Modern life and design in our historical American Foursquare home

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Posts Tagged “homeowning”

How to choose your ideal neighborhood

By on March 12, 2015

I’m over at Porch.com today, sharing some important questions to ask yourself during your house hunt! For us, homeownership wasn’t just about buying a house, but also about joining a neighborhood community.

Our Home Buying Story | Rather Square

Doing some in-depth research to find a location that would support our young family’s lifestyle helped us discover a great neighborhood that’s been perfect for us.

How did you decide where to live? What do you like about your neighborhood, and what would you change about it?

March 12, 2015

Gift Guide for Your Home: Keeping it Strong and Safe

By on December 3, 2014

You may be seeing a lot of gift guides popping up lately, with a plethora of ideas for what to get your friends and family this holiday season. But don’t forget to add your home to your gift-giving list! For us, our house is more than just shelter – it’s the hub of our family and our lives, and we want to celebrate it (since it’s been so good to us this year). So we thought we’d share some gift ideas for that special house in your life. Look for more in our Gift Guides for Your Home series all month long!

Our first Gift Guide showcases some great tools and materials to protect your house inside and out.

Gift Guide for your Home: Keeping it Strong and Safe | Rather Square

A. Seal cracks in your house’s stucco exterior with this clear paintable silicone caulk to keep out the elements and prevent further damage. (And don’t forget a caulking gun!)

B. Use landscaping shears, heavy-duty loppers, or even a chainsaw to cut back overgrown tree branches and bushes that are encroaching on your house.

C. Protect your exterior decks and porches with a coat or two of weatherproofing sealant. It’s available in many colors and its rough-traction surface will help reduce slips and falls during icy winter days.

D. Install carbon monoxide detectors throughout your house (we like this combination carbon monoxide/smoke alarm). You can’t see or smell this deadly gas, so a detector is a must to keep you and your family safe from leaks.

E. Lead test kits make great stocking stuffers (if homes had stockings…). Since old houses are notorious for containing lead paint, keep several of these test swabs on hand to test painted surfaces before starting any home improvement project. Red means lead, people!

Check out our other Gift Guides for Your Home:
Gift Guide for Your Home: Design and Decor
Gift Guide for Your Home: DIY Tools and Supplies

(linked on Remodelaholic)

Links may contain affiliates.

December 3, 2014

We’re thankful for…

By on November 25, 2014

It’s nearly Thanksgiving! The time of year when we pause and take stock of the good things in our lives. And there’s so much John and I are thankful for…

We're Thankful For | Rather Square

We’re thankful for our family, especially our two healthy and happy kids. Toddler E and Baby T definitely make life interesting around here!

Baby T | Rather Square

We’re thankful for the roof over our heads and all the projects we’ve been able to complete this year (like our budget bathroom updates and DIY painted furniture for the nursery).

Our Budget Bathroom Update | Let There be Light (Part 2) | Rather Square

How to Paint Fabric Drawers | Rather Square

We’re thankful to be gainfully employed and able to support our family. This helps us to build an emergency fund, which came in handy this year when both our refrigerator and furnace broke down. We were able to replace these essentials without going into debt. Being a homeowner means always being prepared for the unexpected!

Old Furnace, New Furnace | Rather Square

Installing our New Refrigerator | Rather Square

And we’re thankful for all of you, our readers and friends! Blogging our experiences as homeowners has been really fun, and we’re thankful to all of you for your comments, feedback, and support.

House Tour Page | Rather Square

Your turn! What are you thankful for?

November 25, 2014

Buying a house: Our journey to home ownership

By on November 11, 2014

Today we’re sharing the story of how the Rather Square house became our home!

Buying a House: Our Journey to Home Ownership | Rather Square

While buying a house is a different process for everyone, we wanted to talk about our own experience with this major life event, since we feel like we learned so much along the way that might help others who are considering a home purchase. You’ve read a brief account of our house hunt before, but below is the detailed story of our journey to home ownership. It involves an equal balance of uncertainty, frustration, and discouragement with hope, perseverance, and a little sprinkling of luck.

This story begins a few years ago, when John and I were living in a two-bedroom rental apartment on Chicago’s north side with our new baby daughter E. While we really liked our urban neighborhood, we didn’t see ourselves staying in the city permanently. We dreamed of buying a house someday in a good community where we could settle and grow roots. But we wanted to stay near Chicago as well, to be close to our jobs and our families.

One area we both really liked was the village of Oak Park, a suburb just outside Chicago’s city limits. It’s not an inexpensive place to live, but the schools are excellent, and it’s a very active and tight-knit community. And its rich historical and cultural background fascinated us (Frank Lloyd Wright and Ernest Hemingway were famous Oak Parkers).

Our Home Buying Story | Frank Lloyd Wright | Rather Square

It also has multiple mass transit options (one commuter train line and two branches of Chicago’s public transit system) for getting to and from the city easily.

Our Home Buying Story | Mass Transit | Rather Square

It sounded like a good fit for us, but we wanted to be sure before committing to buying property there. So we found a two-bedroom apartment to rent within walking distance of Oak Park’s lively downtown district and signed a one-year lease. This way, we could spend some time getting to know the area and exploring our surroundings without feeling like we were locked in permanently.

We chose our rental apartment for its location near the center of the village, because we initially thought we’d want to settle in that neighborhood. But during the year we lived in that apartment, we came to the conclusion that while we loved Oak Park, we wanted to be in a different area of the village. Being close to the downtown district – within walking distance of major shops and businesses – turned out to be not a high priority for us, and more of a hassle than an advantage, with difficult parking and traffic. We realized that we ultimately wanted a quieter neighborhood to settle in. And since Oak Park is only about 5 miles square overall, we could drive or bike anywhere in the village in a matter of minutes from wherever we chose to live.

Oak Park Farmers Market | Rather Square

As our one-year lease came to a close, we debated if we should continue renting or take the plunge into homebuying. And then we were informed by our landlady that she would not be offering us a lease renewal – she was planning to rent our apartment to family instead. This brought our musings about buying a house into sharp focus. With home prices and mortgage rates at an all-time low, it seemed like the optimal time to buy. We’d already been scoping out affordable listings in more residential areas, and there seemed to be a lot of properties with potential in family-friendly neighborhoods.

Our Home Buying Story | Rather Square

But our timeline was short – we had three months before our apartment lease was up to find a house, go through the financing and closing process, and move in. I didn’t know if we could pull it off (and even our realtor was crossing her fingers). If we didn’t find a house in time, we’d have to move into a short-term rental in the interim – something we were definitely trying to avoid.

Over the next three weeks, we went to many open houses and viewed a lot of properties. At first, it was discouraging because the houses we liked were out of our price range, and those that we could afford were generally in need of serious repairs that we didn’t feel we could take on. 75% of the homes in Oak Park were built before 1960, and many of them still have original features that sometimes haven’t been maintained well or updated to modern standards or building codes. With a young child and two full-time jobs, we didn’t want to take on immediate major renovations. Our house had to be livable while we worked on any updates a little at a time on our own.

The Refrigerator Dash | Rather Square

We did see a few places that seemed to have good potential. We made an offer on a ranch house with a full basement, but were outbid. Looking back, that particular house had an awkward layout (like kids’ rooms off the kitchen) that would have been problematic for us, so it was good that we didn’t get it. Then, another house we initially liked (a two-story house on a cul-de-sac) went under contract before we had a chance to bid. But that was another “not meant to be for us” home – it would have needed all the electrical and the windows replaced, and the location was not ideal for our needs. Neither of these homes felt quite right.

Seeing all these “not quite right” homes was discouraging, but it actually helped us get a good feel for the local housing market and what kind of home we could realistically expect to find in our budget. Still, our available window to find a “just right” house was closing fast, and we were getting nervous. I started checking out short-term rentals as a backup plan.

Then John found a listing for an upcoming open house that looked interesting. The list price was a little high, but the property had a lot of promise – great location, hardwood floors, landscaped yard, workable kitchen. The open house was scheduled for the following weekend, but we contacted our realtor and asked to see it before then.

Buying a House: Our Journey to Home Ownership | Rather Square

As soon as we walked into this house, we knew it was the one. While it was just as old as many of the other houses we’d seen, we could see that this home had been loved and taken care of over its lifetime. It needed repainting and and other updates – projects we could mostly take on ourselves – but no major renovations right away. It wasn’t perfect – the main floor lacked a bathroom, the garage looked a little shaky, the kitchen was outdated, and the carpeting was old and worn. But it seemed structurally sound and the floor plan layout was ideal. It felt like a natural fit for us.

We made an offer that afternoon because we knew that the upcoming open house would probably attract other interested parties, and we didn’t want to miss this chance. We even wrote the seller a letter introducing ourselves and telling her why we wanted to buy her house. The next morning, we got wonderful news – our offer had been accepted!

Living Room "Before" | Rather Square

Kitchen Before

Upstairs Hallway "Before" | Rather Square

Master Bedroom Before | Rather Square

We went under contract and began the closing process immediately. Luck was on our side – we had less than 90 days between our offer being accepted and our apartment lease ending, but we were able to get everything squared away within that timeframe. Our home inspection went pretty smoothly as well – while a few concerns came up (like the deteriorating condition of the garage, the old furnace, the outdated electrical wiring), there were no glaring red flags that would make us walk away. The house was in great shape for its age and had been relatively well-maintained over the years.

Bathroom Before

Playroom Before | Rather Square

Kid's Bedroom Before | Rather Square

Basement Electrical Box before

On closing day, we signed a lot of papers and got the keys to our new home. But we didn’t move in right away. We wanted to get some larger tasks out of the way while the house was still empty (so we wouldn’t have to live amongst the mess). So we packed our furniture into a portable storage unit, crashed with our families nearby, and spent the first twelve days of home ownership tackling several house projects.

Some of the things we worked on in those first twelve days were:


Wallpaper Removal | Rather Square

Entryway, Stairs & Hallway Paint | Rather Square

Painting the Spare Bedroom | Rather Square

Painting Kid's Bedroom | Rather Square

New carpet over stairs | Rather Square

Built-In Bookcase | Rather Square

Painting Wood Paneling | Rather Square


Painting Wood Paneling | Rather Square

And of course, since those first twelve days, we’ve taken on many many many more home improvements, DIY projects, room renovations, appliance and system upgrades, landscaping, and a variety of other house-related updates. We’re keeping track of all this on our House Tour page, if you want to follow along.

House Tour Page | Rather Square

Almost two years after our home ownership journey began, we’re still so happy with the outcome and our 92-year-old “new-to-us” house. We definitely feel like we ended up with the home we were meant to have. It’s far from perfect and we’ve got at least 20 years worth of projects on our to-do list… but we’re having fun making it our own.

Buying a House: Our Journey to Home Ownership | Rather Square

Hopefully sharing our house buying story will help others – it can be an intimidating process, but we survived, and even feel like we gained a better appreciation (no pun intended!) for home ownership along the way. It’s a big investment of time, money, energy, sweat, and patience… but (for us, at least) it was all worth it.

For more of our thoughts on how to choose a neighborhood that’s right for you, check out my article on Porch.com!

Do you have your own home ownership story, or any advice based on your particular experience? Maybe you’re thinking about buying your first home and have more questions about what’s involved? Please share in the comments below. Thanks!

November 11, 2014

Switching to green energy

By on May 12, 2014

We just enrolled in our village’s electrical aggregation program, and we chose the all-green energy option.

Switching to Green Energy | Rather Square

What does “green energy” mean anyway? According to the provider selected by our village board:

“We supply our residential customers in select electric distribution company service areas with renewable wind energy. This renewable wind power is generated by wind turbines, located on wind farms within specific control areas.”
(read more here)

Switching to green energy will actually save us money in the end. The rates offered by the aggregation program (for all options) are lower than what we are currently paying for electricity. Even though we chose the most sustainable aggregation option (which will cost a bit more per kilowatt hour than the base aggregation option), we will still be paying less than what our current provider charges.

More importantly, this switch fits in with our overall plan to increase the efficiency of the energy we use for our home. In the past year, we’ve blogged about several things we’ve already done to help our old house function better in the modern world. For example, we installed a new smart thermostat (the Ecobee Smart Si):

Installing a Thermostat | Rather Square

We replaced our 25-year-old furnace and air conditioner with new models (this became an urgent necessity when the old furnace died on us one cold night last winter):

How We Pay for Surprise Home Costs | Rather Square

We’ve started gradually trading out our older household appliances with new energy-efficient ones, like our refrigerator and dishwasher:

Installing our New Refrigerator | Rather Square

Kitchen Dishwasher

And last summer, John caulked cracks in our exterior stucco:

Repairing Stucco Cracks | Rather Square

Even though energy efficiency can pay off in the long run with lower utility bills, it can also cost a significant amount of cash upfront to set things up (especially in an old house like ours). So we’ve got more updates we plan to make in the future once our budget allows, such as rerouting some ductwork to under-served rooms in the house for more even heating and cooling distribution, putting ceiling fans in the toddler’s bedroom and the spare bedroom, and insulating our exterior walls and attic.

Attic Insulation | Rather Square

For now, it will be interesting to see if we notice any change – good or bad – in our electric bill going forward.

What kind of energy options are available in your area? Do you have options at all? Or is your city/town served by a single provider and/or program?

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May 12, 2014