Author: Doctor in Denim

Final Numbers for Our Sedona Building Experiment

Final Numbers for Our Sedona Building Experiment

Our building experiment in Sedona, Arizona has finally resulted in a livable house, and it has a scheduled closing date where it will change over from being under a construction loan to being under a regular mortgage.


In case we have not already bored you to tears with details on this: the build is a 3-bed, 2-bath main house with a separate “mother in law quarters” that is 2-bed, 1 bath. Both units have a kitchen and washer/dryer.

The Construction Loan

You can read about the early numbers (lot cost, down payment on the build, etc) in this post from December of last year.

We ended up borrowing $456k for the build itself, which was about what we planned on. The biggest surprise was that despite this being one of the last vacant lots in the middle of uptown Sedona, there was no gas line to the property. Getting one there cost $13k.

That $456k did include the excavation costs, which can be one of the higher-ticket items when building in the very rocky, cliff-covered landscape of Sedona.

Out of Pocket Expenses

We paid cash (via credit card) for our cabinets and and appliances, totaling around $20k.

Entryway and kitchen of the main house.

These purchases resulted in thousands upon thousands of American Air miles, British Air miles, and the BA Travel Together Ticket. We have already gained back about $11k from said miles, and there are over 190k miles (and the Travel Together Ticket) left to use. So we’re feeling good about that particular building/travel hack.

But back to the subject at hand…

Landscaping Costs

The internet tells me the rule of thumb on landscaping is to spend about 10% of the value of your home on landscaping.

The last time this project was appraised, the value was $706k. So $70k on landscaping would be acceptable, I suppose?

We are not spending anywhere near that that much on landscaping, although we are paying good money to have a well-reputed landscaper handle it for us.

The landscaping plan currently includes retaining walls all around the property (very necessary in our minds), six new trees (required by the City of Sedona despite the fact that this was a dirt lot full of weeds), gravel and flagstone work, two paver patios (in addition to the covered patio that is part of the house), and fancy sitting boulders, a built-in waterfall, and a built-in gas fire pit. There will be plenty of smaller foliage as well. All the plants will be native so no irrigation system will be needed.

We’re going to leave landscaping costs out of the grand total, not because we want to mislead anyone but because landscaping preferences are very individual and costs are so wildly variable depending on what you need and want done on your property.

Grand Totals

Some quick math with the above numbers tells you we have spent around $476k on this thing after the lot cost ($89k) and the down payment ($60k).

It’s probably most useful to say it this way: we’ve put in ~$170k of our own money into this (not including landscaping) and taken on a ~$460k loan (rounded up to account to for closing costs when it morphs into a regular mortgage and whatever else we may have missed).

Update: After this post was published, we got an $18.8k refund from our contractor. So let’s adjust the above numbers to more accurately say we put ~$151,200 of our own money into this property, not $170,000. So the cost per square foot numbers I’ve shared below are a little higher than they should be.

Cost per Square Foot

Cost to build was $185/sq foot if you include the garage and covered patio (which has lighting, a ceiling fan, etc). It was $255/sq ft if you include only interior space.

I just read an article about building in Sedona that said to expect $300 – $350 per square foot on your new build. Some new homes are currently going up in the $800 – $1200 per square foot range.

It’s very possible that we’re building a peasant house in the middle of a town zoned exclusively for castles.

The reason Sedona is pricey.

Regardless, the median list price of new-ish homes in our area is well over what we spent. This is what we were aiming for in order to play it safe should we need or want to sell quickly.

The Mortgage

We’ll have $460k in debt on this thing as of January 2020; monthly payment with taxes and insurance will be $2.6k.

Our interest rate is 4.1%, because it’s a “second home” and our third mortgage (we have a rental in another state as well as our primary home).

We’ll let you know how it appraises in a couple weeks.

Update: It appraised for $741,000.

Happy New Year, everyone! See you in 2020!

Backpacking With Teens and Tweens

Backpacking With Teens and Tweens

We’ve been backpacking with our now-teenager since he was 9 years old. And I’m talking about real wilderness backpacking in rugged terrain and extreme temperatures where you carry everything you need to survive, not “I did some walking in Europe with a backpack on” backpacking.

I put in 6 years of backpacking as a teenager myself back in the day, followed by an additional 13 years of backpacking as an adult (pre-munchkins). So hopefully that establishes me as reasonably qualified to dispense advice in this area.

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The Spooky Truth About “Emergency Funds”

The Spooky Truth About “Emergency Funds”

Happy Halloween, everyone! Okay, I admit it: I published this today mostly so I could use “spooky” in the title.

If you’re just here to find out what we keep in cash in our emergency fund: it’s $22,635.00. You may now go back to eating all the good candy out of the stash your kids brought home. But if you’re interested in more information on this topic, read on.

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Home Rehab in Progress (Before & After Pics)

Home Rehab in Progress (Before & After Pics)

As I mentioned in a recent post, we’ve been doing a lot of work on our current home, with the intention of selling it before our oldest goes to high school.

Things still on the to-do list include new exterior doors and replacement of two light fixtures in the living room (all scheduled for this month). Guest bathroom updates and new flooring are on the “maybe” list. A new heather and AC unit are being installed as I write this.

Several of you asked for more info and better pictures of what we’ve done so far, so here we go (enjoy!):

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All You Need is… Dreams?

All You Need is… Dreams?

The ever-popular topic of “How much does travel cost?” is back!

An acquaintance of mine was just asked about how she and her husband paid for their family’s 5-star, multi-month, international vacation. Fair question, I think, since they’ve been pretty public about how long and fancy the trip was. Her response was: “It’s not about money! It’s about our dreams! It’s about having faith!”

*Insert sound of me choking on coffee.*

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Building, Remodeling, and Getting a Real Estate License

Building, Remodeling, and Getting a Real Estate License

Wow time is flying! I really had every intention when I started this blog of posting once a week. HAHAHAHAHAAAAA! *wipes tears from eyes*

I guess once a month is going to have to suffice for now. As if two jobs and two kids and the usual summer travel and training for another endurance race aren’t enough, we’ve added the funtivities mentioned in the title to our list.

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Our Kid’s First Solo International Flight

Our Kid’s First Solo International Flight

As you may have already noticed, my family gets pretty excited about travel. My husband and I traipsed all over the globe together in our dating and just-married days, and now we’re very comfortable dragging the kids around the world with us. We’ve already started to nudge our oldest out of the Family Travel Nest.

C did his first flights without us 3 years ago, right after his 10th birthday – across the country and back to visit his amazing and very patient grandparents. He did the same thing last summer, but on the back-to-us flight met us in a different city instead of our home airport.

This year, as a newly-minted teen, he flew out alone to visit his grandparents for a couple of weeks, and he then took a 5-hour international flight to meet us in Canada. He did all of this after having already spent 2+ weeks away from home at various summer camps.

And I’m happy to say he rocked it.

The Logistics

Here’s what we learned about this whole process:

Not all airlines allow this. Some have age cut-offs as high as 16 for minors traveling alone abroad. Some allow it, but only on non-stop flights. Some allow it, but you have to pay a fee to have the flight attendants monitor the situation from the departure gate at the origin airport through passport control and customs at the destination. Some allow it and make the flight attendant monitoring optional.

Air Canada’s rules are the less-strict variety, and so we booked our son on a flight with them.

Tickets and Other Documents

The ticket purchase was easily done online, which I appreciated (this is not always the case for minors traveling alone or minors traveling internationally).

They did tell us to have C travel with a notarized letter signed by us giving him permission to take the planned flight without us and detailing our contact information. I’m not sure anyone ever looked at said letter, but it made sense for him to have one since neither of us would be with him at check-in or customs.

Obviously he had to have his passport with him, so we got him one of those nerdy travel document purses with strict instructions to keep the strap around his neck no matter what.

Travel Day!

C’s flight was from O’Hare International to Vancouver International.

For whatever reason, Air Canada told me at booking that the “attendant fee” was included in the ticket price, and day-of they told us it was separate and we hadn’t paid it.

What this amounted to was that C had to go from security to his departure gate without his grandmother and through customs all alone, but it worked out fine. He reported that everyone was really nice (especially the TSA agent on the departure end who walked with him to his gate after he got anxious in security).

He said he was nervous in customs/passport control when they started asking him questions, but we could tell once he met us at international arrivals area that he was really proud of himself.

13 year-old boys are typically useless for reporting details about an experience, but from what I could gather C did have in-flight entertainment and snacks/drinks provided in coach class. He reported that there were loud children next to him and that he “watched Aquaman and How to Train your Dragon and ate a lot of Swedish Fish.” So there you go.

The Air Canada customer service reps at Vancouver International were super awesome. The “international arrivals” waiting area is very close to an abundance of food options, shops, and the public observation area where your toddler can shout incoherently at the airplanes.

How to Know When They’re Ready to Fly Solo

This post is NOT meant to be a “look how responsible my kid is” bragfest. C is plenty irresponsible in many areas, as evidenced by how much of the past academic year he spent in detention. But for some reason unbeknownst to us, he really levels up when it’s time to travel.

Different kids are good at different things, and they become ready to take on adult challenges at different times. That’s okay. I didn’t have the occasion to fly anywhere without my parents until I was 20, and I didn’t cross any international boarders alone until I was in residency. But the world is more mobile now than it was 10 years ago, and naturally more and more kids are flying to more places unaccompanied.

If you’re feeling like your kid is ready, you’re probably right. If they’ve asked to travel alone, they are more than ready. My advice is to start small, and keep it positive. Give your kid nothing but affirmative feedback about the whole process (do not project any of your fears or frustrations about this new experience or about flying in general onto them).

If your kid is younger or otherwise not quite ready to handle all the details of the airport shuffle, consider paying the extra dollars to have an attendant accompany them as much as possible on their travel day.

I think solo air travel is a very empowering milestone for kids. And honestly, if C can do it, your kid probably can too.

Letting kids do things that are just a little bit out of the family comfort zone is good for everyone. I think it’s especially good for us as parents.

Watching your child walk smiling and confident through an “international arrivals” gate is weird… but really cool. It makes you let go – just for a second – of the fact that this is the same child who claims to need help with things like finding his toothbrush and who usually doesn’t know what month it is.

And it gives you a momentary glimpse of the awesome travel possibilities in their future.