Sunday, June 24, 2012

Ahh, the Existential Crisis

So here were are folks: Existential Crisis Time. What the heck did we get ourselves into?  How is it that things are slipping away from us so quickly?  What's so terrible about buying a cookie-cutter house in the Northern Virginia suburbs anyhow?  And how is it that a retaining wall made of concrete blocks and rebar costs $15,000?

Okay, so we're not exactly going back on the house, and we're not falling in dislike with the house.  We're not even blaming the contractors, actually, for anything more than springing an enormous number on us without giving us much warning.  For the last month, we've been dealing with a "change order," which is basically a contractor's way of saying "things that are going to cost you more due to unforeseen circumstances."  Since it's a month in the making, and since we knew we were going to have to go above and beyond the FHA loan since day one, this is not a surprise.  What was a surprise was when we received an email from Rory with the attached line-item invoice for $25,000, $15,000 of which was for the aforementioned retaining wall.  Now, mind you, this retaining wall was necessary, and we know it: without it, there would be no stability in the excavated section of the first floor, and we'd be having moisture problems ad infinitum.  We understand the need for it.  We just didn't realize it would cost as much as it does.  I got the email at work on Friday and put it out of my mind, since my parents were here for the weekend, and the weekend was supposed to be all about telling them how wonderful and affordable and possible it is to live in the DMV.  Turns out, Abby did the same thing.  So when I said "yeah, we need to talk about something" last night before bed, she looked at me and said "that bill?"  Yeah, that bill.

According to ,
we are not being screwed.
I just stared at the numbers for a while, going up and down the line items and trying to find a place where we were being screwed.  You know, because I went through all this shit with our current house and, even though Rory and Mark are good guys-- a description we had previously found to be the kiss of death for a contractor-- this surely is the place where they start to screw us.  No such "luck."  Abby had the wherewithal to actually Google "How much does a cement retaining wall cost?"  As she's typing, I'm thinking "what a ridiculously specific question.  There's no way there's that specific of an answer out there in the Interwebs." Yeah, turns out there is:  Take a look at what has to say about things. (See graphic) So basically it just looks like we're paying above medium, but below high, based on the fact that we have a 38-linear-foot, 8'-high wall; but based on the fact that everything has to be done by hand (without machinery) because it's below the porch, and other conditions are also not ideal, my guess is we're probably actually getting a deal on the project.  And that's what's making us worry.

This is really the first time we're not only feeling like we're breaking the bank, but we're actually thinking we're not jumping to conclusions too quickly.  We had planned for unforeseen circumstances, as I already explained when we were given the "surprise, you're not connected to any water source" bill for $15,000 back in the spring.  But this bill is starting to make us rethink what we should be doing.  Abby immediately jumped to "let's not finish the downstairs bathroom until after we move in," which I told her we just couldn't do; that'd be something that'd just sit forever, and the major money when it comes to plumbing is not in the faucets or the tiles, but in the pipes-- and those are already accounted for.  Sure, we could wait to tile a couple of bathroom accent walls, but what will that save us?  $300?  And in the meantime, we'd have to paint the walls, which will still cost, I dunno, $50-100 for supplies and labor-- or at least $50 for doing it ourselves, and that's something I'm trying to avoid at all cost.  Yeah, it might make me seem like a snob, but if I'm paying $200,000 to have my property completely and utterly finished, I don't want to consistently base my opinion of the whole place on a sloppy paint job I did on one wall to save a couple of hundred bucks, and that's exactly what I'll do. The absence of perfection is perfectly fine in our current house, because we did so much of it ourselves, but in the Bungalow, my standards are much higher because we're going to be there for the long haul.  This will be the house I will likely live in for more of my life than any other; my kids are going to grow up in it; not only that, but it's a showpiece with historic significance.  We're not being extravagant, and we are being careful, but I feel we also deserve the full complement of amenities befitting a family of four-- like two full bathrooms.  Not too much to ask!

In my mind, the way we can cut costs in the short- to medium term would be to go easy on home furnishings once we move in.  Okay, so we're moving in in October; do we have to have the perfect couches by then? Do we have to have the table with the TV-hider thingy attached to it?  No-- we can get those things for Christmas, or for birthdays, or next Arbor Day.  We just don't need them right away.  In Abby's mind?  Well, I think the idea of a less-than-furnished house is a bit scarier to her than one with a less-than-finished second bathroom, so there might be some debating coming up in the near term.

In the meantime, I'll leave you all with a pic of the newest item of refurbishment to appear at the house.  A few months ago, Mark had been very concerned about our front door.  It pretty much needs to stay, because it's integral to the design of the house.  If we got a new one, along with all of the windows running around it, it would be prohibitively expensive.  But Mark was really concerned that by just stripping and redoing it, it would be less than perfect, and we wouldn't be happy.  I assured him way back then that, no, what we wanted was in fact not perfection, but authenticity.  I'd much rather have the original door with the nicks and dings of its possibly 117 years of existence rather than a modern version with perfect balance and a smooth surface made of space-age polymers.  He asked me at least two more times, and I assured him the same thing each time.  Well, looks like I made the right call.  The door's not done yet, but it's stripped, and the windows all around it are gorgeous.  I just hope it didn't cost, yeah, $15,000.

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