Friday, March 30, 2007

We Have Color

It's yellow, of course. But still, color!

Cathy came out and helped us today, and she tackled the dining room. It turned out a little more yellow than expected, but I think the wood floors and adjacent khaki walls will mellow it a bit. I hope.

Meanwhile, I worked on--yes, once again--the blasted ceilings. Living room is taped and ready for wall paint. Master bed, living room, and dining room have finished ceilings. Study has 1 coat. Bathrooms, hall, and guest room have patches of the new color (it made sense at the time).

Matt continued to caulk the kitchen ceiling. This could well keep him occupied for the next week, I'm afraid. Big ceiling, lots of gaps.

Some of the paint weirdness is definitely NOT my fault. For example, Lowe's sold me 1 sample and 1 gallon of Mellow Sage. Below to the right are test samples from each can.
Rather like a Rothko, no?

I think we can agree that these are not the same color. After further research, I think the sample guy (stoned?) gave me Nutria, not Mellow Sage. Sheesh.

Tomorrow my very nice brother and his fiance come to help us with more paint, thank heavens. I'm going to try to limit their exposure to ceiling painting (the bathrooms, the hall, the guest suite, the stairwell--aaaiiiigh!) and have them focusing on wall color instead. Living room and master bed first, I think, followed by the study, which is my riskiest color choice--Oak Cask, a sort of deep golden tan.

Matt insisted I leave at a reasonable hour after I suggested--at 7 o'clock at night--that if he were hungry he could run to a nearby Sonic for breakfast. Those paint fumes are killer. My remaining brain cells and I are off to try to shower at least the top layer of grime off my skin.

Still Painting Ceilings

2 completed, 1 has its first layer but not its edging, and the guest ceiling just has a giant splodge of plaint where I used up the remainder in the tray Wed. night.

It obviously makes sense to paint the ceilings first, but it's not the most rewarding kind of painting. The ceilings were white (if smudgy and dingy) before, and now, after all our hard work, they're... white. (Actually, a slightly yellowy white. You know my propensities.)

So we're starving for color. But I leave work early today, so we should be able to finish the downstairs ceilings at least and give one of the rooms its first coat of color.

We had our first meal at the house yesterday. It was Matt's birthday, so we had cheese and salami on a baguette on the front porch. It's a nice porch.

During the ceiling work, we've been swathing the fans in plastic to protect them from drips, which somehow makes me think of giant Miss Havishams--ghostly yet bridal. Except for the blue painter's tape. I'm pretty sure Miss H didn't accessorize with adhesives.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Woo-hoo! We bought da house!

I am covered in paint speckles--they're caught in my arm hair, my eyebrows, even on my tear ducts. Painting ceilings is hard. Tomorrow, we bring safety goggles.

The closing was at 9 this morning, and we were out of there by 10:15. No hitches, no weirdness. Such a relief. We met the seller--seemed like a very nice man--offered to give us a sort of orientation to the house, if we liked. We also learned that the next door neighbor has been living there all his life and will know a lot of local history, if we're interested in that sort of thing. Which we are.

So it was all very amicable and uneventful, and who can ask for more than that?

So we had lunch in downtown Elgin, made another Lowe's run, and then spent the next 8 hours painting and caulking and wrapping things in plastics and ripping out baseboards.

Things we learned:
1) The baseboards were actually covering giants gaps between the floor and walls that open right up to the crawlspace below the house. Very creepy, very vermin-potentially. Unfortunately, the baseboards are also of variable quality, durability, size, style, and age, and some of them shred as we pull them away from the walls. So add new baseboards to the list of future purchases. Unfortunately, this isn't something we can defer till later because of those distressing gaps.

2) In some places the hardwoods were varnished, in some painted. The boards in the master closet have a little rot near the walls. So that is a wrinkle in the whole refinish-the-floors plan. I don't know that Matt & I have the skills to replace floorboards--will have to hire someone for the repairs, I suppose. Bother.

3) The kitchen floor remains a menacing enigma.

4) I apparently have an insatiable passion for yellow. All of my paints (nearly), which I thought were in a wide range of colors, turned out to be yellow when we opened the cans. The living room's not green; it's yellow. The hall's not white; it's yellow. The study's not brown; it's yellow. So the paint scheme is going to need a little tweaking. I don't mind a little yellow, but it's trying to colonize my house.

We are now utterly, utterly drained. And nothing at the house is done--2-1/2 ceilings have 1 coat of paint, part of the wooden kitchen ceiling is caulked, and that's really about it. Maybe tomorrow night will be a little more efficient. We'll know the ropes and all. I don't suppose we'll get around to painting the walls, sadly--all focus will be on ceilings. Am looking forward to some color (especially yellow). By Friday, though.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

New Pix!

We close tomorrow!

We did our final walk-through this evening to make sure everything was as we expected it to be.

It was.

We also measured various floors that were going to need new coverings and took pix.

Consequently, I've updated the website. Look for new pix on the
master bath
living room
dining room
master bedroom

Plus, check out 3 new pages:
wetbar (yup! we have a wetbar! well, sort of.)
east yard

We also stopped by Home Depot for the first (of, one imagines, very, very many) installments of home repair supplies, courtesy of Aunt Pauline's gift card (thanks Aunt Pauline!)

Our first purchases: painting supplies and a crowbar. Somehow seems symbolic.

Am now a bit pooped. Must rest up for the big day tomorrow!

Sunday, March 25, 2007


I made this image (see Exhibit A below) thinking it would show off all the hard work we've done. Pitiful, no? We've now got 3 days left(!) till closing, so we'll be able to get a little more done before we have to turn all our attention to painting and refinishing floors in the new house, butI have to say, I'm a little discouraged. In our defense, we did have to give the place a seriously hard clean in order to show it to potential future renters. This involved chasing down feral dust bunnies, excavations in the closet to reveal bits of floor that haven't seen the light of day in months, and--product of my recent instructional design work in real estate--"staging" the home for maximum appeal. So it was rather time consuming. But there is no longer time for shilly-shallying. I've prepared and packed all of my lunches for the week. I'm going to crock-pot the week's dinners tonight (thanks again, Ladonna, for the crockpot. We're doing our best to wear the thing out. Cuban chicken. Ale-braised short ribs. Corned beef. Mmmmm...). Eyes on the prize. Look neither right nor left. From here on out, we've got to pack like we mean it.

Exhibit A: Our progress from Wed. till Sun. Oh well.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Interminable Yet Unproductive Packing

7 days till close!

I'd do one of those fancy counters that does an automatic countdown, only I haven't a clue how. Also, it's arguable that I don't really need one, since I update everyone I meet daily on how many days we have left. Sometimes I update Matt more than once, which I think he might be finding a little less cute as the days pass.

Planning for the house is still occupying almost all of my attention. Today I figured out where to put those mahonias Matt wants. Personally, I'm not a big fan of mahonias, but they fill him with enthusiasm, and I realized that if we make a small seating area on the front porch, we'll want some sort of pleasant green backdrop behind it. And as it's a rather shady spot--voilà mahonias. The day before that, I realized which ornamental tree to use on the right corner of the house--a Texas madrone--very hardy and drought tolerant, plus with pretty bark, okay flowers, and decorative fruit. And then I also realised that including some sort of trellis or pergola on the side will make our eating area feel much cozier and more private, especially if we wired it for lights. And if we put it behind the sidewalk, we'd have a nice little lawn area for croquet. Yeah, that's right--croquet. It could happen.

Actually, my most valuable insight is that if I keep doing this--obsessing, that is--for a long enough time, eventually good ideas will manifest themselves. Sometimes the ideas get a little less grandiose and more realistic over time, too. The trick is just to keep at.

Meanwhile, in practical terms, we're packing. Matt's really tearing through his greenhouse (now dismantled and transported) and all his plants in the back yard. I'm making more fitful progress in the house. Most of the study is packed, and the bathroom and guest room. But there are those random miscellaneous thingies--sort of room detritus--hanging around that don't really belong to one category or another, and they don't seem to be packing themselves.

All together, though, the packed boxes make a respectable pile in the guest room. The vast majority of the boxes are books. Matt says we have too many. I don't know what he's talking about.

--a couple of boxes of books--

Only 7 seven days left!

Monday, March 19, 2007


Only 9 days till the closing!

We just got the results of our survey in today, so we know that our land is exactly 0.476 acres, that part of it (including the larger shed) extends onto a "vacated alley," and that it "begins at a called and found 1/2-inch iron pipe at the intersection of the southerly line of North Avenue F, and the westerly line of 10th street, thence S 29 degrees 47' 41" W..." and so on.

The vacated alley makes me a little uneasy, but since the land, alley and all, was "conveyed" to the previous owner about 8 years ago, I'm assuming it's all cool. Hopefully Mary will be able to reassure us on this point.

The little chart is ever so entrancing--it makes it all seem so much more real. It also highlights the awkwardness of the placement of most of the secondary buildings and hardscapes, but I just view that as a challenge. If the house had been perfect, what would I do with myself? Nothing to plan or do--no fun at all.

The accompanying text, on the other hand, is entirely impenetrable.

In any event, minus the gobbledegook, here's a rough representation of the land and buildings:

The whole thing is pretty self-explanatory, I think, except for the lines with the little Xs on them--that's a hurricane fence. So that's gotta go. Good thing Matt's got strong arms.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

In Which the Universe Is Abruptly & Inexplicably Kind to Us

So I get home on a Friday, one weary and demoralized traveler, and as soon as I get into my PJs, I check the MLS. Matt's found a house. It's a few blocks from downtown Elgin, sits on a 0.45 acre lot, is 30 minutes from Austin, has not one but two outbuildings/workshops, &c., &c.

How's that for luck?

And while it doesn't have a fireplace, it does have a pretty stone facade and--yay!--high ceilings! AND it's from 1935, which is very cool. It also has 2 stories, which feels slightly more grown up to me than just one story, for some reason.

So we got together with our realtor ASAP to tour the house. We also looked at a few other options in Hutto and Taylor, and once again, our first choice was just phenomenally better than anything else on the market. So we wrote up an offer lickety-split.

The next day, we find out that while we were the first offer, a second offer was made on the same day, and that this second buyer knew that there was already one offer on the table. Our realtor asked us if we could go any higher, and, despondingly, we said, "No can do." So then we sat around and waited to have our offer rejected. But he didn't reject it! He accepted! I was floored. Flummoxed. Flabbergasted. And also agog. We were really finally going to be homeowners.

And so the usual option period fuss began--inspections and lots and lots of paperwork for the loan company, negotiations, and repairs. Imagine our surprise when we heard that the same day the seller accepted our offer, he received two more offers. That's four offers in the space of two days--and the home had only been on the market five days.

So unless the house burns down, we're not too worried about resale value.

We did, however, have to get through the inspection without any major snafus, and we knew there wouldn't be much room for negotiation--the seller had accepted two of the other offers as backups.

Since we're going FHA (and what a bother that's turned out to be--bloody persnickety folk, the FHA), we had to have both a standard inspection and a termite inspection. The standard inspection was fine--there were some fairly small issues, but nothing major--in fact, we were told that the house was in unusually good shape for its age--the plumbing, wiring, and AC had all been replaced within the past 8 or so years. Dandy!

But the termite guy found evidence of a little bit of past termite activity in the house and outbuildings, as well as moisture under one of the bathrooms. Even though there were no active termites, this was a deal-breaker for the loan guys. The house and outbuildings had to be treated or no moola for us. We moaned and fulminated--who cares about the outbuildings, for crying out loud?, we exclaimed. We plan to tear one of them down, anyway. And we want to pull out the leaky shower in the mudroom--do we really have to pay to have the lousy thing fixed? As a never-before-homeowner who grew up on the Gulf Coast, I was under the impression that all termite treatments involve tenting the house and cost many thousands of dollars. Almost all of our modest capital is going to closing costs--how can we possibly swing several thousand over and above that?

But our clever agent thought, "why are we bothering with the outbuildings? they don't constitute part of the value of the home." So she contacted the lender and they came up with an ingenious solution: Have the termite guy remove all reference to outbuildings in his report, and we're fine. We still had to treat the house and fix the stupid shower, but excluding the outbuildings made a huge difference in price. I don't entirely understand the lender's thinking (if it's not on paper, it doesn't exist?), but, hey, I'm not going to complain. In addition, these are apparently some slightly less pernicious termites than the ones I knew from New Orleans and Houston--you just shoot some chemicals into the ground and you're good to go (insofar as shooting poison into the ground could be considered "good," anyway, but that's another subject.)

Meantime, we asked the seller to pick up these costs. Understandably, given the plenitude of offers in his pocket, he drew the line at the termite treatment--we had to pay for the plumbing repair, which fortunately turned out to be minor.

Repairs made and defunct termites rendered even more defunct, we had an appraiser out two weeks ago and it appraised right at selling price. Sometime in the next few days there is to be a survey, but as we've already been "cleared to close" by the lender, the survey is apparently icing on the cake, not another agonizing test of our house's merit.

So we had several weeks of alternating despair and elation, but now (thank goodness), we seem to be coasting serenely towards closing. It's all paint chips and fabric swatches and studying up on how to remove tile counters and refinish floors.

Today I bought the fabric for the guest room curtains (Brown "silk" with very stylish desaturated aqua embroidered flowers--so trendy!), and priced faucets, countertops, and light fixtures at Lowe's. What fun! Bathroom renovation, here we come!

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Slough of Despond

We drove into delightful downtown Elgin, past lovely & huge old craftsman-style homes to an adorable little house from the 60s with a stone fireplace, 0.4-acre backyard, and workshop out back. You can walk to downtown Elgin from there! It's just a couple of blocks from the library! And from a park! The price was great and I was getting the this-might-be-it butterflies in my stomach. So we got on the phone right away (it was a Sunday) and started making appointments with agents.

We ended up interviewing 2 agents (all the literature recommends interviewing multiple agents, preferably 3), but we're probably not going to do that again. Rejecting the one guy whom we had to talked with for 2 hours just felt very icky. I know it's part of the process and the Cycle of Life and all that, but we hated it all the same. (I should fess up, here: Matt delivered the death stroke by phone while I cowered in another room and tried not to think about it. It was very gentlemanly of him to volunteer for executioner duty--he's got such sturdy moral fiber.)

Anyway, we toured the inside of the ducky little house in downtown Elgin with the victorious realtor, looked at some utterly charmless comps that cost more and were in less desireable neighborhoods, took a deep breath, and said, "Let's do it!" Mary (our realtor) was going to draw up the papers the next day, but she called us the following morning to tell us that house was ALREADY OFF THE MARKET! As it turns out, the seller's execrably lackadaisical realtor just never bothered to update the MLS listing--it had been under contract before we ever clapped eyes on it.

So, so, so very depressed.

"What," I asked all the well-meaning people who tried to cheer me up, "are the chances we're going to find another adorable older house in good repair in walking distance of a cute little downtown, within 30 minutes of Austin with a workshop in the back yard and .4 acres of land??"

And in that glum frame of mind, I headed off to a company conference for a week.

(to be continued...)

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Blogging the House

Our record of the purchase of our first house.

Hi everyone! We're very, very excited about our ducky little house, so we go around telling people about it all day long. Sometimes it's a little hard to remember whom we've updated recently and whom we haven't, so we thought we'd start a little blog to keep everyone up to speed and to let us track the trials and tribulations of transforming ourselves into homeowners.

A Little Backstory
We started looking at the beginning of February, when we pulled together our Christmas money and bonuses. I was anxious to buy in winter, when prices are lowest, and also to move forward on this project before my car engine blows up or one of us gets bird flu or any other catastrophe could intervene to snarf up our downpayment.

A friend recommended a mortgage broker, and we were pleasantly surprised to discover that we had been looking in just about the right price range for the past few months. Unfortunately, that price range dictates either a grungy 500-sqft shack deep in the 'hood in Austin or a move to a suburb or neighboring town. We chose the latter.

That Friday, we went home squeaky with excitement to review our options on the MLS. There were several in neighboring Elgin that looked especially plausible, so we drove out there that Saturday to check them out.

Now, mostly, my experience with MLS pictures is that they are there to misrepresent the house. The pictures are minute, the resolution is crap, and the realtors are very clever about cropping out the adjacent highway/mechanic shop/pig farm/or field full of broken-down school buses. And presumably they haul the trash and busted old sofas off the front lawn before snapping the picture, then drag them back in again. So in preparatory tours of possible homes, we've experienced a lot of disappointment. And an urgent need for some anti-bacterial handi-wipes.

Imagine our delight when...

(to be continued)
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