Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Money Issue

I wanted to call this post "The Money Shot," but thought that would get too many hits for the wrong reasons.  And also, it's not nearly that exciting.

An earlier post of mine referenced that Tom Hanks and Shelley Long movie "The Money Pit," a movie about two crazy people sinking all of their money and their relationship into the renovation of a house, with terrifying and hilarious consequences.  I had mentioned that this project wasn't a money pit, but rather a time pit, since it was pretty much on budget, yet way, way behind schedule.  Well, that's still the case, but we've basically hit our wall.  Yes, we now officially have no money left.  Creditors beware.

I realize I may be overreacting here.  Some people are used to being in debt, whether from credit card bills or IOUs or whatever.  I am used to having a mortgage and some student loans, but I have never not paid a credit card bill in full, and have always been such a good saver. (Some would say I'm downright miserly, although I prefer the term "frugal.")  But this week, we've hit a wall.  And that wall is partially our fault, mostly necessary, and entirely freaking me out.

You may recall our meeting with the contractor in January where we decided we would be paying for all the remaining materials to ensure reimbursement was still available from our loan before it expired mid-February.  Well, that decision proved worthwhile, because all the materials magically appeared at our doorstep, from tiling to wood flooring to toilets to light fixtures.  What also showed up was a Master Card balance of $24,000, and that was fine because it was balanced off by a reimbursement check for $22,000.  No sweat.  My bank has no brick-and-mortar branches, so any deposits I make have to be made either by mail or by scanning the check in and sending it online.  Well, the limit for the latter method is $3,000, so I had to send it in.  Ten days later, as I'm wondering why the check is not showing up in my account (it usually takes 3-5 days), I get the check returned to me in the mail, along with a letter from my bank telling me that because the check was made out to "Servicez Unlimited and Gregory Wahl" they were unable to deposit it.  "Not a big deal," I think, because I'll just pass this check on to the contractors to pay for services rendered, and ask the bank to make the next check out to me alone.  We owe the contractors about $13,000, so I hand it over and tell them it includes a $9,000+ advance, which should pretty much cover everything else we're going to owe them.  Then I call Patty at the bank, who proceeds to tell me all checks have to be written out to me and the contractor together.  Can she write "or" instead of "and?"  No.  Can she direct deposit the check?  No.  In other words, when the next check, for $14,000, comes in, it'll once again be made out to "Servicez Unlimited and Gregory Wahl," and once again will be undepositable by yours truly.  

In the meantime, Chase would like its $24,000, so I attempt to muster up all of my money.  Seven grand from Citibank maxes out my home equity loan.  Ten more from savings pretty much empties that out, save for what we'll need to pay the mortgage.  And that's it.  So for the first time ever, I'm going to have to carry a balance on my credit card, and I'm not excited about that in the least.  Because we all know how this whole procedure has gone timewise, and there's no guarantee even that $14,000 check will materialize any time soon. That's because I have a more-than-sneaking suspicion that we have to have some sort of municipal inspection to certify the job's complete in order for them to release the final amount, and although we've made great strides in the last three weeks or so, we're still not completely done.

In addition, it looks like Pepco wants its money too, although not from us.  I guess the electrician set up the account, and now Pepco put his name and info on the bills, and is hounding him because (surprise!) he's not paying the electric bill.  (As an aside, the bill is $250 a month-- more than we've ever paid in DC-- since we're pretty much heating the neighborhood, what with all the holes in our walls...)  He apparently contacted Lee frantically, because Pepco was threatening to shut off power and he didn't know how to reach us.  Of course we'll pay it, so I called Pepco to sort things out.  The phone call was a bit ridiculous.  After explaining that my electric bill had mistakenly been issued in my electrician's name, I asked if they could put my name on it instead.  Heck, I can give them my credit card number now and pay the thing in full, plus set up automatic withdrawals.  Nope.  I need to go to the Pepco office in Forestville (FORESTVILLE?!) in person with documentation proving I own the home.  What?  Truly, I do not need to venture an hour out of a major city to deal with an electric company do I?  "Oh," says the guy on the phone, "I guess you could go to the office in downtown DC if you want."  D'oh!  I chalk this mistake up to the fact the guy's in a call center in Alabama or India or something, and doesn't realize how inconsequential the state borders are around here.  Only at the end of the conversation, though, does he casually throw in that I could just fax the documents in rather than trekking down to the office on the same day I need to run to the Azerbaijani Embassy to get my visa and then schlep myself out to Dulles to fly out.  Yeah, guy, thanks for that late addition.  I hung up, printed and faxed the document, and it was all done in about three minutes.  Sheesh.
Okay, so Forestville doesn't look as far on this map as it is psychologically,
but you understand that faxing is a much better option, right?

So where we currently stand money-wise is at the end of our loan, with no more credit line, with no more savings, with a balance on our credit cards.  It's not like we're broke, and that's making things even more frustrating.  When we started this process nearly two years ago, we had to put $50,000 cash into an escrow account to prove we had the financial wherewithal to complete the process.  In theory, if we were to flake out of rehab, they'd use that escrow money to complete the job themselves-- whoever "they" is.  But since we're done with the loan, and pretty much done with the project, that idle money is just pissing me off, because I know it's sitting there (earning like a quarter of a percent in interest) while I'll be paying something like 18% interest on my credit card debt-- something I only have because their check won't work in my bank.  But I have no idea how to get it back, and no idea whether it too requires that final municipal inspection-- and neither does the bank.  They'll "get back to me" on it.  Oh, and as if to rub it in, we get a mystery check for $900 in the mail this week from Montgomery County.  Apparently it's a "brownfields property-tax credit."  I don't care what it is-- it's an unexpected $900, and I'm all about it.  Only it's arrived soggy, and to the wrong address.  (How is it that the people responsible for my property taxes don't know the right address to my property?)  One or the other of those issues has made this envelope come about six months late.  The check is dated August 3, 2012.  It also says it's void after six months.  That means it was void as of February 3, 2013-- three weeks ago.  I called the county and they were as puzzled as I was as to why it came so late, although they're the ones who verified that, no, it was not a mistake and, yes, it was supposed to come to me.  Although to 9618 Dewitt Drive, not 9618 Dewitt Avenue, to which it was addressed.  A new check will be issued shortly, although that $900 could have been used very well presently.
I've never understood the theory of charging a tax to someone who had no money.

This all feels rather ridiculous.  So many people are out of work or have massive medical bills or are otherwise down on their luck.  Meanwhile, we have a second home for which we spent inordinate amounts of money on countertops and wood floors and a designer closet, and can't make one credit-card payment.  I understand these are truly first-world problems.  But it is what it is, and I live in the first world.  A month from now, when I'm on vacation with my family in Florida, this will all seem like a distant (or at least recently-dealt-with) memory, but for now I'm pretty freaked out.  And those of you who know me well can understand, because I'm the one who runs across an airport five minutes before my flight to grab free food from the airport lounge rather than pay six bucks at the kiosk at the gate.  I'm the one who buys the small cup at McDonald's and volunteers to go back and forth to get the refills.  Heck, my upcoming vacation includes airline tickets paid for entirely by airline miles, and lodging provided in a house Abby's family owns-- not exactly disposable-income luxury!  So yeah, this is foreign territory for me.

That said, all will be well.  Eventually.  Eventually...  Right?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Deer, Floors, and Gray Walls

Abby spent most of the day at the house painting today-- about 10 hours total-- while I stayed home with the kids.  And while she got a lot done, including amending the drab Buttercup paint job in the guest room from last weekend with plain-old white that looks a lot better, and putting a fantastic gray color on the walls in the downstairs bathroom, the most post-worthy item was actually out the window.  That's where a few of our new neighbors were putting on a show, eating from the low-hanging branches of our century-old yew trees in the yard.  (The video was shot from our family room window.)  Sure, there are pics below of the new colors on the walls, and of our fantastic floors that are more than half finished, but come on: I know you all want to see deer on their hind legs! So, without further ado:

video

As for actual house-related stuff...

Words cannot express how seeing this picture
made me look forward to going to the house tomorrow.
This is the view from the front foyer into the Great Room.

The downstairs bathroom, now with some gray walls.  Love it!

More gray walls.  The vanity will go across the midsection
of this wall, with a mirror and two sconces above.

The toilet will be right at this corner.
This shot gives a great view of the different shades of
green and gray in the downstairs bathroom.
Note: the wall color is the same on both sides
of the corner; it just looks different because of shadowing.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Heat is On

Apparently, Glenn Frey
is the love child of
Randy Travis and
Chris Isaak.
Who would have thought that , 20 months after buying this house, I'd be praising the lyrical genius of none other than Glenn Frey.  Yes, Glenn Frey, that guy from the '80s that can't even be classified as a one-hit wonder, but really just the guy that happens to sing that song that goes "the heat is on."  Because, really, do you know any of the other words?  Well, I looked it up, and they are uncannily appropriate:


The heat is on, the heat is on, the heat is on
Oh it's on the street, the heat is on
It's on the street
The heat is on, the heat is on, the heat is on
Yeah it's on the street
The heat is on

I mean, can you get any more spot-on to describe what's been going on with our house these last few days?  First off, I should mention, the heat is on!  Yes, we managed to get Washington Gas out finally to install the gas meter.  That was important because none of the woodwork stuff can happen without at least some semblance of a controlled temperature.  Now, for instance, Mark can go tomorrow to pick up our wood floors; they need to be acclimated to the house for three days before installation, which basically means they'll be going in around the weekend.  And upstairs, the floors have also begun to change.  No need to show you what they looked like before, other than to remind you they are the original 1890s floors that have been on the ground in a house that's been pretty much derelict since the 1980s.  But this morning when we pulled up, we found Miguel and his three floor-doing machines (that's the technical term), each of which, we are told, cost more than $2500.  (Having been robbed back in 2008, and having most of what was taken be contractors' machinery, we told him not to store them in our house overnight.)  And Miguel (with his lovely and cold wife watching) did this to the floors on our upper level:
Yeah, I didn't recognize the floors either.

The schedule for the floors as we move through the week includes fixing any boards that need to be fixed (tomorrow), stripping the stairs (Wednesday), and then applying various ointments and salves as necessary.  Once the stairs are being touched, we won't be able to down them for a few days, so we've been getting as much use out of them as possible, having spent about 27 man-hours painting the lower level over the three-day weekend.  (Is "man-hours" a sexist term?  Well, Abby  painted for more than half of them, so deal with it.)  And, more than Miguel and his lovely and cold wife, we felt the brunt of this weekend's drop in temperatures.  Sure, Glenn Frey says the heat is on, and every once in a while we hear the heat going on, and if you're standing directly beneath a vent you can feel the heat being on, but overall we are very worried about the efficacy of our heating system.  Granted, the heat is currently set to about 55, just so we can have that semblance of environmental control necessary for flooring operations, but there is what Bostonians might call a wicked temperature gradient between the upper and lower floors going on, and it can't all be the fault of the fact that none of the doors or windows have an actual tight seal to them.  (Remember, as Glenn Frey said, "the heat is on, it's on the street."  He wasn't kidding.  We are, as every suburban dad likes to remind his kids, heating the neighborhood.  I happened to get a flyer from a home-efficiency company in the mail the other day, and I will be contacting them shortly to see if there's anything they can do about our windows.  Because we all know that ain't gonna get done with our contractor.

Our contractor.  Yep, the one who pulled all the radiators out of the house, then claims not to have realized there were so many holes in the floor so as to warrant a higher cost of replacing wood during the flooring process.  The one who seems to have alienated all of his subcontractors along the way, many of whom are quite candid in letting Abby know just how they feel about him.  One thing we have learned, however, is that however unsavory the contractor is, apparently everyone's smitten with the workmanship.  So hey, it may take two years to get this thing done, and we may have to send our kids to work in Kathie Lee Gifford's sweatshop, but by golly the work's great!

While talking to Abby about the house while driving to my parents' out in crazy-far Virginia on Friday (they have a "540" area code! "540!" Have you ever heard of that?) I was mentioning that while I really like a lot of what's happening with the house, I don't feel as personally invested in it as I did our DC house, because we did so much of the work ourselves last time.  I mean, I can remember my bloody fingers after applying muriatic acid on the brick, and I can still see the mummified pigeon fall on my coworker Billy's head as he stood on the ladder in Isaac's bedroom.  Yet prior to this weekend, the only things I actually did to this house, besides that very first day of knocking down drywall back on Christmas Day 2011 (2011? 2011!) was pick stuff out and pay for it.  And a lot of that stuff that I picked out never even came to fruition.  However, three days later, I can safely say that those 27 man-hours of painting have taken a big bite out of my worries.  (I can also verify that we listened to DC101 the whole time on the radio, and heard exactly one song featuring a female singer.)  We did some painting, and some more painting, and some more painting.  And now, that downstairs is painted like a mofo, and Abby and I had everything to do with that.

Abby had been going to paint for a week or so beforehand, and I had posted a pic last time with her in Isaac's room, but this is serious stuff.  Since that last posting, she ripped down the carefully placed painter's tape she had put up in his room, re-sanded the wall because she was unhappy with the alignment of the stripes, borrowed a laser-level from Lee, and painstakingly created a masterpiece of stripe-itude that can be marveled at from hundreds of feet away, since it faces out the window.  Seriously, it's impeccable-- judge for yourselves:

Abby's creation on Isaac's wall.
Notice the perfect alignment with the window panes.
Besides Abby's magnum opus in Isaac's room, which eventually will be a Buffalo Bills room, with red accents, she also managed to paint Lola's walls a lovely shade of what we're calling "Cinderella's Dress" blue, based on the sheets and pillows she bought for Lola in what could have been 2011, and have been sitting in storage now since Thanksgiving.  I thought this was going to be more teal than it is, but it's so bright and happy that who cares?


My job on Saturday and Sunday was white.  Abby had done a whole bunch of white prior to this weekend, so anything colorful was her bailiwick.  So I managed to get one coat on every white surface (walls and ceilings) in the family room, the laundry room, the storage room, the guest room, and the guest-room closet.  Abby was at once excited by my progress, appalled by the lack of attention I had while making several only-noticeable-to-her drips, and confused at how I could get so much more square footage done than her during the same timeframe.  Well, one of my wise commenters noted last time that while you want painting done fast, cheap, and well, you can only get two of those at a time, so there's that...  No, just kidding, I think I did a stand-up job.  (And for that, both Abby and I will be completely stiff for the first half of this week.)  
Isaac next to the newly-painted wall in his bedroom.
We let them draw on the floors, since they're just sub-flooring
and will be covered over within the week.
Can you see the white I painted in the family room?
Just nod your head and be nice, will ya?
While Isaac's striped wall may be the most technically difficult paint job we completed this weekend, definitely the boldest, and possibly the most likely to provoke ire, is in the family room.  The picture I posted directly above this one is purposely taken from this angle so as not to show you the wall to your right-- the one that you see when you come down the stairs.  It was Abby's opinion that this needed to be a "statement wall," because otherwise the room was apt to become a boring giant box.  Therefore, I give you Behr "Poppy Seed."  If you think Abby was proud when the stripes were done, you should have heard her giggling like a little girl when this color was going up.  And as for me?  I'm Mr. Color when it comes to walls, so it makes me very happy as well.
"Poppy Seed" going up on the family room "statement wall"
The completed "statement wall"
The wall's actually a smidge lighter than the black on the windows.
Lola's "Cinderella's Dress" Blue is in the doorway.
The downstairs shower, with the
floor tiles doubling on the ledges
I mentioned earlier that we were en route to my parents', because they were awesome and took the kids for the weekend so we could get all of this done.  We drove out to Sterling last night to have dinner and grab the kids from them, since they didn't have the day off today like I did.  That meant we couldn't tag team the paint job today, so I took the kids to Jump Zone in Columbia while Abby painted from 10-5.  On the way, we ran two errands: one was just a normal Target run; the other was a drop-in at Home Depot to buy our second five-gallon white eggshell container, but also to return three boxes of tile we had over-ordered.  And how did we know we had over-ordered, you ask?  Why, because the tiling in the bathrooms not only has begun, but is almost complete!  So besides our paint-stravaganza this weekend, there was a tile-fest going on in the bathrooms.  The first-floor bathroom is complete, with three different kinds of tile up and done.  Abby decided a couple weeks ago to use the flooring tiles on two different ledges in the shower, and that turned out to be a great decision.  (See for yourself below.)  Unfortunately, the tiles that went up on the vanity wall, while all coming from the same boxes, had a slight color variation that wasn't caught right away.  It won't matter once the vanity is up, because it'll block those either in shadow or altogether, but I mention it here because when you look at it below, you might think "ugh."  Yeah, we know, but it's okay, unless you plan on laying on the floor in our guest bathroom.  So just don't do that.  The floor tiles in the upstairs bathroom have also been laid, but I don't have a good picture to show, since the lighting was really poor when I took it.
The vanity wall.  (Don't) notice the four mismatched squares of tile.
So what we have here is a very, very positive week, workwise.  I apologize for not getting more information up during the week, since some of these pictures were taken on Wednesday when we came by for the draw inspection, but we've just been so busy lately.  You know, with the house.  I mention the draw inspection, and some of you may be wondering what's up with the loan and our "drop-dead date" of February 15.  Well, we had the draw inspection on Wednesday, and the paperwork went through, but I have a feeling there may be a bit of consternation upcoming between us and the bank.  Because our idea is that, since we have spent the amount of money the loan had designated, they should give us the remaining balance and close it all out.  But I have more than a sneaking suspicion that they're not happy we decided to go above and beyond the amount of the loan on our own-- which was our only recourse, given the state of the house, and was the plan from the start.  So I don't know that we'll ever see the money from that last draw-- which'd be fine, because it'd just get deducted from the total on which we're paying our mortgage.  But we'll see.  However, what is definite is that we no longer have a mythical "drop-dead date" for a loan, and we're looking at a matter of weeks for the finish.  Yeah, I know I said that before, and no, we're definitely not going to be living in the house come March 1, but it's coming, and it's coming soon.  The floors will all be done by the end of next week, the cabinets will be completed by February 28, my closet can go in once the floors are done, and the plumbing fixtures can probably go in next week as well.  I'm going on another short business trip next week, and I am 100% certain that the house will look livable, even if it may not be 100% livable, by the time I get back.  At dinner last night, my parents asked me where I wanted to go for my birthday, which is the Saturday after next.  I would really love to have it at my house, but I know that's not going to happen.  But you can bet your ass that we'll be eating dinner at  Anyu's dining-room table, in our house, on Abby's birthday, 20 days later.  And those aren't famous last words.  Glenn Frey?  You'd better start writing a song about it.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

What Happens (When I'm) In London...

I was in London for four weeks-- about 675 hours-- this summer.  And you all know what happened on my house during that time: pretty much nothing.  Sure, we purchased our appliances and had them delivered, and "finalized" (ha!) our cabinet order, but that month was basically the first of several months that can be viewed as a complete waste in this process.  So you can imagine my surprise when this week, during my 34-hour stint in London, major headway was made Stateside.

First off, I got a voicemail upon my arrival at Heathrow Airport from Estes Express, a private shipping company, that I had what sounded like "600 pounds of stone" ready to deliver to my house.  Now, I had no idea what the guy was talking about, but I was game; after all, someone wants to deliver something!  Turns out it was our bathroom floor tile, 600 pounds of it, and it was coming a week earlier than we were told it would.  You may remember it had been on back-order, and we were given a date of February 10 for delivery.  And here they were, trying to deliver early.  I put them in touch with Mark, and he arranged for a Wednesday delivery, "between 12 and 6."  (Why do all deliveries have to have such huge windows?  Do they really not have a smaller window they can work with?)  Now, I'm considering this a success because, even though it is now Thursday and the tiles have not been delivered yet, the process worked... almost.  You see, even though Mark told Estes that there was a low clearance to get to the house-- due to the two little tunnels you have to go through to get by the main NPS building, Estes didn't seem to understand, and they sent a 13-foot truck for the delivery.  The clearance on the higher of the tunnels is apparently 10.5 feet.  So they called me-- at this point I'm in Belgium and it's after midnight, but I'm happy to oblige, since it may mean the delivery of the very thing the whole project needs to start-- and act as a conduit between them and Mark (again) until I just tell Mark to do the calling.  Turns out they can't even put the tile on a pallet, because technically the house is on a hill, and 600 pounds of tile on a pallet is not easily pushed, pulled, or otherwise coerced to move uphill.  (I say "technically" because even though I realize the house is on an incline, I don't think I had ever really considered that it truly was uphill, both ways, to get to the place.  Think of the stories my kids can tell their grandkids!)  So as far as I know, Mark is going to get his pick-up truck or van, park it probably 100 steps from the house, transfer all 600 pounds of tile from the delivery truck to his own, then drive his truck for maybe 15 seconds, park, and do a second complete move.  I don't envy him.  Except, well, it's gotta be done, and it's his job.  But in the end, I'm hoping by the time I get back to DC this weekend I'll be able to see some progress on the bathroom flooring.


The delivery truck couldn't fit through this tunnel.
Looking at it now, I don't understand how.
This looks a lot higher than 10 1/2 feet to me.
FYI, our house is immediately to the right of this shot,
and we see this stuff out our bedroom and kitchen windows.

I probably won't see progress on the wood flooring in terms of it being laid, but I very well may actually see it in the house.  That's because the order has been finalized, Mark talked to Floor Center and arranged to pick up the materials as early as 24 hours after the heat went on in the house.  And with Washington Gas coming by on Wednesday to set the meter and start the service, that could be as early as, well, today!  The part of this all that happened while I was in London, since that's the theme of this post, is the actual finalization of the order.  I went to see a show in the West End, and had about 20 minutes between the time I picked up my tickets at will-call and curtain-up.  So I called Floor Center to finalize the order-- 12,000 square feet, plus three long pieces of matching end-step material and five matching thresholds-- and spoke with Rory about arranging for pick-up.  Come to think of it, since the wood floors could be in the house by today, and the tiles could take until tomorrow to come (and hopefully not much later), I guess the wood flooring work could start first.  Either way, flooring!

And speaking of flooring, there's actually something completed in the house!  The tile Abby bought last week at Home Depot has been laid in the laundry room and the storage room.  Abby said she saw it on Wednesday, before they finished grouting, and she loves it.  I promise I'll get a picture as soon as I get there, and hopefully by then the washer and dryer will have been set in place as well.  Cool thing about this all is that once those two rooms are painted, we can actually start putting stuff in them!  Stuff like storage systems and STUFF-- as in OUR STUFF.  Granted, we just paid the bill to ZippyShell for February's storage, but I'll be pretty eager to get stuff into that area, since it'll be progress we can actually effectuate, as opposed to waiting for someone else.  I asked Mark for a quote on painting, since that wasn't included in our original estimate (to make it come in below the maximum loan amount), and we'll likely end up doing at least a bit more painting ourselves; I can't imagine that we wouldn't be painting the laundry and storage rooms ourselves, for instance.  I wouldn't mind doing some other stuff, and Abby has already been doing the kids' rooms, but there's no way I'm getting up on a scaffold or some crazy-tall ladder to do the great room.

Was I on this bus talking to Patty?
I'll never tell, although I can verify
I did see this building that day.

One last thing that happened while I was in London was finalizing the draw.  I had submitted the paperwork on the way to the airport on Sunday (and got sucked into two hours of work along the way, helping my coworker dig out from a mountain of Embassy Ankara bombing-related stuff, since my flight was delayed anyway) and thought everything was fine.  But on Tuesday afternoon as I left the Embassy in London I got an email from Patty saying I had to submit a lien-waiver request.  Argh.  So I talked to her while riding a double-decker bus in the rain back to my hotel (no lie, she got a kick out of that), and used the business center there to print out, scan, and email the form back to her.  I got an email late Wednesday noting the draw was approved, and expect to have that gigantic check in my hands this weekend.  (Remember, it's just money I've already been paying interest on, so it's not like it's a windfall, but it'll still be much appreciated!)  There's only a few thousand dollars left in the loan, which should be good to go before the end of next week when the loan officially is closed off, so all of that anxiety we were feeling about that issue a few weeks ago is all but gone now.  Now?  It's a sprint to the end-- I really do feel that.

So I would say that's a lot of progress, especially for less than a day and a half.  Not to mention, we had some progress the day before I left as well.  Although we drove up to a closed Acme Stove on Wednesday, we tried again on Saturday, successfully.  It was a breeze to order our fireplace insert-- which is not an insert, so I should stop calling it one.  We walked in, a salesman asked us what he could do for us, and we told him exactly what we had: the dimensions of our fireplace, a gas connection, the height of our mantel, our desire for actual heat, our preference for a traditional look.  He took us to the far corner, said "there you go," and showed us one model among several.  He said there were three sizes, there were three looks, and there was a choice of manual or remote starting.  I love easy choices!  A) the biggest one they had; B) the one that looked like the wood had been burned; and C) I didn't care, but since the remote system cost $350 more and Abby had no issues with turning the manual one on when she attempted it, we went for the cost savings.  There was one system that was prettier, in that the flame danced and flickered more, but the salesman explained to us that that system was not for sale, and was only an example of what people had in their heads, but was a terrible system to have.  Apparently when there's more flickering and more yellow flame, it's a much less efficient system and actually causes moisture in the room due to incomplete combustion-- hence, flickering.  The one we bought has a lot more blue flame (the hottest kind) at the bottom, and has a lot less flickering (denoting efficiency) at the top, and as a result is much better.  He did warn us that we are not allowed to burn it for more than 2-3 hours at a time and, like someone selling a purebred dog, said he wouldn't sell it to us if we didn't understand that.  Sounds good to me.  We put in the order, paid $1200, and should have it ready to install by about next weekend.

Come on over, in a few weeks, and warm yourself by our
RH Peterson RealFyre G-18 Evening Fyre Split Logs in "Charred."
If you remember the whole name, we'll let you make some S'mores.


There are still a few more projects that need a kick in the butt.  I don't know what's going on with the cabinets, and have to check that out.  (Note to self, send email before bedtime tonight.)  It also seems as if the four missing window frames, which were supposedly being manufactured by a company in Wisconsin, are not; Lee, the contractor from the Windmill, Pagoda, and Chalet, recommended a company in Baltimore, and Mark's going to get in touch with them to see if they can help us.  The floors on the second story are going to be finished, but only once the downstairs floors are delivered and laid.  The bathrooms can be finished, but only once the bathroom floors are delivered and laid.  And then there are doors.  Abby found a bunch of doors at Community Forklift, a place that deals in used housing materials in Hyattsville, and we've gotta see about getting them-- up to 15 of them!-- this week.  And a few other things as well, like doorbells and a kitchen sink.  But we're getting close, and now my inability to sit still is being caused less by complete nervousness and more by complete fidgetiness brought on by the light at the end of the tunnel growing considerably bigger and brighter over the last ten days. 

If only I spent a day and a half in London a long time ago.

Friday, February 1, 2013

20 Months, 7,000 Hits, and a $25,000 Check

Kids and, more importantly
at this point, cabinets!
Before I start, I just wanted to marvel in my own awesomeness.  Seriously, folks, I have 7,000 hits on this thing now; that's pretty awesome. :)  Thanks for reading along.

Anyhow, it's February.  Today marks our 20-month anniversary of Maryland homeownership.  Twenty months of paying two mortgages.  And we're not quite destitute yet.  Actually, we got some good news today at the draw inspection: we're going to get a reimbursement check of just over $25,000 this week!  Granted, it's not like the money we'll actually get back at the complete end of this process from the Historical people, because this is money we spent already and have been paying interest on for these past twenty months, but still, it will make my bank accounts look and feel so much better... at least until it's spent again all too soon.

The reason behind that "windfall," however, is because stuff's actually getting done.  More than half of that is to reimburse us for the kitchen cabinets, which started going in yesterday after that slight delivery glitch earlier this week.  Yeah, but don't get too excited.  They do look great, but there's an issue: apparently, even after having been measured twice, our crazily-shaped room has thrown the installers for a loop.  Between their measuring tapes and the computers, some of the cabinets don't fit.  I have no idea why not, but I do know that, most importantly, it's not our fault, and will not cost us any money.  Phew!  What it does mean, though, is that the kitchen won't be truly complete for a few more days, and we possibly won't be able to measure for the countertop until it's all fixed.    It was pretty cool, though, to walk into the house the other day and see half of the great room stacked up about eight feet with enormous cardboard boxes.  Not to mention, Abby and Lola had a ball today when they got to pop probably 50 linear feet of bubble wrap.

Nothing else has gone in this week, which is slightly annoying, but things are being delivered like the dickens-- that is, if things can be delivered like the dickens.  Earlier in the week it was the vanities and the cabinets, then the sconces for the kitchen and porch, then tiles.  Yesterday, Abby went to Home Depot to pick up the toilets, and couldn't pick me up from work because every square inch of the car that wasn't filled with her or the kids was filled with toilet.  While there, she found some clearance tile that she thought was perfect for the laundry room and storage room-- finally, something on clearance!-- so she put six boxes of the stuff on hold overnight and went back today to pick it up.  That might be the first flooring that goes in, which'd be fine because it'd mean we could get the washer and dryer installed, and start moving stuff into the "basement attic."  We've been watching this microwave online for a while at several different stores, and the price has fluctuated up and down from about $325 to $400.  Finally when we're ready to buy it, pretty much everyone has a 3-week wait for it, whether we want it delivered or picked up at a store.  But I found a Sears about 45 miles away that had a new floor model marked down 20% so I grabbed it, and hope to pick it up tomorrow.    Sure, I've gotta drive all the way out to White Marsh Mall (which is the one where we discovered we didn't need to bundle Isaac up like all of our older female relatives were instructed during the winter, because he turns bright red and screams...), and I'll spend ten bucks on gas, but the price difference will be about $80, and we'll get the thing tomorrow instead of who-knows-when.

Isaac's wall will be Bills colors.
Let's Go, Buffalo!
Probably the most house-interesting time this week was Wednesday.  Abby spent the day painting Isaac's room and taping the stripes onto his wall, and we came by after I picked the kids up from school.  After hiking down to Purple Playground in the park, Abby picked us up and whisked us out to the flooring store in the driving rain.  There, we finally bought our hardwood floors.  I know, right?!  So the floors are expensive, but we decided to go with them and abridge where they'll be.  So at $10.25 a square foot, we'll have DuChateau flooring's Danube flooring, from their Riverside collection (all three terms sound totally douchebaggy, don't they?) in the kids' bedrooms, the guest room, and the family room.  And the 99-cent clearance tile in the downstairs rooms that really don't need such fancy stuff.  So the kids are running around in the store, the guy's writing up the order, and something truly weird happened: I noticed I was on my phone, texting, while Abby checked her voicemail and actually answered an incoming call.  Seriously, folks, not only were both of our phones charged, but both of us were on then at the same time, of our own volition.  It's times like that that make me understand that, yes, maybe we can get this darn project completed.  Anything's possible!

From there, it seemed like a hop up Rockville Pike to the fireplace store.  But it was rush hour in the driving rain, and an hour later we pulled into the parking lot of Acme Stove, which had closed nine minutes before we got there.  Argh.  No matter, though, because that would have been bonus points for the day, and the fireplace isn't a must-finish.  (Gonna try again tomorrow anyhow.)  So we went back to the house to meet up with Lee, the contractor for some of the neighboring houses.  He wanted to take a look inside our place, and we had asked him for his ideas on what we could be doing.  We're not going to drop our contractors, but anyone who has read any of my blog entries can tell that we're not confident in their ability to be proactive in letting us know what to expect next.  It was nice to talk to him, because even though he brought up a bunch of issues I hadn't thought about-- like when we should be getting the trim, and why isn't there an obvious water service to the water heater?-- most of his comments were positive and constructive and not intimidating.  Seeing that we've really taken control of the direction of things over the past ten days or so, I think we can steer this thing to a good place by the end of the loan period.  (Remember, anything's possible!)

Granted, nothing's happening.  Which is why I emailed the contractors tonight with a list of questions and information for them to use to get cracking.  First off is the paint-- Abby's been picking out colors, and only priming is included in our contract, so if we are cleared to paint, we're going to go ahead and do that, partially by ourselves, and partially with painters.  (I ain't getting up on a ladder to paint no 20-foot ceilings!) We'll get a quote from them, and from a couple other places, and go with the best quote and the best timing possible, which is cheap and now.  And at this point, while I'd certainly have no problem with giving them the business, I'll have no issue with finding another outfit to do the work if it means it'll get done.  So, until that stuff gets sorted out, I'll leave you with the letter and you can judge for yourselves as to whether I got my point across.   Now to go chase a ground hog...

Hi guys: I wanted to follow up with you as to where we stand right now, based on what's been delivered to the house and what can get moving at the beginning of next week.  We also have some questions for you, so if you could get back to us on all of this before the end of the weekend, that'd be great.

  1. The cabinets have hit a snag because of apparently faulty measuring.  But it's okay with us, because it's either Home Depot's fault or the installer's fault, but not ours.  So while they sort it out and possibly order one different cabinet-- on them, of course-- there are several kitchen-related things.
    • Rory, we're going to pick up the microwave tomorrow.  However, there's a kit to have it fit into the opening that is only sold online, so we'll have to wait for that to be delivered to be installed.
    • At what point does the cut have to be made for the range hood vent?  Would that need to happen once the exact placement of the range hood is certain after cabinet installation?
  2. What ever happened with Washington Gas?  Are we all good with the HVAC now?  We never heard anything back following the scheduled Wednesday appointment.
  3. Can you guys take that horrible smoke detector away from the middle of the joist in the Great Room?  That thing is ridiculously ugly.  I'm sure it will be fine with code if a detector is put somewhere on the wall or something, but it definitely doesn't have to be where it is right now!
  4. The tiles for the laundry room and storage room have arrived, and can be installed.  I think it'd be a great idea to get those done, because that'd also get the washer and dryer to the point they can be installed and taken out of the way.  I'm guessing some sort of underlay is needed for those floors before the tile can go in, and that's something you guys are going to have to get, since we can't fit stuff like that in the Prius.  
  5. Our light fixtures have arrived for the front porch and for the kitchen-- 2 in each place.  They can be installed whenever.
  6. Are the walls all set for painting?  We are assuming so, but wanted to make sure.  Since the painting is not included in the contract, we wanted to get a price from you guys as to how much it will cost before we go ahead and do it.  We might choose to do some of it ourselves.  We're pretty sure, though, that the painting should be done prior to laying the wood flooring, since we know what kind of mess paint is on wood floors.
  7. That said, the wood flooring has been ordered and should be in by the middle of this week.  You guys will have to pick it up; the place we ordered it from is in Rockville, right near the White Flint Mall.
  8. Do we need to buy a water heater?  If so, what specs?  If that's something you guys are going to do, please note we want something really efficient, but also really capable of pumping out mass quantities of hot water... I do have a wife that likes 45-minute showers, and we often use hot water with more than one appliance at a time.
  9. Any word on the windows?  Last Wednesday, Mark noted something about communications with the company in Wisconsin, but nothing more... Those really need to be getting back to us soon, no?
  10. Sheyy came by for a draw inspection today.  He just sent us the paperwork, and I am going to try to get it to you by Sunday afternoon.  Even though this entire draw is money owed to us, and not to you, we will still need your signature.  Hopefully we can get it to Patty on Monday.  There will just be one more draw, on or about February 13; after that point, we won't have to deal with the loan anymore, and we can just work on a project-by-project basis until we finish.  We're still very much needing to move in before the end of this month, so let's all keep our eyes on the prize!

Thanks, and I hope to hear back from you shortly.