Story By Lisa McEwen Photos by Steve Cory
ome families are fortunate to spend a majority of their lives residing in the same home, establishing traditions and creating memories in familiar surroundings. Others move regularly, either for work, a shift in circumstances or a desire for change, or a mixture of all of the above.
The Hickey family, anchored by Josh and Jamie, has moved nine times up and down the state in its 22-year existence — and six times in the last four years. To say they are pros at packing their belongings and then quickly settling into an apartment, townhouse or house is an understatement.
But in this current phase of their lives, Joshua and Jamie feel confident that they have turned a page, happily putting down roots in Exeter, a town they’ve now lived in for a year after selling their tract home in Visalia.
“It’s a different feel here,” Jamie said, describing how several of their neighbors welcomed them to their custom-built home in one of the city’s newer neighborhoods with a houseplant, a homemade pie, and baskets of nuts and chocolates. “It was our ‘Mayberry’ moment. We’ve moved so many times and that’s never happened anywhere!”
As college sweethearts, Josh and Jamie met at Chico State and married in 1999. They spent their first five years in San Ramon in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Josh grew up. They utilized a small monetary gift from Josh’s parents to put a down payment on a condo. A few years later, in the midst of the swelling “dotcom” era, they sold the condo and purchased a townhouse.
Their first child, Ethan, arrived in 2004, and Jamie felt the overwhelming desire to move closer to home and family. They sold the townhouse, moved to northwest Visalia and daughter Elle arrived soon after.
Josh kept his information technology job at AT&T — the first generation of telecommuters.
“That was the best,” he said. “I could work all day but still pick up the kids from school.”
Jamie was a stay-at-home mom, and the couple cherished the opportunity to raise their children together. They studied the financial teachings of Dave Ramsey and were united in their quest to be debt-free with multiple streams of income. During that time, Jamie co-founded a home staging business in Visalia, Upstaged, with her mother, Joann Franco-Malony.
But by the time their children reached middle school, they were forced back to the Bay Area. Josh had been laid off from AT&T, but found a new contract position that required him to be in the office every day.
“Everything we made went into living there,” Jamie said of the high cost of living. A short nine months later, Josh’s contract ended and he again found a new job in the area. They bought a tract home so that Jamie and their children could return to Visalia. Josh commuted home to the family each weekend for seven months.
As readers can guess, that all came to a screeching halt with the COVID-19 pandemic, as employees were forced to work from home. Josh moved back to Visalia and, like millions of other families, the Hickeys struggled to balance two full-time jobs while their children attended classes online.
“The walls were thin, and our 1,600-square-foot tract home suddenly felt like 800 square feet,” said Jamie, who also was busy growing another new business as a NuSkin consultant.
“It has good feng shui,” Josh said, referring to the ancient Chinese practice of finding harmony
between nature and a living space. “We knew this was meant to be.”
Zillow to the Rescue
As a tri-athlete, Josh had spent a lot of time running and cycling through Exeter and up and over Rocky Hill. He had always admired the town and its proximity to citrus groves. He said it reminded him of his childhood in San Ramon, before development pushed out the stone fruit and walnut orchards that used to dominate the area. He decided to keep an Exeter home on the radar.
“I’m a Zillow hound,” Josh said, referring to the online listing site. “I love looking for new properties, and I couldn’t believe it when I saw this listing.”
At 2,600 square feet, the four-bedroom, 3.5-bath split floor plan home was perfect for all four family members. There were two hitches, though.
Their children, weary of so many moves, wanted to stay at their Visalia high school.
Second, through all their moves, Jamie had refused to part with an entertainment center that she found at Janeen’s Home Furnishings in Visalia in between staging jobs.
When Josh told her he had found a house in Exeter, she admittedly was not interested in moving again. “But when I walked in and saw this wall,” she said, motioning in the family room, “I was sold. I pulled out my tape measure to make sure it would fit, and it did! It is my favorite piece of furniture.”
And the kids loved their new bedrooms, which are complete with their own bathrooms and perfect for hosting sleepovers with friends.
They moved in September 2020, welcomed into a neighborhood on the northernmost border of the city limits. The parcel was sold by local farming corporation Atkinson Acres, and streets are named after navel orange varieties: Old Line and Atwood. (An interesting agricultural side note is that Old Line navels are now marketed as an “heirloom” variety, and Atwoods are named after Frank Atwood, a Lemon Cove farmer who first noticed a limb sport in about 1935).
The family is soaking up what it calls “Small Town USA,” including Exeter’s murals and the city’s walkability. Downtown is not far, and their children have found their favorite hangouts: VIP Pizza and Frosty King, and Jamie admits that she tries to eat at Monet’s weekly.
The home was built by Philip Parley, a Fresno-based contractor who owns Paramount Home Development. A home with a similar floor plan but different finishes can be found a few doors down.
The Hickeys praised the quality of construction and thoughtful details. “With all of our other homes, I had a punch list of defects,” Josh said. “There are zero with this home.”
Jamie concurred, adding, “There are so many touches and finish work in this home that we never found in our tract homes. We didn’t choose any of them, but we love all of them. The contractor thought of everything.”
Its broad elevation with inviting front porch beckons visitors to take a closer look. While some prefer to cover windows with treatments, Jamie and Josh both love natural light and it pours in plentifully. One of their favorite aspects is how visitors can enter the front door and have a straight line of vision through the home to the backyard.
“It has good feng shui,” Josh said, referring to the ancient Chinese practice of finding harmony between nature and a living space. “We knew this was meant to be.”
The bright white interior melded easily with the couple’s decor preference — a mix of modern and traditional. The home also has just the right touch of country charm, including a pretty farmhouse sink, two-tone kitchen cabinets, an inviting kitchen table and perhaps least noticed, but most appreciated, the pantry.
The pantry plays a key role in keeping everyone in this busy family of four well fed. Jamie’s friend, Kori Bartel, helped create a functional and organized space, which is easily accessible just off the kitchen and lit naturally thanks to a perfectly placed window. Labels denote contents in drawers and cabinets.
“I come in here and I’m happy,” Jamie said.
Moving during a pandemic did come with one hiccup, however. The family had to use a miniature, dorm-size refrigerator for more than six months while waiting for their double-door fridge to be delivered. Trying to keep everyone fed and food fresh was a challenge, one that necessitated several trips to the grocery store each week.
A beautiful sliding barn door seamlessly separates the couple’s side of the home from their children’s, especially convenient when teenagers are hanging out for several hours.
The master bathroom features dual sink vanities and creates the perfect setting for Jamie’s many live-streamed videos featuring NuSkin products. Another plus to their side of the home is the extensive storage in the laundry room and mudroom, perfect for organizing NuSkin inventory and mailings.
The couple built a backyard pool shortly after moving in. Josh is training for the Iron Man California competition set for Oct. 24 in Sacramento. Their pool features two full-length swim lanes, which fellow triathletes appreciated using during COVID lockdowns.
Two in-pool lounge chairs encourage guests to relax and enjoy the surroundings. Josh and Jamie take advantage of their backyard views by rolling back their fence — revealing a young mandarin orchard and Tulare County foothills beyond.
In keeping with the mural theme of Exeter, the Hickeys hired local artist Michelle Dunn to paint a mural on a stucco wall that reads Hickey Aquatics. Plans are in the works for another mural on a fence.
“We love our new neighborhood,” Jamie said. “We can sit on our front porch, and people will stop to say hello and want to see how you are doing rather than avoiding eye contact. The community here is great.”