Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Nag Nag Nag... Procrastinate Procrastinate Procrastinate

I have walked by that place a million times, perhaps more and always I kept my eye averted towards my feet. I knew what was there and it always nagged me every time I walked by and still I would always make it by to procrastinate another day.

Then we started showing our house and the nagging got louder and still I had yet to follow through. It wasn't hurting anything. It was a blemish but not one that you noticed. But still once you did see it, it was more like a giant pimple on the face of your friend across the table. You can't help but look at it.

It finally took people making an offer on my house contingent to getting that blemish fixed and now it is done. On the back side of the house where no one goes or can see but our family if we happen to be on the deck, is a little junction where the great room addition joined the house creating a little gabled end that formed a sliver of a triangle. The problem was that the builders put wood siding there but left the unpainted ends setting in the channel of the metal roof below where all the water runs. When we bought the place the boards were all rotted and needed replaced. Knowing that wood would just rot again, I used a leftover piece of roofing steel that the previous owners were so kind to leave me when they moved and fitted it in place. I got the project 99% done but never capped the end of it because it required me to go purchase a 12 foot stick of steel to cover about 14 inches of exposed... air? Really it just left a gap but it was deep under an overhang so no water would ever enter it unless it came straight sideways in from the direction blocked by a gigantic silver maple tree. Even if for some fluke reason water got in the gap, it ran down the flashing and exited under the rotten ends of the siding. So I procrastinated and averted my eyes toward my feet for the next eight years.

So on this past Memorial Day weekend, I had a house selling party by going out and buying a 12 foot stick of corner trim, having the guy cut me off a couple feet that I needed and after giving him back the other 10 feet to be recycled, paid for the entire 12 feet. I could have kept it but I don't need it where I'm moving, I'm moving and that is hard on scrap pieces of steel that you are saving for some unknown future reason, and I really couldn't think of someone close enough who might want the piece to make it worth driving too. Fortunately it was only about $26 at the local place and probably $15 at the big box store where I'm moving too so paying $26 wasn't a horrible hardship considering I had put this day off for eight years.

So after dragging out a handful of tools, making a second trip to town to buy a pair of tin snips since I couldn't find mine, making a dozen trips up the ladder to measure, fit and fasten, the blemish is gone. No longer is there a gap looking at me like a giant pimple on the nose of the person sitting across the table. Perhaps this is good practice to get me back into house fixing shape which I will need in plenty eight weeks from now. Now if I could find the motivation to caulk the crack in that ledger board in the basement...

Monday, May 28, 2012

So I Lied... Sort of...

I wasn't planning on this post for some time but all during my life at momentous occasions, it seems like I've been fortunate to have things work out and it appears that this momentous occasion will be no different. I am of course referring to the sale of my current house.

We started the process of selling our house privately last fall and though we had lots of calls and showings, I had nary one offer to show for all that time. I think it was mostly due to people being scared of buying a house privately and we just didn't have the market available to us to advertise it. But since we weren't actively looking for a house at the time, we weren't in any hurry to sell unless the offer was right. Then as spring rolled around and we got more involved in looking for a new place to live, we decided that we should get a Realtor involved. I hate giving up 6% of the sales price to someone else just to sell my house but they do have the advertising budget and they would be doing the sales pitch leaving me free to spend more time at the park while it was going on. Still after seven weeks on the market, we had not a single offer.

Fortunately we are prodigious savers and had enough money saved up to allow us to put a down payment on a second home complete with a second mortgage that the bank would lend us. Still, it was my hopes that I wouldn't have to make any unnecessary mortgage payments in a home that I wasn't living in. So when last Monday rolled around and we inked a deal for our new home, my mind was soon wandering about whether or not I would ever be able to sell my current home.

On Tuesday morning, I rattled a few trees down on the plant floor specifically around people whom I knew had been interested in our house. I dropped the fact that I had bought another house and that I was motivated to sell my current one. That evening, the Realtor called to say another showing was lined up for Wednesday evening if that was fine by me. My daughter and I went to the park but when we got home there were still vehicles in the drive so we drove up the street to wait them out. As they left, I noticed that the people looking was a coworker I had targeted with my tree rattling the day before. Later that evening I had an offer.

Unfortunately it was a low ball offer that was not only lower than what I needed to get my money back, but it also stipulated that I pay their closing costs and inspections. It was also contingent on my leaving behind my refrigerator, dining room table and chairs, living room furniture and bedroom furniture, all of which we have bought quality stuff gradually over the years to replace my free/hand me down furniture. They also wanted to move in two weeks before I closed on our new place which meant that I was going to have to live out of a motel room for a couple weeks along with several guests from over seas that are going to be visiting us at the time. Not something I was keen to do.

So at last we had an offer and it was a real doozy. In fact it was almost insulting. But I knew the situation and I knew the people involved really wanted the house so I made a counter offer. All the furniture except the nearly decade old refrigerator stayed. The closing date would be two weeks after I close on my new house. I asked for a price that was two grand above what I needed to get out of it and said I would pay two grand of their closing costs. This allows them to conserve cash needed at closing and I still get what I wanted. Two hours later, the countered again by dropping the price two grand. It isn't what I had hoped but it wouldn't take long to eat up two grand worth of money heating an empty house and paying interest on a mortgage in a house I wasn't living in. Because the timing was perfect, we accepted the offer this past Friday.

So now the equity we have in our old house can be rolled over into the new house and the cash we saved up to make buying a second home without first selling our first home possible, can... well... be put back to earning interest for us and/or perhaps getting a jump start on fixing up the new place. As the saying goes, I would rather be lucky than good... and in this case, I feel extremely lucky!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Houses: Last One I Swear!

The Realtor never got over being speechless and eventually told me that he hadn't even told his wife yet and that he would do so and get back to us. That evening he did get back and counter offered only $7k more than we offered. I told him we would think about it and get back to him on Monday, two days later. Monday morning when I called he immediately dropped the price another $4k before I ever spoke a word and if you are tallying up, only $3k more than we offered and still well under what we thought the house was worth. I knew we had a deal and it was just a matter of getting the thing done.

My wife was heading out of town for a couple weeks to study for her board exam so wouldn't be able to get back down in a timely manner. So I ended up going for a second visit myself and doing a lot of video taping and photographing the place. The second visit, being fresh and not having numbed our brains ahead of time by looking at a handful of other places we weren't interested in, was much different and for the better. Most of the things I had negative impressions on from the first quick visit actually was a lot better than I had remembered. The roof that needed replaced was actually quite new. The siding though showing its age was still good to go for a few years anyway (The posts are all rotten on the outside and need replaced) and there were little features here and there that I hadn't remembered. By the time I finished inspecting, I was feeling really good about this place as an investment.

I sat down on the couch and chatted with the Realtor about why he was moving. He confessed that although he loved the place, his wife never had and with five kids and now a grandchild (belonging to one of his high school aged daughters) to look after, they had outgrown the house. I mentioned a couple clauses that I wanted in our contract, the chief one to make sure that the house appraised for more than our price to insure that I wasn't screwed in the investment right from the get go and the Realtor agreed to them all. We shook hands and promised to sign a contract the following day. We did and now I am on the hook for another place.

For me that was the hard part, spending a large chunk of money, larger than any other chunk of money I have ever spent. Now all we have to do is close towards the latter part of July and move. Add that to my wife graduating, starting a new job, a couple more big changes in our life to be written about in the future and it is going to be a busy second half to this year. But I am looking forward to it all, especially the moving to a new-to-me house. I enjoy carving out a home and getting everything up to snuff and I will have a lot of that ahead. If nothing else, it will provide a lot more fodder for this blog to keep it running for another year or perhaps longer.

To the future!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Houses: Part Six & Next to Last Post

We spent a rather long afternoon with the Realtor following through with our new game plan of looking for houses that have most of what we desired but not everything. Our goal was to take the cost savings of buying a much cheaper house and just use that to fix it into the house we desired. The only problem with that game plan was that it seemed like most of the houses in that category needed LOTS of work in order to save them from falling into a pile much less make them livable. However the last house we saw that day was different. It was in great shape on the outside and even decent shape on the inside. The only problem was that it was pretty cramped and laid out in an odd way. It was a split foyer house with the garage under one half of the main floor which meant that if you came home with a load of groceries, you would have to walk through the lower part of the house, up the foyer stairs and to the kitchen, a small distance.

Despite this, I could see possibilities because this house was the easiest house by far to add onto or to 'correct' issues that we had with it plus it was in descent shape to start with so if we didn't get to it right away it would be habitable. So later when we got home I took up a pencil and paper and started drafting the house plan and layout views to see how I would correct things but I found it hard to remember exactly how things were laid out after an afternoon spent looking at a bunch of houses. So we decided to schedule a second look for the following week, this time with a video recorder in hand so that we would have something to show a contractor friend of ours to get some feedback on whether we were crazy or not.

In the mean time, I did more research and learned that split foyer houses are about as desirable as split level ranch houses which is to say that people would rather get shot in the head versus buying one of them. I don't understand how two half flights of stairs is any worse than one longer flight of stairs but the statistics don't lie. Still I thought that if the price was right, if it made me happy for my time in it, and it was in the right location which it was, it would be worth the gamble. So a week later we visited it once more, video taped it with our digital camera and then decided to take a look at a couple more long shots while we were over there.

For the most part they were 'no chance in hell' shots but one was pretty decent. It was a little more money but was in move in condition and best of all, would need absolutely no major alterations. The drawback was that it was the most expensive house in a neighborhood full of very tiny houses. The neighbor looked like a nice neighborhood but when owning a house, I would rather own the cheapest house in an expensive neighborhood than the other way around. I can always fix up a house to the point it might fit in and be sold in a desirable neighborhood but I can't go the other way around which is why that house had been on the market for the last two years.

As we were driving back to the Realtor office, the Realtor asked if we would be interested in looking at his house. Not wanting to be impolite, we said we had the time and thus we found ourselves in his house a few minutes later. It had the right location to my wife's new job and my current job, i.e. wasn't on the opposite side of town, and it was in the right location meaning it was one of the cheaper houses in its neighborhood and one that is highly desirable to be in. It is a plain old ranch home with a full basement and though in good shape, though showing its age. The siding and shingles need fixed/replaced and the interior is dated but for the price he was asking, it certainly wasn't out of the question. We slept on the thought, talked it over a bit and then called up our Realtor to tell him that of all the houses he has shown us over the last six months the one we were now interested in and wanting to make an offer on was his house. He certainly was speechless.

(Note: I am going to kill off this series of posts with hopefully one more post on this subject.)

Monday, May 21, 2012


As I mentioned in a recent post, I have been trying out Shutterfly after seeing and hearing about its many happy customers. I decided I would take a small sampling of photos that I have stored away in boxes that I never dig out, in this case waterfalls that I have photographed, and get a book made with them. The book arrived last week and I must say I was pretty impressed.

The website itself it fairly easy to work with. Once I had the pictures processed, cropped, etc, I uploaded them to their website after creating an account. The account allowed me to log in over the course of a week whenever I had a few minutes to spare and go about the process of creating a book for printing.

The whole process was fairly self intuitive though I fumbled now and then figuring things out. For example, I found it not very self intuitive to rearrange the order of pictures once they were laid out in the book. I wanted one large picture to a page and when I used the click and drag method, it would leave the page blank from where I grabbed the misordered picture and create a two picture page where I dropped it. You ended up moving pictures back and forth from your book layout to a virtual film strip to retain the page formats that you had. Another odd thing for me was that any text that you put on the page to go with the picture did not remain with the picture when you moved it to another page. I ended up getting all the pictures arrange just so and then going back to deal with the text at the very end.

Once all the pictures were in order and the text added, I spent quite a bit of time tweaking things like picture frames, text orientation, etc as well as double and triple checking the spelling. When I was finished, it was simple as submitting the order and waiting. My book of self photographed waterfalls arrived at my doorstep in a bright orange box very familiar to the UPS driver who delivered it and told me that he had pictures for me. I ended up getting the hard bound 8 x 12 inch book and it seemed well put together though the cover definitely marks up fairly easily. Since I didn't want a treasure but a book that I can look at more often, I'm okay with all the marks it has gotten already. Already I am thinking about doing another more ambitious Shutterfly project. I have long wanted to scan all my Colorado River trip photos and put them into an album to show more people what they are missing. But instead of a couple dozen waterfall pictures I am looking at a few hundred pictures, all of which need to be scanned and processed first before I start a book. Perhaps this winter when I have more time on my hands.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Jesse Luther

Jesse Luther
My 3rd great grandfather Jesse Luther is one of only two 3rd great grandparents, the other being his wife Mary Jane Igo, who never quite made it to Iowa and thus given me the title of 100% Iowan instead of the 94% Iowan that I currently claim. I have no doubt that he stepped foot in the state because he is buried only about 100 yards south of its southern border and owned land in Iowa but as far as I know, he never officially claimed residence in the state and lived most of his life in Missouri.

Jesse was born 19 June 1836 in Westmoreland county, Pennsylvania, son of John F. Luther and Elizabeth and 3rd oldest of ten siblings. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, the oldest of Jesse's two brothers was 4 years in his grave and the youngest just turned twelve. Jesse had married the previous year to Mary Jane Igo and still lived and worked on his parent's farm. His father John would die in September of that year at age 57 and since I have found no military record of him and no battles took place in that part of Pennsylvania at that time, I have assumed that it wasn't due to the Civil War that he died.

Jesse was prime fighting age in 1861 but didn't volunteer until 1 September of 1864 when he entered Company I of the 211th Regiment of the Pennsylvania Infantry for one  year's service. He was given $29.40 for a clothing advance and given $33.33 as a sign up bounty and another $33.33 when he mustered in five days later.

Jesse was my only ancestor stationed in the Virginia theater of the Civil War and his regiment was a part of the siege operations against Petersburg and Richmond, Virginia from the fall of 1864 until the spring of 1865.  Perhaps the most notable battle was the one that resulted in the fall of Petersburg followed by the pursuit of Lee's army as they fled. He was mustered out at the end of the war on June 2, 1865 in Alexander, Virginia and presumably went home to his wife and two sons.

Jesse and his growing family stayed in Pennsylvania until 1869 when they headed for the northeast corner of Scotland county, Missouri. According to his pension application records, he spent quite some time just proving he was a veteran since his name didn't appear in any rolls. Though I have copies of his records signed by his unit, this is still true today and most websites fail to mention a Company I of the 211th Regiment. Finally he was proved to be a vet and then spent the rest of his life battling the government for disability payments and supposed automatic pension increases due to his name not being listed on their official rolls. He did so until his death at age 85 on 24 July 1921.

Of my eight ancestors to serve in the Civil War, Jesse Luther is the only one of which I have a picture. It is the only picture I have of him and the uncropped picture shows him with his son (my 2nd great grandfather) and grandson (a brother to my great grandfather). His right hand seems twisted with arthritis and his beard white with age but I see the spark of his younger self in the smirk of a half smile.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Houses: Part Five

After taking off our 'beer goggles' and seeing that the house we remembered wasn't the house we had remembered, we saw a few other houses that we had been intrigued with from the online listings. All three of these houses were in the same price range which was towards the upper end of what we were willing to spend towards a house. But all three houses had the same problems. They all had the main bedroom upstairs and the rest of the bedrooms downstairs. Now I suppose this it okay when your kids are teenagers but when you are dealing with a five year old, it just seemed like it wasn't the best situation. The other problem with all three houses is that they had very very dated interiors that needed a lot of work. They weren't as bad as the first house but never-the-less, I didn't want to blow my budget on a house that looked nice from the street but sucked inside because there was no money left to fix it up.

The last house of the day caught us by surprise. It was immaculate inside and every detail met our requirements. Our only problems was that it was clear on the other side of town and five miles outside of town from where we wished to relocate and it was much smaller than all the other houses we had been looking at. Since we hope to grow our family and maybe take in some relatives from the Philippines in the future, it didn't seem like a wise move to go smaller.

Never-the-less, we talked about it and really liked the house and thought that if it could be obtained at a reasonable price, we would make do. Although it was recently reduced in price by 9%, it still was pretty high for the market especially since the same money would get you a house twice as big but not as updated inside. It was the old price/quality/space dilemma. In the end, we figured out what the price should be and made an offer about 20% less than asking. The next morning it was countered with the owner lowering the price by 3%. It was obvious that the owner wasn't in a hurry to sell so we told him thanks but no thanks and crossed that house off our list.

I immediately felt relief, along with my wife, so that tells me we did the right thing. Had we met the owner of that house somewhere in between, we would be in a small house on the opposite side of town where we wanted to be and all for having a house that had a good layout and updated interior. I decided that I needed to re-evaluate things and start fresh. So that's what we did.

My new plan is to start looking at houses that are well maintained now but perhaps don't meet all our requirements. They are in the right locations with the right lot size but are lacking some features that we want in the future with a larger family. The only thing wrong with them is that they are much cheaper because the don't have all those features. Then with the money we save by buying less of a house, we can then 'fix' those problems and do them exactly the way we would like them done. After filtering through the listings again, I found nearly a dozen such possibilities and narrowed that list down to a handful or so of the most likely. So this weekend perhaps we will give it another go from a different angle and see what we find.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Elves Chasm

Elves Chasm, Grand Canyon

Perhaps 95% of the people who visit Elves Chasm only visit the main falls and don't go any higher. Most likely that figure is even higher and that is just fine with me. A thing of such beauty should only be seen by those who can physically make it because in my experience, they are the ones who are likely to leave it the way they found it and not those who simply ride in on horse back or drive up it in their vehicle. Getting up and around the main falls requires sure-footed legs and no fear of big exposures. At times, my legs trembled at the prospect of only being six inches away from a huge drop onto rocks below but with patience, I was always able to persuade them to take another step. Further up it required a belly crawl on an overhung ledge giving one a real sense of what it is like to be a snake. I remembered Edward Abbey writing about doing this very same belly crawl at this point and I was honored to have been in the same spot, perhaps choking on the very same dust that was being kicked up during the slither.

Eventually, the few of us that made it this far, came to what appeared to be a dead end in a hollowed out section of rock with a huge boulder leaning against it. But where that boulder meets the cliff some eight feet in the air, there is a narrow opening of sorts. By standing on my tiptoes and reaching up through the opening, I was able to get a good handhold and pull myself up by brute strength alone. Only five of us, three of them crew members made it past this obsticle. Further up the canyon, I was forced to blindly reach around a boulder perched on the top of a thirty-foot drop off to find another handhold. With my arm essentially belaying the rest of my body, I leaned back to get enough pressure on my feet to friction walk the shear face around a corner and to the safety of another ledge. Definitely not for the faint of heart. Had it not been for the crew members who had been here before and could talk us through where the "holds" were, I wouldn't have made it this far.

The last obstacle, which wasn't really an obstacle, was a "doorway" formed by huge bolders obscuring everything beyond. Bronco paused briefly to say that it is tradition that no words be spoken beyond this passageway and once inside in what has been called the "green room" or "weeping wall," I could see why. There, your route is once again rimmed in by a half bowl ledge of red rock over which the water spreads out some fifty feet and seeps over the lip to fall and trickle down thirty feet of moss and wildflowers to the green pool below. Yellow columbine and red monkey flowers were everywhere. Magical is the only word to describe a place of such beauty. For twenty minutes, I sat completely entranced watching the hummingbirds flitting around sipping nectar from the scarlet monkey flowers. I sat in silence, never blinking, never moving, never enjoying myself so much as I was then. As if on cue, we sensed that our time in this sacred place had run out and we silently made our way back to where we had left the group. Only later after we found them did I realize that I hadn't taken one single photograph of the weeping wall. Its beauty had been so great, it had lulled to sleep my photographic instincts.

Elves Chasm, Grand Canyon

Friday, May 11, 2012

Twin Falls

Twin Falls on Richland and Devil's Fork Creeks, Arkansas
 So as to not burn you out on reading about our search for a home, I diverting to a different more pleasant subject for a post or two. Waterfalls. I've always had a thing for waterfalls as I suspect most people do. What is there not to like about a waterfall? Over the years, especially in the decade after I left home and before I got married, I actively sought them out and photographed them. It was my version of the scavenger hunt.

This was probably one of the last waterfalls that I sought out and photographed. It is Twin falls which are located in the NW corner of Arkansas in the Richland Creek area. In fact, the falls are where Richland Creek conjoins with Devil's Fork Creek in a spectacular fashion. It is a long drive, followed by a none to easy hike to bushwack up the creeks to reach this point, especially in early and very buggy summer when I did it but it was well worth it even if the water was barely trickling over the falls.

What got me thinking about this and digging through a box of photos last night to find these two photographs was a website called Shutterfly. A coworker of mine at work uses that site to create photo albums of pictures in book format and says it is just the greatest thing. My wife has always made scrapbook photo albums off and on over the years but they take a lot of work and it takes time to sift through all the photos, get them reprinted and put into a book. I thought this might be an easier solution to the problem. So I thought I would make a Shutterfly book on a subset of photographs and see how it turns out. After some thought, I chose a book on waterfalls that I have photographed since I probably only have visited a couple dozen really good ones.

I culled through my digitized archives and pulled out all the waterfall related photos and sorted through them. But as I added them to the digital book, I realized that there were a few waterfalls that I have visited that I didn't have pictures for. So I went digging through boxes to see if I have undigitized images of them and came up with these two. The other two waterfalls, I have either lost the photos or never photographed them to begin with. So as I go through prepping the photos for the Shutterfly album, you might see a few posts with them in it. And if you are new to Shutterfly like I am, I will let you know how it turns out.

Twin Falls on Richland and Devil's Fork Creeks, Arkansas

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Houses: Part Four

We pulled into the driveway and introduced ourselves to the owner who was a pleasant middle aged woman. She offered to show us around the property again and we readily agreed. That is when the blinders came off. Let me explain.

Since that had been the first house we had looked at in our search for a new home, I don't think my eyes had been trained to see what needs to be seen. Back then, I had noticed that the wood siding was rough in a few places and would need some work and a new coat of paint but that was about all I had remembered of my tour as far as maintenance was concerned. So this time I mentally told myself to pay attention to the physical parts of the house to see what I would need to fix up should I buy it. What I saw was a lot.

As we toured the inside of the home, the first thing that caught my eyes were the windows. They obviously were original to the house and just looking at them I could envision lots of energy going out of them. I confirmed that later when I asked the lady about her average utility bill and it was nearly three times what I pay now. The next thing I noticed was a water stain on the ceiling which the owner claimed she didn't know what had caused it but blamed it on the renters living there. Taking a look at the layout made me see that while the kitchen was laid out well, and the sole reason we kept talking about this house all these months, parts of the rest of the house felt all cut up and inefficiently arranged. When we got to the finished basement, the owner dropped the bombshell and told me that it had leaked quite a bit. She said they fixed it with concrete anchors and waterproofing on the outside. I'm sure the waterproofing corrected the problem but the concrete anchors sure didn't. I'm guessing the walls were beginning to buckle in on that side which is why the concrete anchors were installed and covered over so that I couldn't see them. When we later got outside, I could see that the real reason for the leaky basement was that the grading was sloped to the house on the two sides it leaked. Some dirt and a weekend of grading would fix that issue permanently but the anchors holding up the basement walls kind of made my neck hairs stand up a bit.

As I had suspected when she told me she had remodeled a lot of the house since the last time we had seen it, she really hadn't. The renters who had been renting to own had done the work and their tastes were evidently not mine. The 'hardwood floors' that had been installed up stairs looked like really cheap painted plastic flooring that didn't even resemble wood and had been incorrectly installed so it was all wavy and crooked. The wall paper had been stripped out of the kitchen but they must have damaged the drywall doing so and tacked up terrible looking strips of aluminum on all corners to cover it up. The railings on the center stairs that you see right when you come in the door had all been stripped off and numerous pieces of the railing were missing in the upstairs hall. Everything, including all the nice beige carpets were now dingy due to the three dogs living with the renters.

On the outside, I noticed that the shingles were also original to the house and coming to the end of their lives. Everywhere I looked I saw sections of wood siding, window trim, garage doors etc. that needed repaired. The landscaping was overgrown in weeds and needed a summer of serious effort to rehabilitate. Brush needed cleared, trees pruned and of course, the septic tank being installed was going right down the middle of the cleared space of the back yard and would need a couple years of refilling, regrading and reseeding to repair. By the time we made it back to their cars, I felt like I had woken up only to find out that life thus far had been a lie. She informed us that the price she had given me over the phone had been her lowest offer to cover her expenses with everything. We told her we would get back to her and drove back home.

My new view of the house is one that hasn't had a lick of maintenance done to it since it was built 32 years ago and that is a shame. It was a beautiful house and despite everything has beautiful curb appeal. But what that lady is asking is not what it is worth. By the time I fixed it back up to what I feel it should be, I would have sunk a lot more money and time into the place than what I could ever hope to recover. In order for me to consider the house, she would have to drop her price way down.

So after talking it over, we decided that since we were approved for a loan and the timing was right, to go look at a list of houses that we have been eyeing for the last six months as potentials and see if we can find something else that catches our eye. I arranged for a Realtor to show us around the following Monday. As for the lady of the house that we had just fallen out of love with, we still haven't called her back yet. It still has a lot of potential and with a lot of work and a price that is right, could be an awesome home. I am willing to do the work if she is willing to price it without regards to trying to get our of her mistake of paying too much for a place and not maintaining it for so many years. We'll make that decision after we have ruled out other places and perhaps make her an offer on its true value.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Houses: Part Three

So after digging a bit online, I was able to turn up the name of the owner of the house we were both smitten with still after all these months and with a bit more effort found a phone number. As always when making cold calls, my stomach was a bit nervous as I dialed the number and wondered how I was going to begin the conversation.

I managed without coming across as a stalker to begin the conversation and found out that yes the owner was still interested in selling the house. Since we had last looked at it last year, the owner had taken it off the market and had been fixing it up even more. Mostly it was little details like replacing ugly carpet and painting but the owner did say that they were in the process of updating the septic system. This house is just outside the city limits and thus not on the city sewer system (despite being on city water, gas and cable) so it has to have the ability to treat its own sewage. Here in Iowa, legislation passed awhile ago mandates that any house that is sold must have their septic system up to date which due to the legislation, means just about every house that hasn't already replaced their septic system in the last five or six years.

So with all these updates being told to me over the phone, I didn't have high hopes when I asked what the owner was looking to get for their house. When they told me a price $25,000 less than than their previous asking price, I almost dropped the phone. Not only are they significantly reducing the price (some of which is a savings by cutting out the middleman and selling it privately), but they were now way below assessed value and probably below the going rate value of similar real estate that we have looked at. Of course I played all cool and collected but as soon as I got off the phone, my wife was doing a happy dance. However, like waiting to call back someone after the first date so not to appear too anxious, we waited until that evening to call back and set up an appointment to come tour the place again the following weekend, this time with the owner and not a Realtor.

We knew several things that artificially inflated our expectations. One, the house wasn't currently on the market and hadn't been on the market for awhile so it wasn't likely to be snatched up by someone else before we had a chance to visit it again and perhaps make an offer. Two, the owner didn't balk at selling it privately and in fact seemed to revel in the fact that they would be saving money by doing so. Since we bought our first house privately, I wasn't too worried about going through the process for a second time. Still, like any sane person who was preparing to throw down a chunk of change on a house, my stomach and mind were a mess all week as I waited. I filled my time by freshening up my previous contract, researching the neighborhood, talking with a neighbor whom we were friends with and making a list of all the things I wanted to look at in more detail when we toured it. Still it was a long week before we hopped in our vehicle and drove over there on a Friday evening with contract and checkbook in tow... just in case.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Houses: Part Two

Well before we started the process of selling our house privately or more recently through a Realtor, we started following the real estate in the area we are looking to move. It is much like our area in that there are a lot of houses for sale in the low and high ends of the market but not much in-between. It is also like our area in that it is a buyers market out there and there are plenty of deals to be had.

After putting our house up for sale with the 'For Sale By Owner' sign out front, we started occasionally setting up tours through houses on the market to get a feel for what features are available for what price, something essential for getting a good deal. The first house we looked at we fell in love with but unfortunately it was quite a bit over priced we thought. Subsequent tours of houses has shown this to be true but none of the reasonably priced houses that we looked at that day met all of our criteria. The Realtor told us the owner had been trying to sell the house for several years and just hadn't been very flexible on the price which also made us suspect that they weren't in the dealing mood. So we just decided to not make any offers at that time. It was still fall of 2011 and a year away from when my wife would start her job so we weren't in any hurry to have two mortgage payments anyway. A month later the house that we liked but was overpriced was taken off the market.

We continued looking at houses but nothing caught our fancy until a couple months ago when another place came on the market. It was outside of town and situated on about ten acres of land with a very large pond and a large shop with concrete floor. The outside of the house looked in good condition and the pictures of the inside of the house were decent but we have been fooled by them before in prior tours. (i.e. we had looked at houses with excellent pictures of the inside to learn that the house was chopped up, selectively photographed, etc.) We researched the property a bit but weren't in any hurry to deal with two mortgage payments since it seemed that selling our house privately was going to take longer than we hoped. But eventually we gave our house to a Realtor and houses were starting to sell with the arrival of spring and our mood started changing.

Last week, we scheduled a meeting with our bank to discuss loans and figure out what funds were needed should we decide to make an offer on another house before we got ours sold. While in the neighborhood, we called the Realtor of the acreage to arrange a tour. The acreage owner had just signed a contract that very morning. It is now sale pending. We were a little bummed since it had so many nice features, including several like the large pond and a shop that aren't on our list of must haves but it is what it is. We still went to the bank and were pre-approved for a loan so that the next time something comes up, we are able to move with more certainty. We also drove around looking at other possible houses on the market and drove by the first house we had looked at last fall that we were still smitten over. We talked about calling up the owner and seeing if the owner was still interested in selling it and offering to buy it privately to get the price reduced to a more reasonable level. More on that in another post.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Houses: Part One

I haven't updated everyone on the housing situation for awhile so I thought I would. I'm also light on posting material right now anyway. As you know, we put our house up for sale last fall without going through a Realtor. There were a couple reasons for this. By cutting out the middleman, i.e. the Realtor, we could charge less for our house since we eliminate any commissions and maximize our return. Another big reason is that I thought it might take longer to sell that way and we weren't in any hurry to sell before this spring. Even then, we weren't in any big need to sell since no matter where we lived, one of us was going to have a 20 mile commute to work, short by commuting standards.

We had lots of interest in our house. I showed it nearly two dozen times and average two or three calls a week of people asking questions. But as April rolled around, we still had not one single offer. Part of the problem was that winter is not a big house buying time and I tried to counteract that affect by telling people that we were negotiable on a closing date. I suspect the biggest reason for the lack of offers was that people just were leery of buying a house privately. I would get questions like who would write the contract up or how do we make an offer privately or even who do we pay. I would tell them my story from buying the place privately and answer the questions but I think people are just comforted with a Realtor being involved, especially since any cost for said Realtor would be shouldered by me. Another significant part of the problem is that we just lacked the right people looking at our house. Selling it privately and advertising with a sign in our front yard and local papers meant we only attracted locals. This group of people had housing accommodations already and weren't in any hurry to buy. We lacked attracting people moving in from parts unknown who had shorter time frames for searching. I did try to publish our house on online sites to capture that market but only a handful of people found it. Most that I queried had never heard of these sites.

So after talking it over with my wife and realizing that prime real estate moving time was upon us, we handed over our house to a local Realtor. This eliminates the discomfort issue of selling privately and their websites are easily found to people from out of town, especially since our area is multiple-listing-area which means one website is used by all area Realtors. The drawback of course is that we have less wiggle room in our price since we have to jack our bottom line up by 6% to cover the Realtor commission. We did this a month ago.

Overall the process has been pretty painless. I like the fact that I don't have to be around when someone is looking at my house and trying to sell it to them. Someone else does that. In fact, all I have to do is make sure it is relatively clean and vacate the premises for a half hour or so. We've had 14 or so showings over the last four weeks and I don't have to answer all the phone calls that the Realtor is undoubtedly receiving. It is pretty relaxing. Still we haven't had an offer yet despite the realtor saying that it won't be on the market very long since we are priced well under what it is worth and what the going market is saying it should go for. We were told we had an imminent offer last week (coincidentally by a coworker who recognized it as my house and stopped by later to ask more questions) but that hasn't yet materialized yet. I have another showing tonight (two nights ago by the time this posts) and they seem to be pretty steady so I'm not too worried yet. Still, it puts the damper on the dreaming of a new place which will be the topic of my next post.