Counting Chickens: How a Farmhouse Remodel Backfired

As I mentioned in previous posts (See “Sweat Equity” and “The Modern Oregon Trail”), my husband and I moved back to Iowa from Seattle in 2005 and set ourselves up in a farmhouse. The house needed a lot of work: The Pepto Bismol pink and neon green walls matched by ugly linoleum were really icing on a crumbling cake. The electrical was knob and tube, and the plumbing was antique. The kitchen was non-existent. Seriously. Not a cabinet in site.

So what did we do? Mike and I remodeled the entire house, gutting the inside to studs and rebuilding. The biggest part of our remodel was the (beautiful) kitchen, and this is the story of where we went wrong in our remodel:

Buying Chickens

People often advise others not to count the chickens before they hatch, but Mike and I like to live on the edge. Rather than counting fine-feathered friends, we bought an entire roost of "chickens" before we had a "coop" -- we bought the farmhouse before we had jobs.

OK, that sounds horrible — let me clarify: Mike had a job, but it was a telecommuting job that statistically wouldn’t make it. On the other hand, I was searching for a job, with little luck since my search was localized to a tiny town (population: 96) 15 minutes from the farm.

Despite our situation, we had faith (and family) to pull us through, and we went forward with a full house remodel.

Setting Up the Coop

OK, so we had our chickens. We then needed to build a coop as fast as possible. I found a bank job rather quickly once I expanded my search to the nearest large town — 45 minutes away. Mike also found a job in the same town when the telecommuting didn’t work out (he just didn’t like the distance for his line of work). We were finally set up, but we still had to count our chickadees…

Counting Chicks Before They Hatch

Once we had dependable jobs, Mike and I poured all of our weekends into finishing off the kitchen. Mike’s dad built us custom cabinets, and we bought all the bells and whistles that fit the 1900′s farmhouse charm.

We bought a beautiful (and expensive) sink and faucet, decked out the backsplash in gorgeous (mega-moola) tiles, installed the best lighting and faced the chimney with tumbled stone. The kitchen was a genius collection of the best in kitchen accessories, and I was in love.

We counted many eggs at that point. Our dreams of farm life were becoming a reality: We had horses, a beautiful kitchen and home, a garden tilled in waiting and a lovely German Shepard. Life couldn’t have been better, and the eggs were waiting to hatch.

The Hatchlings

Then, the chickens hatched: winter arrived with a vengeance, and our 45 minute drive often ran into an hour and a half. The whole purpose of owning a farm was lost on us. We never spent time taking care of the horses; my lovely kitchen was barely used; I never put in the garden I wanted; and our poor dog was going crazy from lack of socialization. Our chickens really didn’t amount to the eggs we were counting, and we moved shortly after, much closer to our jobs.

The moral of the story is to think through large purchases. Will that $1200 sink combo really be your best investment? In my case, no — the return for our remodel netted us some in sweat equity, but the kitchen really cut into our proceeds. Will you have time to trim hooves, brush manes, garden, cook or spend time on activities you enjoy? If not — no matter how beautiful your eggs (or kitchen) — don’t base your life decisions on the maybes in life.

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Anonymous's picture

MoneyCone wrote:

Mon, 01/24/2011 - 18:15 Comment #: 1

Sorry to hear that Christa. Sometimes we have to lose something to learn something!

Anonymous's picture

Aloysa wrote:

Tue, 01/25/2011 - 02:33 Comment #: 2

Very interesting story. You are a very brave woman to move from Seattle to Iowa and into a farmhouse. But I am a city girl... so for me just a word farmhouse sounds scary. :-)

Anonymous's picture

Money Reasons wrote:

Tue, 01/25/2011 - 18:08 Comment #: 3

Sounds like a tough time, sorry to hear that it didn't work out!

Did you end up with a house that's a good compromise between the two (city and farm)? I know you have horses, that's why I ask :)

Christa Palm's picture

Christa Palm wrote:

Tue, 01/25/2011 - 18:20 Comment #: 4

MoneyCone, losing my beautiful kitchen was hard, but I learned a lot from the experience :)

Aloysa, I enjoy both the city and the country. I like the natural serenity of farm life, but I really like living in town now -- running out for milk now takes 5 minutes rather than 45!

Money Reasons, It was definitely a learning experience, but I am happy where I am now -- City Girl all the way! I can still go out to my mom's farm, though, when I miss the serenity. Unfortunately, I did have to sell the horses...but I now have a small "pony" -- a Great Dane -- who keeps me company on my daily walks. It all worked out wonderfully in the end :)

Anonymous's picture

retirebyforty wrote:

Tue, 01/25/2011 - 23:08 Comment #: 5

Sorry you had to move after all that work!!!
We are city people too. :)

Christa Palm's picture

Christa Palm wrote:

Fri, 01/28/2011 - 18:41 Comment #: 6

Retirebyforty, it was a lesson learned :) The city really fits our lifestyle now, so I'm happy to be city folk once again!

Anonymous's picture

Carnival of Personal Finance: Cupid Edition | Well Heeled Bl wrote:

Mon, 02/14/2011 - 05:01 Comment #: 7

[...] out arbitrage techniques [Darwin's Money], bring in non-taxable income [Spruce Up Your Finances], remodel their farmhouse [Mom Vesting], and then they will have enough money to travel to [...]

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