The county tax assessor and I bumped into each other at the library this afternoon. With the Great Recession grinding our rural county into dust, I don’t envy her her job. She said she’d read my blog post about having to sell our home and was sympathetic.
"Everyone coming to my office these days is sad," she said, then went on to discuss the staggering number of foreclosures in our county.
"And even those like you who are not facing foreclosure are still distressed because of all the value their homes have lost," she continued.
That’s part of what hurts so much for me. There’s no question that we need to sell our home and move to a more urban area where we can be close to good healthcare (and everything else).
But when I think of all we’ve put into this house, it’s agonizing to realize that the price we’re asking won’t even cover the cost of materials used to build the place. That fact, alone, makes selling painful.
Looking back on our "let’s build it ourselves" adventure, I’m reminded of how unaware I was. Who knew how much work it would take to build a house? I certainly didn’t.
When Sweetheart and I married, we decided to build a home so we could make it exactly the way we wanted it.
We didn’t want it too big, and we didn’t want it too small. We wanted it to be inviting. And we wanted it in a rural setting.
We found 22 good looking acres about five miles west of the little Gold Rush town of Angels Camp, California. By good looking, I mean it had hills with fabulous views, and trees – mostly oak, and amazingly beautiful gray rocks the size of buildings stretching up out of the earth like miniature mountains. And there was a creek that ran during the rainy season, adding its gurgling voice to nature’s chorus.
We believed that Al’s engineering degree and past architectural experience coupled with my eager opinions and energetic enthusiasm would be the perfect combination for our perfect home.
If there was any problem at all, it was that I had no idea how much work it would be and how long it would take.
I’d never watched anyone build a house. Never paid any attention to what all goes into constructing a personal abode. I’d always just picked up the key, moved my stuff in, and called it "home."
But Al spent days in front of the computer laying out the rooms. Then I’d take a look and ask where the closets were. And he’d spend more time, making layout adjustments. When he designed the bathrooms, I suggested tubs in addition to showers, and he made more adjustments.
When he was designing the trusses and roof, I asked if there was a way to make the roof without trusses, so that we could have a real attic for storage. He ran some engineering equations and told me he could design such a roof. And, viola, 500-square feet of useable attic space.
He eventually completed the floor plan. He also completed the plumbing system design, the electrical layout design, the heating and cooling systems design, and the elevations (visual appearance of the outside of the house).
He designed the plot plan (the entire layout of the property showing the location of the house and garage in relation to the infrastructure, driveway and road.)
And that was the easy part.
We hired Walt-the-cat-skinner who, for the better part of a month, pushed dirt around, extending our drive and creating a building pad for the house and garage out of what had been a hill covered with poison oak.
Then Sweetheart and a small crew spent more than six months installing the water lines (from the well to our house), electrical conduits and wire (three miles worth), and 500-feet of sewage line (from the house to the septic tank). He also put in an entire gray-water system.
I remember night after night his coming home dirty and exhausted from trenching or laying pipe, and I’d ask, "How much longer before you start on the house?"
Can you believe my thoughtlessness? It was born of ignorance, of course, and of the fact that I couldn’t wait for what I knew would be my dream house.
He put up with my pestering just so long and then one evening, Sweetheart gave me a big, sweaty hug and said, "It’ll take as long as it takes. We want it done right, and that takes time."
After that, we’d drive out once or twice a week to look at the progress.
Early one such morning just before we reached our driveway, a tawny mountain lion bounded across the road in front of us and right up our drive. This cat was so large, and its tail so long, that I swear it completely filled the road. The tail alone must have been five-foot long.
The muscular light-as-a-feather grace of that beautiful cat took my breath away. And I suddenly realized that our home was going to consist of more than just a building. We were moving into a neighborhood, filled all kinds of fascinating, four-legged creatures. And from that moment, I knew I was just going to love our wonderfully wild place.