that we could build an income suite over a garage in the backyard. I thought it was kismet… it was everything we wanted in terms of our goals. We had the potential to increase the value of this home by $200,000 if we followed through, exciting, right? What I didn’t realize was the craziness that would ensue of the next 12 months.

Upon taking possession of this home it was clear we had overlooked some major details, but we were planning some upgrades anyway and didn’t want to sweat the small stuff. We spent the next 6 weeks living with my in-laws while my husband feverishly tore apart and put the house back together. You name it we fixed it.  New flooring, new paint, new master bathtub, new countertops, new kitchen fixtures, new baseboards and casing…. etc. When we finally moved into our disaster, we quite literally lived out of boxes and in rooms that were assembled and safe for the kids.

BEFORE (Listing photo, trust me is wasn’t this clean in person):mctowne-2

DURING (Yes, it was just as chaotic as this picture represents):


AFTER (Sans Backsplash that got finish many moons later):


By Christmas (we moved in August), life had found some sort of normal that didn’t involve tools in the middle of the living room. All of a sudden the new year rolled around and my husband was ready to break ground on our garage/income suite. The next 6 months are quite literally a blur. My husband would work all day on the garage, while I went off to work. I would get home to him feeding the kids supper, and as I came in, he went back out to the garage. The bills were piling up and the money quite literally was evaporating in front of us with the expenses of the building process. I started doubting if we had made the right decision. Because of the construction site in our backyard (and strapped finances), we were unable to take a summer vacation. I had no idea the toll that would take on our marriage or our family until later in the year. My brilliant husband exhausted beyond belief finished the garage/suite in August and we were able to find renters for September 1. Finally, the end was in sight. We would be able to take a big deep breath, once the re-financing was complete and we weren’t buried in debt. But as life does… we were in for another surprise. The economic turndown had also meant the banks has changed their lending practices, and valued our house (with all of its new improvements) lower than we had originally expected. So now, we were going to end up barely being able to pay off the debt we had incurred and now be underwater in a mortgage higher than we were in a year before. WTF! I believe were the words out of my mouth. I was so sure this was the answer to protecting our future through the downturn in our economy. And now we were actually in a worse position…

Needless to say, it’s now January. We have had renters in our suite since September 1 (who are wonderful people, major perk!) and life has gotten back to that normal, boring place I think we needed a year ago. Cost of the house continues to rise as we are in for an enormous hike in our property tax (due to our newly valued asset). While I’ve run our monthly budget 100 times and continue to tweak and eliminate unnecessary spending when possible. I’ve finally admitted this was not quite the solution I had hoped it to be. I try not dwell on things that might’ve been, I try to run through the positives that came through this whole process. Let me tell you how hard that is some days. My husband learned an incomprehensible amount in terms of his construction abilities, we certainly learned to live on a tighter budget (though maybe not as tight as we should’ve), and at the end of it all… we are learning to live in the bed (or house) we’ve made for ourselves. Our kids quite frankly are happy regardless. The beauty of children is their resilience and ability to go with the flow. Only time will tell if this was the right decision… and perhaps it wasn’t. But we survived, and at the end of the day have an asset that helps us pay the mortgage every month. The bottom line is: we accomplished what we set out to do. I suppose that’s one in the win column.

I’m beginning to admit this happens more often than I would like. The grass seems greener, the window a little less smudged on the other side of the pane. But no one said the decisions would be easy (or right) and the truth is I believe that only great things are made from hard work. I will continue practicing the art of humility and reminding myself that mistakes are how we learn and grow.  Not great insight, but a necessary truth to move forward.


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