Sunday, August 31, 2008

sunday, sunday, sunday

Good news! The inspection went well. It was a painstaking process (our inspector was so thorough and meticulous, it was just a marvel watching him work) but the overall diagnosis on the house seemed to be positive. We certainly have our work (and cash outlay) cut out for us, with projects and updates necessary to the electrical, plumbing, insulation, gutters, what could be left after that? But there were no immediate safety issues, and the general foundation/condition of the house is looking pretty good. We are going to have radon and mold tests on Tuesday, and will find out the results of those by Thursday. That's cutting it a little close because we have to turn the contract back into the selling bank by end of day Thursday, but so far, so good.

I think the best part about the inspection was just getting to hang out at the house for a few hours and confirm our belief that it just *feels* good in there. It feels comfortable and like we're surrounded by the place we'll be able to call home. We're coming up with ideas for paint colors, and starting to shape a (very tentative) schedule for painting, carpet rip-up, fence and electrical updates, and then move-in. We're so lucky to have such an amazing support network of friends and family who are willing to help.

I'm still in bed at 11:19 on Sunday morning, and Corvinius is giving me the most outrageous show of affection. I'm thinking that if we needed HIM to help us paint the trim in the new house, he'd totally do it. Because he loves us. And so would Digby, but he'd probably make a mess while he was trying to be helpful. I think we'd give Bridgey a project where she could work quietly by herself but still feel like she'd accomplished something. And maybe let Charlie Murphy just be the team leader for Troublemaking and Enthusiasm. Mischa could help us check all puddles and water receptacles for water content. And I don't think we could ask Mackenzie to do anything. I mean, we don't ask for much now, and we're still catching a lot of attitude.

I know we're pet crazy. But the mere fact that they live here with us really shaped our househunting process. One of the houses we really liked (but was in a very sketchy neighborhood) had the awkward aspect that the door to the backyard was through the master bedroom. The idea that our bed would be the first thing the dogs would encounter when we were letting them in from a muddy backyard was sort of a dealbreaker. Other houses that were otherwise strong possibilities got axed because they didn't have big backyards or weren't fenceable for whatever reason.

And now I love the idea of thinking about where they will all hang out in the new house. I think it's likely that Mackenzie could claim the entire attic as her (lofty) territory, and I doubt she'd get much argument on that matter from the pups. I'm a little worried about the transition of having to have the dogs go down a flight of stairs into the basement before they can go out. Digby, I'm sure, will barrel down headfirst and end up in a pile of limbs at the base of the stairs. He's not afraid of much, nor graceful in his enthusiasm. But I'm pretty sure both Mischa and Bridgette will require some coaching/bribing to get them comfortable with the process of ascending and descending. I'm just hoping that the need for their dinner and their desire to hang out with us will help motivate them to overcome their fears.

Another thought I'm wrestling with is the desire for a dog door into the backyard. That would also probably take some encouragement and time with Mischa and Bridge, but I know they'd get used to it. We just have to find another solution to Austin having to get up in the middle of the night, sometimes multiple times, to let the dogs out. It's more disruptive (to him, not me, I sleep right through it) than having a newborn baby, I swear it. But Austin's concerned that any door the dogs can get out, so can Charlie Murphy, and despite his regular vociferous claims to being perfectly capable of going outside and not getting into trouble, we are just not willing to let him take that risk. David at work suggested trying one of those dog doors that only open to a chip on the dogs collar, but I have a feeling that Charlie Murphy the Wiley would find a way around that.

I've been accused of having homebuying goggles on right now, and I'm sure that is true. I mean, buying our first home is a huge deal, and certainly the biggest thing we've accomplished together, but I can find other things to talk about, right? It's just that most of it sounds so obnoxiously simperingly cheerful that it's rather embarrassing. Work? GREAT. So good, I can't even explain it to you. Life with The Boo? Just super. We're just smile a lot, and are otherwise just having a great time. Yesterday we borderline-crashed a barbecue in Nippers Corner with Jon and Ali, and got to feast on championship worthy brisket and pulled pork until we thought we were going to die. Then a few short hours later (and by a few short hours I mean, literally, two) I met up with some of my favorite ladies for my favorite sushi and may or may not have permanently injured myself by overeating. After that we rolled to the Mercy Lounge for the Bomb show and I spent most of the time holding my stomach and moaning, until the band played and we ran up to the front to dance.

Other than my adventures in overeating, there isn't much to report on the cooking front. I made a pretty killer quiche on Monday, with zucchini, mushrooms and bacon. I forgot to buy Gruyere so I (over)compensated by tossing in every cheese in my fridge. Cream cheese in the filling, layered slices of swiss and mozzarella, and shredded cheddar and parm on top. YUM. We've got lots of vegs from the CSA to roast soon, and sausage links and bulk sausage to find a good use for. I doubt we'll have any problems with that.

In the meantime, I think it's a patty melt and onion ring kind of day. Gold Rush, here we come!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

trying to overcome...

...the crippling superstition of talking about things before they are certain. I don't want to jinx this whole deal.

But the day after that last post, we found three new houses that caught our eye. We went the following morning (Saturday) and looked at them all, and two were nothing special, and one on Sandy Drive was pretty great. Great enough that my heart was racing while we walked through it, and we kept just looking at each other and smiling. And our realtor seemed pleased with everything he could see.

So we went back to Sandy on Sunday, in the morning with Casey and Trent, and in the evening with Dad and Richie. And everyone approved. I think Trent and Casey were withholding enthusiasm a little bit, trying to not get too gushy in case everything fell through like last time. They also seem to think this house is in the middle of nowhere, as well as "too big," as if that exists for a family with six pets. But I think they can see all the things we love about it (I'll detail below, even if I'm nervous to talk about it too much), and when Trent saw the 30 x 15 foot "man room" in the basement, he yelled, "We're moving in!" Dad was leaping about in joy and detailing the treehouses he will build for his grandchildren at this house (uh, Dad? Why not harass my MARRIED sisters about this topic?). Richie also kept stomping his foot like Elijah and declaring that he was jealous. Very wholehearted endorsements from that front.

So we decided to meet with Peter on Monday and assemble an offer. Then he called Monday morning to let us know that he had spoken with the seller's agent (the house is a bank foreclosure, so we're dealing with A Bank and not A Person) who said that the bank was not accepting FHA loans on the house. Uhhh, what? After all the trouble of being told we only qualified for an FHA loan (and therefore weren't eligible to buy our own house that we've rented for three years), we ended up finding a conforming (conventional) loan that would work for us, with only 3% down in a gift form and no requirements about the condition of the house. This was all accomplished during the work day on Monday, so we still got our offer put together and sent to the bank Monday night.

Then we waited and waited. We had requested to hear back on our offer by Wednesday at 6, but the seller's agent didn't seem to think it would happen in that time frame. He did say it was a "pretty good" offer, and hoped the bank would just take it and not draw out the process. Wednesday came and went, and Thursday. Luckily we had the Cheatham County Fair Demolition Derby to distract us from the agony of waiting for an answer. Finally, Friday afternoon after lunch we got a quick email from our realtor: "ACCEPTED!!" Hooray!

So now we have to see the addendums placed on the contract by the foreclosing bank, and approve them. We have to fork over 3% earnest money, which will also be our down payment. We have to line up an inspection and then figure out what our lending bank wants from us. And then we've got to BUY A HOUSE.

A big house. 2025 square feet. With a finished attic, a finished basement, 3 bedrooms, two bath, a huge kitchen with baby blue formica countertops, and a gigantic magnolia tree in the backyard. The living room, dining room and kitchen make up the front half of the house, all flowing into each other with huge doorways. This might be my favorite part of this place. Where we live now, the kitchen is the back of the house, the living room is the front, and there isn't a natural social flow in between. I love the idea of these three rooms feeling like one big area for visiting, dining, cooking, entertaining. The bedrooms are both large, in the back half of the house, with a large bathroom between. We will need to pull up the carpet in these bedrooms before we move in, but there are good quality hardwoods underneath and it shouldn't be a huge project. We also need to paint (as you'll see from the photos) and finish the fence in the backyard so our dogs will be safe and we can just kick them out of the basement door. Other than that, we could happily move straight into the main floor of this house and slowly update/furnish the attic and basement into our own usable space. I think we'll make the second bedroom on the main floor into an office/library, and put the spare bedroom in the attic. And I also think we'll get a grownup couch, and move the Big Brown Couch into the basement, along with the darts and eventually an entertainment center. It needs a good cleaning, it's been empty since May. Otherwise, it's a house where we could live for years, with privacy and big lawns and a covered patio.

I'm just so excited. More fingers crossed for all the contract negotiations to go quickly. With luck we'll be homeowners soon!

Oh, and thanks for all the amazing advice and guidance we've gotten from all of our friends and family. This whole experience has been vastly easier because we know so many smart, experienced people!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Even quicker additional update

So the sellers accepted another offer. We didn't get a chance to counter. We are back to the drawing board.

We went back and looked at our #2 and #3 houses from the previous weeks' searching, and were pretty uninspired. I don't want to suddenly get overly picky, but I also think that we're supposed to "know" when we walk in the door, right? And I didn't know. I feel like I spent a lot of time picturing myself and our selves and our stuff in the house on Wayne, and now I can't see us anywhere else.

So oh well. No other news from here. We had derby practice tonight, which was fun, and then I conned Austin into letting me pick up spaghetti at Pizza Perfect, which was all that I wanted to eat. Now Stranger than Fiction is on, and it makes me crazy happy, so that helps leave this pretty lame day on a high note.

Good night!

Quick update

We put in an offer on a house. On Wayne Drive, near Stratford and Porter. It has been our frontrunner favorite the whole time, and signs are looking good. I'm too superstitious to talk about it yet, so that's all I can give you. We should hear back on our offer by Friday morning (tomorrow!) at 10 am.

I don't even know what to tell you, other than that. It's pretty much all I can think about. I will send pictures as soon as I feel it is safe. Oh, and I finally got to talk one-on-one with our landlord and he was, as expected, so nice and sweet and understanding about everything. I am really relieved that it didn't turn into a combative situation. He's coming by this weekend to look at the condition of the house, and we're committed to give him at least 30 days notice when we're going to move out. So that all feels way better. No bad karma.

That's all I've got right now, folks. Hopefully I'll have even better news for you tomorrow.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

I'm glad I don't have to think of a number reference to go with "ten"

Okay, okay, ten days. That's not so bad. It's just rather alarming to think about the shift in The Plan that went down in those ten days. Here's the scoop:

We've lived in this house for almost three and a half years, renting from a very kind if absentee landlord (I'll call him MT). He bought the house for a steal right after the big tornado that damaged much of East Nashville, lived here for a little while and then moved to a farm south of town and rented this house out. He's definitely not a professional landlord, or someone particularly savvy in the real estate world. But he's very kind, and totally hands-off. Most of the time this works in our favor. He doesn't mind about our menagerie at all (he even suggested we get a dog when we moved in, because the backyard is fenced and we're so close to the park). When the tree fell on the house last year, MT let us choose the color of the replacement siding, which was fun, but also let me be the contact person for the contractors and insurance people, which was maybe not really my job.

But we haven't minded, we've acted like we owned this house the whole time, doing most small repairs ourselves, painting, installing ceiling fans, etc. And the plan has been the whole time to buy this house from MT. Two years ago, when the a/c went out in August, the repair company formally recommended that MT replace the whole system, and he said that he couldn't afford it right then but if we decided to buy the house, we could take the cost of a new HVAC system off the selling price. We've just basically been waiting for some sort of motivator to start the scary process of applying for a home loan, gathering a down payment, negotiating, etc. In the last year we've certainly been guilty of not pointing problems with the house out to MT, because we didn't want him to have to fix them, and also didn't want any repairs to increase the value of the house. We'd rather just wait and fix them ourselves as soon as it was ours. This especially applies to the bathroom floor, which is actively rotting out. The a/c system is having major traumas (the previously mentioned pouring of condensation onto the basement floor), and the hardwoods need refinishing sooner rather than later.

So two weeks ago, MT called and wanted me to know that he is considering a move to the east coast, and wants to sell the house before he leaves. He wanted reassurance that we still wanted to buy, and I very firmly told him YES. I told him we'd start the process of talking to banks, and get back to him. He mentioned that he had a friend who is a realtor, and when it came time to put together contracts she was going to help. I said that was fine. We still didn't talk about price, but Austin and I already had an idea in our minds. We had paid for a private appraisal in March so we would have an idea of what to offer, after taking approx $10k off for the HVAC replacement. It seemed like everyone was on the same page, and we were excited to have a reason to move forward with the home buying process, and also pleased that now MT was motivated to sell, which would hopefully make the whole transaction go quickly with minimal negotiation.

So imagine my surprise when a woman called me a week later (last Thursday the 31st) introducing herself as MT's realtor, and letting me know that she had prepared a private listing on the house, just for the purpose of our purchase. She assured me that there would be no listing on MLS, no sign in the lawn, no lock box on the door. The listing was just for our private transaction. What? Why would we need a listing if we were just going to offer MT our reasonable price, and he would just accept and we'd sign some paper? I tried to remain calm and asked her what price was on the listing. She named a number that was $60k more than our intended offer. WHAAAAT?

I told her the amount that the house had appraised for in March, and she sounded distinctly nonplussed. She asked if MT knew about this, and I told her no, we had just arranged for the appraisal privately so we would know any potential pitfalls in the house, and know a range for a reasonable offer. She quickly pointed out that a private appraisal was not the same thing as a bank appraisal, and I told her we were definitely aware of that. She asked what comparables the appraiser had used to determine the price of the house, and I gave her the range that the 17 comparables he had found determined (it was still approx $20k less than her listing price, at the highest end of the range). She said that there had obviously been new sales in the area, and started listing three bedroom sales. I pointed out to her that the house cannot be technically listed as a three bedroom. The room where we sleep doesn't have a closet or central heat and air vents, and you can only enter it through another bedroom (the room we use for a dressing room). Therefore, not technically a bedroom, it can only be listed as an office or a nursery. She says, "Well, that's debatable." NO. It's not so much debatable as real estate law.

Ugh. So I hung up the phone with her, letting her know that we had appointments at banks the NEXT DAY to talk about financing, and that I would contact her as soon as we knew more. Reported all this drama to Austin and my sisters, and we decided to go ahead with the meetings at the banks, and hope that MT would accept our much lower offer and just decide to move on. It seemed to us that his "friend" the realtor had accepted his request for help and then decided to turn the whole transaction into a commission for her, and maybe MT was just being taken advantage of and would be glad for our offer and that would be that.

But that is definitely the moment that the niggling doubt turned into something in the forefront of our minds. I remembered that night we discovered the water pouring out of the a/c system into the basement, and when I was walking back up the stairs looking at the total decay that is our basement, I thought for just a tiny second, "I don't want to deal with this." And the next day, when I was telling a coworker about the situation, he said, "Don't buy that house."

So we went to the banks, and were told, essentially, "Don't buy that house." Bank #1 told us that we basically were only qualified for an FHA loan, based on today's current market and most lenders not wanting to loan to anyone without solid homeowner history. A conventional loan would involve a big down payment as well as matching amounts of assets that we do not have. And in talking about our house, and all the things we wanted to fix about it, Banker #1 started to think that the house wouldn't pass an FHA inspection. He wanted to encourage us to start looking around the market; he said there were tons of great houses in our price range that don't have the problems that our current home does. He was very pleased with our credit scores and histories, and said we qualified for homes way above our price range.

After that meeting I took Austin to work and went looking for Casey. She wasn't at home, but Dad was there, working on her roof. I sat down with him and told him the whole story, and how I was trying to reconcile all this new information inside my head. The idea of NOT buying our house was brand new, and the thought of suddenly househunting was terrifying. Then my dad did the strangest thing: he gave me fatherly advice. In fact, it wasn't just fatherly advice, it was a very firm fatherly lecture. He said that ever since we'd been talking about buying this house, he thought it was a bad idea. He thinks that it will continue to have problems, and we weren't going to want to deal with them. He said that the amount of renovations we would eventually need to do would be disruptive and make life really hard for a while. He pointed out (extremely incisively) that neither Austin nor I are Home Improvement People, we both work full-time jobs, we have neither the skills nor the interest in renovating a house. He said that there are larger issues with a house that has been built out bit-by-bit that would possibly make it NEVER qualify for FHA financing. He said that if we had our hearts set on it, he would be with us every step of the way, but suggested that we get online and start looking at houses in our price range and see how nice they were and how we would feel about them.

So, whoa. All the sudden we were househunting. We met with Bank #2 and it was the same story as Bank #1. Banker #2 heard our story and laughed at the "listing" price on our current house and talked about how much she loves East Nashville and how many great houses were over here right now. She also told us that we qualified for much more expensive houses than we could afford, which I guess is comforting but also terrifying. She walked us through a Good Faith Estimate, including what we could expect to pay in down payments and closing costs, and it was all very educational. And becoming less scary by the minute.

So we went home and got on Realtracs. We went to Leia and Richie's house, where Richie already had MLS listings pulled up for dozens of homes he liked for us. We drove around Rosebank and Inglewood and Eastwood Neighbors and wrote down addresses and got a little lost. The next day we made lists of houses we'd seen online and drove around trying to find them. Monday we hired a realtor and gave him a list of thirteen houses we had seen and really liked. Thursday we got to look at six of them, mostly in the Inglewood neighborhood, and really really liked one of them. Then yesterday we went and looked at the other five on the list (we'd already eliminated two, one that was a duplex and one with a POOL that already had a contract on it, boooo) and found another house we felt great about in a neighborhood we did NOT feel great about. We started to feel like we had a first, second and third choice. Then we went back to the house from Thursday (on Wayne), and met the current owners, who told us point blank that the price was negotiable. The owner is starting a job in Texas on the 25th of this month, and is extremely motivated to sell. We poked around every corner of the house, took a ton of pictures, and even started talking about where our furniture would go.

So now what? Hopefully C & T are coming over today to look at the places we are interested in, especially the house on Wayne, and give us their opinions about neighborhoods, etc. I'm trying to get Dad to crawl out of his hollow and come up to take a look as well, because I don't think we'd buy a house until he got to kick the proverbial tires, inspect crawl spaces, bang on pipes, etc. But after that? Maybe we're going to put in an offer, possibly as early as this week. We got a crazy idea that since these current owners have to be out soon, and we would have to give 30 days notice on vacating our house, we would have a few weeks to make adjustments (paint and rip up carpet, etc) before we needed to occupy the space. It's an exciting thought, and gets more exciting the more we talk about it. I'll post pictures as soon as we think it's a good idea, and I'll keep you posted, in brief, now that I have the full story out.

Wish us luck!