At the age of 21, less than six months out of college, I bought my first house. Sixteen years later, I am fully aware most people do not purchase a home in the same year they are legally allowed to buy alcohol, but at the time, it seemed normal. Or, at least, expected. In my teens and twenties, my parents were still pretty much authoring my life, and their outline went something like this: Get good grades in high school, train hard at my sport, win a college scholarship, graduate, get a job, buy a house.
If my life was a book, they were constantly drafting the next chapter for me. I was always aware of what they thought should happen next. But despite their evolving plot lines, they never wrote in other characters — they had zero expectations when it came to me, or my sisters, getting married. Not that they didn't want it for us, it just wasn't their concern. First and foremost, they wanted us to be able to take care of ourselves. Relationships could be handled in the epilogue.
"You need a savings account, you need a 401K, and you need a house, all in your own name. Just in case," my dad would tell us. I'm not sure if he meant "just in case" we never got married, or "just in case" there came a day he got tired of giving us money. But my dad ended most of his life tutorials with "just in case."
By the time I was 15, I had received so much financial advice from him, I was convinced my credit score was more important than my virginity.
He meant well. He was trying to empower my sisters and me. He wanted to make sure we were never stuck in a bad relationship because we couldn't afford to get out. Part of his plan for this was making sure we each bought a house right after college.
My first house cost me $82,500. I didn't know what I was doing, but my dad walked me through the negotiations and loan process. He found a house and said it was a great deal. He suggested I buy it. I cried because I thought the wallpaper was hideous. I didn't want to live in a house with drawings of chickens laying eggs glued on the kitchen walls.
"You can change anything about a house except the location," my dad informed me.
And thus began my short-lived hobby of remodeling ugly houses, and to my dad's delight, building equity.
By the time I moved to Park City 10 years ago, I had owned three homes, fixed them all up, sold them for a profit, and had what I thought was a nice little down payment for my next home in the mountains.
But I decided to move here long before I considered the real estate prices might be slightly different than what I was used to in the Midwest.
Everything was lined up — I had already sold my house back home, attended my going-away party, quit my job, and accepted a new one here. I just needed a place to live. Which, to my dismay, didn't seem to exist in my price range.
Weeks went by and I was supposed to be moving 1,000 miles west to start my job. Yet I still had no arrival address for the moving company. Renting wasn't an option. With two dogs, I needed a house and yard — not a room in someone else's home. In a panic, I bought the cheapest house I could find and figured I'd deal with the way it looked later.
The house I ended up purchasing should have been condemned. My real estate agent instructed me not to take off my shoes when we first toured it. Upon leaving, I considered getting tested for tuberculosis. I couldn't believe this was all I could afford. But it was. So I signed on several dotted lines and didn't invite anyone to come inside for about a year as I remodeled.
I had it gutted down to the studs. I moved bathrooms and staircases and fireplaces, and picked out new cabinets, appliances, paint colors, sinks and flooring. When it was all done, I proudly stood back and congratulated myself.
I changed everything about this house, except its size. Which was fine until my boyfriend and I started sharing an address last summer. Suddenly there was twice as much stuff and half as much room. We donated truckloads of items. We bought the latest "storage solutions" advertised on late-night TV. Our New Year's resolutions were promises of staying organized.
Despite our best efforts, we still trip over our belongings daily.
And so, after weighing our options, we agreed to add on to the house.
Living through a construction project is not new to me. But doing it with someone else is. I've heard home renovations are the ultimate test of a relationship. But we spent weeks assembling Ikea furniture together, so I'm pretty sure we've already hit rock bottom and survived. Still though, it was nice of our contractor to leave behind several business cards for various relationship counselors during his last visit.
Just in case.
Amy Roberts is a longtime Park City resident, freelance writer and the proud owner of two ill-behaved rescue dogs, Boston and Stanley.