Moving Day Episode I: Keys

Key day. That glorious day when we’d finally get the keys to our shiny new house. We had a grand plan for key day. It was a good plan. A well thought out plan. The universe and its perverted sense of humor of course had a different plan for us.

THE PLAN: The keys to the new house were going to be locked in the garage and we’d get a text with the garage door code when the house was ready for us. Kris would pack up the barbeque, our bed and the dogs and meet me at the house when I got off work. He’d grill us some steaks to be eaten over the sink, and we’d have dessert I picked up from Papa Haydens on my lunch break. We’d get one quiet night in our fabulous new house before we started the actual move. It was supposed to be a brief, romantic evening.

THE REALITY: Just before heading to the new house with the packed up car & trailer, Kris called the cats inside. Coming inside when called has been a daily ritual for these cats since they discovered the magical sunny land of Outside. Nac decided, for no reason we’ve ever figured out, he didn’t want to go inside. Sure, sure, he’s a cat, so of course he picked the worst time to be randomly inconvenient. I think Murphy might have been giggling nearby and enticing Nac into teasing runs with tasty metaphysical treats. Kris spent an hour trying to bring him inside for the night instead of driving to our shiny new house when the text came in.

On the other side of town, I left my desk right at 5 super excited to head over to our house. I got in my car at the top of the parking garage and quickly discovered that the employee gate was broken. Everyone (employees and guests) had to go through the single pay-gate. This caused a fantastic 20 minute parking-jam which I have never seen before or since and left me quite literally trapped in the parking garage. 10 minutes in I stopped being angry and just started laughing while I beat my forehead against the steering wheel.

I somehow arrived at the house first and it felt like Christmas morning. I opened the garage, retrieved the key, unlocked the door, and found the cleaning crew manager was still there. The previous owners had very kindly hired a crew to clean the house from top to bottom so everything would be spotless when we took possession. They didn’t have to, it was just a really thoughtful gesture. It went a little… wrong though. Somehow, the crew had shattered a ceiling light fixture in the living room. I like to imagine they were having a lightsaber fight using their brooms and someone jumped to avoid a low cut by a mop and accidentally speared the light fixture on the upswing. In an attempt to repair it, they’d run to home depot, bought a replacement and installed it before I arrived…but it really didn’t match the other fixture. They were both glass, attached to the ceiling and had brown as part of the color scheme, but that’s really all they had in common. Accidents, happen, they’d done what they could. I was trying to hold on to the Christmas feeling when she showed me the refrigerator.

The fridge had no main shelf. When they removed the shelf for washing, it had slipped out of her hands and shattered on the kitchen floor. Of course no one in town had a replacement, so they’d already ordered it and it should arrive soon. Sometime in the next week soon. Did I mention that Smart guys family was going to stay with us for the week of the move to help? So 6 adults, 1 toddler and 6 dogs with an only partially usable refrigerator during a heat wave was … problematic.

Looking into the future 24 hours: We discovered they’d cleaned up the small glass pieces with rags that they’d rinsed in the kitchen sink. Filling the drain with hundreds of tiny bits of tempered glass just the right size to cause the garbage disposal to seize. My mother in law and I spent 2 or 3 hours over the next couple of days slowly pulling out shards, moving the manual bar, grinding glass, pulling out more shards, over and over and over until it finally worked.

The cleaning crew manager was so distressed by what had happened that she insisted on cleaning the window sills of the entire house to make up for the inconvenience. No, that doesn’t particularly make sense, but she really felt she needed to make it up to us. While she cleaned, we unloaded the first batch of stuff from our cars. When we finished, she was only half done and we were so hungry that waiting for the bbq to heat up was no longer a safe option.

Instead, some very patient friends took us out to have dinner at a neighborhood place: I remember that the food was tasty, but couldn’t tell you what I ordered. I remember a margarita glass the size of my head, but I don’t think it was mine. There was salsa, so there were probably chips…. For all I know our whole group was abducted by aliens and flown to Costa Rica for and intergalactic dinner on the beach. Dinner was tasty, our friends were very kind. Probably no aliens were involved.

When we arrived back home at our shiny new house the manager was gone and the window sills were in fact very clean. We rambled around the house opening things, flipping switches, poking buttons and closing things for an hour or two. We were so tired that I was half convinced that someone was changing the location of the light switches right after I left each room. That’s not true. I was completely convinced something was changing the location of the light switches right after I left each room. Those switches didn’t stop moving around until we’d been in the house for a couple of months.

We fell into an exhausted heap on the futon and laying there, in the dark, queued the inevitable ridiculous panic attacks that punctuated the night. “This house is huge and weird and not our home and.. and.. and…” zzzzzzzzzzz “Oh my god, where are the water shut offs, what if a pipe spontaneously detonates tonight. We won’t know where to turn it off! The house will fill up with water and we’ll drown!” zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz “Was that sound someone breaking in? Did I lock the door? Doors? How many doors to the outside are there? Do the locks on them work? Did we actually try the keys in all the locks? What if the neighbors still have keys to this house? We’re going to be murdered in our sleep by the serial killer next door!” zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz “Did I just hear a squeak? Was that a mouse? Rats? Have racoons figured out how to open the basement window? Do raccoons carry rabies or hantavirus? I don’t think they carry bubonic plague. Please don’t let that squeak be an opossum. They’re cute until they smile, then they look like Satan’s favorite pet. How do I find a pest control company at 3am?” zzzzzzzzzz “It’s going to be 102 tomorrow while we’re moving. Do we have an air conditioner? Is it electric or gas? What if the family moving out broke a gas line and didn’t realize it? Are there smoke alarms? Do they have batteries? Wait, gas is CO, do the alarms in this house even check that? My inlaws are going to find us dead and cherry red in the basement tomorrow… huh, wouldn’t have to go to work tomorrow if that happened.” zzzzzzz

Like it always does, dawn eventually happened, light came streaming through the strange new windows and most of the worries drifted away. Well, they drifted away after I checked every dark corner by cell phone light for critters and water.

Stay tuned for Episode 2: The weird stuff is past us! Moving in is going to be easy! Hahahahahahahahaha #Facepalm

The Red Wall

All my husband wanted was a red wall.  He likes color and he became enthralled with the idea of a red accent wall in our entertainment room.

We bought a house with an ‘unfinished’ basement – which is code for ‘Dear god, what were the previous owners thinking’.  If you haven’t experienced it, it’s a boring transformation story that involves more stress than being pantless at a porcupine convention.  In our case, that was partly because the previous genius owners didn’t understand that drywall should never be installed on top of dirt.

After a two very stressful months and a lot of sweat, we had a clean, watertight basement with good lighting and a cheerful totally flat bamboo floor. The flatness involved a contractor and lasers, which would have been awesome but the cost gave me a nosebleed.  The very last touch was painting.  Me, I don’t care too much about colors and textures on the walls of my house.  I want warm sunny colors but I don’t care if the wall is peony, goldenrod or early-dawn-just-before-false-dawn-peaches-n-cream-yellow.  It’s not important to me if the paint is matte, semi-gloss, hyper-gloss or shiny-as-hell as long as I don’t have to paint the wall again.

My husband CleverGuy however had a vision.  He wanted golden walls on 3 sides and an accent wall in oxblood red.  Here’s an important rule for home ownership:  If anyone ever suggests that you should have a red wall anywhere in your house, you immediately say “No!” and smack them on the nose with a rubber mallet.  That path leads to madness and terrorizing BigBoxStore employees.

It started out simply enough.  We went to BigBoxStore  and CleverGuy picked out exactly the color he wanted.  We listened to the paint counter folks and bought the special pink tinted primer that they assured us was totally necessary to make the wall just the right color.  They also warned us that we’d need 3 or 4 coats of the red to make it look good.

On a sunny Saturday afternoon, we headed home and put on the primer.  It made the wall look like we’d painted it with pepto bismol.  The next morning when we were sure the paint had dried, we put on the first coat of red.  It didn’t look right.  It looked sort of…scabrous and blotchy.  We just assumed that’s what they meant by needing 3-4 coats.  Six hours later, we put on a second coat.

Now it looked less scabrous and more blood spattered.  I headed back to BigBoxStore  with the paint cans because there was no way that was what it was supposed to look like after 2 coats.  Instead of customer assistance, I was informed that paint can’t be returned and anyway, what did I expect, I’d only put on 2 coats.  I explained about the blood spatter effect, but they didn’t listen.

Ok, we’re only two coats in and it was definitely getting darker.  So the next night after work, we put on a third coat.

This time it looked like a wall straight from a horror movie.  Like someone had slaughtered a bull right in front of the wall and let the blood spray and dribble wherever it hit.  On my way back to BigBoxStore, I was wondering if we could have Halloween party 6 months early so we’d have the wall as the backdrop for pictures.

Same answer: we’d need at least 4 coats to get good coverage.  And they still wouldn’t admit that anything was wrong with the paint or the primer.  I never once raised my voice or cussed at anyone in that store, but there’s no way they could miss that I was getting angry.

Home I went and for the next two days we put on a coat of paint each night after work.   Instead of getting better, it actually got more pronounced.  There were sections of the wall that still showed primer and other sections that were deeply oxblood red and the pattern looked like a slaughterhouse wall.  The sixth night of the fiasco, we tried to make the whole situation funny by figuring out what you would have to use as the weapon to make the blood spray into the patterns on our wall.   We settled on a combination of chainsaw and weed wacker.

Then it was Saturday morning again, and we’d lost an entire week to that wall.  This time when, I packed up the paints and headed back to BigBoxStore, I went straight to a manager.  He tried to explain ‘no returns’ to me and I explained the word ‘defective’ to him.  The manager was across the aisle from the paint departments counter top fortress, so they could hear the whole episode. In the end, he gave me money back and took the cans of paint.

    I met up with CleverGuy and headed down the street to a real paint store to buy oxblood paint.  I had a dried stir stick with the paint color on it that we wanted them to match and they have a gadget that can ‘see’ colors and spit out the exact formula for matching the color.  Well, that gadget wasn’t working when we arrived, but we were assured by the teenager behind the counter that he could match the color.  He mixed something up and had his manager ‘verify’ it: Which looked suspiciously to me like his eyes sliding over the colors then back to his computer screen in a fraction of a second.

We looked at the paint on the stir stick and the new test card with its little dot of red and they didn’t look the same.  Actually, the paint stick didn’t look like the right color.  I started wondering if I’d had a stroke triggered by the stress of not yelling at the manager in the previous store.  In my head, I named the president, the date and folded my tongue in half without opening my mouth.  Ok, not a stroke.  I looked around the store for inspiration and realized that nothing in the store was really white.  Packages and bottles on the shelves that I knew had white labels were vaguely green tinged.   So the light in the paint store was actively green.  Who makes that decision?  Does someone look around their business and think ”I own a business that sells colors and textures to people.  I should tint all of my lights so that colors that people pick out inside my store will never look the same once they walk out my front door”  That’s either the stupidest business model ever or just plain maliciousness.

To the complete bafflement of the kid at the counter, we walked outside into the sunlight to look at the paint samples again.  They were still different, but not hugely so.  When we pointed out that the paint wasn’t quite right, his manager came over and explained that it was because the paint wasn’t fully cured and it would match when it dried fully.

I’d heard this before in a BBC comedy I watched as a child.  “They’re perfect Mr. Tibbons, don’t fret, the pants will ride DOWN with wear.  Ah yes, Mr. Jorgenson, don’t worry, the pants will ride UP with wear.”  But CleverGuy and I were so tired of the paint fiasco that we took the paint home with the irrational hope that it would be ok.

We walked directly down to the basement, turned all the lights on and swiped a swack of the new paint across the wall.  I was really happy that the paint stuck to the wall where I put it and the color went on evenly, but it was pink.  Just pink.  We waited 2 hours, and it was still just pink.   I put a second swack of paint over the test strip and waited another hour.  No change.  It was closer to the color of a plastic flamingo instead of cotton candy now, but no one calls that color deep red.

And back I went to the paint store, buckets in hand.  They started the whole ‘multiple coats’ dance again and I explained that no matter how many coats of pink flamingo ooze I put on the wall, it will never be red.  And until the wall is red, I don’t get to get on with my life.  The stupid wall was holding my basement hostage.

Money in hand again, I tried yet another paint store.  Across town, on my lunch break the next day, I found actual painters.  Nice guys.  I explained the problem and their first response was: “Don’t ever paint a wall red” with an explanation of color theory and the chemicals in paint.  Quickly followed by “We can help you fix it”.  They scanned my paint sample, matched the color and sent me on my way.  This time, the paint stuck to the wall AND it was pretty close to the original color we’d picked out.

But it wasn’t quite perfect – if you stood and stared directly at the wall, there were places where you could tell that there were 8 coats of paint with various shades of pink and red.  Not because there were drips or lumps, but because the depth of the color varied a little bit as your eye scanned across the wall.

The paint guys were pretty clear that with red, that was always going to be an issue.  So we called a friend of ours and bribed her with a nice dinner to do her paint magic on our wall.  She spent a couple of hours and used I swear 30 colors to mix a series of washes that she sponged and daubed on the wall.  When she was done, there was an oxblood colored wall with a lovely variegated texture that looked completely intentional.  We moved the furniture in and enjoyed our mini home theater.

A week or two afterward, I had to go back to BigBoxStore for something.  I don’t remember what, but it wasn’t related to paint.  As I was walking down their broad main aisle, I glanced at the paint counter and saw one of the women look directly at me and say something I couldn’t hear.  Then I watched all 4 people in the department scatter in 4 different directions leaving the paint department completely unstaffed.  I found what I was after and out of curiosity, checked on the paint department on my way out.  It was still empty with a batch of irritated customers milling around.

I tried to feel bad about traumatizing the employees, but I couldn’t manage it.  I was careful to never yell, cuss or threaten when I talked to them, and I’m not a physically intimidating person.   So I just kept seeing the absurdity of the entire situation and had to laugh.  I still laugh about it every time I walk past that paint desk.  And every time CleverGuy looks longingly at red paints, I remind him that he promised:  The only red wall we’ll ever put in our house again is the book.

House Hunting Episode 4

Episode 4: It was supposed to get less weird when we found a house!  OR If you can’t be a good example, be a horrible warning.

We found a house!

Hallelujah!

Life can start happening again!

Oh, wait, this reality is just as bizarre as house hunting.  At least it’s less time consuming… that’s something right?  Right?

There’s this phrase that I love ‘If you can’t be a good example, at least be a horrible warning’.  Let this be a lesson to those who come after us.  The laws governing house sales and finance changed in 2008 and some of the after effects are looking-glass weird if no one explains them.  Ok, even if someone explains them, they’re still mock-turtle weird, just easier to accept as reality.  Here’s my disclaimer: This is the information as I understand it.  I’m not a mortgage broker or a realtor.  I’m just a person buying a house.  If you experience any of this, for the sake of your diminishing sanity: Ask all the questions!  No, don’t ask me, ask your realtor, broker and bank.

So, before you even started looking for a house, you got pre-approved for financing.  You did that, right?  You spent hours digging up last years W2s, figuring out how to print your bank statements (Who does hard copies anymore!), and pulling pay stubs before you went to the broker’s office.  Then you spent an hour or more answering questions, signing documents and generally verifying that you’re worthy to be their client.

A little while goes by and the broker tells you that you’ve been approved for a loan of ludicrous size and they send you a copy of your current credit score as a courtesy.  Actually, they’re legally obligated to let you have a copy – which is neat.  I still don’t have an explanation for the size of the ludicrous loans people are ok’d for: Sure, we could cover the size loan we were approved for, but we’d never eat anything but Ramen again.  What’s the fun of owning a house if your cabinets only have cardboard noodles and MSG in them?

Next, you spend a painful, emotionally distressing period of time house hunting.  It’s amazing how stressful just the thought of not having a home is.  I’ve been fortunate enough to never experience homelessness and just knowing that our house had sold and we didn’t yet have a place to move gave me a tick of stress that ratcheted up just a little every day.  The day I get the keys to our new house I need to make a donation to a homeless shelter – because damn, that was stressful and it was nothing in comparison.

Now, you’ve bid on the house, had the offer accepted (Hooray!) and everything that’s left is supposed to just be paperwork and details.  This process uses so much time and money from so many people it’s  like a flaming tar pit that you just sacrifice dollar bills and pocket watches to. There has got to be a more efficient way to do this now that we have computers. And calculators. And freaking email!  It feels like it’s all still getting done by abacus and pony messenger.

Now you get to talk to the Title company – they’re this neutral third party that makes sure the house you’re buying is something you can legally buy.  The Data Analyst in my brain screams that all of this information should be in a single database somewhere in the country since house sales are PUBLIC RECORD.  Title insurance should have become unnecessary 10 years ago – between the IRS, NSA and Homeland Security I find it hard to believe that ownership of any property is still in question unless there’s an active lawsuit.  Sigh…yes, I’m sure there’s real legal needs for it, but from an average house buyers perspective, it all looks incredibly stupid and wasteful.  The Title company also often takes care of Escrow accounts to cover property taxes.

Which brings us to Oregon property taxes.  Fun fact: Oregon property taxes are paid in November of this year for July of this year through July of next year.  So if you’ve ever wondered why escrow amounts always look strange: its because they are.  The good news is if you sold your house, the bank has to give you back the money left in your escrow account almost immediately.   They can’t legally keep it for a year…Which a bank did to us pre-2008 when that a**hattery was still legal.

Then there’s the mortgage broker.  The weird financial matchmaker for love-less loans and their hair raising paraphernalia.  This side of things, I think they were probably a good idea for us.  If for no other reason than I had a person with an accessible office that I could send all my questions to and get answers..  The mortgage broker handled getting all the documentation from us that the lender required.  So when they asked us for something I thought was weird, I could email or call and say something like ‘WTF do they need to know that for – it’s creepy!’

The first time I saw the list of documents from the broker, I freaked out a little bit because it’s creepy from a privacy standpoint.  They want to know way more than I’m comfortable telling.  Before I handed it over I made them tell me why they needed it.  It went something like this:

  • Most recent 30 days pay-stubs for each of you – Sure, they need to verify that we’re still making the money we were when they approved us for the loan
  • W2 forms for the past 2 years:  Ok, sure, they’re making sure we’ve continually made the money they expect for the past 2 years.
  • Federal tax returns for the past 2 years.  Not the summary sheet, the ENTIRE tax packet for the last 2 years.  Including contributions to charity, union membership, medical expenses and anything else you had to claim.   This was getting personal and a little creepy to me.  I don’t like sharing that information with anyone – it reeks of giving someone enough information to deny you a loan because they don’t approve of your political party or union or church.
  • Most recent 2 months statements from all checking and savings accounts.   This is what sent me over the edge – I definitely don’t think it’s any financial officers business where I ate dinner, what stores I spent money in or how often I go to the arcade.  We live in an age of debit cards so the details of all those purchases show up on our bank statements now.

I got the list first and called my partner in crime about it.  His immediate response was ‘No, that’s crazy.  That can’t be what they’re asking for’.  Except it is.  That 2008 law made changes that allow lenders to look for undisclosed expenses and unreported debt/income ratios.  They’re not supposed to care that I donate to Planned Parenthood or buy fudge sundaes way more days than is healthy.

That Federal tax return is so they can see undisclosed rental properties, self-employment, and spousal support that was recorded out of state.   The bank statements are so they can see if you borrowed against a credit card to make your down payment, got  a down payment from the seller without telling the bank, or if you got the down payment from friends or family that you’ll have to pay back.  So, there’s a pretty good reason for the bank asking for the documents, but I’m still a little squidgy about it.

Once you turn all the documents over, you wait. For WEEKS while paper acolytes pin each document to the sacred vault wall and perform intricate supplications to the gods of Wall Street and Hysteria for a sign that you’ve been approved to receive the holy grail of house buying: The Closing Documents.  I’m sure there’s more to it than that, but every time I called to ask what day we’d be ready to close all I heard was chanting and muffled drumming.  Once I thought I heard a human sacrifice screaming in the background but it was probably just someone getting a paper cut.  Yeah, I’m sure it was just a really bad paper cut.

Magically, one day you get a call and they tell you that you have to be at an office you’ve never seen before to sign papers and you have to get to the bank today (Right Now!)  to get a cashier’s check for the closing costs before they close.  The call to your boss that you’re going to be out of the office for 2-4 hours the next day has to happen too.  Cue the irritated sigh from my boss right here.  Actually I’m pretty grateful on that front: having a boss whose only irritated at the inconvenience is awesome.

The next day you sign a thousand times on a stack of forms the size of a bible.  This time the updates in the laws were fantastic.  All the forms had to be in a text size we could read.  On our first house, there were literally dozens of pages printed in 6 point font – not even kidding about that.  We spent hours in the too-hot, too-bright office of a set of angry angry brokers and lenders reading the tiny script on every page before we signed it.  Heh.  Good times.  But this time was way better.  We could read everything and there was a third the paperwork as last time.  After that, you wait 24 hours or so and get an email from the broker, the lender, the title company AND your real estate agent telling you that the sale has been recorded and you are officially the new owners.

Because the Portland market is still nuts, now all you have to do is wait to get the keys.  Because almost everyone is doing a rent-back on the house they’re selling.

So here we sit.  Waiting for the keys….. And Waiting….. Buying furniture that doesn’t fit in our current house and tripping over it until every toe and hip is bruised….And waiting some more…Then buying nerf rifles and using the furniture as cover for an indoor battle because being an adult is occasionally the best thing ever…  Then waiting some more……

Please, can I have the keys to my house now?

Do you know what happened to the girl who got everything she ever dreamed of?  She lived happily ever after.

House Hunting Episode 3.5

Episode 3.5 – Fixing all the things. Wherein our heroes discover that a dead rat is an upgrade, lonely boards cry dry rot tears and daisies are awfully cute.

As our final act of home-ownership, we needed to fix the things the inspector found on our house. We negotiated away the ones we thought were a little silly, and that left two fixes – one big, one small. The small one was a piece of flashing on the roof that needed to be replaced. No problem, easy quick fix. The other item was more worrisome, but we’ve worked really hard on this house for 8 years undoing all the dumb it was subjected to before we bought it (and believe me, there was a lot of dumb). We didn’t want to screw up the new owners chance at a happy home by throwing our hands up in the air and screaming ‘Not our problem anymore’ as we ran out the door. We tried putting our fingers in our ears and yelling ‘LALALALALA’ at the top of our lungs instead, but after a couple of minutes my arms got tired and Kris was laughing too hard to keep saying ‘LALALALA’. So we got to work on the fixing.

See, the inspector found some dry rot in the crawlspace and the told us we needed to “pull out all the insulation, remove all the animal waste, replace any rotten wood, then re-insulate the whole thing”. Which sounds terrifying right? Also, definitely something that needed to be fixed by a serious professional. We hired our favorite contractor to come out and do the fixes and he agreed we could work as his assistants to make the job go faster. The only day he could come out was a day Kris was at work, so it had to be my job. Lucky, lucky me. I thought really hard to come up with a reason, ANY reason, that I had to be at work too, but I came up empty. I spent the whole morning trying to reach a zen place about being in a small, dark, smelly crawl space cleaning out literal crap on my hands and knees. By the time we bought the industrial box of garbage bags and a filtered dust mask, I’d lost the zen attempt and tried to just hang on to an I-don’t-really-hate-the-entire-world mantra.

While our contractor figured out the extent of the dry rot, I got to pull all the insulation out of the crawlspace. So on the first 80 degree day of the year, I armored up with jeans, a sweatshirt, gloves, respirator and a kerchief over my hair as I crawled and shimmied around in a 24 inch high lightless crawlspace. Remember that ‘animal waste’ part? I thought cats or raccoons had managed to get under the house and do something horrid and I’d spend the day laying on my stomach, in the dark, gagging while cleaning it up. About 2 minutes after we started (before I’d even crawled in) I found a dried up dead mouse just inside the door to the crawl space. I said ‘Eww, dead mouse’ and tossed it into the garbage with the first wads of insulation. A beat later, our contractor said kind of slowly: “You handled that better than most people would”. Which made me feel super cool and really grateful it hadn’t been alive. There would have been squealing and maybe running if it had still been alive and I wouldn’t have looked cool at all. That was the end of the animal waste episode – we went over the whole crawl space a couple of times and never found anything else. All that perfectly good angst was completely wasted.

Over the next hour I pulled out 10 garbage bags of insulation in 2ft chunks. It would have taken about 20 minutes, but there were dozens of small pieces instead of a couple of long pieces. The easy part of the job was done and I got out and away to breathe normally for a bit while our contractor finished the wood repair. Repair makes it sound like it was important. It was really cosmetic, but we didn’t know that until we took all the insulation out.

Many years ago, a previous owner poured a concrete porch with stairs. They built a wooden frame to create the shape the concrete would fill. They just used cheap wood because it was a temporary frame that would be removed when the concrete dried. But they didn’t remove it, the just left it there for 30 or 40 years. It wasn’t holding anything up, or in, or down or anything else. It was just sort of there: sadly crying rot tears onto itself because someone decades ago forgot about the 4 boards hidden by the stairs.  A couple of decades ago, the sad little boards briefly got some company when a previous owner insulated the crawlspace. Whoever it was must have looked directly at the boards, custom cut some insulation, then covered them up. So our contractor replaced everything with pressure treated boards that will last almost forever. Then all we had to do was put new insulation back in. Which should have been half an hour of easy work. 6 long strips fit between the joists and we’re done. Yeah, not so much.

I cut the strips and started feeding them through the panel for him to place. After the first two, his voice echoing out of the back of the crawlspace started sounding really irritated. He gave me a MacGuyver list of supplies to find then went quiet for 20 minutes after I delivered them. It turns out, there were dozens of pieces of insulation because the joists were all different spaces apart by a couple of inches. They didn’t have cotton candy insulation when they built the house, so of course, what’s standard now was incomprehensible to them. When his string based MacGuyver fix didn’t work, he fed all the insulation back out the hatch to me. I spent the next hour comfortably cutting sections of insulation in the breeze outside while our contractor wriggled around the crawl space measuring, then fitting in each piece I handed him. Which led to my favorite moment of the day: I got to call my husband a daisy, mean it and still make him smile.

Himself came home to find me covered in dirt, insulation and sweat still cutting insulation chunks. When our contractor called for the next piece, I asked Kris to hand it to him. No, I didn’t really think that through. Kris looked at me, looked at the pile of toxic cotton candy I was standing in, looked back at me sort of baffled and said ‘I’m not touching that stuff’. And I about died laughing. There I was an exhausted, filthy mess facing my husband dressed in his dapper librarian best looking handsome as could be. It was a 180 switch from the days when I’d come home from work and he was the one who’d been doing whatever filthy repair or upgrade the house had needed that day. So I got to call him a daisy and hand the contractor another piece of insulation.

It turned into a pretty good day. The scary things were all fortuitously less scary and everything got fixed on time. And now I can honestly say there was a day in my life when a dead rat was an upgrade.

House Hunting Episode 3

Episode 3: Where’s the guy behind the curtain, and why is he so angry?

The goal of this house sell/buy game is to use the equity from our house to buy something that suits our lives a little better. We would like to go from 1100 square feet to 1800-ish square feet and have 2 toilets. We need enough yard for the dogs – it doesn’t need to be big, and we need to be able to put a fence around it. Ideally we would have 3 bedrooms and a house design that has a great room (Kitchen, Living room and Dining room don’t have walls between them). We also discovered in the first week of our hunt that we want to live in a good neighborhood – which for us, just means, walkable streets and a neighbor whose front yard isn’t also a junkyard. Everything else is negotiable. Oh, except for livable – the house has to be in good enough shape that we can live in it while we repair anything thats wrong.

Here’s where the whole thing goes sideways: Low Inventory. That’s the innocuous term realtors use to describe the situation when there are not enough houses on the market. It hasn’t been this bad in almost a decade.

Ideally, we’d buy a house in Milwaukie, so here’s a fun exercise to see what ‘Low Inventory’ really means: Go out to Redfin right now and search for Milwaukie. (Yes RMLS.com lists houses before Redfin, but their UI is crap. Redfin illustrates the problem more clearly)
All houses for sale right now: –15
Exclude the short sales: –14 left
Exclude prices over 300,000: –8 houses left
Exclude houses smaller than 1250 square feet: –3 houses left
Exclude houses that have been on sale for more than a week – because we’ve already seen ALL of those and we’re down to 1 house in the entire city of Milwaukie. And we’ll look at it if it’s still for sale this afternoon.

Now, do the same thing for the entire city of Portland
All houses for sale right now: –841 (just houses, no condos, apartments or empty land)
Exclude the short sales: –804 houses left
Exclude prices over 300,000 and houses smaller than 1250 square feet: –122 houses left
Exclude houses that have been on sale for more than a week – because we’ve already seen ALL of those: –27 houses left
Exclude the ones that will give us more than a 45 minute commute: –25 houses left
Add in our craaaazy desire to have 2 toilets (not even 2 bathrooms, just 2 toilets): –19 houses left

–I got all of these counts this morning, so these are real numbers as of April 10th

Here’s where it gets exciting. Of those 19 houses currently on the market, several of them, will have one of the following characteristics. Keep in mind the market is so tight right now that sellers don’t need to negotiate anything to sell their house.

Cash Only Houses
You can list your house and tell people “Only cash offers will be entertained”. Thats code for: If you can’t write a check for the full amount of the house, don’t bother looking at it. Portland has lots of those right now and they’re not slowing down sales. They’re great for the sellers, but it does mean we can’t even consider those houses.

Teardown Houses
That means the house is in such bad condition that no bank will mortgage it and its only on the market for developers who can tear it down and build a new house. Usually 2-3 new houses where the one house was. But you have to read between the lines of house listings to figure that out – I ran into a listing that looked really good from the pictures only to find out it was a teardown when I asked to see it in person. What possible reason is there for taking flattering pictures of the rooms in a house if it can only be torn down? Why wouldn’t you just put up a picture of the yard and the outside of the house when you know no one can ever live on the inside again?

Bid first houses
Telling people they can’t see a house until they put a bid in. I had to have that explained to me because I was certain I’d misheard it. It’s a common thing to do around Portland now: You list your house and tell people they can’t step foot in the house to evaluate it unless they’ve put a bid in for the house first. You’re supposed to just guess what you’d be willing to pay based on the pictures online, put in a bid and cross your fingers. The theory is, you ‘just pull your bid’ if you don’t like it. But if you do like it and discover you overbid based on what you actually see in the house, you’re SOL. And I can tell you that the pictures online are NEVER a good enough representation of any house.

And then theres this nifty trick
Listing a house for sale on the RMLS website for just a few hours then pulling it back off the site. When contacted, the listing agent said they were doing it to ‘advertise’, and it wouldn’t be on the market for real for another 3 weeks. And no, they wouldn’t entertain any early visits or offers. I believe the technical term for that is “AssHat”.

So say you’ve gone through the entire backlog of P.O.S houses and made certain sure there was nothing there you want to take on. Now, you have to play the game to get a house with all the above oddities in play. Here’s the last 3 pieces of the game I know about. <>

Good houses inside Portland are only on the market for 24 hours sometimes less. We looked at a house this week and we put our bid in for it above market price. 24hours after it was put on the market, it had 6 offers and it went to someone who bid a lot more than we did. I got a listing today for a house that will be on the market for 12 hours. 12 hours.
The top of our price range is the bottom of someone else’s price range. When we bid for a house near the top of our range, we are competing with people who have buckets more money to throw at a house. Our realtor was telling us about a client a few weeks ago who bid 40K over asking and was outbid. I’m looking at you St. Johns. Stop wiggling your friendly neighborhood, good friends and pretty houses our way.
If you bid significantly over the actual value of the house, you must cover that overage out of your own cash, because the bank won’t include that in a mortgage. So we need to be very careful to never bid over the amount we think a bank will estimate the house at.

So my friends I’m left hoping that the bubble will burst and dreading it all in the same breath. We’re looking at more houses tonight. Wish us luck.

House Hunting Episode 2

Episode 2: Portland’s Housing discard bin

Our realtor is a very kind, very patient woman.  She’s been doing this a while, so she didn’t even hesitate: she told us there was lots of time, she’ll help us find the perfect house and she’s never had a client be homeless because there wasn’t enough time to find the house they wanted.  Mostly I believe her, but our first day out was surreal and disheartening.

Right now, in Portland, the housing market is so tight that if something has been on the market more than 2 weeks, there’s probably something wrong with it.  But it might be something wrong that we could fix or just something weird that we’d actually enjoy.  Like built in floor to ceiling bookshelves painted fuschia and teal.  That would put a lot of people off, but a day with sandpaper and paint and we’ve got a dream study.  Or a yard thats just a muddy mess with junk scattered all over.  A weekend of work and a couple trips to nurseries and we’ve a yard that looks good and has the bones for us to work with over the next couple of years.  We were looking for a diamond in the rough.  What we found was a bin or cracked agates and a couple of pieces of fools gold.

Nothing we saw on our deathmarch discard bin tour day was fixable.  Really really not fixable with our time and budget.  But I can say this: Portland is keeping itself weird inside peoples houses all over the city.

The Cute Green House

Its a light green on the outside with two porthole shaped windows in the living room.  The yard was even nice.  We opened the door and the strange started happening.  3 feet directly in front of the door was the stairway to the basement.  I could just imagine walking into the house, having a cat or dog trip me and tumbling to my death.  A death which would have been witnessed on one side by fish (probably) and on the other by a bear.  Mounted to the banister of the stairway was a 50 gallon aquarium so overgrown with algae I wasn’t positive there were living fish inside.  Opposite the tank was an 8 foot bearskin complete with glass eyes and teeth  gaping a horrifying welcome towards the front door.  As an added touch, the bear skin was mounted on a frilly cut red and black flannel backing.  It was like the hunters crafty wife had tried to soften the look and just made it look like the bear could still bleed.

Off to the right of the entry was the perfect kitchen.  Seriously, I covet that bakers, entertainers perfect kitchen and dining room with a view.  To the left of the landing was a little living room with a glass block wall divider and a pellet stove in cream enamel.  We slid through the fish and bear gauntlet to the basement where all 3 bedrooms were.  The deep pile emerald green carpeting was a little smelly and when I mentioned it to our realtor she told me that there was a $1,700 allowance in the house listing to replace the carpet after the current owners left.  Bit of a red flag there: If you’re advertising that the carpets must be replaced, $1,700 is not going to cover the damage under the carpets and probably in the walls.  Cat pee being what it is…  But on we went, because we had to see it all.

The master bedroom had the bed area and a little hallway with closets that led to the master bathroom.  It was a pink bathroom complete with light pink toilet, but whatever, we can fix that.  Then I realized there was no bathroom door and the closets on both sides of the hallway made adding a door not-simple.  Someone deliberately designed their master bedroom so that when you open the door you’re looking down the closet hallway at whoever is enthroned at the moment.  When I pointed it out and laughed, our realtor said its a pretty typical design.  Who does that?!  No matter how good the kitchen was, it wasn’t worth the house it was attached to.  Off we went to the next house.

The House Filled With Guilt

We drove down a ‘private’ drive past 4 houses one of which had a condemned notice on it.  The house we were there to see was one house past the condemned one.  The renters and their small children were still inside which adds the perfect touch of ‘Yes, we’re the assholes considering making you homeless, please leave your home while we evaluate it for our needs’.   There were adorable pictures of their children all along one hallway.  The yard was lovely, and the house was ok, but, honestly, it would have had to be a mansion sold for peanuts to make it appealing after that.

The Drunken Escort House

This house had a gorgeous front and back yard: perfectly manicured, not too big, not too small.  It even had this lovely archway in the back with bird feeders on it.  I’m not a big fan of bird feeders and I thought it was lovely.  The problems were inside and started with the guy who needed to escort us into each room of the house.  His lady friend swayed along behind with her 1pm glass of wine and ice cubes that she rattled and swished with every step.  The other guy just stood on the porch and chain smoked.  Highlights of the tour included: their geriatric cat and his 6 unchanged cat boxes, basement windows that were boarded over “because the windows broke too often” and asking me what nationality I am when I got a step too far behind my husband and our realtor.  I told them I’m an American and walked away in a ‘did that just happen?’ haze.  I could hear them whispering and giggling which just made the encounter stranger.  I thought about it afterwards and the best guess I’ve got is they don’t trust ‘them damn Irish’.  The basement portion of the tour was a tidy version of a hoarder’s paradise.  Pseudo rooms packed with canned goods and furniture.  At one point I thought we’d gotten to the end of the basement and the old guy moved a piece of wood paneling to showed a hidden wood panel room with the windows boarded over.  Cause, y’know the windows get broken too often.  That was when I started wondering if the windows weren’t being broken from the outside and made a barely polite march back to sunlight and our car.  We waited just outside the door long enough to make sure our realtor made it out too.

The Dead Animal House

From the outside it looked a little worn and was right next to a school but it might have been awesome on the inside.  The living room right next to the front door had couches so broken down they looked like they had a ‘free’ sign taped to them on the sidewalk for weeks before they were claimed and brought here.  And they were right next to a beautiful baby grand piano.  The carpet going up the stairs to the bedrooms was worn and so dirty I don’t know it had ever been vacuumed.  The bedrooms all had at least one bed, at least 2 musical instruments and rumpled everything.  By the time I came back downstairs and saw the picture I already knew: single dad and 4 teenage boys.  There probably wasn’t anything we couldn’t fix, it all looked like it just needed a lot of elbow grease, so we kept looking.  The family room had 6 or 8 dead animals mounted on the walls which wasn’t weird all by itself.  What was weird was that everything that had eyes was mounted to stare directly at the chair in front of the computer desk.  Deer, pheasant, small mammal so dusty I couldn’t identify it…all staring.  How could anyone work with all those dead eyes staring  right at you?!  I walked through the accusing eyes and opened the door to the garage where I saw the only clean, new rug in the house.  It sat proudly in the center of an empty garage with a gleaming, perfectly polished black Harley Davidson parked right in the middle.  I took a last turn around the kitchen and opened the pantry door to see how much actual storage space there was and found that last straw.  In the pantry was a monitor with a live feed from cameras mounted on each external wall of the house.  So you can make dinner while watching all approaches to your house.  I don’t have to live in a neighborhood that requires me to spend more money on a security system than on all the combined furniture in my house.  I’m really grateful I have that choice.

Double 41s And A Squatter

Our realtor was away so she got us a sitter to see a few more houses.  We headed up to the house we wanted to view and waited in the driveway for her to join us.  Eventually she sent a text asking if we were lost.   After a ‘who’s on first’ text conversation that almost gave me a nosebleed, we discovered that there were TWO houses with the address 41 on streets with the same name but one of them was ‘Place’ and one was ‘Street’.  After I mapped the address she was at, we walked the half block to where she was waiting for us.  The house was not the one we were excited about, but cost a lot less money so we thought we’d look around anyway.  There were hardwood floors and a 6ft free standing painting of a boat in the living room.  There was a 15 ft concrete wedge that separated the back yard from the neighbors yard and the concrete folded into what looked like a bomb shelter attached to the basement.  I went down to investigate with our backup realtor and walked into a wall of cigarette smoke so thick I thought I was going to get addicted to nicotine on the spot.  In the dimly lit basement was a wall of windows, a backpack and a tidy bedroll ready to be used.  Each of the rooms off the basement were closed and as our backup realtor opened the first one I thought to myself: “This is how horror movies start”, directly followed by “don’t be a weenie”.  I let her open each door and feel around for the light switch in each of the 5 rooms while I stayed where I could see the exits.  We didn’t find the squatter and we didn’t try to buy the house.  There wasn’t an actual bomb shelter, so I was too disappointed to buy it anyway.

The Farm House

It was a super long shot but we had to see it to be sure.  We knew it would need a lot of work because of the price but it might have been an epic opportunity.  It was a turn of the century farm house with all the cool built ins anyone could want, tons of space inside and half an acre outside.  It also had not one but two outbuildings that needed to be pulled down.  The property ran parallel to an active railroad line 10 feet beyond the fence.  And to make the decision even easier: everything inside would have to be fixed.  Never mind comfortable, it was so neglected it wasn’t livable.  The stairs to the bedrooms were so broken I’m surprised they let people walk on them without signing a liability waiver.  If we had buckets of money it would have been worth it.  That house is going to be gorgeous if it gets restored.  Without those buckets of money though, it would be a horrible reenactment of The Money Pit.

So the hunt continues.

Stay Tuned for Episode 3: Wherein our intrepid house hunters discover that ‘low inventory’ is the new code word for playing Calvin ball with housing in Portland Oregon.

Epilogue

Our realtor is buying  a lion.  Several of the houses we looked at had mounted heads or antlers.  One of them had a pair of deer heads and a series of antlers.  I mentioned offhandedly that if I had them I’d need to hang Christmas lights from them.   She responded: “I’m buying a stuffed lion from a antique shop for my bar.  I’m going to call it Mittens and dress it up for holidays.  There’s an alcove above a couple of the booths that he’ll fit perfectly in”.

It sounded like a very strange decor choice right up until I thought about all the quirky things my favorite restaurants in Portland have:  Ghosts painted on the bathroom walls, trains around the top of the dining room, pie holes, voodoo donuts, it’s a long list really.  So: long afterlife to Mittens the bar lion.

House Hunting Episode 1

Episode 1: It’s not an adventure yet.

Adventures are what you call it when the experience is over and you’re resting comfortably at home with a cold drink by a roaring fire.  It’s not an adventure yet.  Between getting our house ready for sale, selling it and now hunting for a new house, I feel like I’ve dropped off the planet into a bizarre parallel world that eats all of my non-work time with lunacy and bafflement, occasionally laced with nausea inducing stress. Between email and texts I’m drowning in messages about house madness while I scurry around trying to understand WTF is happening in this new dimension.  I keep expecting the red queen to appear and screech ‘Off with her head”.  I’ve been watching our realtor, Toni, since we started this journey and I’m pretty sure she’s our White Rabbit. We follow her from house to house as she checks her pocket watch (cleverly disguised as a cell phone) occasionally looking startled and saying we’re late to view the next house.

Several months ago, we had Toni visit and give us a list of all the things we could do to make our house more likely to sell.  Over the next 3 months we worked through all of them.  Box up all our books and bookcases and move them to the garage.  Repaint 4 rooms.  Touch up all the trim.  Finish the flooring in 2 rooms.  You get the idea.  For 3 months its what we spent every spare minute on.  The …exciting… part of the journey didn’t start until our realtor called us a month earlier than we’d planned and and told us that our neighborhood had a bubble that was increasing house prices.  If we could have our house on the market in the next week, we could take advantage of it.  In a mad scramble, we (mostly Kris) got everything finished and beautified by Friday then packed up the dogs and evacuated the house for a weekend so realtors could show the house any time over the next three days.

Over the next week, 60+ people walked through our house and left a stack of realtor cards 2 inches high.  Monday through the following Sunday, with less than an hour notice, we had to have the house spotless, then evacuate until the realtors were done showing their clients around.  Some very kind friends of ours housed our dogs for the entire week because the dogs couldn’t be home while people looked at the house.  Our cats, however, could be home and were the star attraction according to feedback our realtor got.

Friday afternoon Toni asked if I’d be willing to spend an hour on Sunday with a potential buyer answering her questions.  Yeah, that’s as weird as it sounds.  The prospective buyer seemed really  interested and maybe she was just a bit eccentric but she really wanted to meet the sellers and talk about the house.  After some hesitation, I agreed.

Sunday afternoon, an elderly lady with a written checklist and a silent male companion appeared on my door step.  She sent him to look around the house while she sat at my kitchen table and worked through her list.  I’m not sure how or even if the man was related to her because the only words I heard him say were ‘Hi kitty’ as he reached out to pet our cat Blix and ‘Yep’.  The single ‘Yep’ was after he’d looked at the plumbing, furnace, electrical and garage and she asked if everything looked good.  Then he left.  She stayed for another 45 minutes asking questions.  It was less weird than I thought – she’s got a health condition and she wanted to know ALL the things you need to know about your house.  Exact dimensions of rooms (she brought a tape measure and the exact size of her bed), where all the plugins are, what are all the trees and plants in the yard.  It was all normal stuff and she was planning ahead.

Sunday night we had 3 offers on our house and it had been on the market 9 days. .

With an accepted offer, the clock started ticking in our heads for finding a new house.  We’ve done this before so this time should be easier.  Not easy, but easier.  Fewer shocks to the system anyway because we know what to expect.

Wow, we were wrong about that.  I think Portland stopped taking her meds because her housing market is schizophrenic.  Or maybe just psychotic.  Yes, I know what those words mean, and no, I’m not using them inappropriately.

Next episode: Our intrepid hunters visit the Portland housing discard bin searching for a diamond in the rough.  Wherein ‘Keep Portland Weird’ derives new depths of meaning.