Yesterday I met with a realtor to help me understand the value of my house, to consider work I might do on it, and options going forward in this real estate market. I was on my own for the evening, and spent much of it getting my books in order, entering data from checking and credit card accounts to help me know where I stand in terms of cash balances and flow. I pay my bills when they come in, deposit the checks as they arrive. The money comes and goes. I pass out cash to my kids for allowance, gas, spending money, clothes. We don’t live high on the hog, but we have what we need to get by.

Nearly six years since I realized I was going to be a single woman, I still am. Finances are a big deal. They were a big deal when I considered splitting up with my ex and they’ve been a big deal ever since as I’ve relied more on myself than I have since grad school, when I didn’t have kids or a home or a business to take care of or employees counting on me for wages. Six years later, I’ve kept the business alive, put shoes on my kids’ feet, sent one boy off to college, paid private school tuition for all three. We’ve had some meals out, travelled a bit, made small improvements to the house, here and there, painted half of it, or more like a third, added a few storm windows, repaired old windows, added two new ones in the basement, in anticipation of a renovation that never happened. Our appliances are old..twenty to forty years for fridges, stoves, dishwasher, washer and dryer. The furnaces are oil, nearly twenty years old. The water heater is tankless, now almost ten years old. The electrical is improving slowly, still needs work. Same with the plumbing and the fixtures, new faucets, newer toilets, old tubs and tile in both lower baths, new vanities in those baths, old kitchen cabinets with wobbly hinges and drawers, layers of paint to disguise the old fashioned fake brown underneath, contact paper to cheer up the inside view.

So, I’m looking at this house, worth more money than I’d like to know, and I’m looking at my bank balances, my budget and my projections for the future, and I’m wondering if and how things will play out. Can we do the kitchens and the baths, take down a wall or two, finally do something with the mud pit, weed-filled driveway, finish adding storms and/or replacement windows, convert the furnace to gas, remove the remaining wallpaper and paneling, repaint, with the day care showing wear from lots of kids down there and the upstairs needing painting, with most of it fourteen to twenty years old, take up the last of the linoleum in the day care kitchens, freshen the place up?

This year I borrowed money to buy a new car, after spending thousands on my old van to keep it running. I hadn’t expected to do that. I thought for years I’d never have a new car, that I’d always drive a junker, because saving enough cash was out of reach. The loan made it happen. My credit is good, the car is great, the payments are manageable enough, and my college boy gets an old minivan to drive until it dies.

I could sell this gold mine of a house. A developer could buy it and snazzy it up, sell it for much more. An investor could buy it and rent it to lots of working stiffs, more or less as is. A wealthier person could buy it and invest the money to make it the place they’d like it to be, converting it to a single family or renting the half they choose. I could move out and move on, look for a smaller place nearby in better shape, with new kitchens and baths, a tidy yard and drive, gas heat, but the chances of me finding a place like that where the day care and my kids and I would thrive feels very, very slim. It’s not a buyers’ market, and so not only would I need to scramble to get my house cleaned out to sell and move, I’d need to be in a competitive place to get a home nearby in time to make a move for my family and the day care, not something I can easily do.

The value of this real estate is scary. It’s great to own a place worth this much. It’s also a weird dilemma, to live in a place I couldn’t afford to buy, ever, if I were starting out now, and which I could rent out for much more than I could afford to pay if I were renting. The work I do is so poorly paid in so many places that if I were to move, I don’t know what kind of living I would make. Folks in this part of the world pay so much for child care that I can afford to live above the poverty line. If I moved to a place where housing was cheaper I’m not so sure that would be true. And I’ve got teens and one car. They need to drive to school and I need not to be trapped at home when they have the car. If I moved to a place where we didn’t have access to public transportation or nearby shops and friends, that scheme might not work.  Plus, my day care families walk and bike and take the bus and t to get to us, and many of them have only one car. If I moved away from my neighborhood, I don’t know if they would follow. Plus, I love where we are and the parks we visit. I’ve know the other providers in the neighborhood nineteen years. I’ve followed their lives and they’ve followed mine. Friends like that are a gold mine, too.

So, I think I’m here..but it’s a lot to sort out. I’m glad to have quiet this weekend to get the numbers in order, to talk with the realtor, to exchange e-mails with my accountant, to give the mortgage brokers a call, to think, and tomorrow to meet with a contractor to get his sense of things.

The good thing is my house is solid. The appliances work, if the fridge is roaring at me now and the dishwasher will be soon, and the stove knobs are mostly missing and the old laundry machines are in the grubby basement down three flights of stairs from the bedrooms. We have a squirrel in the attic, trees overhanging the roof from my neighbor’s yard which need to be cut back, untrimmed hedges, and snow coming before long..I’m one person, with two teens who are here part time, and helpers in the day care, but it’s a lot. Some days I think I can do it. Some days not. Don’t ask me which is today. I’m still deciding, numbers, heart, head, doing their best to help me out. I’m off to Quaker Meeting as soon as the banana bread is out of the oven. I’m hoping that, too, will help.