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In two more years, the mortgage on my tiny patch of suburban paradise will be paid off. This is a consummation that I have longed for, especially when I tossed aside all expectation of working full-time for other people, about ten years ago, and resolved to make a living from writing, and from doing freelance publishing with the Tiny Publishing Bidness. I had an almost wholly unexpected bout of good sense when I purchased the house in 1995; which resulted in a) not buying into too much house, and b) ensuring that the mortgage did not consume more than a quarter of my total monthly income, as it then stood. Since then, the mortgage has been paid monthly, on the dot, even in months in which I just scraped past, economically, by the skin of my teeth. Something always showed up in time to rescue us from disaster; the sale of the California property allowed me to install a direly-needed new HVAC system, for instance.
The situation now is that I have sufficient income to make serious and concrete plans for fixing various things about the house. Alas, I have concluded that unless and until I get offered a bomb of money for film rights to Luna City, or the Adelsverein Trilogy, the vacation home/residence in the Hill Country is off the table. The rational course is to work with the house I have in the real world, and not the one in dreams, and so the plans have been mapped out in best Soviet Five-Year Plan style. The end of the month will bring about the first of them; the patio project – or more precisely, the ‘catio’ – a residence for the cats who we have inherited or have claimed us as their permanent servant class. We have designed a covered, screened shelter for the cats; full of climbing stands, ramps, platforms, hammocks – what Roman the Neighborhood Handy Guy terms “a Disneyland for cats!” This is Phase One. Honestly, I will be glad to get their litterboxes out of the house itself and have them – or most of them – living in a place that we can clean with a spritz from the garden hose. One of the cats we inherited from Mom has a dicey digestion, the other is willfully and deliberately incontinent … and I am just that tired of dealing with the mess, the smell, and the puddles of liquid or not-so-liquid matter.
Phase Two; a renovation of the guest bathroom, which is the one mainly used by the Daughter Unit. Easy peasy, relatively. The bathtub/shower is in relatively good shape, but the toilet and sink vanity absolutely have to go. It’s a very small bathroom, those two items are the original contractor-installed, and besides taking up too much space, they are ugly, and well past their best-if-used-by date. (We’ve seen other home-owners in the neighborhood put them out for bulk trash collection in the last ten or so years.) We plan to replace the sink vanity with a pedestal sink, a better grade of toilet, and paying Roman the Neighborhood Handy Guy to tile the floor with tiles which we got from a neighbor – leftovers from her own home renovation. Hey – the price was right, and there should be just enough of them to retile a tiny cubicle of a bathroom. Our plan also calls for tiling the wall behind where the vanity was with some nice bits of ornamental tile, which we will have to purchase, before Roman can install the new sink and toilet. Aside from that – Phase Two is relatively easy on the budget, although the Daughter Unit wants Roman to build a shelf-and-basket-drawer unit to go up the wall and replace the storage space lost with the vanity.

Phase Three: the master bath and dressing room. A bigger project, and consequently more expensive, although it is really two small rooms. One has the toilet and bathtub-and-shower, the other the vanity and sink. The bathtub is totally shot – and I had a go at refinishing it about fifteen years ago, which bought about another decade of life for it. No – it is beyond all salvage. Roman redid a neighbor’s bathroom – taking out the bathtub and converting it into a walk-in shower stall. He did wonderful work – and has promised to do the same for me. I buy the materials, he does the work. My plans proceed.
I want a neo-Victorian look for the master bath, or as much as I can get, utilizing the existing fabric of those two little rooms and not paying a bomb for the various elements. I can reuse some brushed aluminum elements that I bought from Crate and Barrel some years ago – which means that I am committed to that metal for everything else. Fortunately, brushed aluminuim seems to be a popular finish, even in retro-styled fixtures, if the searches on the internet are anything to go by. The necessary bits for the shower enclosure are available at the local big-box construction outlet … and some of the smaller items are on Amazon at a quite reasonable rate. I want hexagonal white tile on the floor, dark wood baseboards, blue and white toile wallpaper, and vintage-looking lights over the vanity. All those elements are available through the big-box outlets. The room where the vanity is supposed to go is a weird space – 55 inches. Upon looking at what is available – oh, deary me. The ones I really like are either too big and massively expensive. But I did run across an a number of articles about repurposing a small dresser to serve as a bathroom vanity … and I happen to have two such items out in the garage. The small oak dresser would serve very well, especially if I can obtain locally a slab of quartz or granite, with a hole for a drop-in sink custom-cut for it … yes, the master bath reno will sop up the summer extra income, but the resulting bathroom will be amazing! It may very well take at least three months to pay for the materials and for Roman’s expertise. But I don’t mind. The deplorable condition of the master bath has long been a thorn in the side of this home-owner.
Phase Four; replace the garage door. Of course, the larger part of this project means sorting out the contents of the garage itself. It would be darned nice to fit one, or both of the cars in the garage again, especially if we can do this by the time we gear up for the Christmas market season.
Phase Five – this project is variable, as it is even more huge than the master bath. The kitchen. I haven’t thought that far ahead, practically, although we found – on our visit to Goliad last week – the image of the perfect kitchen to serve as a model. All this, and a peninsula to serve as a workspace … I haven’t even thought this far out to make an estimation of the costs, although I did buy a book for Roman to study last year, about custom cabinetry. At some point between this phase and the next, new flooring throughout the house will be involved, once the kitchen and the bathrooms are done.

Our Kitchen Inspiration

Phase Six will likely happen next year or the following; replacing the roof. In March of 2005, a violent hailstorm ripped through my neighborhood, putting the final kibosh on my own roof and practically everyone elses’. At that time, I was told that the shingles would be good for ten years, maybe a little longer, if we were lucky. So far, I have not seen the little granules washing off and piling up at the bottom of the gutter downspouts, as I had before. We’ve been lucky, as far as marble-sized hail goes – but this will not last forever. A couple of neighbors have gone and done standing-seam metal roofs, which are good for a lifetime and then some. So – metal roof, next year or the year after.
Following upon the roof will be replacing the windows, especially on the badly-weathered side of the house; likely that will also mean replacing some of the siding, which is also badly decayed in places. I had looked into doing new windows four or five years ago but didn’t have the funds to commit to it then. And that will wrap up the Five Year Plan, finally, to improve Chez Hayes.


  1. Even though many investment advisors insist that paying your house off early instead of investing in the market is a bad idea, I can’t agree with them.

    Perhaps they’re right, if even after you do so you are years from retirement, will need to remain working, and might well sell and move elsewhere. But if you’re within, say, a decade of retirement and intend to stay put it’s an enormous load off your mind. And – combined with a decent emergency fund – is hugely reassuring if you worry about bumps in employment or want the option of retiring early.

    We just paid our mortgage off last December, 20 years after buying our house. I currently don’t intend to retire for another half-dozen or so years – I like my job, and every additional year I work makes our retirement finances more solid. But knowing I *could*, if I need to, or just want to, is an extremely liberating feeling (and does a wonderful job of reducing work-related stress, too). And much like you, we’re in the process of doing all the repairs and improvements we want for the long term now, while we have the cash flow to cover them without digging into savings.

    We looked at raised-seam metal, but just went with a 50-year rated composition shingle roof. Our roofer told us “You have a 50 year rating on the shingles and a lifetime guarantee on the work – it will probably be over 40 years before it needs any maintenance.” I told him I wished that he could make the same guarantee on us.

  2. Celia

    *snicker* Yes, I’d like to be certain the roof will last longer that I will – because my daughter is my heir, and will have the house for herself, to live in or sell, free and clear.
    I’ve had some thin times since deciding that I couldn’t stick working full time for other people any more. But having the military pension gave me a bit of latitude, and not having the mortgage take a huge chunk of it will give even more. Not to mention that I have repaired my credit rating in the last five years.

    For me – something always turns up. Just today, a Watercress client (likely the only one I will have until another one turns up out of the blue) wrote me a check for his project, so I am feeling even more secure.