...because everything is funny when it's happening to someone else!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Memorial Day

I don't have anything powerful or witty to say about Memorial Day.  I wanted to post a video of the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington.  When I searched online, I found several videos made by tourists of this incredibly moving ceremony.  But I also found videos of the guards having to reprimand idiotic people laughing during what should be a solemn service.  One asshole even jumped the barrier and had to be dealt with.  I wanted to find a video that would honor and celebrate our fallen soldiers, but I ended up watching videos that made me want to punch people in the face.

So, here's a link to an old Fox News story on the guards at the Tomb.  It's well worth a few minutes of your life.  The life you owe in some way or another to the soldiers some jackasses would mock.

The American military.  Respect it or get the hell away from me.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

You know I wish that I had Jessie's saw

Today, I did something completely out of the ordinary for me.  I went shopping.  On a Saturday.  When other people shop.  People whose hygiene and child-rearing habits may significantly differ from my own.  It was scary.

Only a few things can lure me toward the mall on a Saturday.  A big, blinking neon sign that says, "Free Beer" being one of them.  Maybe a Rick Springfield sighting.  And DEFINITELY a big sale on tools at Sears.  I love me some tools!  I've acquired a few here and there, when I first moved out on my own and later when I dipped my toe into doing a cosmetic remodel.  I'm kind of a tool nerd and like anything else, it's so exciting when you're just getting started that you can't resist the chance to add to your collection.

So, today Tank, Shawn and I were all over Sears.  I had found a circular saw online and there was a Memorial Day sale going on that ended today, so I was planning to just buy it and have it shipped to the house.  I mentioned it to Shawn, whose head exploded at the thought of just BUYING something!  Without the RESEARCH!  The COMPARISONS!  The SLEEPLESS NIGHTS IN FRONT OF THE COMPUTER READING REVIEWS!  Oh, the humanity!

So, I griped and whined, but eventually emptied my inbox at Sears.com, cleaned up Shawn's brains and agreed to go today to look at these wonders in person.  We'd decided that a circular saw met our needs best, because let's be honest, neither one of us is going to turn into Handy Manny any time soon and a table saw just didn't seem necessary.  We'll mostly be cutting trim pieces, maybe some plywood for subfloor and concrete backer board.  It made sense to buy a good, middle of the road circular saw for this point in the game. 

We wandered into Sears and Shawn accosted an employee and started playing 20 Questions, Circular Saw Edition.  After twenty minutes (which I spent chasing a hyped-up Tank through the tool section, the garden section and the home gym section--big shout-out to the very nice man we almost knocked over--he was ready to buy........(wait for it)......the same saw I was ready to buy the night before.  I will admit--grudgingly--that he saved us just over $15.00 by getting it from the store and not paying shipping.  And I will also admit--grudgingly--that going to the store enabled me to find a clearanced Shop Vac for $38.00, down from its original $99.99 price tag.  So, we got the saw for $67.99 (had been $79.99) and the Shop Vac, both of which will be great for the Taj projects to come.

We also heard from Roofer C today, who gave us an estimate of $3915 to tear off the old roof, replace some plywood decking and use Rubberoid coating on the flat roof.  He didn't bid doing the same amount of work as Roofer A, but he is definitely cheaper, doing a side by side comparison.  We have a personal reference for Roofer C (of course we do...it's Mayberry!), so as of now, he is looking like the front runner.  We'll talk to him about adding in ridge vents and checking the motors on the existing exhaust fans, which is really the only difference between his bid and the $6980 bid from Roofer A, since the Weather Watch and shingles on the flat roof aren't a big deal to us.  Even standing at the highest point behind the house, you can't see the flat roof, so as long as it doesn't leak, I'm not all that concerned with how pretty it looks.

So, we're inching closer to our closing date, we've bought the first of many tools for this job and I'm completely, insanely ready to get started!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

It was bound to happen

Well, we haven't even closed on the Taj yet, but we hit the first snag today.  That's no surprise...there are going to be many "Oh shit" moments during this process and I wasn't fool enough to think we'd emerge unscathed.

Today, I made a call to the Greater Mayberry city services number to ask about getting electrical service on and in our names.  What I wanted to know was how much of a deposit we'd need to pay.  What I did NOT want to know was that the house has to be inspected and any issues found with the electrical need to be brought up to code before permanent service can be started.

I am sure there's a list of things that have to be done to the house to bring it up to code.  When I think about how much this is going to cost, I throw up.  Just a little bit.  In the back of my mouth.

On the positive side, we are relieved to be dealing with Mayberries and not the ridiculously officious bureaucrats we tend to encounter here where I am being held prisoner delighted to live.  The woman at the city services offices did not know me from Adam's housecat, but was thrilled to hear that the Taj had been purchased and would be fixed up.  I also accidentally called the wrong number to ask about trash pickup and was on the phone for a good fifteen minutes with a very informative and friendly lady who answered every question I had, even though I'd called the county trash number instead of the city one.*  Down here, I would have been transferred as fast as three-inch fingernails could have punched the extension and promptly forgotten.  (*Note: they are actually the same company, but the city handles its own residents on behalf of the company, while the company itself manages the county residents.  Lest you think there are actually TWO trash companies in Mayberry)

Does it sound like I am being condescending toward the 'Berry?  I truly hope not.  There's a reason we're gambling a lot of money on a reno to salvage a house we'll likely only see thirty days out of any given year.  I can't put it into words exactly, but here's a story that sort of explains...

My sister the Farm Maven told me yesterday that her husband, the fabulous David, had ridden up on an elderly man who'd run his truck into a ditch near their house.  The man was shaken but unhurt and mostly concerned about getting a tow truck to pull him out of the deep ditch.  David went back to the house, got a chain and pulled the fellow out without further ado.  That's how it's done in the country.  The first truck to pass that elderly gentleman wasn't a thief or a killer; he was a hard-working man who needed to get home to supper but who probably never thought about just driving past a stranger in need.

We've got theaters down here, the ocean, appallingly expensive schools and the finest food you'll ever pay a crapload of money to eat.  I wouldn't stop to think, though, if the opportunity came to shuck it all and head back to Mayberry.  I'd just pack up and go.  And hope if the Jeep broke down, it'd be on a back road traveled by hard-working men headed home to supper.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Contractually Obligated!

The "fully executed contract" on the Taj MaHell arrived today!  I opened my email inbox and...ta-da!  Apparently, we are homeowners.  Again.

The fully executed contract is the exact same document as the purchase agreement, but this copy has the seller's signature and initials as well as ours.  In the end, we paid $22,500 for the house itself, plus $1125 for the Buyer's Premium and Internet Transaction Fee.  We still don't know the closing costs, so those also need to be considered when we talk about what we paid for the house.

A second roofer called today with his estimate.  Roofer A came in at $6980 to tear off all the existing roof, re-nail the decking and replace the old shingles with architechtural shingles.  This price also includes the Weather Watch coating for a flat roof on the bonus room addition and new motors for the existing power exhaust fans in the attic, plus ridge vents along the roof line.  Roofer B, who--and I am not making this up--used to work with Shawn at Shawn's very first job ever, called today with a bid of "well under $5000" but that amount is just to put new shingles on top of the old ones and add another layer of rubber roofing to the flat roof section. 

We're leaning towards Roofer A, but we still need to get numbers from Roofers C and D, just to be sure we've over-analyzed the whole thing to death.  Because in addition to his many other fine qualites, Shawn suffers from a mild form of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.  OCD is the source of lots of good times in our family.  Like when we first moved to Gilligan's Island and some family members were coming to see us.  I was frantically running around, trying to set up a guest bedroom and scrub the bathroom while Shawn was literally paralyzed by the fact that his GINORMOUS CD collection had gotten un-alphabetized during the move.  I am not shitting you.  I had to stop what I was in the middle of and alphabetize them one day while he was at work, just to get him back on track.  Stories.  I has 'em.

But back to the Taj.  Now that we're inching closer to actually tackling this project, I'm starting to pay closer attention to sales going on at the big box home improvement stores and online.  I am sure that Craig's List will also play a big part in this renovation!

More later....

Roofer Madness

We're still pending the *official* contract on the Taj, but in the meantime, we decided to call around and get estimates on the new roof.  Having lived outside Greater Mayberry for the last seven years, I had forgotten how these things work.  Here on Gilligan's Island, we Google the service we need, call the guy whose business is closer to this side of town and work from there.  There are so many roofers, plumbers, electricians, you-name-its that we rarely get a personal referral from a friend.  Ask ten friends around here and you'll get the names of ten plumbers, so we mostly don't bother.

Not so in Greater Mayberry.  I asked my sister the Farm Maven who they used for their recent roofing job and was given the name of Roofer A.  I jotted that down and emailed my mother in law, who works for an insurance agency in Mayberry.  She gave me two names of roofers they refer their insureds to.  One was Roofer A.  We called him and also called Roofer B, who, as it turns out, had done work for my sister's best friend and lived on the same country road as her in-laws.  Thus begins the One Degree of Separation that is life in a small town.

Last Friday evening, we made the 3 1/2 hour trek from our home up to see the Taj.  Shawn had not seen it in person yet and for some curious reason, wanted to lay eyes on his new investment.  Go figure.  Anyway, we were wandering around the backyard when the next-door neighbor hello'ed us from across the fence.  We went over to speak and realized that (of course!) we knew the guy.  Not only was he the father of one of Shawn's childhood playmates, but he was also music director at the church my sister the Farm Maven had attended.  I may also have gone out with his oldest son once, but that is beside the point.

One of my favorite sayings is, "A small town is where everybody knows whose check is good and whose husband isn't."  Truer words were never spoken. 

In the end, we got four roofers to come look at the house.  Three of them are quite possibly distant cousins of ours and the fourth guy got thrown in there because we like to be exotic.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

How Does One Buy a Taj MaHell?

For those of you happily unaware of the fun-filled world of buying houses at auction, here's a brief tutorial:

Step One:  Check your auction sites!  Two that I check frequently are www.realtybid.com and www.auction.com.  Both are easy to navigate and pretty informative.  Once you find a house that interests you, check all the available information on it.  You probably won't get much, other than a few photos, an aerial view of the property and a scary warning that the home does not qualify for conventional financing.

Step Two:  If that hasn't totally scared the crap out of you, look at the bidding history.  When does the auction start, or if it has already started, has anyone bid on the property?  Some hot properties have lots of bidders right away; others may only have one or two people who bid at the very last minute.  If no one is bidding and there are several days left on the auction, you can sit tight and just watch to see what happens.  Or, you can enter a minimum bid as a fishing expedition to see if anyone outbids you.  That lets you know if someone is actively watching the same property.

Step Three:  Go get dirty.  Most auctions have open houses and the dates are listed on the auction site.  GO CHECK OUT THE PROPERTY IN PERSON.  I can't stress this enough!  Go poke around, look in and under everything and make an educated decision about the highest bid you are willing to enter.  Take lots of pictures, too!  Then go home and load them on your computer and look at them over and over.  Check out any visible damage and ALWAYS assume there is more that is not visible!  Whether you are able to personally see the property or not, it's a good idea to decide how much you can afford to put into the property and then subtract the cost of the obvious necessary repairs.  Then, subtract closing costs and internet auction fees, etc.  THEN you have an idea of your maximum bid. 

Step Four:  Bid, Baby, Bid!  Our strategy was to wait until 5 minutes before the auction ended before we even posted our initial bid.  No one bid against us and we were the high bidder.  Success!  Well, not exactly.  Because the seller's reserve wasn't met, the house went into post-auction bidding, which can last for another week.  At any time during that period, the seller can receive a better offer and go with it or simply reject your offer and walk away without selling.  In the end, we went up a little on our price and the seller came down a little on his reserve and we came to an agreement.

Step Five:  The Legal Crap.  Once you have won the auction, in most cases you'll be sent a Purchase Agreement, which is not the same as a contract.  The purchase agreement details what you are agreeing to pay for the property and your understanding of its condition and that it is being sold "as is/where is."  You'll sign that and if the seller likes the numbers, you will THEN receive a contract to sign. 

Step Six:  Now What?!  Once you have a signed contract, you'll complete the closing process and possibly take possession at closing (most auctioned homes are vacant, so this is common).  Have licensed, bonded contractors standing by to give estimates on repairs that must be done right away.

And then the real fun begins!

We have only done minor, cosmetic re-habbing, so undertaking this massive project is a terrifying thought.  We were smart not to risk more money than we had available.  We knew the house had to have a new roof, so we figured an additional $10,000 into our purchase price to make sure we stayed within the numbers we could manage.  Once we put a roof on, we can take our time with most of the other repairs, since they don't have the same potential to damage the structure.

Our time line is something like this:  the auction ended on May 11, 2011.  The next day we received a notice that we had not met the seller's reserve and we learned for the first time what that reserve was.  Over the next 2 days, we went back and forth, each side inching towards the middle.  In the end, we went up from $17,500 to $22,500 and the seller went down from $31,250 to $22,500.  We received an emailed purchase agreement, filled that out, signed and initialled everything and overnighted it to the auction site.  They in turn overnighted a copy of the agreement, along with our $2000 deposit to the seller.  The seller took several days to officially accept the purchase agreement and now we are just waiting for a contract to be sent.  Our tentative closing date is June 17th and we will take possession at closing, so auctions tend to move pretty fast!

This post is long and way too full of details, so I'll stop here and we'll cover some of the fun stuff in a later post!

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Taj Mahell, Part One

The Purchase

In the past six months or so since my last post, we've just been slogging along through daily life.  Tank's speech therapy is ongoing and today he had a really good session.  I have finally heard that magic sound: my child looking at me and saying "Mama."  I absolutely cannot get enough of that!  I am guilty of following him around as he tries to play, cajoling him to, "Say Mama!"  There is no sweeter sound than that and it is only made more special for the struggle we had getting here.  Having originally been known as "dude" and later as "buh-buh," this is really a step up.  Living in the south, my child mis-pronouncing "mama" as "bubba" caused some confusion, I can tell you.  Try having a child holler "Bubba!" in a crowded Georgia Wal-Mart.  Twenty heads turn as all the local Bubbas try to figure out who's calling them.  Good times.

Anywho.  For a couple of years now, the hubs and I have been considering buying a house near our families.  We live about 3 1/2 hours from the small town where both our families live.  Because we are the lone transplants, this means that Thanksgiving, Christmas and various other travel-worthy holidays are spent with us on the road.  We have been very fortunate to have had a separate house to stay in while we spend time with family.  Originally, we kept the little house I lived in before we married.  That worked well for a while, although it did not have central heat and air and there's only so much one window unit can do when it's 100 degrees in the shade.  Then, my brother in law offered us the use of his vacant house.  He had "lived" there before he married and moved to his wife's property in a neighboring town.  I say "lived" because like any bachelors with three jobs, he basically just used it for a crash pad and a place to house the microwave and TV.  We spent the past couple of years doing little home-improvement projects on that house in return for using it rent-free.  We finally got to the point where we had done enough and spent enough on a house that wasn't ours.  The thought occurred to us to buy the house from my brother in law, but a) I never do business with family and b) we really wanted an undervalued property that we could rehab, since our housing budget is pretty much used up by the cost of living here on Gilligan's Island.

So, we started looking at foreclosures in the greater Mayberry area, where our peeps reside.  Greater Mayberry is a thriving necropolis, with a closed mill and lots of For Sale signs dotting the landscape.  There were plenty of houses to be had, but we had trouble finding just the right fit.  We thought we found it last July, but the deal didn't go through and we were just disgusted that the seller rejected our bid of $22,000 (the house had gone to auction) and a month later took an offer of $17,500.  In retrospect, it was a blessing in disguise, because the house was cute and had lots of potential, but it was on a very busy street and had no yard to speak of.  I worried about Tank playing outside there and getting too close to the cars.

About a month ago, I checked the auction sites again and located another likely prospect.  We had the in-laws check it out for us and they reported back that it was in need of a roof and lots of cosmetics, but that it could be a real looker with some work.  The realtor who had been trying to sell the place before it went to auction echoed their thoughts.  So, I zipped up to Greater Mayberry and checked it out, taking tons of photos and poking at walls, floors and dead bugs.  After many late-night discussions, we set a walk-away price and decided to bid.  Interestingly, his walk-away was $25,000 and mine was $26,000.  We won the house at $25,500. 

As of now, we're still awaiting the official contract and acceptance, but it looks like we own two homes.  Good God, what were we thinking?!

And now, this blog becomes a home improvement project blog!
Tank in front of the Taj
The hallway bath.  Original PINK tile!
Updating, Schmupdating!  This is a 40" stove, y'all!  And yes, that IS a window unit A/C stuck in the kitchen wall!
It has a POOL!  With FROGS!