Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Floor's the Thing


I mentioned briefly that the seller was offering a "carpet allowance" but that she wasn't actually allowed to cut us a check. So instead she paid our closing costs and tile insurance so we would have funds to replace the carpets.

At the same time we bought the appliances (but obviously before we had the fridge delivery fiasco) we used the same big box home improvement store and arranged for someone to come to our house after closing and measure for flooring.

We knew we wanted to replace the carpet - the seller had a rather large dog, and the carpet was a white or cream color. But we were torn on whether we wanted to upgrade to hardwood downstairs, or if we should just save the money and put new carpet throughout the house again, and then re-visit the hardwood issue in 10 years or so when the downstairs carpet got worn out.

Regardless of our decision downstairs, we knew we wanted to carpet the upstairs, but put tile in the upstairs master bath. The master bath was a "must do" because it was carpeted, with little "landing pads" of tile around the sink vanities and the tub and shower. I don't know about you, but carpet in a bathroom has an overwhelming ICK factor to me.

There was a bit of trouble getting the guy to come out and measure - the first guy called promptly and set up an appointment, but had to cancel when he hurt his back. So then they rescheduled a new team to come. Then the new team measured but measured only for carpet - he didn't note the areas we wanted tile or possibly hardwood (we wanted two quotes one for all carpet, and one for carpet up and hardwood down).

Once all that got straightened out the price difference wasn't too drastic between the quotes, so we went with the hardwood. We picked a bamboo (I love the eco-friendly), and it was a surprisingly pretty price-friendly option. It was on the low side of the mid range prices, and I loved the fact that it wasn't orange colored oak. The color is called "spiced."

Installation was interesting. The carpet all got installed in one day (a Thursday), and then a different crew came a couple of days later (on a Saturday) to start installing the hardwood and tile.

First they went to town demoing the master bath. They made a lot of dust removing the tile that was there, and installing cement board to make the floor solid (so the grout doesn't crack from flexing on the plywood sub floor). Then they started laying out the tile. One guy worked exclusively on the tile.

Then the rest of the crew went downstairs and started pouring the self-leveling stuff, and as that dried they laid out the foam under layer. This acts as padding and vapor barrier. We scrimped on this stuff, since the only benefit to upgrading would have been for installation upstairs - the more expensive stuff would have muffled the sound of footsteps more. But since it was downstairs, on a slab, and they low end version protected from moisture just as well as the high end version, we saved a few dollars.

The tile guy came back on a Sunday to make some more progress on the bathroom. He spent about 3 hours and knocked out a lot of the difficult cuts and all the rest of the tile.

Then everyone came back on Monday and the bathroom got grouted, and all the hardwood was laid in one day. It was pretty great to see!

The left us with the thresholds glued (plus they taped them and weighted them down with leftover boxes of hardwood), and told us we could remove the weights and painter's tape in a couple of hours.

And that was it! All of the flooring was in!

Fridge, Fridge, Hooray ... Oh no!

It was nice to get the call that our fridge was ready to be delivered. But then during delivery this happened:

damage to corner bead

The fridge clipped the corner of a wall and punched a hole (an actual hole!) in the metal corner bead. A little closer:

close up of hole in corner bead


Holy crap, this whole thing is like, How NOT to order appliances.

There was about 3 feet of damage total - the punch in the middle, and then the drywall tape cracked about a foot and a half in each direction along the corner bead.

The look on the delivery guy's face when he hit the corner was something else. And as soon as they were done installing the fridge they called their supervisor to report the damaged wall. Supervisor Fred then talked to splorp! and said they would send out a drywaller to fix everything, and to expect a call from the repair guy to schedule the visit at our convenience.

The guy came the next week or so, and did a really good job. He even feathered the paint to make it match (the previous owner left us lots of paint).

In the end, splorp! had a meeting with the store manager of the big box home improvement store to talk about everything that went wrong. And the manager was very nice and gave us a refund of 10% of the price of our fridge for the long delay, plus an additional cash settlement for the damage to our wall. Wheee! that made it a good deal.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Buying Appliances, or the Saga of the Loaner Fridge

Our new home did not come with the major appliances of Fridge, Washer, nor Dryer. These are essentials. We didn't even officially own the house, but we had a closing date and we were trying to be efficient and think ahead and budget accordingly. Plus we figured that it was the 4th of July weekend, and the stores all have giant sales at that time, so we should try to save some money and get it on sale. Good plan, right?

Now, I have never bought a fridge before. Our last fridge was a hand-me-down we got from my sister, after she moved in with a boyfriend who already had a fridge. It originally came from my parents, who bought her a used fridge from one of those major stores that deal in refurbished appliances. And anyway we left that fridge in California - my dad took it when he cleaned out our California house before the sale went through. I understand it lives in their garage now.

The fancy washer and dryer dryer I loved in California also did not make the trip - I couldn't imagine storing them indefinitely so we sold to my parents, who were going to put their older and less-fancy non-matched pair in our California house and the house would sell with the washer and dryer. I understand that swap never quite happened and my parents also have an extra washer and dryer in their garage.

We determined we would buy a new washer of the same style, but the dryer we would go downgrade one level from the model we previously bought. Downgrading dropped the price about $300, and the dryer was actually larger, plus we never would have used the extra drying cycles the other one had.

All right, washer and dryer were settled. So splorp! and I embarked on a fridge buying adventure ... How exactly do you go about shopping for a fridge?

We tried a bunch of different things. We signed up for a free trial offer of Consumer Reports and read a bunch of reviews. We went to several stores and stood in front of various fridges, and talked about what we liked and didn't like about them.

Our new house had a stainless steel dishwasher, and the stove had stainless and black. So at first we looked into matching that. And choked on the prices everywhere we looked.

Seriously, what is it about fridges that makes them so freaking expensive?

We eliminated the fancy designer (stainless) finishes, and that knocked a couple of hundred dollars off the top. Then we decided to go with black, since that would mostly match the existing appliances.

Then we weren't sure exactly how big was the fridge opening in the cabinets. So we pondered that.

It came down to a couple of things:

1) We were not putting a second fridge in the garage. There were only 2 of us, and we couldn't justify plugging in an extra fridge that we would use for ... what, exactly? Storing sodas? We don't have parties that we would need the extra space.

2) We did not want the in-door water and ice dispensers. All the research we did said those were the most likely items to be malfunction.

3) We did not want a side-by-side model. Our parents both had those models, and everyone disliked the fact that the horizontal space was very limited, and it was difficult to put large platters or pots in the fridge.

4) splorp! did not like the bottom freezer design. He's 6'2". Bending over to see what's in the freezer or get ice is a pain when you do it over and over (this also eliminated the french-door style fridges where the fridge is on the top).

So, standard freezer-over-fridge style it was! And in black (unless there was a great deal on stainless - which there wasn't).

We browsed around on the internet to see what kind of appliance deals we could get with the holiday weekend. After a lot of surfing and sending links to fridges back and forth, we found one nifty model that was a traditional style fridge, but it also had a water dispenser inside the fridge. You just push a button.

Now, the water here in Austin tastes terrible to me. But I had given up on getting a water dispenser when we eliminated the in-door dispensers because the break so often. But a dispenser inside the fridge seemed like it was less likely to have moving parts to break, so I was pretty excited.

Hmmm. Not a lot of reviews for this fridge. It seems to be pretty new - like brand new this year. But the brand was good, so we printed out the best prices and went to see if we could check it out in person.

We flagged down a very helpful lady who took our print-out and checked for us. Turns out they had no floor models of the version we wanted to see. Urk. What to do?

The big box home improvement store we were at offered free delivery on all our appliances, plus the barbecue splorp! wanted to buy. Plus they matched the price on the print-out we had - their in store price was abut $200 more than their own online price. They checked inventory, and there were none of the fridges in stock currently, but the projected delivery date said it was no problem to deliver in 2 weeks after we closed on the house. And they can deliver on a Sunday.

Great! We say. Fantastic. We hand over a credit card, and call it a day.

We close on the house - no problems. Delivery day comes (it's a Sunday). We get get a call that they can come right now to deliver the washer and dryer. What about the fridge? and the grill? Uh, they'll check on that and be right there. But the fridge is not on the truck. They have our order - but it shows the fridge is on backorder. And being a Sunday, the store employees who are working to find our fridge cannot get anyone on the phone. So begins a multi-day saga of where is our fridge?

The next day, Monday, I am at work and get a call from the store. There is a backorder on the fridge (this much we knew) and their supplier never bothered to call them and tell them. Which is why no one knew about the backorder until delivery day.

Grrr. OK. So what do we do now? We have just under a week until we have to turn in the keys on our apartment, but we're not staying at the apartment, we've moved in to the house. So, they come up with the idea to give us a loaner fridge. It's new, it's a floor model, but it's not the fridge we ordered.

Um. OK. Let's do that. At least we can make and store food until our fridge gets sorted out.

Well, it was a good thing that we agreed to a loaner, because we had it for almost 2 and a half weeks. That's right. Almost a full month after we placed our order, and more than 2 weeks past our delivery date. The fridge we ordered? Was stuck on a barge coming from another county, and then had to be shipped across the US to us. Grr. All that planning for nothing.

Homeowners (again!)

It's official! We're homeowners again.

All in all, it was a relatively painless process. The seller agreed to give us money off the purchase price instead of doing any repairs, so that was a good deal. Plus she gave a "flooring credit" for carpet replacement. This is not actually a check we get after closing (that's not legal) but instead it means she paid for our closing costs and title insurance. Instead of money changing hands we got to keep that money in our account.

Some people choose to take the seller's money and go do other things with it (like a vacation), but we actually put it towards the flooring. Of course, we didn't exactly do carpet. Not exclusively. We did do carpet upstairs, but we upgraded to hardwood bamboo floors downstairs, and we had tile installed in the master bathroom upstairs (that was previously carpet -- carpet in a bathroom = major ick factor).

We moved in on splorp!'s birthday. At least, we moved the extra bed and enough toiletries and clothes to last a week, and then we hired a moving company to move the rest of our furniture and boxes.

Moving into our new home was actually very quick, since we purged a lot of "stuff" prior to the big move from California. And since we were going to rip out the carpeting anyway and didn't see the point of actually unpacking only to pack it back up when the flooring guys arrived, we just had the moving guys put most of it into the garage. Only a couple of things went upstairs.

So we're happily settled in. The dog has a backyard again (YAY!) and I no longer have to do 6am, 7pm, 8:30pm, and 10pm potty walks. It's sooo nice.

Monday, July 11, 2011

House Hunt (the Hunt Begins!)

So far Texas has been treating us well (other than the noisy train next to our apartment).

Since we signed all the paperwork and no longer own a house in California (as of mid-March), and we decided we can't get away from this train fast enough, we jumped right in to trying to decide where to live.

The city we're in is quite large, and rather sprawling. We figured that we would get a better feel for the neighborhoods, and how they relate to the places we work, and what our commutes might be like, if we drove around a bit.

We figured the best way to decide where to live, and to get familiar with the area at the same time would be to visit open houses.

Now, open houses are not really our favorite thing.

It kind of seems like agents only hold open houses to try to meet house hunters who do not already have an agent. They're not really there to sell the property - they're there to get a captive audience of people who have enough money to buy a house.

I suppose that touring open houses was educational. We definitely learned about the areas. And freeways. And we saw some cool houses. And one house that was infested with bugs (yuck yuck yuck - not enough yucks in the world).

Certainly we viewed homes, and made copious notes on the handouts, and discussed them later, and discarded most of the homes for one reason or another.

  • Too far away from work - the commute would be a nightmare.
  • Too many bugs and we can't get it out of our minds (yes, this was the infested house).
  • The backyard is too small.
  • The floorplan is odd.
  • Too old.
  • It's pretty new but the brass fixtures, decor, and popcorn ceilings make it feel older than it is.
  • Too big and smells like cat piss every time we open a new door (this house had beautiful wood floors, but all we could think about was how expensive it would be to rip all the flooring out to get rid of the smell).
  • Too many bedrooms (yes this was actually a problem).

We also saw some great things in houses, that we would love to be able to incorporate in our own home.

  • Solar screens (a great, eco-friendly, external addition to windows that can make a HUGE difference in how hot a house is).
  • Tiling the wall under a breakfast bar, so when you pull yourself up to the counter and kick the wall dirty shoes/feet don't leave scuff marks.
  • A rope light on a motion-activated switch, installed ankle-level on a stairway so when you stumble around at night it will turn on automatically and you have dim light.
  • Extenders for light switches, so toddlers can turn lights on and off.

Finally we felt we had exhausted the possibilities of open houses, and contacted a Realtor who had helped us when we came out on our whirlwind 4-day tour to find a place to live.

We had compiled a list of houses we wanted to see, so our first day out with her we checked out 5 houses, in varying directions. A couple of homes north of our current apartment. A couple not far away from our place. And one that was south.

Funny how it happened - particularly after the months of house hunting we did in California - but we really liked one of the houses we had picked out to see with the Realtor. We couldn't quite believe our luck of finding a house we liked after only one trip out.

We made an offer. We countered a few times. We came to an agreement. And now we're under contract!

The inspection found a few issues (of course - if a house didn't have issues I would be suspicious) but nothing major - a bunch of deferred maintenence, a broken window. Maybe some water damage from an old leak.

But the house is generally sound. The roof was replaced in 2009 after a hailstorm. So that is a HUGE benefit to us. The same hailstorm probably caused the broken window (it seemed to take the seller by surprise that it was broken). But even though it's a small break (literally a small corner of a pane), we asked for it to be replaced. Also two windowsills where the brick veneer has holes in the cracked mortar. In lieu of a fix we asked for money off the sale price of the house.

And now we wait. The seller is considering our requests, and will hopefully sign off on it soon.

We may be able to move in to our new home in mid-July, just around splorp!'s birthday.


Friday, July 8, 2011

House Hunt (Redux)

continued from:
part 1 here
part 2 here
part 3 here
part 4 here
part 5 here
part 6 here

So we're pretty much caught up to current. If you want to find out why we're in Texas now, instead of California, you can go read it using the links above.

But maybe you can't quite figure out why we're house hunting again so soon after the frustration of house hunting in California.

Now that we finally sold the place in California, and we're no longer paying both a mortgage and rent, why would we put ourselves through the frustration of house hunting again? Wouldn't we want to take a break, and relax a bit after the hustle-bustle of packing up our house and road-tripping 1500 miles?

Well, we wanted to wait. Really we did.

Our apartment here costs significantly less than any of our apartments ever did in California (except splorp!'s bachelor apartment). And if we could stay here we could save a lot of money over the next several months, and add to our down payment.

splorp! was even doing the math, saying our payment could be much lower than in California, and we could actually get a 15 year loan instead, and be in good shape.

So, yeah, waiting a while and socking away the money was the plan.

And mentally, it would be nice to take a break from house hunting. The first time around was just so stressful, it would be nice if we could consider taking some time to relax.

But we can't relax when we're home.

It's because of that train. You know, the one that is right next to us:

The train we hate
The Train We Hate

Living next to it sucks. A lot.

It's an extremely busy cargo line. And while we are not exposed to train whistles (fortunately we're far enough from a crossing that there is no clanging bells or flashing lights, either) we are constantly shaken awake by the train going by at night.

And the frustrating part? People keep telling us, "Oh, I lived by a train. You get used to it after a while and you don't even hear it anymore."

That's ... nice. We appreciate that they're trying to make us feel better about a poor situation.

But what everyone seems to miss is that we don't have a problem with hearing the train. We FEEL it.

It vibrates the walls, the windows, everything. It happens all day long and all night long. It's just not restful.

And so (with money in the bank) we find ourselves in the enviable position of being home buyers in a buyer's market. And after owning a home once, we know what we want, and have the money in the bank to afford to be picky.

The houses here? Much, much larger than in California, and for much less money.

We're already in contract on a much nicer house, with more square footage, more bedrooms, a bigger backyard, only 15 years old, in a much nicer neighborhood ... for $100,000 less than we paid in California.

No that was not a typo. Yes, I really did mean to type $100k. Less.

I think I like it in Texas.


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

New Job

continued from:
part 1 here
part 2 here
part 3 here
part 4 here
part 5 here

After getting the job offer, I started work at my new job the following Monday, and I have been really enjoying it.

The pay is great - more than I was making in California - and it comes with some excellent perks.

No health insurance, but they offer instead up to $300 per month to reimburse for health insurance, so I can purchase my own coverage. OR I can get reimbursed for the insurance I get through splorp!'s company.

WOW.

That's like an extra $3600 per year! And because we would have been paying out for my insurance through splorp!'s work anyway - it really is like a bonus.

PLUS! There's a fantastic policy of paid time off. Everyone is eligible for up to 4 weeks PTO per year, right away. Not the standard "more vacation time with more years of service" like you find most places. No! Right away you start earning the max.

And! Because the office is in the middle of a busy downtown district and there's no on-site parking, there's a parking pass provided to me, that I get to use any time. So I could visit downtown on the weekends with friends and have parking.

Even better! On Fridays the company brings in a couple bottles of wine and some snacks, and we have a little in-office "happy hour" starting at 4:30.

There's a very nice kitchen area with a working dishwasher, and real plates, bowls, glasses, and silverware. Even the wine glasses and champagne glasses are real! No plastic stuff.

I just can't get over it - I found a job that I really like, and the people are really great, and the pay is good.

And then!

Our house in California sold!

And it took less than 60 days from listing date until closing. And we were no longer paying a mortgage plus apartment rent.

Another w00t!

So there it is: how we ended up in Texas.

It took splorp!'s job to get us here, and because I like my job so much we're enjoying it here.

And up next: house hunting in Texas.

(to be continued)