Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Mission: Inspection

I have the morning off of work so that I may accompany the inspectors around my prospective new abode. There are two of them: one for pests and one for structure and systems. The pest inspector looks around, points out the wood surrounding the landscaping out front and suggests I get that replaced with brick or stone or pavers or something. Wood, even pressure-treated wood, starts to rot when it's in direct contact with the ground, and then it could become home for termites and other bugs. He also points out the drainpipe and where its dumping-off place is--right against the house. He suggests I get some sort of extension to add to the end of it so that rainwater doesn't compromise the foundation. He checks the inside of the house while I follow in the wake of the other inspector. My real estate agent is behind us both, making notes (as am I, by the way).

The inspector points out the missing doorknob of the storage unit. I'd already made a mental note of this the last time I saw the place. He says to watch the area of the patio around the entrance for the sliding glass door. It's a skim of concrete that looks like it was added after the door was in place -- there to keep the rain from getting in. He said silicone sealer will sort that out. He also shows me how to keep the dryer vent clear of lint (there's a ton of it in there and he removes it. Their dryer is going to work much better this evening than it has for a while. I wonder if they'll notice). Apparently that's a fire hazard. He says his son (a boy scout) uses lint from the dryer to start his campfires. Yikes. Will definitely be on the look-out for that.

On the inside: All clear, pest-wise. One breaker on the electrical panel needs to be replaced. The "test" breaker, the one that's supposed to shut everything off, doesn't work at all. He told me to expect to be replacing the thermostats at some point--the heating system is of indeterminate age and when it has problems it's usually the thermostats that die. He also suggested that I change the smoke detectors. They aren't meant to last forever, and should be replaced more regularly than most people do. As to water, one of the valves on the water heater has a slight leak.

Structurally, things are fine. I ask a few questions about things I'd noticed--mainly cracks in the paint. They're nothing structural, just drywall tape that's pulled away. They can be fixed with some spackle. The attic is dry, ventilated, insulated--all things you want in your attic.

And that's about it. It looks like repairs are going to be under $500, which is the magic number I gave in the contract for what I wouldn't quibble about. It's up to the people giving me the loan whether they want these things fixed before they give me the money or not. I may just have to give them receipts to prove that I had it done within a certain time period of moving in (30-60 days, maybe?).

Now it's time to tell the Invisible Complex Manager that I've bought a house and need to be let out of that addendum I signed last month. I wonder if I'll have to find someone to take over the lease, or if he'll just let me go. I've asked other people who've lived there a while (and some who moved out after buying houses mid-lease), and consensus is that he'll be okay with just letting me go. We'll see. I need to clean a little more before I tell him. I figure once I do tell him there will be people traipsing in and out until it's leased, and I'd feel a little easier in my mind if it's relatively tidy. Though how tidy can you be with a ton of boxes around the place, anyway?

Added later: I forgot the best part! As we're standing outside and he whips out his PDA to start note-taking he says, "Why does this place look familiar?"

He did the inspection on it 3 1/2 years ago when the current owners bought it.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

My own little rollercoaster ride

I have a new fad diet. It's called the "Homebuyer Diet." Your stomach is in knots, so you definitely don't feel hungry. You get all kinds of energy from nerves and worry. I've lost five pounds in less than a week.

I've also been waking up with a jolt at four o'clock every [bleep]ing morning since Friday. Never the same reason but always the same result.

So here's what's been going on, as reconstructed from the emails I've been bombarding my sister and Mom with for days:

Saturday: My realtor tells me she couldn't get hold of the originator at the credit union, and she's not sure whether the townhouse is going to qualify for the FHA program. Something about its being part of an association and also about not knowing the tenant to live-in owner ratio. If it's mostly tenants I think property values go down. Also the FHA wants to make sure I'm buying this to live in, not to rent out. Fair enough. Anything I can sign to avow that's what I'm doing? She doesn't know, that's why we need the lady at the credit union. Apparently she's their FHA expert. We'll talk to her Monday.

Sunday: Fret, worry, try to put it out of my mind, and go shake my fanny at belly dance class. I'm okay until bedtime, when the same thoughts chase each other around and around in my head as the cat purrs on my chest.

Monday: My agent has received the numbers she needed, and they're not very good: 33 units, 19 tenanted, 14 with owner in residence. That's 58% tenant. I look it up online and find that anything over 10% is considered a risk. More bad news: the originator is going to be out of the office all day. No news 'til Tuesday.

Today: Originator is going to be out of the office until Thursday, for crying out loud. My agent calls the other one and says she can't wait until Thursday, could he please learn a bit more about the FHA today? He does, the FHA won't finance this townhouse. Crap. The PHFA will, though (that's Pennsylvania's version of the same program). My credit union doesn't do PHFA loans, though. Double crap. My realtor is on really good terms with someone at another bank, contacts her (after asking me if it was okay. I said, sure, go for it). She works the numbers out and also finds me a funky little loan from my county designed to help out with down payment and closing costs. It's a second mortgage, interest-free, and I don't have to pay it off until I either sell the house or refinance it. She asks for (and receives) a bunch of financial information from me to see if I qualify. I do, just barely.

After that, things start rocketing forward again. At four o'clock precisely (by the Big Ben chimes from the clock on campus) I have a completely executed contract in my hands, and some time during the next fifteen days I need to get the place inspected. I'm meeting with the mortgage originator at the new bank (just up the street from my credit union) on Friday. I am to bring with me a sheaf of papers, financial documents, and various pieces of proof that I do actually exist, live in this county, work, that the numbers I gave her today were accurate, and that I have good credit.

Good lord this has been an education. So far everyone I've dealt with has been eager to help me get me into a place of my own. My real estate agent has been wonderful, and never for a moment did I think she was working for anything other than my best interests. For example: the "dream" townhouse--the one that I knew was out of my league but was still tantalizingly just inside the range I'd been okayed for by the credit union--I'd looked at it wistfully from the driveway as we were pulling away. J. said, pleadingly, "Vee, I don't want you to be house-poor." That stuck with me. That told me more than anything whose side she was on, and that I could trust her. She'd have made a much better commission on that one than she's making on this one, but this one is a better fit for me and that's what is motivating her. I think she's as excited about this as I am.

My sister has said that first-time home buyers are her favorite clients. The excitement is infectious. I believe it.

Looks like another sleepless night, but for a good reason this time. Definitely time to start packing.


I thought I'd take a break from the whole "Confessions of a First-Time Homebuyer" thang and tell you all a little story I squirreled away in the back of my mind as blog post fodder. It surfaced this morning as I dropped my breakfast toast and it landed on the floor peanut butter side down. As it hit I shouted, "Monkeymonkey!"

Stretch, my sister's husband, grew up in a duplex in Philadelphia. The other half of the duplex was occupied by people who became fast friends with his family, especially Stretch and the neighbor's son. When they eventually got married they were in each other's wedding parties. Ditter and Friend's Missus have become really good friends as well.

One by one, first the Friends, the Friend's parents, and then Ditter and Stretch and Stretch's parents moved into the same development in Lancaster County, Pa. Ditter lives across the street and two doors down from the Friends, and the Friends Sr. live down the street the other way and around a corner. Stretch jokes that they should petition to get the street renamed to the one they all left.

The Friends had a baby two years ago, a sweet, precocious little girl they named Michaela. One of Michaela's favorite activities is riding on the vacuum cleaner. Friend will push it around on the floor while she stands on the front, hanging on to the handle. Here's the thing: these rides never occur while the machine is actually being used to sweep the floor. It has never been running while she was in the room. In her mind this object is nothing but a toy.

So one day, Friend decides he needs to sweep the floor. He drags the vacuum out of the closet, turns around and plugs it in. Michaela sees her hobbyhorse is out and she clambers onto it. Friend turns the machine on. It roars to life, Michaela leaps off of it and runs across the room. Friend turns the vacuum off to see if she's okay.

She is furious, red-faced, her hands balled up into fists.

"Monkeymonkey!" she shouts at Friend.

Proof that even as early as two the impulse to swear is in there somewhere.

Friend's Missus told Ditter that story, and when we visited them last Christmas, Ditter relayed it to us. "Monkeymonkey" has been adopted by us as a substitute swear word.

Friday, April 18, 2008

So I made an offer...

...which was definitely more of a shot across the bow than something I expected they'd take. They're meeting with their agent in about 15 minutes, and they'll probably give me a counter offer.

And I'll probably accept it. I was ready to give them the full asking price with no help on closing costs, so anything they offer as an alternative is great. If they say "Nope, what we listed is what we want," I have no problem with that. It's worth it.

I had a brief freak-out going through the covenants for this townhouse after I came across this rule:

"No animals, livestock, fowl or poultry of any kind shall be raised, bred, or kept in any Unit or in the Common Elements unless otherwise provided by Rules and Regulations promulgated by the Executive Board."

That sounded an awful lot like "No Pets" to me. If this place won't let me bring Lolly with me, they can keep it. Also, even if they just allow cats, my sister and her hubby have a yellow lab that they take on trips with them, and my parents have a little German Spitz that my dad loves beyond all reason. They would never go anywhere for any length of time without her. They already tried a dog-sitter and that experiment failed. She bullied the sitter's dog something awful.

I fired off an email to my realtor about that last night. She called me this morning. Apparently this is a standard rule that they use to keep people from becoming chicken farmers or puppy mills in the units. Pets are fine. I sounded a bit uncertain of that, so she found the phone number for the managing company and called them. Pets are not a problem. She made sure about dogs, too. They need to be kept on a leash when they're outside, and cleaned-up after when they relieve themselves, that's all.

I can't wait to see Dad's face the first time he tells me he's going to take Pip for a walk and I hand him a couple of little plastic baggies.

Added later:

The offer they countered with was the one my agent and I had decided would be our third offer. I took it. Now she double-checks with my credit union to make sure of my financing. I go in tomorrow sometime to initial the changes made to the contract.

They didn't say anything about wanting more earnest money either.

Holy cow, I think I'm almost a home-owner!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

And again I say, whoosh!

Saw 10 places this morning. Liked 5 of them. One is way out of my league (sigh...), so I didn't even have my agent look for more information on that one. The other four, though, she has done. We're making second visits this afternoon starting at 3:45, and I think by tonight I may have chosen the one I want to try for.


Am I really doing this? [Pinches self] Ow! Nope, not dreaming. I am really doing this.

Sunday, April 13, 2008


Things are moving very quickly right now.

Tuesday I got a Good Faith Estimate.

Wednesday I bought a pretty little 50¢ notebook from Michael's art supply store, walked up the parking lot to the other branch of my credit union, and met with the mortgage originator. She went through the GFE line by line, stopping while I took copious notes (she gets a lot of that, I'm sure). The number that stunned me so much turned out to be a worst-case scenario sort of estimate (highest taxes, highest insurance, 25 days' worth of interest to pay up front...), and included the down payment in it. That made it much more manageable.

After a few moments' hesitation, I flung myself into the gap and said, "All right, let's see if I can get approved."

I did, for exactly the amount she had projected. It seems like an awful lot of money to me, and I'm amazed that someone is willing to trust me with it. Apparently I have excellent credit. I'd assumed it was pretty good. After I finally paid off my student loans, I noticed a steady increase in the number of "You're Pre-Approved!" credit card applications in my mail.

I told my sister to go ahead and refer a realtor for me. I later found out that this means she'll get a piece of the commission. Might as well keep the money in the family, right?

Thursday I got contacted by J., and I told her what I want: a little townhouse on a bus route.

Friday she sent me 18 listings either on or near a bus route, all in my price range. A couple of 'em are more towards the top end...but there you are.

Saturday I did something totally unrelated with the Chief Loon over in Bellefonte. Research and picture-taking for an event the Loons are putting together for this spring or summer.

I've spent this afternoon using mapquest and the area transit authority's web site to see a) where these houses are; b) what routes are nearby; and c) how nearby is "nearby?"

All right, I admit it. I'm a question mark.

Occasionally I catch myself saying things like, "Oooooh, it has a basement!" I don't need a basement. I've looked around my apartment and I realize that once I get myself into a 2- or possibly 3-bedroom townhouse with all my stuff, I'm going to rattle around the place like a seed in a gourd.

To answer some of the comments to the previous post: G., sorry, but I think I'm going to do exactly what your daughter did. I've been in the area for approximately 20 years. I think it's safe to say I'm staying. If I want to move, I'll sell the house. I know there's a lot of maintenance involved with owning a home (been watching my parents for years), but I think I can handle it. I figured it out yesterday and my conservative estimate is that over the past 15 1/2 years I've spent a little over $75,000 on rent, and I have nothing to show for it but a dingy little apartment and a growing sense of irritation at the way the place is managed. I've hit the point in my life where I want to have something after I've paid for it.

JustMe, Sunny is a blast. It's not her real name (no one mentioned on this blog has their real name used) but it should be. I'm pretty sure that little blue place has been snapped up. It's not in my list from the realtor. There are a bunch of places over on that end of town though, so we could still be doing the YMCA/bingo thing. Most of these places look like I'll still be right smack up against my neighbors, but that doesn't bother me. Hearing people overhead bothers me. Place I'm in now, the floorboards squeak something awful. You can hear every step, all the time. Ugh. I didn't care about that when I moved in. I just wanted somewhere to live.

Hey Ditter! Does the hubby know you just enlisted him as mover/painter? 'Cause I may just take you up on that.

This coming Thursday I have the day off from work. I'm using that time to meet with J., talk about these listings she sent me, and probably go see some of 'em.

I'm beginning to feel like I should start packing...time to hoard boxes from work.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

I've officially stuck a toe into the water


I just called my credit union and left a message with one of their mortgage originators (must be her lunch hour) about what I want to do. I left my cubicle's phone number instead of my cell, 'cause reception is bad in here. Well, what do I expect? Middle of the room under four floors' worth of books, do I think I'm gonna be able to call out? The Verizon "can-you-hear-me-now" dude needs to come scout around in here.

Reactions to what I'm trying to do have been mixed: my mother is so excited I can hear her bouncing up and down in her seat right now. I had to let a teensy bit of the air out her balloon by reminding her that sometimes I can be all talk.

"Look how long it took me to learn how to drive," I pointed out, via email.

"Drive?" She wrote back. "When did you learn how to drive? Have you been holding out on me?"

"No, Mom. That was my point."

Bess (at work) thinks it's great. Nothing like owning your own place, she says.

Jane (another friend of mine, making her first appearance in my blog. Under an assumed name, of course) on the other hand was a total wet blanket. Went to dinner with her last week and the very first words out of her mouth when I mentioned my plans were negative. She was all about how expensive housing is around here, and how much money home ownership costs in general. Didn't have one word of encouragement. I had to bite back my initial response (I tend to do that a lot with her. Maybe someday I should just let her have it), which was something along the lines of "You're just jealous because I'm taking steps to change my situation, and you're scared that I might succeed." She seems happiest when someone nearby fails. I don't know why that is. I don't know why I continue to hang out with her, actually.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have Sunny. I bumped into her in the grocery store yesterday evening. We used to work in the same department, but her tolerance for BS is much, much, much lower than mine, so Sunny found work elsewhere years ago. I haven't seen her in ages.

I told her what was up with me lately and she got all excited.

"There is the cutest little townhouse for sale near me. It looks out over a cornfield. It's near a bus route...and the have to see it!"

She started to describe where it was, and then said,

"Are you busy right now? I'll take you over!"

-We interrupt this blog entry for an important (to me) bulletin-

Just heard back from the woman I called. She took some info over the phone (I thought we'd have to meet or something), is going to run some numbers and email me a "good faith" estimate later on today. Oooohhh! My little heart is going pitty-pat.

-We now return you to your regularly scheduled entry-

So we get into Sunny's car, which she's apologizing for and making excuses about:

"It's filthy. I'm sorry." (Looked fine to me) "That mark on the inside of the door is from where my son spilled hot chocolate yesterday." (Hadn't noticed it 'til she pointed it out). "The smell of death in here is from my stinky feet." (Oh, Sunny, honestly. What are you talking about?). All the way over she's telling me about the horrible job she just left, one that made her look back fondly to the one in my old department. Good lord, she must be joking.

"No, seriously, Vee. These women were Evil." Then she goes into detail and by the time she's done, I have to say that I agree with her. Now she's working for another organization that she likes much better, where they actually praise her for doing good work and don't hold past mistakes against her.

Then suddenly we're in her neighborhood. She drives around a bit. I see a lot of townhouses for sale in the area, but none of them are the one she means. Sunny's pointing out all sorts of things to me:

"See, there's a bus stop...okay, it's not right on the route, but it's close. And there's the YMCA, within walking distance...we could go work out together! And down there..." she points. I can't see anything. " the Knights of Columbus, where they have bingo every Friday night."

Then we find it. It is cute. Little. Blue. It's on the end of the row, which means there's a really nice window and no neighbors on the left. Perfect little starter home. And yep, there's a corn field across the street. Or at least, there is right now. Give it a few years and some developer will probably turn it into student housing or single-family dwellings packed in so tightly that when the resident of one house sneezes someone from next door will be able to hand in a tissue from the open window without leaving his own living room.

She decides we need to stop and take a look--and confesses (but I knew this) that she's doing a little living vicariously through me, because she doesn't think she'll ever be able to live in anything but a rental. We pull up in the parking lot outside, and she gets out of the car -- I don't 'cause I'm bit more shy. What if the owner's home? What do we say? "Hi, we saw your for sale sign, thought we'd peek through your windows"?

She comes skipping happily back to the car.

"I think I know your neighbors. That is, unless those two pug dogs in the window aren't who I think they are."

"Sunny! Sweetie, you've got me all moved in and I don't even have a mortgage approved yet."

"Ah, psh!" She waves this way. "Details!"

Then she drives me home. On the way I tell her about Jane's discouragement, and she says one word: "Frenemy."


"Frenemy. Acts like she's your friend but is really an enemy. All she does is chip away at your joy. Happy when you fail, though she does her best not to show it. Happier still when she can keep you from trying to succeed. Frenemy."


I have a new word.

--Added later: Got the Good Faith Estimate. Need to talk to the mortgage originator about it, as I have no idea whatsoever what any of it means. Right now it looks like closing costs are twice as much as what I'd need for a down payment. In a fret, I emailed my sister asking her to talk sense to me and bring me in off the ledge. She has done that, but I need to speak to this woman. In the meantime I'm playing around online looking at houses. Can't find a listing for the one I saw yesterday, though I am pretty sure I was on the website of the right agency.

More on the "Punctuation Mark" assessment test from yesterday

I suppose the quibble I have with the way they described me is that while I do research the heck out of stuff, it isn't usually for myself. If someone else has a question, I go after the answer like a terrier after a rat. But me? I don't have many questions these days.

I love learning but I can't stand School. The thing I disliked most about college was that most of the professors in my major weren't trying to help me find my own way. They were looking for immortality. The way to do this is by creating a bunch of people who think just like you. By my senior year I was so tired of my professors in fiction-writing trying to replace my perspective with theirs that I actually snarled at one man, "If that's the sort of story you want to see, then write your own and leave mine alone!"

He gave me an A. I've often wondered if it was because of that comment or in spite of it.

He did give me an excellent piece of advice once, though he did it by accident. He said that "actors would love to get their teeth into this dialogue, but it just doesn't work for fiction." What he meant was, "Be more descriptive." What I heard was, "Try writing a play." I took playwriting the next semester and had a blast.

Monday, April 07, 2008

I'm a question mark?

You Are a Question Mark

You seek knowledge and insight in every form possible. You love learning.

And while you know a lot, you don't act like a know it all. You're open to learning you're wrong.

You ask a lot of questions, collect a lot of data, and always dig deep to find out more.

You're naturally curious and inquisitive. You jump to ask a question when the opportunity arises.

Your friends see you as interesting, insightful, and thought provoking.

(But they're not always up for the intense inquisitions that you love!)

You excel in: Higher education

You get along best with: The Comma

I don't know that I quite agree with this. I don't know that I give intense inquisitions (Do I? Do I? Huh? Do I?), and if by excelling in higher education they mean formal education they are way, way off. I have a bachelor's degree, and that's all I want.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Bumper stickers, family, and politics

My aunt's a charismatic Christian and a very, very conservative Republican. Lately I've been seeing bumper stickers around that make me think of her, but not 'cause she'd agree with the sentiments. The one that would really make her twitch?

"The Rapture is not an exit strategy!"

I try not to talk politics or religion with her. I don't know whether it occurs to her that I don't agree with her about much because I never argue. I just let her talk and talk, and keep my own counsel. The closest she's ever come to realizing I'm not on her team was a conversation we had almost sixteen years ago, right after Bill Clinton won his first term in office. The Virginia Contingent of the family came up for Thanksgiving vacation that year. We were seated at the supper table, and she was all doom and gloom about how horrible the next four years were going to be. Then she pounced on me with:

"Who did you vote for?"


"Vee!" Shocked, appalled. My cousin D actually made a move as if to smack me (he was ten, if that's any excuse) but stopped when he saw my "go on, try it" expression.

"And I'm going to do it again. Then I'm voting for Gore. Please pass the turnips."

I refused to be drawn into an argument with her, though she did try. I told her I was not interested in a political debate. My voting choices were none of her business ("secret ballot," and all that), my reasons were my own, and I didn't care whether she agreed with me or not.

Silence. And then my sister changed the subject to something less likely to cause a food fight.

We've never had a political discussion since. She has a son in the Air Force (Cousin D, as a matter of fact) who's about to be deployed to Iraq for the second time, and though she's frightened, worried, and generally upset she still stubbornly backs the Guy in Charge. Shrug. Oh well. I guess someone has to, though I just don't get it.

I don't know why I'm talking politics today. I never do. Maybe it's because Bill Clinton was here last Friday, Obama was here Sunday, Ann Coulter is in town this evening, and the primary elections are a little under three weeks away. I wish Edwards had stayed in the race. That's the one I really wanted to vote for.