Archive for the 'housing' Category

Zonings, Permits, Certificates, Oh My!

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

Being a homeowner has brought on some new and rewarding adventures – like calling the Building Inspections and Permits office to ask some innocent questions about building a barn on our property. The partner obsesses about the shackles of bureaucracy and gets so worked up worrying about what-if’s that he never really finds out what is what. So, to finally get some final (or somewhat more definitive) on our building prospects, I called up the permit office and began the department transfer dance.

The first question was about required property setbacks and I promptly got traded to the zoning department. Since our barn will not house animals, 200-400 foot setbacks are reduced to 5 foot (as long as the building is behind our house, no problem). Back to permits, I find out that since our property is less than an acres, our barn can’t be a barn and instead a storage shed. Fine, I agree, though that means more red tape and permit fees. Turns out a 30′ x 40′ “storage shed” will be less than $250.

Now, being worried about the new shed classification, I call the zoning office back and speak to another person — this guy is a little less friendly and spins an ominous air as he puts me on hold to check our specific zoning (agricultural). After assurances that this is a personal use shed, he gives me the same 5-foot setbacks and sends me merrily on my way. Before getting off the phone, I ask again, if there are any size or height restrictions and am again told no. “It can be as big as I want?”, “Yes, as long as it’s behind the house”. Sweet.

We’ve also been concerned about setbacks from our well, so I call up the Health Department too. I get the numbers, 25-feet from the week, 30-feet from the septic, and am feeling pretty content with my progress. Now, I want to take the mega tape measure and see just how much room that leaves us to build a shed (cause our well is near where we want to put the shed).

Also, while talking to the second zoning person, I verified the process needed to get a home occupancy certificate for my home sewing business — $25 will buy me 500-sq-feet usage of my home for my business, assuming that there is no excessive vehicle traffic. Too bad the guy didn’t seem to have much of a sense of humor and seemed a little annoyed at my quirky outburst, like “Ha, wish I had 500 sq feet available”.

DIY Decorating: Is painting really cost-effective?

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

Painting a room is often the quick, cheap decorating fix listed in books and magazines, but is that really the case? We just moved into a new house and my new craft room was dripping with old-lady style, hideous wallpaper and old molted brown carpeting. Having just bought the house, there wasn’t much cash for drastic improvements so I decided to give the old “just add paint” approach a try (photos at the end).

Painting seems like a simple choice until you consider the materials needed. Luckily, we had several on hand, but I’ll approximate their purchase value to give an approximate cost.

The project…
The room was 12×18 feet with three windows, one front door, and two entry ways. The carpet was removed (revealing rough, somewhat damaged plywood) and the walls stripped of wallpaper all the way down to bare plaster. Instead of installing another flooring option, such as new carpet or sheet vinyl, I decided to just paint the plywood floors to save some cash.

– med. paint brush, $10*
– paint roller, $15*
– 2 roller sleeves, $12 (one for plaster, one for floors)
– roller extension, $10*
– handheld paint pail, $10* (very nice to have)
– paint pail liners, $5* (very convenient)
– roller tray $8* (turned out to be a waste, the roller grid was much better)
– roller tray liners, $5*
– paint stirrer (attaches to drill), $4
– 5-in-1 painters tool (for cleaning rollers), $5
– paint brush comb (for cleaning brushes), $4
– paint roller grid, $3
– 5 gallon bucket, $6
– 5 gallons primer, $75 (used about 3 gallons)
– 2 gallons wall paint, $40 (used little more than 1 gallon)
– 2 gallons floor paint, $40 (used less than 1 gallon)
– 1 gallon trim paint, $22 (used 1/8 of a gallon)
– painters tape, $20 (this stuff is expensive)
*items I already owned

Cost of primer used: $45
Cost of paint used: $43

Total cost of supplies: $117
Total cost of paint/primer: $177 (but I only used $88 worth)

Total Price of Supplies and Paint: $294
Actual Cost factoring in paint used: $205
Amount Spent (excludes on hand items): $223

Overall Results…
I’m pleased with the price and outcome, spending about $200 on the room seems like the right price for what I got. We actually spent more because we used a product, Peel Away, to remove the lead-based paint from two of the windows before painting them. It was about $20-30 a window for the peel away and a very messy and labor intensive process (when it came time for cleanup). Lead abatement is my least favorite activity right now, but thats material for a post on the joys of older homes.

Time wise, I’d say that it took me 3 hours to remove the carpet, clean away the foam residue, and prep the floor for priming; 2 hours to remove all the wall paper and prep wall for painting; 2 hours to paint the walls; 1 hour to paint the floor; 1 hour to paint the trim; and 4 hours of cleanup; for a total of 13 hours of work. This doesn’t include necessary drying times between coats, the 3 hours per window for using the peel away, or the 2 hours per window for scraping the window sashes (which still need repainted and reinstalled).

More on the flooring…
I decided to paint the rough plywood floors to save some money. All of the decent vinyl flooring options I found were running at least $1.50/sq. foot with more acceptable options running around $2.00-$2.50. Also, since the plywood was damaged, I would need to replace it and add leveling compound if I wanted the new vinyl floor to last for a while.

The room is 216 sq. feet, the starting costs for vinyl ran from a total of $324 ($1.50 option) to $540 ($2.50 option) before factoring in replacing the plywood (which appears to be running around $10 a sheet, I think). Painting the floor for just under $45 in paint was clearly a better cost option for me.

To make the floors looks a little better than just painted plywood, I used a router and carved lines in it to give it the appearance of being a hardwood floor. It’s a cute faux floor look that masks the fact that it is just plywood. So far I’ve reived positive feedback from those who’ve seen it and I’m very happy with the results.

Before Picture:
Before Picture

After Picture:
After Picture

slowly spending

Tuesday, June 12th, 2007

We’re in an awkward spot at the moment – the partner and I have different things that we “need” for the house. He’s been spending money on some items that don’t rank very high on my need list and I’ve just been putting my scrounging mode into high gear. We talk about it, after I was getting a little nervous about the items that were showing up after short trips to the home stores. I think we’re at least on a similar wavelength now and will both be very conscious of the items that we’re buying.

It’s just way too easy to justify items when there is a need within the next few months to buy them and hard to figure out which items we should purchase now. This month’s budget is a little tight because of all the closing costs – next month, when we’re not paying rent and a mortgage payment, life will be a touch easier — just a touch.

Of course, after mentioning all these concerns about the partner’s spending, I’m heading over to a green building supply store this morning to check out some items for the house. I’ve already decided that if it is only $5 more for some earth/person friendly paint/finish products, then I’ll spend the money and get them there. However, I’m not sure what my plan is if they are $10+ more than the less desirable (though still high quality) items at the home stores.

I’m also checking out some alternative flooring options for the craft room. The problem with finding an acceptable option, is that I’ll then have to actually do a better job of installing it — something that isn’t in the cards now. Current craft room floor plan: ignore the hills and valleys and upward/downward slope and just throw down a large scrap piece of vinyl flooring. If I find a greener alternative to the vinyl, I’ll have to rip up unsalvageable underlayment and then spend a long time quasi-leveling the floor before installation. Green materials are the long term solution, remnant piece is short term.

I’m also hitting up all four local freecycle lists, a task in itself due to heavy volume. I have already found us some tomato plant solutions (a $20 savings)! I’ve not posted a wanted for a vinyl remnant, but am thinking about it. My goal is to be a green and thrifty as possible and reasonable!

Landed Gentry

Friday, June 8th, 2007

It looks like we’ve now joined another social circle, land-owning mongrels. :) Closing went beautifully, just a few thousand signatures and we’re the proud owners of an awesome 137 year old house – wow!

It didn’t really sink in yesterday but I woke up this morning thinking, we actually have a house! I’ve not been in it since buying it though because I decided to go to yoga instead. :) I needed some yoga to reconnect mind and body – my hand seemed to have forgotten not only how to write a date, but also how to write my name.

Wow, I’m excited! We’re going up there this evening to do who knows what. In the meantime, I need to get sewing – major customer project due on Sunday!

Here is a picture of Our House, oh what a beautiful phrase, taken last night:

Our House

I’ll enjoy the new house high and ignore the constantly increasing list of things we now need to do. Thats another post in itself and the serger is calling my name. Wow, a house!

Letting My Solar Powered Light Shine!

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

As the house purchase approaches, I feel my inner tree-hugging, environmentalist freak coming on. Funny thing is that I don’t typically feel much like an earth loving, granola-crunching hippie, but it seems that all of my latent Save the Planet emotions are welling up big time now that we’re about to own .85 acres of land.

My frugal fanaticism is pretty earth friendly, especially when I see no reason to spend to spend or to own to own. Reduce, reuse, recycle are common phrases uttered weekly in our house – whether I’m whipping leftovers into something new and exciting or painstakingly dividing recyclable materials from non-recyclable.

Homeownership is bringing new passion to these actions and feelings. I’m wondering if all the “someday I’ll do that” thoughts I had when reading about natural home products have now found their day. Even though I’ve been the first to grab up the strongest, chemical laden cleaning products around, I’m suddenly looking at more people and earth friendly products and homemade recipes to take care of things. I feel like I’ve oversung the praises of the clothes line and how we don’t need a stinkin clothes dryer anyways. The partner cringes when I start touting energy saving practices that will reduce, and maybe (hopefully) even eliminate, the need for air conditioning.

Also, as we’re (thinking about) packing, I’m thinking about the day to day life in the new house. Where things will go, how will we use items? Suddenly I’m getting uppity about trash. I recall listening to some very nature-loving friends a few years ago about how they generate only a few bags of trash a year, a year! How things are packaged influences every purchase decision they make – including airfare, they won’t fly with carriers whose waste and recycling actions don’t meet their standards. Secretly, they’ve been my heroes and I’ve thought time and again how I can do the same. And now, that day has come, and I want to make that happen.

Interest Rate Frustration

Tuesday, May 15th, 2007

Something about this house purchase has really been bugging me: our interest rate. We’re using a loan product that uses the partners credit scores (mid-to-high 700s) and yet we’ve got what we feel is a pretty lame rate: 7.15%. She argues that it is because of market conditions and has nothing to do with the credit scores (mine are in the mid-to-upper 600s now) or report data – but is that true?

This is frustrating. It seems like it is too late to find another broker and I’m really annoyed that the rate is so high. From looking at current rates, it seems like we’re getting the very short end of the stick here (or places haven’t been updating their rates). While we’ll just refinance as soon as we can, we may find that to be more difficult that we think if the current housing market continues to correct itself.

I think we’re stuck at this point with just a month left until closing – would you ditch your mortgage broker and try to find a better one? Seems like an insane idea, but 7.15% also feels rather insane too.

Loan approved! Woot!

Monday, May 14th, 2007

I just heard that our loan has been approved for the house, woohoo. Guess it just needs to pass the appraisal for the final go ahead. Yay, I’ll stop over stressing about that, though I still read plenty of horror stories where things were still dropped at the last minute, so until those keys are in hand, I’ll not be tooooo excited (just mostly excited).

Now for a staff meeting and I’ll be pretty swamped at work this week. However, I should have the middle of the week to take some time for updates.

Determining Financial Priorities

Friday, May 4th, 2007

I feel like I’m in a whirlpool of financial directions, every thing has it’s own individual course and nothing is overlapping, just spiraling instead. With the purchase of the house comes many new options, needs, and priorities. Where, what, and how will we approach these, consolidate them, make them work.

Not everything is a real need, merely wants dressed up and vying for attention. Most of them are my own constructs and I’m not sure where the partner stands on these issues. It seems that the house has been our decision, but everything beyond that is just individual assumptions not communicated. It is as though all of our shared energy ends at the contract negotiations and we’re too drained to talk about what will happen afterwards.

The issues/wants/needs that I’ve been mulling over:

  1. I stop working. When I decided to leave my full-time job and take a part-time position, I thought that it would be a temporary position. I figured that I’d work the part-time position until we moved into the new house and then just stop. What was I thinking?

    I was thinking that we’d buy less house and actually spend less per month on our mortgage than we’re paying in rent. Well, that isn’t happening and I’m okay with that, except quitting work isn’t as possible now.

  2. Build a Workshop. I’ve mentioned that we need a workshop. Buying a house without a garage really puts us in a jam. There are two small sheds on the property, one is quite cute, but neither can hold the weight of the partners “stuff!”. I want to just get one built, but it’ll be some serious cash. I’ve pushed the partner to find out how much cash, but we’re both unsure of where to even start in looking up that stuff.
  3. Expand the family. Having another child has been really pushing on my mind lately. It’s an on-again-off-again feeling of a couple of intense months wanting a kid and a few more refusing the thought of another kid. Since I’m on the upswing of desire, I want to add this to not working. But, babies cost money — or at least thats what some people want you to believe (another post on this another time).
  4. Repairs/Updates/Furniture: The house will need a variety of repairs and many of them fall within the restoration range. We could go about doing restoration work on this house, but that does increase costs in some places. There are some tax incentives for doing restoration on an old house, but I’ve not read up on more recent laws and the book I’m currently reading only talks about restoration of commercial properties. Perhaps this only applies to commercial/income-producing properties still.

The partner and I need to talk about these things, but we are too tired to add more to our day. So much going on, not enough time to deal with it all.

House Moving Forward: Creep and Crawl

Thursday, May 3rd, 2007

Buying a house sure seems to take a while. Dealing with an estate takes even longer. Throw in the fact that the place is really old and more creeping, crawling pace ensues. We’re finally at the moving forward post home inspection and termite inspection. Good news is that there are no live termites and the sellers will pay for treatment. However, there is some evidence of some previous damage and the purchase price will drop $4,000 to cover the repairs that may be needed at some point (ha! $4,000 feels like nothing).

However, my concerns on the structural stuff haven’t been met and I guess it’s time to get over it. I’ve fussed a great deal and it seems to have gotten no where, but I’m not at the point of fussing that I’ll say that we need to walk. There are two more inspections, water and septic, and I’m hoping they go much faster. However, I’m not too happy about the $1K we’ll be spending on them, sheesh!

So, I’m somewhat disappointed in the house, but only because I really wanted to press the structural issues some more. But, the house is priced as such that it has problems, so I guess that I should just be content with that. I’ve done lots and lots of research on fixing the problem (as I estimate it to be) seems much easier than I originally thought. Yeah, structural work is a major project, but amazingly it can be a do-it-yourself project if you actually know what you’re doing. So, we can take our get-to-it motivation with a little support from our wealth of personal relationship resources, and take care of it. In the meantime, it ain’t going anywhere.

So now, I’m working to move past the disappointment in not getting the repairs (aka price reduction) I wanted and on to getting re-excited about the house. And, suddenly more financial issues crop up — like what are we going to do with the partner’s stuff.

This property doesn’t have a garage, a major negative point, and we have to get all those heavy machines out of their current location (they’ve seriously over-stayed their welcome at this point). I want to just find out how much it’ll be and work out a way to come up with some more cash (maybe 5K is enough) and get it built. The partner admires his buddy’s method of piecing together a shop by finding all the elements and putting together bit by bit — we ain’t go time for bit by bit, get it built, get it done!

Lets not use the air conditioner!

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007

I rattled this idea off to the partner, last night, as we were pulling the flannel sheets off the bed and putting on a cooler set. No, it wasn’t about saving money, it was about getting acclimated. We were pretty toasty before crawling in bed thanks to the upstairs always being so warm, the before bed walk, and an hour or so of yoga. Honestly, I was feeling the urge to close all the windows and turn on the easy solution, our a/c.

Last year, I was all paranoid about the costs of running the air conditioner. As summer faded into winter, I then panicked about using the heater – always too worried about how high the bill was going to be. It turns out that full time a/c or heat use doesn’t make a big difference in our well insulated townhouse.

However, the house we’re buying has no central air. It won’t have the awesome insulation being a middle townhouse unit offers, much less the double glass storm windows and insulation in the walls. I didn’t want to skip using the a/c to make our bills cheaper right now, I wanted to force ourselves to get used to not having that option.

The partner looked like I was insane. He refused such an idea as he hates to be hot. To him, a house without central air, sounds punishment appropriate for those (like us) who haven’t been fiscally savvy enough to have no debt and a sizable financial cushion. While he may think moving into the house in the heat of summer without air conditioning is an acceptable cruelty, he will not voluntarily sign up for personal persecution just to help us get used to the idea.

Maybe it was an odd idea, but it certainly makes sense to me. I’d rather make those transitions slowly instead of jumping off the deep end of the modern amenities pool and hating the fact that we’ll be literally swimming in our sweat equity.