My 2016 Budget Challenge: Can a Paint Job Help an Old House Pass a Re-Fi Appraisal?

[Editor's Note: This is the latest episode in Max Wong's journey to find an extra $31,000 in a single year. Read the whole series here.]

We paid off our home equity line of credit two years early! It was a Festivus miracle.

Kind of.

Earlier this year, we failed to refinance the mortgage of Dinky Manor not once, but twice. We could not get our ramshackle, 1,000 square foot house to appraise for the whopping $640,000 we needed to get Mr. Spendypants out of his horrifically structured, pre-2007 housing crash home loan.

For all of you wondering about that $640,000 for 1,000 square feet…I guess you don't live in Los Angeles.

On Thanksgiving Eve, our friends Mary Ellen and Bob invited us out to dinner with Betsy and Murray (Mary Ellen's sister and brother-in-law). As Mary Ellen and Bob are both Wise Bread readers, they immediately started quizzing us about the 2016 Budget Challenge. They wanted to know all the sordid details — like how Mr. Spendypants puts up with my ever-increasing level of crazy. We were in the middle of whining about our underemployment and our ever more complicated real estate situation when Murray reached across the table and handed me his business card.

Murray is a mortgage banker.

We followed up with Murray at his office the following week. He had already looked at a ton of real estate data for our area and couldn't understand why the house hadn't appraised for over $600,000. He started crunching the numbers. He thinks he can figure out how to refinance Dinky Manor's mortgage.

However, Murray had two immediate demands. First, Dinky Manor needs an exterior paint job, stat. The fact that our house is the dumpiest on the block isn't helping our cause. Alas, we don't have the $17,000 it would cost to hire professionals to paint the house, so Mr. Spendypants and I will spend a relaxing winter holiday scraping and sanding 80 years of bad paint jobs off the outside of our home. Luckily, one of my best friends is a retired painting contractor. He has agreed to come out of retirement to help us rehab the house for the appraisal before the mortgage rates jump any higher.

Could we pay down the home equity line of credit? This was Murray's second ask. Although our debt-to-loan ratio is better than average, if we zap our HELOC down to zero, it would make us look much less risky as borrowers.

Conceptually, paying off the debt is a no-brainer. What the bank wants dovetails nicely with my goal of paying off the loan (that is due in 2018) by the end of this year. It's the actual execution of this goal that sucks. After a solid start in January, finding extra cash this year has been more difficult than we anticipated. Could we juggle the finances to pay off our loan at this later date without completely cannibalizing our emergency fund? Short answer: sort of. We took a $6,000 chomp out of our emergency fund. Since there is a small but real chance of us both being underemployed come March, and a somewhat larger chance that this mortgage refinance will fall through, this move makes us financially vulnerable.

Worst case scenario: We have to take out a new line of credit in March as a precaution. While this would not be the end of the world, that situation would not be ideal. I would like to avoid being that loser personal finance writer who can't kick her debt habit.

Best case scenario: The re-Fi goes through and we both find decent employment in March. If this happens we will be able to put the money we were using to pay down the HELOC each month toward replenishing our emergency fund and paying down the new, less expensive mortgage at a faster pace.

Fingers crossed.

Progress So Far

Although we did pay off a $15,000 loan with money we had socked away, I am not adding the $6,000 we pulled out of our emergency fund to the plus column of my 2016 budget challenge because we are going to have to pay our emergency fund back, as fast as humanly possible.

Panic is a really good motivator. If only we'd had that kind of "inspiration" all year long. We earned a combined $3,258.98 in the first two weeks of December. Here's how we did it.

Mr. Spendypants and I DJ'ed a corporate Christmas party. Although we did not win one of the flat screen televisions that were raffled off as door prizes, we did make $1,500 for five hours of work. Also, we ate at least $800 in foie gras cotton candy, spearified olives, and wagyu beef, so that was a great job perk.

To take advantage of the holiday shopping fever, I had planned to spend the first two weeks of December selling every single thing that is not nailed down in the house on eBay and Etsy. Alas, this did not happen, so my house is still filled with crap we don't need. Mr. Spendypants and I deemed it more prudent that I use every available second of daylight doing yard work and prepping to paint the house in advance of the looming mortgage appraisal appointment. We will save a lot more money if we can refinance the mortgage than I could ever make selling our stuff online.

Even with my new, yucky manual labor schedule, I managed to earn $1,758.98 on the side. In a previous incarnation, I was a jewelry designer. Mary Ellen and Betsy were nice enough to buy $243 in old stock from me for holiday gifts. I made $41 selling books to a second hand bookshop. I have been propagating succulent cuttings from my garden all year long. I made $124 selling little potted plants off my front porch to passers-by. I made $10.73 selling an old dress (that I had gotten for free) to a consignment store. One of my neighbors paid me $25 to run an errand for her, and another neighbor paid me $100 for pet sitting. I made $100 from writing jobs. I sold $707 in jam, honey, and handmade lip balm. Although I barely have any merchandise for sale on Etsy, I received a last minute order that netted me $363.25.


Because I source holiday gifts year round, we actually managed to spend $0 on holiday gifts for friends and family this year. Just about everyone got homemade goodies that I had made in advance or gifts paid for through barter. This was a total win. Unfortunately, we did not get to wallow in our thrifty genius for long. We have spent $495 on painting supplies for the house so far…

Goal: $31,000.00

Amount Raised: $33,126.40

Amount Spent: $14,093.66

Amount Left to Go: $11,967.26

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