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.

Update: Curious about our progress? Click on this link to see all of our home building updates, or check out my Instagram account.

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!

Update: Curious about our progress? Click on this link to see all of our home building updates, or check out my Instagram account.

House Update #1,000,000

Ok, so maybe I'm exaggerating a bit with the title.. but that's how it feels. And, my the title for my last update was a little mi...