It’s no secret that I love real estate.
Buying. Selling. Investing. Renovating. Landlord-ing.
I enjoy certain facets of real estate ownership more than others, to be sure, but overall, it’s a fascinating world, one that I’m passionate about, one that I would recommend to virtually everyone.
I bought my first house at 22 with a friend, taking advantage of lax lending regulations to put 5% down on a four-bedroom house in Portland, Oregon. When the housing market crashed in 2007, my friend and I panicked a bit internally, but instead of short-selling our home like so many of our friends did, we hung onto it, renting out all its bedrooms to help pay the mortgage.
After a few years of suffering through 80-hour work weeks, I’d saved up enough to buy my second house, a recently constructed condo in Portland. I moved in. Wash, rinse, repeat: I proceeded to replicate this process every couple years, as frequently as I could afford to.
Far from a handyman at the time, though, I stuck to buying turnkey homes, not ready to take on any sizable rehab projects.
In 2018, I bought my fourth house, and my first fixer-upper, a gorgeous Victorian-meets-craftsman home in need of some work. I found this gem in The Dalles, Oregon, a rapidly growing real estate market due to an influx of jobs and a migration of Portlanders. This home showed loads of potential, despite the fact that previous tenants had completely trashed the place, and despite the fact that it had sat vacant and bank-owned for over a year. My realtor and I took one look at it, and in spite of the peeling maroon paint and the dingy carpet, in spite of the hideous countertops and enormous elephant and giraffe murals (seriously) on one wall, I fell in love with the floor plan, the architectural flourishes, and the location, and said, “This is the one.”
After renting out my Portland house, putting all my belongings into storage, and volunteering for a month in Uganda and vacationing for 10 days in Serbia, I flew back to Oregon and closed on this house the same day. I anticipated, and budgeted for, putting about $10,000 into flooring, paint, and countertops, but didn’t anticipate what happened next.
Several days after closing, I drove an hour and 15 minutes from Portland to The Dalles to replace an upstairs tub faucet that was missing. I had already called the local water utility company to set up my account, but explicitly instructed the technician I spoke with to wait to turn the water on until I instructed them to do so.
The next day, a different technician, disregarding the first tech's careful notes, flipped on my water. Oops.
I walked into the house a day later with a couple friends and heard the sound of rushing water.
I uttered some unsavory words that I won’t repeat here.
The downstairs was filled with six inches of water throughout. The entire upstairs bathroom was flooded as well. The walls, doors, floors, and ceilings were all completely ruined. The city’s insurance “covered” the damage, but thanks to the depreciated value of what needed to be replaced, I still was on the hook for over $24,000.
In the blink of an eye, what I thought was a fixer-upper that needed some cosmetic repairs had turned into a massive remodel project. Instead of dipping my toe into the world of home renovation, I was pushed headfirst into the deep end of an Olympic pool.
Four months of being a homeless homeowner later, I was finally able to move into my newly remodeled home.
We are not too different, my houses and I. In fact, in a sense, we’re all houses. You. Me. Everybody.
Many of us would like to think that we’re turnkey homes. Neatly remodeled. Beautiful. Commanding top dollar on the market. Many of us spend our lives trying to portray perfection to an admiring world. The truth is, though, we’re all fixer-uppers. We are all damaged. We are all in need of remodeling.
Think you have it all together? You’re wrong.
I’ve looked at a lot of homes over the years, during the process of purchasing my rental houses. Some look incredible in the listing photos, but atrocious in person. Some even pass the in-person test, yet an inspection reveals major structural damage. A cracking support beam. Black mold. Broken sewage pipes.
Last year, I purchased and remodeled a house in Lansing, Michigan. (I’m now far more handy than I was a few years ago). Once I got my hands dirty, I found problems that even the inspection didn’t reveal. For instance, the entire house was constructed using 2x3 boards instead of the standard 2x4, which meant that each window and door I replaced had a frame that was too thick for its surrounding walls. Furthermore, while replacing one interior door, I found that studs throughout an entire wall had been eaten away by termites, and had all the structural integrity of old Styrofoam.
In much the same way, I keep finding more and more areas of my life that need work. I began going to counseling three years ago to deal with some acute trauma, not least of which was my fall off of a volcano and subsequent year-long recovery. I’m still going to counseling, even though my body has healed. I was under the impression that my emotional wounds were situational and superficial. I was wrong.
It turns out that I’m a mess.
My hurts, fears, needs, and scars run deep, all the way from childhood. I thought I would need some cosmetic repairs, but instead, I’m in the process of a lengthy, comprehensive remodel. Sometimes the amount of work that needs to be done inside feels completely overwhelming.
Much like a home remodel, I’m faced with a choice. Do I slap on a fresh coat of paint, maybe upgrade some appliances, and call it good? Or do I face myself for who I am, and get into the very foundation of this house, the framework, the bones, and do the hard work to change from the inside out?
We are all fixer-uppers. Unlike real estate, though, we only get one shot at this life. What are we going to do with our one and only house, our one and only life? Trash it? Neglect it? Give it fresh siding on the exterior but never touch what’s inside? Or undertake the lifelong process of remodeling it, down to the studs if necessary?
Knowing that we all need work on the inside should lead us to two conclusions. First, we need to remember to show others in our lives the same grace and patience that we would expect when their rough edges are exposed. Second, we need to remember to show ourselves that same grace when our remodel takes a step backward, when areas of our lives we thought we’d worked on fall apart, when we find ourselves making the same mistakes.
“Our body is the house in which our spirit lives here on earth,” Paul says (2 Corinthians 5:1, Worldwide English). We were never promised that things would go well inside this house: “While we are in this house, we cry and are troubled (v.4).”
But there is good news: one day, these renovation projects will come to an end. “When that house is destroyed, then God will give us another house. That house is not made by man’s hand. But God made it. It will last forever (v.1).”
There is also bad news. We’ve been waiting a long, long time. I’ll be honest: believing that Jesus is coming back is one of the hardest aspects of faith for me. Though they break my heart, I can understand why pain and death exist on this Earth. We were given free will by a loving God, and we chose to turn our backs on his perfect plan. He made a way for us to be forgiven, at the cost of his own life. He promised to come back again, to put an end to these constant remodels, this never-ending cycle of suffering that is life on this planet.
He cries when we cry. He hurts when we hurt. If this is true, he should have a vested interest in coming back as soon as possible to wipe our, and his own, tears away. Furthermore, he said he’d come back when the whole world had heard the good news of grace. Maybe some remote Indonesian island has yet to hear of Jesus, but even if so, babies are being born every day that can’t yet think for themselves, so there will never be a point where everyone on Earth has heard of Jesus.
So here we sit, making the same mistakes, hurting each other and ourselves over and over, and dying. It’s been 2,000 years since Jesus promised to return, and we are starting to lose hope.
Without this hope, though, there is little hope at all.
I’ve let my mind and heart wander down the avenue of agnosticism on occasion. I completely understand why so many give up on making sense of this life, raising their hands and saying “who knows?” But for me, without the hope of someday trading in this old, rotten heart for a new one, someday trading in this roller coaster life of joy and pain and cancer and heartbreak for a forever life of love and happiness, I can’t find much hope with which to face today, much less tomorrow.
And so I cling to this hope. Hope that one day this fixer-upper of a life, this messy rehab project named Jon Davidson, will be new, will be perfect, will be beautiful.