Category Archives: Real Estate & Home

Mulch and Other House Maintenance Meyham


When my day job gets busy, it’s easy to let household maintenance fall by the wayside.  Sometimes it takes a really long catch-up weekend to right the ship.


We started off by picking up some new 24×24 inch paving stones – which had to come in at a good 80 pounds each – and laid them out in the backyard.  On the one hand, I’m glad we only bought six.  On the other hand, I’m a little sad that I shed far less tears ten years ago when I installed a whole patio’s worth of heavy pavers (I must be getting older).


Next, we tackled the car.  The quarterly interior clean-out of the MDX.  This one was easy.  Although it’s quite the battle trying to vacuum up all the dog hairs.  I think we’ve resigned ourselves to the fact the some of these hairs have found a permanent home, woven snugly into the automotive carpet, never to be disturbed.

Sump Pump

If our neighbors hadn’t mentioned they were having sump pump issues, I might not have thought to inspect ours.  I threw on my trusty headlamp and peered down into the narrow six foot abyss that is our sump pit.  Wouldn’t you know it, ours was broken, too!  Sitting in about three feet of water was our ten year old pump.  It just sat down there, quite and helpless like an old shipwreck. No sense trying to figure out what’s wrong with it.  The thing’s old, fairly easy to replace, and a new one only costs around $140.  Thankfully, we have the money for a replacement set aside in our House Maintenance and Repairs budget envelope.


Finally, the big kahuna – the mulch.  Now, you might be thinking to yourself, “How hard could it be to spread a few shredded cedar sticks around the yard?”  Well, it’s hard.  You start off with a three cubic yard pile in your driveway, which, if you’re not familiar with cubic yards, appears to be about the size of a Smart car.  Next you have to shovel the mulch into a wheelbarrow and cart it about 50 yards to the backyard where you dump and spread it.  Then, you throw in the fact that the mulch pile was moist, which adds some weight to each load and some frustration to each attempt at cleaving a manageable portion into the barrow.  Finally, you add to the mix an element of time.  We were trying to beat the rain storm that was due to arrive within the next two hours.  I think we may have discovered a new workout program.  We just need to find a few people who are willing to pay us to “personal train” them, A.K.A, move our mulch for us.

Do you ever get caught up in big house maintenance catch-up weekends?

The Big Pennypacker Home Carpet Caper

living room carpet – before (9 years ago)
living room carpet – after (present day)

So, we love our home, but the dogs have been trashing our hardwood and carpet for the last nine years, culminating a few months ago in the form of some unholy sick tummy fluids that refused to cleanup completely.  By January, we had the money to finally replace about half of the floors in our home with vinyl planks.  But, due to us underestimated the cost and a delay in getting my annual bonus at work, we held off on replacing the other half of the floors.

At this point, I started secretly planning for the case that my bonus a) would be enough to cover the new carpets, and b) would arrive around Valentine’s Day.  I considered trying to time the installation so it would fall close to the 14th, but with the timing and the amount of the bonus still in question, I was not about to pull a Clark and spend my chickens too soon.

Luckily, Mrs. Pennypacker was going out of town the second week of March – perfect!  I called up our flooring sales person and asked about the chances of getting the carpet installed that week.  She confirmed with the manufacturer and installers and everything seemed like a go.  I just had to ask for one more favor: Please take my wife’s contact info off of the order form.  There’s no way I was going to let this balloon pop because of an ill-timed courtesy phone call to Mrs. Pennypacker confirming her carpet order.

“It smells like…new carpet?!”

Fast forward to last night when I picked up Mrs. Pennypacker from the airport.  On the way home I mentioned how there was this funny smell I’d been noticing in the house lately.  I wanted to see if she would pick up on the new carpet smell before actually seeing the carpets themselves.  The way our house is laid out, when you first walk in from the garage, you’re in the laundry room.  You have to walk down the hall and turn the corner before you see any carpet.  She walked in and noticed the smell right away.  She said, “It smells like…new carpet?!  Wait…did you?!”  And she turned toward the carpet. It took her a moment to put the pieces together, but it finally hit her and she was beyond ecstatic.  I was a little worried that she wouldn’t like the color – it looks a little darker than what I remember from the store – but, she couldn’t have been happier!


I have to say, if the roles were reversed and she was surprising me with new carpets, I might have gone days without noticing.  Don’t get me wrong, the new carpet is MUCH nicer than what we had before, particularly because it doesn’t have the smells and stains of two Labrador Retrievers baked into it.  I just don’t have the eye for home decorating details like Mrs. Pennypakcer does.

Chipping Away at the Mortgage and Installing New Carpets…I Hope

As you may or may not know, we ran into a couple of speed bumps on our way to completing our end-of-year goals last month.  By the way, here are the before and after pics of the new floors we put in…

Dining Room BeforeDining Room After


Mrs. Pennypacker and I are really happy with the results.

Anyway, on to the next six months.  Here are the goals for the end of June…

1. Pay our mortgage balance down to 39% – currently we’re at 43%.

2. Buy the other half of our flooring – this time it’s new carpets.


Both of these are very doable.  I don’t anticipate any issues like we had last time.  We already know what the carpets will cost, so there shouldn’t be any surprises there, and I’m not counting on a bonus this time (a bonus that I still may get from my day job).

Paying down our entire mortgage is a huge undertaking.  But, we’ve broken up this pie-in-the-sky craziness into smaller, more chewable chunks.  Every six months we like to feel like we’ve actually accomplished something, so we look at the months ahead, do the math, and figure out a number that seems realistic.  If we hit that number, we give ourselves a gift.  Last year we bought a patio set, last month we installed the new floors, and sometime in the next six months we plan to install new carpets.

At one time, we were hoping to have the entire mortgage paid off by the end of next year (2016).  But, upon closer examination, that’s looking as likely as a can of actual free-range unicorn meat.  Realistically, it’s going to be closer to the end of 2017.

So, after the house is paid off, what then?  Well, that’s when we’re completely free of debt!  We don’t have any student loans or credit card debt and we have two paid-for cars sitting in our garage.  We also have a six month emergency fund sitting in the bank and we’re regularly putting money away for retirement.  So, with all that taken care of, I’d have no choice but to buy a top hat and a cane, dress up like Scrooge McDuck, and do a couple laps in our giant vault of swimmable coins.  On second thought, we’ll probably just invest more, give more, and have more fun!

Pay Down Mortgage…Check, Buy New Flooring…Half a Check?

A few months ago Mrs. Pennypacker and I created two goals for ourselves – goals that were to be completed by the end of 2014.  Well, 2014 ended two weeks ago and I’m happy to report we accomplished our goals…um, actually one and a half of them.

The first goal, as well as the most important, was to pay extra on our mortgage to get the amount left down to 43%.  Done.  Our second goal was to buy new flooring for our home – LVT, or luxury vinyl tile, and carpet.  Unfortunately, this one is only half done.  We saved up our money, but a bonus that I was expecting from my day job never came.  Apparently, the company didn’t quite meet it’s financial goals for last year.  While we still may get a bonus, it’s likely to be smaller than previous years and it’s uncertain when it will arrive.  So, despite not getting the bonus, we did save enough to buy half the flooring.  So, we decided to pull the trigger on the LVT and wait on the carpet.  If the bonus never comes, or if it ends up being too small, it will take a couple more months of saving to have enough for the carpet.

Now, the flooring store that we chose to buy from does offer a “12 month, same as cash” deal.  Since it wasn’t really my fault I didn’t get the bonus, we could have just signed up for the credit card and rewarded ourselves with both sets of flooring.  But, we made a deal with ourselves – no more debt.  Not to mention the fact that we really didn’t accomplish the savings goal.  We’d be pants-on-fire-lying to ourselves if we went ahead and bought the carpet anyway.  Besides, we’re not kids.  We’ve waited four months, we can wait a couple more.

So, what about you?  Would you have signed up for the 12 month, same as cash deal and pushed “go” on the entire flooring order?

We Need a New Vacuum Cleaner…Again

Mrs. Pennypacker and I found out today that our beloved Shark vacuum cleaner may need to find a new home soon.  Back in February we bought a new vacuum cleaner to make it easier to clean up after our dogs.  It’s been great!  Light-weight, powerful suction, easy to maneuver, and gentle on hard surfaces.  Easily the best vacuum cleaner we’ve ever owned.

Jump ahead to a couple weeks ago.  We started shopping for new flooring because we had a couple incidents with our dogs that didn’t really leave our carpets in the best shape.  We only visited one store just to get some ballpark pricing and a general idea of what products were out there.

Fast forward to this morning (Labor Day).  Mrs. Pennypacker and I decided to go out early and visit a few more flooring stores.  We made it to three different stores before noon – the last store being the best one.  The sales lady there was amazing!  She helped us narrow down exactly what brand of LVT we should get for our living areas and which brand of carpet was right for our bedrooms.  We set our sights on this great little product called SmartStrand Silk manufactured by Mohawk. It’s super-soft.  Touching it with my hands, it felt like a pile of powdered sugar on the floor of a gourmet doughnut shop.  I didn’t walk on it, but I can only imagine how fancy it would feel on my bare feet.  Of course, the main reason we’re getting new carpets is the stain resistance and this one might be the best on the market.  It comes with a lifetime stain, soil, and pet warranty.  Mrs. Pennypacker and I were definitely interested.

The carpet story starts to take a turn when the sales lady asked us a question: “What kind of vacuum do you have?”  It was a strange question.  We told her we just bought a Shark not too long ago.

Then she asked, “Does it have any way to manually adjust the brush height?”

“No, it doesn’t,” we replied.

“Well then you may want to consider one of these vacuums.” And she hands us a list of approved vacuum models that have been tested by Mohawk.

According to Mohawk’s website, most vacuum cleaners now-a-days are high-suction, which works well with low pile carpets, but not so well with high pile carpets.  Apparently, this new SmartStrand Silk carpet is a premium soft high pile carpet and we have to be careful.  The sales lady said she’s actually had a customer fray the carpet fibers using a Dyson!

The funny thing is, most of the recommended vacuums are fairly cheap.  We shouldn’t have to spend more than a hundred bucks or so on a new one.

Home Prices in Relation to Your Income

Diana Olick of CNBC wrote an interesting article last week about which major markets have the best and worst median home prices in relation to median incomes.  the article cites a new report from Zillow that says it takes almost 43% of your income to own a home in Los Angeles and San Francisco.  While homes in Portland only take up about 22% of your income.

Affording a home is not just about how much money you make.  It’s income in relation to home prices.  In this chart, San Jose has the highest median income at almost $97k, but it also has the highest median home price at around $800k.  Strangely enough, Portland has the same median income as Los Angeles, but homes cost half as much in Oregon’s largest city – you only give up 22% of your income to your mortgage.

Housing is probably the largest expense in you monthly budget.  If you find yourself struggling financially, it may be worth considering a move to a cheaper part of the country.  Or, at least a city such as Portland or Boston where incomes are more inline with home prices.

To figure out your home town, follow these steps:

1) Use a site such as to find the median annual income for you town.

2) Use the same site to find your city’s median home price.

3) Use a mortgage calculator to figure out what the monthly payment would be for the median home (to be consistent with the Zillow chart, assume a 20% down-payment, a 30-year mortgage at 4.25% and don’t include insurance or taxes).

4) Divide the median income by 12 to get the monthly median income.

5) Then divide the monthly mortgage payment by the monthly median income.

6) Multiply this number by 100 to get a percentage.  This is your final answer.