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My First Home

The home wasn’t perfect, but it was ours

sarah wilkins for the boston globe

We bought our first house, a three-bedroom ranch, in the spring of 2013. We were the only bid.

The gleaming hardwood floors and central fireplace drew me in right away; the basement bar and office caught my husband’s eye.

Patrick and I knew things weren’t perfect. Two weeks before closing, the insurance company informed us that they could not cover our house because the roof was too old. We raced to get quotes and put down a deposit so we would have coverage. Then the view from the bright side really started to dim. The boiler and windows needed replacing. There was a gaping hole in the backyard (the former owner had removed the above-ground pool at our request). The chimney needed masonry work and a new liner before we could use the fireplace. The electrical panel was covered in rust, and there were signs of water in the basement.

Things went from a hurry up-and-wait pace to my-pants-are-on-fire speed.


Week one: We had the roof and electrical panel replaced. My mother-in-law stayed for a few days and was quite helpful (I am not just saying that), pitching in on the odds and ends of unpacking and cleaning and dealing with contractors.

Week two: The toilet started leaking. Out it went. Because the toilet was gone, we decided to remove the carpet (yes, carpet in the bathroom and jungle green at that) and put down sticky vinyl tiles. I did the demo work on the ugly shower doors. Patrick found them on the front lawn when he came home from Lowe’s.

Then spring sprung a leak. Let’s just say the wet/dry vac my parents gave us as a housewarming gift was put to good use. (Later, Patrick diverted the water gushing out of the gutter drain pipe onto the driveway, where it wouldn’t find its way around the basement window.)


Meanwhile, the hole from the pool yawned in the backyard. We ordered 15 yards of loam and spent four weeks moving it with shovels and a wheelbarrow. We melted in the summer heat inside a house with original windows that didn’t open and a wall-mounted air-conditioning unit that didn’t work.

Undaunted, we attacked the rest of the yard. I made my garden plot in the sunny corner, and we cleared bushes. We found old patio bricks buried under the lawn and built a fire pit. We toasted our first fire at our first house with s’mores, a sweet memory.

And still there was more work to do.

We financed a boiler, a few replacement windows, and insulation through Mass Save (contact them at; it’s worth it). We replaced the leaky oil tank and the hot water heater.

That winter, the same windows that left us to swelter in the summer heat, let us freeze. We made a to-do list. Replacing more windows was at the top.

We’ve been here now for more than a year. My vegetables grew well, though I curse the neighborhood bunnies. We painted the outside of the house, swapping the faded beige for a bluish gray. The new windows ushered in the autumn breezes. We enjoyed the crackle from the fire pit and the roasted marshmallows — until Patrick said, “I think we should redo the patio.”

Jenelle Pope Canny, an engineer, lives in Stoneham. Send comments to