Why you should own vs. rent

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When I first moved to Minneapolis back in 2007, I was fresh out of college and definitely not ready to own a home. So I found a cute little apartment in St. Paul just south of I-94 between the Lexington and Dale exits. The rent was $800.00 per month split two ways between myself and my roommate. The two bedroom, one bath, fully updated unit we were renting honestly seemed too good to be true for the price. So much so, that 6 months after moving in we received a notice that the building was in foreclosure and we had 30 days to move out. And there it began…the housing crash of ’07-’08.

Thankfully as a renter, the repercussions that most homeowners faced during that time minimally had an effect on me. Sure I got a pay-cut at work and I was forced to move out of my apartment on short notice, but I still had my job and supportive parents that helped me pay my rent for a few months. Years later I watched The Big Short with Steve Carell, Christian Bale and Ryan Gosling, which brought so much more clarity to why the economy and housing market took such a big dip. Highly recommend seeing that movie if you haven’t.

Over the years after moving out of that place, I hopped from rental to rental. I lived in Uptown, St. Paul, Longfellow, Downtown Minneapolis and Northeast (where I currently live). My habits as a tenant during the first 6 years of living in the Twin Cities showed that I was destined to become a homeowner. Time and time again I’d leave apartments in better shape than before I moved in. I did yard work, planted gardens, etc. In one instance I actually styled and staged my apartment and sent my landlord photos so that she could advertise it on craigslist before I moved out. LOL

Why Buy?

A lot of people consider renting more desirable than owning, for plenty of different reasons. Millennials want flexibility and freedom to move on a moment’s notice, and those who were underwater and are finally recovered from the crash may still feel weary, as a couple of examples. I think it’s fair to say that homeownership may not be for everyone, and living outside your means is never a wise thing to do. But as someone who’s rented for 6 years and owned a home for 4, I’d like to explain why I think owning a home has more advantages than renting.

  1. Tax benefits: This is two fold – you can deduct your property taxes as well as your mortgage interest. Then, if you ever decide to sell your home and you’ve occupied it for two of the last five years than the gain is tax free. (Assuming the return is less than 250k (for singles) and 500k (for married couples filing jointly).
  2. It will pay off: Not only are you making a dent in your mortgage every month (kind of like a little savings account) but you’re also building equity. With rates as low as they’ve been, it’s a great time to get locked into a 30 year fixed mortgage that acts as a savings account. And on top of it all, your mortgage can’t increase over time like rent can.
  3. Freedom: Renting doesn’t give you the creative freedom owning a home does. If you’re a renter and you decide to paint your room and hang a few pictures on the wall, you could be forfeiting part of your security deposit. There’s a good chance too that your landlord won’t upkeep the property to the same standards you have.
  4. Second income stream: Lastly, homeownership gives you the opportunity to use your home to make money. Maybe you want to rent out your home for the Super Bowl or do Airbnb in your basement. These are all viable options that renters can’t take advantage of.
  5. Building community: Feeling invested in the neighborhood is more typical for homeowners because they tend to stay put in their home for longer periods of time than renters.

So there you have it. Those are my top 5 reasons. I’d like to add that I’ve taken advantage of all 5 of those points. I bought it at a low period in the market and it was a foreclosure, so the improvements that have been made will certainly pay off in the long run. I’m currently running an Airbnb in the half story of my home bringing in an extra $800-900 a month. I also have the BEST neighbors and absolutely love my neighborhood.

If you’re a renter and have a different opinion on owning a home please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts!


Three-year Anniversary!

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Happy Anniversary, Linds!

This post is gonna be quite a bit different from some of the others we’ve done. Wednesday, Lindsey and I celebrated our three-year anniversary as a married couple! Whoop! They always say cheesy things like “It’s been an adventure” or “Feels like just yesterday” — but I’m learning that these things are repeated often for a reason. When you’re with the right person it really does feel that way. But when things get really exciting is when you take the adventurous aspect to the next level and get out once in a while on a super rad trip. A couple years ago, we did just that, so I thought I’d reminisce a bit about how we spent our 1-year anniversary. 🙂

Road trip stop

For this trip, our destination was Redfish Lake, in the heart of the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho. To celebrate year one of our marriage, we rented a car and hauled ass across the West in search of an old relic left up in these mountains by my grandfather back in the’70s. Back in those days before Leave No Trace was widely adopted by wilderness wanderers, he used to leave stuff all over the place. Not out of disrespect for the wilderness, but just out of a crazy desire to know who the people were that might have also passed between the same mountains as he had. So throughout the ’60s and ’70s, it’s hard to say how many ketchup bottles and peanut butter jars tucked between Western alpine ridges contained a note from him, with his address and a request that anyone who find it please write him a letter, addressed to Norman in little old LeGrand, Iowa.

The particular relic we were looking for, though, wasn’t a ketchup bottle, but a little bicycle license plate that read “KIRK”. It belonged to his son (my uncle) Kirk, and had been nailed to a tree sometime around 1977. In the years since it had been hung up, plenty of travelers had found the same lake. With the license plate fixed on a prominent tree by the shore, it had actually become unofficially known as Kirk Lake. When my sister took a trip out to Idaho to find it in 2008, the tree had since fallen but she found the rusty plate still nailed to a tree. I took my own trip out to find it in ’09, and I figured it’d be fun for Lindsey and I to take our first backpacking trip together and check it out again.

Lindsey posing

Redfish Lake

Saddleback & Kirk Lakes

Looking down on Kirk Lake

Kirk Lake is a small, heart-shaped lake that sits above a chain of three larger ones called Saddleback Lakes, about a half day’s hike in from the trailhead off of Redfish Lake. So not too bad to get to, but the last mile or so is damned steep (“takes a lot of heartbeats to get up there,” says Grandpa Norman). We had planned about 4 days out in the rough, and made it up to the Saddlebacks with no issues on Day 1. Little chilling out, little gourmet campsite dinner (chicken curry), and we were dead to the world cozied up in our little tent before we knew it.

Saddleback Lakes are arranged with one draining into another, along a narrow bowl formed by Decker Peak to the south and Elephant’s Perch to the north. Elephant’s Perch is a gnarly dome of rock overlooking the valley and Redfish Creek, which meanders down below to eventually drain in Redfish Lake, tinged with slicks of grease from a million granola hippie climbers who dip their hair in Upper Saddleback after a rough climb. Damn, that was poetic. All about a fuggin’ rock. Anyway, it is pretty badass.

Elephant's Perch viewed from Middle Saddleback Lake

After spending some time relaxing in camp on the morning of day 2, we hauled south to Upper Saddleback to catch a steep uphill east to find Kirk Lake and see if the license plate was still there. With no trail, it was tough going, scrabbling up using tree roots and trying to keep rock slides from triggering. After maybe a half hour of hunched down crawl / hiking, we crested the ridge and bushwhacked a bit to the shores of Kirk Lake. Having been there myself before, there wasn’t quite as much mystery & anticipation surrounding the hunt for the fallen tree this time. We beelined it to the spot I remembered from 6 years before, and sure enough, it was still there! There were plenty of volunteer trees trying to overtake the dead and long-fallen Kirk tree, but the plate was still surprisingly visible and well-affixed to the old trunk. Just shy of 40 years since he’d put it there, I was finally able to share one of the coolest memories of my grandpa with Lindsey. Super cool stuff.

Fallen Kirk tree

At the time of the trip, Lindsey was working at a design firm called Ideas That Kick. One of her projects over the course of the weeks leading up to us leaving was package design for a company called Lonolife. These guys were in the middle of developing a K-Cup bone broth drink, with a target market of granola hippies who sit at the bottom of domes like Elephant’s Perch and think about climbing it, but instead kick back with a solar-powered Keurig and sip a hot bone broth in the shadow of the beast. “Damn thing’s so tall, man ohhh shiiiit this stuff’s delicious. PALEO, BRO, ONLY WAY TO GO.”

Anyway, one of Lindsey’s tasks on our trip was to photograph some epic vistas for the Lonolife packages, so we hoofed it up to the saddle above Kirk Lake to try and find some overlook, package-worthy spots. We figured we could try to get some cool shots on the way up, and possibly summit the roughly 9,800′ unnamed peak along the ridge to the east. Thankfully, I’m a total genius mountain man, and I directed us on the exact path of our failed 2009 summit of the exact same peak, soooo… Yeah that went as you’d guess. But we got some cool shots at least.

Josh posing

Lindsey posing


Lonolife Beef Bone package

Yep, that’s the finished package. Please feel free to call me Beef Bone from here on out. Def not gonna stop anyone who does so. Thanks.

Day 2 had us coming down from Kirk Lake, breaking camp, and then descending the remaining 2,000′ to the valley floor and Redfish Creek before heading further up the valley, so we called the summit a lost cause and said goodbye to the license plate. As I write this, now 40 years after it was left there, I hope it’s still around, as unnatural as it is for a metal license plate to be situated in such a place. It’s definitely possible that’ll have been the last time I get to see it, and if it was, that’s alright. Such a rad experience.

My badass mountain man skills continued to serve us well and led us off the trail on the descent after we broke camp, and we had a kinda annoying climb down to the valley. Gaining or losing 2,000 feet over the course of a mile is hard enough when there’s a trail, but just straight difficult when you’re also bushwhacking and backtracking off of dead ends. We were to become really familiar with that whole bushwhacking thing over the next couple days, so I suppose it’s just as well we got used to it early.

Farts & Bears

The Sawtooths aren’t considered terribly dangerous with regard to bear encounters, but they do happen on occasion. As is normal with black bears, they tend to avoid humans, unless you get between a mother and her cubs. The rangers in the area had told us that there had been a handful of sightings, so be sure to have our bell (we didn’t) and / or mace (we didn’t) handy, just in case. This wasn’t really an issue in the end – we just made sure to not hike silently, with the occasional “HEY BEAR” shout just to let em know we were around so we wouldn’t startle em. Night 2 gave us our first bear-ish encounter, though. But first, a word about me as it relates to backpacking meals & snacks. Tons of protein, salt, dried fruit, nuts, when combined with altitude change, turn me straight up into Gassy McGoo. So Linds got to deal with that starting to set in overnight (sorry babe). Sometime in the middle of that night, she woke up to a rustling, grunting sound she was pretty convinced was a bear.  Having had one pass right through my campsite on a previous trip a few years before, I can’t blame her for being pretty freaked out in that moment. So naturally she tried waking me up to tell me, but realized as she started shaking me that it wasn’t a bear, just me snoring. Cool. So Gassy McBearMcGoo was really just a great tent partner that night. 🙁

Lake Kathryn

The next morning, our destination was Lake Kathryn, about a 4- or 5-mile hike through mostly trail-less rough, and the origin point of Redfish Creek down in the valley we’d camped in night 2. Lake Kathryn is also the namesake of another member of my extended family, Kathryn Mills. I forget the exact chain of who’s related to whom, but I think she was something like my grandpa’s (the one who posted the license plate) aunt maybe? Anyway, she had also held a deep love for the Sawtooths, frequented them, but had suffered an untimely death. Her family made a case to the Forest Service to have a lake in the area named after her sometime in the years after Kirk Lake had been unofficially named, and so she lives on up there. So yeah, the Johnson family heritage runs pretty deep in that neck of the woods.

Lake Kathryn was…really hard to get to. No joke. We got off track a good many times and for sure would have gotten lost if it hadn’t been for the GPS on my phone. Wrong turn after wrong turn, we finally found ourselves across the valley and at the bottom of the final climb that would put us over the ridge and drop us down to Kathryn’s shores. It was getting on towards dusk and the climb was HARD. We were each carrying packs that were about 30lbs, were exhausted, and had gotten pretty tired of bushwhacking and wrong turns throughout the day. The scrambling climb up to Kirk Lake was really nothing compared to this last hike we had to get up. I think it was mostly due to our state of being exhausted, but when we finally crested the ridge after nearly tumbling down the whole slope a number of times, we both just burst into tears. In the end, it turned out to be SO worth the hike, too. Lake Kathryn wasn’t terribly far off of any trails, but it felt incredibly remote, like we really had the whole world to ourselves up there.

Lake Kathryn campsite

Josh at Lake Kathryn

View from Lake Kathryn

As we made camp and dusk settled in, the water of the entire lake seemed to come to a boil as the fish came out to feed for the evening. I’m a terrible fisherman, but I really regretted not having a rod with me that night cause I wouldn’t have needed any skills. A fresh catch was literally the only thing that could have made it better up there. After basking in the sunset for a bit and filtering some fresh water, we settled in for a cold final night at 9,000ft. As we lay ready to go to sleep, we were really surprised to suddenly get a text message on Lindsey’s phone from her mom. Some wizardry of bouncing signals had somehow delivered a cell signal to her phone out in the middle of nowhere. So we spent a few minutes texting her mom from the tent and assured her all was well, since she was a mom and bound to worry about broken legs, bears, and overly gassy husbands, and eventually drifted off to sleep.

The next morning we woke up to a once again boiling lake surface, poured some instant coffee, broke camp, and headed back over the ridge and down to the valley. A bit more bushwhacking brought us back to the trail, and another half day’s hike brought us home to the boat dock where we’d been dropped off 3 days earlier. Not a long trip, but definitely a memorable one that I wouldn’t have wanted to spend with anyone else. Happy Anniversary, Linds! Thanks for being so awesome, and for making every day feel like an adventure. Sure do love yah. <3

Josh & Lindsey at Lake Kathryn on one year anniversary


We’re back!

House By No Comments

We last left you (hopefully) in suspense of what happens next in our kitchen! But man what a crazy busy summer we’ve had (hence the 6 month fall-out on the blog). Between house projects, visiting friends and family in Iowa, selling baked goods at the NE farmer’s market and both acquiring new jobs, we just couldn’t find time to make our blog a priority.

But we’re BACK!!! And I really want to kick things off right where we left last time.

Kitchen work in progress part two!

Kitchen wall coming down

After we got that wall down, we decided we needed to do something with the back doorway trim. With layers and layers of paint we had two options. 1. Take it down and start over, or 2. strip it. At this point in the project, we were a little limited by the amount of tools we had on hand. Plus, we figured because the house was old and had settled it’d be easier to just strip the paint and work with what we had.  So we opted for stripping it.

stripping paint in doorway

safety mask stripping paint
stripping paint off trim

sanded doorway trim

painted doorway trim
Stripping paint is overrated. Seriously, it’s shitty work that always takes longer than you’d expect. Not only were we dealing with some pretty dangerous chemicals, we found ourselves repeating the process at least 4 times from so much paint build up. By the time we bought a gallon of stripper and put all the labor into it, it would have been cheaper just to start from scratch. Lesson learned.

After the woodwork was finished, we pulled everything behind the cabinets down to studs and painted the upper cabinets white. If you’ve ever done a kitchen remodel before you know at this point it’s HUSTLE MODE.  So, we both took a few days off work and spent the next 5 days getting everything ready for our plumber and electrician.

Cabinet prep

gutted kitchen

The black lower cabinets we talked about in our last post would go back exactly where they were. First we needed to rehang the uppers to their proper height from the lower cabinets. We also built a little bulkhead above the uppers. This would create a seamless transition between the white cabinets and the ceiling. Now that the wall was down, we decided to utilize the extra space and wrap the countertops to create a little seating area.  This also gave us an extra cabinet for storage space!

building kitchen island

After hanging drywall and getting the cabinets back in place the next step was to finish mudding in preparation for tile and countertops. Things were going so smoothly at this point we’d projected to have our kitchen finished in less than a few weeks. All that was left were countertops, plumbing, electrical and some flooring. Easy right?

In our next post we’ll share one of our first big mistakes! Stay tuned.



Kitchen Work In Progress

DIY, House By No Comments

We had some big dreams for the kitchen remodel, and we went into this project with one major goal: to do as much of the work ourselves as possible. We knew going into it that we didn’t have the tools or know-how to pull it all off, but we also didn’t wanna just hire someone to transform our home while we were at the office, then crack a beer after all their hard work at the end of the day. That process tends to be a lot more expensive, and when you have personalities like ours, a lot less satisfying too. Plus, cracking a beer after you bust your ass all day feels pretty damn good. Lindsey and I really wanted to be as involved as possible, and for the things we didn’t yet know how to do, we had amazing backup in these guys:

Matt and John Bennett

That’s Lindsey’s brother Matt and her dad John. John’s a lifelong contractor who’s been doing some of Central Iowa’s best remodeling since he settled down there in the 80’s, and Matt’s fixing to follow in those footsteps, with some great work of his own already under his belt. We definitely owe these two a lot for their help on several parts of this job, so thanks again guys! Not only were they willing to drive four hours north to help out, but they brought some tools that we didn’t have and taught us a lot along the way. Next time we lay floor tile (hopefully those rad concrete ones Lindsey talked about here), it’s all ours to tackle. 🙂

Lower Cabinets

One of the first things we wanted to get underway in the remodel was the cabinets. I wanted to paint the lower cabinets while they were in place, and it made sense for me to do so way early on in the process for a few reasons. First, the lowers are quite a bit larger than the upper ones are, so maneuvering them around onto sawhorses while uninstalled would have been pretty cumbersome. Plus, we had junk flooring that we were gonna pull up later, junk countertops that were gonna come out, so on the off chance that I made a mistake spraying, I likely wasn’t going to mess up anything that mattered. Finally, we wanted to use the partially completed job as motivation to keep things going!

To get a really true black color, we used a primer that was tinted down to a dark gray which would allow the black to deepen, rather than having a bright white primer underneath it. For the finish coat, we diverged from paint that I’m familiar with (Sherwin Williams ProClassic) and went with a Benjamin Moore product (Aura). I’ve always been a little hesitant to change from a brand that I’m super familiar with and confident in, but we didn’t have a choice in this case. ProClassic isn’t made with a tint base that allows for super dark colors to be made, so we picked up the Aura. At the end of the day, I’m happy to say that I really couldn’t tell a difference when spraying, or with the results. Yay, Benjamin Moore!

Lindsey cleaning cabinets with a TSP substitute

Lindsey sanding cabinet doors

Just because we were going to be taking out the floor and countertops didn’t mean I wanted to jack them up and get paint all over them. We still wanted to live in as clean of a house as possible for the next several months. After some painstakingly detailed prep with tape, plastic and paper, we had the whole kitchen looking like a scene from Dexter and ready for primer. Around this time we also wiped all of the surfaces down with a TSP substitute to clean them, then took an 80 grit orbital sander over everything to rough up the surface so paint would stick. For really visible surfaces like the drawer fronts and doors, we made sure the sanding pad on the orbital was really well worn down when we hit those, to help avoid swirl marks in the finish that a fresh 80 grit pad can give you.

We got the primer on with little fanfare, and we were super excited to get all the doors and drawers painted with finish coat and see how the black looked. Initially we’d chosen Black Knight as the color they’d tint that Aura product to, and if you’re like me you think when you see it that it looks damn near pure black. Maybe not quite, but close. We found out after painting all eight doors and six drawers that that definitely wasn’t true. It looked like a weird blue-green-black that was not at all what we were going for. Thankfully the folks at the paint store were super gracious when we brought in the swatch and one of the doors, showing that the door looked way different from the swatch, and they replaced our gallon with another, this time in true solid black.







Pretty spiffy, eh? Once we had these lower cabinets all black, we were even able to tolerate the boring, bowed formica countertops a little more easily. They still didn’t look good, but they looked better than they did against the light oak from before.

We found that kicking off the remodel by tackling the lower cabinets first really motivated us to keep it all rolling. We were so motivated, in fact, that we took hammers to the wall separating the kitchen and dining room a few days later…

Wall Demo, Part 1

Hammers and pry bars rule!

There wasn’t a lot of planning that went into us starting this part of the project off. We still weren’t certain whether or not the wall was load-bearing, but we knew that we couldn’t hack the dungeon-y dark dining room any longer. So on a random afternoon we hauled out a couple of pry bars, pulled off the trim on both sides, and went to town.

A few hundred pounds of plaster lighter, with kitchen light streaming in between the lath, we let the dust settle and realized we were definitely at the point of no return. And thank god. Even with limited view between the studs and lath, we could tell how much of a difference the change was going to make in the space. The dining room was twice as bright, which made that room feel way bigger. We could also envision ourselves entertaining friends, with all of us able to see each other and chat, instead of Lindsey and I hidden away in the kitchen like The Help.

Once we were all cleaned up from knocking out the plaster, we coordinated a time when Lindsey’s dad could come have a look-see and find out what our next steps needed to be going forward, and took a step back to have a breather.

Good news of the non-load-bearing variety, plus electrical rough-in and maybe even the upper cabinets & backsplash, next time! 🙂