Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Follow Up to Glass Lust

The same day I wrote the post about stained glass transoms, we met with Steve from Wholly Terra. He talked our ear off for a while, but after the conversation was done we commissioned a transom be built for us. The Queen and I decided that it would be a joint Festivus present to each other.

Steve will make a custom design for us very similar to the design below. It won't have numbers on it, but will have the small circles and lines below the circles. It is single pane glass. We looked at getting double or triple pane glass, but Steve concinced us otherwise. Most likely it will be made in mid to late February. We are excited to have a piece of art that the Queen and I, as well as our neighbors, can enjoy.


If you curious, the cost is around $500, which includes installation. In my opinion, not too bad.

Contractor Woes

Sometimes relationships come to a breaking point. There comes a time that you cannot see eye to eye, and either you accept the issue or you find someone else. This is true in relationships with contractors too, and we are leaning toward the latter behavior.

The kitchen contractor did a great job and was very understanding about us living in the house at the time of renovation. He was a very nice guy that I shared a lot of interests with. However, he had a tendency to not estimate add-ons in advance. When I got the final bid it had exorbatent prices for the add-ons, and some things which I considered in scope, he considered out of scope. I got pissed, paid the final bill and bid him adieu. He gave us an estimate for finishing off the rest of the house, which again was extremely high. Needless to say, he did not win this job.

For the upstairs bathroom we had someone else come in to help. He did a good job, though everything took much longer than expected. He was great with trading scope and was nice to work along with. However, in the past week he agreed to work and the day of or the day prior has continually come up with reasons not to work. Of a potential 40 hours to work, he worked 10. I don't like someone commiting to something and then backing out. We need things done. We are having someone else to possibly help finish things up, so hopefully they work out better. If they do, we'll get to part ways with our current guy.

For better news, we are now proud parents of a beautiful yellow boy. I name him Dewey.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Darkest Before Dawn

I've never paid much attention to the New Year's day. To me the new year starts earlier; for me it starts today, on winter solstice. While some may see this time of year as the beginning of winter, or the darkest day of the year, but I know from this day forward each day will be a bit brighter. Happy solstice.

Monday, December 15, 2008

My House is Worth What

Watching the show My House is Worth What makes me chuckle. At the time it was filmed a $1 into your house got you $3 back due to over-inflated appreciation.

These days most people would be happy not to have lost money, let alone make money. Oh how I long for the glory days.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Difference Between an Issue and a Problem

At work a lot of things don't go as planned. As things don't go as planned it means you have an issue or a problem. An issue is something that takes more time to fix, but is really just an annoyance because you know a solution as soon as you find the issue. A problem is when you uncover a potential issue, and you don't know how to fix it.

Yesterday I had an issue. The stairs are missing 4 balusters, and I need more balusters to reinforce the railing at the top of the stairs. The balusters in landing are spaced about every 12". They should be about every 4.5". I took one of the balusters to HD and of course, they don't match. Instead of buying around 25 balusters, it looks like I'll be buying 50-60 of them. This was an issue because I knew the solution. I just didn't like it because it costs more, and takes more time. Today was different.

Today I found a problem. As we were demo'ing the back bedroom we removed the drywall, plaster, lath, and trim from the back wall. Below the window we noticed the wood didn't look right. After poking around a bit I came to the conclusion we had termites. Not good. I'm not sure if they are still there, but I'll research this tonight. The termites ate some of the framing supporting the window. This explains why the upper sash of the window was broken... I wish the termites stopped at this. They didn't. They have eaten the main transverse support that is supporting the 5' overhang off the back of the house. This is a real problem. I have a few ideas of how to fix this, but it all involves more work than I expected.

Hopefully I can come up with a solution we can fix from the inside. The outside of the house is covered in formstone. If we have to rip this off the job will become very difficult, and a much bigger endeavor than I want to deal with.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Glass Lust

Most rowhomes in Baltimore have a transoms above the front door and the front window. While some transoms have been bricked over most houses still have these transoms. They look great on the façade, and they allow much needed light into the house. When your house is only 13' wide by 45' long with windows only on the 13' sides, you need all the light you can get. In the past I discussed wanting a new transom over the door, but it's not on the high priority list. It's a wish list item - not a need item.


After looking at Steve and Marisa's custom designed glasswork from the local artist Wholly Terra, and Jenny's new stained glass transoms I'm lusting over a stained glass transoms. My house has transoms over both the front door and window (see above) but for budget reasons I'm only dreaming about replacing the transom over the front door. Here is an example of the type of transom I like from another local Baltimore artist, Terraza Stained Glass.

I love the modern design, and the estimate on their site shows a cost of around $300 for this transom. Since my transom is arched, it would probably be more. It's not in the budget for now, but it's something to dream about.

P.S. I emailed Steve at Wholly Terra and it turns out he did my favorite stained glass window in Baltimore. Check it out below. I want! Steve said his prices even include installation, so that would be one less thing to worry about.


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Silver Lining to the Downturn

There are positives to the economic mess. With the government announcing that it intended to drive mortgage rates down by buying up to a half-trillion dollars' worth of mortgage-backed securities, rates have been dropping. My mother, who works for a major mortgage company said it would be a good idea to check on refinancing. I called up the broker, then mom worked some magic, and as of tomorrow morning my rate will be locked at 5% for 60 days. We knew we wanted to refinance out of my 80/20 interest only loan, but we were hoping to wait until the house was more complete. With rates dropping and the ability to get a 60 day lock, we figured it was time to pull the trigger.

After we get back from vacation it will be a challenge to finish up the house before the appraisal. We figure we have about 45 days from tomorrow to fix things. We are going with an FHA loan, which will allow us to cash out up to 95% of the value of the home. To make sure we have the best opportunity to get money back we want the highest appraisal possible. There is discussion about rates going to 4.5%, but figured we didn't want to get greedy. Hopefully we made the right choice, but time will tell if we could have saved even more.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Heading to the SW

On the heels of a four day weekend the Queen and I are looking forward to our upcoming six day weekend, starting this Friday. We are heading to Arizona for a wedding with a brief stop in Sedona before continuing on to Santa Fe. The Queen is in a wedding at the Arizona Biltmore, the site of McCain's wedding and concession speech. I'm sure it will be a good time. We took a trip earlier this year to Zion National Park in Utah, so I suppose it's a SW kind of year for us. It will give me a chance to dust off the camera (literally) and play with my photography toys a bit.

Since I promised not to write too much for my next post, here are some more pictures I've taken in and around the city.

This man is a reenactor at Fort McHenry. The defense of Fort McHenry inspired Francis Scott Key to write the Star Spangled Banner. IMG_1271

Loch Raven is North of the city in Baltimore County. It is beautiful in the fall.
loch background

Rawlings Conservatory is in a sketchy area of town, but it's a beautiful place to visit. During daylight. _MG_6729

I like this picture, and I'm not sure why. It just seems comfortable. It was taken at a friend's house. _MG_6979

Here is the Queen looking radiant while stepping into the light. _MG_7024

Gotta love the creativity of whoever thought up this sign. Must have been a marketing major. :-) IMG_0894

Based upon my last post you'd thind we'd be bunkering down and not spending any money. We've been planning on this trip for a long time, so there is no escaping it, and frankly we need it. It will be nice to rid ourselves of renovation dust, galavant at the Biltmore and gallop across the desert.

Our Response to the Economic Downturn

In response to my post last week about how the economic downturn has affected you, here is how the economy has affected us.

1. We have a 100% financed house on an interest only loan. On the surface, this makes us a pretty high risk, at least from the current lender's perspective. I either had money for a down payment or for renovations. I chose to save on the down payment and monthly payments and put the money into renovations instead. A lot of people did this. I knew the housing market was souring, but I didn’t plan on making money on the house. I've only planned on learning how to renovate a home and hopefully be able to get out what I've put into it. Thus far, the money used for renovations has come from our bank accounts without the use of any loans. The debt we are currently carrying is some credit card debt, but no loans from other sources.

2. I had enough money for the kitchen renovation, but was planning on refinancing after this was complete and pulling out equity in order to fund the rest of the renovations. The economy fallout had begun, so I am not sure I would have been able to pull out the amount of money I needed. While I had put a lot of money into the house, refinancing has a lot of fees associated with it and the banks were no longer offering 100% financing. While I had effectively put a 20% down payment back into the house with the kitchen and downstairs bathroom renovation, the banks were moving toward 90% loan to value ratios and with refi fees I feared I wouldn't get back enough money to complete the renovation. I decided to finish the upstairs and refinance when the house was mostly done. The timeframe I made this decision was about the time the blog began, early this year. I am not sure this was the best decision to proceed on without refinancing, and it has caused a considerable amount of stress on us, but it's the path we have chosen.

3. The houses on both sides of me are both in trouble. One is in foreclosure, and the other one was in foreclosure (though I am not sure what state it is now). They are both rehabbed, though both not done particularly well. I am not certain what effect this has on me yet. It can't be good. The renovations I have made vastly exceed the quality of work in these other houses, but I am acutely aware that I could be overbuilding for the market. I am hoping that by doing a lot of work ourselves we will get most of the money out that we've put into it, but since we've paid cash out of hand for renovations thus far we are already invested. This means if we do move, we may not make much money but at least we most likely won't need to come to the closing table with a large check in hand.

4. The Queen's name is not currently on the mortgage. I've been waiting to refinance to do this, but renovations always take longer than expected (especially for such a large project like ours). I can't refinance until the house is almost done, as we want to be SURE that we have at least 20% of the home value into the home to avoid PMI and looking like we are high risk lenders.

5. What brought home the credit crisis to me was when I applied for a loan for the foundation work in the basement. Since the Queen's name isn't on the mortgage, I had to be the one to take out the loan. The loan was only for $2k. I was shocked when I was denied. My credit score is good (greater than 750), but I suppose the credit card debt coupled with a 100% financed interest only ARM made me too much of a risk for the loan. Also, without her being on the mortgage, from a credit perspective they don't see her as officially contributing to the mortgage thereby making it look like I am really in a bind. We found the money for the foundation work, but we would have liked to have a bit more cash on hand to continue with other work.

6. We seriously consider what renovations will really provide a return on investment. This pattern of thought has led us to do much of the work ourselves. Another example of potential cost/scope cutting is for us to reconsider digging out the basement to increase the height. It currently is about 6.5' of height, below the minimum 7' height for a habitable space. While we'd like to dig it out, a preliminary estimate (which is probably high) quoted us $45 a square foot to dig the space out. We'd only like about half of the space dug out, but this would still cost around $13k just for the dig. Add framing, electrical and moving things like plumbing and gas lines and the price only goes up. Now we're looking at just making the basement into a nice space without digging out. While it may not be perfect, it could work for a man cave. Other places that we talked about to save money on is the backyard. While I'd love something I planned out previously, it may just be overbuilding.

Going forward money will always be on the mind. While we'd love to make the house perfect, there is a point where it just has to be good enough. Finding that happy medium is the difficult part. Hopefully the money issues will work out OK in the coming months, but we are still proceeding on to finish what we’ve started. We have accepted that we are taking on short term debt, but feel that we are most of the way there and need to finish the main and second floor completely from a livability and a refinance perspective.

The next post I write will have pictures. Lots of pictures, because looking at all these words is boring me to tears.