Recession Mama

{April 22, 2009}   Recession Rubble in the Bubble

By Heather B.

Hey Mamas and Papas!

Meet my two new best friends, Ruben and Ruben Jr. They’re standing in a 1940’s bathroom, that suffered a 60’s makeover, and now must survive a 21st century upgrade.

They look happy right?

Ruben and Ruben Jr.

Ruben and Ruben Jr.

Maybe. The Rubens ARE glad to be working… especially in this economy. But they’re a little dizzy after receiving directions from me. Or maybe it’s the Big Bird inspired lattice patterned wallpaper ( with matching floor) I dunno. But we all have a mild case of vertigo and our eyes are burning from the demolition dust.

“Can we put the toilet over there?” “Can we move this door frame and knock out that wall?” I say.

“We can do whatever you want.” The Rubens reply.

“What if we put the bathtub where the old closet used to be and build a shower over here?”

The Rubens nod their heads in agreement. “Maybe.” They say.

One of them begins to measure.

I wave my arms around in an imaginary shower and try to determine if an actual human could scrub up… and rinse off… in this tiny little space without suffering a severe attack of claustrophobia.

“Nope. That won’t work.” I say.

The Rubens agree and we all stare at the rubble on the floor and the empty spaces on the walls.

This is my HGTV education at work y’all. Ain’t it scary?

I’ve learned a lot of tricks by working with a designer over the years and I’ve “fixed up” homes before, but this one is different. The project is big, the budget is small and the pay-off is a MUST.

This recession has left my little real estate plan in ruins. And now instead of owning one home… I’m stuck with THREE. THREE. How on earth did this happen?

It was easier than you think.

Rewind to February of 2008. The housing market was good. In fact, it was great in the area where we live. Some people call it “the bubble” because home values have always been strong and there’s a good school system to boot.

Despite having an amazing home already, we decided to build. We soon found a “tear down” home on a great lot. We got it. (that made house #2)

We’ll just take our time building. No need to hurry we thought. But by August we discovered that our dream home had already been built and was for sale.

Wow! We’ll save so much frustration and money if we just buy this instead of building. So we put in an offer.

We actually got into a bidding battle over our “build” site (house #2), so we thought we’d sell it immediately. We also thought house #1 would sell quickly too. So we bought the “dream home” (house #3)

Now we had three homes and two were up for sale. People sniffed around, but were too distracted by the elections and talk of a recession to buy.

Just a few months later the the housing market blew up and our sweet little “bubble” popped like a birthday party balloon.

“Oh CRAP!”

Which brings us to why the Rubens and I are standing in this 40’s fixer-upper and talking about where to put the “crapper.”

“What about a toilet closet?” I ask. “Everybody wants one of those.”

“Hmm. No elbow room,” says big Ruben.

And as if on cue… that’s when the plumber enters and announces that the sewer line is busted and will have to be replaced.

“How much is this going to cost?” I whine.

“I’ll have to run the numbers,” he tells me.

I just want to run the other way and pretend this isn’t happening. But that’s not an option. I’m going to have to face this recession rubble and help clean it up.

Just a side note here. Because all of our money was tied up in properties we didn’t lose much in the stock market when it took a nose dive. That’s the silver lining to this story. Sort of.. We’ve had several home builders who’d like to buy the property but can’t get a loan due to the credit and loan freeze. Ouch!

Scratch… scratch.. bang… bang…ugghh.”

“You okay down there?” I yell through a big hole in the floor and towards a small white light.”

“Yeah,” says an unfamiliar voice.

“Hey there’s a person at the end of that flashlight.” I tell the Rubens.

“Yup. That’s the electrician,” they inform me.

“Oh. I wonder what he’ll find?”

The plan now is to fix up the 40’s mess and lease it until the market turns around.

That’s what we did with the first house. It didn’t sell, so we leased it to a really nice family. It’s been pretty good and we’re thankful the house isn’t sitting empty.

But I can’t believe I’m a landlord.. you know… like Mr. Roper from Three’s Company. Except I’m not that nosey. And I don’t wear moo-moo dresses like his wife. (they do look comfy tho)

I wasn’t planning on this new occupation, but what else can I do? Now instead of saying “I sold that house.” I ask complete strangers if they’re in the market for a new “crib.”

“I’ll give you a great deal!” I tell them.

I also answer text messages like: “The garage door isn’t opening.” “Why is there water coming from the backyard?” “How do you work the built-in coffee maker?”

This is another reason why the Rubens and I are such great friends. They’re my “Schneider” (as in One Day at a Time) Except they don’t swing around a plethora of keys and have greasy hair and say creepy things.

They’re actually quite wonderful.

“Hey that’s looking awesome!” I shout to the Rubens as we examine the knocked-down wall between the yellow kitchen and the former dining… turned family room.

Bringing down the walls

Bringing down the walls

We’ve finished up in the bathroom for the moment. There’s no electricity yet, so it’s getting too dark and dusty to figure anything out. The “crapper” conversation will have to continue tomorrow.

The whole big mess… recession, rubble, renovation and all… will be waiting for us. Unfortunately, so will that Big Bird inspired wallpaper.



katy says:

Great post, Heather! I love the photos of the Rubens just giving you that look. I think a lot of homeowners feel this way, and renting is their only option. Hopefully, you and your husband are not upside down on any of the mortgages. That would make this even scarier! Home renovations are always difficult, but I can only imagine it’s even more difficult in this economy. But I’m sure the Rubens and others like them are glad to be working!

recessionmama says:

Thanks Katy. We’re actually fine on mortgages. We’re terrified of debt, so we only have one mortgage. The lease more than covers that payment. We own the other properties. We kind of run on the theory “if you can’t pay for it… don’t get it.” It’s served us well.

Jennifer says:

Great post love the pics. I’m sure the Rubens will walk you through this project just like they have several others in the past. You are the only person I know whose kids are friends with the remodel guys. What would be the soundtrack to this project…….. “Burning Down the House”!?!?!?!

recessionmama says:

Yes. Too funny. Bobby calls them big Ruben and little Ruben. Let’s not give the kids any ideas about burning down houses. That’s the last thing I need.

Carla says:

Heather, I’m excited for you and this project. You’re a super talented decorator and even though it’s crazy hard work, I bet you anything you’re going to actually end up loving this. I know you, mama, and I think you like a good challenge. Please keep me posted on the crapper, by the way.

recessionmama says:

The “crapper” has found a good spot.

Christine says:

Love your writing style – humorous and compelling! This is a great project. Something I would have loved to have done. Location, location, location was a great first step. Now that you’re “elbow deep” in construction decisions, I can’t wait to hear more. We’ll come by to take a peek at your progress.

Heather B. says:

That would be great! I would love to use your architect eye and get some ideas. Thanks for checking it out.

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