journey to hapeville

“What needs to change in our life to make this possible?” was the question we asked ourselves when Lukas was interviewing for his new travel heavy job. The highest priority item for me on that list was “less yard and house”.

Our current backyard is fabulous, a real gem in the city, complete with chickens and a fire pit and plenty of space for the kids to play. It’s also a TON of work. And with a patriarch that travels, I wanted him to be spending time with us as a family instead of wrangling a yard.

The “less house” idea took a lot more sorting out. After much discussion I realized I didn’t want less house (actually, we wanted more space for our growing family), I wanted less house PROJECTS. I didn’t want to walk around daily thinking “that needs to be updated, I want to paint this, change this, finish this…” Sure there will ALWAYS be projects on a home we own, but the projects on a home built in 1958 (what we have currently) are never ending. We toyed around with the idea of renovating a home and ultimately settled on the desire to have a new build for the above mentioned reason and because the real estate market right now is NUTS (people put all cash offers in over asking, there’s offer battles and maximum 30 day closes and people living in AirBNBs while they are in the selling/buying juggle). With two small kids, getting into that “real estate war” wasn’t something my brain could manage. With new homes, the process is a little more tame and more manageable during our season of life.

When we moved into this East Point home, we knew it wasn’t “forever”. We had actually planned to rent down but God paved the way for our first home purchase when we bought our pastor’s house back in 2019. Since then, we’ve bloomed where we’ve been planted AND never stopped talking about what our next home would be like. We’d honed in on the things that were important to us.

Number one for me was walking distance from stuff. All kinds of stuff, like friends’ houses, coffee shops or restaurants or a library or parks or… just stuff! I want to load my kids up in the stroller and set off for an “on foot” adventure. I grew up like this. Living on an island most of my life, I walked (or biked) to school, walked to church, walked to friends’ houses, the park, the ice cream store, the local hang outs. Getting in my car and driving somewhere always feels like a burden, made lighter by the ability to traverse on foot! As an Atlanta resident, this desire has always felt out of reach but it always remained at the top of my priority list. Other things were an office space for both of us adults, a place for the kids to play, an open concept, and space for a super large dining room table.

With Lukas’ new job the list of “wants” began including “needs”. We needed less yard to manage. We needed a new build property. And I added to the list a garage and second floor bedroom windows. Two pieces that would give me a sense of security when I’m home at night while Lukas travels.

East Point is part of the Tri-Cities area of ATL which is made up of three cities — East Point, College Park and Hapeville — all super close together in the lower left side of the metropolitan area. We’ve attended our church for five years but we always stay open to where God might use us next. With that spirit in mind, we kept our hands open to the possibility that we might have a new church home somewhere else in the city. After discussing extensively, we always came back around to finding our hearts with the people who are our church family. They aren’t perfect (WE aren’t perfect), but they are people we’ve chosen to do life with and weren’t ready to let that go. So the Tri-Cities area would stay our home. Now we just had to decide — WHICH of the three cities would we plant new roots?

Looking at Zillow is a hobby of mine. As an interior design graduate, my design brain gets a dopamine hit when I look at home layouts. When trying to decide on which city we’d pick, all of my real estate research led me to have a pretty clear idea of what we I knew we did and didn’t want. We toyed around with staying in East Point or moving to College Park but ultimately, since a walking community is one of my highest priorities, we decided Hapeville was our future home.

Back in Spring 2021, before the job discussion, before even the “maybe we will move” discussion, I’d found a home on Zillow that was within walking distance to one of my best friends from church. Walking out my front door and into hers without a car ride in between…oh man, that would be heaven. The home I found was 4 bedrooms, something we knew we needed and also pretty rare in the older homes in the area. This was 6 weeks before James was supposed to make his grand arrival but, always wanting to stay open to unexpected we stayed open to the idea and explored it… for about 2.5 seconds. Through that exploration, we established a relationship with our realtor, aka another bestie from church.

Fast forward a few months, Lukas applies for the travel job and we officially decide — we are moving. It’s now just a matter of when.

While Zillow hunting (I do it on an almost daily basis!), I found a townhome new build in Hapeville. The idea of an HOA taking care of my exterior and a minimal interior to maintain was so exciting for me (less for Lukaas, he didn’t like the idea of completely losing a yard!). Our realtor made some calls and began finding out about the property. For about 6 weeks we thought it was going to be our new home! And then….

While info gathering for the townhome, our realtor learned about a new development slated to be built in the next 12 months. Bailing on the townhome for this property that met more of our needs, we continued to move forward with imaging our life in this new place. There were lots of hoops to jump through. The developers had to finalize the sale of the land, approval for the exteriors by the city, establish price point, etc. We did a lot of waiting to hear more.

Over the course of 4 months, we made about 100 trips to the land where the development would be built. We watched it go from forrest acreage to leveled dirt canvas. We talked to neighbors nearby and parked and practiced walking to town. Other properties would come available and we’d toy with the idea, all the while coming back to our list of reasons why this was our top pick. All signs pointed to our future there. So we waited and drove by and imagined and prayed over this piece of dirt.

A week before Christmas, I spotted a new Zillow addition in Hapeville. An almost new build (only a year old), a little outside our established price range but still worth a look. I asked Lukas if he wanted to check it out and that afternoon we met our realtor at the property. This was the first time Lukas and I had ever looked at a home together in this type of “what if”, “do you like?”, “how about this?” circumstance. When we bought our East Point home, we visited a friend who was selling their house and said yep, we’ll take it! So this walk through was such a good learning experience.

I figured out more of what Lukas cared about and we considered putting in an offer. For two hours we went through pros and cons. Even with the holidays approaching and my book launch coming up, we thought we just might be able to pull it off. “A diamond in the rough” we called it and didn’t want to miss out on an opportunity that fit (almost) all of our needs.

Lukas left to run an errand and I sat on the front porch of my current house, staring across at our neighbor’s yard. Uncle Larry had just gotten back from the hospital and the thought of walking over to our beloved neighbor family to tell them we were moving was just too much, on top of everything else.

I called Lukas and said “I can’t do this, my SOUL can’t handle this.” I knew he was thinking and praying about this house possibility and I trusted him to lead our family well if this was our next “best yes” but I had to be honest about my hesitations. I couldn’t. I wasn’t ready. We decided on the phone call that it was a “no”.

Like with each stage of this process, out of the possible “diamond in the rough”, we had another round of valuable conversations.

We revisited our needs lists, our reasons why we wanted to move, what we liked and didn’t like, what was necessity and what was nice to have, and most importantly, what was non-negotiable.

By the time January 10th rolled around, with the holidays behind us, the book launch successfully accomplished and some other personal matters settled, my soul was ready for the next “diamond in the rough.”

January 10th, I was doing my classic Zillow scrolling while nursing James at 3am. A property I’d had my eye on for over a year just hit the market.

This property, only a block from my church friend’s house (and a block from my pastor’s home!), had gone from grass to new build in the past year. I had driven by it a million times, walked by it half a million, and even tried to call, repeatedly, to get more information.

Back in September, Lukas and I had been visiting our friends in the neighborhood and for fun, I asked him if he wanted to go inside the “in progress build”. We were on our way to a breakfast date and had a little extra time so did just that.

He was incredibly impressed I was able to walk through the home and help him visualize which rooms he was walking into. My interior design degree doesn’t get put on display very often so it was a fun exercise to show a little of my pre-“Mrs. Fortunato” life. At the time, that walk through started our wheels turning on a few different things but buying that specific home wasn’t really on our radar. We loved the layout, but had our minds set on the new development. It was a fun addition to our date breakfast, and we moved on. (Little did we know I’d snap a picture of Lukas standing in our future owner’s suite bathroom!)

The day after I spotted the home on Zillow, I was in the area and decided to stop by the house “just in case”. There are two homes for sale, side by side, and the first one I walked into, I was in love. Obsessed might be a more accurate word, which is REALLY dangerous in the real estate world. The way the light came in through the windows, the layout of the space, the needs that were met for our family, it required a video chat to Lukas immediately and I used the phrase “dream home”.

If we moved into the development as planned, we knew it would be a short term move. A three to five year, max, commitment, as we get through the “little” years and settled in to Lukas traveling. But the house I was walking? It met all of our needs we already had with the development property…and then some. Stuff that fell into the “want”, category, outside of our needs. Stuff like…a fireplace (which, even though I swore we’d never use when we moved into our apartment in Marietta during our first year of marriage, Lukas proved me wrong and we used it almost every day in the winter), a giant oversized bathtub for me in the owner’s suite (my daily “mommy alone time” is spent in the bath), front and back “hang out on” style porches (for lots of friend time!), and there weren’t stairs to the living area (so friends and family who have bad knees wouldn’t feel challenged when entering our home), and Into that home, well, actually the one next door because it met even MORE of our “wants” (like a straight driveway to pull my mini-van into easily).

Lastly, the real “deal sealer”…this home was bigger. It was a place we could see ourselves in for a really long time. Our guts were telling us we could plant roots there for five to ten years (and maybe even more!), something we longed for but never imagined we’d get with our next move.

“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think…”

Take a look at the back of our Christmas card from 2021, just a few months ago.

While writing our Christmas card, that verse was the first that popped into my heart as I meditated on all He had gifted us in the past year. Little did I know what He had for us, heading into 2022!

Less than two weeks into the year I was walking a house, calling it our “dream home”.

That was a Tuesday. The next day, we were headed back to my parents house after only a week in Atlanta, after the holidays, because my precious Grandmother completed her impactful 94 years on this planet and ran ahead to heaven. My heart aches that she never got to meet James (we were talking about making it happen when we found out she was headed to the ER and never went home) but she did get to meet Tabby and was very proud to be a great grandmother!

On the six hour car ride, little man slept and Tabby watched iPad so Lukas and I could be on the phone with our mortgage lender. Ninety minutes later, Nico from Wells Fargo told us we were officially pre-approved. Holy moly, we were going to try to buy this house.

God always knows what He’s doing with timing. My normal reaction to something big, something exposing, something vulnerable, is to DO. Do do do do do do, all the things. If we’d been at my own house while we were deciding whether or not to put in an offer on the house, my anxiety tornado would have cranked up… BIG TIME. I would have worn myself out prepping for a yard sale, or… any number of things that would have zapped my energy and left me little time to process all the emotions of the experience.

Instead, I was “stuck” with some of my favorite people on the planet.

They helped take care of the kids so Lukas and I could talk, a lot. I was able to journal and get my head wrapped around what we were about to do. It was a giant pause to let me soul catch up. Is this what I wanted? Is this what WE wanted?

At the end of the five days, we could answer YES. But we wanted to get our eyes on the property one more time before submitting an offer. An ice storm was projected to hit Atlanta so we knew we had to get home ASAP if we were going to see the property before getting snowed in. We planned to leave my parents’ house at 6am, but James’ woke us up a little earlier and thank goodness he did because the storm was creeping in earlier than expected. We left at 5am, and the kids were champs and we made it right as the snow started to fall.

Our family of four toured the house and walked out with the decision made — we were putting in an offer on our dream home.

***Insert all the insanity of actually buying (and selling our former!!) home — the reality of such a big purchase, the learning the home we first wanted was already under contract but did we want the one next door?, the negotiations, the offer acceptance, the figuring out upgrades, the putting our home on the market, showing the house, getting THIRTEEN OFFERS, having to pick which offer to accept, the hurry up to get paperwork finished just to wait for signatures, the back and forth of questions, the intense emotions to sit in while you’re waiting…***

I wish I could capture the insanity in detail because, well, it’s a rollercoaster. Described as such by my sister-in-love last week. Buying a house is SO exciting. And it’s SO many other feelings. Scary, frustrating, exhausting. We are still in the process and nothing is final, yet. We have accepted an offer and have closing dates for both homes. And yet, there are still a lot of unknowns and no guarantees. Until we hand over the keys of this home and put the new keys on our key rings, it’s not officially official.

I’ve attempted to finish this blog 25 times. No wait, my revisions counter on WordPress says this is number twenty six. Right now, any spare moment of my life, in the spaces between caring for a three, going on thirteen year old and an “always wants to be with mama” eight month old, is house transition focused. So as I sit here attempting to close this post out, rubbing my eyes because they are starting to cross as I long to be napping like my babies, I ask for your prayers for our family as we get ready to move out of our home in the next seventeen days.

We’ll be moving to an AirBNB in our new neighborhood in order to get the kids settled and move out of our current property and into the other, well, while limiting the affects on the kids (and us!) as much as possible.

There have, and will continue to be a lot of tears and a lot of laughter as the insanity of our present circumstances requires both. Yesterday, when things were just too much and tears rolled down my cheeks, Tabby asked me what was wrong. I reached back to her car seat, grabbed her leg, and told her mommy was scared. She said “don’t worry, mommy, I’m here and we are better together.” Is there any better note to end on??

xoxo, va