Back to Michigan to buy a house

If you didn’t read the previous post about our time living back in California, the tl;dr; is that we left California both for family but also because we decided as much as we love the Bay, we wanted to live somewhere less expensive, with more fresh air, and with a bit of a slower, “chiller” vibe.

No matter were we are living we always feel a draw to our families. This is both amazing, and difficult. It’s great because we love our families, and we’re incredibly lucky to have such amazing people in our lives we genuinely love spending time with. On the flip side, no matter where we live we always feel at least a bit unsettled because we are often so far away from family. SO, when we left California to try something new part of our decision about moving back to Michigan was because of the opportunity to establish a home base near family. This was an intentional choice designed to help future proof our lifestyle, provide security, and also allow us to both be near family but also in our own space.

Purchasing a home is also a small hedge against the future. Although we bought a house at a relatively terrible time (summer, incredibly competitive housing market in Grand Rapids, etc), interest rates were low. When you consider what we were paying for a single bedroom apartment in Oakland, a mortgage in Grand Rapids is manageable. A fixed rate mortgage also then allows us to say, “OK, we have a place to live, a place we can invest in hobbies and friendships, but we also have a relatively static cost of living so we can plan other goals / lifestyle choices around”.

I’ll add that in theory, with climate change Michigan will over the next decades likely become more temperate.

I want to say also that our goal is not to see buying a house in Michigan as the end of the line for us. Our current stated goals were:

  • Spend 3-6 months of the year traveling / living outside of Michigan (or at least Grand Rapids)
  • Invest in hobbies that allow us to be find fulfillment through creativity and working with our hands
  • Invest in our friendships and find new friendships in Grand Rapids
  • Continue to be open to moving to other places in the world

So far we’ve done a pretty good job with this I think. We’ve met some fantastic friends. We’re on track this year to travel for ~4 months. And we’ve got a full blown pottery studio and a woodworking space that is in the works.

Buying a house.

I’m getting ahead of myself a bit though. When Lindsay and I knew we were coming back to Michigan we pretty quickly decided to buy a house, and decided that we wanted to do so as soon as possible. This was both because the market was competitive meaning (to us) if we weren’t serious about it we might “wallow” for a long time. Better to just go all in.

Unfortunately the timing wasn’t ideal because soon after we got back to Grand Rapids Lindsay left for a full month to Iceland (which I’m incredibly jealous about, but will let her write about) for an all expenses paid (and incredibly fancy!) Fulbright scholarship. Luckily we had a week or two before she left to look around Grand Rapids and decide roughly the areas we might want to live. In the end Grand Rapids is a pretty small city and we knew we wanted to live in an area of the city that was as progressive as possible. We decided that Heritage Hill, Baxter, Eastown, East Grand Rapids, or other neighborhoods in the “Uptown”-ish area is where we’d look.

It turns out this is a pretty boring blog post already so I’ll try to speed it along here. Lindsay was in Iceland, and I started spending an hour or two a day looking at listings on Zillow and Redfin. We also worked with a realtor. I found one house that was pretty nice but expensive, and not perfect.

A week or so later I found another house that looked like the right size, seemed like a good neighborhood, and was in our price range. It looked like this:


It’s not large (3 bedroom, all of which are very small), but it has a great attic for watching movies


Plus a small (but cozy) backyard that’s just the right size for the amount of effort we probably want to put into maintaining a yard / garden (which is to say some but not a ton):


Anyway, I set up a viewing with the realtor. Lindsay was back in California so Lindsay’s Mom was sort of a Lindsay-proxy. The first viewing I was pretty convinced the house was worth putting an offer on.

One of the biggest / most positive things that happened during the viewing was a neighbor, Laura, came over to say hi with her son Will. At the time I was slightly overwhelmed, but also I can’t explain how amazing it was to know that there was a nice person willing to come say hi that would be a neighbor if we got the place. I remember Will in the backyard looking behind the air conditioning unit because apparently that’s where the current owners’ children hid their toys sometimes. The interaction with Laura and Will was short but something I won’t forget. I didn’t learn this for quite a while but it turns out that we got incredibly lucky with our block as it’s absolutely filled with amazing people, and people who I expect we’ll spend many years of our lives happily interacting with.

Anyway, after the first viewing I came back (I want to say the day after perhaps?) with more people (my Mom, Dad, and Sue (Lindsay’s Mom) come to mind). The next day (or right after) I did one final viewing with Lindsay on a video call, at which point we (Lindsay, our realtor, and myself) sat in the backyard and put in an offer. That part was somewhat difficult because of the competitive market but we I had been reading about how terrible things were for home buyers in Grand Rapids for a few months so was mentally prepared.

In the end, we did basically everything but fully wave inspections (i.e. we said we would not counter based on the findings of the inspection but we could still walk away from the house if anything came back that really put us off). The inspection went very well, and bam.

There was a bit more too it, for example because Lindsay was in Iceland when we were schedule to close there was an extra level of stress. I ended up going to closing by myself.

Also, the joy of buying a house in the market we did meant we also did a “rent back” for 2 months after closing (for $0 of course!). So between the time our offer was accepted until the time we actually moved in was a long 3 months.

It was pretty strange buying a house without Lindsay ever seeing it. I felt pretty nervous that we might walk in and Lindsay would not like it. It was also tough because when eventually Lindsay made it back to Michigan from Iceland / CA, we could drive down the street and see the house… but she had no idea really what it looked like inside.

Eventually the move in date came. The video below is the first time Lindsay saw the place in person.

Here is what the place looked like when we first walked in
Unloading our stuff. This is the nightmare pod we loaded up in good ol’ Oakland.

We moved in pretty quickly and within a week or two had fresh paint down, most of our furniture setup / moved in, etc.

For example, this was a week after we moved in:

And this was between a week and two later:

This photo is quite a bit later actually but has my finished kotatsu so I had to include it. The first craft project finished in the new house!

Overall the whole process of moving in was really exciting and fun. We were lucky in that Lindsay was in a transition period between jobs when we moved in so she had a bit of extra time initially to help organize things and put stuff away.

It was a lot of fun doing even the little things like cutting the grass for the first time in a house that we actually own.

Getting ready to cut the grass for the first time!

We also wasted very little time buying things to support our hobbies (one of the key reasons we wanted to buy a house). For example we bought both an excellent potters wheel (Brent IE), as well as a kiln, before we actually moved in. We were able to move these things in within the first few days of having the house.

Fast forward a few months and we setup a fairly nice studio in our unfinished basement.

A few months and some cheap lenolium later

I’m jumping ahead by about a year for a moment, but around a year after moving in and getting into ceramics we had our first pottery show in GR

I mentioned earlier how amazing our block is, but we’ve also met a bunch of other people as well. Plus we’ve got friends in GR from previous iterations of our lives, for example our dear friends Phill and Jinnie.

One of the first things we did in the new house… this was amazing, and Jinnie and Phill were amazing to bring us food. It was so incredibly nice.
Cooking club started back up! It was going for a while, though we need to re-re-start it again when we get back this spring!

The Garage

One of the biggest issues with the house is the garage. When we moved in the garage was nearly unusable except to store stuff, and even then it was pretty terrible because there were no lights, the garage door was a pain to open (manually of course), no electricity, and overall super dingy. Perhaps more important a lot of the wood was rotted out. On top of that the entire garage was heavily leaning, and the roof was seriously damaged. When it rained, it also rained inside the garage through the roof.

It’s a bit difficult to see in the photos (and if I’m honest the garage actually looks worse in many ways today) but you can see a lot of the facia is rotting and falling off, and shingles are in rough shape, and the gutters were nearly worthless.

I might do another post about this later, but I wanted to briefly mention that this photo is from September 17th, about 9 days after we moved in. This is my Dad at the lumber store where we went to start fixing up the garage right away. It’s now been a year and the garage is now in much much much much better shape.

OK, one more photo of the garage work (but really I want to do a more complete start to finish post soon):

Again, more on the garage later.

Closing thoughts

I am not sure we’ll live full time in Grand Rapids forever. I suspect that we may have periods of years here and there where we are located elsewhere (I’m not done with Japan or the UK!). BUT, we’re trying something new out and have been really enjoying the experience. We have a home base near our families, we have a pottery studio, we’ve met some amazing friends. We feel very lucky.

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