Home ownership: the One-Year-In report!

Well, I’ve been a homeowner for One Full Year now!!!  Holy cow that’s crazy, but crazy good.  If you’d told me two years ago that I’d be tapping this out through a wi-fi system in my very own home?  I’d tell you you needed to stay off the meth.

Now?  Cozied up with one of my kitties, in my family room (aka the ManCave) listening to my washer and dryer spin stuff around (multitasking, that’s moi).  Wow.

So what have I accomplished?  Let me fill you in:

* Painted the whole pad (okay, a bit of the upper stairwell isn’t done, but otherwise it’s totally done!)

* Put in closet systems in all three closets

* Picked out and purchased a fridge and washer/dryer

* Sucked up fixes on the roof and put siding on the back and rear sides of the house

* Actually made decisions on furniture, bought ’em and put them in the house: sectionals for the ManCave, sofa, recliner and tables for the front room

* Figured out how to store stuff in the teensy storage areas of the SwampRoom and furnace room (hint: IKEA’s Ivar can be your bff if you let it)

* Set up an herb garden and tomato container that produced tons of basil, sage, parsley, Thai peppers and tomatoes

* Adopted two kitties and after having what can best be described as “a wee bit of a problem” now have two pretty decently adjusted kitties (knock wood!)

* Hung a mirror!  Yeah I did bay-bee!:

Me.  Hung.  Mirror!
Me. Hung. Mirror!

And so much more, but that’s why I’ve got a blog; that way I don’t have to dredge through the brain.  It’s crowded in there.

Tips?  Let me show you them:

TIP 1: It’s your money.  Spend it how and when you want, and don’t let anyone talk you into anything you’re not comfortable with! Whether that’s a real estate agent that tells you “no short sales” (or who — horrors! — pushes you into a house you can’t afford) a contractor that tries to get you into a contract before you’ve had a chance to do your research, or a store employee that hovers too much.  These people aren’t your friends, they work for you (or may end up working for you).  Be nice, be professional, but make no mistake, this decision?  YOURS.  If you don’t feel comfortable with the way someone pushes (or doesn’t push enough)?  Hasta!  You won’t miss out on anything, if anything you’ll end up with something better!

TIP 2: Get everything in writing. If you want to make sure something a salesperson/contractor/realtor or seller says is actually gonna happen?  Have them write it into whatever it is you’re signing.  Or, write it in yourself and have them initial it.  Worried a contractor won’t charge you more than his/her initial good-faith estimate?  Make ’em put in that this is the final cost.  Double-check with an attorney if you want to make sure the wording is tight.  If a person or business won’t back up what they’ve told you with putting it in writing, MOVE ON.  Speaking of attorneys,

TIP 3: Attorneys.  They’re not just for Law&Order anymore!  Get one to double-check any house purchase you’ll be making before signing anything.  As with Tip 1, don’t get pressured into signing anything you’re not comfortable with.  Even if you’re feeling good about something as big as a home purchase, get a real estate attorney to look over your contract before signing anything.  A real estate attorney will be looking out for your best interest, something that your typical boilerplate home purchase contract realtors have.  Your realtor may be a fantastic person, but he or she is working with many other folks and the goal is to get your John Hancock onto a piece of paper.  Once everything is signed, sealed and closed on, you’re on your own.  So get someone who knows the deal in on your process.  You’ll sleep easier.  And maybe even dodge a bullet!

TIP 4: Do as much as you can yourself to save money, but don’t bite off more than you can chew. You can hang a mirror (heck, I did!), paint your own walls, patch drywall and even repair carpet patches, all without any prior experience with anything more than your average on/off lightswitch.  But if you get worried that you’ll botch up a larger project, like rewiring a GFCI, drilling something into the brick & mortar of your house or caulking your tub, hire a pro, at least for the first go-round.  That way you can watch as s/he does the job, and you can figure out if it’s something you’d be willing and able to tackle the next time it needs to be done.  It’s worth getting the job done right by someone else if you could possibly end up spending even more trying to fix your fubar.  Don’t forget free workshops at the “big box” hardware stores that can give you great how-to info for the low-low cost of a bit of your time!

Okay, that’s all I’ve got for now.  My first year in — phew!  (Wow, that just doesn’t get old.)  Off to tear off another chunk of gingerbread house.  This time?  It’s getting dunked in peppermint cocoa!


Escrow: part 1 of an inexhaustible series

So after yesterday’s escrow shortage freakout/debacle?  I drove my mortgage folks crazy asking ’em questions.  Yep, put on my Big Girl Panties & everythang.

The result?  I may not know exactly what I’m doing, but I’m no longer completely, totally clueless.  Wrote a song about it.  Like to hear it?  Here it go.

(Okay, not a song…but who doesn’t love In Living Color?)

Mortgage loan companies hold your loan.  Duh.  But they also work the numbers to make sure that there’s enough money to pay your property taxes, homeowner’s insurance, mortgage insurance (if you need it, like I do) and anything else you may need that I don’t know about.  That money on hold is escrow.  There’s typically a 2-month cushion of funds built in there too.  But the kicker?  It’s not set in stone.  The mortgage companies do their best — or the good ones do, at least — to get as close to the real numbers as possible, but there are almost always fluctuations in the amount of taxes you’ll need to pay, the exact amount of homeowner’s insurance and/or mortgage insurance you’ll need, ground rent, whatevs.

In a good year, those expenses will go down, and you’ll have an overage.  Say hallelujah!  In a not-so-good year, those expenses will go up…and you’ll have a shortage.  That shortage will need to be repaid:

* In a lump-sum

* In monthly payments throughout the next year

* In an extra mortgage payment (egads!!!)

The good news; this happens to everyone.  In fact, with my digging around on the internet (slogan: Everything Is True Here), it seems that in the first year of homeownership things tend to be on the side of homeowners owing scratch to the mortgage company.

TIP: With HUD1’s being guesstimates and no other years to fall back on?  A shortage should be expected the first year you own your own home. So save up a bit just in case.  If you’re golden and owe next-to-nothing?  Sweet; use that savings on some groovy home project, or go out and supersize that value meal.

So I figured if things ebb & flow, why not bulk up the escrow and forget about it?  Not so fast, tiger.  Mortgage folks can’t keep overages, they have to send it back to you at the end of the review period/year.  So think of overages as a sort of tax refund from your mortgage company.

And you should probably put that overage money into your savings account for next year’s shortage.  Hey, that’s just me.

As far as my homeowner’s insurance FUBAR?  Yep, my homeowner’s insurance company took out $164.65, the amount they said they needed to keep my policy active (thanks to a mess-up with underwriting, who didn’t believe my house was a full rehab & also didn’t bother to request info from me.  Awesome.)  My agent said it was all fixed and I didn’t need to worry about it, meanwhile underwriting simply took the money from my mortgage company escrow.  Assholes.

Terrence The Insurance Guy said I’d be getting a credit for the error (damn tootin’ buddy) that I could slip back into escrow.  He’s also having underwriting re-compute my homeowner’s insurance.  We’ll see if it’s still the amount we agreed upon (or thereabouts, I understand sometimes rates go up *slightly*).  If not?  Kim The Title WonderWoman said I could always find another homeowner’s insurance company and if I switch before December (when I got my old policy)?  My current insurer would have to cut me a refund check that I could use to pay my new insurer, evening things out for the year.  Not to shabby.

But since my shortage is over $400?  There’s other stuff at work here; $256ish of other stuff.  The rep at my mortgage company said it could be taxes, it could be mortgage insurance or it could be both (since those are the only other things I’ve got going out of escrow).

So…approximately $260 of an escrow shortage for this first year sucks eggs, but knowing that it will most likely go down next year is nice.  I think Kim had said something about homeowner’s insurance either not being able to go up (or not typically going up) more than 2-3% per year, which is a good thing to keep in mind.  There’s always the Maryland Insurance Administration for info on rates & insurance law.

What did we learn hear today kiddies? That even though your mortgage interest rate and principal won’t change (if you’ve locked in, that is), taxes and insurance can cause your monthly payments to go up.


EIFS. I’m so screwed.


First there was having to buy appliances (a washer and dryer are still in the hopper, thanks to….)

Second, there was the problem with the roof (aka the Feck Epsiode), not to mention Snowpocalypse causing further internal damage, I’m quite sure.

Now?  After Snopocalypse, Part 3, I headed to the back of my house and noticed something.

A crack in my lovely cement rear exterior wall.  At the corner.  Where I can see some sorta insulation/board stuff.  Then I went inside, walked onto the deck and checked out the other rear exterior corner wall.  Yep.  Another crack.  And I can see wood.  Wood that looks like it’s…aged.  So the cracks?  Must have been here awhile.  WTF?  HereTF:

Seems I’ve been stuck with EIFS, or Synthetic Stucco.  It looks beautiful, but can easily crack…and since it’s made to be water-tight once there’s a crack?  The water has nowhere to go.  But into the wood/drywall/insulation to ROT.  Tearing off the worthless sheisse can cost “tens of thousands of dollars“.  Apparently Dateline did an expose of the EIFS industry…but they may have taken liberties for sensationalism.  (Then again, you ask an EIFS contractor, s/he’s gonna do her/his level best to suppor the industry that butters the old bread, one would guess.)

Add to this the question; did they do EIFS on my house, or did they just slap concrete up and hope for the best?  ‘Cause if that’s the case, who knows what kind of damage there is?  Many supporters of EIFS say that it’s contractors that don’t know their arse from their elbow that is the real problem (PDF) with this stuff….

So it’s a mystery; is EIFS complete crud, or is it something that can be repaired effectively?  Should it be ripped out to prevent your house from being razed to the ground, or is it too late even now?  The debate is hot & heavy, and one I would have rather not had to deal with.

NOW I see why this house was so inexpensive, and why it comped out at a MUCH lower amount than houses in this area that “look the same”.  Becuase EIFS sucks and there is damage.  And there can be TONS of damage with EIFS/improper installation of EIFS, thanks to the excellent but fear-inducing page at Conceptual Research Database.


TIP: ALWAYS check to see what kind of siding the house you’d like to buy will have.  Even if it looks great.  Ask your realtor.  Ask the home inspection guy.  Ask the sellers to provide information.  And if it’s stucco?  Get an EIFS Inspection, as well as a Moisture Inspection.  By someone Specifically Trained in EIFS Inspection.  No ifs, ands or buts.  Better to know and walk away (or know what you’re in for if you’re looking for a bargain and willing to rehab a property) than to be unpleasantly surprised.)

I’m so pissed off at my realtor and my home inspector right now.  There are no words.  Lawsuit keeps popping into my head.  ‘Cause yes, I bought this sucker thanks to foreclosure and I understand that that means “as-is/where-is”.  But my realtor Should Have Known about EIFS…there were huge class-action lawsuits regarding the stuff!  And I’m sure there are sellers she has dealt with that had this issue.  I wouldn’t have bought this house had I known!  And as far as the inspector goes?  He should have known too.  And he should have let me know what this stuff was, and what the pluses/MINUSES were.

This is bullshit.  And I feel like a total chump.  I guess because I am.

Can’t sell the house without telling someone about this, so I’d be hosed and end up owing money.  I guess my homeowner’s insurance would cover it?  Unsure.  I’d like to rip all that crap down and replace it with something more dependable — like vinyl siding — which means I’ll be in the poorhouse paying off my Discover Card ’til 2017 or so (at best.)  And the housewarming party I was hoping to have?  Hope folks will be fine with chips and popcorn.  If I can afford even that.  Though as much as I’d love to see my friends — goodness knows I could use all the support I can get right now — the idea of having a housewarming how is a joke.

Feck me runnin’.

Guess this serves me right.  All I wanted was a room of my own, a place that I didn’t have to worry about losing because someone was gonna sell the place or the place was gonna go condo & my fixed-income heinie couldn’t afford to buy it.  I ask for so very little…and damn if I don’t get it.

Snow! Yegods.

Gone are the days when a snowfall would get me all excited for sledding (and a day off of school). Now snow just serves to remind me how my roof is fecked. And how driving in snow makes my car do the wobbly. Even tho’ it’s an SUV. Guess the whole grown-up thing is official! (Though you would have never guessed that last night at girl’s nite…that’s another story.)

I’d love to be at my pad right now, snuggled into a down comforter, watching a DVD (me, not the comforter. Though it could watch too if it wanted.) But besides being crotchety, being a grownup means Takin’ Care Of Business. Since this is the end of the month I’ve gotta pitch in with the roommies and clean up/out the old pad before we bid it adieu.

Sunday night will be my snuggle-in DVD time. I’ll have earned it!

(And I won’t obsess about the roof, and the snow, and the snow on the roof. Won’t. Dammit.)

Feck-ing update

Okay, so the groovy dude from Atlantic Mechanical came to visit today, so he could see the water damage.  Which, of course, dried up overnight.  (Hey, not complaining; it could have gotten worse and it didn’t!!!  Knock on wood. *knocks*)

He is a plumbing guru though, and not a roof guru.  And apparently it’s a Roof Thing.  Which will require the warranty folks to send one of those out.  But he did fix the leak in my kitchen sink, and even got me to call the warranty folks so I could tack it onto the current order (he hadn’t actually done anything fix-wise at the time).  So yay!

While he was here, I asked him about rusty water that blorps out of my upper bath’s tub spout when I first turn it on.  Doesn’t happen every time, but wait a few hours…and it’s back.  He said it’s probably rust, and that’s almost certainly because a “galvenized” “nipple” (pausing for y’all to giggle like five-year-olds…because I did) was most likely used, which can rust over time.  Should be replaced, but it’s probably an easy fix with no need to tear things apart.  Phew!  But it’s not covered under warranty.  Sigh.  Since it’s nothing to worry about rightthisverysecond per Atlantic Mechanical Guy, I’m lettin’ it be.  For now.

But the roof is still needing repair.  He said that if it’s my roof, it’ll be covered.  If it’s the neighbor’s roof (or, possibly the gap between houses that is causing rain to come in)?  Then the neighbor/the city if it’s condemned, fixes it.

I’m kinda thinking it’s my roof, because with all the DUMPS of snow and icy rain we’ve gotten, no water damage that I’ve seen.  Because something with Red could mean a world of pain-in-the-expletive.  Which I don’t want to deal with; I want to be the homeowner that just settles in and lives, not the homeowner that has a Pigpen grey cloud above her head at all times because of The Woe.  Again with the wood-knocking….

I own a (row)house!

Wow.  The settlement was at 4 and consisted of me signing a ton of papers (but still a lot fewer than I’d anticipated, based on the “better get your hand ready” comments from my friends who just went through the process themselves.)  After the last page, it was almost anti-climactic.  Almost.  A stupid grin spread on my face and I stood up, a new homeowner.

(A slightly sore new homeowner; my leg is now taken care of, but it needs to heal.  And to be kept elevated.  Ah well.  But it’s supposed to snow like the DC area has never seen snow before all this weekend.  So what am I gonna do but sit at home during a snowstorm?)

I’d write down a bunch of Really Important Things About A Settlement Meeting, but you know what?  You go, the title company rep goes over everything with you, you sign it, you’re done.  The title company that did my closing did provide fresh cookies though.  And coffee.  Mmm, cookies.  I think I may be jonesing for their peppermint-chocolate chips in the near future.

There are two thing I should mention: first, my realtor double-checked all the figures, every last one, to make sure I was getting every single penny the seller’s were contracted to give me…and saw there was a few hundred dollars that went unused.

TIP: make sure you, or your realtor, go over the financial documentation to make sure all the numbers add up.  Also make sure you’re not being charged for anything that you didn’t know about beforehand. This is the time when your knowledge of the Good Faith Estimate and the HUD1 come in handy.

Second, the title company rep went over every last item on every page.  She also made sure I knew what she told me, and gave me copies of everything in a nice little folder.  Including a laminated copy of the survey report.  I’m glad she went over everything, because after a while all those things I had to sign?  Started to blur.

TIP: Settlement is not the time to be timid, you’re making a HUGE purchase.  If you have a question, just ask.  The title folks are used to people making sure all’s a-okay, so don’t worry about being a pain.

In my case, the few hundred dollars that went unused wasn’t used for good reason; an FHA-approved buyer has to put down 3.5%.  That’s something I didn’t know before today.  Sadly, I just never thought about exactly how much I had to put down.  I had always said “I want to put down the least amount of money possible; I have X amount that I can possibly afford to throw down.”  Stupid in hindsight, but I didn’t have much in the way of savings and was just happy to be able to afford to close at all.  That seems to be the main reason people don’t buy if they’d like to; they don’t have money for the downpayment/closing.  And the days of no money down are looooooong gone, or if they’re still around I’m bitter I didn’t know about ’em.  Ah, it’s probably best, since everyone knows there’s no such thing as a free lunch.  Murphy’s Law says something’d wicked come around sooner or later.

FHA downpayments used to be 3%, but was raised January 2009.  There are folks that think it may be raised further, but after reading sites like HousingCrisis.com and Calculated Risk, I think lenders will most likely crack down on credit scores.  But the idea of a 5% down FHA isn’t to be dismissed out of hand, since FHA reserves have dropped dramaticallyCNN is still talking about it.  Makes me really glad I bought when I did.  And that’d be today.

Wow.  I bought.  I really did.  It’s no longer “my”  house.  No more in theory about it!  It’s now, for better or for worse, MY HOUSE.

What’s a walk-through? Oh….

Well, just got back from my walk-through, and it went pretty well I guess!  It was just me and my realtor, walking around the place making sure everything was a-okay and nothing was missing/changed/broken since the last time we were there.  If so?  The sellers would have to fix it.  Per my realtor, I put an offer on the house as it was (the contract was “as-is”), and if there’s something that has changed to the buyer’s (my) detriment, it’s gotta be fixed.  Or, they could lower the contract price so I can fix it later, either way.

But “my” house was all-clear!  Red, the condemned house next door, is still…well, Red.  That’s not gonna change anytime soon.  But their backyard has been cleared out, so no more ooky trash bags, old furniture and empty 40s.  Yay!

I also got a chance to measure the inside of the bedrooms.  My realtor asked if I wanted to measure out anything else, but right now it’s my bedroom furniture I’m worried about.  The “master” is kind of a room in a room; 6Lx9W/7Lx10W, for a whopping 124 square feet.  I can get my queen-sized bed & chiffarobe in there with a bit of elbow grease.  And maybe it’d feel roomier if I put the bed at a slight angle.  I’ll have to play with that a bit.  (I could be off a bit.  Like by dozens.  Math has never been my strong point.  Ever.)

Yes, it’s tiny.  But it’s a cute little room, and it’ll be mine along with the rest of the pad in less than 24 hours.  My house, no longer “my” house.  Wowza.  *breathes into paper bag*

All in all, a walk-through isn’t a big deal.  I figured everyone would be there from both sides, and perhaps in some cases everybody does show up.  But my walk-through?  Very laid-back.  Kind of one last hurrah with my realtor.  And an added surprise; there’s a jig-saw in “my” house.  Apparently a contractor left it, and now it’s just sitting around gathering dust.  I’m sure I’ll put it to good use….