Monday, August 27, 2007

A Moving Experience (Addendum)
— The Dust Settles…

Outta Pocket
I’m not sure whether it’s purely a Southern colloquialism, or merely one I’d never heard prior to moving to Tennessee, but it certainly fits. As the locals are want to say, I’ve been ‘out of pocket’ for well over a week now, i.e.: AJ’s been out ‘o circulation, ’Net-wise. I’ve had no Internet access outside of work, and, for that matter, no home computer during most of that time, having only just gotten both Michelle’s and my respective machines up and running this past Saturday.

I’ve been feeling completely out of sorts, holed up in a one-bedroom apartment with no Internet; a fish out of water; in non-communicado mode by necessity rather than by choice, and it’s been driving me bonkers.

So this morning I’m stealing just a bit of my employer’s time to throw out a line to announce that ‘we made it.’ The house is sold. We closed last Friday.

Phase One is OH-VAH.

I honestly had some doubts that it would happen — and it almost didn’t; that’s how hairy things got at the end.

When all was said and done, we shelled out a grand total of $4,924.50 in out-of-pocket repairs to get this deal done — obviously far more than we wanted to — or really could afford to — but had to do so nonetheless.

It doesn’t mean we can no longer afford our new home, it just means that we’ll have to buckle down a bit more this fall to save a few extra thousand bucks to add back into the down payment and whittle down our upcoming monthly mortgage commitment. Or we may instead try to buy down a few percentage points on the interest rate (which only God knows what it’ll be come the time we’re allowed to lock in) to make that monthly payment a bit more manageable.

There are a few other opportunities and mitigating factors available to us that will make things a bit easier financially, and I’ll explain them later in another post. They could go a long way in soothing the sting of all the money we’ve been forced to dole out lately, so that’s a good thing.

I guess the hardest thing for me now, however, is to believe in my heart of hearts that the cash we invested in our house was actually necessary, and truly was the right thing to do. After what we’ve been through these past several weeks, it’s hard not to view those repairs as tantamount to an extortion fee the buyer’s agent forced us to pay in order to sell the house.

Lots more on that, later as well.

The good news is, regardless of how much money we’re left to work with, we’re in. Our new home loan is pre-approved and all we have to do now is wait until construction is completed — hopefully on schedule — in late January 2008.

One thing is for certain: we know that this is something we never want to do again. As Michelle has said often these past few weeks, “We’re gonna rot in this new house! Once we’re there, we’re never moving again!”

And as well as I realize that you can ‘never say never,’ I agree with her on that point, and I hope to heck she’s right.

Net Returns
The good folks at Comcast will be by the apartment tomorrow A.M. to hook up the cable Internet service we’ve so desperately been missing for the past week and-a-half, so I’ll be back in cyber-black once again, and hopefully back in full post-mode soon thereafter.

I can now go back and update this story from the beginning, providing all the background details as I wanted to from the start, but was precluded from doing by the volatile nature of this yarn’s day-to-day twists and turns.

So when I’ve got all the changes in place, including a fully parsed prologue and chronological story line, I’ll backdate and re-post it all, then provide links for you to easily find everything in the same scheme as the existing posts.

Then its back on the train to what hopefully will be a very blog-intensive autumn of 2007. I’ve got a lot to catch up on and plenty of time on my hands to do it, what with no yard work and all.

I’m anxious to see if I’m up to the task.


Friday, August 17, 2007

I'm Hot...Steamin,’ Actually.

The Summer from Hell continues...
Just wanted to throw up a quick post to say that it's been one helluva week. Exactly how much so is more than I have time to get into right now, but rest assured I'll have plenty to say about it next week.

As a matter of fact I would like to believe I'm moving into a very blog-heavy season of my life these upcoming six months. We're in the final stages of packing up the house as I speak. We'll rent the U-Haul truck tomorrow to move the furniture, then on Sunday, tie up a few loose ends and will at that point be officially residing in the apartment through January 2008.

There will be little else for me to do over the next ten days, so I plan on writing a lot, as we'll have cable TV but no Internet; it just happened to be our luck that the transfer of our service fell on a longer-than-usual turnaround schedule and will take a full five business days to complete.

But even beyond next week, I'm determined to catch up on writing this fall. We'll see. Being couped up in a one-bedroom flat should prove interesting fodder for the creative juices; again, we'll see.

House-wise we're finally turning the corner. Next week the contractors come in and do their thing: the structural guy will fix the foundation crack and faulty drain, the mold guy will come in and treat the mildew that's taken up residence on the floor joists, and the HVAC guy will replace the faulty refrigerator coil in the heat & air unit. I'll be spinning all the frustrating details of what I had to go through to make it happen next week as I'm catching up on the story.

The mental and emotional strife I've been through in dealing with all of this has been bad enough, but that's not what's top-of-mind at the moment.

The repairs are gonna cost a lot of money, but that's not why I'm hot.

It's really not even the weather, although it could certainly qualify as a reason. It has been hotter here in Nashville over the past 6 weeks than during any sustained period I can ever remember. Absolutely miserable weather; 100-plus-degrees temperatures day-in, day-out. Local ordinances prohibiting the watering of lawns; can't wash your car; garden irrigation is restricted to early morning hours only.

This has been the Summer from Hell, no doubt about it.

But no, that's really not even what I'm bugged about. What I'm really hot about is the fact that the little USB Pen drive (or "flash" drive) I've been using since Christmas has as of today most unceremoniously crapped out on me, taking at least a half dozen unfinished or simply unpublished blog stories along with it. Gone also are all my story notes and original manuscripts for everything I've written this year as well as a lot more that I was planning to write later.

I've got an e-mail into a data recovery company who I'm hoping will be able to help me recoup some of those lost files, but I'm not optimistic.

I'm just pissed at myself for not backing those files up somewhere else — just in case. I'm really, really bummed about this also because there were some work files on that drive that are now down the tubes as well, and I don't know as of yet what the repercussions for losing them will be.

The moral of the story, kids, is: back up your files, 'cause even if your removable storage is called a "ToughDrive," it's still not necessarily all that tough.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

A Moving Experience...
(an ongoing series) — Part 11

Into the Homestretch
It’s been a long time — a lot longer than I thought it would be — since last Wednesday

In the wake of Wednesday’s whirlwind session of more than a half-dozen contractors, inspectors and repairmen who filed through for estimates and sign-offs regarding the state of my soon-to-be erstwhile abode, this weekend was sort of the calm before the storm in a manner of speaking. It was still plenty busy, but the activity level was nothing like it will be these all-important final two weeks here in Casa AJ.

Michelle and I will be renting a U-Haul truck this coming weekend to move the furniture over to the apartment on Saturday. Given the amount of stuff we’ve already hauled out, that shouldn’t actually take a whole lot of time (he said, hopefully).

However the tedious (and most physically taxing) part will come later. I’ve decided that my official Fall project will be to take on the previously unplanned task of transferring all the stuff from our currently packed-to-the-gills external storage unit, to the on-site garage that we were able to procure at the apartment complex. We seemed to have really lucked-out in being able to snag a fairly large external storage space in which we’ll hopefully be able to condense all of our stuff into a single location.

I just need a little space, aiiight?
Back in June, when our homeselling odyssey began with the process of purging and de-cluttering to get it ready to sell, we rented a 10x10 unit from a local facility to store the small personal and furniture items we decided were extraneous and might detract from the overall staging of our home as it was being shown to prospective buyers. Also included in the pack ‘n purge mix were storage items we’d need to clear out eventually anyway, so it also served to give us a pretty good head start on packing.

And buddy, we filled up that sucker up, too. I’m talkin’ floor –to-ceiling! But while that 10x10 was fine for clearing the house for showing, we knew that we would eventually need a lot more storage for the moving phase, transitioning from the old house to the apartment, and then finally, into the our new house.

And with the old house’s garage still chock-full of tools and other yet-to-be-touched older storage items, we needed to find a home for our remaining stuff, and we needed to find one fast.

It still boggles my mind as to how much stuff we’ve accumulated over the years.

At first I just figured that we would rent another storage unit from the same facility as before, which I considered a great deal price-wise compared to all its competitors in the area.

However the value we’re getting with this apartment garage blows the doors off our current storage facility. We discovered that for an extra $100 per month we could rent a detached, single-car garage that’s at least three times the size of the current unit we have now.

The 10x10 unit we’re renting costs $89 per month and is located at a facility more than a mile away from the apartment. On the other hand, the apartment garage is located directly adjacent to us — only about 60 yards away, is three times larger, and only costs $11 a month more. You do the math.

And while eighty-nine bucks may not seem like much to spend, at this point every $50-$100 per-month chunk of operating expense that we can cut out of our budget now may have important implications for us down the road.

It will no doubt be a hassle, unloading and then re-storing everything from the tightly-packed storage unit into the apartment garage. But in the long run it will be well worth the effort in terms of both cost and convenience when the new house is finished and it’s time to move again in January.

Oh — did I forget to mention that the new house’s construction has been delayed a month? And it’s actually a good thing, because it turns out we’re now obligated to be in the apartment through the end of January, as opposed to December, as was the case when we initially secured the apartment in July.

Best-Laid Plans
If you’ll recall, I mentioned previously that thought the apartment manager had erred in calculating the length of our six-month lease. In the paperwork we signed at the time she had indicated that our lease would end in December — which would have actually made it five months, not six. I believed at the time that would work well for us because it meant we’d have been free and clear of our commitment to the apartment at the precise time our new house was originally slated to be ready — the middle of December.

I noticed the mistake right away but didn’t bring it to the manager’s attention. My initial assumption was that perhaps she’d done it on purpose. We had already made it clear that we wouldn’t really need the apartment beyond the middle of December, so I thought that maybe she was fudging the system just to help us out; she was so nice and helpful, he just seemed like the type to do something like that. But just in case, I kept my mouth shut, because whether by mistake or design, that one little detail would end up saving us some money — or so I thought.

Had I done a little more thinking, however, I would have realized that it could have just as easily cost us far more.

The way they work this short-term lease option is tricky. It’s set up to be a huge benefit for those renters who need it, but with the added bonus of being a windfall of ‘gotcha’ fees for the apartment’s owners if things don’t work out as planned. It’s as though they’re saying, “Okay, we’ll bend the rules, but…it’s gonna cost ya.”

Firstly, there’s the fifty-dollar per month ‘convenience fee’ they charge just for the privilege of having any lease of less than 12 months’ duration — which actually seemed fair enough to me. However beyond that point, the rules get little dicey in my opinion.

If you need to extend the already shortened lease beyond the original term, they charge an additional $200 per month penalty for as long as that month-to-month extension is needed.

So it was obvious that this convenience was not gonna be free. Just as obvious was our need to place ourselves in a position of being as on-target as possible in synching up our short-term lease with the completion of our new home’s construction.

And we thought we had done that — or that at least this that little lease-term circumstance (the miscalculation of the term from six months down to five) had taken care of it for us. However we now know that had things remained as they were, with the construction timetable being pushed back a month, we’d be in a bit of trouble; we’d have had to pay both an extra month’s rent as well as that additional $200 penalty.

Everything just got so bunched-up after the first sale of the house fell through. The resulting uncertainty as to when the house would sell dictated that we wait until the eleventh hour to decide whether or not we would be able to take the apartment at all, everything was on hold for a couple of weeks. That obviously changed the date on which we were scheduled to move into the apartment. So once we made the decision to stay with the original plan and keep the apartment, the manager had to revisit our paperwork and that’s when she discovered her error. She was apologetic, but what could she do?

A new move-in date was set, and subsequently, a new calculation of the lease term. We were now obligated through the end of January instead of December. Looked like we were gonna have to burn that last month’s rent after all.

I guess I couldn’t really be upset about it, though. I should have pointed it out from the moment I realized it; that would have been the right thing to do. However now, in spite of my guilty conscience, fate has smiled upon us once again.

For purposes I’ll explain more thoroughly a bit later, the completion date for our new house has also been pushed out another month. Instead of closing on December 15, 2007, we are now being told that January 24, 2008 is the day our new home will officially be our own.

So the bottom line is, instead of costing us another grand-and-change to pay for an unlived-in apartment for the month of January, we’ll actually be saving the $200 extension fee we would have had to pay to carry the lease out another month.

Funny how things work out, huh? Think maybe someone was tryin’ to tell me somethin?’

Not out ‘o the woods yet…
Nonetheless, my relief that one potential pitfall has missed us, can’t quite assuage my concern that we might still be tripped up by yet another.

There is still at this moment a cloud of uncertainty surrounding what is to be the ultimate outcome of last Wednesday’s ‘home repair summit.’

Of the four structural contractors that I’ve interviewed, only one really wowed me with his knowledge, experience, and ability. He was the only one whom I felt truly shot straight with me regarding the seriousness of the foundation crack that recently turned up near the left-front corner of my house.

This final round of repairs that need to be done to satisfy our buyer and complete the sale of our home is still partially up in the air, and the clock is ticking.

I need to make some decisions and hope like heck they’re the right ones.

Next: “Yo, ‘Rock’…you remember ‘Hard Place,’ don’cha?”

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

A Moving Experience...
(an ongoing series) — Part 10

Once bitten, twice shy: The truth about Potatoheads
Meh…I dunno. I was going to use this next segment to take a poke or two at someone. I was going to get in the face of the guy who was poised to buy our house and then suddenly did an about-face.

It was all going to be in good fun, but not completely without malice aforethought.

Basically the guy pissed me off. He pulled the rug out from under Michelle and my feet while we were in mid-stride, strolling down the yellow-brick road to homeselling happiness. And not only did he upset our applecart, but I’d be willing to bet his own wife was none too giddy about his apparent snap change of direction.

I really wanted to let my righteous indignation fly like a flag over his orange toupee. I wanted to poke fun at his pacemaker; take a few shots at his liver spots.

I mean, how dare he find fault with my house! Sure there were a few…okay…a lot of routine, maintenance-related repairs the initial home inspection revealed that needed to be done, but we were willing to make it right. Even before the inspection we had agreed to a $1500 allowance for such repairs. Surely he couldn’t figure there’d be anything beyond that, right?

Um, that would be a big negatory there, good buddy.

Apparently those old bones were singin’ a song only 89 year-old jet-setters can hear, and it was telling him to walk away.

Realty Gal April even asked him point-blank, if all inspection issues were alleviated, would he change his mind, but he simply said, “no.”

And while he was within his legal right to do so, when I heard about that, I’ve gotta tellya, I was a little steamed. I mean c’mon; the seemingly arbitrary way he just decided to fold up the tent would’ve even left Mother Theresa a little hot-under-the-habit.

In my few encounters with him over the phone and briefly in person, the guy seemed old, cantankerous and pretentious. What was his deal anyway? His wife adored our house. We thought the repair issues would be a mere formality. Even the candid opinion of the home inspector, who he himself had hired, was one of puzzlement. “I think he just expected the house to be perfect,” the inspector would later say to me.

At the time we of course declared his feelings capricious. He made no counter-demands, which seemed suspicious. But now three weeks later, his decision seems downright propitious.

Did Mister Potatohead know something that even the home inspector didn’t? I’m not so sure that I even want to know the answer to that question right now. All I know is how impotent all my ‘righteous indignation’ feels at this point.

And I’ll know what I need to know, soon enough.

In about three hours from now my house will be besieged by licensed contractors and repairmen as I conduct a one-day-only, all-out, no-holds-barred tag-team maintenance hootenanny to finally, ONCE-AND-FOR-ALL make my house sale-worthy.

Bulletproof, my ass!
Remember last post when I was saying we were setting up the counter offer to the new buyer to make our deal bulletproof, i.e., impervious to the continual bleeding of money from incessant ‘fix this/fix that’ requests?

Well last Friday we received the results of the second home inspection for the new (and hopefully eventual) buyer of our house. Today is when we find out if it will cost us a few hundred bucks or the full $1000 dollars we stipulated to, for “major structural, non-cosmetic repairs” in the final counter offer we signed last week.

Today I’ll only be taking estimates for the work that needs to be done, but we decided to go ahead and take care of a couple of other things the new inspection turned up that were missed the first time around. It hasn’t reached The Money Pit status yet, but I’m beginning to wonder.

I mean, the only reason we were so willing to offer even $1000, after having already spent nearly $500 to address the main issues in the first inspection, was because we believed that we were pretty much done; there wouldn’t be anything else that needed to be fixed; we were merely indemnifying ourselves from being nickel-and-dimed any further by cosmetic whims of the new buyer. Surely it would preclude us from any other large-ticket repairs…right?

And that would be yet a another big negatory there, good buddy.

Apparently as luck would have it, a brand, spankin’ new crack has appeared in the cinderblock foundation on one side of our house. That crack was not there two weeks ago. It’s not too serious-looking from this layman’s perspective, but it is definitely noticeable, and certainly needs to be repaired.

This summer the entire Midwest United States has suffered through the worst drought I’ve seen I’ve seen since I left California. It’s been wicked hot, particularly the past week and a half, with temps averaging in the high-90s to low 100s and no rain to speak of.

Those meteorological conditions are apparently bad news for home foundations because it causes the earth to become compacted and far less pliable, resulting in zero give in the case of any kind of seismic movement. And believe it or not, the largest fault line in North America runs right along the Mississippi River. Not that we ever experience earthquakes here, but it sure makes you wonder.

A co-worker of mine also last week discovered a huge, serious crack going all the way up the side of her house, through foundation, side brick and around the chimney, which is physically pulling away from the house. She’s looking at major bucks to have it all fixed. The culprit, she was told? The drought.

So while it was far more than surreal that she announced her bad news the same day I found out about our own, I’m sure neither of us felt a whole lot of comfort in the process. And I’m sure she wouldn’t mind my saying that I hope mine isn’t going to cost as much as she already know that hers will.

The good news for us is that the crack exists on a side with only vinyl siding above it, with no brick for the crack to spread to. So with any luck at all, it’ll be relatively inexpensive to repair. However the question is “what’s relative?” Will it be $200, $600, or $1000?

But that’s not all. Inspector number two also reported active mold growth in the crawlspace under the house, albeit localized in just the front corner area near the crack. The new buyer has asked us to also fix this problem with of course, a licensed, insured contractor (as opposed to going to town on the mofo with a squirt bottle ‘o Tilex), which automatically means more moolah.

Another thing which we’d actually had planned to do anyway but that the buyer asked about, was to get a tune up on the main heat and air conditioning unit, which is as old as the house, but still works fine. That shouldn’t be more than the standard $65.00 house call — I hope.

Finally there’s the termite inspection, which we fully expect to pass, but the way things are going…oy…

So in case you want to know what my Wednesday’s gonna look like, here’s the shhhedule:
  • 8:00 AM — Heat & Air guy. He should be self-sufficient.
  • 8:00 AM Foundation guy #1. I really liked this guy on the phone; really seemed to know his stuff and asked all the right questions. I’ll probably hang with him to see what he says. I’m hoping he’s cheap.
  • 9:00 AM — Crawlspace/Mold guy. His inspection may take awhile longer, so I’ll let him do his thing. However when he’s done, I’m going to have him take me under there and show me the moldy. I want to see it for myself what I’m paying to clean up, y’know?
  • 10:30 AM — Foundation guy #2. The other foundation contractor should be wrapping up by then, so hopefully they won’t bump heads.
  • 12:00 PM — Termite guy. He’s actually returning to finish the job he couldn’t complete three weeks ago because we hadn’t finished clearing the interior walls of junk in the garage. So he’s coming back to finish and sign off on the house. Here’s hoping for a slam dunk.
  • 1:00 PM — Foundation guy #3. This appointment may or may not happen, since I didn’t even get the company’s reference until Tuesday from Leslie the Realty gal. I was only able to leave a message, requesting that they come by and take a look on Wednesday afternoon. We’ll see. I’ll be happy if they can schedule it in, but won’t be surprised if they can’t.
There! Don’t you wish you could be AJ for today?

Sheesh. I’ll really be glad when this is all over and we actually know where we stand.

Potatoheads Post-Mortum
I know this post is already longer than my average diarrhea-of-the-fingers effort, but I already had finished writing nearly a full story of snarky commentary and thoughts on the role that our initial would-be buyers played in this Great Homeselling Adventure, so I’m sorry, but I can’t stop just yet

For purposes of perpetuity, I wanted to log my remaining impressions of the couple whom I have derisively dubbed, the Potatoheads, not just because I was pissed at them, but because it’s at least somewhat related to their actual last name.

It just seemed to work for me, okay?

I suppose I revealed something at the outset of this post that I hadn’t mentioned earlier in this series. This was no young family moving into our house-on-a-hill, and that struck me as odd. But then there were a lot of odd things about that first go-through with Mister and Mrs. P.

Back in early July, the same day we accepted their offer, I got a quick education on how Mister P. rolls.

In our first telephone conversation, when I first realized that it wasn’t his son who was buying my house, but instead, an 89 year-old man and his registered nurse wife (it was somehow intimated, obviously via some pretty bad communication between agents that this was a ‘young’ couple we were dealing with), it immediately became clear that the guy might be a little difficult.

The weirdest thing was the age difference. His voice was shaky, but his demeanor clear and pointed. I don’t normally have any trouble communicating to people of my Dad’s generation, but he was different; he was pretty pushy. You got the sense that he was someone who had always demanded and gotten what he wanted.

He said he needed to come out to the house ASAP to take measurements for a built-in doggie door he planned to install into the sliding glass door opposite the back deck. He said it was really important to get the measurements soon because the custom door took weeks to order. I honestly didn’t know what to say, but I knew I didn’t want him in here snooping around, and I got the distinct impression that was at least a part of his intent. I told him I’d be happy to measure the door for him.

The conversation moved on.

He was quick to tell me how old he was, where he lived and where he’d been. Then he began to size me up, asking how old I was and what-not. He then not-so-subtly offered that he was a former contractor himself, so “watch your ear,” he said — whatever the hell that means. Perhaps he should have said, “Watch your butt.”

He went on to say that the reason he was interested in buying our house was to create a shorter daily work commute for his wife, a nurse, who works at a prominent hospital in Nashville. That’s really all we know about her aside from the fact that she has pretty handwriting, as her signature on the offer contract is the only exposure we ever had with her. But in all fairness, I really don’t have a bad thing to say about the woman. I suspect that she was as disappointed as we were about how things went down.

Given that she’s still a working nurse, vital enough to handle a daily 25-mile commute to Nashville (they currently live south of Franklin in Spring Hill, TN), one would have to assume that she is younger than he, but who knows by how much?

Can you say, “May/December?”

I do know for a fact that she loved our house and thought it was going to be her own. Nurse P. was the very first prospect to see the house when it went on the market, Wednesday June 27th. She brought her husband to bless it later, on Saturday June 30th and he apparently liked it as well…at least at first glance.

I’m certain that the entire reason they were interested in buying that house in the first place was solely for her benefit alone, both for now and most likely, the future.

She even went so far as to order new bank checks with our address on them. We received the package of them in the mail just a day or two after the Potatoheads canceled their offer. We still have them along with the bank statement that came in the mail a few days later — all unopened of course.

As I hung up the phone, I shook my head in disbelief. I felt a little trepidation even then. I really couldn’t imagine someone older than my in-laws having less difficulty negotiating our steep driveway, the steps up to the front porch, let alone the stairs up to the bonus room.

How exactly was this gonna work?

In the end, obviously it didn’t. Monday morning July 9th, was the home inspection signaling the beginning of the end.

The inspector issued a report that was nearly 40 pages long, but it wasn’t all bad news — this inspector was just extremely thorough.

Having never been through the homeselling process before, I really didn’t know what to expect, but I was pretty impressed with the guy they brought in; this guy was no butt-crack Bocephus. He was the consummate pro — better than anyone that I’ve talked to had ever seen. He was meticulous beyond belief, citing nearly every imperfection in the house, inside and out. His report was complete with photographs of each and every repair suggestion, along with tips and instructions on how to properly handle each issue, which greatly added to the document’s overall bulk.

I’ve often wondered whether or not Mister P. quite understood the fact that all that info in the report wasn’t necessarily dedicated to only detailing what was wrong with the house; more than half of it was instruction on how to fix it as well.

The inspector also made a point to mention that he considered nothing on his report alarming, a safety issue, or would in any way deem that the house was in serious disrepair, hence my certainty that the foundation crack was not there when this initial inspection was conducted.

He said that every single one of these items were routine maintenance issues and were totally in keeping with a house of thirteen years’ age. But apparently it was still too much for Mr. Potatohead to bear.

On Wednesday Jul 11th we received the news that we’d “hit a bump in the road.” Mr. P had apparently choked upon the number of items on the inspector’s list and was taking his legal right to back out of the deal. I was told that despite the $1500 repair obligation we had agreed to, he was no longer interested in buying the house — period.

Whether it was merely the length of the report, or the added fact that the custom doggie door was going to cost more than he thought (as I would later learn that Mister P. had mentioned to the inspector), something I’m sure I would consider ‘unlikely’ had spooked him.

Perhaps he took another look at the topography. He asked me about lawn services in the area; I suggested hiring a neighborhood kid to do the work, and that I’d always done my own. He didn’t seem to welcome the thought of knocking on doors to fill his landscaping service needs.

I agree with what I mentioned earlier that the inspector told me: Mister P. wanted a ‘perfect house,’ and was disappointed when he realized he wasn’t getting one.

I have no insight into the man’s current net worth, but I do know the references he continuously dropped each time I communicated with him would indicate a well-heeled man.

To describe him physically, he looks good for 89; fit, and smartly-dressed in tennis shorts and a nice Polo shirt the one time I actually met him in the flesh. He was definitely wearing a rug; apparently he used to have red hair, although his current color is snow white.

He had seen my pair of ancient Kniesel snow skis, which I haven’t been able to use for more than ten years, packed up in the garage that morning while he was commiserating with the inspector. I was getting ready to leave to work once I was sure that everyone had all the answers they needed. Mister P. walked into the living room asking about the skis and who they belonged to. When I replied that they were mine he said, “Well I used to ski professionally, in Aspen. It’s where I met my wife.”

…And it all started to make sense.

We live in a nice neighborhood. Our house is as well-appointed as most people I know would be happy with, but it’s not perfect; It’s not hoity-toity; it's non-pretentious.

And it’s definitely not jet-setter class.

Perhaps it was somehow all of this that figured into Mister P’s decision to walk away in the end. I also think there might just be something to the old guy’s ‘contractor intuition,’ that would allow him to walk away from what looked to be only moderate maintenance issues that would have been cheerfully addressed.

At the time of that first inspection, the foundation crack was either so small to be insignificant or not there at all. Could Mister P have seen it when such a professional and detailed inspector couldn’t?

But here’s the kicker: had the Potatoheads signed off on the inspection contingency and we’d had the repairs they noted made, we would have indeed closed on time and that crack would have not appeared until after the closing date.

So to be honest, I don’t know whether to be mad for our being so unlucky, or at him for being so smart…and lucky.

C’est la vie, Monsieur P.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Stupid Things That Make Me Crazy, Vol. 2, No.1
— Requiem for a Boomtown (2 of 2)

***August 6, 2007 Update***
As so often happens as I write, the story doesn’t usually stop in my mind after it's been posted. This is a prime example. News about the Predators’ fate in Nashville has continued to come out and I have continued to refine my opinion on the subject. I don't talk a lot about sports in my blog, but I think about it all the time. As both a Nashville resident and a seven-year Preds season ticket holder, this is obviously something that I care a great deal about.

So for those of you who share any level of interest in the current and future status of NHL Hockey in Nashville, you may be interested in re-reading this post. It has been heavily augmented since it's original posting last Friday, and this time I think I've said exactly what I wanted to convey when I first started thinking about it early last week.

Makin’ Waves
Ever notice what happens when you throw a rock into the middle of a still pond? The rock causes a considerable disturbance at the point of impact, but eventually, the ripples emanating from that disturbance hit the shore and slowly return from whence they came until the water is soon calm once again. The disturbance is gone; the condition of pond is just as it was before.

Change comes in waves. At first, we feel the impact of change and growth; its disturbance is palpable — frightening, challenging, and exciting. Its waves sweep across us in newness of attitude, unforeseen opportunity, and a focus upon new responsibility.

But how do we react when the waters become calm again? How do we respond when that which was once exciting becomes commonplace? Do we continue to disturb the water or fall back into sameness?

Do we continue to make waves or just lay there and float?

Sameness is like that; falling back on that which is comfortable is a natural reaction. Actively fighting that urge is the mark of progressive thinking, and a progressive city.

Has Nashville truly become a progressive city, or the same ol’ parochial one in disguise? Does it care if it fails, or worse yet, looks like it doesn’t care?

Sometimes I wonder.

In some ways it seems that Nashville’s decades-long push toward becoming a leading city in more than just the eyes of Country Music lovers has merely been a cowardly lark; a brief dip of its big toe in the water, only to recoil upon the realization that the water is cold sometimes, and that you have to dive in and stay there for awhile to get used to it.

Or maybe it’s simply parochial southern stubbornness, proclaiming that, “We don’t need to be anything more than we’ve always been.”

“Everything was better before all these yankees came in and took over our city”

“We never had to pay such high taxes before these damned pro sports teams came to town.”

Whoops! There goes my objectivity. The jig is up. Off comes the mask.

If you thought this piece was something other than a sports rant, well you’d be wrong, but if I’d come right out and started it that way, many of you probably wouldn’t still be reading...(right Aimee?). But hear me out, because hopefully you’ve already realized that this goes well beyond sports.

Upon considering our move here from Southern California, what I hated giving up the most, besides the great weather, were my pro sports teams. I am to this day a fan of all Los Angeles major pro sports teams, just as fervently now as I was while I was growing up. Why? Because when I arrived in Nashville there were no alternatives, that’s why. There was nothing there for me to change allegiances to.

Pro sports? Who needs ‘em?

To me, Nashville has always appeared to be a minor league town with a major league chip on its shoulder; not just in sports, but seemingly, even in the way it compares itself to other cities. It seems to have the opinion that it doesn’t need to follow the path of other city to be what it wants to be; it’s never aspired to be like anyplace else; it wants to stand on its own merits. And indeed, at face value, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It is, in fact, a characteristic I can both respect and identify with personally.

However, there comes a time when it’s important to self-realize the distinction between integrity and plain, old-fashioned bullheadedness.

Nobody has ever doubted Nashville as a place of importance in the overall culture — at least musically, as far as I’ve been able to tell. Even while still living in Southern California, particularly after I’d gotten into the music business, I became abundantly aware of a very apparent respect for Music City. But as I mentioned before, it was more about Country than anything else, and unless you were of that particular musical persuasion, there wasn’t a whole lot you figured that Nashville brought to the table.

But as the 80s were winding down, that perception began to change. Nashville started to get the itch. The establishment of two prominent automakers’ investments in the area made it apparent that the opportunity was there. The nation was beginning to see Tennessee in a whole new light, and that light was becoming brighter as the decade of the 1990s approached.

The city elected a mayor, who would, following two terms, successfully move on to become Governor. He was a different kind of man for a different time. He wasn’t, um, “from around these parts.” He saw things a little differently, a little less conservatively, a little more progressively. He was a leader who saw the value in going ‘big time’ even in a relatively small market. He saw the value in pursuing amenities like professional sports teams, which in modern times, like it or not, have become the measuring stick for the perceived success and maturity of major cities in our American culture.

Enter Phil Bredesen.

Major League Dreams
When Bredesen was elected Mayor of Nashville in 1991, the best Nashville had ever done, sports-wise, was to moderately support a few Minor League Baseball and independent Minor League Ice Hockey teams. But while certainly popular, they were never on a par with the true religion of the South, College Football.

The Nashville Sounds, the local AAA Minor League Baseball affiliate for a number of Big-League clubs over the years, had always been the great hope to someday get Nashville over the top as a major league city. The Sounds’ venerable former owner, Larry Scmittou, made numerous attempts over the years to garner local support for the idea of building a new home for his club. The plan was to design a new facility that would be expandable to Major League standards, in hopes of one day, eventually drawing an expansion or relocating an MLB club to Nashville. But while his plea was indeed passionate, Schmittou’s plan always seemed to fall on deaf ears. It required too much taxpayer money, without sufficient local interest to commit to it.

However, when Bredesen came to town, it looked as though he might change all that.

Almost immediately the Sounds’ owner sought and began to receive support from the Mayor for a possible new stadium in a variety of possible locations in and around Nashville.

But plans still never panned out, and eventually, Schmittou sold the team to an investment team from Chicago, who have been following a similar course of action consistently ever since. The intention is no longer to draw a Major League club to Nashville, but rather to create a more modern, fan-friendly home for the still-popular Sounds, a successful ballclub who truly deserve a better place to play.

Herchel Greer Stadium is woefully behind the times for even a Minor League park, showing every bit of its nearly thirty years of age. Though improvement renovations have been made and suggested over the years, by today’s standards, the undersized Midtown ballpark is barely suitable for a high school program.

But while Mayor Phil Bredesen’s early attempts to help the Sounds were (and continue to be even now as Governor) apparently genuine, it was also apparent that there were bigger fish he hoped to land for his city. It was just the beginning of Nashville’s Major League Dreams.

Bredesen would, in the mid 90s, push for the construction of a new downtown sports arena, as part of a broader urban renewal effort focused on the core of downtown Nashville’s ‘Lower-Broad’ district. The ‘if you build it, they will come’ hope was to this time draw an NBA Basketball franchise, which wasn’t all that much of a stretch, given the popularity of basketball on both the local high school and college level — or something even more radical: an NHL Hockey team to hockey-ignorant Tennessee.

Bredesen wasn’t desperate, but he was determined.

But then again, maybe he didn’t know any better. You see, he wasn’t from around here. He was just a yankee from New Jersey. And while that distinction may have carried enough weight for his first Mayoral opponent to successfully use it against him, it didn’t work the second time around. He won handily his second Mayoral attempt in 1991 and began executing his plan to elevate Nashville’s status to that of an elite city.

Bredesen gave Nashville the progressive chops it needed to believe it could play with the big boys, and ‘play’ wasn’t necessarily a passing term in his plans. It didn't matter whether or not Nashville cared about professional sports; he did.

He knew that the rest of the country does too, and that the way a our national culture now judges the viability and success of its cities is by the performance — or lack thereof — of their professional sports teams. Bredesen knew that if Nashville was to be taken seriously as both a city to be respected and embraced by investment from the corporate business interests he sought to attract, it had to awaken from its small-market, small-thinking slumber. If it wanted to be a player among the great cities of the U.S., It had to play with them as well.

He fought for and negotiated to bring both the NFL’s Houston Oilers from their former home in Texas, while simultaneously helping Wisconsin businessman Craig Leipold land an NHL expansion franchise to play in the new Downtown Arena worked so hard to have built.

With new NFL and NHL franchises, Nashville was finally a Major League city. The waves of excitement washed over the populace like a flood, particularly among the more recent residents like myself who had anxiously waited to see that day finally come to pass.

The Nashville Predators began the 1998-99 season in the new Nashville Arena, while the newly-minted Tennessee Titans had to wait until the following fall to open play in their own state-of-the-art Football palace, just a mile away, across the Cumberland River.

The Predators inaugural season in the NHL was exciting and well-supported by the locals, despite the fact that few locals had previously witnessed live NHL Hockey. Preds fans were loud, enthusiastic, and didn’t seem to mind that their new team lost far more than they won in that initial expansion campaign.

Across the river, however, the Titans, a transplanted — yet well-established franchise — was poised for the most special season in their history. As a successful, yet underachieving team for years in Houston, they would peak at the precise time they arrived in Nashville, at the start of the 1999 season.

They rode an AFC Wildcard spot all the way to the Superbowl their first year full-time season in Nashville, and with that performance, all but cemented their standing in the hearts of the community.

At that point, the Titans ruled Music City. The Preds had some catching up — and catching on — to do right out of the gate.

Preds in Peril
Now no one would deny that Football is the true sport of the South. Every man, woman and child grows up watching it, talking about it and playing it in one form or another. It only stands to reason that the community would give the team all the support it deserved.

Ice Hockey in this part of the country is a different story however. Nashville winters are rarely cold enough to freeze a sidewalk for more than a day or two, let alone a pond or lake enough for kids to skate upon.

Hockey wasn’t played or even thought about by the vast majority of the locals who populated this town in the years prior to the decade of the 90s, when Bredesen’s vision for a major-league Nashville were born; that day when the Mayor’s rock hit the proverbial pond, makin’ waves.

It’s really no surprise then that hockey would take longer to catch on in a (quote) non-traditional market such as this one. But be that as it may, the larger problem hasn’t been in attracting the individual fan, but rather, the local business community to participate in the process of supporting Nashville’s otherwise successful NHL team.

Even many who never cared all that much about the sport of NHL Hockey (including yours truly) before the Preds arrived did got hooked on its contagious action, speed and skill. This fact is supported by statistics, not just my opinion. For all the attendance woes the Predators have endured throughout their history, save for that first honeymoon season of 1998, the team boasts the highest percentage of individual (as opposed to corporate-owned) season ticket holders in all of the NHL.

Then again, the problem of low attendance has never been laid at the feet of the individual fan, but rather with the local business community, which in every other major professional sport (not to mention every other NHL team) is the predominant ticket-purchasing patron in the support process.

So obviously, not everyone has appreciated Bredesen’s vision; at least one half of it anyway. After showing up that first year, corporate support quickly faded. Whether it was the fact that the novelty had worn off, or that the young team wasn’t winning enough, many of the local businesses chose to spend their entertainment dollars on sources perhaps a little closer to their traditional comfort level (…um…like Pro Football).

Nevertheless, nearly everyone who sees the Preds play in person is immediately hooked. It’s just getting them in the door that has proven difficult. However, I’m a firm believer that the culture of what we grow up watching and playing is the greatest determining factor in the draw of pro sports.

Football is played and known by everyone here.

On the other hand, participants of hockey on the grassroots level, are often the children of northern transplants — many of who comprise the Predators’ season ticket base.

Nonetheless, it still seems odd, that now, some eight years later, as the Predators have risen to the status of one of the best teams in the NHL, and the Titans have regressed to the middle of the NFL pack (or lower), that the disparity of corporate ticket support remains virtually unchanged.

I find it really puzzling. The team has done very well in the regular season, and has put together a well-run organization whose philosophy of team building is the poster-child of the NHL. They’ve risen to the level of perennial playoff contender each of the last three seasons but have not gotten beyond the first round — and that too has been a major strike against them. While I can appreciate the fact that Nashville wants a winner, isn’t this a little harsh?

The Titans’ success with local fans is understandable however. They came in from another southern city and won immediately. Conversely, the Predators came in with an out-of-town, northern owner and struggled for their first five full years in the league.

But it’s not just the unfortunate balance in the scales of ‘who’s hot/who’s not’ that plagues the Nashville Predators at the moment. There is very real possibility (which has been largely promoted as probability by media pundits around the NHL) that the great Nashville hockey experiment may end in as little as two years — perhaps sooner if things don’t change, pronto.

And it’s more than talk. There are forces afoot that have actively attempted to make it happen, and even more of alleged hockey elite status who would welcome such a change, claiming that Nashville never should have been given a franchise in the first place.

Funny, those people weren’t saying a thing years ago when the Preds were still taking their lumps. Only now that they might prove to be an ‘instant winner’ elsewhere are their anti-Nashville sentiments being hurled with such vigor. And for awhile, they appeared to be winning.

Jumping Ship
In May, it was announced that the Predators were being sold, as owner Craig Leipold finally admitted to giving up hope of making NHL Hockey work here after nine seasons, reporting losses in excess of $70 million. Sad as it is, one could hardly blame him. He has done as much as any professional owner could to support and promote his team in a community that refuses to get it.

The Preds had the 3rd best record this past 2006-07 NHL season, but after investing heavily in expensive free agents to hopefully get the Preds over the top, another early exit firm the playoffs placed a huge damper on the season and essentially sent Leipold over the edge.

There’s Something Rotten in Hamilton
Almost immediately after Leipold announced the sale, reports surfaced that a buyer had been found — and almost as quickly, the realization that something was up, and it wasn’t good.

Speculation soon gave way to clear evidence that Leipold’s would-be suitor, Canadian businessman, Jim Balsillie harbored the sole intention of moving the team to Hamilton, Ontario at the earliest opportunity. Balsillie’s organization brazenly began taking advance cash deposits for ‘Hamilton Predators’ season tickets.

In the wake of the scandal, Leipold — genuinely or otherwise — backed out of the deal with Balsillie and serious support to keep the Preds in Nashville caught fire.

A group of local businessmen awoke from their decade-long slumber to the realize the Predators’ value to the downtown economy, despite their lackluster attendance.

This wake-up-and-smell-the-humiliation moment included the realization that the loss of the Predators perhaps might wield an even greater blow, a black eye suffered by Nashville as a city that wanted to be ‘big-time’ but just couldn’t cut the mustard. It would be a failure we would live to regret, and I couldn’t agree more with their assessment.

The good news is that this group has apparently stepped up to put together a proposal to purchase the Preds from Craig Leipold. The process is still months from completion, but all signs point to it being completed in time for the start of the 2007-2008 NHL campaign in October.

But lest we who believe in Nashville pro hockey rest and assume all is well, a new wrinkle in the proceedings has created a healthy wariness for all involved.

Although the new ownership is a group comprised of local businessmen, they’re not all local. The lone out-of-towner whose donation to the purchase pool actually cemented the Letter of Intent, granting exclusive negotiating rights to purchase the Predators, was made by someone who some suspect might be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

At the same time that Balsillie was not-so-covertly attempting to spirit the Predators away to Hamilton, Ontario, yet another significant outlier was making no effort to disguise his intention of purchasing and subsequently moving the team to Kansas City, MO.

Apparently he’s now saying, “If ya can’t buy ‘em, join ‘em.”

William “Boots” Del Biaggio III, has now joined the ranks of this newly-sanctioned ownership group. While the group’s insistence has been that nothing afoul is planned, it’s never been denied that this group refuses to lose the millions that Leipold did. They say they’d be happy to break even, just to keep hockey alive in Nashville, but if the status quo continues, the active option exists that they will sell out, and Del Biaggio will be there, happily waiting to purchase their shares.

Del Biaggio is listed as a minority owner, so he cannot command such a decision himself, however his presence will cast an ever-present shadow on the franchise so long as attendance sputters.

The Preds are still not out of the woods.

If attendance does not improve to levels at least commensurate with league norms, the new owners will not beat a dead horse; they will allow the team to go to a city in which they’ll be better appreciated. Whether to Kansas City, Las Vegas, Houston, or any number of Canadian cities clamoring to get their hands on an NHL franchise, The Predators are apparently a sought-after prize to all but the city that knows them the best, but apparently appreciates them the least.

Sink or Swim
Whether you grew up watching hockey or not, whether or not you care if they go or stay, losing the Predators would have major ramifications for Nashville.

Although it happened after I myself moved away, I observed the effect that losing two NFL teams had on Los Angeles — the Rams to St. Louis and the Raiders back to Oakland. While everyone assumed that LA would soon find a team to fill the void, there has been no NFL Football in that city since 1995, and there are no signs of that changing anytime soon.

No biggie, right? LA seems to be doing just fine; Nashville could recover as well, you say?

Well with all apologies to the memory of the late U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen, I lived in Los Angeles. I worked in Los Angeles. L.A. was a friend of mine.

Nashville, you’re no Los Angeles.

But you could be better If only you’d wake the hell up and pull your head out of your parochial ass.

And this, finally, brings me to the point of this long-winded story.

Over the weeks since the announcement of the Predators sale, the trolls have been working overtime, taking the opportunity afforded them to tell anyone who’ll listen what a mistake it was to bring Nashville into the pro sports business in the first place.

All of the acrimony, hatred, and backbiting of the naysayers who refuse to support even the idea of Hockey in Nashville, now relish the thought of the Preds leaving town.

What’s up with that? What could possibly be the benefit of such thinking?

How can you deny the negative implications of any city losing a pro sports team? I really have to shake my head at such stupidity.

These are the same small-minded types who hate professional sports, yet plaster their cars with University of Tennessee flags and paraphernalia on Gameday as they drive three hours on I-40 to catch a college football game in Knoxville.

They’re the short-sighters who care more about the taxes they paid ten years ago to have the downtown arena built, than the dividends those taxes have paid in subsequent economic stability to a huge part of Nashville’s tourist-trade: the nightlife venues on Lower Broad and surrounding areas.

They blame the primary tenant as if they were the ones who built it, when the complainers themselves voted for that construction long before the Predators were even conceived.

I see these butt-brains spew their venom on message boards and comments sections all over the Internet, lending support to the many trolls outside of Nashville who are absolutely having a field day with our apparent failure as a major sports town. They make their circular arguments, denying the true value of professional sports in Nashville and long for a return to the days to when ‘outsiders’ didn’t run their city.

They make me wanna puke. Those ‘outsiders’ like Phil Bredesen helped transform your uppity little town from a Hee-Haw punch-line into a smart, safe, cosmopolitan city in which families can thrive and people can have full, diverse, and rich lives.

Nashville was only a few corroded guitar strings away from the Rust Belt back in the early-80s. It was the work of big-town thinking that turned all that around. This city didn’t get to where it is today by its leaders sticking their head in the sand. We have to continue moving forward.

So finally, this is my challenge to all you who were in that pool when the rock came splashing down: are you content to just sit still, and wait for the water to become calm again, so that you can go back to doing what you do best: just floating along?

Or will you keep moving, keep splashing, keep fighting for change? It’s sink or swim, Nashville.

What are you gonna do?


Thursday, August 02, 2007

Stupid Things That Make Me Crazy, Vol. 2, No.1
— Requiem for a Boomtown (1 of 2)

Short-sighted people got no reason to live.
There’s a flipside to every coin; a yin to every yan. It just never seems to fail that when something good happens there’s always someone there to try and piss in the punchbowl.

For all the good things about Nashville that I fell in love with fifteen years ago, there is one particular detractor about the locals here that has gotten so far up my rear end it makes me want to scream about it from the rooftops.

What it is exactly is hard to say. But I can tell you what it’s not; it’s not foresight; it’s not cosmopolitan thinking; it’s not even hyper-conservatism.

It’s small-town-thinking in a city that’s grown way too much to get away with it any longer. I’m sorry Honey, but the ship, ‘small-town/small-mind’ has already sailed; it’s outta here.

Having tasted the Château Haut-Brion of national respect and cultural significance, Nashville can’t go back to drinking Ripple without suffering the hangover that’s sure to follow.

Once the cat’s out, she’s not goin’ back into that bag without a fight, and if she does, she’s gonna to leave you with a few scars that may never heal.

Nashville has taken too many steps forward to start moonwalking now. After years of striving to do the things required to maintain and expand our reputation as a major city, now in some regards, small-mindedness has crept back into the public consciousness.

With all apologies to Randy Newman, it’s short-sighted people that got no reason to live.

It’s stupid, and it makes me crazy.

Meet The New South…
Over the past 20 years, Nashville has come of age. Despite its lack of size, it has become a far more significant city, nationally, than the sleepy Mid-South berg it was in prior years. It is no longer a place whose only true claim-to-fame is the Grand Ole Opry.

Southern cities as a whole have experienced a rebirth since the mid-to-late 80s, but Nashville seems to have led the way as the forerunner of ‘The New South.’

At the start of the 90s, Nashville finally earned its longstanding moniker of Music City, as it ushered in a nearly ten-year-long period in which Country Music dominated Top 40 radio, and for all intents and purposes became ‘Pop Music’ throughout the nation.

That wave of Country domination infused Nashville with an entire series of new growth opportunities. The Health Care and Banking industries, which were already here, expanded their respective corporate footprints. Automobile manufacturers Nissan and GM/Saturn discovered Tennessee, with its ‘Right-to-Work’ status and no State Sales tax as a smart and more-profitable location for new assembly plants, and chose the Greater Nashville area in which to build them.

New homes, new malls, new chain-based retailers streamed into the area. New job opportunities were seemingly everywhere.

The ‘little big-town’ was growing up.

We were a proud part of that early 1990s wave of growth. It was exactly that injection of greater musical prominence that caused me to consider Nashville as an option to relocate my family here from Southern California.

Working as an Art Director for a small Jazz-based label in Los Angeles, I already had a strong connection to a well-established Art Director at MCA Records with whom I had worked previously. He was now designing an entire series of Jazz releases from MCA’s office in Nashville!

It had always been said to me that if you wanted to work in the record biz, you had basically three locale choices: New York, L.A., or Nashville. However ‘Music City’ traditionally meant only Country Music. But all that changed after Garth Brooks exploded upon the scene.

I took the recommendations my Art Director friend provided me on a fact-finding mission to Nashville in the summer of 1991. The results were very positive. I knew that I get could work here and make a better life for my family.

So we took the leap and relocated here from California in January 1992. It turned out that we were a little bit ahead of the pack, as in subsequent years I began to see more and more California, Michigan, New York, and other foreign states’ license plates on the freeway.

The ‘Babelization’ of Nashville had begun, and with it, a fresher, more progressive, more cosmopolitan and less parochial vibe appeared to be flowing along with it.

It was ‘less twang’ and ‘more tang’ in a city that was suddenly the hip place to be. It appeared that the sky was the limit, and I was bursting with pride to be a part of it all.

Musically, the city was alive with all formats, from Jazz to Hip-Hop, all of which dotted the live club and concert scene with amazing regularity. With the Grand-Ole Opry’s former (and apparently now more-relaxed) ‘no-compete’ clause, which made it nearly impossible for major Country acts to play anywhere in the Nashville area except the Opry, for a long time, non-honky-tonk Counrty acts were the minority genre on the local concert scene.

Nashville became a major draw for mid-level, up-and-coming Rock and Alternative acts, and two or three week-long music festivals celebrating these non-traditional formats, such as City Lights, Nashville River Stages, and The NEA Extravaganza were annual events to be savored by music hounds like yours truly.

Every major label had an office here, and new indie labels were springing up like weeds. Every conceivable kind of music was being recorded, produced and mastered in Nashville’s legendary world-class production studios.

From about 1993 to 1999, the musical vibe here was nearly suffocating. I really thought I’d died and gone to Heaven.

Nowadays though, it seems as though my new hometown is coming back to earth.

…Same as the Old South
One would have thought and hoped that all those positive changes would have remained a permanent part of the fabric of this city as well as the basis for its continued direction. But among all fashions, popular music is perhaps one of the most fickle.

While Country Music is still strong among Pop listings nationally, it is no longer at the top of the Top 40. Urban began to supplant Country as the genre of choice for a generation of new consumers as early as the turn of the New Millennium. As an unfortunate result, much of the momentum that Nashville had gained the previous ten years began to decline.

But while Country Music is far from all that Nashville has to offer, that fact seems to be somewhat of a secret to the rest of the world; the city has carried that ‘one-trick pony’ label for as long as I can remember.

Ever the butt of cultural jokes in the vast majority of the nation, Nashville has indeed gained respect, but still can’t seem to get over the hump. It’s still better known for Hee-Haw and ‘kissin’ cousins’ than for its world-class Symphony, low cost of living, and positive family-raising environment.

And while I’ve never met a person who came here from somewhere else who didn’t love it, cities are like stocks: it takes a general consensus to make them grow in value across the board. When its stock was ‘up’ in the mid-90s, in addition to the Country explosion, Nashville’s broad base of growth among non-Country genres within the local industry was a huge contributor to its overall role as the ‘new center of the musical universe.’ But that distinction too has eroded considerably in recent years as the city’s stock has gradually ‘slipped.’

Many of the non-Country record labels that opened offices here in the early 90s were nowhere to be found 7-8 years later.

As the steam gradually escaped from the ‘Pop-Country’ bag by the late 90s, the buzz surrounding the city as ‘the place to be’ also began to fade. Like it or not, but it’s still, ‘as goes Country Music, so goes Music City.’

And in keeping with that truism, even some of the city’s leading non-Country Music-related businesses began to take a step back as well. Corporate mergers in the banking and health care industries, once the bread and butter of Nashville’s corporate infrastructure, caused a shift of title from ‘Corporate Headquarters’ to ‘Regional Office’ in local entities based here. Such a shift in corporate sway cost the city jobs as well as the highly coveted ‘Chamber of Commerce’ glamour points associated with the status of the offices themselves.

Additionally, the Auto Industry’s biggest star of the early 90s, Saturn, fell like a meteorite later in the decade. As the newness of the trendy auto line wore thin, sales declined nationally, forcing numerous transfers of General Motors workers to other parts of the country. And with that came the inevitable downsizing of the once-shining new Saturn plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee — the initial jewel in the crown of Nashville’s decade-plus-long boomtown experience.

However it’s not been all gloom and doom. In 1999, Dell Computers opened a major regional assembly and fulfillment center in Nashville. And just last year, Nissan Motors USA made the bold step to complete its commitment to Greater Nashville by moving its corporate headquarters to here in Franklin, joining its largest U.S assembly plant already in the area, in nearby Smyrna, TN.

Yeah, but…
Unfortunately, while nice to have, those gains don’t completely make up for the losses the area had already begun to suffer, even before the end of the decade.

Combined with the apparent fallback of Country Music to more of a niche genre, and the accompanying drain of its appeal as a national draw for other industries, in a lot of ways, Nashville was rapidly returning to cowtown status in the eyes of the media and of the nation.

Next: Makin’ Waves

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

A Moving Experience...
(an ongoing series) — Part 9

Forever the Optimist
Dare I say it? Nay, dare I even think that our house has sold — I mean, for real this time? Or will our new buyer walk away because she doesn’t like the color of the mulch?

Well, alright. Despite my better judgment, I guess I’ll say it: I think we’ve sold our house…AGAIN.

A return visitor at Realtor gal April’s open house, the new buyer — a single mother with two young boys — saw the house on two separate occasions the week before last and tendered an offer early last week. At first we weren’t all that excited about it, considering it was $23,000 below our asking price.

We figured it might have been a ploy by the lady’s agent to see just how panicked we were after our original sale to the Potatoheads fell through. Perhaps she thought we’d feel the need to grab at the next offer that came along no matter what it was, just to get the sale.

Um, no, Tony. We weren’t that desperate quite yet.

We of course countered, coming off of our asking price by only a couple grand. We decided that if this woman really was serious, she’d come back with a more realistic offer. And she did, albeit still less than the Potatohead’s original offer by a good margin.

I really had to think long and hard about this one. Yes it was less than we wanted to make on the house, but was the extra profit that important? Besides, her counter offer was exactly the figure that Michelle and I had previously agreed upon as the minimum amount we would accept. So while I was hesitant to believe we couldn’t do a little better, I had to take a deep breath and ask myself how much that extra profit really mattered.

Is this the lease we can do?
For one thing, time was not in our favor with regard to finding a transitional residence for the period between the sale of our current home and the completion of the new one (which our builder insists will be mid-December, but we’ll see...).

That was the hardest thing to swallow about the demise of our initial sale agreement. The timing of the original offer was absolutely perfect for us; that timeframe would have kept us from wasting money paying for an apartment beyond the time we really needed it. And because we naively assumed that all the pieces would continue to fall into place as they had right off the bat, we also felt free to make binding ancillary plans based upon them.

On July 3rd, after we accepted the Potatohead’s initial offer, we were off to the races. All continuation of upgrade and repair work on our existing house came to an abrupt halt. We figured we’d just wait for the home inspection to be performed to learn what really needed to be done, as opposed to just guessing. I mean, we were on the hook for up to $1500 in repairs anyway, so why take the chance that something we deemed necessary to fix up didn’t carry the same weight with the home inspector?

Besides, we had other things to attend to, like securing that apartment. And considering that we had to be out by July 30th, we just barely had three weeks to do it.

So we rushed out that same afternoon to the place we had targeted immediately as our new home away from home; the place that was our first home in Tennessee: the nearby apartment complex where we lived our first two and a half years here in Franklin.

We decided on a one-bedroom apartment that would be coming available within two weeks’ time and signed a six-month lease a couple of days later, placing $380 down to secure it. We knew that money wasn’t coming back should anything go awry with the sale of our house, but geeze — what could go wrong?

Of course the linchpin to the apartment deal was the lease; again, it was the detail that made the timing of all this so crucial. Standard apartment leases are a minimum of one year, however we knew that our old apartment’s management company would allow tenants a six-month lease for an extra fifty bucks a month. So right off the top it was going to be expensive, but obviously less so than if we went most anywhere else. However it would be even more expensive — as in an extra $200 a month — should we would be forced to extend that six-month lease beyond it’s allotted six-month timeframe.

So it was a pick your poison kind-o-deal. We chose to go for it and assume that the deal would proceed unabated — and that our new house would be finished on time.

But of course, you know what happened: the sale fell through, and suddenly we really found ourselves between a rock and a hard place.

Firstly, although we had already signed the lease, we hadn’t yet officially taken possession of the apartment, as it was still being prepped. Our preliminary agreement would expire on July 27th. We could still cancel anytime before then be off the hook for the lease, but lose our $380 down payment in the process.

That’s the rock.

On the other hand, if we did back out, not only would we lose money now, but later on as well, due to that darned six-month lease term. Any timeframe beyond the end of December would amount to a wasted month’s rent payment. We could be looking at paying at least one, and perhaps two full month’s extra rent, translating to over $2700 (with pet fees, utilities, and garage rental) if we had to return later to rent the apartment in August or (Gawd forbid) September. And that, my friends, would be a heck-of-a-lot more than $380.

And that’s the hard place.

So needless to say, we were under a bit of pressure to accept this second offer, but that wasn’t the only thing we needed to consider.

I was willing to give up a few thousand dollars to make this sale, and in so doing, still take advantage of the window of opportunity to keep the apartment lease we’d signed, avoiding the potential loss of even a couple thousand dollars more. But if I was to do so, I also wanted some kind of assurance that we wouldn’t be left at the altar as we were before. That would depend on the all-too-critical second home inspection, which it just so happens, is scheduled for today.

And while I won’t completely lose my trepidation about what the inspector will turn up until it’s all said and done, I’m much more confident that we have nothing to fear this time around. We were pretty naive to believe that everything would be hunky-dory with the first inspection, but nothing could have led us to believe that it would be the deal-breaker.

I still have my opinions on why Mr. Potatohead actually used his legal out — the original home inspection’s findings — to walk away from the home sale, and they aren’t too complimentary. But one thing I know for certain, according to his summary, the inspector himself didn’t have any significant problems with our house, emphasizing that all the items in his report were routine maintenance issues, not safety or structural red flags.

In the aftermath of that first-buyer experience, I knew that two steps needed to be taken to insure things would turn out positively the next time.

Step One — Bulletproofing the product: McGriffs to the rescue.
There was at least one silver lining to this rain cloud; we had the ability to get it right the next time.

Using that first home inspection report — paid for by the Potatoheads — we needed to go in deal with the most significant issues listed; to make the house bulletproof to the next inspection. But to do so, I obviously need some help, so I called upon a friend.

I had actually spoken to the original home inspector the day he issued his report. Having already received the bad news about the Potatohead’s decision, I asked a few questions and gained some valuable insight into Mister P’s mindset regarding the issues that the inspector listed.

But I’m getting ahead of myself again…that’s for the next post.

The main reason I called was to inquire about any recommendations he might have for contractors in the area he considered qualified to address the needed fixes to our house.

Unfortunately though, as forthcoming as he was in discussing the repairs and Mister P, he fell a bit short in the follow-up of supplying me the requested contractor info. The e-mail he promised to send listing the handymen he’d used and trusted never arrived, and I really didn’t want to keep bugging him about it. I instead decided to go with a different source, one that I probably should have chosen in the first place: my good friend and former Papa John’s compadre, McGriff.

My former pizza-drivin’-concert-goin’-pool-shootin’ pal has recently chosen the construction services industry as his life’s work, partnering with his Dad, a former diesel mechanic and all-around do-it-yourself maven.

McGriff is still learning the ropes in some areas, but his Pop can do it all. So when I met with them last Wednesday evening, they were already divvying up the individual tasks. McGriff is one of my best local, real-time friends and I trust him implicitly. If he didn’t think they could do the work and do it well, he’d have begged off from the get-go.

But Father & Son McGriff did not disappoint.

They dealt with a few issues in the crawl space beneath the house, strengthened a few joints on the covered back deck, made some chimney and drain spout repairs on the roof, and, most impressively, did some bang-up trim and doorframe work around the garage and the front porch.

I knew that all this work would not come cheap. I was hoping for the ‘friend’ discount, but not counting on it. But once again, the McGriffs came through. They did a full day’s worth of home repair work for $459, including materials.

I was bracing for $600, and my friend admitted, that’s about what it should have been, or more. I told him that come December, when the new house is done and I have my new pool table in place in the man-cave, he won’t need an invitation to come over and play anytime he wants to.

Step Two — Bulletproofing the contract: No more excuses.
The first part was a no-brainer that I knew we’d have to do whether we sold the house now or in November. The fact that some of these issues existed was due to my ignorance alone. With this being the first house we’d ever owned, I just never considered all the upkeep involved with all the exterior and structural issues. Fortunately for my ego, the original home inspector told me that very few people actually do possess the wherewithal from a knowledge standpoint to keep up with the type of stuff he listed. He said that I shouldn’t beat myself up over it — not everyone does what he does for a living.

However, there was now another inspection to be conducted on the dime of the new buyer. A new inspection, with a different inspector most likely being involved, leading to the ever-so-slight possibility of different repair issues being discovered.

So this time our requirements needed to be different as well.

As I mentioned earlier, the new buyer’s price came up considerably in response to our counter of their original offer. However that number was well short of the Potatoheads’ original bid, only $3000 less than our asking price; the new buyer’s best offer was another $5000 below that.

So now the $1500 that we accepted as a high, but manageable cost for repairs in the first sale offer was not acceptable in the second. I had just spent nearly $500 to address the most pressing repair issues. There was no way in hell I was gonna be on the hook for an additional grand — or another dime if I could help it — short of something obviously catastrophic in the second inspection that was missed the first time.

So I asked the Realty gals if we could establish some kind of certainty in the counter offer acceptance that would preclude the new home inspection from being used again as a convenient excuse to back out of the deal. I wanted our new buyer to agree that only serious structural issues would be addressed as additional repairs.

Considering the incredibly anal level of scrutiny that Inspector #1 used in going over our house, there would likely be no such major issues to be discovered. Hence, adding such a provision to our counter-offer acceptance, we shouldn’t be forced to fork over any more money than we have already.

So with their mad contract-writing skillz, the Realty gals crafted language in the contract specifying that only structurally pertinent, non-cosmetic repairs costing $1000 or more could be drawn as a requirement of the home inspector’s findings.

The buyer accepted; we’re satisfied. Let’s get the show on the road.

And now, the wait-see.
With the chief repairs completed, the home inspection being conducted as I type, we can only now wait for the report, which should be available by tomorrow. Hopefully the buyer will make her decision by the end of the day or by early Friday morning, which is when she’ll also know if her loan is approved. It’ll all be done but for the shoutin’ by the end of the week.

Oh, and by the way, remember the rock and the hard place I mentioned earlier? We had until July 27th to decide on whether or not we'd keep the original six-month lease we’d signed. We chose the hard place. So regardless of whether or not the home sale goes through, we’re on the hook for the apartment from now through January.

Think we might be a tad nervous right now?

We’ll either be popin’ a bottle of Dom Perignon or cryin’ in our Coor’s.

At least we’ll only have to wait a few days to find out.

Next: Once bitten, Twice Shy: Dancing With Potatoheads