Sunday, July 22, 2007

A Moving Experience...
(an ongoing series) — Part 8

Blowin’ off steam
Can we tawk? Sorry for being so silent on the house story for the past week, but therein lays the problem — nothin’s happenin.’ Wait — let me restate that…a lot is happening, just nothing good; nothing good for us, and certainly nothing good to write about.

I gotta do a little venting here before I freakin’ explode.

If you’ve read any part of this ‘continuing series’ then you know that we’re building a new house — and that’s definitely a good thing. However, often the flipside of that equation is that we have to the sell the current house first, which they say is perhaps the single most stressful experience a married couple can go through. Now I don’t know who the heck they are, but I’d be inclined to agree with ‘em on that point.

It’s been nearly two weeks since our original buyers, Mr. & Mrs. Potatohead, backed out from their offer, under what we and our Realtors considered to be pretty questionable circumstances. But, hey — they were within their legal right to do so, so vaya con dios to them; they don’t know what they’re missin’ out on.

In the ensuing weeks, Michelle and I have decided that we’re missing out on something as well — our sanity.

All my world is a ‘stage’
I’m pretty sure Willy Shakespeare didn’t have selling houses in mind when he wrote As You Like It, and I’m pretty sure they didn’t have HGTV in 16th Century England either, But then again, legitimate context has never stopped me from bastardizing a popular phrase to make a point.

A year or so ago, I began hearing Michelle referring to this new term: ‘staging,’ in reference to selling a house. My wife is addicted to the myriad shows on HGTV (Home and Garden Network) and TLC (The Learning Channel), two Do-It-Yourself cable channels that would lead you to believe that you can do a complete remodel on your home with a roll of crepe paper and a ball pine hammer.

Seriously though, some of the shows she watches religiously are pretty good I’ll admit, but there are so many of them dealing with the same subject matter, it just makes me dizzy.

One of those ad nauseum subjects is homeselling, either by buying a fixer-upper and flipping it, or simply maximizing the potential of your own home’s sale value. In either case, the term used for making the home as attractive as possible to potential buyers is staging. And right now, we’re in staging HELL!

The basic goal in staging a home is to de-clutter and simplify, removing as many personal effects: photos, souvenirs, unnecessary nick-nacks, magazines, papers — anything that makes the place look like YOU live there. This is in order to allow the potential buyer, who will only be seeing your home when your not there, to project themselves living there instead.

It’s a fine principle and it makes a lot of sense, even if it can be a little extreme if pushed too far. But when you actually have to try and live under those conditions, lemme tellya, it sucks big time.

The fact that we have already packed away nearly all our all-but-absolutely-essential personal items is bad enough, but that’s not the worst of it. It’s like livin’ in a freakin’ hotel, and I’m the maid!.

I feel like a prisoner in my own home. We have to keep the house absolutely spotless, vacuumed every day, sinks wiped down to the last bead of water before we go to work, toilet seats down — including lids, nothing left out on any counters anywhere, not a piece of paper sitting out, not even a magazine in sight.

And why go to all that trouble? Because at a moment’s — and I do mean moment’s notice, one of the Realtor gals could call, announcing that they have a showing at all hours of the day. If Michelle and I are at work, then, no problem-o — the house is in show-mode. The prospective buyer’s agents can come in and show our house, looking its best.

But what that requires on our part is a complete discombobulation of our (read: my) morning routine. Oh don’t get me wrong, Michelle does more before 7:00 AM than I do all day anyway, but because she has to be at work at 8:00 AM sharp, while I can fudge my coming and going a little without serious recourse, a lot of the morning staging chores are left up to me.

And please understand, I’m not just being a typical male, griping about a little extra housework here, I’m just saying that the extra 15-20 minutes I’m going in late for work is starting to grind on me. And the total effort of keeping the house spotless 24/7 is grinding on Michelle too.

But that’s not the worst of it, still.

As if weekdays weren’t enough of a drag, weekends are downright depressing. Now, we have open houses on Sundays as well as the same spur-of-the-moment spot house showings that come out of nowhere on Saturday. We can’t plan to do anything! We basically, for the last two weekends, have had time to drink our coffee and read the paper in the morning, then get cleaned up and get out of the house so that it can be shown.

We’ve been taking a lot of drives out to the new lot to see if anything’s happening out there yet, but so far nothing has. They should be breaking ground in about a week or so, and we know that, yet still we wander out that way, knowing we won’t be seeing any progress on our new house, but hey, we’ve gotta do something to kill a couple hours, right?

Sheesh. Can’t relax; can’t work; can’t write; can’t save money, ‘cuz we’re eating out 3-4 times a week because we can’t mess up the kitchen.

Can’t imagine I can take this much longer.

But I will.

The silver lining
There is one good thing that’s coming from all this, though: practice. Hopefully the fact that we’re literally changing the way we think about how we live is gonna be parlayed into some better housekeeping habits when we move into our new home. I’m not a slob, but you could probably have guessed that I’d played one on TV at least once in my life. But I sort of like this having-a-clean-house-kinda-deal. Hopefully that’s one of the changes we’re going through that will stick.

But please, Lord, won’t you make the staging go away soon?

I guess it’s also good that we are indeed getting a lot of prospective buyers coming through, and in so doing, our house is showing up on the radar of the outside Realtors bringing them through the door. And the more Realtors see the house, the more opportunities they will have to sell it, if not to the person they bring by the first time, then perhaps another client sometime else.

At any rate, it’s our REALity for now. We’ll just have to make the best of it.

That’s all I got, but boy do I feel better. Thanks for listening.

Now in the immortal words of Snagglepuss, “Exit…stage left…ev-en”

Monday, July 16, 2007

A Moving Experience...
(an ongoing series) — Part 7

Maybe this diary thing isn't so bad after all...
The more I write about this new house deal in ‘diary’ mode, the better I'm liking it. It’s a helluva lot easier to just sit down and spew out few stream-of-consciousness paragraphs on the previous couple day’s events than it is to try and weave a structured story out of the same, which is essentially what plagued me the last time I tried to attempt this kind of story treatment last summer, when I had my mini-career crisis at work.

So despite the fact that I will definitely be going back in to alter the structure of this material at some point, for the time being I’m going to just continue trying to post a few blurbs every couple days or so, as much as is possible for me right now.

At least it will make it less work later on, while providing valuable therapy for me along the way, fleshing out my various thoughts and emotions on the subject as they happen.

Weekend Update
As I mentioned on Saturday, we basically had to slap ourselves out of the post-rejection funk that we were in. We just needed to get back on our horses and ride.

The Realty gals placed the house back on the market and we went back into 'hotel' mode, which I’ll talk more about later. They had one showing on Saturday afternoon and an open house on Sunday, in which two couples (young ones this time) came by to take a look. Apparently one of those two families really expressed an interest, so hopefully we’ll hear from them again this week.

April’s not foolin’
I’ve gotta say, I’m extremely encouraged by our agents’ enthusiasm. They’ve been a great source of encouragement after a tough week following the unexpected rejection last Tuesday by our initial buyer.

But now in the wake of all that, it’s almost as though one of the two women working with us has kicked it into a higher gear that we hadn’t seen from her previously.

And speaking of our agents, I suppose it’s time to give these ladies names for the sake of reference in the story. We’ll call Realty gal #1, Leslie, and #2, let’s tag her as April.

Now the only reason I would even think to rank these two women numerically, is that so far Leslie has without a doubt been the alpha-female. She has the most experience of the two, and while we actually met with April initially, Leslie took over the show soon thereafter.

Prior to the initial offer, Leslie had arranged all the showings, provided all the paperwork and made 98% of all the direct contacts with Michelle and me regarding the business and developments of our homeselling process.

Leslie is tough, fast-talking and self assured. She’s extremely nice and easy to deal with, but certainly compared to April, can come off as a bit pushy. However in this case, I would think that's what you’d want in an agent: a go-getter; someone who isn’t going to sit back and play things passively. Particularly in our circumstance, where time is a crucial factor, we needed someone who would do everything in their power to get our house sold fast!

The other agent, April, is an absolute sweetheart; tall, blond, and extremely gentle in spirit. Her only detractor in my opinion was that while enthusiastic, she didn't seem particularly aggressive. So when Leslie came in and pretty much took the ball, April seemed to just sort of stand back and let her, which was actually okay with me.

But that was then; this is now. A new April seems to have emerged. She might have come in like a lamb, she seems to be going out like a lion.

April was the one who took the most offense at the seemingly incomprehensible rejection of our house by the first buyer, an old gentleman who will be referred to forthwith as Mister Potatohead, or MP for short.

I’ll explain in greater detail later about how it all went down, but for now let’s just say that MP’s justification for reversing his commitment to buy our home wasn’t exactly on the up-and-up. Nevertheless he had one legal ‘out,’ and he took it.

MP used the findings of the home inspector’s report as basis for weaseling out of the deal, which was his right. The report was somewhat lengthy, but in it the inspector emphasized that the the issues listed were neither alarming nor out-of-the-ordinary for a home of thirteen years’ age. They were all routine maintenance issues which were easily correctable.

Nonetheless, ol’ Spud Melon insisted that the number of items were more than he thought should need to be addressed in a house he wanted to buy.

But April smelled a bad ’tater.

She was the one of the two Realty gals whose indignation surfaced enough to challenge the old fart. Politely, she contacted MP to inquire further as to how he arrived at such a decision. He stuck with the party line. Undaunted, April assured MP that we could deal with the most serious of what were at worst routine issues. Still he remained firm; he wanted out of the deal.

But what she did next is what cemented my affection for her and in my mind, earned her the commission for which she toils. She wouldn’t take no for an answer.

She pressed MP, pushing the envelope even beyond the extent for which she had the authority; she simply went with her gut.

She asked him point-blank: “If every single item on this inspection list were fixed, would you THEN be interested in the house?”

“No,” he replied, predictably.

That bit of information was invaluable to me and my peace of mind. It told me that the actual reason MP walked away from my house had nothing to do with any fault on our part, but instead was based some other impetuous factor he had essentially created in his own mind.

That’s not all of that story; there’s also another highly significant detail I don't have time to elaborate upon now, but which I’ll touch upon in a future post. Quite entertaining, actually...

The point of know return
Prior to these developments however, Michelle and I added a new level of permanence to our home buying experience. We pushed forward in the process of finalizing the details on the new house, which should begin construction in the next week or so.

On Friday afternoon, we finished up the various color selections for the new house. We selected our colors for the exterior, stone, shingles, etc. as well as the interior color and styles for the walls and trim, carpets, and kitchen cabinet configuration.

This was all supposed to have been done a few weeks ago, but because the house is a brand new floorplan and ours will actually be the first of its kind ever built, some of the selection criteria wasn't completed until late last week. The delay actually worked to our advantage since it gave us about 10 days longer to think about what we had seen in the initial meeting. This allowed us to refine our choices instead of making more-or-less snap-decisions as we would have been forced to make in the normal one-day process.

Immediately following that meeting, we rushed out to the new subdivision for our meeting with the construction foreman. There we hammered out all of the construction-specific details and decisions regarding the addition and/or optional placement of electrical outlets, cable and network/Internet connectors, hose bibs, patio extensions, exterior lighting; any additional options that we might want to add in the standard construction phase of our new home. This was where it all had to be decided. Any changes made thereafter would cost us — prohibitively so.

Since our current house was our first new-construction home, and given the shoestring budget we were on at the time, we did without a lot of extras that later I wished we would have just bitten the bullet and paid for. We didn't realize how little an extra $200-$500 impacts the monthly payment on a 30-year mortgage. On that note, we lived and learned, deciding years ago, that the next house we built we would get everything that we wanted, within reason of course. And this time, I believe we did.

There were a few upgrades that we knew we didn’t really need and held back the urge to splurge upon, but for the most part we got everything we really wanted. But lest you think us a couple’a spendthrifts, this was stuff we had planned about for years, identifying in advance as agreed-upon expenditures, and all within the amount we had budgeted for this house.

We’re not into spending willy-nilly. We just wanted to make sure that twenty-five years from now we wouldn’t be saying, “I wish we had done 'X'.” This house will be the place we intend to remain for the rest of our lives, or as close to it as possible. I wanted it to be ‘the house of no regrets.’

But while we came away from those meetings excited and full of anticipation for the wonderful home that awaits us in five months, we also experienced for the first time, the sense of foreboding that can only come from knowing that you’ve made a huge commitment...and there’s no backing out.

That being said, while I have no doubt that we’re doing the right thing, I’ll just feel a lot better once we get our current house sold, y’know?

Saturday, July 14, 2007

A Moving Experience...
(an ongoing series) — Part 6

Who am I kiddin,’ anyway?
I didn't want this thing to become a diary, but guess what? I probably need it to be one more than anything else right now. The fact is, I don't need to tell a story so much as get the frustration I'm feeling off my chest. How it's delivered really isn't that important.

Directly prior to Tuesday morning when we learned the couple who had placed an accepted offer on our house had suddenly backed out, I had been completely re-writing this series into a more complete story with a formulated beginning, which would have followed the process all the way through; from the day we stumbled upon an opportunity that we decided was too good to pass up, to the day sometime in mid-December, when I carry Michelle over the threshold of our dream home.

However, as of this moment, as one of our Realtor gals put it, “We’ve hit a bump in the road.”

Spoiled by success
Obviously I'm pretty frustrated and a little bit discouraged at this point in the game, but all that could turn on a dime after some more people see the house this weekend. We had a showing already this morning, and the Realty gals have scheduled an open house for tomorrow afternoon.

So while frustration still lingers, there's always hope around the corner. And therein lies the problem with this roller coaster of emotions that Michelle and I have been riding these past several weeks.

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a pretty even-tempered person. I have no illusions of grandeur; I have no assumptions of entitlement or that I necessarily deserve anything in life I didn't actually earn. I'm a Magna Cum Laude from the School of Hard Knocks; I know that you get what you pay for, both literally and figuratively. There is no free lunch.

Nonetheless, My life has been blessed. I've had the opportunity to enjoy some successes that many others have not, despite also suffering sorrows that many will never have to endure.

But sometimes, juuust sometimes, you get lazy; you get lulled into thinking that the things really should go your way. Then your luck changes and you immediately wonder why.

This is one of those times.

It all was happening so fast. We were on a hot streak; our lives were a golden blur. But now, given this past week's inactivity, it seems like an eternity has elapsed since we've had any good news.

Render me guilty for feeling cheated that things didn't continue to go as perfectly as they started — and I do mean perfectly.

Our house was on the market a mere six days before we received the offer. Six days and we thought it was sold. Six days — that's 54 days less than the average number of days for homes in this area to be on the market.

Naturally we were ecstatic. It was a perfect scenario for us. We immediately went out and put money down on an apartment where we would live while our new home was being built. It was a one-bedroom, but hey, we could deal with being cramped for awhile in order to realize our dream, right?

The apartment complex is the same one we lived in during our first two and a half years here in Tennessee, so in a sense it was like going home. We like the place, and again, he location is prime, just about three miles from our current house, centrally located to both of our workplaces, shopping, etc.

We were all set. We were preparing to move in on July 20th. Michelle leaves to attend her annual Longaberger Basket convention on July 26th. The timing couldn't have been any better.

What's more, the apartment manager who was so helpful in getting us set up to get into this apartment, also did us another favor, whether willingly or by oversight.

The standard practice for most apartment complexes it seems is to require a minimum one-year lease for new renters. However we, being short-timers, didn't want that. Anything beyond a six-month binder would have been a deal-breaker for us. There's no way we wanted to still be paying rent on the apartment beyond December, when our new house will be ready to move into. I mean, that'd be silly, right?

Well, given the timing of things with our would-be buyer, we were counting our lucky stars that we'd only have to eat the month of January in such a scenario — and that we could live with; but when the apartment paperwork was all drawn up, we discovered that we wouldn't have to.

Instead of specifying a six-month lease, which would expire January 20, 2008, the contract said December 20th, 2007. Either the manager miscalculated, or she deliberately fudged the lease in order to help us out.

However all that may be dust in the wind right now. If we don't have another buyer in place by July 27th, which is the last day we'd be allowed to move into the apartment under our current agreement, we'll have to cancel the lease, forfeit the apartment, and hope like hell we can recover the $380 deposit we forked over a little more than a week ago.

I realize that all is not lost. Things could turn around as quickly as they went south. I guess I'm just taking a little time now to mourn over what could have been.

Right about now I'm equal parts heated and defeated, so I'm not really inclined to talk about the old fart who oh-so-blithely turned our world upside down. I'll have plenty to opine about that guy, I assure you, but that will be later, as will the other new and updated parts of this series sharing the details of how this tumultuous chapter in our lives got started. I've actually got to go back and re-write some of it now that this sudden diversion in the story has taken place.

So I in all reality, I have no idea what comes next; but I suppose that's what diaries are all about.

My spirit may be a little nicked up, but I'm not on the DL just yet. Consider me day-to-day.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A Moving Experience...
(an ongoing series) — Part 5

Hold everything
Well I was going to post that new prologue and two new 'beginning' pieces to this story I've been busy back-writing over the past week. And was is the operative word here.

That's been placed on hold, as has the sale of our house. The buyer backed out today, siting the home inspection report's number of routine maintenance issues as their 'reason.'

Fact of the matter is, when asked point-blank by our Realtor if everything on the list was fixed, would that change their decision, their answer was 'no.' So obviously they got cold feet about something else. They simply took the only legal 'out' they had available to them.

I'll write more about this later, but this all came down in the last fifteen minutes, so I thought I'd make a quick post about it while my anger was still boiling.

to be continued...

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

A Moving Experience...
(an ongoing series) — Part 4

July 9th update
Okay, I've been busier than a one-armed paperhanger with fleas over the past six days, so please forgive my not getting the next post up by now.

Actually, what I'm gonna do it just start from scratch. I've written an extensive prologue which completely explains the back-story of our house situation, and I've nearly completed a NEW ‘Part I,’ which properly connects the prologue to the place where I originally began the series. So all of the existing posts will change slightly, at very least by part number.

Trust me, it'll all be much clearer in the end... :)

I guess it's safe to say that I'm realizing exactly how bad I am at writing about things as they happen. Guess I would suck at being a news reporter, huh?

I've decided I much prefer laying out a scenario over which I have more control, but oh well, I guess that's just the way I roll.

Needless to say, the upshot is that this particular post, Part 4, will be going away completely and will be replaced by a completely updated entry on where we stand in the process — and where we stand right now is in the position of being eleven days (and counting) away from ‘outta here’ and into our new apartment.

And if that makes your head snap back, think about mine!

I'm going to make every effort to get that new beginning posted by tonight (and I'll make another temporary post to announce that, so don't bother looking until I tell you it's done), but I hope you'll forgive me if I have to extend that timeline just a bit.

Things have never been crazier for Michelle and me than they are right now, but we've also never felt so much at peace in the wake of it all. Amazing.

Seeya soon...

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Lots to tell. This is a temporary post that will be replaced by the actual one, um... 'soon,' with the complete story of some great news.
Our house has sold! It only took six days when the average, I've been told, for days-on-the-market in our area is sixty.

This story is happening and turning so fast I can hardly keep it straight in my mind — let alone in this blog. Things will be settling down a bit after about three weeks' time, but for now it's full speed ahead. After burning the candle at both ends for five solid weeks, we still have to turn it up yet another notch. We've gotta be outta here by July 30th!

Gotta go rent an apartment.

Gotta go rent another storage unit.

I'll be spending my next three weeks dealin' with mortgage brokers, home inspectors, repairmen, and apartment managers.

Then all will be quiet on the western front — until December...