Hacks to Shut Off Your Intuition
January 14, 2021 7:12 AM   Subscribe

We bought a house, against our better judgment. It was a big mistake. Our brains keep screaming at us, "This was a mistake! You have ruined your life!" What can we do in the meantime to stay functional and un-f**k our lives?

Last week, my husband and I closed on a very cool house in a fantastic part of town. It's a fixer-upper, which we knew from the start, but it's becoming more evident that despite the objective coolness of this house, it is not the right house for us. The amount of work needed is overwhelming; we're having to downsize drastically, and it's now clear that there will be little to no space for some of our most important hobbies, which was a dealbreaker for us when we were looking at other houses.

My husband has had several anxiety attacks about this. He has experience in home remodeling and is capable of doing the work (or soliciting help from tradesmen friends when needed), but he's worried that this is a time/money suck. He has a tendency to catastrophize situations, but I'm concerned that his reaction is valid this time.

I've tried to help by making a detailed list of tasks and prioritizing them to avoid burnout. I'm encouraging him to talk to other friends to get some perspective about the general shitty nature of homeownership. I'm redirecting him to focus on short-term small steps instead of staring at the ever growing list of tasks in front of us. I've coached him through mindfulness and anxiety-busting techniques. We are focusing on positive-thinking and best-case scenario situations.

But I can't shake the feeling that we're just deluding ourselves and this is a right and proper mess.

My 'worst-case scenario' plan is to live there for a year and fix it up and try to resell it. The uniqueness of the house and the fantastic location would make it easier to resell, provided the market doesn't completely tank between now and then.

But in the meantime, how do we shut off that part of our intuition that is screaming at us to GTFO?
posted by chara to Home & Garden (35 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
The thing that most screams at me from your post is the extreme black and white thinking (no criticism! I recognise it because it's what I default to when I'm panicking). Your husband is being dragged down by - and you're trying to shake - the sense that this was The Wrong Decision and everything is now terrible forever and ever and the whole thing is inescapable and wrong and the wrongness will ruin everything about your life now and forever.

The reality is... it's not as great as you'd hoped. Your hobbies will have to be paused or done more awkwardly for a while. It needs work. You're not hitting that "Yay, we're home!" finishing tape that you hoped you'd be at right now. But at the same time, you're not trapped there forever, you'll eventually move on, wiser and better equipped for the next house; it's a unique house in a cool part of town; you have a roof over your heads (hopefully!); you have a partner to go through this with. Nobody died.

In terms of how to deal with it - for me, CBT and challenging my thoughts, in writing, and rereading it repeatedly, is more effective than mindfulness for this kind of thing (mindfulness just leads to me sitting there ruminating when I should be meditating). Vigorous physical exercise makes seemingly massive, intractable problems shrink in size by somewhere between 10 and 50%, I find. If all else fails, just finding a way to laugh at how fucking shite it all is and what a pair of muppets you are, can be surprisingly relieving.
posted by penguin pie at 7:30 AM on January 14, 2021 [36 favorites]

Sometimes, just making the decision removes a lot of stress. It sounds like you should implement the worst-case plan now and say "We're going to sell in one year, and we're going to do the minimal work to make this place attractive to sellers."

That both gives you the mental escape ("We only need to deal with this for 10 more months", etc.), and lets you focus and minimize the remodel efforts - do some painting, update the flooring, reface the cabinets, update the appliances - and make those choices for resell, not yourself.

It's OK to make mistakes, it's only 1yr of the many, many years you'll have, and now you can continue to search for the right home.
posted by jpeacock at 7:32 AM on January 14, 2021 [30 favorites]

Broadly speaking, I think you're taking the right approach, and might want to bolster it (if you can) with full-on CBT from a professional. At least for him, anyway.

Also, everything is stressful now, so it's not too surprising that a wholly new stressor might overwhelm for a while.

If it helps any, I suspect your fix-and-flip idea is likely to be a success once the Plague Times part of life settles down over the next year, so researching what needs to be fixed in order to sell would be one place to spend nervous energy in the short term.

Every hobby I've ever run into can be done in some form in limited space, even if that means the "hobby space" ends up being a separate area entirely (I have a friend, for example, who likes to fiddle with cars but lives in a condo, so he rents cheap industrial space to park the project car and works on it there instead). Similarly, I wanted a full-size Bridgeport milling machine, but I lived in a condo as well, so I got a benchtop model I could fit in a closet instead, and just made smaller machines. My other friend likes to kayak but can't store that much gear in her apartment, so she rents space from a guy who's got a double-length parking spot, and stashes the canoes there. And so on.

Fix those items first, get the place ready to sell, and then at that point decide if maybe you don't really want to sell after all.
posted by aramaic at 7:40 AM on January 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

Accept that maybe you're not going to get everything done. Start with some things that are the most important or most obtainable. When those are done. Take a break for a while. Spend some money on a vacation. Then, make another list. We bought this place 10 years ago. The first five years we owned it, it was all about remodeling and projects. New boiler, new roof, new kitchen, etc... After a while, we decided we wanted to take a break. The house was perfectly liveable if not perfect in itself. We took some trips with the kids and spent some money on other things. 5 years later I'm ready to bite off some more projects.
posted by trbrts at 7:43 AM on January 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

You sound very organized in how you've been able to manage and prioritize the improvement tasks so far. My advice would be to add some items to that list that are purely joyful and easy to do, even if they don't necessarily add to the value of the house. Paint a room a funky, fun color or buy a gorgeous wall hanging. Play with lighting options.

Also note that if you sell within 2 years any proceeds will be subject to capital gains tax, so you might consider increasing your "get out" timeframe.
posted by mezzanayne at 7:44 AM on January 14, 2021 [3 favorites]

Every living situation is a trade-off. There were things that attracted you to this house, right? For however long you live in it - whether it's a year or many more - enjoy its advantages. The great location, the cool features. You can make good memories while you're there, even if it's not where you'll be for the rest of your lives. And being able to resell and move on is a pretty lovely worst-case scenario.

Also, post-purchase panic is a known thing. As is looking back on first impressions from a later vantage point and seeing something completely different. You know how they tell people not to make extensive plans for redecorating or interior design until you've lived in a space for a while and gotten to know it? Don't get attached to your assessments of the house right now until you've lived in it for a while and gotten to know it. You might see it pretty differently in a few months.
posted by trig at 7:49 AM on January 14, 2021 [15 favorites]

The thing that jumps out at me from your post is that your and your partner are not acting as a team - you are in a parental/child or therapist/client dynamic. This is not healthy for your long term relationship and you need to change your part of that dynamic (since you have no control over your partner, obviously). It is hard to be trapped in someone else’s anxiety/shame spiral when you may also be feeling some anxiety yourself.

Keep in mind, you bought it, so if it truly is bad you can turn around and sell it to someone who sees the positive things you initially saw. You probably won’t make a profit (or maybe take a loss), but you also won’t have it hanging over your heads for a year. This isn’t a decision you are completely trapped in.
posted by saucysault at 7:51 AM on January 14, 2021 [25 favorites]

If I were "stuck" in a fantastic neighborhood, I'd put my energy into enjoying the neighborhood. Which, uh, might be hard in a pandemic, if the fantastic part is dining or entertainment. But while you're worrying about the house, maybe try to get yourself excited about your future in the neighborhood, which might bring all sorts of good stuff into your life that you don't even know about yet.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:53 AM on January 14, 2021 [6 favorites]

I mean there are steps and stages and hobbies can be put on hold for awhile and storage units rented. Do you have to live there while you decide? That changes things.

Your options - put it back on the market. You will be pouring money into a fixer upper for a long time otherwise so even though it might feel like a “loss,” while you are fixing it up you are in loss territory until you sell it again or settle in to your investment and live in it.

Fix it up a little and wait for spring. You’ll get a better price then and same as above but maybe with a little of your husband’s sweat equity and minor investments, you take less of a loss.

Commit and just do the thing that people have been doing forever, gut through and make it work. A year from now, our world will be different and if we can afford to be optimistic then we can see a brighter story ahead. But I agree, you two need to work as a team. Outline your goals. Make a plan for the overwhelm and how you will support each other. A fixer upper is like bringing a new baby into the world in terms of how much attendant anxiety is involved. But don’t think that you have to be the kind of people who relish the process and overcome. You might not be and that’s okay. Breathe and talk through the cut-your-losses options and see if it’s as bad as all that.
posted by amanda at 8:09 AM on January 14, 2021

If it helps at all, and I recognize that it might not, my husband and I bought the perfect house for us in a neighborhood we really wanted to be in at the right time for us to move...and we STILL had those OH MY GOD WHAT HAVE WE DONE thoughts. Buying a house is a BIG deal. It's totally normal and okay to have these feelings! In our first few weeks, we sat down and had a talk: we would carry on unpacking and making improvements as if we planned on being here forever, and if we still thought it was a mistake in 3-5 years, we'd consider moving again. That really freed us up to start appreciating the house and the neighborhood. It's been 3 1/2 months now and while I can't say for sure that we'll be here for good, we're much happier than we were when we first moved.

Nothing is forever, this too shall pass. Hang in there.
posted by cooker girl at 8:11 AM on January 14, 2021 [8 favorites]

What I think about fixer-uppers is "god no!" (I live in one now, my project list is about 30 things!) but more importantly I think you need to focus on why you bought your house if it was filled with dealbreakers from other houses. I know why I bought mine, it had the location and the features of other houses we considered. It was just in worse condition.

Re-modelling is a huge short term money suck, your husband is right. Long term, it depends on your area. If he's having panic attacks, I'd say that he cannot deal with a fixer-upper, even if he technically can do the work. That's not good.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:27 AM on January 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

What you're feeling is normal! Buying a house is STRESSFUL. And when you're buying a house, it's such an enormous financial, intellectual, and emotional investment that it's natural to feel like after all that WORK, everything really *should* be pretty close to perfect and it will satisfy most of what you dream of.

But nothing's perfect. It's a house. There's a lot of moving parts and personal dynamics.

I bought my house with the help of a family member about four years ago. It's a 1903 house in a fantastic location, but it's old and somewhat neglected, and the floors are worn, and the plumbing has literally decades of weird conflicting fixes and quirks. I love old houses, so I was fine, but my family member was used to new, perfect, well maintained houses, and up until finding this house had insisted we look at new construction.

So my family member started a list of everything that felt needed to be done. And then the entire furnace died two weeks after the closing date. As it became clear how much work might be needed, we clashed. And then we had to adjust how we approached this particular house.

This may sound super weird, but we named the house. We found it's easier to spend money and time and love on something that is more of a being than a thing. So we named her Pearl. We started thinking of her as an old lady who needed some extra love and help to find her beauty again. And because she's an older lady, things are never going to be quite perfect, but our job is to make her as happy as we can, make her better than we found her. (I have some health issues, so for me, having a house that wasn't perfect either was weirdly comforting for me.)

That sort of mindset really helped my family member, and we found that we could prune down her enormous To Do list and set our focus only on the things that made the house safe and livable. So instead of completely ripping out the decades of wonky plumbing for new pipes, which turned out to be totally unnecessary, we brought in a plumber for an afternoon to check everything over. Instead of sanding down the original maple flooring and polyurethaning the everliving life out of it, we cleaned the floors and lightly sanded them and waxed them by hand, and they're sort of patchy but they're all mellow and glowy and nourished now. Instead of buying brand new custom windowshades like my family member pictured, I've put up some inexpensive gauzy linen curtains to help filter the light and they're pretty. We completely abandoned the landscaping ideas. Gutters? Indefinitely delayed. The kitchen light still needs a globe, but four years, it's never once come up in conversation.

The overwhelming To Do list shrunk because we let it shrink. We painted every inch of the interior, though, which made a huge impact and really made us feel like we'd put our stamp on it. The house is old, but comfortable and really lovely now.

The other thing we did was to lean in VERY HARD to the benefits of the house. The location is wonderful, safe, big trees, low traffic, and it's nearly impossible to buy here anymore. It has a fantastic front porch, which marvelous on sunny days and warm summer evenings, and you can hear distant church bells on the hour. There's nothing better. Pearl gets a wonderful warm afternoon light. She faces the south, so the front rooms are comfortable and cheerful in cold weather. The sidewalk is short and winter shoveling is mercifully easy. I can walk downtown from here, or to the park down the hill, or the hospital. We have friendly neighbors and lots of friendly dogs.

It's not perfect. It's very small house, so storage is an issue, and the spare bedroom gets brutally cold in the winter, and I am bracing myself for eventual and inevitable repairs. The kitchen sink is set in a corner and makes doing dishes actively unpleasant. But my family member loves the house now, and though she's cheerfully sardonic sometimes about the house falling down around me, she loves some things about the house even more than I do.

I'm really happy here.
posted by mochapickle at 8:59 AM on January 14, 2021 [35 favorites]

Look for real estate rehabber's clubs and investment clubs in your area. I joined my local rehabber club when I was dealing with a fixer upper and just being around people who were doing the same thing helped a lot. We also toured each other's properties and there were some really interesting speakers at our meetings. The support was amazing and it helped me stay sane.

You might want to switch over to a renovation mortgage. You get a mortgage on the value of the house after it's repaired and use the extra money to pay contractors. You can only pay the contractors in set increments and there are some other rules, but this may be a good way to get professional contractors in for the projects you just don't want to deal with.

The real estate market is still really good, despite the strange state of things today, too. Don't despair.
posted by Ostara at 8:59 AM on January 14, 2021 [4 favorites]

One of the things I’m reading between the lines is that you probably wouldn’t want to live there even after the renovations are complete. The hobby thing seems like a problem. So that’s my question to you: do you actually want to live there? Because there are ways to deal with home improvement anxiety. But those productivity hacks aren’t going to work if you’re actually procrastinating because you don’t want to see the finished product.

If you do want to stay there long term, the simplest thing to do is to remind yourself why you liked it enough to make an offer in the first place.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:00 AM on January 14, 2021

1. You haven't ended your dream of a home with hobby space, at most you've delayed it. Agreed that there is probably a creative way to resolve this either using other space or creating space and you may actually find you prefer that solution long-term.

2. Your hobby in the meantime is probably home repair/flipping. :) The less stuff you have in the house, the easier that is, see points below.

3. Your other hobby is enjoying the location, as pointed out above.

4. Cool house in a fantastic area of town means it's very very likely to sell when you're ready, whether that's a few months, a year, or two years - definitely run the numbers on this. You may want to add the cost of storage rental to your numbers if you are planning a move in the relatively short term, so you keep everything you're freaked out about downsizing now.

5. Re: Downsizing - my husband and I did this at one point for an unexpected move and we've missed one thing, replaced two out of the probably 300 things we got rid of (we owned a barn and were setting up a woodworking studio, which is not really a thing in our lives right now although we traded some of our tools for lifelong access to a relative's heated/electrified work space.) You may not regret it as much after the fact as during the process.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:02 AM on January 14, 2021 [3 favorites]

but it's becoming more evident that despite the objective coolness of this house, it is not the right house for us. The amount of work needed is overwhelming;

But I can't shake the feeling that we're just deluding ourselves and this is a right and proper mess.

You've gotta let go of this kind of categorical thinking and this personal-identity fairy-tale shit that society pushes on us in regards to buying a house. "The right house for us." Look, it's just where you live right now. Most people live in dwellings that are sub-optimal in some way for their wants and needs. (But also, the grass is always greener, y'know?)

You don't have to make this place perfect, you can just make it livable, that's good enough for now. Maybe take some of those detailed tasks off the table and prioritize fixing a couple of things that are making you the most unhappy and hopeless.
posted by desuetude at 9:10 AM on January 14, 2021 [11 favorites]

It's going to be stressful. We bought a 1950's home in September - it required extensive basement renovations (mold and water in one room).

We are lucky enough to be able to hire a general contractor, lucky enough to have gotten the proper permits approved (including one granted the day before we entered a "state of emergency")... I am concerned about tradespeople working during this pandemic (both for them and ourselves).

... And it is still stressful... I am the "black and white" portion of our couple - and I tense-up every time estimates and invoices are presented - I second-guess every tradesperson's billing/estimating, I want line-item details, I am always suspicious that they are cutting corners... (And - I have been involved in the demo - ripping out drywall and paneling, jackhammering tiles off the floor - and that is alot of work when one is also working a full-time-job and a couple part time ones as well)...

We currently are living in the living room - every day, I have to put the mattress down every night and pick it up every morning - we have a storage container in the driveway and are still bursting from the seams with packed boxes and totes... (And there will have to be some serious downsizing - my partner and her mother have soooo many things they just seem to move from place to place and never unpack)

So - I have no easy answers, sorry - it will be stressful for a long time to come. Buying a house, finances and renovations are all big relationship stressors - so, be aware of that and cut each other slack. Thankfully my partner is handling the estimates and invoices - and I am just having to trust that the work is being done well.
posted by rozcakj at 9:22 AM on January 14, 2021

It's just a house. It's not you. I mean, unless it's an active black mold situation, or the roof is leaking, or similar, then your choices are 1) sell it and move on, 2) chill out and live with it as is, or 3) choose what you can cope with fixing. But it's not this binary Right House for Us/MAJOR LIFE MISTAKE!!! deal that you're currently viewing it as. It's just a house. It sounds like neither of you is really in a good place mentally to take on a lot of home improvement, which is a relationship stressor at the best of times, so if you choose to fix anything, I strongly suggest hiring it out even if that limits the amount you can do. A relationship can only take so much and there's a lot going on right now.
posted by HotToddy at 9:30 AM on January 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

Change is scary. Very scary. Right now every single thing is new there is so much todo and OMG it's different and my things aren't where they were and the changes so many changes.

Take a deep breath. Give yourself time to settle, give yourself time to unpack, even if that unpacking means popping hobby stuff in storage for a bit while you get settled. Get the basics right, set up the kitchen, set up the bedroom as best you can with what you have. Now another deep breath.

Let yourselves live with the house for the next 28 days. You don't have to make any major decisions, just live with your new space. Go for walks around the neighbourhood, order some food from a local restaurant that takes your fancy. Just slowly sink into the new space, new routines, new locations for things. Develop the new habits you need to get through your day in a new space without burning all your mental spoons out on why is the coffee pot in a different spot, where is my charger etc, all the basic chaos that comes with moving house. Once those are in place and you're not waking up every morning going argh everything is new, you will have the mental energy to spare on what to do next and also more familiarity with the space.

Now think about your hobby, lots of people have big hobbies in small spaces, do some research see how those people manage, slowly get some new ideas and outlooks on how to do your hobbies in a new space. This is the research phase, this is the we've lived here a bit I am starting to figure out exactly what I don't like what can we do about it phase. Do this for the next 2 months, maybe do some small projects if they are urgent or slap some paint up if those walls are bugging you, my mother always repainted he houses when she moved to make them feel more like hers, she called it marking her territory.

At the 3 month mark you are now ready to start DIYing. You know the space, you are familiar with it, you're not overwhelmed or hateful of it, this is where you live and now it's time to start making it feel like home. You have more idea what needs doing, you are not doing projects in a reactive way, but in a careful researched way, you know what you want to do to each room. Now pick one room at a time and as a team work on it, make it what you want.

If worst comes to worst after that first 3 months if you still hate it, start a countdown and in 21 more months sell the place, or if you can afford the financial hit sell it now and move on.
posted by wwax at 9:46 AM on January 14, 2021 [3 favorites]

We are focusing on positive-thinking and best-case scenario situations.

I have been in your shoes. My husband and I bought a fixer-upper that ended up being way more than we bargained for, which became apparent very shortly after closing. Then... uh... we accidentally did it again with another house, a situation which we are still in the middle of.

With that said, I would respectfully counter your statement above. What has helped me to deal with this sort of situation emotionally is rather to contemplate worst-case scenarios, not best-case scenarios. I find forced positive thinking stressful in bad situations, because of the nagging feeling at the back of my mind that I am dishonestly sweeping things under the carpet and not facing reality. It actually calms my anxiety to honestly consider and map out worst case scenarios (especially financial) and how to mitigate them with a concrete game plan. For me, if I were you, it would look something like this:

If you live in the house for two years, you don't have to pay tax on any gain upon sale. (Selling in under a year is the worst, because you pay short-term capital gains on any gain; holding it for more than a year but less than two means you pay long-term capitals gains on any gain). So if I were in your position, I would want to figure out how to stay a minimum of two years, especially if I thought the neighborhood might appreciate or I could do enough renovations to make some profit. For me, what this would mean would be figuring out the most important renovations that would make the house most sellable at that point. What condition and features would buyers expect of a house in your new neighborhood? Given that you've just been house-hunting, you may already know the answer to this. Perhaps most of the houses in your neighborhood have renovated bathrooms, or a renovated kitchen. Or maybe, given the age of the neighborhood, buyers expect more minimal improvements - interior and exterior paint and refinished floors, or something. Maybe all that you need to do is to stabilize the house - fix any wonky electrical and plumbing, for instance. Make a list, in order of priority, of the most important jobs that need to happen to your house to improve its value. (I should add that you should move to the bottom of the list anything that you personally wouldn't want done to the house if you were to keep it. Say that buyers might really want a redone bathroom, but you find the 1910s tile charming: in that case, don't touch it at this point. This allows you to warm to the house over time and potentially decide to stay longer term, without putting any pressure on you to do so.) You also don't need to do all the improvements! In fact, it might not make sense to, either financially or emotionally. Many improvements don't pay for themselves, and the only way that they make sense is if you plan to stay in the house and enjoy them. So taking a minimalist approach to the renovation is also fine, especially if you're pretty sure you want to sell.
posted by ClaireBear at 10:29 AM on January 14, 2021 [4 favorites]

What made you love the house in the first place? You can get all of the work done, it will just take longer than anticipated. Make peace with that.

I also noticed the black and white thinking in your post. You have a cool house that is going to take a ton of work and either you do the work or you cut out and sell early, both are good situations!

Also, I want to say this gently, please remember how lucky you are. You were able to buy a house. You own a house. That is pretty amazing. I don't have to remind you of how many people in the world don't have a roof to sleep under tonight.
posted by pintapicasso at 11:04 AM on January 14, 2021 [7 favorites]

I was thinking further about this question, and I had a few more disparate practical recommendations based on our very similar experience, which I think might help minimize your stress:

1) Don't underestimate the impact that ongoing constant renovation can have on your relationship and/or your ability to feel at home in your home. If you plan extensive or long-term renovations, consider designating discrete "project zones" in your house, with the rest of the zones being "normal living zones". The advantage of this is that you don't feel like your whole house is under construction, and you're not tracking through new plaster dust every morning in your bare feet as you try to get some coffee. (The disadvantage is that it's sometimes easier to do renovation holistically rather than by geographic zones - e.g. to replace all the plumbing or all the electric in one go, rather than do it room by room. It can also be hard to segregate the dust and construction mess from the normal living zones, although those plastic sheet separators do help.)

2) Following on from the previous recommendation, try to tackle projects consecutively rather than all at once (ask me how we know!). Try to wrap up one before starting the next. And more generally, don't let yourself look at the big picture and panic: just focus on putting one foot after the next with what has to be done.

3) Consider setting a timeline for each project to be done, as you initiate the project. My husband is also handy and has a stressful more-than-full-time job. He hates the idea of paying people to do a job that he feels he could do better himself. But what that has meant is that certain jobs sit and the lack of progress grates (especially if you have opened up too many project zones!). This is crucial for jobs like bathroom or bedroom doors, or lights in certain key areas, or bathroom projects that can go on too long. Come to an agreement that you'll give yourselves four months to finish Project X (say, remodeling the half-bath), or you will pay someone else to do it.

4) As you're in the process, focus on the positives. Often when you buy a renovated house, there are things (sometimes many things) about the renovation that you wouldn't have chosen yourself, and that you may not like. When you renovate, you get to choose everything yourself. And once you get a few things accomplished, you can look around and have the satisfaction of seeing things look beautiful and exactly as you chose to design them. Also, you should try to reflect with gratitude on owning a very cool house in an amazing neighborhood! The next house you buy, whatever great things about it, might lack that.

5) As a counter to the last point, try not to get too emotionally invested in all the small decisions. If you're a perfectionist like me, you can get wrapped up in small choices like which lights to buy or which tiles to choose and what pattern to install them in. It's easy to get decision fatigue and feel burnt out pretty quickly. Just remember that ultimately it doesn't matter as much as it feels like it does, and it's certainly not worth jeopardizing your relationship by fighting about it.

6) I don't know whether you've owned a home before, but perhaps not? (I'm interpreting, from your "I'm encouraging him to talk to other friends to get some perspective about the general shitty nature of homeownership" comment.) No matter what house you buy, it seems that there are always unpleasant surprises. Houses, like cars, are always in worse shape and more expensive than you expected at sale. One of my good friends recently bought a very expensive house that was built in the last decade, and ended up having to put a lot of money (about $15k) into it in the first few months due to various issues, including a roof deck being installed wrong and rotting (I think that was it). And another friend of ours bought a remodeled house and had a large bill because the sewage line to the house broke or burst or something. Homeownership is just like that. There's no guarantee that if you'd bought another house, it would have been a walk in the woods - it's almost certain that it would not have been. These kinds of expenses are just the trade-off to not paying rent, and don't indicate that you made the wrong decision to buy your house.
posted by ClaireBear at 1:02 PM on January 14, 2021 [4 favorites]

There’s a framework that I use for an entirely different, frivolous thing, that nevertheless might be useful here.

1. What do I have? (as in, what do I really have, as opposed to what I thought I was going to have. You cannot answer this question immediately.)
2. What do I want?
3. How can I use what I have to get what I want?
posted by Huffy Puffy at 1:22 PM on January 14, 2021 [5 favorites]

I'm focusing here on what you said: "very cool house in a fantastic part of town." That is . . . amazing. Agree that EVERYONE has doubts when they buy a house. But actually, you are in a great position. I think the real problem is when people sacrifice location for the house -- you can change the house but not the location, and I definitely know people (including myself) who have regretted that tradeoff.

You can do work slowly, you can find ways to make things fit, you can hire clever designers and builders who can transform the space. (Watch the show Love it or List it, for example, which is often about people deciding whether to fix up their house and keep their amazing location or just starting over. The work they are able to do to make a house meet their needs is amazing.) I suspect you might be catastrophizing and this could be a very happy place for you to live.
posted by heavenknows at 2:48 PM on January 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

I bought a house that is pretty well-suited to me last year, and I still freak out about how I've made a terrible mistake and it's too much for me. I put an unreasonable amount of time into fixing the house on top of my full-time job when I moved in. There is no perfect house and everything will get easier if you take a little time to relax. You don't have to make any decisions now.

Do not talk to your husband about tasks when he is having panic attacks! It is also still a global pandemic and there is civil unrest in what used to be a world-leading democracy, but the house is an easier thing to point stress at - it is probably not as bad as you fear. It sounds like the house is habitable, just not everything you would like right now. Get all your stuff in the house, then sit on the couch and eat pizza for a while. You will be amazed what you can get used to after a couple weeks. Fix some little, cheap, high-impact things like replacing lightbulbs with the right lumens/color. Unpack. Buy flowers. Then pick one task that seems manageable and work it to completion.

There are also some house tasks that I just really, really do not want to do and I'm putting off other things so I can pay people to do them. I *could* do them, but it's more important that I maintain my mental health so I can keep my job vs. forcing myself to work a second job on the weekends.
posted by momus_window at 3:12 PM on January 14, 2021

Can you rent a storage unit and use that as a place for doing your hobbies?
posted by oceanjesse at 3:34 PM on January 14, 2021

Here is a small suggestion: See if you can stay an extra month where you're living now. Giving yourself more time to absorb the enormity of your decision, as well as the time to clean and maybe repaint a room or two to make them your own, may make it much easier to be comfortable with your decision when you fully move in. It would also allow you to bring over a few car loads of essentials before the big move and begin making your new space your own. Quite by accident, we had an overlap like this when we bought our fixer-upper. In retrospect, it made our transition much less traumatic and was well worth the extra expense.
posted by gum at 4:42 PM on January 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

Make a plan to GTFO.

Either, decide immediately to put it back on the market and eat the transaction costs, or decide to put it on the market in 2 years, and work out what minimal improvements make sense from a short-term liveability and ability to sell quickly. If you don't want to downsize your posessions, put them in storage.

Enjoy the fantastic location in the meantime, and when you come to choose your next home, try to learn from this and make different mistakes next time.

I say this from my mid-renovation house that I am losing any confidence we will ever finish the one room that we started, that has 'just needed replastering' as a next step for at least two years if not three. But I do love the house and its location.
posted by plonkee at 3:58 AM on January 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Very much agree with what people are saying about this being a pretty common feeling after buying a house - it's a big commitment, it's supposed to be a big level-up in Being A Successful Adult, you have a lot invested in it, it's scary.
I mean, you might be right that this isn't going to be the home you hoped it would, and ultimately you'll want to try again. I just mean give those feeling time to settle a bit before you panic, I guess.

In the short term, if this would be feasible for you, I'd suggest focusing on one single room first, trying to make it into the nicest, most pleasant and comfortable space you can, before you embark on the rest of the house.

I know for me, moving into a new space makes me feel kind of unsettled and on edge even if I really like it, and I imagine being in a place that needs a lot of work before it'll be what you want it to makes that much worse. If everything about your surroundings is constantly reminding you of your anxieties about the move, that's going to perpetuate those anxieties so you never feel settled enough to think calmly about the situation. Especially now when most of us are spending most of our time at home, having one part of the house that's a safe, pleasant place you can retreat to and relax in might help.
posted by BlueNorther at 4:07 AM on January 15, 2021

I think you start by turning around and asking your intuition "what does GTFO mean?" If it means start looking at selling the house immediately, ok, what would you do to do that? If you poke at your intuition and dig for a while and the only thing that will satisfy it is "lay down scream-crying and give up on ever doing anything", well, that has always made it easier for me to figure out whether my intuition is a friend here or just a fear.
posted by Lady Li at 12:15 PM on January 15, 2021

Buyer's regret is a thing. It's a huge investment, huge lifestyle change, plenty of time to second-guess yourself. I woke at 4AM the first night in this place with my heart pounding like a giant fish in my chest and a desperate desire to go barf and die.

We've been here nine years, this summer.

Keep a running list of things you've fixed and tape it somewhere--it really helps. (I kept such a list for like three years.)

It's okay to wind up moving, but do know your feelings are common and completely understandable and either way "and then we moved to a different place" is not, like, a horrific end to the story, if it came to that. So just give it a year or so. Like most big things.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:12 PM on January 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

It might help to focus on the fact that you can only start with where you are right now.
Maybe it was a big mistake. Maybe it will have a huge negative impact on your life and if you could do over, you would never do it again. Or maybe you fix it up, make a nice profit and move onto something better. Or fix it up and fall in love with the house and neighborhood and stay for a while.

The point is that you can't go back and unbuy it and you can't know what is going to happen next. You just start with where you are.

Here is magic part. If you can really accept that you are where you are, it frees you up to think creatively about where you can go from here. My guess is that in most of scenarios, you still end up living in the house for a year or so. OK - if that sounds right then how you can embrace living there and make the next year of your life the best it can be. (Or the least sucky it can be) You don't have to talk your husband in thinking it was a great decision, but just both of you trying to accept that it was the decision you actually made and now you get to make new decisions about what's next.
posted by metahawk at 2:18 PM on January 16, 2021 [3 favorites]

My last post was about decisions. However, I very strongly recommend that unless there is another option that makes more sense, you just focus on moving in and learning how the house really works for you for a couple of months before you make any big decisions about what to do next. Maybe you rent a storage place for those months for hobby things you can't figure out how to fit into the new house yet. just get some experience with the house before you make any big decisions.
posted by metahawk at 2:20 PM on January 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I may have to make another post for this follow-up:

Turns out we should have trusted our intuition. The attic is full of disturbed asbestos, which are leaching into the house. The attic was sealed off by seller when he replaced the roof last month, and we only discovered it when we cut up access to the attic for storage.

As of right now, the house is uninhabitable, according to the specialists we hired. We are lawyering up and getting asbestos abatement bids. My partner is inconsolable and barely functional (has not slept in days). We had just made peace with all of the time, energy and money we’d have to put into the house, and now this asbestos issue is too much for him to bear. We are back in our original apartment and now have to contend with a rent payment, a mortgage payment on a house we can’t live in, and lawyer fees for a case that may or may not be successful.
posted by chara at 1:05 AM on January 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

So sorry to hear this. Wishing you strength, and some real sleep.
posted by trig at 12:45 PM on January 20, 2021

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