Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanks for Nothing

Thanksgiving was supposed to be our first big holiday in the new house.  It was going to be the holiday when we asserted our adulthood in the family, hosting Abby's side from Tennessee, North Carolina, and Maryland-- maybe even Georgia-- and finally getting everyone back together on Turkey Day for the first time since her Aunt Linda died in 2010.  Since then, the family hasn't even seen each other, let alone gotten together for Thanksgiving like they had for decades.  I was lucky enough to take part since we started dating in 2000, and knew we would be the ones that'd have to take charge if it was to continue.  Well, tonight we had a great Thanksgiving dinner in Silver Spring, but alas, it was just the four of us using a Groupon to eat sushi.

Packing up was supposed to be exciting, putting everything into boxes and loading it into the Prius, bringing it up a little at a time as rooms finished up.  Bigger furniture would go in a rented van, or maybe we could coerce my father-in-law to come up and let us use his pick-up truck.  Room by room, we'd watch the house empty out, and the bungalow fill up.  We'd have a smooth transition, hire a cleaning crew to go through the house, and turn over the keys to our new renters.  We'd wave, maybe take a few pictures, and drive the fifteen minutes up to our new place, where we'd walk in, turn out the lights, and go to sleep.  Well, today we spent the day packing all right, but the boxes are being stacked in the attic and in the dining room, and the furniture's going to move into the basement, along with us, in less than a week.

We were supposed to be done already.  We were supposed to be SO done already that our loan has already expired.  Our cabinets and our appliances and my grandma's piano and dining room table and everything else is just sitting.  Waiting.  We're not that much over budget, but we'll be paying more than $2000 a month more than we thought we'd have to be paying from now until we move in, because we aren't able to refinance our loan until the house is done (about $500/month), we're going to have to pay to store a lot of our stuff that won't fit with us in the basement (about $200/month), and we're going to have to pay rent to our new renters for renting out our own basement from them ($1300/month).  The clock is ticking, the wallets are emptying, and I just don't feel our contractors give a crap.

Sure, they're nice.  Sure, they have great answers for us when we have questions.  Sure, sure, sure.  But I'm just done with this process.  Done.  Abby used to ask me how much money we had in the bank, just to make sure.  (We figured we had enough saved to go two years on the process without moving in; it will be 18 months this week.)  Now I'm nervous, even though the situation hasn't changed.  All along, even with my apparently unrealistic goal of Labor Day, and my secondary goal of Halloween, I hadn't thought we wouldn't be in the house by Thanksgiving, and certainly we'd be in by Christmas, no?  In August, when we were complaining nothing had been done while we were in London, our FHA inspector said there was probably a month's worth of work left.  It's been three months now, and our contractor is now saying there are two months left.  Two months.  That means we won't be in by Valentine's Day either.

Our renters are being extraordinarily nice.  They were supposed to move in before October 1, but ended up moving into the basement on November 1, and we let them stay for free.  But they need the place now, and even though they're telling us they won't move upstairs until we're out, and they're fine with living in the basement, enough is enough.  Our contractors may or may not be screwing us, but they're not about to screw my renters.  The buck stops here, I guess.

I agree with Abby that it'll be an interesting experience, living in our 600-square-foot basement just the four of us, in the winter, at Christmastime.  After all, we lived in this house for two whole DC winters without heat, pre-kids.  Fancy camping.  But I want to be an adult now.  I paid people to do this project.  I paid to keep my family in this house.  I want the work done.  I want my renters happy.  I want my kids to have Christmas in their new bedrooms, and open presents under the 12-foot tree next to their new fireplace.  I want to be hosting Thanksgiving.  Like an adult does.  Tonight.  Now.  

And I can't.  And it sucks.  Thanks for Nothing.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Keepin' it Clean

I don't often have really nice things to say about stores when it comes to this process, but I just wanted to give a quick shout-out to Sears at Seven Corners.  Charged with finding a washer and a dryer for the house during the day yesterday, Abby went to the blast-from-the-past store out in Falls Church and spied a pair of Kenmore appliances on a wacky sale: originally $1399 apiece, they were marked down to $699.  They were exactly what we wanted-- electric, not bottom-of-the-line, steam capability, front-loading and stackable, and even came in stainless steel.  (Who really cares about the color of their washer anyhow?)  She ordered them and checked two major appliances off our list.  (Yay!)
Wacky '60s Sears in Falls Church, VA.

I got an electronic receipt from Sears and clicked on it, just to see where the appliances were being delivered from.  (Yeah, I like to track my packages across the country.  You got a problem with that?)  What do you know: the same appliances that were $699 apiece at the store yesterday were $664 today online.  So I click on the link to chat with someone at to ask them about price matching.  Dead link.  I click on the link to have call me, the phone rings immediately, I pick up.  Dead line.  I just call the 1-800 number listed on the website, and the customer service representative tells me Sears stores and do not price match against each other, so if I wanted the online sale price I had to return the order and start anew online.  Annoyed, I called the store.  The guy confirmed that they couldn't price-match against the website, but once I asked him how to delete the order before it was delivered, his tune changed dramatically.  My guess is they work on commission at Sears...  He had no problem taking the $70 off our bill, and even said he'd do it right then, rather than having us come in to make the change.
Our new washer and dryer.  Originally $2800, now $1330.
So yeah, now that I read this, it doesn't seem like Sears really did us any favors, did they?  But I like the fact that I didn't have to go in to get my $70 back, so that's a plus in my book.  Jeez, I'm easy to please...  That said, I'll leave you with a picture of our current washer and dryer, the subjects of one of our first Xmas card pictures as homeowners way back in 2005.  We tried to be all smart about the wording, but ended up convincing some people we were going to have a baby.  No, it'd be another year before that happened, and NO it's not gonna happen now (or ever again!) either.
Our apparently-confusing Xmas card in 2005,
starring our still-humming washer and dryer in DC.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Dozen Days and Who Cares

Here we are, twelve days before the expiration of our loan.  Our lender's hot and bothered, I'm freaked out, and our contractors seem not to bat an eye.  These guys are really nice, but either they know something I really, REALLY don't, or they're just assuming once the shit hits the fan, we'll just all be wearing Teflon slickers.  Twelve days.

So where do we stand?  Well, we went to the house yesterday and, yes, there was slight progress.  The HVAC system has been delivered and placed on its perch, although I don't know whether it's been connected, because it hangs decisively over the overhang that was supposedly purpose-built for its bulk.  And bulk is the right word-- this thing's enormous.  But it's in, and so is all of the wiring.  While we were there, the electrician stopped by to do some final tweaks.  Never met the guy before, and his lack of a front tooth immediately put me on edge.  I don't know whether he sensed this, but he explained without being asked that he had cracked it last week, and was freaking out about how much money he was about to plunk down for a new one.  Okay, so that can happen to anyone.  Other than that, he seemed like a cool guy, and had no qualms about making a couple of slight modifications we asked for.  First off, he said if we had no problem with the light switch in the downstairs bathroom being a bit higher than code required, he'd have no problem moving it over so we could have that door moved like we wanted.  Check!  Then he said he had no problem going back and installing the wiring for the light fixture that'll hang over the dining-room table, which involves getting way the heck up to the top of the great room's ceiling and tacking a wire that matches the ceiling to the back of one of the rafters.  Check!  Finally, he said he had no problem adding a second switch so that we could turn that fixture on independently of the track lighting that'll otherwise light up the great room ceiling.  Check!  This shouldn't be a big deal, but these are things we have asked our contractors about, only to receive reticent "I'll sees" in response.  (To the contractors' defense, it's not them doing the work, just them passing the request on to the subcontractors, but still, the electrician took it all in stride.  Let's just hope that stride isn't the same stride that the plumber took when, months ago, he said it wouldn't be a problem to move the upstairs toilet by six inches and then followed up by doing nothing, causing our shower to be six inches shallower than I wanted.  But who's counting?)
Our HVAC system as it sits ponderously over the upstairs bathroom.

The electric wiring is done, so that means our final inspection before the walls can be closed is scheduled.  Don't know when it will be, but hopefully before the end of this week so everything can get going in earnest.  First comes insulation, then drywall, then EVERYTHING ELSE.  Waiting waiting waiting...

The electric transformer box outside is still in the same state it was last week, and the bollards haven't yet gone up.  We met our neighbor, Paula, who owns the Windmill with her husband, Richard.  She has definitely had a time with a lot of her rehab as well, and it's interesting that while her stories are so different from ours, they still cause the same headaches.  In her case, it's that she had to remove an enormous tree from her property because it was growing into the house, but the law required her to plant six trees at least two inches in diameter to replace it.  Several of those trees died, so they themselves had to be replaced, which is what was happening on Tuesday.  Not to mention, the little ring of Yews the community had planted around the transformer were too close in proximity for the electric company's taste, so she was having them moved.  She's annoyed that the community property between our houses is pretty much barren, and that there are ridiculous numbers of utility pulls around our houses, and that massive branches are hanging down from the 100-foot-tall oak trees and hovering above her new roof; you know, things I'm going to think about only once I'm in my house.  This woman means business; it'll be nice to have her as a neighbor, because she'll definitely keep our asses in gear and our eyes on the prize... seeing as we do have a proclivity towards slackerdom.

Paula invited us to look inside the Windmill, and it's really neat.  Especially awesome is the view from the top and, if I may say so myself, the specific view in the direction of the Alpha Bungalow.  Couldn't help but take some snapshots.  The house itself is pretty small, and there really wouldn't be room for more than one bedroom for a couple without being severely cramped-- at least for my taste.  It would make an awesome second home / cabin / beach house, though.
The Bungalow as seen from the Windmill's balcony.
Might be my favorite pic I've taken of our place.

Back to our house, though.  Our contractor told me the reason we had failed the gas inspection last week (which we passed soon thereafter) was not for any problems related to the work, but because the gas pressure was not turned up high enough for the inspector's taste.  Now that we have passed, we don't need to be in as much of a rush to get the fireplace decisions made.  I still would like to finish everything-- don't get me wrong!-- but I want to make sure we get the fireplace right, as with all other decisions, and that's something that's not do-or-die in terms of finishing the house.  What I do know is we have the gas hookup and we're going to get those fake logs that "burn" with real fire from natural gas.  What I don't know is what's going to happen all around it, because Abby really likes the look of the stone fireplace without edging around the mouth, and is averse at this point to any sort of conventional finishing that comes with a normal gas-insert fireplace.  I, on the other hand, couldn't care less.  So it's going to be a case of "whatever Abby wants, as long as I get my gas fireplace."  Those are the kinds of decisions that can be fantastic because of ease, or terrible because of procrastination; only time will tell...

We did go to look for fireplace stuff and more this weekend when my wonderful parents agreed to watch the kids and allow Abby and me to go on a date.  Maybe I should put "date" in quotes, because it involved a trip to Lowe's and to the mall, with the only food being a stop for an Iced Mocha and McDonald's and some Wetzel's Pretzels courtesy of an expiring Entertainment Book coupon, before going to a 10pm movie... but it was definitely a date for us!  We looked at washers and dryers, and were basically told that we shouldn't buy anything until the pre-Thanksgiving sales start.  We looked at door hardware, and realized that everything is either incredibly flouncy or incredibly traditional, in the bad sense of the word.  We looked at outdoor lighting, and although we didn't find anything in the store, we did find stuff online that we both agreed on.  And on the way out of the store, we saw this wacky thermostat called Nest that learns what you like, when you're home, and what your habits are, and somehow becomes this nearly sentient being you don't have to fuss with ever.  It's only a couple hundred dollars, and since we haven't bought our thermostat yet, it could definitely be worth a shot.  
What Abby does NOT want our fireplace to resemble.
(Are these those newfangled anti-gravity "logs" or something?)
Finally, as an aside, we voted for the first time as Maryland voters.  Yeah, we're keeping all of our official residency stuff in the District, but we did switch our voter registration because I need to have me some congressional representation.  Our new polling place is Temple Emanuel in Kensington, which is a 5-minute drive, and compared to the two-hour waits in the cold experienced throughout this region, I am very happy with my 15-minute indoor line, complete with dollar fundraising donuts and ten-year-old volunteers offering large-print versions of the nine ballot referenda for people waiting to vote.  Because we had budgeted a lot of time to vote and used nearly none of it, we headed over to a lighting store in the District that had been recommended by the front-toothless electrician.  Holy moly, who does he think we are?  This store had not one normal fixture.  Everything was crazy expensive, and looked freakishly '80s modern.  We asked ourselves whether maybe our contractors think because we're spending a heck of a lot of money on a crazy house in the suburbs, maybe we're some crazy yuppies with zany Julia-Louis-Dreyfus-in-Christmas-Vacation taste.  I dunno, but I drive a Prius with 102,000 miles on it, and just bought my first new pairs of shoes in more than two years.  We're not looking for a $400 rhinestone mini-sconce for our bathroom...
Then there's this.  Left on our family room windowsill.
Come on, folks!  It's our job to defile OTHER people's homes, not the other way around!
(Honestly, good on someone... because it's COLD and DIRTY up in there...)