Monday, August 14, 2017

This is the home building post I DIDN'T want to write..

If you know me beyond this blog, you know I don't put people on blast normally. I *usually* don't enjoy fighting with people online, and I try not to post a lot of negativity on my social media. I don't really do negative reviews on Yelp, either, although I do understand the necessity of truth telling from people. However, I think negativity tends to be more contagious than positivity, and when all you can think about is the bad stuff, you forget all of the good stuff.

With that being said, Graham and I are not happy with our builder. Remember why we said we signed a contract with Lexar of Tacoma back in November? Because the base price of the home was going to increase by $25-30K over the next few months! So, we rushed into it before we were truly ready. We were planning to wait for two years after buying the land to save up more money, but then the price of the home was so low it was smarter to just go for it.

So, we've had a pretty good experience so far with our Lexar office. They've been busy, but have communicated well about their delays. They have been forthcoming about some of the issues they have been having with their builds due to labor and supply shortages. We were thrilled to be SO CLOSE to pouring our foundation (I mean like literally, it could be a week away at the most).

And then, I got an email asking for my phone number so the construction manager could call me. Hmmm, not a good sign. We had a brief conversation that the corporate office was making them increase the base price of the home. We were told the increase of the price was based on how long ago we signed the contract and how close we were to pouring the foundation. When I asked how much so I could be mentally prepared, I was told the info would be in the email later that day. So, no help there. Graham and I were upset, but then we got the email that night around 9 PM, that the cost of the home would go up by $24,000. We could pay out of pocket (yeah sure), or get a letter from our lender for the extra funds (not happening either).

Graham and I could NOT sleep that night. I mean, here we are, $40K down already, we just closed on our loan a few weeks prior, and we have a giant hole in the ground.. and now they're asking for more money! They justified this huge increase in cost by the clause in their contract that if your foundation is not poured within 60 days of signing the contract, they can increase the price. We were initially very concerned about the language in the contract, but we were assured by the salesman that they would not increase the cost. Apparently, this same clause is used by other "on your lot" builders as well, so Lexar isn't the only one who can screw you over. I mean seriously, 60 days to get your foundation poured from signing the contract? That's freaking impossible. We didn't get our finished plans until four months past the signing date, so only then could we get our site plans, construction loan, and permits. Everything literally couldn't come together until July.. EIGHT months after we signed the contract.

They told us that 14 other families are in the same position as us.. which was reassuring, but not really.. because we know the pain and anger that they were feeling. Graham had a long talk with the salesman the next day, calling him a liar and a bad person for telling us months ago that they wouldn't increase their prices. I thought that was a bit extreme and mean.. until I heard what the other families said to them. Many people threatened to take their business elsewhere, somebody threatened to burn their office down, and somebody else brought up bringing their gun into their office to shoot them (which isn't so funny nowadays). So, I think their reactions were a bit more extreme than Graham's, and I didn't feel as bad.

So, over the next few days, we weighed our options: taking our business elsewhere, changing our house plan, and/or getting rid of some of our additions. We were hoping that the corporate office would be willing to take a hit off their profits and just increase our price by $10K, but no such luck. However, the construction manager and salesmen worked hard to present a couple of changes to our plans. We do have to give them some credit because they aren't the owners of this location/franchise, and this mandate came from the top down.. and they're the ones who had to deal with the hate and backlash from their customers. They proposed some things to save $12K like: changing the pitch of the roof, changing some of the cabinets and trim, getting rid of some of the smart home features, and replacing the original recessed lights with dome lights (not ok with that one--I hate boob-shaped lights hanging down from the ceiling). We accepted most of the changes, but we had some ideas of our own..

--We are getting rid of the wood-burning stove and the stone behind it. That's $7K.
--We can get rid of some of the recessed lights we added to the plan.
--In extreme measures, we can get rid of the tiled master shower and the full height tile backsplash in the master bathroom, but we really don't want to..

Anyways, we meet with them tomorrow to discuss some of the changes and issues. We will owe them money, but we hope not more than $5K. Like I said before, this SUCKS, but the cost-changing issue is not only limited to Lexar.. so for those of you who are considering building your own home with one of these "on your lot" builders, beware! And, we all have watched enough HGTV to know enough that any custom home will have budget and timeline issues. It's not solely limited to these builders or the Seattle area. We are grateful for the construction manager's and the salesmen's efforts to helping still build our dream, but it doesn't really make me happy to pay more out of pocket when I'm already stressing about the budget.

Lastly, Lexar, if you are reading this.. I don't fault you for trying to make a profit. I know you're not a non-profit organization and don't build houses for charity. But seriously, don't try to tell me that you're "not making a dime" off my house. You are raising my price to the current base price for my home.. so if that were true, you wouldn't be making a dime off any of the other houses that you are currently under contract to build. So, if you weren't in it just for the money, I would've expected a small increase on the base price of my home, or I would've expected to see a bigger across-the-board cost increases on your other customers' homes and your website as well. So seriously, don't try to placate me with that empty phrase. K thanks.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Sometimes it's the BIG things..

Graham and I often make big life changes all at once, like when I graduated from grad school, got a job, and moved up to the Puget Sound area from Portland all in one month. We also bought a house, moved to a new area, Graham started his career, and he had to move to Virginia all in another month's time.

Now, I've been thinking about building a home for almost a year now, when I saw land for sale in our area.. so this wasn't really a rash decision by any means. But now, we are building our home, we closed on our construction loan, and I got a new job! Woohoo!

To my followers that don't know my life story, I started on the path to becoming a Registered Dietitian (RD) 15 years ago in college. A lady from my hometown who was an RD tried to convince me not to be an RD: low pay, no respect, people and doctors don't listen to you, blah blah. I said, I don't care.. and away I went. And then I started working as an RD, and I thought to myself, I should've listened.. Really, being a Dietitian isn't a horrible job. But after a while, money can be a motivating factor to get a better paying job/career.

So, I started working to getting certifications to improve my skills and up my pay. In October 2012, I took a test to become a Certified Nutrition Support Clinician (CNSC), which covered my continuing education credits for 5 years and got me a 75 cent/hr raise. It is nice having the extra letters behind my name, but they mean nothing to anybody other than Dietitians (although other medical professionals can get their CNSC credentials too). Then in August of 2015, I decided to bite the bullet and take a test to become a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE). I thought it'd be better to study for the exam when I planned to get pregnant compared to after having 2 kids. I'm so glad I took (and passed) the exam when I did because it would've been insane to study with a baby. I got a $1.50/hr raise with my CDE, which was partially my motivation to taking the exam.

Another motive for taking the exam was increasing my skills and improving my ability to get hired somewhere else. As a clinical dietitian in a hospital, I have to work weekends and holidays, which BLOWS. I've worked at least 3 Christmas days in the hospital. Also, outpatient dietitians and CDE's make more money. When I was in college and bright-eyed, money didn't mean a thing, but now.. it does.

When we initially looked at how much house we could afford, I did several analyses on building a house in 1, 2, or 4 years. We initially decided on waiting 2 years, but then we had to jump the gun to save $30K on the base home price. So, we didn't have as much money to put down as we would've liked. Also, we had to reduce our sale price of our home by $11K for the roof and need for outdoor painting. Lastly, we did not plan on having to pay PMI on our construction loan. So, we kind of overextended ourselves on our monthly loan amount.. and things were going to be TIGHT in the upcoming home building months.

And then, I heard there was a CDE job opening in a bigger city closer to our house, which would pay more. I know several people who work there, so I had some insider details. I went through 2 interviews that went well, and they offered the job to me a few days after. And guess what.. the increase in pay will be enough to cover the increased expenses for the construction loan. We really have been so blessed, and I'm excited at the new prospects and experiences my job will bring.

We look forward to more big changes in our lives: new house, new job, and air conditioning (it has been HOT and awful here in Seattle this week).

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Big Sigh of Relief

Well, I have not updated this blog or even thought about it over the past month. We have been all over the place. Graham has been working 50-70 hour work weeks, I have been interviewing for different jobs (more about this later), and Carter's been at home for summer break. I am currently at home this week with Sadie while Carter is in Idaho with Graham's family. I get to play "stay at home mom" this week with the baby. It's Tuesday, and while I like waking up whatever time the baby gets up and working out whenever I want to, I'm kind of bored. In fact, even writing this blog is boring me. Anyways, we finally have had some forward movement on our house.

First, we had to work with our engineering company to re-orient the house with retaining walls around the areas of the home with large slopes. That took an additional $900 and 2 weeks to get it re-engineered. Fortunately, it was re-submitted and re-approved through the county quickly.

Then, we finally closed on our construction loan.. THREE months after putting in our application. Geez. That was a huge relief, as we were worried that things might fall through and then we'd be stuck with the bill. So, we finally put a big chunk of change down on our loan, and we gulped when we saw the monthly payments for our loan. Turns out, we're going to be house poor without a house.

We finally got word from the building review division at the county that our second-draft version of the playroom and storage wouldn't be approved. They apparently removed the door from the playroom to the storage room, but the county still considered it a "closet", so they wouldn't approve it. The building review guy literally quoted the dictionary for the definition of a closet. So, luckily, Lexar expedited the plans to remove the wall entirely from the playroom. I wanted the storage entrance to come from the utility/laundry room, but that particular change in walls would need more time in drafting to be completed.. so we just removed the walls to get it approved by the county. I plan to work with Lexar to get the walls back up, and hopefully have the entrance from the laundry room instead.

So, we met with our builder and excavator today to informally mark out the foundation limits. It took a bit longer than previously thought, as our house was now at an angle. One issue was that we didn't clear as much of the land as we needed to. So, our excavator had a little more work to do prior to digging out the foundation. Hopefully, he plans to dig out the foundation this week. Then, it's on to the water, power, and then the foundation!!

One bugger that is holding back our building permit is the freaking fire hydrant. We need to have a receipt of payment for it prior to our building permit is issued. So when we contacted our water company, we were told it may take a while to get it through engineering. So after two weeks, when we contacted them again about putting a down payment on the hydrant, a customer service rep told us that our water company may pay for the $8K hydrant themselves. What the what? was our response. So now, we have no idea what's going on, and the customer service manager has been on vacation for over two weeks. As soon as we get this taken care of, we can get our building permit and get things done!

So, talking with our construction manager today, we were given a finish date of 6-7 months from when the foundation is poured, which is what we were expecting/hoping. Apparently, there is a major labor shortage going on in the Seattle area right now with all the crazy growth and construction... which is spilling out into residential projects like ours. So, delays will be expected for sure. All we hope for is a home that's done right around February of next year, which is when our current lease is done. Oh, and I found out that Lexar Homes (at least the Tacoma office) knows about my blog. **Hi Lexar!!** Don't worry, I'll be as objective and honest as I can, realizing that delays and mistakes are made with every builder. It's inevitable.

Well, we will see what will happen over the next month. Like I said, I've been interviewing at different places (nothing bad happening at work--just different opportunities have opened up locally), so I may have good (or sad) news soon!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Delays and Delays and Delays and Delays...

Ok, so here's the home building update... and mind you, this is coming from a point of frustration.

We still have not closed on our construction loan. The appraisal was due June 2nd. Then, the appraisal was delayed because there was a death in the appraiser's family. Then it was due June 14th. Then, it was delayed for another unknown reason. It is now June 28th. We are still waiting. We initially applied for the construction loan over two months ago. We are waiting to give them our money. I'm not paying extra interest right now, so I'm glad, but still... this is the worst.

We met with our excavator three weeks ago to go over the plans for clearing the land. We were not expecting him to be able to start until July or August. We were extremely surprised and excited when he told us that he would start clearing the land the next week, on June 12th or so. We were not ready for that. To prepare the land, the boundaries, and the clearing limits, we spent that whole Saturday at the property. We had a metal detector for the iron rods at the property corners, we had stakes and green tape for the clearing boundaries, and we had to buy a machete to get through the thick bushes. How weird was it that Graham went to Home Depot at 9 PM on a Friday night to buy a machete? He had to ask for help to find it, and the employee kind of gave him a weird look. Graham's response was, "My kids won't go to sleep." I told Graham that that employee was probably looking for his picture in the news the next day because that was a super creepy thing to say.

Looking out to the street from where the driveway *may* be (see below).

Side yard view.

So after all this fuss and work, we showed up to the property all excited to see the land transform from a garden of Eden to a big mound of dirt.. and soon, our hopes were dashed. Our boundary tape was still up, and not a darn thing was done. A few days (and drives to the property) go by, and still nothing was done. We finally put in a phone call to our guy, and his excavator broke.. So again, he told us maybe the next week... Repeat the following unfulfilling visits and broken dreams.. And then we got a call on Saturday the 24th that our guy was clearing the land and he wanted us to check in with him. Surprise! Best day ever. We were finally able to see what it'll look like not covered in trees.

The side yard view.. Do you see that upward slope? Also, we requested the cedar in the foreground to stay, but I'm pretty sure we're going to have to get rid of it.  :(

The remains of the trees. This is the back/side yard of our property.

So then, our excavator said Lexar should come and stake out the foundation so he can figure out where to trench for power, water, etc. So we planned to meet with Lexar on Tuesday June 27th. Then, I got the news back from our county that the dimensions were wrong on the site plan from our engineering company. The county also wouldn't approve our building plans because the playroom had a closet, and they took it to mean it would be used as a bedroom.. and since it doesn't have a window, it had no point of egress. We decided to move the door to the closet to the utility room to fix that problem. So just a couple of things to fix.. no biggie, right?

Next, we met with Lexar on Tuesday on my day off. Unfortunately, Graham couldn't take off work, so it was me and the kids. It sucked because Lexar had to go off the site plan from our engineers, which had the wrong dimensions. It wasn't my fault, but I was super embarrassed and annoyed that something simple could make things go so wrong. We were able to muddle through the site plans and get the correct dimensions from the construction plans, and mark out where the foundation would go from there. We noticed something bad, though..

Big problem. HUGE. The foundation area was on a super sloped area, meaning that:
1) The foundation would have to be ginormous (and go through special engineering) because it'd have to match the 10 foot difference in slope from side-to-side, or
2) You'd have to dig out and severely level out the foundation and lot, with retaining walls near the side and the back due to the slopes.

So, we are back in this spot where we don't know what we're going to do. One big issue is that there is an easement (utilities and road) on our lot for 30 feet in.. and the setbacks are bigger for easements (25 feet) compared to side yards (10 feet). So, there is a very limited area where we can actually put the house--despite the lot being over 3/4 of an acre!! Turns out we would've been better off with a 2-story house, but we were really trying to build our forever home....

Yeah, this sucks. We are currently in talks with our builder, excavator, and engineering company to get a better plan out there. We will see what happens.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Cooks Illustrated Skillet Turkey Tetrazzini (One Pan)

I do post recipes from time to time.. and this one is totally worth putting out into the world. I blogged about Cook's Country Flavored Popcorn years ago, and it remains one of my most popular blog posts. If you haven't tried it yet--it truly is amazing popcorn and super easy! Anyways, I know you're probably thinking one of two things about this upcoming recipe:

1) Turkey Tetrazzini is old school.

2) Thanksgiving was like 7 months ago.

And yes, you'd be right on both items. It truly is an old school recipe, but it doesn't mean it's not worth making. No canned items to be found. Also, Graham's dad gave us some leftover smoked turkey (not from Thanksgiving), and so I found this obscure recipe and made it.. twice. You know it's good if I make the same recipe more than once over a six-month period.. I have problems with making the same dinner as I did like three months ago. And once again.. it's easy and it only requires one dish to make. That's a big deal when the sink in your rental townhome is full after one sippy cup is thrown into the sink. Oh, and did I mention that it's also a 30-minute recipe? One dish and under 30 minutes with no canned foods? That's right.. So, for all of your enjoyment.. here comes the recipe..

Notes: Serves 4 large portions. Pre-heat your oven prior to assembling your ingredients to ensure completion of meal under 30 minutes. You need a 12-inch ovensafe skillet, but does not have to be non-stick.

2 TB unsalted butter
10 oz sliced white mushrooms (we made the recipe without any)
1 onion, minced
Table salt
3 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken (or turkey) broth
1 cup heavy cream (you could probably use half-and-half, but it'd be less rich)
8 ounces (3 cups) egg noodles
1 cup frozen peas
14 oz (3 cups) shredded/chopped turkey
1 TB dry sherry
2 TB fresh minced parsley
20 Ritz crackers, crushed to coarse crumbs (1 cup)

Cooking Instructions:
1) Heat oven to 475 degrees and adjust oven rack to middle position.
2) Melt butter in 12 inch ovensafe skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, onions, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and cook until mushrooms are lightly browned, 5-7 minutes.
3) Stir in broth, cream, and noodles. Increase heat to high and cook, stirring often, until noodles are tender and sauce has thickened, ~8 minutes.
4) Stir in peas, turkey, dry sherry, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle cracker crumbs on top. Transfer skillet to oven and bake until lightly browned, ~8 minutes. Serve.

Recipe from Cooks Illustrated "The Best 30-Minute Recipe".

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Construction Site Plans

NEWSFLASH: We break ground next week! Our excavator is clearing the land starting next Wednesday!

All right, this will probably go into a lot more detail than necessary, but I'm just trying to document this process of building our home as detailed as I can..

Our next move for the home building process was getting the site plan. For all of you following along, I'm just going to assume you know as much about construction as I do.. which is not much. Like I said before, I've never felt so clueless in my life muddling through terms like septic tanks, temporary power, concrete plans, impervious surfaces, etc.. So, a site plan contains the following: location of house, roads, easements, driveway, roof overhang, and two other big ticket items: septic tank and drain fields as well as storm water control.

If you grew up in an area like me in California (see below).. you lived in a planned neighborhood with city water and sewer.

However, if you live in a rural area like we do now in Washington (see below).. You can't plan on either of those things, and you need a plan to get water and dispose of waste properly. Many people don't have access to a regular water supply, but have to rely on a personal well that's drilled in a backyard somewhere. FYI, we don't have a well on our property--which is why we bought the property. Wells can be $$$$$$.

Before I moved here, I only knew about septic tanks vaguely. For a high school summer job, I once stayed in a house near Jackson, CA that had a septic tank. All I knew is that you shouldn't flush feminine products in a septic tank. Anyways, I've since learned about them a little bit as our last house had one (it was downhill and a simple gravity system).. but I still don't know much.

As for the storm water control, this is something that most people take for granted. I mean DUH, nearly everywhere back home had sidewalks, gutters, drains, and a city sewer system. But, many neighborhoods here do not. So, where does that water go when you don't have a sewer system? For many planned neighborhoods, they have a retention pond and storm water systems. For us non-neighborhood folks out in the sticks, we must utilize other methods to properly disperse water. For many of us, we have to utilize trenches fitted with perforated pipes such as an infiltration or dispersion trench (see below).  We had an engineer design this for us, taking into account the floor plan of the house, lot's topography and soil type. The other parts of the site plan include the septic tank, the driveway, and potential need for retention walls.

Image result for infiltration trench dispersion

We decided to work with an engineering firm that would do everything for us: the site plan, septic design, landslide risk assessment, etc. This way, there would be no confusion between the placement of other systems. A lot of potential home builders may choose to get bids from various septic designers, engineers, surveyors, etc, and then have to get the pieces of the puzzles put together. We chose to simplify the process and have one firm do the whole project, even if it did cost a couple hundred of dollars extra.

So, we gave our floor plans to the engineering firm and they got started fairly quickly after our deposit of over $5K (when you're dealing with home building, everything is in the range of thousands of dollars). We initially had the idea of having the home face the southeast corner of the lot, which would be facing the rounded corner of the street and the water. There's a teensy bit of a water view of the Puget Sound in the winter.. But, the engineer told us that because of the upward slope towards the back of the lot, we'd need 2-3 retaining walls around 2 sides of the house. Hmm, a couple more thousand of dollars to face a peekaboo view of the water? No thanks..

So, we told the engineer that we wanted the house to face the east for the paved road access, and for the cheapest placement possible (aka no retaining walls). So, she fixed the location of the house and made the storm water plans. We were then told everything was all set and that the design would be submitted to the county.

3-4 weeks go by.. and nothing was submitted to the county. We figure that things just got delayed in the process. So, we put a call into the engineering firm, and we found out that the engineer working on our project quit and didn't finalize the plans. It was still labeled as "awaiting customer approval", and nobody checked back in on us. So, we had to wait another week or so until the new engineer approved the project and sent it in.

So, finally.. 6 weeks after giving the engineering firm our deposit, our plans were accepted and processed.. and as of May 30th, our site plans were approved and we were free to "start moving dirt". We met with our excavator on June 7th, and he plans to get started right away with clearing the land. We are beyond excited to get moving with this process.

Next home building blog: site/lot preparation.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Baby Sadie.. for now

One year of this tiny baby... How do I describe this contrary and adorable creature?

This is going to be a picture and video heavy post.. Be ye forewarned.. I've tried to choose ones I haven't shared on social media yet.

--Sadie was pretty small when she was born, so she wasn't super cute when she was born (sorry baby.. but it's the truth). She just needed to gain some weight and fill out a little bit.. But now, she has the cutest little baby doll face ever. She has the cutest little dimples and I die whenever she smiles enough to show them.

--From birth, she has always been somewhat of a noisy baby. Even as a newborn, she would squawk if we held her in the wrong position, she would snuffle at night, hiss or make funny noises when she got mad, and would grunt if put in a swaddler. Currently, she screams for attention, and still squawks loudly when she wants something.

--She definitely liked to snuggle as a baby, and was pretty much in someone's arms for the first 2-4 weeks of her life. Currently, she only snuggles when she's sick or with daddy. She will snuggle with Graham while he sings her to sleep, but she wriggles and squirms out of my arms when I sing to her after her bedtime bottle.

--She is obsessed with Carter.. and I mean obsessed. She wants to do whatever he's doing at the moment. If Carter has a toy, Sadie will only want it while Carter is playing with it. She follows him around, and tries to wake him up in the morning (they're currently sharing a room). Sadie will do anything to play with Carter, and likes to crawl all over him when she finally gets to him.

--Sadie is not a good sleeper.. She went through a period of 3 weeks straight of sleeping through the night when I went back to work when she was 3 months old.. and then, only sporadically over the next 9 months. She has her dad wrapped around her little finger, so sleep training has been inconsistent as well. Carter was a good sleeper, so this baby is payback to that. My mom says that I didn't sleep through the night until I was 13 months old as well.

--This girl does not laugh easily. We have a video of her giggling, but seriously.. this girl is difficult! She loves to smile, but man is it hard to make her laugh. The only time she laughs spontaneously is if she is climbing up the stairs, and Graham or I try to get her before she climbs up all of the stairs. She is a stinker, this one.. She also laughs when daddy throws her high into the air.

--She is a little independent sprite. We call her Dora the Explorer because she doesn't really like to snuggle or play with stuff.. she just likes to crawl around and explore everything around her. This means she's getting into trouble all the time because we leave open doors or the kitchen pantry. Despite her self-declared independence, she doesn't like to hold her own bottle. The girl refuses to drink if she has to hold it herself. If we let go of the bottle, she'll let it drop and she'll stop drinking. We don't know if she is the laziest baby in the world, if she's contrary like me, or if it's just comforting to not hold her bottle.

--Sadie is into EVERYTHING.. and she's kind of sneaky and quick about it. Our new word is "Sadie-ously??" because we kept saying "seriously?!?" every time we noticed she was into something new. She's our little trash panda because she looks so cute pulling our kitchen trash can down and eating everything that spills out of it. Luckily, she's mostly been eating food scraps, like orange peels and onions. Carter was definitely not like this, so we are so not prepared for little Dora.

--Sadie is a daddy's girl, through and through. The look on her face when he walks through the door at night is priceless. She laughs the most with Graham, whether he's throwing her in the air or he's chasing her up the stairs. Well, I guess both of the kids are daddy's kids.. and since we probably won't have any more.. I guess that's that.

--We initially thought she was just like Carter.. sweet, content, happy to do whatever.. But it turns out she just merely looks like Carter with dimples. She's loud, begs for attention, more volatile in emotions, and just a little harder to deal with.

--Fun Sadie fact: when she was a little baby, she LOVED the song "Only You" by Yaz. She would stop crying immediately in the car whenever it came on. It worked like magic, and it really pissed Graham off every time.

--We love this baby. She's definitely come into her own little personality, and we're loving these everyday moments of her babyhood and transition into toddlerhood.

Sadie at her "birthday party". Those in attendance were her parents and brother. No excitement was had by all. We are kind of lame parents by some standards..

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Construction Loan Woes

So, in my first blog about building a house, I talked a little about the differences between home loans, land only loans, and construction loans.. and now I have experience with all three. Mind you, I'm definitely not an expert, so I'd recommend contacting a loan officer that is proficient in construction loans if that's what you're working towards.

With the conventional loan, it was a little stressful as we had a high deb-to-income ratio (DTI) back then. We were still paying off debt, and Graham was only working part-time at the group home for $10/hr. We recently had switched one of our credit card balances to a 0% APR, which then lowered our monthly payment, so then we qualified for the loan. That was a big relief.

The land-only loan was scary because we were completely out of our comfort zone. We had to contact the county about land planning, ask a geologist about soil tests, and learn about balloon payments on loans.. It was more work than we were expecting.

And then, we went through with the construction loan.. Honestly, if I could have done it all over again, I would've done the all-in-one construction loan, with the land rolled in with the construction costs. It would've been so much easier to do it all at once, and it would've saved us a few thousand dollars in closing costs. However, we weren't ready to sell our house last fall/winter, which was necessary for a good portion of the down payment on the loan. Plus, it would've been a crazy amount of work to get everything we needed for the construction loan.

So, here's the low-down on a construction loan. There are several terms you'll need to get familiar with: DTI, closing costs, and the loan-to-value (LTV). Your DTI is fairly simple: your average payments on debt compared to your average gross income. To be approved for a mortgage, the recommended DTI is usually at or below 42% (including rent/mortgage). Closing costs can be several thousands of dollars, depending on your lender. They usually include loan origination fees, appraisal, and all kinds of fees (title, county, escrow, etc).The LTV is a little more complicated for a construction loan. If you put zero percent down on a house, the LTV is 100%. Unless you do a specialty loan (such as the USDA loan that we did or a VA loan), many lenders won't do 100%.  Also, you have to pay Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) if the loan is >80% LTV.. which can add $200+ per month to your mortgage.

The complicating factor with a construction loan is that some lenders allow you to only put 5% down on a construction loan.. which is great for people like us who have cash but don't have like $80K to put down on a construction loan. Many banks require 20-30% down on construction loans due to the higher risk of new construction. Anyways, we based our future mortgage payments on our home's estimated LTV after appraisal.. For example, if it cost ~$400K to build a home, and the appraised finished home value is $480K, the LTV would be 80% and we wouldn't have to pay PMI. What we didn't account for initially was the LTV on the construction loan (~90-95%).. so we have to pay PMI on the construction loan.. which initially increased our estimated DTI. So, we have to pay PMI on the construction loan while the home is being built. We can re-finance the loan after the home is finished so we won't have to pay PMI, based on the fact that our home will be appraised way higher than what we will have paid for it. This is definitely a bonus to a buyer's market.. as most homes in our area are being sold for $180-200 per sq foot.. so our home could potentially be worth $455-505K after it's built.. which is way more than what we will pay for it.

Going through this process has been anxiety-ridden, as we've felt like we didn't have good communication from our lender, and our questions weren't always answered in a timely fashion. We also had to get bids for all of the items not provided by our home builder, such as the outdoor concrete for patios and driveways, site development, septic design and install, utilities installation, electrician fees, permits, on-site portable toilet.. etc etc etc. It was quite the project, but I managed to do all of it fairly quickly. If you know me well, you'd know I hate making phone calls, so I hated every minute of talking to strangers about things I only have a vague knowledge about. I've never felt so stupid in my life asking an electrician about how we get temporary power to the house.

Due to the poor communication from our lender, we even contacted another loan officer in our area (Terry Pemberton of Umpqua Bank) to see if we could get a better deal basically. He was very knowledgeable and quick to respond, so I'd highly recommend him if you're building in Washington state. However, our current lender had the best product for us, so we stayed with them. We should be closing soon.. but right now we are waiting for the appraisal. I'm really quite curious as to how the appraisal will turn out, as it's just based on the plans, the HERS score (that's a discussion for another day), and the upgrades we're planning on putting into the home. Let's hope it comes out high!

Stay tuned for my next home building blog.. I'm planning on blogging about the design and pre-permitting process. Should be fascinating. I'm sure.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Four Years Later..

Yes, this is a post about my personal life.. so if you're just following my blog for building our house with Lexar Homes, you'll just have to check back next week..

Anyways, over the past three years around this time of year, I tend to look back at my life and see how it's changed. It has nothing to do with the spring season, but with the fact that Graham and I separated on May 1st 2013. If you don't know about our saga, here's the starting point to our journey. Also, this year, Graham and I have now been together ten years.. so it's a particular year of significance for us.

Four years ago, we went through a personal hell. We separated for Graham's own good, for him to get help, and to fully change without me to push him. He needed to be away from his family to fully realize what he had was worth working to keep. Because of the lies he told about flunking out of school and the trust he broke with his lies, it has taken a lot of time and work to rebuild our relationship. Time has been the biggest help, as it's helped reduce the pain. As time has gone by, I've been able to look back with fondness and with a bittersweet outlook. I've learned a lot.. and grown up a lot throughout the years.

To be honest, it's hard to stay with someone after they've broken your trust. I don't mean to make light of other people's serious problems as well, but I'm pretty sure I have a mild case of PTSD from what I've gone through. Whenever I hear a trigger word, or a trigger situation, such as a mention of somebody who has lied to their spouse.. I have a mini panic attack. My heart starts racing.. I get the anxiety poops... I check the cell phone records.. and then I have to call Graham and make sure he's not lying to me about anything. It sucks, but I'm glad I can better understand my response. Plus, my mini panic attacks get better and less severe as the years go by..

It's not easy to be in the position to doubt your spouse. I've doubted Graham so many times about the things he says and the things he does.. For a while there, our relationship required a lot of verification of things he did. He checked in with me when he was at work. Our emails and account were open and available at any time to each other. I've definitely had my moment of complete freakouts where I needed a lot of comfort and reassurance. Mostly, I feel better now. When I hear my normal anxiety triggers, I react much better. I'm not still asking Graham about events like 8 years ago. I'm looking forward to our lives together, and experiencing what life has to offer as we grow older together.

And yet, still.. sometimes I feel a sense of impending doom because things are too good right now. Sometimes I feel like I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop.. or something else to go terribly wrong. I feel sometimes like I'm not meant to have a happy life. I know friends who have lost spouses at a young age, or be diagnosed with a terrible chronic disease. I've seen people lose young children. My own brother had a brain tumor at 8 years old and a stroke at 32. Life's not fair, and I know it.. but I often fear for the worst. When I got pregnant with Sadie within the first month of Graham returning from Virginia, I was convinced that I would miscarry. Then after I got through the first trimester, I was worried I'd lose her at a young age. I don't know if this is ongoing anxiety, or just plain motherhood that I'm dealing with.. but it's not fun to have all of these negative thoughts.

But really, married life after a breach of trust doesn't have to be all negative. Luckily for me, it was not infidelity, or else I might be singing a different tune. I'm able to have a happy marriage because I married a great man. An imperfect one, sure.. but who's perfect anyways? Graham treats me like I deserve. He never nags or picks at me. He is my absolute best friend. He is an amazing father. After working a 12-hour day, he comes home and immediately helps me in the kitchen or plays with the kid. He helps with the chores. He doesn't complain about my meal choices (although one time he told me that chips and salsa didn't count as dinner, and I almost kicked him out). He is handsome and looks great in a hat. He kisses me goodnight every night. I am freaking lucky to have a husband so caring and perfect for me in almost every way. What we have is worth fighting for.. and I'm so glad we keep working towards eternity together.

And seriously, how can your heart not melt when you see this every day..?

Monday, April 24, 2017

Choosing Design Features for our Lexar Home

Remember my list of wants/needs for our dream home with Lexar Homes?

Well, after that was taken care of, there were a couple of design features I wanted to add to the plan. These were all inspired by Pinterest, so I'll link to the original posts.

1) Makeup vanity. In our old home, I didn't have a place to sit in the bathroom to do my makeup. Standing for 20 minutes every morning wasn't an option, so I did my makeup on the dining room table or on the kitchen counter. It drove Graham crazy to have my makeup out on the kitchen counter every day.. So, our new home HAD to have a separate space for makeup with a spot to sit.

These were my inspiration:
His and hers bath

Original image from Houzz. This one is way too elaborate for my taste, but I was trying to find a corner makeup vanity that I could sit at..

Unknown original source (googled "corner makeup vanity"). Our vanity will look very similar to this one.

2) Tile designs behind master bathroom vanity up to the ceiling. Subway tile is affordable, classic, and can have various layouts that make it look stylish and contemporary. I really love geometric patterns, so I want to contrast a geometric tile design with round vanity mirrors above the sinks. These are my inspiration.

Shake it Up: 7 Creative New Ways to Lay Subway Tile | Apartment Therapy:
Original link here

bathroom with lattice tile, gray vanity, crystal knobs, white counters, chrome fixtures, built in storage tower:
Unknown source. My favorite non-subway tile design, but this specific tile is wayyy too expensive for my taste.

3) Stone hearth behind wood burning stove. With a typical fireplace, you can be pretty basic or glamorous with the surround and mantle.. but with wood burning stoves, usually it's pretty simple. Wood burning stoves can be kind of ugly and just serve a function without style. I wanted to make it look more stylish by adding a stone background behind the wood burning stove on the wall up to the ceiling. The home won't be built with a mantle, but I'll have Graham DIY it later. These are my inspiration:

Stone Work & Fireplace/Woodstoves - traditional - Living Room - Other Metro - Cashmere Construction:
Original image from Houzz

Take out boring fireplace and replace it with our wood burning stove:
Original source unknown.

4) Built-in kitchen desk and cookbook shelves. Once we found out that Lexar Homes couldn't do a custom cookbook shelf for me in the kitchen, and we re-worked the dining room layout, we decided to have Graham's brother design a custom kitchen desk and shelf section for us. It won't be built right away, so we'll probably get some cheap IKEA thing in the mean time, but we plan to put it in after the first few years. These are my inspiration:

What a sweet little tile Laura Moss again - desire to inspire -
Original link here

Office with wallpaper & built ins. Could do something like this in laundry room with stencil.:
Original link here

5) Planked kitchen island. No, this isn't shiplap, nor do I consider it to be the "industrial farmhouse" style that is so hot right now. I'm not a country girl, and my husband is from inner city Portland (before it was gentrified). But, I do love the geometric lines from the planks, and I love that it'll protect the wall from people's feet when they sit at the counter. We plan to DIY this while the house is being built.

Turn your kitchen from boring builder basic to beautiful with a DIY Planked Peninsula with Corbels tutorial at main
Original link here

6) Double barn door between our master bedroom and workout room. Although we plan to have the doors open for most of the time, we wanted a way to separate the rooms for privacy in case we have a lot of family staying at our house (which is definitely in our plans). We plan to DIY these from cheap-o hollow doors from ReStore. These are my inspiration:

Contemporary Barn Door
Original link here

Original link here (Yeah, Graham said NO to anything intricate.. so it's a no-go on anything with a specific design).

Anyways, keep following my blog to see these plans come to life in my house, and to learn more about building your own home!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Renting Sucks

Ok, so now I need to rant about renting. The only good thing about renting is that when there are problems with the house, you can call someone else to fix them without having to pay for them. That's the only good thing. Ugh. Wait, the bedrooms are bigger than our old house. Ok, so those are the only good things. Oh, and there's a gas fireplace. I promise.. that's it.

--The rent for this tiny place is only $100 less than our previous mortgage.
--The bathroom smells musty.
--The living room, dining room, and kitchen floor plan is tiny.
--I can only store 1/4 of my kitchen stuff in the kitchen.
--The oven/stove combo is older than me.
--I don't want to cook because of the awful state of the kitchen.
--The whole place is so small that if literally one thing is on the floor, it feels like the house is a disaster.
--For the love of all that is holy, pine needles are the worst for light-colored home floors. Vacuuming every few days is a must.

Anyways, we are adjusting to life in this temporary house. It is really odd living in place that I don't plan to be in long. We didn't hang up any pictures or wall art except for spots where there were already nails on the walls. The TV is balanced against the wall on top of our media center. 2/3 of my kitchen appliances and supplies are in the garage. The piano is in the garage. My life is on hold because I feel like I can't do all of normal things I do. I cannot wait for our new house to be built, and this renting experience will only make it more sweet when it's done!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Building a Semi-Custom Home with Lexar Homes

I promise, my blog will NOT only be about building our house.. but that's kind of the only thing we're doing right now. We don't get out much.

Before I get to go on about the joys about customizing our desired floor plan, I forgot to mention exactly how I did a feasibility study in my first blog. I said I gathered information, but I had to go through proper channels. Every county will have information about the land and lots within their boundaries. Pierce County has an interactive map that allows you to get the parcel number, tax info, etc. The website was helpful, because it tells you if your lot is within certain areas, such as a landslide risk, wetland boundaries, aquifer recharge area (not quite sure about that one, but it has something to do with groundwater supply), etc. This is important because if your land has wetlands, has a landslide risk, or is in a groundwater supply area, it can increase your cost to build or change the area in which you can build. Also, each assessment can cost upwards of $500+ (landslide risk assessment is like $700-1200). I was researching a lot that had some wetlands at the back of the property, which REALLY limited where you could put a house on the lot because the county required fencing 50-100 feet away from the wetland area. Word to the wise: do this research through your county prior to putting in an offer on the land so you don't get too excited if the lot has too many restrictions on it.

Now that that's done.. Let me tell you about the fun part: customizing our floor plan. Since we decided to build with Lexar of Tacoma, we (and I do mean I) narrowed it down between 3-5 various floor plans we liked. I compared the square footage, the base price of the home, and the pros/cons to every floor plan. We could have every thing we wanted in a floor plan, IF we wanted to spend $500K on a house and have a house over 3000 square feet. Yeah, not in our budget, and we definitely don't need a house that big. Lexar does allow you to customize your floor plan, but you do obviously have to get the changes approved by a structural engineer. So, I decided between 2 plans: the 2573 (to state the obvious, the house name is the square footage) with a slight modification to add a 3rd-car garage and slightly increase the size of the home behind the garage, or the 2057 with a custom plan of eliminating the shop in the garage, adding the 3rd car garage, and expanding the house behind the garage.

This is the 2573 (photos posted from Lexar's profile on

This is the 2057:

Like I said, both homes required some tweaking, and we ultimately decided on the 2057 plan to fully make it our own. I really like the general layout, the large kitchen (and you can't see dirty dishes in the sink when you open the front door!), the curved hallway to the back, and the covered porch in the backyard. Plus, when we added in the extra square feet, it was slightly less than the base price for the 2573. I also really liked the curb appeal and exterior of the 2057 plan the best.

So, I started doing drawings of what we wanted to modify on the 2057 plan. Mind you, I'm not an architect or even artistic. I simply drew a scaled drawing of the house and what I wanted it to look like. I got rid of the garage shop, added a 3rd car garage, and expanded the entire house behind it. I wanted to add a couple of things: playroom, exercise room, cut-out in the dining room for a desk and cookbook shelves, and a large closet in the playroom. I changed the layout of the master bedroom, master bath, and closet, so I had no idea how to configure the bathroom, the windows, etc.. so the drawing was pretty basic. So, we handed in my sketches and hoped for the best.

Unfortunately, due to my lack of expertise, and a lack of communication on their part, their floor plans and engineering calculations from my shoddy drawings went to engineering and drafting without us approving the final product. So, when we got the plans almost two months later, we were excited, but disappointed that the plans weren't complete from our perspective.

--They forgot the dining room cut-out for my shelves and desk.
--There were no additional windows in the huge master bedroom or one single window in the master bathroom.
--They forgot the man-door out the garage.
--The pantry was small.
--The workout room was ginormous and just as big as the master bedroom.

We also wanted a couple more changes:
--More lights in bigger bedrooms.
--Expand the dining room out to be flush with the master bedroom.
--Add the cut-out in the dining room for a future built-in desk and cookbook shelves.
--Get rid of the wall to the hallway so we can see into the playroom and hallway and open up the space.
--Add sliding door to back porch.

So, this is what the layout ended up looking like (not sharing the original plans from Lexar for potential copyright issues):

As you can see, I even have furniture picked out for my home.  :)

Anyways, our plans are currently in their second round of drafting, and should be approved soon through Engineering. Once those are through, we will contact our septic and site plan designer to get things moving so we can start the permitting process!

Next installment on the blog: picking design features for our home.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Selling our Home

Well, in order for us to finance our new home, our old house had to go. I don't think all housing markets are like the Puget Sound right now, but it is 100% crazy all around Seattle and surrounding areas. We are about 45 driving miles from Seattle (25 miles away "as the crow flies"), and still, it's insane even all the way here. It is totally a seller's market out here.. which is how we were able to get a good chunk of cash to put down on our next home. Within a year of buying our home, it went up over $30K in value. So yeah, we bought at the right time, and now we're selling at the right time.

So, when we decided to prepare to sell our home, we enlisted the help of an agent to figure out things that we needed to do to the house prior to putting it on the market. This involved lots of fun things, such as roof/gutter cleaning, raking up the millions of leaves from our neighbor's trees, fixing up our crappy garden, etc. I did more of the fun stuff, like taking down all of our family pictures, taking down anything personalized that made it look like our family lived there.. making our home a house, I guess. Having nothing personalized on the wall (other than art canvases) makes me feel sad in a way, because it doesn't make the house feel lived in.

So, I staged the home, took everything off the counters, everything out of the nightstands, toys packed up, put some fruit in the glass trifle bowl. I was preparing the home for pictures up until the moment the photographer arrived. I don't know if you all saw the pictures I posted on Facebook from Redfin, but dang.. the photographer did a great job. He made our questionably-colored green painted walls look good, and made my home look very put together.

So, a little over a week later.. we put our house on the market on a Monday afternoon. We were under the impression that it wouldn't be listed until 5 PM, so there was no way we would have a showing on the first night, right?

WRONG. It posted on Redfin around 1 PM, and we had 3 viewings scheduled for the first night already by 3 PM that afternoon. Holy cow.. wasn't expecting that crazy of a response. So, I left work early, and I busted my butt to get home and get the house completely ready for showing (i.e. taking care of the dishes in the sink, makeup on the counter, and un-made beds). I was seriously sweating by the time I was done, which was 5 minutes before the first showing. I guess we totally underestimated our house and the response to a seller's market.

Anyways, long story short.. We had 7 showings (maybe more?) within the first 3-4 days, and two solid offers within the first 4 days.. and we accepted the offer.. which was more than the asking price. The one thing was that they wanted to close on the loan by March 31st.. 3 weeks to the day from accepting the offer. We were not expecting that soon of a closing date, but luckily, we were semi-prepared as a good amount of stuff was put into storage the previous month to prepare the house for selling.

But again, we underestimated the power of a seller's market.. even with rentals. Every good rental listing was being snatched up within days of being posted. So, panicking, we quickly applied to a local townhouse that is $100 less than our mortgage.. More than we wanted to spend, but hey.. we can't be homeless with a kid in school and a baby. We are set to hear back soon.. which is necessary as we need to move out in 12 days. So please, pray for us that we get this place and that we'll have a place to live!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Choosing a Home Builder

Now that we'd decided to seriously consider building a house.. We had to figure out how to make it happen.

The thought of picking out a house plan, hiring a general contractor, and making all of the little decisions regarding building a house was an exciting but daunting prospect. Graham's brother, James, has been involved with multiple home renovations and projects, and gave us some initial advice. From that, I was intimidated by the prospect of being my own general contractor or hiring one. I also found out that it'd be incredibly expensive to go with an all-custom builder. I then decided to investigate "on your lot builders". The idea of these businesses are for land owners to build homes with instant equity by decreasing the amount of overhead for similar suburban tract homes. Most of these builders provide semi-custom home plans with cost in mind. The builders provide the plans, the construction of the home, but allow the buyer to participate in the designing, planning, and building process.

The biggest ones in our area are Hiline Homes, Adair, Reality, Stanbrooke, Lexar, TrueBuilt, and Garrette Custom Homes. I found plans that I liked with most of the builders, but then I looked up reviews of the various builders.. which scared the crap out of me. Lots of bad reviews for many of these builders. Most of them require the buyer to do a lot of the work, like permits, site development, etc.. which seemed like too much work. I've also seen some disgusting bare bones homes from these types of builders, aka homes with brown trim, cheap vinyl floors, low ceilings, and horrible floor plans. I didn't want to build a house I'd be ashamed to show anyone. Many of these builders have been around for a long time, and there was a lot of info out there from previous customers, but two companies didn't have many negative reviews: Garrette Custom Homes and Lexar Homes.

Then, there was the pricing. By far, my favorite was Garrette Custom Homes. They have a great Craftsman style with lots of details, especially the exterior. We even toured some of their homes in person. We found 2 home plans we loved, but the cost of the homes themselves (with no site prep), usually started between $230-299K with no upgrades. The homes were still nice, but no, I don't want a tile kitchen countertop or vinyl floors in all bathrooms. Been there, done that. We toured their homes in person, and we loved them, but we couldn't or didn't want to afford them, having to pay so much for simple upgrades ($15-20K for tile showers, double oven, and tile/glass backsplash alone).

Then, I asked someone at work who was building her home. She said she didn't have a great experience with her office, but that her home turned out well overall. She was building with Lexar Homes through the Silverdale, WA, office. I had only heard of this builder from their mall storefront location. They are a "Build On Your Lot" builder that focuses on energy efficient homes. Because the home we'd be building is in a different county than my co-worker's, we wouldn't be going through the same office. From there on, I focused on Lexar Homes through the Tacoma, WA, office, as our likely builder. The Tacoma prices were better than nearly ANY of the other offices in Washington. Also, the Tacoma standard features were awesome, including laminate floors (for all of you hardwood snobs-- yes, I'm talking to you mom--wood isn't the best option for us in the Pacific Northwest because of all the moisture) in hallways, den, great room, kitchen, and dining room, granite countertops in kitchen and bathrooms, full tile backsplash in kitchen, tile backsplash in bathrooms, heat pump (including AC (!!)-- big deal for us), smart home technology package, fiber cement siding, etc. All of these things would've been expensive upgrades with any other builder!

So, we were trying to get info about land financing prior to putting in an offer on the land, when Graham had a good idea to call Lexar of Tacoma and ask them about their process and financing. We were able to speak to someone incredibly helpful despite the fact that we hadn't even committed to building with them or even  meeting with them yet. He gave us more info about a good lender they work with. It's a small credit union in the Puget Sound area that does lot of construction loans, specifically with Lexar Homes. They also give an interest break for "green homes". So, we applied for a lot loan with the bank, and set up a meeting with Lexar as part of our feasibility study. We had a list of wants/needs/maybes that we could address in our meeting and price them out. I also brought various floor plans that I liked of theirs, but it was all cost-dependent. I used HomeAdvisor's website to estimate everything, including adding a 3-car garage, an upstairs bonus room, metal roof, etc, so I could be prepared to be hit with the bad news that we couldn't afford anything we wanted. On the phone, we were warned that the home prices were going up as of December 2016, so that was another disappointment.

--3 car garage or shop.
--3 bedrooms plus den/guest bedroom (preferably with master and guest on main floor).
--2+ full bathrooms.
--No brown trim or doors. No NO NONO ONO. (Can you tell I've been traumatized?)
--No laminate countertops in kitchen.
--No vinyl flooring in main areas (kids bathroom and laundry room ok).
--Separate vanity area for makeup in master bathroom (my makeup is literally on my kitchen counter right now).
--Double oven (I don't know if this is a need or a want, but with how much baking I like to do, it's more of a need).

--Quartz countertop.
--Wood burning stove (necessary in the sticks where power goes out frequently).
--Separate play room for kids.
--Stone surround behind wood burning stove.
--Full tile backsplash in master shower and behind master vanity.
--Pantry and large kitchen.
--Laundry room sink

--Metal roof (I wanted this because of all the freaking moss on our roof now--moss doesn't grow as much on metal roofs--Graham wasn't into it).
--Separate room for exercise.

We waited impatiently for our appointment with Lexar of Tacoma. I had a binder of everything I'd been saving about floor plans, the site plan from the engineering company, etc. At the end of November, we met with the sales person/branch manager for almost 3 hours because we hit it off so well. We were pleasantly surprised to see how affordable it was to build with them, as he was able to price everything right away, including the proposed changes to the floor plan and additions to the house. I didn't get my metal roof (an additional $12K--would be nice, but not THAT nice), but the attached exercise room to the master bedroom fit in the plan.

The next best thing about our meeting was that if we signed our contract and put down a deposit before December 1st, we would lock down the lower initial price of the house.. which would save us $30K off the base home price plus interest! We didn't have to start building right away, so we said YES. Crazy! And, there went our savings along with the down payment on the land.. So now, we have to sell our house, which will then give us the down payment we need to get a construction loan to start building the house. This has all been happening so fast! I wasn't ever thinking I'd only buy a home to live in it for 2 years, but.. that's the way it's working out.

Anyways, I plan to keep up this blog during the process of obtaining financing for the construction loan and building the house because I cannot find hardly any info about people who've built with Lexar. I've found experiences with HiLine and Adair, but no Lexar blogs. So, I'll be the first independent reference for anyone out there in cyberspace. (Hello strangers on my blog!)

We are putting our house on the market next week, but I'll be updating this blog occasionally as we go through the next pre-construction phase.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Buying Land and Building a House..

We have been MIA in real life for a couple of reasons:

1) Graham has been working 60+ hours per week
2) Apparently, two kids are more work than one.
3) We've been in the process of buying land to build a house.

Yes, I know.. insane. Let me explain. Several months ago, we started saving money for some house improvements. We were thinking about replacing the siding on our house and installing a portico above the front porch. The work would be estimated between $10-15K, depending on the quality of the siding we chose. I started making plans for this big project, when I noticed that a lot was for sale on Redfin for $59K in a gated neighborhood near our house. It made me think. Hmmm.. why spend this much money on our current house when we wouldn't recoup the cost, and we can afford to build a home in a nicer neighborhood? Our current home doesn't meet all of our needs--my brother cannot stay with us due to the stairs, there is no master bath or big closet, and no extra room for the kids' toys. Building a home with everything we need sounded like a great option compared to big renovations and projects on our current house. This got us started on a roller coaster to actively looking for land and building our home.

I got super excited thinking about the process of building our own home. Growing up in California, I felt like only the super rich people had enough money to build their own house. In fact, I looked up the cost of a lot in my hometown of Folsom, California, and a small lot was $240K.. which obviously doesn't even cover the cost of the house. Yeah, we could never afford to do that in CA. But, here in the sticks, land is much more affordable, and building your own home is more obtainable. I started going on Pinterest again (I've been on a 3-year hiatus), pinning floor plans, design ideas, etc.. I was seriously dreaming about specific floor plans with decks, covered patios, and a daylight basement. I was hooked on the prospect of building my own home, and we hadn't even started yet.

We had some pretty strict guidelines on where we could buy land. Without saying exactly where we live, we live on a sub-peninsula, which is basically a peninsula on a peninsula. It's hard to describe without a map, but we'll just say it's by the Puget Sound. We like our current area because it's more rural, but it's still only 10 minutes away from Costco and Target. We could buy land cheaper if we went out further on the peninsula, but no thanks. As my doctor described that area, it's far enough out that you can hear the banjos playing. Plus, we want to stay in our ward at church, and avoid the sketchy middle school farther out in the sticks. So, the land mass we were considering is fairly small. The first lot we considered was a 1/2 acre sloped lot in a gated neighborhood that also bordered on a small stream. It looked like a great lot for a great price, especially since the septic design was already paid for, the land was already cleared, and a lot of work had been done on the lot, but we had to decline. The house footprint on the lot was only 48 by 34 feet, which is TINY considering you had to have a 3-car garage  and 2400+ sqaure feet for the neighborhood (the minimum for the neighborhood). We would've had to build a 3-story house in order to meet the community guidelines, and that wasn't our idea of a "forever home", so we moved on.

Then, a 3/4 acre lot in a different neighborhood went back on the market (it was previously pending). I got super excited when I found out that the lot already had water and electricity (two big cost items). So, we put in an offer, pending a feasibility study. Since many of you may not have had experience with building a home, let me talk about this.. A feasibility study is a specified time frame in which the buyer can investigate a particular lot to see if it's cost effective to build on that lot. If it's not, the buyer can back out of the deal without penalty prior to closing. A feasibility study includes the following: water, electricity, fire prevention, septic design availability, legal easements on the lot, possible site plans, and building capabilities. I'd already done most of the work for this lot, such as verifying the water and electricity, but we had yet to contact a septic designer to do a soil test (to see if it's amenable to a septic tank) and pick a particular builder.. So, I contacted a surveying/engineering firm to get the soil test done, and I got in touch with several builders (that's a different story altogether--stay tuned). The geologist I spoke with was amazing and super helpful. He looked up the soil info for the lot, the contours of the land, and put together a site plan that included a scale drawing of the house, driveway, storm drains, and septic tank within literally 45 minutes from the time we started talking. It made the process so much less scary to have someone so helpful in the initial process.

Anyways, the only snag we found in the feasibility study was the need for a fire hydrant, which would be $8K(!!!) for the planning and installation. The seller was not willing to budge on the price of the lot despite the fact that the seller owns all of the other lots in the area that would benefit from the hydrant. The other lots close by are not inhabited or currently for sale, so guess who gets to pay for the full hydrant? WE do. Not happy about it. Graham wants to put the hydrant in a place on the street where none of the other lots can benefit from the presence of the fire hydrant. According to county code, even putting in fire sprinklers wouldn't make us immune from having to install the hydrant. Argh. We've considered many alternatives, but it's NOT an option to go without a freaking hydrant. If our lot was over an acre, it wouldn't even be an issue.

Anyways.. financing. This is where buying land or a lot gets complicated. It's not as easy to get a loan for just land/lot, so we had to go to local banks and credit unions. Plus, the interest rates are way higher because of the greater risk to the bank with a land-only loan. I've read practically every article on land loans there is, and we finally found a local credit union through a builder that had our best deal: 20% down, 7.5% interest rate, 20 year term, with a balloon payment at 5 years. Do you know what a balloon payment is? $48,000 due at Year 5.Yikes. That definitely put a strict timeline on us to have our home built within 5 years to avoid paying that giant payment. There were other options, such as 30% down, 20 years, with a lower interest rate, but we didn't have the cash. Another option was 20% down, 8-9% interest rate for 15 years. That monthly payment would've been a little higher than what we wanted due to the shorter term. So yeah, we found the right loan, the right credit union.. and now we just had to wait for the appraisal.

If the appraisal came back as being less than what we wanted to finance it for, we would've had to put more money down, or get the seller to decrease the price. We've never had land appraised before, so it really made us nervous. Plus, the time line was 4-6 weeks out, so it put our closing date out to late January, as opposed to late December. Luckily, the appraisal came back as being $100 more than the selling price, so we were good. Getting the title was another headache, as the communication wasn't great between our lender and the title company. I was completely stressed out a few days prior to closing because the time was passing by so quickly and everything wasn't set yet. However, everything came together at the last moment, and we closed on the land on January 31st.

All in all, it was a stressful experience because it was something completely foreign to me, but it all worked out. But, the stress is just beginning.. We have to sell our house, and move into a temporary place while our new house is being built. I will be blogging along the way, so check my blog if you want to follow along in our process.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

MIA on Facebook

I don't know how many people have actually noticed, but I've taken a step back from my Facebook account. I've actually deactivated my account twice over the past couple of months. It has nothing to do with social media itself, as I've kept my Instagram account. I just have been so SICK of the negativity on the Internet. Yes, politics was a big part of my decision to stop scrolling on Facebook so much. But really, this quote from Stephen King's novel exactly illustrates how I feel about the hatred spewed online and in the world today.

Image may contain: 1 person, text

So, I deleted Facebook on my phone, and I've noticed a huge change in my life. I'm no longer obsessively checking my phone for notifications and updates. I'm spending more quality time with my family. At night, Graham and I talk about us, our lives, and current events. It has been quite the time saver. I still log on occasionally, but only on the computer, or via browser on my phone. It makes it like 100 times more difficult to comment or get involved in people's online arguments. I unfortunately still NEED Facebook for updates about activities and other local things.

Yes, I do miss seeing all of my friends and old acquaintances' accomplishments, family pictures, and big life announcements. I'm no longer wishing people happy birthday, or watching friends' families grow. But, I am watching my own family grow and enriching my marriage. This is not a holier than thou kind of thing. This is just an explanation behind my relative absence. And like I said, I still keep up on Instagram, so if you haven't followed me on there yet, you can do that if you still want to keep in touch.

I keep my Instagram feed full of food, makeup, and family/friends. If you think I'm doing this to keep my head in the sand, don't worry.. I can read the news and keep up with social events just like anyone else. I can just form my own opinion without being subjected to everyone's biases on current events.

In summary, I'm trying to keep my head above water.. but I just wanted to let my real life friends know that I'm sorry if I miss your birthdays, your big life events, your children's accomplishments, and other things you may post about. I'm happy for you, excited for you, and I love seeing you and your kids grow up.. Just understand that I'm taking a long break.. If you ever need to get a hold of me, e-mail me, tag me, or message me on Facebook.

This is the home building post I DIDN'T want to write..

If you know me beyond this blog, you know I don't put people on blast normally. I *usually* don't enjoy fighting with people online,...