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The Joys (and Hell) of Owning Our First Home for a Year

When Mark and I decided to purchase our first home in the ever-growing area of Fort Collins-Loveland, Colorado, we knew it would be a stressful venture. Regardless of the stress, it’s been a rewarding one, too.

Originally, we didn’t plan on buying our first home within the first year of living in CO, but lo’ and behold, everything was increasing with no end in sight: rent and mortgage payments, competition among buyers, interest rates, down payments, my anxiety and blood pressure, etc.

This sums up the competition in CO when you're a buyer in a competitive market especially when looking for your first home.

Prior to talking to a loan officer of real-estate agent, the first thing I did was purchase this first-time homebuyer book.

Home Buying Kit for Dummies

After taking many notes from this helpful resource, we talked with two real estate agents and three loan officers based on online ratings, websites and word-of-mouth; we asked questions suggested from the book. We went with Remax’s Nathan Weinland and Cornerstone Lending’s Brad Dusek—both amazing experts in real estate, so if you’re looking for an agent or loan officer in this area, we highly recommend them!

Afterwards, we toured multiple—over 15 houses—properties in the Fort Collins-Loveland area. We visited a haunted house (I kid you not), a house with three different types of wallpaper in the basement, a house that easily needed $50K+ in repairs, amazing mansions, and more … until we found a house that met our price range and was in fairly good condition in Loveland. We made an offer on it seven hours after it was posted and wa-la!

First time home owners in Loveland!
The day we signed all of our documents and were officially homeowners on April 29, 2016!

After the technicalities of signing (our souls away) the papers and experiencing one hell of an empty bank account after the down payment, we experienced the joys and surprises of our first home:

Here’s a fun list of everything that went wrong within the first few months:

  • Our cat decided that the house was too big for her; therefore, she developed stress, which then turned into a UTI infection causing her to vomit and urinate around 20 times on the lower-level carpet.
  • The refrigerator’s water line cracked causing a semi-flooded kitchen floor. Home warranty wouldn’t cover it, and it was turning into a costly repair … so no more ice machine or water dispenser!
  • I picked up—and continue to pick up—trash in our backyard from previous owners. The soil here works where, after a windy, snowy and/or rainy day, things that are buried below the surface start to emerge like seedlings. From tiny pieces of broken plastic to cigarette butts, chewed up dog toys to metal spoons, shards of glass to army soldiers, I found some interesting ‘treasures’ so far!
  • Dead, embalmed rat carcass in our crawl space … ’nuff said.
  • Every single label in our fuse box is mislabeled. The one labeled ‘outside lights’ turns on/off the bedroom in the lower-level!
  • The chimney wasn’t cleaned in multiple years causing an inch-thick layer of soot to form, which was a big hazard! Apparently, chimney fires can heat up to a whopping 2,000 degrees!
  • The water pipes under the kitchen had legit cracks in them … CRACKS! Over time, the moisture that escaped formed a strange moldy substance in the crawl space.
  • The garage…ooooh the garage! There were two fire wall breaches—down to one—and the walls are slowly stripping away and is home to numerous spiders.

Our initial thoughts after repairing or having numerous items repaired and seeing the money flow to our first home:

Buy a house they said, it'll be fun they said!
Luckily we have yet to experience a flooded basement! *knocks on wood*

However, as we reach our one-year homeownership mark, we can truly say that we do love our home despite the insanity this first year brought both financial- and work-wise!

We made/had the following repairs and upgrades to our first home:

  • Installed New Flooring to the Lower-Level

    Many ‘thanks’ to our furbaby for instigating us to re-do the lower-level flooring a good three years sooner than intended! The (original) vinyl flooring in the downstairs bathroom was replaced with beautiful, natural stone, slate tiles:

    Tiles Make Smiles installed natural stone slate tile in our bathroom area.
    Tiles Make Smiles installed natural stone, slate tiles in our bathroom area.

    The tiles were also installed around our wood-burning fireplace (both projects completed by Tiles Make Smiles):

    New slate tile around our fireplace downstairs.
    Tiles Make Smiles installed natural stone slate around the fireplace.

    Lastly, we ripped up the carpet and padding from the den and had a nice, wood vinyl flooring installed (completed by Mic’s Tile):

    New vinyl wood flooring installed!
    New vinyl wood flooring by Mic’s Tile.
  • Removed Popcorn Ceiling

    Covered in the particles and material in the popcorn ceiling
    Myself covered in the particles and materials from the popcorn ceiling!

    If ever there was a task so tedious that it would make you not only feel like burning down your house, but simultaneously fill your lungs and eyes with more-than-likely horrible substances it is the process of removing popcorn ceiling.

    This process involves spraying warm water on the ceiling, scraping off the popcorn, sanding the remnenants to a flat surface, spackling any scratches and dents from the removal process, vacuuming the floor and wiping down the walls, windows and doors, and then priming/painting the ceiling!

    Before and after the removal of popcorn from the ceiling.
    Before and after the removal of popcorn from the ceiling.

    We have one more room to go: our master bedroom. There is still a ton of popcorn ceiling throughout the house, but to those rooms I say, “Adieu!”

  • Radon Mitigation System

    Our radon mitigation system installed when we first moved into our first home.

     was tested in our home with results showing levels above 7 pCi/L, which is above the recommended levels. We added this to one of the fixes we wanted the sellers to fix, which they obliged. After the system was installed in the crawl space, the radon levels are now at 0 pCi/L! (We had BWise Radon install it, and they were amazing!)

  • New Kitchen Pipes Installed

    Another concerning issue that we asked the sellers to take care of involved replacing kitchen pipes in the crawl space because they were leaking and causing mold. This was completed in a day, and it was a good thing since the original pipes had legit cracks in them!

  • Painted Three Rooms and Upgraded Outlets and Covers

    I never painted a room before and was really psyched when we were prepping to paint after removing the popcorn ceilings! We painted Mark’s room—aka man cave—a medium green. Then, we added curtains, and Mark replaced all of the antiquated outlets and covers:
    We painted a room in our home and it became my husband's 'mancave.'

    Next, we painted my ‘lady’s lair’ a retro pink color that turned out better than expected:
    My 'lady's lair' room completed after painting!

    Lastly, prior to the floor installation, we painted the bedroom in the lower level a bright yellow to add more light in what was once a dark and uninviting room:
    Lower level bedroom post-painting.

    We plan on painting the master bedroom a nice silver-grey color after removing the popcorn ceiling in the future.

  • Upgraded the Outdoor Firepit

    This was my first, personal project, and I love working outdoors. The outdoor fire pit was a complete and utter mess prior to upgrading it as it was literally a big pile of rocks with a vast insect ecosystem in it with no fire control or container. After a few months of placing slabs of rocks and gravel from around the yard, I added bricks, sand and lava rocks to the middle to really give it a nice decor:

    Different stages of the fire pit being redone.
    Different stages of the fire pit being redone.
  • Installed a Catio

    One of the joys of being a cat owner is doing anything and everything to make your cat happy! When my family visited, my dad and Mark built a legit, screened-in catio for Squeaky that has become a conversation-starter!
    Squeaky cat in her catio!

  • Replaced the Kitchen Sink and Underlying Cabinet

    The kitchen sink was replaced by Mark, and my dad fixed the cabinet area underneath it since it was water stained and slightly moldy. He completed that part with scrap wood he found around the lot:

    My dad and Mark fixing up various items in the house.
    My dad and Mark fixing various areas in the house. They cut wood in the top photo for the catio and replaced the kitchen sink and a doorknob.
  • Installed an Outdoor Solar Lamp

    Installed an outdoor solar lamp to replace our broken electric one.The original, outdoor lamp that ran off of electricity wouldn’t turn on due to a cut cable 18+” below ground. Instead of paying thousands to fix it, we removed the original lamp head and installed a $90 solar lamp that works just as well!

  • Attic Fan Installed

    We had an attic fan installed by Colorado Heating and Cooling and we've already feel the difference!
    It gets ‘hotter than 40 hells’ in the summertime in Colorado. Despite having the air ducts cleaned, the master bedroom is an oven day and night. We had an attic fan installed for around $600 to mitigate the heat this coming summer.

These are the larger projects that we completed/had completed during our first year. Not bad for our first home if I do say so myself! The number one thing to remember is to pace yourself and your wallet as well as to prioritize first home projects in terms of urgency and home value increases.

Do you have any first home stories (or nightmares)? Share them in the comments!

View of the Rocky Mountains on the way to Gem Lake

Westward Bound: A Year Living in Colorful Colorado

It astonishes me how time goes by faster the older you get. One such realization is that it’s been a year since Mark and I moved from our native state of North Carolina to out west to northern Colorado (NoCo).

We didn’t know what to expect with such a big life change away from friends, family, familiarity, and the ocean (well at least for me…Mark doesn’t care for it much haha); however, what subdues the fears of the unknown is that I’m not alone or without a plan!

We’ve grown so much over this past year: starting new jobs, meeting new people, experiencing a new cultural and political mindset, buying a home and learning the hard way of financial burdens that unconditionally come with home ownership, and growing wiser while exploring new places.

We experienced some really cool, awesome places, and here are 12 that stick out in my mind:

  1. Rocky Mountain National Park
  2. rocky-mountain-national-park-campground
    Never before did I have the chance to experience the beauty, intimidation, and awestruck feeling that one gets from exploring the Rockies. It was mind-boggling to see different ecosystems from almost-barren landscapes to lush woods, prairie grasses and more. I was familiar with thick pines, oaks, swamps, and the coast, so I was in a 180-degree, non-humid world.

    Me in front of Bierstadt Lake in the Rocky Mountain Park!Nature comes in various, amazing forms, and I grew to love an area that was drier and more expansive than what I was familiar with…and it’s been wonderful. We saw new wildlife and plant life and experienced fluctuating temperatures from hot, dry and intense to frigid, dry and … also intense haha.

    The view if you're driving to the Rocky Mountain National Park from NoCo. This is Theodore Roosevelt National Forest.If you’re driving towards the RMNP from the east, then you’ll drive through Roosevelt National Forest that has spectacular rock formations and wildlife (bighorn sheep!)

  3. Horsetooth Mountain
  4. A the very top of Horsetooth Rock in Fort Collins!
    Point blank: You haven’t experienced Fort Collins if you haven’t explored and climbed around Horsetooth Mountain. Within two weeks of moving to Fort Collins, we hiked up (the very steep side of) Horsetooth Mountain and experienced the glory of low oxygen and short breaths, but we made it to the top! We saw our first Prairie Rattler on the way up, and since then, we made numerous hikes around the park and consider it one of the best places to take visitors who love to hike (and who don’t mind being somewhat out-of-breath during it.)

  5. Coyote Ridge
  6. Watching the sunset at one of the high ridges on the Coyote Ridge trail.
    Talk about seeing the majestic side of prairies and the wildlife, just head over to Coyote Ridge! We saw prairie dogs, mule deer, and coyote traces while hiking across the open space to the nearby rocky hills that open up to some spectacular views!

  7. Devil’s Backbone
  8. The rocks emerging from the ground at Devil's Backbone really do live up to their name!
    If you really want to see the ‘youth’ and roughness of the Rockies without ascending to higher elevation, check out Devil’s Backbone in Loveland. The open space and rock formations live up to their name as they literally look like a backbone emerging from the ground.

    Keyhole Rock on the Devil's Backbone Trail in Loveland!The rock formations are amazing with the mystifying holes and balancing of structures. The keyhole rock is a huge attraction, and I was surprised to find a wild honeybee hive in a gap there!

  9. Bridal Veil Falls
  10. Mark and I in front of Bridal Veil Falls!
    You don’t have to pay the (somewhat high) fee to enter the Rocky Mountain State Park to enjoy hikes. Right outside the gate in Estes Park lies a few trails including Bridal Veil Falls. This easy hike takes you through a prairie area and then up lots of inclines where you even have to climb some rocks to get to the end of this trail—the Falls, which really do look like a bridal veil. This a very fun hike with lots of gorgeous scenery, such as dense elm trees and other species as well as lots of streams traveling downhill from the Falls themselves.

  11. Gem Lake
  12. Exploring Gem Lake!
    This intriguing trail is filled with amazing views of the Rockies (see the main photo at the very top of this post), and when my cousin Samantha visited, we hiked this trail—no altitude sickness for the most part! The intriguing part of this trail is when you arrive at Gem Lake, which isn’t the not the prettiest lake around, the rock formations and sights around it are utterly breathtaking. I researched the lake beforehand and read that there were leeches in the lake itself…because of this, we didn’t trod through the waters and avoided those pesky (creepy as hell) organisms…others around us weren’t so well-prepared!

  13. Soapstone Prairie
  14. The prairie goes as far as the eyes can see at Soapstone Prairie!
    A herd of buffalo was released in the wild last Fall about 25 minutes from where we live. The prairie is filled with rabbits, antelope, mule deer and other types of wildlife. When we traveled there to hike it one (extremely windy) day, we unfortunately didn’t see any buffalo roaming about, but we completed a fairly long hike around the prairie itself and got to know the meaning behind the word ‘open space.’

  15. Denver
  16. Denver skyline
    Changing direction from the hikes and open spaces we explored, let’s chat about the amazing and well-known city of Denver. This is one of the most chill cities we’ve yet to visit and includes lots of art, lots of culture, and lots of beer and weed (in the truest sense). If you’re into unique music or shows, then you’ll be very happy to visit this city. Alongside that, the Broncos stadium and other big-time sports teams can be found here. It is very fun to explore this city, and I hope we get to explore it more as we continue to get more and more settled in this amazing state.

  17. Garden of the Gods
  18. Garden of the Gods has spectacular views of red-orange rocks!
    One place you have to hit up in Colorado is the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs. You will be awestruck at the majestic view of the rock formations as well as the vibrant red-orange colors. From watching thousands of sparrows, other birds, and bats fly in and out of the gaps within the rocks as well as contemplating how certain rocks formed the way they did and inspired interesting names (kissing camels for one), this was definitely a fun place to explore.

  19. Pike’s Peak Highway
  20. At the top of a 14er in Colorado Springs, Pike's Peak!
    We have yet to physically hike a 14er (mountains that peak at or above 14,000 feet above sea level) as it takes lots of training as well as waking up in the wee hours of the morning to climb one so as to avoid afternoon lightning storms.

    The one 14er you can drive up is Pike’s Peak in Colorado Springs. It took a VERY long time to reach the summit due to the high number of vehicles, but the highway itself was filled with eye-popping cliffs right next to your car, hardcore turns, and a lack of oxygen that can create a tingling sensation in your fingers and toes as well as lack of breath. We made it to the top, and it started to snow (IN JULY). The lack of life up there was very noticeable as well as lots of loose pebbles and rocks due to the intense weather that occurs. We are planning to hike up an easy 14er next spring/summer!

  21. Estes Park & The Stanley Hotel
  22. The Stanley Hotel
    If you visit northern Colorado (NoCo), one of the places you’ll visit is Estes Park and its famous Stanley Hotel, which inspired Stephen King’s The Shining—it wasn’t filmed here though but is still equally haunted! Along with an amazing whisky bar and restaurant, you can go (sneak) upstairs and walk around the historic hotel and try to capture a ghost! The town is very quaint especially if you manage to visit here outside of tourist season. Expect to find a TON of candy and ice cream shops as well as your typical tourist shops. This is a must-see.

  23. Great Sand Dunes
  24. Great Sand Dunes view from backcountry campsite
    Our last Colorado adventures right before our one-year anniversary living here included the Great Sand Dunes in southern Colorado. Oh. My. God. This place was mystical and beyond anything we expected it to be. Our first night involved car camping in the nearby campground, Pinyon Flats, where we saw mule deer, mountain lion prints, and experienced the intriguing ecosystem of shrubs right next to the Dunes and the huge mountains with alpine tundras at their peaks.

    Hiking around the Great Sand Dunes.The second day we journeyed into the Dunes themselves for our first backcountry camping experience, and, of course, we ‘chose’ a hard route over some of the taller dunes, which was the hardest physical activity either of us have done. With 40-50 pounds on our backs as well as carrying a vital 2.5-gallon jug of water, we were very winded and strained. We found our camping spot about 2 miles in the dunes next to wild flowers that are home to numerous circus beetles, wasps, crickets, kangaroo mice, etc.

    How small our tent looks from the top of a dune!
    Can you spot our tent?

    Our tent looks like a dot after we climbed to the top of the dune next to it. It was easily one of the quietest and darkest places we’ve camped, and we saw every speck of light in the Milky Way as well as satellites (no UFOs though!) The wind was violent when night approached, and temperatures dropped from the 70s to low 40s. Exploring the Dunes was definitely a fun way to celebrate our one-year of calling this amazing state home!

Looking over this list of sites and places we’ve seen and hiked, it amazes me what we’ve accomplished thus far in the year we’ve lived here alongside buying a home and starting new careers. We plan to see many other places in this great state as we continue our lives here…so many more destinations planned that it would take me a great long while to list them all!

katie-and-mark-coloradoThe old saying, “home is where the heart is” emerges in my mind at times, but I remember that my heart is wherever Mark and I are happy at, and most importantly, my heart is with Mark. Wherever he is, then I am happy and at peace. It is just an added perk that we’re living in one of the best states in terms of politics, economy, schools, and things-to-do!

Here’s to many more years in this awesome and adventurous state! Cheers.

Better than a Paycheck: Why Volunteering and Giving is Worth it!

My experience with volunteering is relatively new in my life. It has given me much pleasure not only working with different kinds of people and organizations, but also using my journalism skills to help out awesome causes and spread their mission around. Many people asked me if I get paid or get anything out of it, and I always smile a bit and say of course there’s no pay, but I DO get something out of it: the experience, and the joyful feeling of completing a project or heightening the organization’s vision.

If you haven’t notice, I am a stress-loving, fast-paced and energetic individual who has a reputation for taking on as many projects and tasks as is physically and mentally possible. I learned more about multi-tasking and the glory of email communication as well as how passionate each organization is with their goals! In turn, in makes you passionate for their goals and see it as a just cause to help out.

Here is a list of my volunteer experiences that are ongoing:

Citiwide Vocational Center

Citiwide Vocational Center logo designed by Katie Corder in 2013.
Citiwide Vocational Center was the first volunteer experience I did using my journalism skills. So many people asked me how I got involved, and, to spread the word, I got involved with Volunteer Match. Citiwide was in need of a massive website clean-up and social media management. What’s nifty about volunteering for Citiwide is that they are located in Washington, D.C., and I am located in the Raleigh area, so I had to rely on email and phone communication with the founder. Citiwide Vocational Center offers computer training (hardware and software), GED completion, and other training related to career prep for technical jobs; it prepares residents for the computer workforce by offering them classes, skills and other educational opportunities.

My actions involved creating a new logo and name change, cleaning up a TON of HTML and CSS code on their WordPress site, organizing links and content, and revamping their social media accounts. I plan on continuing to volunteer for this amazing group whenever they ask for my services and hope to meet them face-to-face whenever I make it up to the D.C. area!

Health 2.0 NC Triangle

Health 2.0 NC RTP logo.Health 2.0 NC Triangle is my most recent and growing volunteer experience. I became involved with this chapter of Health 2.0 by attending a Sapient networking event in Morrisville, NC. I met Brent Anthony at the event, and he explained his idea of starting a Health 2.0 chapter in the RTP area. What place in North Carolina would be better than the Triangle for such an organization? It was a brilliant plan, and it continues to grow by attracting healthcare professionals, medical doctors, health data analysts, health communicators, students and anyone else interested in health, health IT news and ideas.

Since becoming part of the CORE group of Health 2.0 NC Triangle, I witnessed the group growing from four people to well over 200! My role involved reaching out to the community using social media—mainly Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook and Google+, yet no website is available yet for our chapter (it’s in the works though!) As of now, I assist in communicating events, news and other topics on social media as well as photograph and live Tweet at events. We had our introductory event, “Blazing the Trail,” as the ‘launch’ of our organization, and it had a shocking turnout of over 110 people! As the group grows along with the upcoming website, I expect to play a more central role in helping this group take off in the fast-paced RTP health community!

All-N’ Together Services

All-N' Together Services logoAll-N’ Together Services was my first non-profit that I became involved with after college. With this organization, I helped lead donation drives for new and used school supplies for low-income, rural N.C. public school students. I’ve been working with them for over a year now and love to collect and buy school supplies knowing they’re going to such an amazing cause. North Carolina’s public schools were recently ranked the lowest in the country for public education, and because of this, students, families and educators need any help they can get more than ever! I learned, and continue to learn, how to motivate and lead people to donate and spread the word, which is great leadership, outreach, and non-profit experience.

Whenever I give donations to the main organizers of this non-profit, I feel an enormous feeling of warmth; however, I always find myself thinking: “I could’ve done more … I could’ve collected more supplies or reached out to more people!” But I tell myself afterwards—every little bit helps. I plan on helping them out once or twice a year for as long as I am able to, which reminds me since you are so lucky to be reading this post … if you are living anywhere in N.C. and would love to donate your used or new school supplies or backpacks PLEASE contact this amazing organization for more information. Any support would be much appreciated!

That about sums up my current volunteering experiences! I donate food as well as clothes to various organizations and groups whenever I get a chance and am looking into volunteering for Habitat-for-Humanity for the first time (I’ve always be curious about it). It just shows that you don’t need a 9–5 job to use your journalistic or communication skills as you can also learn and gain experience with non-profits. There was a study that found that helping out others and volunteering emits greater happiness within you than other things in life ,like materialism or money, and I am not only a believer of that, but am now living it.

Thanks for your interest! 🙂