Hey guys! Thanks for stopping by for the transcript of Episode 33. If you’d rather listen to this episode than read 8,000 words, you can click the player below or learn how to get them on your phone (for free) here.
Sherry: Hey guys, this week’s episode is brought to you by DIYZ, a free phone app that lets you video chat with licensed professionals whenever a do-it-yourself project has you stumped.
John: We’re actually going to play you one of those calls later in the episode. But in the meantime you can visit (that’s DIY with a Z on the end) for more information, or download the app today for your Apple or Android device.
[ad music ends, intro music begins]
John: I’m John.
Sherry: And I’m Sherry.
John: We like home stuff.
Sherry: We like talking.
John: And we like the occasional game show sounded effect. So welcome to kokokara Has A Podcast. Where we have deep and not-so-deep conversations about DIY, design, and life at home.
Sherry: Today blogger Dana Miller talks to us about the realities behind deciding to downsize. Plus we break down whether to rent or buy a tool. And my love of being submerged in hot water takes us to a very strange place.
[intro music ends]
John: Hey Sherry.,
Sherry: Hey John! What’s new with you?
John: There’s a lot new with me! But I’m going to start with something that’s not a recent new thing, which we’ll get into in a moment (our adventure earlier this morning). Sherry has talked in the past about how her best friend has moved to our neighborhood just down the street; whereas my best friend from growing up has done the opposite, and he moved to the West Coast. He lives in California now. And now that he’s settled there, he has bought his first house. And so we’re always getting Facebook messages from him asking for advice and thoughts. I think he has us on a message chain that’s entitled his “personal DIY consultants.”
Sherry: I love it! He’ll hold up four paint swatches and I’ll be like “Honey, I know this isn’t what you want to hear but I think we need like 10 more and then we can make a decision.”
John: [laughing] I feel like you had him test out every brown paint color for his garage door.
Sherry: I just wanted to get it right. He was keeping the shutters and wanted to paint the door to match the shutters. And I was like “Worst thing you could do is paint the doors, and then you step back and they don’t match at all and they clash.” So there was an exercise in warmer and cooler tones and then we found the right thing. [John laughs] He’s awesome!
John: Well, one question that I chimed in on that he asked recently on our thread was he was trying to figure out whether he should buy or rent a certain tool. Because he’s taking on these new projects and he’s building his tool arsenal. And he was like “How do you know when you should pay the money to own something, or you should just rent it out that time?” I basically told them that there are four things you should weigh. The first thing is the obvious – is just the cost. You can do the math. If it’s something you’re probably going to only use once or twice, you can look at what the rental fee is, and if that’s far less than the cost buy it, which it probably is, then it makes sense to just rent it. I mean, that’s the obvious thing, right?
Sherry: Right. So an example would be if you’re using a hole digger to build a deck, you’re probably going to use the hole digger once to build the deck. You’re not going to be building decks every few years. Unless you have other plans that include using a hole digger, like then you’re going to do… a… treehouse?!
John: A tiger pit? You know, something like that?
Sherry: [laughing] Right, like, other things that you need holes for. Maybe it makes sense to buy it. Another example would be when we nailed in hardwood floors in our bonus room. That was the very last room that needed flooring. We knew that buying a nailer wouldn’t make much sense since we plan to be here for the long haul, and the rest of the house is floored so we didn’t need it.
John: Yeah, we just rented the floor nailer for the day that we used it.
Sherry: But on the other side of that would be a tool that you use long-term all the time.
John: Yeah, like my miter saw.
Sherry: Exactly! The miter saw we use to cut molding. We build furniture with it. We’re just constantly running outside, plugging it in, and using the miter saw.
John: Yeah, it’s like my go-to saw.
Sherry: So that would not make any sense at all to rent. It would be ridiculous. It would waste a lot of time going back and forth from the store to get it.
John: Yeah, exactly. And that’s the second thing I was going to say – consider the travel time it takes to get something. It depends on how convenient a rental place is to you. Our local Home Depot and Lowe’s, the ones that are closest to us, don’t have any tool rentals. There are some that are a little bit further away that have them. And so I do have to figure out, like, okay there’s some extra transport in there – going back and forth, especially if I have to rent something to get it home. When we were doing the irrigation, we rented a trencher to make the holes for the trenching. I had to also rent a truck to get it home because it wouldn’t fit my car. So I think beyond cost and just availability of rental, the things that are also less obvious I think are storage and maintenance. Because once you own it, you have to find a place for it, and you have to keep it well maintained so that you can keep using it. And so I think again those answers might be obvious in some cases like, “I have a tiny apartment. I don’t have room for a miter saw, so I’m going to rent the miter saw.” But you know in our case, we’ve got a garage, we’ve got a shed so the storage thing I could usually justify having a spot for it – but not always. For instance I think about the wet saw that we bought a couple of years ago when we were doing our laundry room. I finally upgraded to a larger wet saw which was awesome! It was about $300 so it wasn’t inexpensive, but it was totally worth it. It was much better than my small, tiny guy. I wish I had done it before. [laughs]
Sherry: Yeah, that was when we were using the cheapest $90 hand-me-down rusty wet saw for way too long! [laughs]
John: But, you know, when I looked actually at the Home Depot website about renting a wet saw, it’s about $64 a day to rent one and about $300 for a week. So I’ve used that wet saw now probably four days? Two days in the laundry room maybe. And two days in this kitchen here. So I’ve been storing this thing for two years, and it comes with a stand and a tray so it doesn’t take up a small amount of space. And if this was the last project I was doing – the kitchen here – then it probably would not have made sense for me to have bought it.
Sherry: But lucky you, we have two bathrooms left! [laughs]
John: And we have like, what, three at the beach house too? So I know I will get my money’s worth out of it eventually. But in just the picture of these most recent two years, I’m not sure it was totally justified because I’ve been storing and maintaining this thing and not using it all that often.
Sherry: Right. But you don’t mean maintaining like you take it out and oil it every month.
John: No, no, no.
Sherry: You just mean after each use you have to clean it, and then you have to put it somewhere where it’s not, like, constantly getting covered in sawdust.
John: Right. And if it were to break it would be my responsibility to figure out how to fix it.
John: Or buy the new part. So there are additional costs beyond just the purchase of it.
Sherry: Okay, but now I really want to get into the “What’s New” that we did this morning together. So you guys know that my dream room in this house, and it’s fictional because it will never happen, is a room with a hot tub and a TV. Sometimes I think a couples’ one would be two hot tubs (because I like mine hotter) and a TV. And John and I could just settle in and watch, like, Survivor together. It would be lots of fun!
John: Yes, so knowing all this about Sherry…
Sherry: Right, he knows I like heat and I like water…
John: What did I get you for Christmas?
Sherry: He got me a session with him in a float tank!
John: I’m guessing the majority people are like, “Huh?”
Sherry: Yeah, I didn’t know what it was.
John: It’s this idea that if you just float in water…
Sherry: For 90 minutes…
John: Yes. According to their brochure, which I have here in front of me, it relieves stress. You can recover from injuries, you can fight addiction, eliminate chronic pain, and much more. It naturally increases your dopamine and endorphin levels.
Sherry: My favorite part of the brochure is when it says “why is the water that temperature?” Because the water is not super hot, but it’s like body temperature.
Sherry: And they say it’s so that when you get in, “you don’t know where your body ends and the water begins.” [laughing]
John: I was still pretty aware.
Sherry: I was aware!
John: So, that’s the sort of “why” of it. The “what” is it … like, what did it look like because I didn’t know what to expect walking in this place? I mean it looks kind of just like you would expect a massage place to be – you know, soothing music, kind of zen low-light type stuff. But you get led back to a private room that has this float tank that’s kind of like a pod-like thing. Our tanks were actually different. You don’t do this together, you do this separately. And so my room, mine was kind of like a giant, white egg – like it was very futuristic looking.
Sherry: It was an orb with a colorful glow. You know what it looked like? A giant mouse that opened.
John: Oh yeah, like a computer mouse?
Sherry: You know, like a sleek computer mouse that’s, like, white and curved like an oblong egg? It was like that.
John: Yeah, but it’s like eight feet long.
Sherry: Yes. It fits a six-foot John just fine with his arms out, full wingspan.
John: And there’s, what, is it 10 inches of water in it?
Sherry: Something like that. But it’s this super, super salty almost thick – it’s not gelatinous – it feels like water, but it has a thickness to it that your body is on top of it. So you sort of sink in, much like you would on top of a pad of foam.
John: Yeah they say there’s 900 pounds of salt in it.
Sherry: Crazy amounts of salt!
John: And so you were in a tank also, it was about the same size, but yours was more like a room like…
Sherry: It looked like a sauna. You know the dry sauna that has like wood walls, and it’s kind of like a smallish box? I could stand in mine but mine still only had 10 inches of water, so it was a lot of headroom. And it had plastic walls instead of the wood sauna walls.
John: Well, so what you do is you get in there and you take a shower to get all of your lotions and outside chemicals off of you I guess. And you step into this tank unclothed.
Sherry: You’re naked.
John: So you get in the tank and you close your top, your door, whatever so you’re completely enclosed, and you can turn the light on or off. I actually kept mine off for most of it because they often describe these as sensory deprivation chambers as well so that you can be more meditative I guess – in touch with your breathing and your thoughts or whatever. [Sherry laughs] So I had mine off. I think I did fall asleep at some point…
Sherry: I knew you would!
John: But I didn’t roll over and drown.
Sherry: It even says in the brochure, “Can I drown? NO, you are so super buoyant you can’t drown.” [laughing] And I think if you’d get the water in your nose and your eyes, you were immediately jolted…
John: Well, beforehand the guy gave us, like, a little primer that it’s super salty. He gave us a towel and a spray bottle inside so that if we got salt on our hands we’d wipe them off because it’s like, “If you get it in your face, you will know.”
Sherry: And he said “But you’ll be fine. My wife even does this in her contacts.” Like, you know, it’ll be great. And, DUDE, I kept getting the salt in my face. [laughing]
John: You DID?
Sherry: I got it in my eyes like 300 times. I was crying. I mean, it was like the opposite of how zen you probably were – sleeping. I was like thrashing. I was sneezing. It burns up your nose. [John laughs] It was like hot sauce. That’s the only description. If you’ve ever gotten hot sauce up your nose, which I have and I’m not going to talk about it, it feels like that. And I’ve never gotten a hot sauce in my eye, but I now know what it would feel like. [John laughs] So I had the light on in the tank a lot more because every time I turned the light off, I could not find my spray bottle and my rag to clean my face off. And it just took longer to stop the pain.
John: I felt like I spent most of the time trying to figure out what I was supposed to be doing like, “Am I supposed to shut my mind off? Am I supposed to be really present?”
Sherry: Right, like, “How am I going how am I going to have an awakening if I’m not thinking about anything?”
John: They said some people hallucinate, and I was like beyond the short dream I had while I was asleep I don’t think I had any hallucinations.
Sherry: Was your dream life-changing?
John: I don’t even remember.
Sherry: Oh I thought you’d be like, “And then I dreamed the most poignant thing.”
John: I woke up knowing that I’m not sure I’m going to go in a float tank again. I mean would you do it again?
Sherry: I don’t know. It’s weird. It was like I want to do it one more time to master it because I certainly did not know what I was doing. I would know sort of how to position my body, I would figure out, you know, maybe give me two spray bottles because I’m going through all the water trying to get it out of my eyes.
John: When I was ending the session, you know again 90 minutes, which I was surprisingly not bored during, I thought I’d be really bored.
Sherry: No I was almost scared it was going to end before I had my awakening so I kept waiting for my, like, moment where everything became clear. But I did feel super relaxed.
John: Yeah. And when I got out I felt like that way … I felt like when you have a really good nap.
Sherry: See, I would describe it as exactly the same feeling after a massage. Like a low level of… not buzz, but you have like a good energetic feeling in your body. I just couldn’t decide whether I’d rather have a massage. I mean the cost is pretty comparable to a massage.
John: Yeah I got a Groupon. I think our Groupons were $50, but I think normally it’s like $75 or something for the 90 minutes.
Sherry: I want to hear from anyone who has ever done it and had an amazing awakening or a hallucination [John laughs] or if you’ve also gotten it in your eyes the whole time like me to make me feel better. John… not once, he’s like, “I didn’t once get it in my eyes.”
John: No I got it in my mouth once.
Sherry: Yeah, it tasted gross.
John: Because I was wiping something off my cheek, and it dripped into my mouth. So that was gross.
Sherry: Yeah it didn’t sting in your mouth. I also got it in my mouth a few times. [John and Sherry both crack up]
John: I don’t need to describe this to you. But, yeah, I feel like if I did it again it would be because I feel like I’ve worked out some of the kinks, like I know how I want lay and what music I want. And so I’d be doing it again almost to just not waste time figuring stuff out and actually have the full experience.
Sherry: Yeah, maybe you’d get your awakening…
John: Yeah, I’d have my hallucination!
Sherry: [laughing] Exactly! But basically it just made me interested in, like, not just doing the same old thing. I was happy that I didn’t just get a massage and I tried something new, and it was fun to do it with you. And I think was a perfect gift because it felt like an adventure to do together. And my only regret was that we did not get burgers after leaving because we were both starving, but we had to go get our son from preschool [laughs]
John: Well I’ll put some photos in the show notes because I’m sure the way we described this is not perfect, and you guys HAVE to see what these tanks are like.
Sherry: Yes. Go to the show notes: kokokara.info/podcast. I think John has a selfie in it. We’ll put that in there too. It is hilarious!
John: I don’t know. [laughs]
Sherry: No, I’m committing to it right now on the air. We’re putting the selfie in. It’s very funny! And, are you wet in that one?
John: Yeah it was afterwards.
Sherry: Exactly. I cannot BELIEVE you had that water all over your body but it never got in your eyes!
John: I have deep set eyes. It runs in my family.
Sherry: [laughs] Seriously!
John: It naturally protects us from the salt. Well enough weird stuff. Let’s dive into a quiz.
[old school quiz music]
Sherry: And now instead of John quizzing me, I’m going to take a moment and I’m going to quiz him.
John: I am ready.
Sherry: So this is an infographic I found on Pinterest and it’s “Seven Exterior Home Improvements That Can Increase Resale Value.” I’m going to read you eight of them. One is a bogey that I threw in there.
Sherry: Number one is: replace your front door.
John: Yes. Okay.
Sherry: Number two: updated landscaping.
Sherry: Number three: repaint your exterior.
John: If it’s needed.
Sherry: Number four: add home automation.
Sherry: Number five: privacy fence.
Sherry: Number six: new roof.
Sherry: Number seven: updated windows.
Sherry: And number eight: pressure wash.
John: I mean the only one that stuck out to me as weird is the home automation because I don’t totally understand what that means in terms of exterior, but I’m not sure that’s something that you would make up because it stands out so much.
Sherry: It is something you love. Did I throw it in there for you? Or was it already in there for you?
John: I mean, I guess our sprinkler system is on a smart controller.
Sherry: You are aware of two other outdoor automations.
John: Oh like a video doorbell?
Sherry: Yes. And what’s the other one? “Oh I don’t have my keys. Good thing I have a …”
John: Oh! Oh, like a smart lock?
John: Okay. I feel like all of these things are good, but I am going to guess privacy fence.
Sherry: Cue sound effect! [womp-womp sound effect]
John: Okay, here’s my second guess: windows.
Sherry: Wrong again. [womp-womp sound effect] The bogey was new roof. I think because the investment is so steep you might not get it back in resale.
John: Oh, okay. That’s true.
Sherry: I just planted that in there because I thought it would slip right in. The interesting thing about all of these is they say the percentage return on resale, and I thought that may be interesting to read off for you guys or anyone at home who was thinking about resale. So they say replacing your front door, the average cost is around $1200. The average return on resale is 102%. So they think you’ll get all that money back.
John: Were there any that were under 100 percent?
Sherry: Well yeah. So 102% for replacing your front door was the highest, that was the most return.
John: That was the only one over 100%?!
Sherry: Yeah, most of them were just 100. You know which is nice. You put the money, you get it back, and it’s more appealing. I’m sure it attracts more buyers.
Sherry: Some were 90% which I guess you’d argue wasn’t a good value because you lost 10% [laughing]
John: This is a very small margin. [laughs]
Sherry: That was repaint exterior. You might not get it all back. And updating the windows. You know, two of the more expensive items on the list.
John: That’s why I guessed windows too because I thought that’s one of those things where depending on how bad the old ones are, they may not improve the exterior curb appeal as much as they improve energy efficiency or function. You know, if they have old windows that don’t open very well or whatever. So that’s why I guessed it – sort of like your roof thing. Like, you might not get all that money back.
Sherry: Exactly. So I’ll put a link to this for you guys in the show notes at kokokara.info/podcast. It has other little tidbits. It estimates how much this project should cost. So it’s full of good information if you’re looking to spruce up the outside of the house.
John: Well now we get to make a phone call. We’re going to give a ring to Dana Miller and her husband, Steve. You guys may know her from the blog House*Tweaking.
Sherry: Yeah they’re really great friends of ours. We’ve been blogging a long time together, and she was even in our first book.
John: Yeah, and they’ve got a really interesting story especially for those of us who are still in the New Year’s mindset of trying to cut down and create the life we want to lead.
Sherry: Yeah, they’ve paid off their mortgage, they go on lots of vacations. They really seem to live thoughtfully and I super admire that about them, so let’s give them a call.
John: Hi Dana. Hi Steve.
Dana & Steve: Hi, John!
Sherry: Well it’s really good to talk to you guys because I think you have such an interesting story. Because a lot of bloggers, we watch their families grow and evolve and they get bigger homes, which, you know, it makes sense. You have more kids you need more space. So you guys have been sort of an interesting foil because we’ve watched you downsize from a bigger home to a smaller one. And we wondered if we could talk to you about that because it clearly has worked for you guys. I mean, you seem to really be thriving and going on awesome vacations and all the positives that go along with it. So I wondered if you could just sort of share your thoughts on maybe how you came up with that idea and then how executing it has worked for you guys?
Dana: It probably seems a lot easier from the outside. I do still think it was a good plan because we reached a financial goal of becoming mortgage-free, but that’s not to say that it’s been super easy the last five years. There are definitely days with two adults and three kids where we feel like we’re missing, like, a room to just send the extra chaos. [Sherry laughs]
Steve: And I would say just from the initial inception of downsizing, it was originally your idea. And I remember an uncomfortable conversation before we went to bed where, you know, we had got this great house and got a pretty good deal on it, and we’d been working on fixing it up and really making it our own and…
Dana: This was our previous home.
Steve: Right. Lived in a really good neighborhood. And then all of a sudden Dana’s like, “Let’s just sell it and get something really tiny.” And initially that was kind of a hard pill for me to swallow I think because I thought, “Okay, we’re right where we should be.” And I’ll be the first to admit that it took a little while for me to kind of come on board. I saw how much it meant to her. And then we found this Underdog and we got busy trying to make it our own, and now I’m super glad that we made the decision that we did. But it wasn’t by any means an easy decision.
Sherry: And for anyone listening who doesn’t know the change in square footage, what was your old house versus your new house, the Underdog?
Dana: So our old house was 2,800 square feet with a full unfinished basement that was full of crap. [Sherry laughs] And now we live in a 1,600 square foot ranch with no basement, a small attic…
Steve: We had a three-car oversize garage plus a shed that I just built in the back too. As far as storage, we went to basically an undersized two-car garage.
Dana: Yeah. So we downsized everywhere and we added a human being. [everyone laughs]
Sherry: Yeah, tell everyone that story!
Dana: So it turned out great. It has a happy ending. [laughter] A week before we officially sold our previous house and we had bought the house that we’re living in now which was a complete wreck, we found out that we were expecting an unexpected child which was our third child. And the funny thing is we had looked at houses that were two bedrooms thinking our two older boys could share a bedroom if they needed to. We were just trying to see how small we could go. But something felt more comfortable with a three bedroom, so luckily we did go with the three-bedrooms or else…
Steve: We’d be stacking kids.
Dana: Yeah I’m not really sure what would have happened. [laughter]
Sherry: And then you had a girl so the two boys share a room, your olders, and then your daughter has her own space.
John: Dana, what made you want to make the change?
Dana: Well I just felt like we were living in this big house and using maybe three of the rooms on a daily basis but paying for the entire thing and spending most of our days at work paying for it instead of living in it. I felt like it was just so empty.
Steve: You saw the waste, I think, a lot clearer than I did. You know, I thought, “It’s great! We’ve got this huge house, big tall ceilings in the main living room.” And I think you saw the fact that there was a lot of space that we weren’t utilizing and, you know, we had a sizable mortgage so we were paying for it each month. Now we have a smaller space. It’s really heavily utilized. And I like that. I really like that.
John: Having made kind of the opposite move over the years – we were in a smaller space in and moved to a larger one – I still sometimes think, like, I’m that person who admires the idea of downsizing and living with less… but I can’t quite get myself to feel like I could actually do it. So I would love to hear the things it has added to your life.
Dana: So definitely the financial aspect has been great. It has given us more freedom to travel and go on vacations. We were asking the kids what they wanted for Christmas, and the gist of the lists were “We don’t really want much. We’d rather go on more vacations and have fun.” So I feel like they’re getting it.
John: I can’t believe your kids have realized things that I am still trying to grasp at age 35. [laughter]
Steve: I wouldn’t have said that as a kid.
John: I feel what you guys get a parenting medal or something.
Sherry: I know! “I just want family time with you, Mom.” [laughter]
Dana: I grew up not taking vacations so I never really thought they were necessary. And then, I don’t know, Steve and I took one by ourselves one time, and I was like, “This is awesome! We need to do this with the kids.”
Dana: And it is. I just, I like for myself seeing different places and I want my kids to see that too.
Steve: And we would have never taken as many trips if we had been in a larger house with a larger mortgage.
Sherry: Yeah, so let’s talk about that. You guys shared that you fully paid off your mortgage and are living mortgage free. And due, I think, in a big part to your choice to downsize. And I wondered – what does that feel like?
Dana: The day that we paid it off was amazing! And then the next day it just feels the same. [John and Sherry laugh]
Sherry: That’s funny!
Dana: Because honestly, the money just goes somewhere else whether you’re saving or, you know, paying for something else.
Steve: Yeah I have a little different perspective. At the end of the month, I’m the one that kind of balances everything out. And you definitely notice that all of a sudden that payment is gone. It is a very good feeling! It gives you options. You now have options – to put more money towards kids’ college funds, you have options for trips…
Dana: Pay cash for big purchases that you would normally take a loan out on.
Steve: So it hasn’t changed really the way we live that much, but it’s a good feeling.
Dana: We’re still pretending that we have a mortgage.
Steve: That’s right.
Dana: That money is still not being used for that much other than trips.
Steve: Because we lived without it for so long.
Dana: Right, and not only were we paying a mortgage payment, we were paying three or four times the regular payment, you know, to pay it off.
Steve: So it was a sizable chunk that we were paying each month.
John: Even if the money is still being spent somewhere, it’s not spent on that quote unquote “wasted space” that you were feeling before.
Dana: The other thing that I really liked when we were working on this house is since there isn’t that much space to work with, we were able to really choose fixtures and finishes that we liked… whereas if we had a bigger home, we probably wouldn’t have been able to afford to do that.
Sherry: Oh that’s a good point. You get beautiful fixtures in your hallway, but you only need two instead of when you have a house twice as big you might need to buy four or five.
Steve: You get nicer stuff, just less of it.
John: And that actually raises a good point because I think when you have less space that you have to fill, you kind of get in this kind of curation mode…
Sherry: You’re choosier in such a great way!
John: How has it influenced your design eye, or the way that you go about decorating your spaces?
Dana: I am! I’m really picky now! Where before I would kind of just grab something and say “Okay, well if it doesn’t work I can just take it back.” But most of the time since I had the space for it, even if it wasn’t working, I would keep it just because there was a spot for it and I could kind of go to the other room and not have to look at it. You know, here we use and we see everything so we want it to be something that we like. And we feel like once we buy an item with a specific purpose and it’s exactly what we want then we’re done. Like we don’t buy any more. Where I felt like before we would just maybe even buy, like, two or three of them just because we could and then we’d be stuck with three things that we really didn’t like.
Sherry: I know what you mean, if you have a big enough house you can say “I bought that chair for the corner of the living room and it doesn’t work there because the back’s too low, but I can put in the corner of the bedroom.”
John: “I’ll find a spot for it somewhere.”
Sherry: [laughs] And it ends up covered in clothes in the corner of your bedroom, and no one actually sits in it. I was going to say what would you tell someone who feels like “Oh this idea of paying off your mortgage is amazing, but I will never get there.”
Steve: One thing I think you need to start off with is you both need to be on the same page. It can’t be just one person in the relationship that feels like paying off the debt is important. And the other one is just kind of along for the ride because it is a commitment. And we started small, we started with the smallest debt that we had – it was one of the cars. We started to pay that off. And then when you don’t have that payment anymore, you just kind of snowball it into the next one.
Dana: Yeah, you could snowball it. You could start with something small. And it’s addicting after you pay something off, you’re like, “Oh, I want to go to the next thing.”
Steve: That’s right.
Dana: The other thing financially speaking I would say is a realtor and the bank would tell us the price of home that we could afford, and we basically cut that by two-thirds and that was what we said that we could afford. I think just in general, living below your means and realizing just because the bank tells you this is how much you can afford, that’s maybe not really how much you have to spend. If you cut the big things by a huge percentage, it’s going to make a huge difference.
John: Yeah, Sherry and I kind of lucked into that – well, I don’t know if luck is the right word – when we bought our first house because we had just moved and changed jobs and Sherry was freelancing. And so since she had not yet filed a tax return as a freelancer, in the eyes of the bank she was unemployed.
Sherry: I didn’t count. And it was a blessing! We always say that our first house’s price started with a one and it wasn’t 1 million. And we lived there four and a half years! And so the amount of a dent that we made in that mortgage and then could roll over into our second one was great. And the funny story about our second house was that John had quit his job to come work from home on the blog. And I had been working from home for so long that my income counted but John’s didn’t because any new change within a year of income they don’t believe you unless it’s with like a 401k and an employer. And so you can say you’re a freelancer but they’re like “Suuuuure you are!” [Sherry and John laugh] So then the second house only I qualified. And AGAIN it kept us well below what we could both afford. They only were counting one income. And then finally we got it right for the third house where we both qualified. But at that point we had paid off so much of two homes that it really made this mortgage SUPER doable for us.
John: And we were also addicted to buying beaters! [John and Sherry laugh]
Sherry: Yeah, at that point we weren’t going to buy an expensive house even if they let us!
John: Well I also want to talk a little bit about your vacations because it’s something that I admire a lot about you guys because Sherry and I say the same thing – we need to buy less stuff and go on more trips.
Sherry: You always find such beautiful homes. What is your strategy? Do you just scroll through VRBO and Airbnb? How do you find them?
Dana: Yeah I do. It’s kind of a hobby. [laughs] Honestly I get on there and look at houses for ideas and inspiration. And then every once in a while I come across one where I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I really want to stay there.” Sometimes I let the house lead our vacation.
Steve: Sometimes? Dana finds the house that she wants to stay in.
Dana: Not every time. You should see my Airbnb wish list. It’s probably 100 houses.
Steve: “Honey, we’re going to Arkansas!”
John: But I do think the way I think about a vacation and probably most people’s – you figure out the destination and you figure out all the spots you want to see and the places you want to eat or the tourist attractions you want to go to. And the accommodations often are kind of the afterthought. It’s like, “What’s the cheapest hotel room that isn’t too scary?”
Sherry: [laughing] Right, that’s our search parameter.
Dana: Oh my gosh it makes the stay so much better to love the house. And one thing that all of the houses have in common is that I always look for something extra or special for the kids. So the house we stayed in Toronto had this huge bunkroom with a reading loft. It had a swing in the kitchen. It’s just little things like that. Oh my gosh, it made the kids’ day. You know, they’re not at your feet whining the whole time you’re on vacation. [laughs]
Steve: The one that we stayed at in Asheville had a ping pong table in the basement, so they spent a lot of time playing ping pong.
John: And the other thing that your readers know that’s going on in your life, you guys have a flip house.
Dana: We do.
Steve: The Pee House.
Dana: I don’t know who started calling it the Pee house.
Steve: I think it might have been Mabrey.
Dana: I think it was Mabrey, our youngest. [John and Sherry laugh]
John: You know what, I wouldn’t put that on your listing. [Sherry laughs]
Dana: It doesn’t smell like pee anymore. It’s basically a mini version of the house that we live in now, and I don’t think it had been touched – including cleaned – since the day it was built, which are the houses that we like because the bones are there and the structure’s completely fine, but it just needs some maintenance and some updates. And the location is great. It’s in a really good school district.
John: What gave you the idea in the first place to take on this new project?
Dana: Well we were pretty much done with the house that we live in, and we’re like you – we’re addicted to fixing up houses…
Sherry: It’s a gift. We were just all born with it. [John and Sherry laugh]
John: A gift, a curse. Potato, potahto. [Sherry laughs]
Dana: It is! It’s an affliction.
Sherry: It’s like a rash but itchier. [laughter]
Dana: So we’re like “Oh my gosh we’re just itching to do something.” But we didn’t want to change anything on our house because we like the way it is, and we weren’t really crazy about the idea of moving right now. So we thought “We’ve lived in three houses. We fixed all of them up. We sold two of them by-owner and were able to make some money off of them.” So we just said “Well, let’s try doing one that we don’t live in and see what happens.” My problem is that I see the good in every house. I want to save every single house. I get so emotionally attached to every little house that we looked at.
Steve: This is a true statement. [Sherry and John laugh]
Sherry: That’s funny. I’m the same way. I’ll see some feature that’s cool and I’ll be like “But think about that lofted living room!” And then John’s like “reality man” and he’ll be like, “But it had one bathroom.” And I’ll say “Details! Think of the living room!” But a good team, I think, is balanced by someone who won’t let you buy the house with one bathroom. [laughs]
Steve: It’s a tough job, John.
John: It is. You’ve got to stay strong.
Steve: That’s right!
Dana: We’re the kites, you guys are the strings! [everyone laughs]
John: I like that.
Sherry: Thank you guys for talking to us. This has been awesome!
Dana: It was fun talking with you guys!
Steve: Yeah, thanks for having us on.
John: Well you guys can learn more about Steve and Dana on their blog House*Tweaking, which we’ll link to in the show notes at . We’ll also include some links to some of the vacations that they’ve taken, some of the cool Airbnb properties they’ve stayed at, as well as their flip house.
Sherry: Yeah, and we’ll put a link to her Instagram too because she has a really fun feed to follow.
John: And next up is “We’re Digging” but first, a quick break.
Sherry: So, as you guys heard this episode is brought to you by DIYZ. It’s a phone app with this really smart feature where a homeowner can video chat with a licensed pro or contractor whenever a DIY project has them stuck.
John: Yeah, it’s called their “Pro Advisor” feature, and we actually got to see it in action. So we’re going to play you a real conversation. It’s between a homeowner named Alex who was having trouble wiring a new fan in his bathroom. The first voice you’ll hear is Dale, the DIYZ pro who picked up.
Dale: So, what’s going on with your fan?
Alex: So, this right here is kind of the unit. So that… [conversation fades to background]
Sherry: Obviously there’s video going on here too which you can’t see, but Dale can and it allows Alex to show him exactly how he was trying to connect the wires.
Dale: In the box, show me the wires. Probably ... [conversation fades to background]
Sherry: So Dale helps him troubleshoot it right then and there without Alex having to go through the expense or the time of calling an electrician to his house to fix one simple thing.
John: Yeah, and before you know it…
Alex: Oh my God, it works!
Alex: I spent five hours last night up in my attic, going insane in the dark, just screaming at the top of my lungs! Thank you SO much!
Dale: You’re very welcome!
Sherry: DIYZ is free to download and Pro Advisor calls are just $10 for your first 10 minutes and a dollar per minute after that. You can learn more about DIYZ by visiting . That’s DIY with a Z on the end.
John: You can also download their app for free in the Apple app store or in Google Play. They’ve got tons of how-to videos on there too, and if you search YHL, you might just see a couple of familiar faces.
[ad music ends]
John: Okay, let’s roll the We’re Digging music.
[funky fresh beat that just makes you wanna dance]
Sherry: So this week I’m digging stain pens.
John: And you’re not talking, like, Tide To-Go get-out-a-stain pens?
Sherry: No, I’m talking about a pen that’s full of actual stain that you apply to scratches in wood in your furniture or in your flooring. They sound like this. [shakes pen, sounds like a paint pen] Kind of like a paint pen but full of stain.
Sherry: The brand I use – and this isn’t an ad, I’ve just used them forever – is Minwax Wood Finished Stain Marker. I’ve literally had two of these markers probably for six years. They’re still going strong. I have two colors. The golden oak and the ebony. Golden oak is amazing for any tone of wood floor. I mean, it’s light enough and dark enough to work – unless you have dark black floors in which case I would use the ebony. But the way you want to use this is you shake it up like a paint pen. You rub it over the stain if you have a scratch in your wood floor…
John: You just basically draw it on like a marker.
Sherry: Exactly! And it has sort of a wide-ish tip. And in the other hand – in in your left hand (or your non-dominant hand) you have a paper towel. This is what works for me. So you use the paper towel, and you rub off the area that you’ve applied the stain pen to. Typically for me it doesn’t rub it out of the scratch. It holds in scratch, but what it does is it picks up the marker off the surface of the veneer or the poly or whatever else is the non-scratched part. Because ideally you’re getting the stain into the scratch and then it blends.
So an example would be a really good friend of mine had a trundle bed that she’d pull out and in. And she didn’t realize that one of the wheels had stopped rolling. So it was scratching her floor over and over again every time she pulled it in or out. She was telling me that her husband was thinking about refinishing the floor in that room. I said, “Let me try the stain pen first.”
And in two minutes with a paper towel and an application, you could not see where it was.
John: I think the important thing to note also is that it doesn’t have to be an exact match to your stain.
Sherry: Right. Well wood is nice because it usually has a range of…
John: …yeah, there’s variation in the wood grain.
Sherry: Exactly. So as long as you’re tying into the color, like one of the tones that’s in there, it seems to match fine. So I’ll put a link to these in the show notes. They’re there about $6. Super helpful! I keep them in my junk drawer, and having the paint pen in there is great because literally, I’ll be on the phone with someone. I’ll notice a scratch on the side of our TV table, and while I’m on the phone I’ll just color it, rub it off with a paper towel, and walk out of the room and it’s good to go. And it does, I’ll warn you, smell a little bit like stain because it is stain. But it wears off really quickly, so if you’re just touching up little things – not a big deal.
John: And this week I’m digging something we talked about a little bit earlier in the episode which is Groupon. I feel like it was the hot thing like five years ago, all these flash sale sites.
Sherry: [sarcastically] Way to be on top of the trends, John!
John: Right, exactly! [Sherry laughs] “You guys may not have heard of this thing from 2011…” [Sherry cracks up] But I feel like I have kind of rediscovered it when I was looking for that float tank gift for you. I was searching for a gift card and that came up, and that’s how I found that Groupon in my Google search. And then I was on Groupon a bit more, and I realized they have kind of shifted, and they have a lot more “experiences.” And it’s less about buying goods on sale. So I’ve installed the app on my phone. I didn’t want to get all the daily e-mails and stuff – that’s the thing that drives me crazy.
John: But I have the app on my phone so that when I’m on the couch I can occasionally just pop it open and swipe through and see what’s there and see if it gives me any ideas for things we should do. Like, there was a rock climbing place that is just around the corner from us that I didn’t even know about that you went to with our daughter and some of her friends.
Sherry: Yeah for $12. We could take her and she did like four rock climbing experiences on a ladder, and the wall, and the harder wall and had the best time! And I was like “Twelve bucks?!” I mean, that kept her busy for an hour and a half! And she did it with a bunch of her friends, and all the moms just sat back and chatted and sipped our Starbucks and it was a great time for us too! [John and Sherry laugh]
John: So I feel like it fits in with this kind of vibe for the new year and a lot of what we’ve talked about in this episode – about spending your money on experiences and less on things, and having more date nights and stuff like that. So I had fun just kind of going through and being like, “Oh, I didn’t realize Richmond had a float tank!” and “I didn’t realize Richmond had an escape room!” I didn’t realize all these things.
Sherry: Oh, yeah! We’re DOING an escape room! That is on my list! ALL the Housewives on ALL of the seasons are doing escape rooms, and all I want to do is do an escape room.
John: [laughing] I get my inspiration of things to do from Groupon. Sherry gets them from Bravo.
Sherry: I am channeling Lisa Vanderpump. I’m going to wear a fancy hat, and I’m going to get out of that room!
[theme music playing]
Sherry: Thanks for listening to kokokara Has A Podcast. You guys are like the 900 pounds of salt that keeps this whole thing afloat, so as long as you don’t get my eyes, we’re good!
John: And it has been so awesome hearing about all you guys who discovered our show in the new year. Please give our thanks to whoever recommended us to you. And if you’re feeling especially generous, please pay it forward by telling another person you think might like the show.
Sherry: And keep tagging us to share what you do while you tune in. Like Melissa Schwartz on Twitter who binge listened while finishing up a “secret project” while her husband was away on business.
John: Ooh, so mysterious! And if ever there was a week to head over to kokokara.info/podcast for all the bonus links, photos, and info from this episode, this is your chance to see my very embarrassing selfie in a float tank.
Sherry: [laughing] It’s totally worth it, I promise!
[theme music ends]
Sherry: But something … the universe .. as they say in … [Sherry cracks up]
John: [sarcastically] In the words of …
Sherry: [sarcastically] Calvin Coolidge once said… [Sherry and John laughing]