looking out of the playroom window

I’m Building a House! Part One: Why We’re Starting From Scratch

How a single text about a kitchen wall changed every idea I had about my dream home

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Author

Emily VanwagenenBulldis

Emily is a "Jill-of-all-trades" creative with experience in printmaking, metalwork, painting, ceramics, illustration, classical ballet, floral design, food styling, and all sorts of DIY projects. Lately, she's been wrangling three little ones, designing her dream home, and developing content for Creative Tribe.

looking out of the playroom window

I’M SO AMPED, YOU GUYS.

Over a year and a half ago, I floated the idea of a kitchen renovation to my cousin, who is a co-owner of Southwest Urban Real Estate and Development. He was like, “a kitchen reno? Let’s just sell your house and build you something new… in Lost Barrio.”

He had acquired a lot in the area, and he remembered from our first house hunting expedition several years prior that it was my dream part of town – close to downtown and UofA, but just tucked enough away to be laid back and quiet, with a super eclectic mix of homes old and new, upscale and modest. I replied something like “haha” and some money flying away emojis, but after talking to my husband about the idea, taking a serious look at our finances, and then actually meeting with a mortgage consultant, it looked like it could actually happen.

The kitchen we wanted to reno

For months after that, it was a lot of “what ifs” and “is this really going to happen?” There were a lot of moving parts.

We would have to sell our house and the feasibility of the new build would be entirely dependent upon the selling price we could get. We knew how much we thought our home was worth, and roughly how much homes like it were selling for, but there were no assurances we’d get the number we needed in order to make the project happen.

And adding to that stress, we weren’t sure how the timing would work out… how long would the build take? How long would our house sit on the market? Could we reasonably (with three small children) live in our house while it was staged or would we have to find a rental, move all our stuff, and then float a mortgage and a rent and just hope it sold quickly? It all felt very scary and grown-up and risky.

An then I’d drive by an old 1920s adobe, or see a beautiful old home on Instagram and think, what am I doing? Am I really going to be happy in a brand new home? Will it have character? Am I making a mistake? Should we just stay in our sweet little midtown home until we totally outgrow it? Should we sell it and buy something cool and similarly small closer to downtown and do an addition later?

looking at plans with the kids

Ultimately our decision to build a new house came down to a few things:

 

Location

We wanted to be closer to downtown and the university, but knew if we waited, we would most likely be priced out with Tucson home costs rising so rapidly. Lots close to the center of the city are not easy to come by, so this was a very unique opportunity.

 

Space

Like many little cities full of character, Tucson is a weird and wonderful place. It’s architecture reflects that! People do funky things to their houses to add rooms. As a family of five looking for a four-bedroom house close to downtown, options are very limited. Unless you have a cool mill to spend on an old home designed with lots of space, you’re looking at some potentially wonky additions and/or having to do some wonky additions to add the square footage.

A new build gave us the ability to get all the bedrooms we needed, in a floor plan that made sense, in what’s basically the middle of the city.

 

Knob and Tube, Baby

(my husband requested I title it that) We’ve watched enough HGTV to know that fixer-uppers are really risky. You never really know what you’re in for till it’s too late to turn back.

A new build would give us the security to know that everything would be safe and functional and ultra-efficient, right from the beginning. What we would be sacrificing in charm and character, we felt like we would be making up for in energy efficiency and the security of knowing there wouldn’t be weird HVAC problems, or electrical issues, or any of the “quirks” that often accompany older homes. With three little ones, that was a huge determining factor.

playing with tile/flooring/cabinet combinations

Flash forward to now, sitting in a rental house with a desk full of tile and grout samples, a sketchbook full of design plans next to me, and an end of construction just within sight.

The process has not been without stress or hard work, but its all really (finally!) happening and I couldn’t be surer of our choice or more excited for the future. I can’t wait to continue to share about what I’ve been learning along the way!

Part Two coming soon!

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