From Partnership to Homeownership

Whitney Jett is a NOAHH partner family who started her partnership in June 2016. NOAHH will be following her story through the entire partnership and hopefully beyond. Part 12 is about working on her own home and her plans for when she moves in. For previous parts, click here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8Part 9, Part 10, and Part 11.

In March, Whitney Jett went for the first time to do a full build day on her own home. It was an emotional day:

“The first time working on my own house, I was so excited,” she said. “First things first, I was excited. And then as always I’m glad it was Alyson and Chris working on my house, because I’ve been working on other houses with them, and I just love how they work. So I was excited to be there with them to walk and see everything. And it’s like ‘Okay I’m not building somebody else’s anything now, I’m building mine.’ It was a lot more personal than building a porch or something, all the other work I’d been doing. ‘This is for <i>my house</i> now.’ I think we painted the front part. We painted the doors inside. That day was pretty much all painting. I had paint everywhere. I still have paint all over those clothes. I’ll eventually get around to soaking that out, but I wanted to wait until I was actually done before I got more paint on it. I still really don’t know how [to get paint out]. I hit up Google real quick. Vinegar? I had paint all over my face. I was telling Chris something, and he was just laughing, ‘You have paint all over your face.'”

Because of the build schedule, Whitney did not start on her own home until later in its construction. On her first day there, site supervisor Alyson made sure to ask her how she wanted her house numbers displayed, and Whitney put them up herself.

“It had a finality to it,” she said. “Now, this is [my address]. I just marked it. A hand print. It’s mine. Oh man, I love that house. I already love that house, and I don’t even live in it.”

Seeing volunteers work on her own home already had a special meaning for Whitney, but working alongside them also had an impact. As usual, she was asked about being an applicant without children. NOAHH partners with individuals as well as families. Our only criteria are need for shelter, willingness to partner, and ability to pay. Whitney answered their questions happily, and enjoyed the smaller group size.

“I walked up and said, ‘Hi I’m Whitney I’m the homeowner,'” she said. “And they’d ask questions like ‘How many bedrooms? How many bathrooms? What’s the square footage? You living here by yourself and you don’t have any kids?’ That’s always the question, but it’s expected. I like the good size [of volunteer groups] where it’s not crowded. Everybody’s got something to do, and you have enough to make little teams. One house I was doing a soffit. There were four of us working on the soffit, and that was enough. We pretty much finished it that day, and everyone had their own tasks and we weren’t stepping over each other. It worked out.”

Construction staff will sometimes check with partner families if they are present for small details about the house, which means there are less things to update or fix during the final walkthrough.

“There weren’t that many things they were working on that I had much preference in,” she said. “Alyson marked the spot where I wanted my towel bar and small stuff like that. Of course I got to pick how my numbers went, but I didn’t really get too much say. There wasn’t too much to say about. It was just like, ‘Don’t break anything.’ We went to put insulation in the attic, and I was thinking, ‘Please don’t put a footprint through my ceiling. Thank you.’ And they didn’t, of course. I just want to get in the house. But we had a good time. It was great.”

Having now completed her sweat equity hours, she has learned quite a bit about construction. Because some things were subcontracted out, there were parts of the home building process she never got to help with, but she looks forward to learning more in the years to come. For every home, the plumbing, electrical, air conditioning system, drywall, and cabinets are subcontracted out. She also did not get to work on the railing of her porch, but she looks forwarding to working on one when she builds a deck in her backyard.

“What can’t I do now?” she asked before answer: “I can’t do drywall yet. I can’t do cabinets and countertops yet. I think that was all subcontracted out anyway so I wouldn’t learn that. I didn’t do framing. Like base molding and framing the doors, I didn’t do that. No staining. I was painting, so I didn’t need to be staining. What didn’t I do? I built stairs. I didn’t build the railing! I wanted to build the railing. I get to build one on my deck, it’s fine.”

NOAHH volunteers do not typically use nailguns, so Whitney did not get the chance to try one out on site. Using hammers wasn’t her favorite part of building. Because of insurance issues, some power tools are limited to staff only or not allowed on the site with volunteers, but various saws, drills, and sanders are used often. NOAHH staff instruct all volunteers–even those experienced with power tools–on how to use them (and no one under the age of 18 can use power tools on site).

“What I definitely don’t want to go again is framing a wall,” she said. “No more hammers and nails, please. I’ll come with my own impact drill. My own power tools, and we’re gonna go build this wall in five minutes. No more hammering and nailing. And no more 35 to 40 degree weather. Just no more. I think I’ve always really wanted power tools, just never knew what to do with them. But I can say now I’m not afraid of saws anymore. At first I was like ‘Eh a circular saw. It’s gonna go everywhere. I don’t think I can guide it like I’m supposed to.’ But now I’m not afraid of it. Now I’m like ‘Give me that.’ I feel like a pro now. Like minor saws and dealing with angles, it’s nothing.”

Anxious for her pre-closing and closing meetings (where she would officially buy the house), ss the home got closer to completed, Whitney began making plans.

“At some point I walked into what will be my master bedroom, and I spread my arms out,” said Whitney, “and Alyson was laughing at me, but I wanna be in my bed! I’m so ready. It’s been 10 months. Could’ve been longer. I was there the Saturday when we were done with the volunteer part, and then all we need now is the doorbell, some patch work, and that’s about it. So then I’m just waiting. ‘When is closing when is closing when is closing?’ I got the email from Emily and I’m like ‘Finally!’ I told my boss, ‘Can I have all of those days off?’ I just took that Tuesday to Friday off, so I can focus. But I haven’t fully cried yet. I was telling Alyson I’m pretty sure it’s gonna be the moment that I get the keys in my hand. I’m probably just gonna break down. But it hasn’t come to that yet. But I think about it. I imagine it. Every now and then I get a little teary-eyed. But I can hold it together for a few more weeks.”

Her first priority is the alarm system, something she learned from her First Time Homebuyer Class. She has been searching online and considering her options.

“I need to get my alarm system, the Internet, the important stuff,” she said. “Not to mention furniture, because I’m trying to move in that night if I can. I’ve been thinking about stuff like that, like what kind of alarm system? Do I want a monitor it myself cause I used to work in loss prevention? I would rather watch my own stuff to be honest. But do I want to get a self-monitored or get monitoring services and pay monthly fees? I’ve been shopping online.”

Her top priority after making sure her home is secure is the interior design. Partner families choose the flooring type (carpet or laminate flooring) and the counter top colors. NOAHH also provides a refrigerator, a water heater, and an oven through donors like Whirlpool, and the layout is determined by the affiliate as well. After they move in, as homeowners, partner families can decorate and design the home how they want it. Whitney has been planning her own style for months:

“Setting up my theme, it’s royal chic,” she said. “Modern, but traditional. Not too modern, not too traditional, right in the middle. And the scheme of it all is anywhere from Paris to Bourbon St. Eiffel Towers, fluer de lis everywhere. I have a huge canvas with the Eiffel Tower and I’m figuring out, ‘what wall are you going on again?’ Walking through with my dad, I see I want two recess lights here. Two lights hanging down in this little corner. I’ve been designing. I haven’t even been watching HGTV. I can’t even blame them for this. I’ve been checking out pictures on their website, but that’s not the same. I can’t lie. I’m a fanatic of everything on there. Especially like the crasher shows where they rearrange an entire room. One of my favorites is Colorsplash where David Brumsfield shows up to some bland, blah, beige room and the next thing you know there’s color everywhere and it works. I’m like okay this is inspirational. I like this guy. So yeah, HGTV and the DIY network, that’s my stuff. I still go on the website. The front room will be an office. It’s not like I run a business from home, but I do like how much light is in that room. I’ll probably sit in there and play The Sims or something. I’ve already picked out a desk, so I’ll set up a little work station where I’ll play with my Legos or do puzzles. Just relax.”

For her lawn, she took inspiration from her parents’ homes. The front lawn is sodded for every NOAHH house, and the backyards are fenced in. The size of the yard varies by lot size, but most homes have enough room for a little lawn care. Whitney is planning how she’s going to care for it and what she’s going to do with it… and what to do with certain uninvited guests.

“I guess one of the things I didn’t expect to be so excited about is the backyard,” she said. “It’s unfinished. It needs love. Needs a little TLC. One thing I need is St Augustine grass runners, which means St Augustine grass is gonna take over my yard eventually. We have had St. Augustine grass in front of my mom’s house for forever. It’s awesome. I’ve already scoped out two friends. Already scoping out who’s gonna cut the grass because it won’t be me. Already thinking about things like if a wasp decides to build his house on mine, what cemetery I’m gonna book for him. And any spiders, I’m gonna turn into a mob boss and kill him and his entire family and burn his house down too.”

Her father, mother, and stepfather have all been helping her get ready to move. Her father is helping her plan and her mother is helping her shop.

“My family’s been getting together,” she said. “My mom’s already saying ‘I’m gonna buy this, I’m gonna buy that.’ She bought me a pot set. She bought my microwave. I ain’t even mad. She wants to get the cross for the house. One inside and one outside. We’re almost there. I’m anxious now. I’m less stressed out about the house being completed, I’m more just like, ‘okay, that day is coming.’ I need to pack more than the five boxes I’ve packed so far. I have so much stuff to bring to that house. That day I was building on my house, both my parents came and walked through the house, especially my dad cause he works for Lowe’s so he knows plumbing, appliances, he knows everything. And he’s a DIY guy in his own house. He likes to install things and replace things. My dad’s walking though and he’s telling me, ‘Okay your washed and dryer could probably fit there.’ This past Saturday he was saying, ‘Okay you can put the sofa this way and the TV on this wall.’ We’ve gotten through most of the nitty gritty.”

Even with help from her parents, she’s having to budget around moving in and decorating her home.

“It’s all part of the plan,” she said. “I have a budget for what do I need right now to move in. Bed, check. Alarm system, however much that is gonna cost. I’m trying to go like as cheap as possible but still get things I like. I’m balancing. I don’t need to spend like $3,000 on a bed. Like I can get a bed for $500, get the rest of the furniture later. I can live out of a few boxes for a couple months. Do I need gutters right now? Do I need them later? Do I need to worry about anything on the exterior right now? Maybe a little chair on the porch. I’ve just been thinking about the order of business. What order am I doing everything in? The whole point to me is I just want to be comfortable. So the bed is coming first. I wanna be able to sleep and not have to drive all the way to Michoud again. I’m gonna take of those four days with closing and get all that settled in the first, so I can just coast from there.

“It’s been fun. I’ve been thinking about how I’m gonna budget what little savings I do have for the furniture, because I’m starting from scratch. I’ve been shopping online, in stores, everybody’s store. I literally went to Lowes last night and just walked around. I looked at everything. I looked at their cabinets, pull out drawers, all in them. I even looked at deck material cause I’m gonna build a deck eventually. I was just looking at everything. It’s overwhelming. It’s definitely overwhelming.”