Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Paper Submitted!

Accomplished something academic this summer.
Short and sweet. "Rethinking A Change of Heart"

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Moving Part 4 - House Hunting

When you watch the shows about house hunting it looks really fun. It is fun when you are very casually looking at a neighborhood, crashing someone's open house, or playing around on the web.
It is not fun when you are actually crunching numbers. When you are going over similar ugly house after similar ugly house over and over and over again. How many split level ranches with tiny bathrooms are there in this town!
Then there is the driving. We had some idea what neighborhoods we liked, but driving through them, with the kids, has proven mostly unpleasant and prone to frustrated bouts begin the spouses.
A couple times the kids got in the spirit of house hunting. As we were driving through one neighbor Will and Sophie started asking each other. "What do you think of this house?" "I like it." "Ooh look at this house." " I don't like it." These weren't actually properties we were looking at,just houses on the street we were driving. Still, they are getting something.

There are some cool looking neighborhoods, either too expensive, or the houses are just too old and in need to too much renovation (my ideal amount of renovation is ZERO). There are some very nice houses but mostly miles from civilization, on barren plots of land, on land barely bigger than house itself. We know the kind of neighborhood we don't want (ours), so we need to improve there. My experiences with the doors, cabinets, faucets and the like, make me question and renovations, so it is often strangely heart wrenching to find a good looking house on the web, track it to the location, fall in love with the exterior, walk inside and have all hopes dashed by the tiny dark kitchen with no cabinet space, or the dank master baths with a grimy shower and single sink. I really fell for this eclectic house in the coolest neighborhood. Even after seeing the inside, I was not totally without hope. We'd have to knock out some walls in the kitchen, add cabinets and a pantry. Pull up the carpet and redo the floors. Then the big project, build a bedroom over the garage, with new bathroom, big closets etc... A year long project and another $100K would have done it. It is still in my 'maybe' folder.
I tend to fall in love with either the exterior or interior (or land) and try to make excuses for the rest. Sure it isn't the most attractive neighborhood, but we spend most of our time inside anyways. Or Sure it needs work, but once we do, think of the resale!
My current love is a nice house (no garage, but hey, plenty of parking!) big on a nice piece of land with funky neighbors. We go inside tomorrow and I await the fatal flaw. We shall see.

Moving Part 3 - Slave to the phone

Getting the house in a pre-show state is not that difficult. You get into a routine. We don't let dishes sit and dry, we hand dry them. We don't wait until later to pick up toys, clean the kitchen, clear off the tables, make the beds. We do all of that as soon as we can. And for the most part this works pretty well. When we get the call (sometimes 12 hours in advance, often 30 minutes) we get the kids ready, swiffer the floors, check the bathrooms, check the litter, clear out the sink and motor away. no problem.
Well, okay some problems.
  1. Chicken, as I may have mentioned, is pretty sick and routinely vomits or had diarrhea, often on the carpet, or the wood floors, but most likely a few inches from his litter box just not quite able to make it. So, we are being pretty good about following him with a scrub brush, and keeping extra carpet cleaner, Oust Air Freshener etc.. I still live in fear about coming home to find a big poo in the center of our bedroom and a little note from the no longer buyer. So far it hasn't happened. One time we forgot something, returned, and I found both a vomit and poop but was able to clean it up before the buyers arrived. Hopefully the smell wasn't too bad.
  2. Away time. So normally a showing takes an hour, but averaging as we have 2 to 3 showings a day, we frequently find ourselves with two hours or move to kill. Sometimes we get one person at 11-12 and another from 1 to 2. Is it worth coming home, potentially making a mess, and then leaving in time or staying out to 2?
    Sophie and Will normally nap from 1 to 3 or so. So that time is especially hard to be out during. If we have to wake them to get out, it is even worse. The Carolina summer reaches 100 degrees and 90% humidity. So, outdoor fun is limited to short spurts. We've been using some of this time to visit neighborhoods we might want to live in. It is slow and boring for the kids (who are really good for the most part, and listen to their books on tape in the car). And it is pretty frustrating for us too (see part 4).
    The most popular time for showing the house is 6-7pm. This would normally be end of dinner, bath and bedtime for the kids. A little later for bed is no big deal, but the mixed p schedule is getting to them, and us. We ate dinner in our house once in the last seven nights. We are slowly exhausting the variety of foods available in our price range and kid tolerance. We've also probably put on several pounds doing this. Right before a beach vacation! It sucks not being able to schedule your time, especially for food, naps and baths (which are now rushed things much to the kids displeasure, they love bath time). Carly and I are wrecks.
    When we start to head back to our home, we have to call our voicemail to make sure another showing was scheduled in our absence. This had happened more than once resulting in us driving around, usually in the darkening day just killing time. Once a couple went over their allotted time and we basically drove back and forth waiting for them them to drive off. It is getting old fast, Friday (vacation) cannot come fast enough. We did, after showing the house fourteen times, decide we could put a blackout time for naps on our schedule. So now we get a two hour break in the day. That should make it a little less hectic.
So far the feedback has been good. Two offers (lower than we wanted) in one week. Fifteen shows. One return show. All pretty good news. Who knows we might even have a contract before we leave on vacation! Well we'll see about that.


Moving Part 2 - Prepping

What does it take to sell a house? We've watched a lot of those HGTV TLC shows about house flipping, sales and the like. So we felt reasonable prepared for what would be expected of us. Our first plan was to complete the work before our trip to California, and let the house show itself without us in it. It as a good plan. Sadly we completed our work well before, and figured we might as well start showing immediately.
Here are the top ten bits of advice from HGTV:
  1. Make the front entrance inviting. ------------> Added a nice flowering plant to patio
  2. Clear away clutter.------------------------------>Did we mention the 70% house clearing?
  3. Clean the house thoroughly.------------------->Two kids.
  4. Freshen the appearance of rooms.------------> New paint, throw pillows (why do people want these pillows that you don't even use?)
  5. Arrange furniture for spaciousness.----------> Like a roller rink in our house.
  6. Do all you can to reduce odors.--------------->Did I mention our cat has chronic diarrhea? Originally, the plan was to kennel him while we were gone, and the house was being shown.
  7. Perform all minor repairs, if necessary.----->We dropped a clock on the kitchen faucet trying to spruce up the look, and that took way too long to fix. And then there was the closet maid shelves that picked this week to collapse.
  8. Replace outdated light fixtures.--------------->Ironically this had to be reversed. We added fluorescent bulbs in most of the house, but because many of our switches are on dimmers these bulbs would hum or make other odd noises. So, for now we had install old fashioned incandescents.
  9. Clean the carpeting.----------------------------->Originally, when we were quoted $800, we'd planned on replacing the carpet left in our house (mostly laminate wood floors). But when that price nearly doubled, we opted for a Drycleaning service instead. It isn't perfect, but hey.
  10. Don't forget the garage and basement.--------> I forgot. We have neither.
So we are in pretty good shape. At first we needed a good hour to get the place in order to leave and let people look at it. Now, we've got it down to about 5 minutes.


Moving Part 1 - Are we crazy?

Having decided to move, we first set about fixing those things we knew were wrong with the house. There was a shingle loose, a bit of rotten siding (damn you masonite!), a stair railing on the front porch that needed replacement.
We also looked into painting inside and out, and getting new carpeting. We had this excellent plan for painting the inside of the house while Carly and the kids were down at the beach at my aunt and uncle's place. But it meant acting quickly, we thought, given the siding issues, it might be best to paint the outside as well, so we signed on to the first paint crew that was able to promise completion before the kids got back. It was a day or two later that we met with a realtor who didn't think the house needed painting. Oh well. What is a couple thousand dollars.
At the time, I was pissed we hadn't scheduled the meeting with the realtor first. But in retrospect, I am not sad we painted when we did. I think it is adding to the resale, if only by making the house more attractive than our neighbors.
As that was happening we rented a PODS which is a big crate you fill with stuff and they haul away, allegedly to a warehouse so you can retrieve it later. We tried to put as much of our stuff in there as we could live without. It took a long time. If you've never moved boxes in the afternoons, during a summer in the South, well, you've never really sweat. Especially clearing the attic. But, the house is considerably lighter. I would say we got rid of about a 5th of our stuff (to goodwill mostly), threw away another 5th and put half of the left over in storage. There are no mathematics available to represent the amount left over. Sadly.
The house was painted inside and out. The repairs were completed without much ado (however see below). And it looks great. We were done in time to start showing the house considerably earlier than we originally planned.
Some snags.
We decided to paint our kitchen but feared the painters would not remove the wall paper. So we did it. What fun! Nothing like holding a wall paper steamer (in the Southern Summer) while balanced on the countertops. I ended up scraping away a quarter inch of drywall in my enthusiasm, but ultimately it did the trick. I felt pretty foolish when I saw the big gash on the wall, and began to question whether I was the do-it-yourself kind of guy.
We also had to come out and fix the door Carly installed when we first moved in. The master bath has doorways inside to the vanity and shower area. But there was only one door, originally to the shower/toilet area, so Carly moved that door to the bath entrance to allow early risers (I think she got up at 5:30 those days) to use the bathroom without flooding the bedroom with light. Anyway, she bought another door and installed it herself. This included mounting the door and installing all the hardware, and drilling the hole for the doornob. So pretty impressive all things considered. However, the door she bought was a quarter inch too wide for the doorway, so for five years it has never closed all the way. Oh well, no biggie, it is really just meant for a little privacy. Of course, now that we were selling the house, that needed to be fixed. So we looked around. Interior door can run as much as $150 and most of them won't be cut or measured, or given hardware. So that sucked.
But we went to the Habitat for Humanity Reclaim center and found a used door ($25) that seemed like it would fit. We did the whole operation to get it installed. And no, it wouldn't fit. So we went back, and tried again. Still no luck. Our confidence in our abilities was waning rapidly. Eventually my cousin's husband Andy came by and planed the door down, and helped line up the hardware. I painted it and went to hang it, and it still wouldn't close and lock. It would close, but not lock. The lock was half and inch off. Sigh. I took out my router and played with it a little until voila! the door would shut and lock. A small success after many many fumbles. Remember that every trip to Habitat or Home Depot means lugging two kids in 98 degree weather, so every little extra step seemed agonizing.
Andy and I fixed the storage room door with speed and reasonable precision, so long as don't look too closely.
Years ago I was toasting some pita with oil and the toaster oven caught fire. I was able to extinguish the blaze with mostly cosmetic damage. On one of our laminated cabinet doors the laminate bubbles and shrunk from the fire, but we figured we'd get around to fixing it some day. I spent hours calling, trolling the interwebs, and driving from one home store to another, from one cabinet maker to another trying to find a replacement door. The results. They don't make them, can't fix them, and generally would prefer that I stand somewhere else unless I was serious about remodeling the whole kitchen.
However, having stared at the door for countless hours, I eventually decided I might make a repair of my own. My initial though smacked of homeopathy. If fire did the damage, surely heat could repair it! So I planned this complex use of a clothes iron, and various other implements to coax the laminate back into place. Part of me still thinks that might of worked. But instead I opted for Gorilla Glue and strapping tape. It took three tries, but the damage is pretty much invisible, and certainly no worse than the wear elsewhere in the kitchen. I consider this, my greatest victory in the realm of home repair.
By July 1st, we had the house in reasonable shape, the POD people came to take the PODS away. Carly had spent many dark evenings in the garden and doing other landscaping so the house had real "curb appeal." And we were ready to roll. Well, the house was ready, we were panicking. Nevertheless we met with the realtor, settled on an embarrassing low asking price (given what we just put into the house, and what we originally paid for it). That Monday we put out the sign, and opened the doors to strangers.


Interlude in the Silence

The silence of last month has been intentional. I will explain all in time young jedis. But, I thought I would share a brief interlude about dining at an 'Asian' themed restaurant (that is all of Asia, not China, Thailand, Japan, etc..). The place Pei Wei (the discount franchise of P.F. Chang's monster franchise).
They include 'kids' chop stick helpers so the little ones can take a stab at using chopsticks with their Asian themed foods.
Will referred to them as "ChompSticks" which was very cute.

He actually did a pretty good job, Sophie too was able to nab a few bits of chicken and rice.
When they finished the meal, they got fortune cookies, Will held his gingerly in one hand and gently rapped it against the table, like on trying to crack an egg without losing the yolk. He immediately demanded to know what his "tag" said.

We've had dinner out six of the last seven nights, and most lunches too. This all has to do with the big silence. So I will say no more. News soon.