Wednesday, March 23, 2011

planting time.

Yesterday was a gorgeous day to do some gardening at the house.

Though it was absolutely not the next thing on the list to be done, I really wanted to get the front garden taken care of since it's planting time and there may not be another sunny / dry / cool day when I can actually be there until after planting time.  So we seized the moment and put together a very simple little garden.  Dan dug up the old layer of weeds, which we put in a wheelbarrow and carted around back.  Then we gathered up old bricks from our yard and our neighbor's yard, and Dan laid a little border that looks very fine.  After that I planted some roses (bourbon), dianthus, and rosemary -- just keeping it sweet and simple for now, and all of those have grown well for me in the past.  Then we put down topsoil, fertilizer, and grass.  Now all that needs to happen is the little patch of grass needs to grow.  Come on grass!  Here are a few pictures of what it looks like now.  Still rather empty, but I'd rather have a couple plants I can make sure to take care of than a whole garden full of neglected things.

Monday, March 21, 2011

insulation street / 203k draw woes.

We've progressed to the part where you buy insulation, so here's a picture of Dan picking out insulation at Home Depot.  Just enjoying himself on a platform full of fluffy pink stuff, no biggie.

Picking out insulation, cramming it into the car, and taking it to the house is pretty straightforward.  But other areas of the renovation process are not.  Like getting a loan (cringe), closing (cringe), and getting draws (reimbursements from the bank for the work you've done out of your own pocket -- cringe).  We're still waiting for our first draw money to arrive, having filed for it something like three weeks ago.  The inefficiency of this process is, as predicted, no better than that of getting the loan in the first place.

203k draw process

-- You spend all the money and do all the work, and then:

-- Inspector has to inspect the work
-- Inspector has to fill out paperwork
-- Inspector has to send off the paperwork to the bank
-- The bank has to receive the paperwork and know what to do with it
-- The bank has to approve everything
-- The bank has to send you the money

There are a lot of chances for things to go wrong, or "get missed" or "slip through the cracks," as the inefficient like to refer to it.  Don't you just love the convoluted, un-streamlined nature of the housing industry?  I have come to appreciate it as one of the wonders of the world, because I marvel at how everything else under the sun has moved forward and progressed, and yet the industry that has its tentacles wrapped the tightest around the whole country's necks is stewing in a sad, unorganized backwater of paperwork.

So you can imagine just how motivated everybody else is to get those list items done, since they personally don't have an incentive and have nothing riding on it and don't care whether the renovation continues or not.  And how maddening it is not to be able to take care of any part of this process yourself, just depending all pathetically on unmotivated third parties.

So of course weeks go by, no one tells us anything, and we have to go through all these back doors hounding people at Bank of America within an inch of their lives only to find out "Uh, we like uh, didn't get all the paperwork we needed."  Yep.  Soooo when were they going to tell us that?  When were we going to find out about that?  NEVER.  They have no process in place whatsoever to notify the homeowner if something's missing / not right about the paperwork filed.  They don't even have a process in place to let the inspector know they didn't get all the paperwork from him, and frankly, he shouldn't have to worry about following up with them about it constantly like a mom follows up with her teenager to clean his room.  Considering we weren't even the ones sending in the paperwork, and we weren't the ones receiving or processing it, I'm not sure how they expect for us to know about or control this paperwork in any way.  Either you're psychic, or you're completely left out of the loop. We were never ever going to find out about it.  And there'd be yet another empty, half-renovated house just sitting on the market after our time ran out.

Thank goodness we were paranoid enough from all of the experiences up to this point to think "Hm, if we haven't heard anything yet, someone's probably not doing their job."  So Dan set out to find a way to hound people and check on the paperwork.  And thank goodness for his tenaciousness and willingness to spend whole days on the phone, being led in circles, just waiting to speak to more people who don't know how to do their jobs.  Otherwise we wouldn't have known that paperwork needed to be resubmitted.

So the lesson learned is that for the next draw (oh yes, we'll have to go through this fun process several times before the end of the renovation), once the inspector files the paperwork, we call the bank every hour on the hour for weeks to babysit them through every leg of the journey.  Because once again, they can't do it themselves.

The trend I'm noticing is that most of what people said would be super hard and frustrating -- all the manual labor -- has been the fun part, and we've been enjoying it and getting a lot of satisfaction out of putting in the effort.  And the part that's supposed to be just the gateway to the real work -- dealing with loan stuff -- has been that special kind of life-wasting evil that can drive a normal, healthy human being off a cliff.  To recap:

hard manual labor = fun
dealing with the financing = a part-time job that distracts from the real work, insanely time consuming, and teeth-gnashingly frustrating

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

tree of death eradicated, lattice of death rehabilitated.

On Saturday we had quite the workday at the house. 

Kitchen Island Questions
Chris and Emily came by and Emily helped us on our "where EXACTLY does this kitchen island need to go" conundrum with her expert interior design knowledge.  

It's one of those situations where the original plan would put the island smack in the middle of the kitchen, not giving you much room to go around it when walking from the dining room to the back door.  But if we moved it closer to the other cabinets / sink / etc., it'd be hard to open the dishwasher and still have room to get by on that side.  In the end we decided that having plenty of room to walk past the island on your way to the back door is more important than having plenty of room to walk past the open dishwasher door.  Because how much time do you really spend with the dishwasher door open?  Actually, more than you probably think.  But I've never really had a dishwasher in my adult life, so it's a strange thing to think about.  Anyway, this is a good example of the kind of weird decisions we have to make like 12 times a day.

Tree of Death Begone!
The next order of business was dealing with this tree near the back of our property.  It's just this old "Tree of Death"-looking trunk, all sad and rotted.  I wanted to keep it, but Dan investigated and found that it was so rotten it was in danger of falling and smashing the power lines as well as our neighbor's fence.  So he and Dad swung ropes around the tree and Dad started chopping into it with a chainsaw.  When the tree started to fall, Dan pulled the rope as hard as he could to guide the tree away from the fence.  I was in the alley ready to take a picture, but I didn't really get anything because the tree ended up falling toward me.  Branches whizzing by my head, etc.  That was not in the plan.  But I guess it was so heavy that once it started falling, even pulling on the ropes didn't help much.  Dad said he barely touched it with the chainsaw before it came crashing down, and we all studied the inside afterward and saw how hollow it was.  Phew.  But nobody got hurt, and the rotten tree is now gone.  We're keeping the big, foreboding-looking stump though.

Lattice Rehab
After lunch, Dad and Dan worked on replacing the siding on the front of the house around the new window, and I started raking the front garden.  I complained to Mom about the tacky lattice, which somebody had tacked up onto the front of the porch (it's supposed to go underneath and attach to the underside of the porch).  We started talking about what we could do to solve this problem, and we looked over at our neighbor's house and saw that he had painted his lattice a very dark brown and it was barely noticeable.  So we began a similar project.

Lattice is ugly!  Make it less ugly!
-- Unscrew lattice from the front of the porch and remove it.
-- Measure the spaces between the porch and the ground, where the lattice is supposed to go.
-- Mark these measurements on the pieces of lattice you just removed.  We used measuring tape and black ink, with a level as our straightedge.
-- Using a Skil saw, cut the pieces of lattice down to the dimensions you marked on them.
-- Measure where the joists under the porch will need to be accommodated with notches in the lattice.
-- Mark these notches on the lattice pieces.
-- Use the Skil saw again to cut the notches out of the lattice.
-- Spraypaint the lattice with matte black paint, and wait for it to dry.
-- Crawl underneath the porch on your belly, and bring a drill.
-- With someone holding the lattice up from outside, drill the lattice onto the underside of the porch (black side facing out).
-- Crawl out from under the porch at its last remaining opening, and affix the last piece of lattice as best you can from the outside.
-- Watch as your cat busts down that last piece of lattice and runs under the porch anyway.
-- Rejoice when your husband is able to screw a small piece of wood onto the underside of the porch, and then screw that last piece of lattice to the wood securely.

So it was really nice to have a project that we were able to do in one day, and be able to see the fruits of our labors immediately.  The lattice looks a hundred times better (less noticeable). 



Not the most comparable before and after views, but there'll be more to come.  And obviously we need to clean / repaint the front-facing board of the front porch as well.  But now you can actually see that there's a porch when you look at the house, rather than just seeing...lattice.

I really never thought I'd end up smushed underneath a porch with only an inch or two of headroom, but there's a first time for everything.

Next I need to do something with the garden….

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Caravati's and electrical work.

Today I had a comp day from work since I work some weekends, so naturally "comp day" meant "manual labor" to me.  After helping our friend Lianna move her belongings from a U-Haul truck into a storage space, we went over to Caravati's and took a look at all the treasures they have there.  It's this huge warehouse in Manchester full of salvaged materials from old Richmond homes.  This place is like the fancy designer handbag store of home improvement supplies.  Some people save up money to buy a Coach handbag, we save up money to buy a cool 1920s speakeasy grate for our front door.

Besides being the place to find the best clawfoot bathtubs, cathedral-style church windows, and wrought-iron fences, Caravati's is also a photo shoot waiting to happen.  Karen Seifert, are you reading this?  I cannot WAIT to go back there, with my camera next time.  So many textures, so many beautiful lines, so much vintage.  All I had with me this time was my phone, hence the one picture of a veritable wrought-iron forest below.

Back at the house, we loaded the truck up with refuse and went to the East Richmond Road Landfill & Convenience Center.  By "convenience," they mean throwing things.  You drive up a hill, and the hill has a cliff carved into it.  You back your truck up to the edge of the cliff and chuck stuff into the giant tractor-trailer sized containers below.  Guys, I highly recommend visiting the dump.  It's free for city residents, and throwing really ugly furniture into a pit and hearing it smash when it hits the bottom is a highly cathartic activity.  I think the pillow of old mattresses and tumbleweave that our bathroom vanity landed on made the crash less-than-optimal, but it still felt fantastic.

Back at the house, more electrical was worked on by Dan and Dad, and I was on cleanup detail.  I also had a brief stint scraping the fire-damaged paint off of our front doorway trim, but it was super frustrating and I feel like I can't do it without knicking the wood a lot.  So I gave up on that and instead set to finding torn flaps in the tarpaper on our floor, sweeping underneath the flaps, and nailing the flaps back down onto the ground.  None of these things are really the most exciting thing in the world to photograph.

In the meantime the cats and I enjoyed the sunny day with the front door open.

You may be able to tell that Gozer has a wound under her left eye, which is the product of an incident involving a neighbor's bb gun and my cat's face.  Yes, we were as livid as you can imagine we would be -- but more on that later.  I had no idea what to expect as far as recovery, as bloody and terrified as Dan described her, but the folks at the Veterinary Emergency Center took great care of her and she's doing much better.  She was purring loudly when I took this photo.

Friday, March 4, 2011

renovation lending workshop.

Hey guys,

They're having another one of those renovation lending workshops that Dan and I went to, so if any of you are even a little bit interested in doing some renovation in the future, I'd recommend going.  The one we went to was super informative!

This one is March 5th at 9am.  More info at CHPN.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

walkway complete!

The little walkway in front of our house is complete!  I think Dan did a beautiful job on it.  He hand-laid it with the original bricks from our chimney.  The sidewalk has begun again.