I celebrate an important anniversary on August 10, in honor of the lifestyle change I made in August of 2015 as I left San Francisco and moved to a sizable contemporary Mediterranean in the outlying suburban city of Brentwood, out in the general region of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. I took possession of the house with substantial equity from the get-go—no FHA mortgage for this kid—and have glided onwards ever since as a homeowner in a modern suburb with all the amenities thereto. Having spent 40 years in a city once celebrated for its arts and freewheeling lifestyle, but nowadays more likely to be held up as the poster boy for misplaced progressivist policies that have resulted in third-world contrasts between glittering wealth and appalling squalor, I am now happily ensconced in a town filled with children and families and retirees and lovely homes in carefully-planned and well-landscaped developments, all surrounded by farms, orchards, and vineyards. Brentwood has its pockets of poverty and its instances of crime, but the pockets are tiny and the crimes are low voltage. It’s safe here, and it’s clean. The schools are tip-top. Shopping is abundant and convenient. This is a city of well-maintained parks, athletic fields, swimming pools, hiking trails, bike paths, senior centers, golf courses, tennis courts, and more. It’s no place for trend- or thrill-seeking urbanites, first-nighters, hardcore foodies, freelance musicians, starving artists, or anybody who requires close proximity to a major city. But for everybody else, life is good, whether farmer or parent or kid or retiree or professional single guy like me.
My happiest discovery has been just how well suited I am to single-person homeownership, responsible only to himself for all matters home-related. Voices can be heard out there in the big bad Internet that condemn the entire venture—never buy a home, they say, since you’ll pour money down a rat hole and spend all your time repairing and fixing stuff. I suppose that might be true for some people. It sure isn’t true for me. I consider the money and time well spent. And as for my house being a money pit—well, it has increased in value by at least $100K since I bought it, and that’s not even taking my plethora of upgrades and improvements into account.
As for repairs, I’m reasonably handy with hammer and screwdriver, but most importantly, I know what I can and can’t do. For example, I can replace a wonky power outlet easily enough, but not long ago the GFCI outlet that controls the power to all three bathrooms started acting weird, flipping open and cutting off the power to the bathroom outlets for no discernible reason. It had seen its day and needed replacing. Although I could have probably run down to Home Depot, bought a new GFCI outlet, and installed it just like any other, I decided to have a professional electrician do it just in case there is something about GFCI outlets that I don’t know. Yes, it cost an order of magnitude more than fixing it myself, but I consider the money worth it in peace of mind. And the power stays on in the bathrooms now.
I will paint a bedroom or the family room or the kitchen or a bathroom myself. But for a complete paint job of the house exterior complete with transparent stain on the back fence and opaque stain on the deck railings, I hired professionals. Ditto a full landscaping of a side yard. I could probably do it but it’s just not worth the time and bother, and besides, I’m not exactly a 25-year-old any more. On the whole I’m more inclined to hire out than do it myself, neither out of extravagance nor laziness but because I’d rather not have to live with the consequences of botching the thing.
At the start of my third year I can take well-justified pride in my stewardship of this property. My house is easily the best-kept on my cul-de-sac of contemporary Mediterraneans on about five different floor plans. It’s freshly-painted in a subtly contrasting two-tone scheme. All is trim, ship-shape, meticulous. Its already pronounced curb appeal is enhanced by a dandy front lawn—velvety emerald, soft and welcoming, mowed and edged weekly. My back yard has morphed from a scraggly expanse of dirt and random grass tufts into a fragrant floral sanctuary with an inviting soft lawn. The mature but originally scruffy rose bushes flourish in superb health. Even the north side yard, formerly an expanse of weeds and dog poop, is now a desert gardenscape with sages, lantanas, butterfly bushes, and other high-heat, lower-water plants all flanking a curvy walk made of decomposed granite with flagstones and entered via a lovely redwood arbor. All in all, the grounds exude unpretentious prosperity and well-being. And I made them that way, bit by bit.
Indoors the situation is comparable. It’s airy and light, nicely if economically decorated, and scrupulously clean. The kitchen appliances are fine new Bosch and Samsung models. Lighting is all LEDs now, with instant-on fluorescents in the bathrooms. Quite a bit of the interior is repainted—with more to come—and all of the door and bathroom hardware is freshly-installed antique bronze. Soon to come are re-tiled bathrooms and front entryway. Next summer will be window replacements—and hopefully a French door in place of the current patio door—and new chandeliers in living room and entryway. At some point a thorough kitchen re-do is in the offing, but I have to save up for that one. The house sports a classy modern HVAC system that combines quiet operation with energy efficiency, in place of a high-quality but aged original model. I tend to be proactive rather than reactive, more inclined to replace rather than repair. Nothing creaky or quirky or eccentric is allowed.
In short, my house is a work in progress but dramatically improved from its August 2015 incarnation, when it was a well-designed and solidly-built home that had suffered from several years of benign neglect and the depredations of two oversized and overly athletic dogs. It is still well designed and solidly built but as of August 2017 it positively hums with robust health. That isn’t to say that everything is perfect—far from it. The fact is that it’s a 25-year-old house with all that implies. Stuff wears out. Fashions change. My list of potential projects and improvements remains very long indeed. But I think it will be always so, since I never run out of ideas to tweak this, improve that, add or remove something else. And it’s a house, a living thing, and not something encased in lucite or frozen in amber. Problems can and will arise.
But the house is a joy, an adventure, and a constant source of fascination as I enter Year Three. Thus when August 2018 rolls around, unless the fates deem otherwise I expect to post another solid progress report.