Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Ten Minutes with Isaac & Lola

For those of you who haven't had the chance to walk through the Bungalow, here's your opportunity to get a personal guided tour from two of the house's future occupants.  Please don't mind the mess, and watch your step!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Deliveries Begin

After an entirely defeating Monday, Tuesday turned out to be much better-- although, true to form, there was a major setback once again.  (I think the one word that describes this process more than any other is "Argh.")

I know many of you are going to say
"this is the chandelier of a crazy person!"
Well, I am married to Abby, right?
First, let's start with the good stuff.  Abby went this morning to meet with James, the local artisan (yeah, we have more than just G-Men in Washington) who's going to make our dining room chandelier.  The meeting went great, and all we have to do is measure the height of the ceiling and he can get started.  Abby really wants something that has an industrial look, and she's completely set on having Edison bulbs-- the same ones I griped half-heartedly about in yesterday's post.  After looking around everywhere with not much luck, Abby was surfing on a while back and came upon a light fixture she really loved.  And it was affordable, too-- just about $300.  The problem came when she looked at the size: 19 inches... not exactly appropriate for a dining room with cathedral ceilings.  So one day she was on her own on the one cool block of our neighborhood when she walked into this store called Corehaus.  (Not to be confused with Storehouse, the furniture store we were crazy for before it closed a few years ago... plus, they gave you free candy for browsing.)  Anyhow, Corehaus stocks a mishmash of cool, weird, artisanal, altogether kooky stuff, and they'll make you something if you give them an idea.  Abby asked if they could take the Anthropologie chandelier and make it big.  After a back-and-forth with them that included Abby telling them I did not want anything that looked like it came from a farm, we had a plan.  And in a few weeks, with a little luck, we'll have a chandelier.

Next, she headed to the house with three cans of paint.  While the contractors are going to paint 99% of the house, she wanted to paint the kids' rooms.  Mostly because she's doing a stripe in Isaac's room, which has a Buffalo Bills theme, and she didn't want to worry about the painters getting her vision wrong.  (Those of you who know Abby will have read this sentence without raising an eyebrow.)  Also partially because she kind of wanted to shame the contractors into realizing the homeowner's actually doing some work herself.  Whatever, she loves to paint, so hand the girl a brush!  For those of you who are interested, Isaac's room will be mostly white, but with a blue stripe and red accents; Lola's room will be a light, sea-foamy green to match this bedding Abby bought for her a while back that has a bit of a Moroccan feel to it.  That feel will go along with the built-in bed Abby imagines, that takes the idea of a four-poster and smooshes it right into a wall.  (The bed was bought last year on Craigslist, and was sitting, disassembled, in my bedroom for six months or so before being stuck in our storage container at Thanksgiving.)  Unfortunately, Abby didn't get much more than trim done today, because, Abby being Abby, a parade of people stopped by to talk with her.  But she's going again tomorrow, and I suggested she take her iPod with her to avoid having to talk, like I do on the Metro.  Fat chance, though!  (Remember: Abby has a neon sign blinking "TALK TO ME!" on her forehead.)

Last night before I went to bed, I checked my email and found two surprise delivery notices.  One was the West Elm lighting (recall the Edison bulbs?) that was supposed to be back-ordered until mid-March; it was apparently found, and is on its way to us-- awesome!  The other was the pair of vanities we ordered from; they were due in the morning.  So at about 10:15 this morning I got a call at work from a guy with a thick accent and bad cell reception, telling me he'd be delivering something within the half-hour.  I told him no problem, and didn't think twice about it... which was stupid, because I had done the same thing yesterday with the kitchen cabinet delivery-that-wasn't.  At 11:15, I got out of a briefing on Azerbaijan and checked the tracking status of the delivery, only to find that the last entry read "Returning to NY."  Shit!  I called Abby, who was at the house: no vanities.  I called the customer service number and was put on hold for 20 minutes.  I could just picture the truck plowing its way back up the 95, because either nobody answered the door or, more likely, the driver had no idea where we lived.  Panicking.  Finally I get put through, and the operator assures me the truck's still in Maryland, and has not even attempted to deliver the vanities yet.  Not convinced, I'm nervous about the vanities for the rest of the day.  Only once I get home can I touch base with Abby to find out... yes!  We have two delivered vanities in the house.  Phew!

Also arriving today, the shower tile the UPS guy had failed to deliver Monday.  So I had an idea: if there wasn't enough of the bathroom floor tile in stock (see yesterday's entry if you don't follow), then we could take the smaller bathroom and finish it first, then wait the two weeks for the downstairs bathroom and mudroom.  Brilliant!  But when I mentioned this to Abby, she replied, stone-faced, that while we were deciding on what to do, someone bought the rest of the in-stock tile from the manufacturer.  Shit!  So now we'll have to wait until about February 10 for any of our bathroom flooring to show up.  My plan therefore is to keep buying everything we possibly can, just to ensure we can get reimbursement by the time the loan closes on February 15.  The stuff doesn't have to be installed to be reimbursable, just physically present in the house.  But we're definitely cutting it close, again.

And "Lintel," the other one.
"Danube," one of our flooring choices.
And speaking of floors, Abby managed to convince Floor Gallery in Rockville to lower their prices on the two floors she liked best there, although not to anywhere near Lumber Liquidator pricing.  Rather, we can get either one for about the same price as the AllEco flooring we liked but would have to wait for.  Tomorrow, we're gonna go up to the showroom and make a final decision, and theoretically we could have the flooring physically in the house by the weekend.  (Wood flooring has to sit in the house for a couple of days before it's installed, to acclimate to the temperature and humidity-- who knew flooring was the diva of the home-improvement materials world?-- so that also means our heating has to go on.  That in itself will be interesting, since we still have four windows missing.)  Once we pick the floors, we'll also venture up to Acme Stove, about a mile further up Rockville Pike, to set the fireplace work in motion.

Finally today, I attempted to buy the toilets online, but it seems they have to be picked up in the store.  Still $238 at Home Depot, but the only store in the area that has them in stock is in Falls Church-- the one across the street from the Sears where Abby bought our washer and dryer, and one of the places where the DC Sniper killed people in the parking lot way back when.  So we'll have to wait until at least Thursday to do that.

So tomorrow is shaping up to be a busy one for the house: gas meter going in; HVAC turning on; cabinet re-delivery (I managed to salvage that one, and hopefully installation can still proceed on Thursday); more painting in the kids' rooms; floor finalization (hoping against hope); and fireplace stuff.  All that, and Lee, the contractor working on the Windmill, Pagoda, and Swiss Chalet, wants to have dinner with us.  If all goes according to plan, we're going to feel pretty good about ourselves once we tuck the kids in tomorrow night.  That said, when does it ever all go according to plan?

Monday, January 28, 2013

And the Floors Fall Through

I knew it wasn't a good idea to write such a positive entry yesterday.

Remember everything I said yesterday?  Scratch that.

We didn't fall through the floors; the floors just fell through.

So those are three different ways I could describe all the things that happened today with the house.  Shall I enumerate?

  1. We're stuck in traffic on the Rock Creek Parkway this morning, making the poor decision of driving to work since we could come in late due to the "weather" in the area.  We get a call from Jim at iDesign.  The bathroom tile we ordered is partially out of stock.  We need about 200 square feet of it, but the manufacturer doesn't have that much left.  Jim called us to ask if it was okay that the tile wouldn't be delivered until February 12.  We should have all of the tile in the same area of the house from the same shipment, because since it's a natural material it could vary from one shipment to the next.  But if we wait until February 12, there's no way to have anything else go in until then, and the bathrooms really need to be nearing completion at that point, if not completed.  Executive decision: have them send us everything for the first floor, so we can get going on that, and then once the next shipment is in we do the second floor with it.  Then, at least, we can have two full rooms completed (the bathroom and the mudroom), and go with Mark's bottom-up approach.  We haven't heard back from Jim whether this is possible, because he needs to make sure they have enough for the whole downstairs portion, but I think it should work.
  2. After dropping me off, Abby heads up towards the house.  Her plan is to run by AllEcoCenter to get the name of the floor she really likes, just to see if iDesign can match the price.  Turns out even AllEcoCenter can't do that; it's out of stock until at least March.  Unlike with the bathroom tile, this isn't something we can wait for.  Panic.  She had planned to head up to Home Depot afterwards and buy paint for the kids' bedrooms, since it's gonna be warm for the next couple of days and she could take advantage of painting weather without having to worry about drop-clothing the floor.  Instead, she needs me to look up flooring stores in the area so she can start from square one.  Luckily, there's this crazy block in Rockville, starting with iDesign on Nicholson, where apparently every flooring store there ever was is located.  (I remember wondering why Delaware Avenue in Buffalo had so many car dealerships; wouldn't one be worried about losing business to another next door?  Then I learned in Human Geography class that the set-up was purposeful, because if everyone knew you could buy cars on one street, they'd just head there and were be sure to buy from someone on the strip.)  Anyhow, she didn't have much time, and after two stores considered turning back.  She considered not going to a third, because only 15 minutes were left before she had to turn around to pick the kids up from school, but went in and loved the first two samples she saw.  "It was meant to be," she said, because that's what she says, and because Jimi Hendrix's Watchtower was on the PA.  Only problem was that these samples were $12/ft.  She proudly told me on the phone how she showed them the sample from AllEcoCenter, told them how much it cost, as asked them to beat the price, without letting them know the one she showed them was unattainable in our time frame.  Good girl!  (We'll hear from them tomorrow.)
  3. I can't use my cell phone at work, because I work in a "SCIF," which means "sensitive compartmented information facility."  Basically, since we deal with Top Secret Compartmented information, they don't want people bringing electronics into the area to bar against potential compromise of data.  Those of you who may have been unfortunate enough ever to reach any of my voicemail messages will remember the long, detailed message about when I could be reached at what number, solely for this purpose.  (This is why email always works best for me, since I can get it everywhere.)  Well, apparently the cabinet delivery folks decided not to heed my message, because when I was walking out of the Metro at about 5:15 I noticed I had a voicemail on my cell from about 3:00 asking where we were.  Yep, nobody was at the house to sign for the cabinets, so they weren't delivered.  I was furious, and called Mark asking what went on.  He gave a few excuses, starting with "I'm at the hospital" (his wife is sick) and ending with "I didn't think they would come because of the weather."  But when it came down to brass tacks, I can't find one single email I sent him telling him the delivery would be made between 11am and 3pm, and that I needed someone there.  So it's my fault, and hopefully everything doesn't get screwed up because of it-- remember, we are scheduled for a Wednesday and/or Thursday cabinet install.  I bring up the voicemail issue because, although it's my fault no one was there, the delivery company left one message, on my cell, and called it a day.  They had $15,000 worth of merchandise that someone obviously needed, and didn't think maybe they should call another number?  I had my office phone, Abby had her cell, and I was on email; they had all that info, both from the voicemail message and from the order, but no further effort was made at communication.  Not happy.  Used the "F" word several times as I entered the basement.  Need to fix this first thing tomorrow morning because, conveniently, the delivery service closes early on Mondays.
  4. The fact nobody was home also affected our shower-tile shipment.  The UPS guy didn't find anyone at home, so he left a sticky note and took the five boxes of tile from back to UPS-land.  Luckily, Mark assures me that people will be at the house all day tomorrow, so when the man in brown comes back, the boxes should hopefully leave the big van.
  5. And to top it all off, when I did get home, Abby and the kids were upstairs talking to our renter, Jamie, who was telling them that the dishwasher is leaking.  It's never leaked before, so of course it's going to start now.  But you know what?  The basement bathroom faucet's all jacked up, and the basement kitchen faucet's pretty much controlled by a poltergeist, so we called Grayton Plumbing (at 544-4366, a number I still know by heart from when we originally finished this house) and they're coming out for all three on Thursday.
So that all sucks.  But there was a bit of-- if not progress-- at least follow-through as to other projects we're expecting to work out this week.

  1. Things are getting closer to us.  Okay, so the cabinets and the shower tiles only stopped by for a visit before going somewhere else, the tracking for our vanities shows they've been shipped.  It's a private shipping company from Brooklyn making the trip down, so I'm expecting a call any day now to arrange for a drop-off.  
  2. Mark called Abby this morning to say Washington Gas wouldn't come and set a meter until we opened an account.  Abby emailed me at work to ask whether I could do that today at some point.  I dropped everything I was doing, called Washington Gas to create an account, and arranged for someone to come out and set the meter on Wednesday, all before replying to Abby and Mark within minutes.  Granted, when I was talking to Mark about the cabinets after five this afternoon he hadn't read my email yet, it was done and someone will be there on Wednesday.  Unlucky for them, Washington Gas thinks it's a cable company, and gave me a rough window of 7am to 5pm for the install.  But once they leave, the heat will be on.
  3. Speaking of gas service, I called Acme Stove today to see about getting our fireplace done.  I keep calling it an "insert" but what we really want are no-vent logs.  We went a long time ago (weeks? months?) to the Acme Stove near Tysons and got a good idea of what we wanted.  I feel bad because these guys work on commission, but I don't want to shlep to Tysons when they have a store in Rockville, just up the road from the street-o'-floors Abby went to today.  So Rockville it is, and we'll meet with them later this week to look at what we want our logs to look like.  Only one thing: the guy mentioned sometimes people "can't stand the smell" of the logs, and my wife gets migraines.  Whatever, she'll deal.
  4. Glass tile in "Arctic Blue" for the
    first-floor bathroom
      Tiles for the walls in the downstairs bathroom are ordered, courtesy of  (And I even used my MyPoints link and got 8 points a dollar on them... which I would be more excited about were it not for the fact that I'm going to be getting approximately 12,000 points... for the downstairs bathroom walls... which means I spent $1500 on them.)  You guests better notice those damn walls when you're taking a leak!  They're actually twice the price we thought they were, because Abby thought they were priced by the square foot, but they were priced by the tile, and each tile is only 6"x12".  But this is something we've had set for months, and going  back to do further research would be entirely demoralizing.  So they're ordered, and I'll use my points for a nice dinner-and-movie date with my wife, after which we will come home and use the first-floor bathroom just to enjoy the tiles.
    Sigh.  Hopefully, tomorrow I'll have more good news than not-good news.  But movement is really all I need at this point.  Movement, and floors.  Floors would be swell.

    Sunday, January 27, 2013

    Come to Jesus

    I know I've had you all on pins and needles since the last post, and I'm happy to report that things appear to have improved markedly since that frustrating emailing session last week.  And although I'm proud that Abby and I stuck to our guns and toughed it out meeting with Mark, the real breakthrough was most definitely spurred along by something that happened about 100 miles up I-95: our loan was reopened.  Therefore, as we walked up to the house, with Mark standing there holding out his hand and only half-jokingly asking us whether we had any weapons on us, there at our feet was a UPS envelope with a check for $14,000 in it.  If you'll remember, Mark's main issue was apparently that the money stopped flowing, and that he didn't have the up-front capital to fund materials purchases and pay labor costs.  Granted, the money only stopped flowing because a) the work has gone much too slowly, and b) Mark failed for such a long time to supply an adequate timeline to the bank.  That said, a check for $14,000 will make anyone rethink their lack of capital.  And $5,800 in cash on top of that-- which is what we gave him at the end of the meeting, having tallied up what we owed him that went beyond the loan-- had him walking away happy... and us too.

    We met in the community room across the street from the house.  For those of you unfamiliar with how it works, we pay into a Homeowners' Association at National Park Seminary, since our house is on the property, and one of the perks is the use of a beautiful community room that has meeting space, sofas, a flat-screen tv, computers with Internet access, a pool table, and a foosball table.  In other words, we can do some work, and the kids can be more than occupied.  So while Isaac watched Gangnam Style for the billionth time, and Lola watched something having to do with Cinderella, we sat down with Mark to go over our extensive list of demands.  (Although we didn't call it that, that's pretty much what it was.)

    Our first demand was to know whether the deadline of February 15 was realistic.  That's the date the loan will close.  Mark hedged at that, and before he could really expound, I made it clear it was his responsibility to talk to the bank to secure the correct deadline.  Patty has told us in no uncertain terms that the loan will have no more extensions.  Mark said banks don't want to take write-downs, and in projects so close to fruition it does them no good to play along at the end, or so is his experience with previous 203(k) work.  I told him I didn't care, and that our plan was as follows: we will pay for any and all materials from here on out, so there is no excuse as to not having funds for them.  We will then be the ones applying for reimbursement, not him.  (Heck, I would have been fine doing this all along, since I get cash back on credit card purchases.)  We also told him everything requiring reimbursement from the loan (which isn't everything actually) must be completed by the loan closing date, whenever that is.  That's because, while we have the credit line to purchase things before being reimbursed, we do not have the savings to pay for things out of pocket.  (That's why we have the loan in the first place.)  If the loan closes, so do our pocketbooks.  I think we got our point across.

    Second demand: under no circumstances will I and my family be living in the basement on March 1.  Period. No debate.

    Third demand: it's imperative to know whether he is committed to completing this project.  We got a good answer to this, and I think this is where he knew we meant business, and where I satisfied myself with the direction of the meeting.  He told me a bunch of personal things that I don't need to write here, and which aren't really germane to the process.  But what they told me was that, yes, he was committed, and he wanted to see this thing completed-- correctly and quickly-- just as much as we did.

    So then we came to the individual items and timelines.  To spare you all the gory details, I'll just list things bullet-style, for those who, well, don't want to be spared:

    • Where are the four missing windows? A company in Wisconsin is finishing them up.  No timeframe available, but they are special order, and time consuming.
    • The porch has been laid.  When will it be stained? Once most work inside is done, the porch will be stained.  The idea is to work from the bottom up, then out, to avoid ruining newly laid materials.
    • When will the upstairs floors be finished? Again, bottom up, so as soon as the downstairs floor is laid.  That said, if there's a big gap in time with nothing going on, this is something that can be pushed forward to avoid a lull.
    • What items do we need to go ahead and buy? Vanities, toilets, tiles, hardwood floors, shower enclosures, light fixtures, interior doors, door hardware.
    • So no flooring has been ordered at all? None.  This was the main issue with the lack of capital.  
    • Argh.
    But at least we now know where we stand.  And here's what we've done with the last 100 hours:

    One of the ordered vanities
    Our kitchen sconces
    Our porch lighting
    Our cabinet pulls, old and new.
    Or are they? Hmm...
    • Two vanities, chosen months ago, have been ordered from  And luckily, right before I placed the order, I checked on the Internet for any sort of discount code... and found a 10%-off coupon.  Hey, for 30 seconds of searching, I saved about $250.  They are supposed to be shipped early this week.
    • 80 square feet of small clear glass tile has been ordered from, a specialty tile retailer on Long Island, and should appear at some point this week.  It's for our shower upstairs.
    • Two sconces for our kitchen have been ordered from West Elm in Georgetown, partially paid for with a gift card we got as a Xmas present from Abby's mom.  Unfortunately, they're completely out of stock nationwide, so we won't get them until March.  But they're exactly what Abby wanted, and we've got other lights in the kitchen ceiling in the meantime.  They've got Edison bulbs, with the prominent filaments that use up way too much energy for my taste, and look like Bell jars.  Very pretty, but at least they get their own light switch.
    • Two sconces for our front porch have been ordered from  They'll be on a timer, so no need for bells or whistles.  The copper finish was important to Abby, and the no-frills design was important to me.  I was pushing for Art Deco, but Abby said it'd be too Disney looking on the house with the paint job.  They should arrive tomorrow or Tuesday.
    • 70 square feet of floor tile was ordered from iDesign in Rockville.  Then we realized we didn't include the mudroom in our calculations, so I had to call from work on Friday to put a hold on the order.  I heard the guy say "For Pete's sake!" on the other end of the phone, probably with his hand not over the receiver as much as he thought.  But after going up and measuring the mudroom floor, we added another 20 square feet to the order and called it a day.  Cool thing about this place was it has the same owners who tiled our bathroom in our DC house back in 2004.  When we first started looking for tiles for the Bungalow, we drove by the place they used to have in Wheaton, which is really close to the house, but it was closed.  Bummed, we looked elsewhere and ended up loving this place in Rockville, when out comes Bobby, the guy from the Wheaton store.  He actually recognized us-- from 8 years ago!  He remembered Abby's name, which is crazy, because sometimes I can't even remember my own kids' names.  How do people do that?
    • 38 cabinet drawer pulls were nearly ordered from until I realized some were on back order and not all qualified for super-saver shipping.  Instead of paying $250 and having to wait for 12 of them to show up later, I googled the name of the pulls and found them at (who names these places?) for about 50 cents cheaper each, with free shipping.  So instead I paid $197 and will get them all at once.  Weird thing is that we could find absolutely no cabinet hardware at Lowe's or Home Depot that we liked.  Abby remarked at one point that she really just liked the hardware we have on our current cabinets, and that couldn't we just get new ones and switch them off, we just went back and bought the exact same ones.  Hey, some things you just like, right?  (To be fair, this was all her.  At Home Depot my random pointing showed that, in 8+ years of using the kitchen cabinets, I could not tell what the drawer pulls looked like, or even what shape they were.  Yep, she gets to make that decision...) 
    The big issue remains the wood flooring.  The flooring that caused all the trouble in the first place was engineered bamboo from Lowe's.  It was a special order, and takes 2 weeks for delivery.  We told Mark that we would go the next day and order it, but got sidetracked, and sidetracked, and sidetracked...  First, Mark said he really wanted us to get nail-down flooring, and the stuff we chose was glue-down.  Abby was unconvinced, and at iDesign she told Bobby and Jim, who I can only describe as Mr. Moreau, the choir teacher from my high school's slightly younger brother, about the predicament.  They told her the Lowe's stuff was really poor quality, and that she could do much better, but I thought they were just trying to upsell her.  So she goes to a few more places and ends up pretty much discarding the Lowe's flooring with two styles at opposite ends of the spectrum: one that's nail-down engineered bamboo from Lumber Liquidators at $4.80/ft, which is about 5% cheaper than the Lowe's glue-down stuff; the other is $10/ft sustainable hardwood from AllEcoCenter in Wheaton that's just gorgeous, but 100% more expensive.  She really, really wants the expensive stuff, but it's going in the family room, the kids' rooms, and the guest room.  And I love my friends and family, but are they worth paying twice as much for the flooring that'll just be under the bed they sleep in?  The problem is, here we are on Sunday night and we haven't chosen either.  That's because Jim from iDesign told us to give him until Monday to see if he could match Lumber Liquidator's price on the cheaper stuff, or to get a better price on AllEco's stuff.  I have more than a sneaking suspicion that Abby's going to talk me into the sustainable stuff, and I'll probably be fine with it, because it's gorgeous.  But yikes, it means our downstairs flooring will cost $12,000 instead of the $6,000 we would spend on the perfectly acceptable floors that obviously neither of us loves.  Yeah, you don't need a crystal ball, do ya?

    So after bitching about spending five digits at Home Depot a couple of weeks ago, and doing the same over the past four days, we're seriously considering doing it all over again on these floors.  But on the way to my parents' house this weekend, we crunched numbers while Lola napped and Isaac bopped along to Katy Perry and Aerosmith.  Even with all of this spending, somehow we're still right on target.  Our unease is really the result of being so close to the end, and so close to reaching that target.  And if we go over, it really won't be by crazy amounts, only slightly crazy ones.  So, well, yeah.  Maybe our spirits were buoyed by the best news of all this week-- and I very much meant to save this 'til last: CABINETS!

    I was notified by Home Depot that our cabinets were completed on Wednesday, and that we'd have delivery by this Wednesday and installation by Wednesday  February 5.  By the time I left work on Friday, that was pushed up so that our cabinets will be delivered on Monday, and installation will be completed by Thursday, January 31.  So by the end of the week, we'll have a real kitchen, save for the countertops, which have to be measured based on the completed cabinet install.  And that also means with the cabinets in the house before Wednesday, we'll be able to apply for the $12,000 reimbursement for them, since that was what we had budgeted.  And by February 5 we should have a nice giant check in our hands that we don't have to hand over to a contractor.  Along with a completed kitchen, a bunch of lighting, some tiles, some sconces, and two vanities.  And, if we play our cards right, we might even have floors.

    Wednesday, January 23, 2013

    When "Utmost" and "Utterly" Seem Appropriate

    Last month I went to leadership training for work.  We had to set goals for ourselves in a very kumbaya way, and one of mine was to be more level-headed in responding to issues that frustrated or angered me.  I worked it out that if I ever had an email that felt really good to write, I should look at it and contemplate whether that email would do me any good to send.  Some people suggested that, once the email was written, I should delete it and start again; my second email would surely have a much more appropriate tone.  Although I have not necessarily deleted and started again, I have begun to read and re-read my emails more thoroughly before sending.  And I did the same this morning as I sent the following email to my contractor, in response to our frustrations from last night, and ahead of our meeting this afternoon at the house.  Neighbors, you may not want to come near the community room at NPS around 2pm today, because you're not going to see happy people there.

    Mark: among the items you should discuss with Patty this morning is a valid timeline. Obviously, you will no longer be able to complete all work by January 31, as you have failed to purchase the special-order flooring that takes two weeks to deliver. If there is anything else you have also failed to purchase for whatever reason, she will also need to know that.

    Yesterday, we discussed that we could purchase materials for you if you were in a situation where you were unable to front the money due to a lack of incoming 203k cash. Today, we are going to insist on it. We are extremely unhappy with the pace of work and feel we have been as accommodating as possible these past five months. However, while we have the wherewithal to pay for the necessary expenses now, should Patty follow through with her threat to close the loan, we will be devoid of cash. That would leave not only you without reimbursement, but us with a half-finished house, two mortgages, and living in a basement. This in completely, utterly unacceptable to us.
    As I started off, please come to a realistic conclusion with Patty this morning so that we may have a 100% clear idea of what will happen every step of the way from here on out after we meet this afternoon. Tell her you were under the impression that until she opened the loan, you shouldn't order the floors or anything else and that has put off the end date.  And please know, and I reiterate, that the closure of this loan, which if it happens we view as pretty much entirely the fault of Servicez Unlimited, will present a massive difficulty to my family for the foreseeable future.
    I look forward to meeting with you at 2pm today, and to completing this project with the utmost haste and care.

    And yes, I used the phrase "utmost haste" and the words "devoid" and "utterly."  Because when we're dealing with this house lately, we feel alone-- utterly alone.  (Thanks, Winona Ryder.) Now to Blind-Copy this to Patty with the explanation that, if her company doesn't reopen our loan, we may have to live in a basement forever.

    Patty: I sent the following email to Mark Evans this morning.  He does not know I am sending you a copy, but I wanted to let you know where we currently stand with him.  We are due to meet with him this morning, and are extremely disappointed to have found out he did not order some of the special-order materials needed for the job.  He told us it was because the loan was not opened, and he was unsure whether he would be reimbursed.
     We are currently living in a basement, paying more than $4000 a month for our mortgages, and hemorrhaging at least $2500 each month that we did not plan for by having this construction project persist.  I understand that you are under pressure from your superiors to get this loan closed, but I implore you to open it as soon as possible, if only to reimburse us for the more than $30,000 we have spent from our own savings on materials such as cabinetry and countertops, and for the probably $10,000 more we will spend this afternoon buying the flooring and other items Mark has avoided buying.  If this project doesn't finish within a month, it won't be because we are not putting all available resources towards it; however, if the loan does not open, we will be the ones pretty much out on the streets, with two mortgages and no home to speak of.
     Mark is going to call you this morning.  Please consider this email, where it is coming from, and what we have to do to finish this project.  There are not very many pieces left, but they are costly and important.  Without the loan being reopened, this whole project pretty much turns to dust.  And Montgomery County has pretty much assured us there is no way they will schedule an inspection without the work already having been completed.  It's just not how things are done here.
    Yes, this is the equivalent of starting to cry to get what you want.  But we should have done this a long time ago.  If I were a cartoon right now, I'd have a conversation blob above my head with dark scribbles in it.

    Tuesday, January 22, 2013

    ...With Flooring and Frustration For All

    Two weeks ago, we spoke to our contractor and told him to order the flooring so it could be installed.  Our flooring is engineered bamboo from Lowe's.  It's not a big deal.  You go to and you order it.  Case closed.  So anyhow, two weeks ago, Abby told me the flooring would come in on Tuesday, January 22, although there was a possibility it could be earlier "because Mark says he knows somebody."  On Friday  I spoke with Mark and asked whether flooring had come in; he said no.  So today is Tuesday, January 22.  I spoke with Mark and asked whether flooring had come in; he said he hadn't ordered it yet, because he wasn't sure about whether he was ever going to get paid by the loan company.  Mind you, the only reason the loan has closed is because Mark failed for weeks (months?) to get them a timeline.  I thought nothing of his comment-- other than "jeez, this guy!"-- until I hung up and told Abby.  She went ballistic.  Apparently the flooring was not something that was just out of stock with a replenishment date of January 22.  Rather, it's a special order, and it takes two weeks to come in once it's ordered, and two weeks ago was when we had the conversation.  So now, even if we go online ourselves and buy it, it won't come in until February 5.

    This means a lot.  You see, if you've never been in a house before, you may not know that FLOORS GO ON THE FLOOR.  And anything else that goes higher than the floor, WHICH IS EVERYTHING, pretty much needs to wait until the floor goes in.  Doors?  Measured by the floors.  Moulding?  Sits pretty much on the floor-- no, wait-- sits ON THE FLOOR.  You know, stuff like that.  No floors?  No other stuff.  

    Meanwhile, at the beginning of the conversation I had with Mark, I had noted that, while the loan issue was getting back up and running-- which it is-- Abby and I had no problem buying materials ourselves, as long as he understood that we would be the ones getting reimbursed for them from the loan fund.  He actually said "no, it's not that we don't have money for the materials," so I dropped the offer.  The offer will not only be on the table tomorrow, but it will be a requirement.  Because FLOORS are a requirement.

    Last Friday, after weeks of back and forth, Patty and the lovely schmucks over at Freedom Mortgage (aka "the bank we'll drop like a hot sack of shit the moment we move in and are able to refinance) decided that we could re-open the loan.  They gave us a drop-dead date of Friday, February 15 for all funds to be used. Inspections had to be completed by that date, and any money unallocated by that date would be "spent down," or basically subtracted from our loan.  That means we won't lose any of the money, but we won't have access to the credit line either.  It makes sense, because they thought they were only in this for a year, whereas it's been 19 1/2 months now.  However, they required that inspections actually be scheduled before they reopened the loan, and inspections don't work like that-- according to Mark.  He says when you're ready for an inspection, you go to the county's website, say you need an inspection, and they give you the next available time.  You can't just say "I want an inspection some time in February" and have them approve it.  So we have an impasse.  This morning I finally told Mark that if he wanted his money, he'd have to call them himself, because it made no sense for me to keep being the middleman.  Wouldn't you know, Patty wasn't in the office today.

    In our phone call this evening-- the one where he mentioned he hadn't ordered the floor-- Mark agreed to call both Patty and Sheyy tomorrow morning and work everything out.  Patty because he needs money; Sheyy, our FHA inspector, because apparently there were some hiccups in filling out the form to get the loan reopened and money withdrawn last week and we all are getting frustrated over that too, not the least of which because we would like to be reimbursed for some of the thousands of dollars we've spent out of our bank account in addition to that sitting in the as-of-yet-un-re-opened loan.  $2400 for appliances are all that we're waiting on right now, but soon enough it'll be $14,000 for cabinetry and $10,000 for countertops.

    In happier news, cabinets and countertops!  Abby put about $15,000 on our credit card last Friday at the Home Depot in Aspen Hill to finalize our kitchen.  I contacted John at Home Depot yesterday to ask him about timing, and he wrote back that the manufacturer says they were completed today.  Completed!  Did you hear that?  Something we paid for has been completed!  (Okay, so they're still in the factory, but, y'know.)  They are set for delivery by the middle of next week, and should be installable by that aforementioned February 5 date.  The moment I got that email I called Abby with the good news, then turned around and emailed the installation people-- who, if you remember, are NOT our contractors, but another company associated with Home Depot.  So basically, as soon as we get a date for deliver, installation can be scheduled and we can at least have a kitchen.  Heck, a few weeks ago it was looking like the kitchen would be the only thing in the house not ready by the new deadline; now, we may have a kitchen and nothing else.

    So back to the frustration.  It's just all so frustrating, and I'm sure it's frustrating to you as the reader just to have to read the word "frustrating" so many times.  Frustrating!  But seriously, we got a contractor so he could do this all, yet we're at the point that we're going to go to our contractor tomorrow with a list of demands, one of which will be for us to go and buy everything.  We're pretty much sure he hasn't bought anything that's special order.  That means not only no flooring, but no tiling, and no bathroom vanities.  Those toilets we made decisions about pretty much a year ago?  My guess is not only have they not been bought, but they may have been discontinued by this point.  When we started this process, the contractors said they'd have days where they'd want us to go with them to stores to pick stuff out, where they'd make recommendations and we'd make decisions.  No such thing has ever happened.  In fact, the one time they did approach us with a choice was last week: Rory emailed to ask what kind of light switches we wanted.  Light switches!  I mean, if they're that far along, great!  So we chose the basic ones-- you know, the ones you can flip up with your finger when you walk in a room.  Imagine our surprise when, as we walk into the house this weekend, the special light switches that are flush with the wall and have to be tapped instead of flipped are installed.  Each one costs exactly twice as much as the ones we chose, which tip the scales at a whopping buck-and-a-quarter each.  But more importantly, YOU ASKED US WHAT WE WANTED THEN WENT WITH WHAT WE TOLD YOU WE DIDN'T WANT!  I was like "whatever, light switches are in, and I don't care."  Abby actually did care, and said she really didn't want tappable light switches.  So now, when we are fighting about flooring and tiling, do we have to go back and fight about $1.25 light switches that have already been installed?  And who pays for them to be uninstalled, repurchased, reinstalled?  I'm sure we will, even though it's not our fault.  

    *Sigh.* We're living in the basement.  We're paying more than $4000 a month in mortgages.  We've just bought a kitchen that cost more than our car, and paid for it in two swipes of plastic.  But we are debating over whether we should argue for the light switches that, all together, my kids could pay for with the money they got from relatives for Xmas.  

    Oh, and we need fourteen interior doors.

    We have two space heaters that we bought for the winter of 2004-- our first of two with no heat in this house-- that have been sitting in the attic since the central heating went on in January 2006.  One has just come downstairs with us into the basement.  Maybe we should just move both into the Bungalow along with our stuff and call it a day.

    Tuesday, January 8, 2013

    The Six-Thousand-Dollar Question

    Lately, I feel Abby and I have not exactly been celebrating the time we've been having with the bungalow.  Sure, we've run long, and we're living in the basement with our kids.  But you know, it's a huge project, and running three or four months over isn't exactly the most uncommon thing in the world.  Looking back, maybe we had an unrealistic expectation of things going well.  Maybe we were fooling ourselves that, having hired a general contractor this time around, all the projects would just fall into place, and the giant Rube Goldberg Device that is our bungalow construction project would make that little bird tip over and drink out of the cup exactly when we had planned.  But you know what?  We put ourselves in that situation.  We were the ones who said our renters could move into the house in October, we were the ones who trusted things to get done while we spent a month in London, or two weeks in Florida, or various weekends here or there, or every day not on the job site.  Heck, we were the ones who bought a house that hadn't been lived in since the Reagan Administration.

    All that can be seen as our fault, although no, I'm not saying all of it was.  But it was stuff we could have been more realistic about.  However, there is a whole other echelon of stuff that just isn't happening the way we wanted it to happen.  If you're even a casual reader of this blog, you'll be able to enumerate these things on your fingers: the toilets, the bathroom door, the kitchen ceiling, the ductwork, the radiators, the water connection, the bollards.  And, of course, my shower.  Just this week, we've had to deal with the contractor telling us we couldn't have the stain color we wanted on the porch floor, and I'm sure we've got fights ahead for the exterior of the house when it comes to landscaping and the big ol' American flag on a pole I've always wanted for my house in my head.

    So when we once again were faced with two different projects that we felt had defeated us once again this week, it was time to take a stand.  No.  This is our house.  We are paying a half a million dollars for this frickin' place, and I want a gosh darned granite countertop.  Or rather, I want my wife to have the gosh darned granite countertop she had decided on months ago.  And I want to treat myself to a closet that isn't going to crack and bow and warp and turn yellow after six months.  If I can't luxuriate in my hotel-quality shower, why the heck can't I go back to my hotel-quality bedroom, dag nabbit?  Let me explain.

    We've ordered the kitchen cabinets through Home Depot, and we were shopping elsewhere for the countertop, since Abby didn't see anything she liked there.  You may remember we spent Columbus Day (THREE MONTHS AGO) verifying that I did indeed like the Virginia Mist matte countertop way the heck up in Jessup, Maryland.  Well, Abby was finalizing cabinet plans and mentioned this fact to John at Home Depot.  He said, well, we carry that too; would you like us to price it for you?  Excellent.  Only once the price came back, it was more than $9,000.  Yes, you read that correctly: nine thousand dollars for a countertop.  Now, I have only purchased one countertop in my life, and it was a wood-slab countertop from IKEA that we have had in our kitchen here since we renovated back in 2004.  I like it a lot.  But we can't have a wood countertop at the bungalow, because we have wood floors in the kitchen.  So I put Abby in charge of searching for materials.  First she wanted concrete, because it was supposedly really cool looking and fit her plan perfectly; after a bit of study, however, she found out that it discolored and scratched or something much more easily than other materials.  Of course things like corian and laminate are out of the question, so we're really only left with materials priced mid-range and higher.  Granted, we are going to have a very, very long countertop; we need nearly sixty square feet of the stuff.  We went to IKEA this weekend with my parents and looked at their stuff.  There are some perfectly nice countertops there-- in fact, the granite they have, which is their most expensive stuff, is actually not nice at all.  We liked this stuff called Caesarstone, and it came in "Raven," which is basically a rich, dark gray.  This really was fine, Abby assured me; she did like it, and $9,000 is a lot for countertops.  The Raven would cost us $6,500.

    The real reason we had gone to IKEA (apart from meeting my parents for the afternoon and partaking of the ir awesome meatballs and cheesy mac) was to look at closet doors.  Not your average closet doors, mind you, but the IKEA PAX armoire.  (Sorry for the ALLCAPS on this, but that's what it's called.)  You see, on Friday night we had someone from Closet America come to the house to design our bedroom closet.  It's an extravagance, I know, but it's such a small space, and I wanted to see if there was anything they could do to it.  They came up with some really interesting ideas I wouldn't have thought of before, then showed us the product.  Their stuff is guaranteed for as long as you own the home-- anything goes wrong, and they'll fix it for free, forever-- as well as for the people who own your home after you.  It's furniture, just attached to your walls, and it is really, really nice.  It's like a nice hotel.  It's what I wanted in my bathroom, but probably won't get.  My boss from my previous job has a huge California Closets closet that I remember drooling over years ago at a cocktail party; why can't I have one too?  Only problem is the price.  Sure, I talked the guy down about 35%, but at the end of the day it's going to cost me $3,000.  For a closet.  I looked up the do-it-yourself closets-- the Martha Stewart ones,, Elfa at Container Store-- all of which come highly touted by friends and random reviewers on the interwebs.  We found that IKEA PAX seemed like the best bet, and had three business days to rescind our contract with Closet America, so we headed Stockholm-in-Greenbelt.  Only problem was, we have low ceilings.  Sure, PAX comes in a 78-inch height that would fit just fine.  But only with swing-out doors, which would not.  If we wanted sliding doors, we would need the 96-inch PAX, and our ceilings are only 90 inches in the bedroom.  (No jokes, please, about being several inches short of ideal in the bedroom, okay folks?) ;)  PAX was out.  But honestly, we had Closet America plan the configuration; we could mimic it with for about $1300, and could probably do it a bit more upmarket with Container Store for a couple hundred more.  Honestly, it was fine; after all, it's only a closet.

    So here we stood: second-choice in countertop, second-choice in closets.  Everything was fine.  But I felt cheated.  I keep going back to that mantra: "I'm spending half a million dollars on this."  Why the heck can't I have my closet?  Why the heck can't Abby have her countertop?  I posed this question to her: A countertop is a countertop to me, but I understand it might not be to you or to others.  If we get the Raven, will it be just fine, or will people notice it above everything else we did, point to it, and whisper how we cut corners?  If we get the Virginia Mist, will it be what people expect of a kitchen renovation in 2013 (2013!), or will they point to it and whisper that, damn!, Gregory and Abby actually got a really nice countertop, despite how notoriously Scroogelike we all know he is?  No answer.  I knew the answer.  For less than $3,000, we can get a really nice countertop that Abby will love, that will make our kitchen look great, and will not be yet one more second choice for the house.  Similarly, for $3,000 more, we can get an awesome closet that we will literally never have to replace as long as we own the house, that will give me that little bit of luxury I was attempting to capture elsewhere.  Abby warns me that if we have a nice closet she'll want nice closet doors, but I don't care.  After all, "I'm spending half a million dollars on this house," right?

    So as we head to the midpoint of the 19th month of homeownership, our 7th week of living in a basement, and the umpteenth already-finalized decision we have to revisit because our first choice just didn't pan out, at least we each get our own little luxuries this time around.  It may be the only ones we get, but at least we didn't give in to the monster that is this process, and I think that's worth celebrating.