Janelle Gaw's Santa Clara Condo Tour
As soon as we saw photos of Janelle Gaw's home, we were immediately taken by the bold colors, artful displays, and her playful sense of decorating. We then learned that Janelle saved and bought the home on her own and were twice as impressed by both her bravery and ability to enter the world of home ownership by herself at only 26-years-old.
While her bachelors degree is in Chemical Engineering, it's easy to see that's not Janelle's only area of expertise. Her entire home was decorated on a serious budget, and her blog Elle and Ish accounts for all of her smart spending habits (amongst other things) that Everygirls can learn from. Here we chat with Janelle about the process she went through to buy her very first home, and how she managed to put it together on a tight budget. Sit back and relax as we catch up with Janelle and take a tour around her fun, colorful California abode.
Full name: Janelle Gaw
Location: Santa Clara, CA
Current title/company: Process Engineer
Educational background: Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering from UCLA
You purchased your home all on your own, which is a huge accomplishment! Most people wait until they’re married or have a partner to purchase a home with them. What inspired you to take the plunge on your own?
Growing up in the Bay Area, my parents were avid savers. They pushed me to be mindful of my money and now that I’m on my own I’m glad I listened. After graduating from UCLA and getting a job in Silicon Valley, saving up for a home was a natural choice for me especially with family close by. I didn’t want to continue to pay someone else’s mortgage; I wanted to build equity for my future. I wanted to customize my home without having to clear it first with someone else. And as far as waiting until I was married, honestly I couldn’t be bothered! Why wait if I could do it now, especially in the current housing market.
At what point in your career did you feel secure enough to stop renting and become a homeowner? How did you work towards saving for a down payment?
Finding a home was on my mind from the start of my career. I would browse listings when I had free time and I became familiar with pricing in nearby areas. Day dreaming about a future home fueled my urge to save. I automated my savings, learned to cook, found a roommate and did my best to live as if I were still in college. I reminded myself that I was young and single with no serious financial obligations, and that it would be in my best interest to save and invest as much as I possibly could. My spending habits were far from perfect, but I tried my best. My lofty goal was at least 20% down, but the deciding factor was calculating monthly payments with the current state of my downpayment savings, then figuring out if I could handle the cost.
What main attributes were you looking for in a home? What sold you on the condo that you purchased?
My wish list consisted of an outdoor space, a second bedroom for an office, a large closet and a location close to work. An outdoor space was an absolute must, and a balcony wouldn’t cut it. I have an 11-year-old yorkie rescue named Buddy (who happens to be completely toothless) and I wanted to install a doggy door for him. Aside from my wonderful boyfriend, Buddy is my everything, and I wanted him to be as comfortable as possible! As far as the age of the home, I had no preference as long as it was well maintained with little or no work to be done.
The condo met most of my criteria and I had to compromise on a few things. But the home was move-in ready, on a corner lot with a garage, it had a guest bathroom, and to top it off, it’s situated right next to a dog park!
What advice would you give to a woman wanting to purchase her first house?
Know what you want in a home; figure out what your must-haves and deal-breakers are. Know what you can live with if the home isn’t absolutely perfect. Stick to your budget and what you can afford. Maintenance, property taxes, property insurance, and utilities can really add up!
Try your best to be patient! Initially I was looking into a short sale townhome and after a few painful months of waiting, the deal fell through. I was disappointed but it was a great learning experience. Listings will keep popping up if your plans get derailed, so keep your head up and don’t lose faith! As time passes, your down payment fund can grow and you will have more time to get a better feel for the market in your area. I know it sounds cliché but, I feel that things really do happen for a reason. By chance I happened to visit this condo on the first day of the open house, and I was the first one to view it. I made an offer that same afternoon. You never know!
What are your favorite/least favorite things about your home?
My favorite thing: The lighting in my office and bedroom! The light just streams through and I have a nice view of trees outside my window. I am a true morning person; it’s the best feeling to wake up on your own time without an alarm clock shocking you out of sleep.
My least favorite thing: The small size of the condo didn’t bother me too much (it’s just under 900-square feet), but the size of the master closet was an initial letdown. My past apartments included large walk-in closets, and I was very spoiled by the amount of space. But now after living here for over a year, I feel that it’s a blessing in disguise. I have no choice but to purge my belongings more often and it helps keep my spending in check. One day when my boyfriend moves in I’ll have to do a lot more purging to make room. But I know it will be worth it and I’m up to the challenge!
How would you describe your decorating style? Where do look for inspiration?
I’d say my decorating style is a mix of modern, whimsy, and a little bit of glam. I’m a interior design blog junkie and Pinterest has been a huge resource for inspiration. I’m attracted to white spaces with pops of color, and I love anything faceted or geometric. Japanese pop culture and animation are prevalent throughout my home and despite my attempts to make it more “adult,” I’ve accepted my decorating style. At the end of the day, all I want is a home that makes me happy!
You have a beautiful collection of artwork. Purchasing art can be an intimidating process. How did you go about finding such unique pieces?
I started collecting art prints from Etsy while I was in college. There are so many amazing artists to choose from! Original artwork was out of my reach, so prints and posters by independent artists were a nice budget-friendly alternative. Nowadays I supplement Etsy with flash sale sites that include home decor. I also print out my own photos with photo paper and make DIY art. It’s easy, customizable and affordable! I don’t take my artwork collection too seriously. I have a few stickers, labels, thank-you cards, and a Japanese dessert menu from Tokyo on my living room wall.
What was the decorating process like? How long has it taken to get your home to look how it does now?
I arrived with a bed, a coffee table, an entryway console, some lamps, and art prints. The decorating process was quite sporadic, and I’d collect things over time while thrifting or scouring the clearance aisles of my favorite stores. It has been a little over a year now since I first moved in.
How did you save money when decorating your house?
Most of my decor is from Craigslist, thrift stores, retail clearance, estate and yard sales, and my local antique fair. Some of my favorite retail sources to dig through are IKEA, Home Goods, Target and Overstock.
What is your favorite budget-friendly piece in your home and why?
Can I have two? The first one would be the bamboo chair in the office. I found it at an antique fair for $60. I had been looking for a reasonably priced one for years and I felt so lucky to find it. My boyfriend spray painted it a glossy black and I am still so in love with it.
The second one would be the large art print by Michelle Armas in my living room. I found it during a chaotic Black Friday clearance sale at Urban Outfitters for $20, and I waited in line for over an hour to buy it. The line snaked through the entire store and I felt a little silly lugging it around without trying to bump into people, but it was worth the time and effort.
When did you start your blog Elle and Ish and why? What were you hoping to get out of it?
I started my blog in the summer of 2009 to track my monthly spending and share my love of shopping and personal finance. I love to shop but I didn’t want to go broke, so keeping an online shopping diary held me accountable. Honestly I thought no one would read my blog except for me! I feel so blessed that through blogging I’ve found such an amazing group of friends and supporters! Today I still document my monthly (and yearly) spending, share DIY projects and write about my travel adventures. I’m still trying to strike that balance between indulging and saving for my future. I think that you really can have it all: maybe not all at once, but through prioritizing your life and figuring out what you really want.
Tell us about your etsy shop, Little Fluff Stuff. How much time do you devote to running it? How did you get the idea to make and sell these products?
In early 2009 I taught myself how to hand sew and I began making little soft toys as a hobby. As I got better at it, I ended up with so many finished products that I started my own web store through Etsy. I work full-time as an engineer so I run my Etsy store during my free time. I’m proud to say that Little Fluff Stuff is a one-woman shop! Some of my favorite things to sew are little stuffed animals and faux play food for children.
What are your current career aspirations? Where would you like to see yourself in five years?
Honestly I'm not really sure what my career aspirations are at the moment. I've been following this known path for me since grade school, and now that I'm here I really don't know what lies after that.
This is a time of self reflection for me; I'm not sure where I'm headed, but I'm okay with the uncertainty. All I know for now is that I want to keep doing my best in my current job, but simultaneously live a fulfilling and creative life. Figuring out my dream job is an exciting and frightening concept. Hopefully with time I'll find out what that is.
What advice would you give your 23-year-old self?
Don’t take things too personally. Be kind to yourself and don’t let the opinions of others consume you.