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As in, my physical domicile.

What Our House Actually Cost

This was the “back-of-the-envelope” analysis (to which I’d previously alluded) that convinced us to buy a house in Fresno for the duration of Stephanie’s 3-year doctoral program.

Estimated Costs
(over 3 years, as a % of purchase price)
Commission 6.0%
Property Tax (~1.27%/yr) 3.8%
Insurance (~0.33%/yr) 1.0%
Closing Costs at Purchase 0.4%
Closing Costs at Sale 1.2%
Total 12.4%
Purchase Price $340,000
Cost per Month $1,171

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Timber Framing Initiation

At some point in early 2021, I started seeing this thumbnail on YouTube all the time.

Screenshot of YouTube with Shelter Institute's 'Timber Frame vs Conventional Stick Frame' video thumbnail in focus
YouTube really wanted me to watch “Timber Frame vs Conventional Stick Frame

Apparently I wasn’t alone. For reasons known only to The Algorithm, “Timber Frame vs Conventional Stick Frame” blew up (to the point that a follow-up was uploaded in March to assuage the rabble). I had resisted watching it, I think because that ubiquitous thumbnail looked so academic. At the time I was more into watching people actually build homes, most notably Woodness Goodness’s Cabin Build, Crafted Workshop’s (Not So Tiny) Tiny House Build, and Essential Craftsman’s Spec House Series. It wasn’t until November, after I’d finished landscaping the front yard, supporting my Dad on the CDT, and digging another dry well, that I finally took the bait. Certainly my renovation projects over the last 3 years had primed me, but it’s astounding in retrospect that it only took 6 minutes to go from knowing nothing about timber frames, to knowing with absolute clarity that I would—one day—build a timber frame home. And I don’t mean “build” as in “have someone build”, I mean “build with my own two hands”.

“Have you ever built a house with your own hands, out of the materials that Nature left lying around? Everyone should have that experience once. It is the most satisfying experience I know. We have been as fascinated as children who build forts or snowhouses, and it has made us the tightest little society in all the West.” —Susan Burling Ward in Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner

I shared my quasi-religious awakening with Stephanie, who, to my relief, was fully into the exposed beam, form-follows-function aesthetic (with the caveat that she was in no position to sign on for timber framing’s DIY ethic any time soon, if ever). That same night, I emailed Shelter Institute, the folks behind the video, and asked them to add me to the waitlist for all 3 of their sold-out timber framing classes in the first half of 2022. I was disappointed to discover the next day that there were over 100 people on each waitlist, all vying for the same unlikely spot to open. Since it was hard to plan anything beyond Stephanie’s graduation in May, I had to put my timber frame dreams on hold. Or so I thought.

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Crepe myrtle buds

Darker times may yet lie ahead, but on a hopeful note, the crepe myrtle tree in our front yard, which I worried I had killed due to lack of water last summer, then extensively trimmed back this winter (and as of late, I have been watering almost daily), just sprouted its first buds, several weeks after what seemed like every other tree in Fresno had exploded with white, purple, and pink confetti.

Crepe myrtle buds
Crepe myrtle buds

Learning how to save, twelve (point seven five) years later

You’d think I’d have found time to write this while “snowbound in Tahoe”, but my priorities then were jigsaw puzzling, snowshoeing, and cooking good food from scratch, full stop. In truth, Stephanie did most of the jigsaw puzzle, because I had begun puzzling over something else: where to live once she had chosen Fresno State for grad school.

We’d already surveyed several apartment complexes, so we had a good sense of the quality and price points available. But still I found myself asking the question, what if we bought a place? How would 3 years of rent compare to the costs unique to buying a house (i.e. real estate agent commission, property tax, homeowner’s insurance, closing costs, etc.)?

My back-of-the-envelope and admittedly flawed analysis (“flawed” because I assumed both a flat stock market and a flat housing market; also I didn’t foresee the extent of the renovations we’d take on, nor can I predict the impact they’ll have on a future sale) suggested that we’d throw away more money renting over three years than buying, even without any price appreciation. So I started looking at listings, got in contact with an agent, and we found ourselves in contract on a house while still in Tahoe.

The house we bought in Fresno
Our house in Fresno

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San Francisco Sunset

We got to Ocean Beach a few minutes before sunset on our last evening in San Francisco. When we moved from the Mission to the Sunset a year and five months ago, I didn’t anticipate developing such an affinity for the quiet streets and wild oceanfront of the city’s western flank. In search of a change of scenery and cheap rent, we landed there mostly because it was near SF State. Now I joke that I can’t see myself ever living east of 42nd Ave.

Stephanie and Justin on Ocean Beach in San Francisco, CA at sunset on January 31, 2019
Our “last” San Francisco sunset

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