My First House—with Dorothy Kern

By Sarah Netter

Growing up in pricey San Francisco, Dorothy Kern wasn’t sure that she’d ever be able to buy a house.

But when Kern’s husband was transferred to a more affordable Phoenix suburb, they jumped at the chance to purchase their own home. They chose a two-story, 1,800-square-foot stucco house—four bedrooms, three baths with desert landscaping and a pool.

She binged on HGTV and tried her hand at fixing up her new home with fresh paint and a new look. Taking ownership, she said, made it really hit home that they were able to buy this house and make it their own.

Today Kern, 39, is back in California where she and her husband are raising their 12-year-old daughter. A former teacher, Kern now works as a professional blogger, combining her love of writing with her penchant for pie on her blog Crazy for Crust and her cookbook, Desert Mash-Ups: Tasty Two in One Treats.

Tucked away in her home are dozens of photos of that first house in Arizona, as a reminder that dreams do come true.

Here’s what she learned:

Who were you when you bought your first house?

I was young. I think I was 24. We’d been married a year and my husband got transferred from San Francisco to Scottsdale. I was a high school teacher back then—just kind of young, starting out.

Did it make you feel like an adult?

It did. We’d lived in an apartment, we’d lived in a duplex, we’d lived in a house. We moved a bunch in those first couple of years we were together.  Every time something went wrong, you obviously just called the landlord. And so that definitely made me feel like I could paint and I could decorate, but I also had to fix any problems that came up. I had to call somebody and deal with it myself.

What surprised you the most about buying and owning a home?

Honestly, it was actually that we could do it. The San Francisco area, it is so expensive to live there.  Had we stayed in the Bay Area—that’s where I grew up and I wanted to live—we knew we’d be renting forever. 

There was just so much paperwork and it surprised me that our [Arizona] mortgage [payment] was less than our rent had been back home.

What did you learn about yourself?

Back then, HGTV and the home shows were just getting started and [were] hugely popular. I was able to do things myself. We painted all the rooms. That was back when every room would be a different color and we’d have all these different themed rooms. My husband and I painted and he changed light fixtures.

We figured out how to do all those things and did them ourselves. Learning I could actually put things together and make a nice home, that was kind of nice.

Describe your lowest point.

We had to move over the summer because I was a teacher, and I needed to get a job and start working before he was able to come down.

There was a monsoon, and I remember hiding in the hallway because there was so much thunder and lightning. I’d never been in anything like that before. I think just being on my own and figuring all that out. If something breaks, you’re responsible for it. You can’t call the landlord.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Have fun with it. It’s your first house, you should make sure to enjoy it and remember it. I took pictures of all the rooms. Just remember to do all those things.

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Sarah Netter is a Yahoo Storyteller. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and ABC News.

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