We're building a house. Can't be that hard, right?

We're embarking on a home building expedition, and here's what we have to say about it!

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Better News!

Yesterday, we received some good news on the home front!

Steve the Builder emailed us the final cost specs for the house with our changes and additions. Everything looked great. A few things bumped up the price a bit, but not by a lot and not by any amount that would make us rethink anything. Probably won't change the mortgage payments by any more than a few dollars a month. That's good news!

The 'dog-eared' dormer was our big wild card, and that was a lot cheaper than we thought. Which is great because that will save us a lot of money in the future when we finally get around to expanding the master bedroom.

He approved the french doors to the study, the knee wall in the kitchen, the hardwood throughout the kitchen, dining room, foyer and study, the window seat in the study, the closet in the laundry room, the molding and wainscoting in the dining room, the molding in the study, the mudroom addition, the expansion on the deck to accommodate the mudroom and the extra windows. And only about half of that cost us anything extra. Yaaaaay!
The best part, we were able to get our real fireplace! No wood-burning stove, but that's OK. As long as we have a place to have a real fire in the winters. The questions we had circled around codes and masonry and positioning and chimney height and we were worried we wouldn't be able to have a fireplace.

The builder and real estate agent recommended a gas stove, but we didn't want that. We have it now and it's very expensive in the winter, it constantly has an open flame and while it does give off heat, it's still a big hit to your gas bill. We really wanted a real fireplace (which has been done in the development before).

Steve the Builder had to do some research for us since he hadn't put many real ones in and he also knew that codes were changing in June.

Luckily, he gave us 2 choices and a lot of information about both. The first, was a traditional masonry fireplace. This would have been a great choice but with the higher ceilings and an attic, the chimney would have had to go REALLY high (and would have had to clear the roof by a certain distance) and we might have even lost a foot or two from the two upstairs bedrooms that were right above where we wanted the fireplace. That would have cost us close to $9K! Yikes!

Good thing there was another option! Here's the picture Steve sent us:

For about 1/4 the price. It's a real fireplace, but instead of a chimney, it's a pipe, like a wood stove. It's called (ready for this one?) The Heatilator (imagine a deep voice with an echo saying that...like a superhero). You can build it right into the wall as long as it's insulated and it won't take up more space. It's a little smaller, but works the same and claims to be easy to clean, too. Instead of an expensive brick chimney, you can build the casing around the pipe on the outside of the house so it looks like a chimney, but is sided just like the rest of the house.

Real fire, no extra cost, no loss of space in the bedrooms and a nice neat siding covered pipe going up the house.


That's some good news for the week!

Now, Steve and John the Real Estate Agent are drafting our Purchase and Sale agreement and we should have that in the next few days. Once it's signed and the condo is sold, they'll start digging! 

Condo goes on the market next week...fingers crossed!

Friday, May 21, 2010

A Bump in the Road

We have our first bump in the road to new homeownership. It's not on Ridgewood Street, nope. The streets of Ridgewood are perfectly flat, always sunny, lined in gold, and magically light up under your feet like the "Billy Jean" Michael Jackson video.  Seriously! And all the neighbors are nice, there are no crazy dogs running loose and your driveway shovels itself.

Our bump has to do with our very lovely condo. Yes, there is some sarcasm there. Three years ago, the housing market was at its highest. We were just starting to look for a home and knew we needed to either get a new apartment (2 years in Watertown's oldest home was enough), or buy a place.

Conventional wisdom says if you can afford to buy, buy! You are building your credit, equity, a financial foundation, you aren't throwing money away by renting, blah, blah, blah.  Even if you don't get your dream home, you can start modestly, do some updating, stick around for your mortgage balance to go down and then sell for a nice profit and move into your dream home.

Sounds like a plan, right?

Enter 2008/9 and the giant economical crash that pretty much dream crushed its way into the 2010s. Suddenly, home prices are way down, people are defaulting on mortgages, lenders are getting tougher, stocks and 401Ks are falling and those of us lucky enough to keep our jobs, are getting little to no raises for this year, last year, and probably next year.

So why in the world would we be building a house now??

Good question. Half the answer is because home prices are low and we'll get a great house for much less money that what we would have paid 3 years ago. And since we don't plan on moving, ever again, it's a good investment regardless of what the market does over the next 50 years.

The other half is we sort of have to...Kyle is getting bigger and our 4 room condo (5 counting the basement) is getting smaller and smaller. If we ever want baby #2, we need a bigger place. It's time!

We do have a few things on our side. We thought hard about each decision we made in the last 4 years, especially financial decisions (thanks to a banker Dad and a husband who went to a business school, money management was pretty easy for me!) We're in no way rich, but we were smart enough to buy within our means, were comfortable with our 1300 square feet mortgage payment, were able to save a little, took work bonuses (however small) and paid off as much debt as we could and kept our eyes on the housing market, knowing that it would level off at some point.

I am a champion coupon clipper (years of watching Mom!), very rarely pay full price for anything, and signed up for every store rewards program so I'm always getting deals. I also belong to a lot of survey websites that pay you for your opinion. Not a lot, but I made about $200 last year in points and was able to buy John and Kyle some pretty good Christmas extras.  I save an average of about $25 at the grocery store EVERY time I go, that's about $650 a year, and I hardly ever shop for myself anymore.

We also invested into our place by doing things like having our basement finished by a good friend who did an amazing job and helped us out on the price (thanks Billy!). We tiled above the showers in our bathrooms to protect the walls, back splashed the kitchen and added more recessed lighting in the living room. All done by friends, or family recommendations, so we got great prices on everything. Our sole intention was to make this condo so irresistible that it would sell fast and high when the time came.

It sounds like we're in a great place, right?

On the new house side, yes. The bank was extremely impressed with our debt to income ratio and we are approved for the new home at a good interest rate.

However...and here's the bump. Our condo is no where near the value it was when we bought it. Well, the value is high because of all of our extras and new additions, but the price is low thanks to the economic situations we are all living through now.

There's a chance we will lose money on our condo. :( (BIG SAD FACE). Like I said, we were smart and do have some savings, but the more we have to pay to get rid of our stupid condo, the less we have for our down payment, which affects the mortgage.

Our plan (I say plan like WE devised it, but no, it's really what we are being forced to deal with) is now to sell the condo for as much as we can, which will still be about $25K LESS that what we bought it for, and then paying anywhere from $5 to 10K out of pocket for closing costs/fees etc.  Bye-bye money invested in the actual purchase of the condo and in all the home improvements we made. Now, we're going to have to spend the 6 months it takes to build the new house scrimping and saving every single penny to make that money back.

It also changes our temporary housing plans. Since we have to have a sign P&S on the condo before Steve the Builder will start building, there's going to be between 5-8 months where we'll be homeless. We were going to rent a smaller place for way less than our mortgage, save a few hundred a month and use the condo profits for our closing costs etc. Then, the money we saved would be for things like furniture, moving costs, storage, painting, a lawnmower, etc. You know, house stuff.

Now, it's looking like we'll need to save a lot more in the next 6 months. This means, we'll probably be moving in with my parents! Crowded house! My Dad thinks it would be good enough for a reality show. I don't totally disagree... Hey, if it pays the bills, come on in with your cameras! (OK, not really, I would hurl myself off a bridge if I turned out like any of these Heidi Montag, Tila Tequila, Kate Plus 8 reality weirdos).

All complaining aside, we are VERY lucky to have been smart enough to save and invest so this can still happen. If this were last year, or if we had not been careful, this wouldn't be a "this sucks" post, it would be a "this is over" post. Yuck.

We are also extremely lucky that my parents have a house big enough for 5 adults and a baby. And, that they OFFERED to let us stay! They are asking for the insanity that is the Brinegar child. Kyle is cute, but boy, can he mess up a house fast! :)   Captain Chaos is an appropriate nickname in so many ways.

As of now, we are going to list our condo on June 1, and hope for a quick offer that's MORE than what's left on the mortgage. Cross your fingers everyone!

(In the meantime, I'm checking out cool black and white photos of Boston landmarks for the new place! Gotta stay optimistic!)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

And now, for the interior!

Since you've now seen the lovely artist's rendering of the front of our new house, I'll show you some of the inside.

It's pretty boring, but at least you'll get an idea of what it might someday look like.  This is the first floor:
We have made a few changes already with the builder. First, we are moving the bathroom down about 4 feet and adding a small mudroom. It takes about 18 inches off the kitchen, but will be a great place for muddy boots, coats, running shoes and anything we'd rather not track through the house.

We'll get a cute bench and some wall hooks for that little area.

Second, we added a knee wall in between the kitchen and living room. It's probably about 7-8 feet long and offers a good separation between the kitchen and family room while keeping the feel of an open floor plan.

Third, we have asked for one of two things. We asked that either...the fireplace be moved to the right side wall in between the two windows, or for the fireplace to be exchanged for a wood burning stove that would sit in the corner by the wall that backs into the study. We are waiting to hear back from the builder on that. I guess fire place codes are changing in June so he's not quite sure which option we will be able to go with. We'll find out soon. I really am hoping for the corner stove, but we'll see!

And, forth, we have asked for the doorway to the study to be expanded for a double door. Cute! We hope to get doors with glass cut outs. Should be fun! Oh, and that cute pop out window in the front of the study is going to be a window seat. At 'butt height'. Seriously. Steve the Builder actually had to ask. He had an older couple opt for the window seat and they requested 'dog height' so their little mop of a dog could sit on the seat and see out the window. It was about 4 feet high! Way too high for a seat. He made sure we wanted butt height, not dog height.

After making all these changes, I wanted to see on paper what it really looked like. In all our excitement, we forgot to ask Steve the Builder to print us a copy. So, I googled 'room planner' and found a bunch of websited where you can plan your room. Furniture and everything, down the to inch. This on seemed to be the best: http://www.bassettfurniture.com/.
How does that look? Not bad, I think... it took me about 45 minutes today at work. Don't tell my manager... :)

Next is the upstairs:

For this, we really didn't change much. But, the small changes are a little complicated...

If you look closely, you'll see that there's a big chunk of room on the far left of the drawing that's marked as "unfinished attic"  It's really not attic space because it's not above the second floor and there already is an attic above. It's the space over the garage, which is not heated and has no plumbing/electirc or anything. You can already see the master bedroom and the other 3 bedrooms. But...what some people have been asking, is for the space above the garage to be used. It can be pretty expensive to do during the construction because it's not built in to the price of the house. Steve and his builders will now dormer it during construction (which doesn't cost anything at all, you are just raising up the roof a little) so that in the future, it can be expanded into a master suite.

We have opted for that! In order to do that, you need to push the closet and master bath over about 2 feet (I don't know why, but that's what they said!) which makes your laundry room about 2 feet wider. We decided that because the laundry room is wider, we are putting a closet against the back wall that will run lengthwise and we are moving the window that's there to the back of what will be the master suite. It will sit along side another window we have asked to add. The additional windows only cost us about $150, and since we've only asked for 2 extra so far, Steve is not charging us.

We have also asked for what's called a 'dog-eared' dormer in the front. It's basically a pop out double window that will probably someday be a  reading corner or something. Here's a picture of another house with that option already built in:

 Forget the rest of the picture, this is a totally different house. But see the 2 windows on the top of the garage (it's a side facing garage so that's why it's only 2 window and not the garage doors).

That's what it will look like above our garage.

For the first few years we live there, it will be decoration from the outside only. Then, someday we'll expand into that space and create a 5th bedroom.

Five bedrooms sounds like a lot, but if you look closely at the drawing of the second floor, that '4th' bedroom is REALLY small. In talking, they've been calling it an office or nursery. It's cute, but tiny. My guess is about 7x9 or so. After expanding, we'd have a true 4-bedroom house with an office.

I have not taken a stab at designing the upstairs using Bassett's website yet, but I just might if I get bored later this week!

Thanks to the generosity and foresight of Steve and his contractors, all we'll really have to do someday to have an awesome master suite, is get an electrician in there, wall it up and finish the flooring. Sounds easy. And we love having something to look forward to and work towards. Maybe someday I'll write about my big ideas for that room :) 

One of the things we liked so much about this house model (it's called the Marie), is that while it's already a great house, there is room for a few small expansions down the road.

We can also add a front porch to the house, but that's another big cost up front, so we'll wait on that. There's no prep work for that, so we'll just keep that in our back pockets for some other day (or year!)

Monday, May 17, 2010

Welcome to our blog!

This is my first blog post. Exciting, isn't it?

Here's a little background.

John and I got married on May 19, 2006. We lived in a 2 BR apartment in Watertown for 2 years (one pre-marriage and one post-marriage). After one too many drafty winters, scraping ice off the shampoo bottles in the shower, trying to block the drafts from all the window with curtains and towels, we started house hunting. This, of course, was in the height of home prices and there was very little to chose from in our price range. They were either too small but nice (and by too small I mean literally too small, in some cases all of John's 6 ft 2 inches couldn't walk through doorways!) or they were big, but needed a TON of work. We knew we wouldn't stay in this first place much more than 3-5 years so we settled on a condo. Big rooms, high ceilings, decent area and it was still being built so we got to chose the carpets, floorings, counter tops etc.

On Saturday, May 19, 2007, we moved into our new condo. Not many people can top that first anniversary! Nothing like a nice dinner of pizza on paper plates and boxes everywhere!

Skip ahead 18 months, and on November 9, 2008, Kyle Parker Brinegar was born:
And, our guest bedroom was lost. We had very quickly used up all of our space! This little guy has a lot of crap!

We slowly started thinking about moving. We saw a few houses in the spring of 2009, and just didn't like anything. We needed to pay off more of our condo since the market came crashing down and we were afraid we wouldn't make any money. (Good thinking on waiting!) After some discouragement, we put off looking for about 6-8 months.

In spring 2010 we picked back up. We saw a few houses that were much more in line with what we wanted, and apparently, everyone else, too. We saw two homes that were snatched up within days of us looking at them. Yikes! We didn't want to rush with a purchase of that much weight, but the good places were getting scooped up fast!

We started talking about our house 'finding us'. I was very confident that a perfect house was going to just drop right into our laps. John was a little more skeptical. He tends to be a little more grounded and realistic, where I truly believe that anything that is meant to be, will be. Those two homes that someone else bought? No problem. They were not our house. John was a little more disappointed than I was, but after some good karma preaching by me, John was swayed into believing that our house just hadn't found us yet.

And then, it did.

Sort of. A little baby of a house found us. It was such a baby, it was only a drawing. :)

Want to see it? Here it is:

Haha, OK, not the best construction or landscaping, but we'll work on that.

Here are the pictures of what we hope it will look like someday:

We haven't decided on a color yet, and probably won't for awhile. We do know our lot is almost 16,000 square feet, it's lot #36 (not sure what street number that will be yet), it's almost 2,300 square feet inside and it sits on a great little road called Ridgewood Street. I think we'll be either 15 or 17 Ridgewood. Not bad!

And now, the incredibly confusing process of actually buying and building it has to start.

We've done a lot already, met with the real estate agent, John, (who happens to go to our church; that's got to be a sign from the Big Guy that this is our house!), got a commitment letter for the mortgage from the bank (good for about 6 months), met with the builder to talk about some minor changes to the house and to reserve the lot and put down a deposit on #36.

We've also met with an agent (John's wife, Margot) who is now in the process of listing our condo for sale.

Steve, the builder, can't start digging a hole until the condo has a signed purchase and sale agreement from the future buyers. We assume that might take about a month or so, maybe a little more. Once that happens, the backhoe (right? I have no idea about construction vehicles) starts digging.

Then what? Um, we become homeless. Yup, we're either back in an apartment, or shacking up with Mom and Dad. Eeek. That would be 5 adults and a baby in one house. Like my Dad says, it would be a great reality show.  I'm just not sure getting ready for work in the mornings is even possible with that many people. (tiny voice in my head...but think of all the MONEY you'll save!)

We'll see. It kind of all depends on the future condo buyers. If they want a 90 day closing, we might luck out. This house will be built in 6 months, and I can definitely handle staying with the 'rents for 3 months. No problem! No rent and babysitters? Definitely. But...if future owners want us out in 30 days...we have to go to an apartment. Then, we're really homeless for 6 months and I think our entire family would be very grateful if we lived in our own space for half a year.

A wrench to throw in there? Say the real estate gods are smiling on us and we are sold and a foundation is being dug by July 1. Count 6 months ahead. Go on, do it! I'm starting to hear sleigh bells and bad singing... That's right, it's Christmas. Who wants to move at Christmas time??! With a 2 year old???

Not us. We told Steve that and he totally agreed. It would just be too much. So, our tentative finish date is February 2011. Assuming our condo sells in the next 6-8 weeks. Which I think it will. It's a cute little place!

If we get really lucky, we might get an early January move-in date. That wouldn't be so bad, cold, but we'd have made it through the holidays.

We'll see. There's so much up in the air right now. I keep calling it 'a racket' because let's be honest. It is a little bit of a racket. First meeting, then reserving, then planning, then selling, then apartment hunting, then moving, then storing everything, then moving AGAIN...it's a racket.

But, the racket should result in an awesome new house that we will love forever.

Here's another picture of our dirt pile surrounded by two very cute homes. Sorry neighbors, we're working on prettying up the location!