Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Hog-wild weekend

In 40 hours-ish, we'll be signing for the house! Assuming the underwriter gets everything back to the processor and the title company tomorrow, but they swear it can be done.

Still not sure why it takes 3 people to do the same job. They're worse than the government.

Oh and our loan processor is amazing. She told me she'd side with me against the horrible loan officer because, and I quote, "[she's] in a man-hating mood". She also told me today about her fear of dogs and told me how annoying the loan officer is. I kind of <3 her.

Anyways, so we sign on Friday and then tackle this first-weekend-in-the-house-we're-so-excited-and-want-to-do-everything list:


1. Run home, clean out garage, set up chicken coop.

We bought everything today! It really wasn't that expensive. With the chickens it's going to come in under 300. It helps that it's "chick days" at Tractor Supply so everything related to chicken raisin' is on sale.

Also, because we're buyin' chickens I have to take the "g" off of "ing" words. It's only right.

2. GO BUY CHICKENS. That's right folks, we picked them out today. We're getting two 6-week old hens, a feisty Leghorn, a docile New Hampshire and then a full grown hen that's about a year old. She's also the size of a 6 week old hen and super docile. I'll reveal the names when we get them situated.

3. Plant front garden (it's tiny, and I have all the plants, or most of them, so this should only take an hour. I also day dream about the placing of the plants in my spare time so I'm pretty sure I have it all mentally mapped out).

No really. I have all of the plants.

4. Play with chickens.

If we have time we're going to dig and set the posts for our new fence as well. But somehow, I don't think we're going to accomplish this.


1. Remove possible asbestos tiles on Saturday. We have the whole day blocked for this....I'm sooooo excited.

2. Play with chickens.


1. Tear out the two tiny garden beds in the back "yard" and replace with a newly constructed tall bed.

2. Plant the beds. The back yard is going to be purely edible plants. This will work especially well because chickens like to fertilize plants and eat bugs off of crops.

Look at all my greens. AND THAT HUGE BUTTER CRISP. THAT WAS $5 AT THE FARMER'S MARKET AND WE'VE ALREADY MADE 2 SALADS FROM IT. /end excitement. And I have about 30 strawberry plants. Steven had to forcibly stop me from buyin' more. Which is especially ridiculous given that this guy will buy a thing of strawberries and nom them all in a day.

Oh wait, that's not very manly is it? By strawberries I mean bbq. Ahem.


3. Play with chickens.

4. My wonderful parents are drivin' up to show us how to cut moulding, put in new light fixtures (already purchased a new ceilin' fan for the livin' room and chandelier for the bathroom). My dad is also lettin' me borrow a circular saw, jigsaw, powerwasher and givin' me a miter saw. He's kind of the best.

5. Power wash the year's worth of leaves off the patio and stick these awesome citronella candles we bought from the Crate & Barrel outlet into the flower beds.


1. Pack furniture from old apartment and move it to the new apartment.

2. Play with chickens.

So, as you can see, we're going to go hog-wild. I'm mostly excited about the chickens. I mean, home owning is cool but ...chickens!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Attack of the Chickens

I have officially hen-pecked (haha) my husband into submission. We're getting chickens!

I had thought this would be a battle of the wills, that I would have to whine and complain and use my best feminine wiles to convince Steven that chickens were the best thing since sliced bread and he should get over his dislike of birds. I had thought that it would be a lot tougher and take a lot longer than 4 days. Huzzah being wrong (for once)!

You see, this weekend we drove out to Shenandoah Valley with my fam to go to the Shenandoah Caverns and just spend some pre-Easter time together. We were actually supposed to go camping, but the forecast and work complications shut that down, so this was a nice compromise. We had lunch in Luray, VA and while talking my parents mentioned they wanted a goat. Their back yard has been overrun by poison ivy, and given that all of us except for Steven (who is abnormally immune) are extremely allergic, they wanted to find the easiest way to clear it out. Goats, it turns out, are perfect for clearing out poison ivy, so after lunch we took a quick detour to Tractor Supply Co. for my parents (my mom) to look at goat things and being the day before Easter they had chicks! Lots and lots of chicks.

With a minimum order of 6. Boo.

Baltimore only lets you have 4. Double boo.

This was probably a good thing anyways, because I had no idea what I was doing. So, while there I bought "Chick Days", a fairly excellent beginner's guide to raising chickens. Before we even got to the two hour mark on the way back I had finished it and had a huge frame of reference for raising chickens, what's involved and the chick to hen process.

Then I bought celery. Not really related but celery plants smells like heaven should smell. Seriously. I go outside and sniff them. Is that weird?

Anyways, so I read "Chick Days", then bought "City Chicks", which is basically a book explaining all of the benefits of chicken raising and I guess there's a how-to on raising them but I haven't gotten that far. Thus far it's been all about the benefits of having a chicken when you have a garden and composting. Interesting, but I want more chickens.

I guess all my excited jabbering has finally gotten Steven to the point where he's OK with it. It helps that the fence that we will need to put in is only about $400, as opposed to the $2000 we were thinking and Steven loves the idea of being self-sustaining and a couple of chickens is exactly what we'll need to get there. And after I explained how easy they were to take care of, he was a lot more on board.

Some cute facts about Chickens that you probably didn't know:

1. You can train them just like a dog. They can do tricks and will come if you call them.
2. Some chickens will fall asleep when you sing to them.

Some gardening facts about Chickens that's probably more helpful:

1. Their poop is the best manure soil can get, though it has to be done in doses otherwise the excess of nitrogen will burn the nutrients out. If you buy humus/manure mixes from Lowes/Home Depot, it is most likely that they've been mixed with poultry manure. When their waste is thrown into a compost pile, you get the best top soil imaginable.
2. They eat bad bugs and leave good bugs, so your crops aren't destroyed.
3. They'll eat weeds and leave crops behind. Although, I've read they'll nom on some tomatoes if given the opportunity.

To dispel some myths:

1. They only smell bad if you don't clean out their coop. Keeping your license in Baltimore is contingent on good coop hygiene, so we'll be pretty fastidious about cleaning.
2. They're not loud.

There's plenty more, but I felt those were the most important things. I've really gone chicken mad.

Oh, and we'll be making our own coop. That sweet-ass Nogg is 1700 dollars. SEVENTEEN HUNDRED DOLLARS. No wonder I had to email them for pricing.

More to come later!

Friday, April 22, 2011

I've always loved the idea of living off the fat of the land, roughing it in the wild and surviving like the kid in Gary Paulsen's Hatchet. So, of course we buy a house with a tiny lot in Baltimore City with little ability to do that. I've also always loved the idea of having a farm. Just a few acres to plant vegetables and a couple of chickens for egg producing. But again, buying a house in Baltimore City with a tiny lot.

However, thanks to Design*Sponge's excellent blogging, I might have found a way to have a little urban chicken farm after all! A clean, sanitary, not disgusting chicken farm, to clarify.

Assuming Steven goes for it.

He probably won't because he doesn't like chickens, but I'm sure I can bribe him.

Here's the nifty solution to urban farming:

It's a super sleek, all-cedar (for it's antibacterial and good smelling goodness) hutch that can house 2-4 chickens comfortably and you get the eggs out just by taking off the top and reaching in. I'm waiting to hear back about pricing, but I am excited.

Here's the website: Nogg

Since I saw this this morning, I've been negotiating with Steven on getting one and just one chicken to try it out and see how it would work.

So far, I think the compromise looks something like this: I clean out the garage, let Steven cut a hole in the back of the garage (there's no door leading into the backyard/patio area for whatever reason) for a door, and I (as in solely me) construct a 6-foot privacy fence around the tiny backyard so it buffers noise from our neighbors. Then we make the garage into a work area/chicken house. And I clean it every day so it doesn't smell weird.

Personally, I think I conceded too much, but Steven really doesn't like chickens for some reason. I'm also not too positive this will come to pass, but that Chicken Coop is sweet.

For those of you that might also be interested in chicken farming in Baltimore, here are Baltimore's rules on chickens:

1. No person may own, keep, or harbor any chickens without:
a. obtaining a permit from the Bureau of Animal Control; and
b. registering with the Maryland Department of Agriculture, Domestic Poultry and
Exotic Bird Registration Division.
2. No more than 4 chickens over the age of 1 month may be kept.
3. All chickens must be confined at all times to a movable pen.
a. No pen may be closer than 25 feet to any residence.
b. Each pen must be kept clean, free of all odors and materials that can attract
c. Each pen must be moved frequently to minimize turf destruction and the build up
of manure borne pathogens such as coccidiosis and roundworms.
d. Pens with feed boxes and nest boxes must allow 2 square feet per hen.
4. The chickens must be provided with shade during warm weather.
5. Potable water and proper feed must be made available.
6. All chickens must be provided with access to a well-constructed shelter that provides
suitable protection from inclement weather.
7. All chickens must be afforded veterinary care if they are known or suspected to be sick or injured.
8. Roosters Are Prohibited

Oh and our neighborhood made it into the newspaper for urban gardening! Go neighborhood! Looks like we're going to fit right in!

To continue the Earth Day goodness, here are my "Green Plans" for the new house.

1. Paint the roof white. This is super simple to do (especially because we have a large flat portion of our roof) and it reflects light back into the atmosphere and conserves energy, as it reduces heating and cooling costs.

2. Change out the toilet flush-thingamob (the insides. God, I'm bad at plumping)to a low-flow option. Basically, there are two buttons which give you two options: high flow and low flow. It allows you to kind of customize your flushing needs without installing JUST a low-flow toilet and is only $20.

3. Rain barrel - I learned how to make one of these today thanks to Young House Love. But the best source in Baltimore for recycled food barrels is no longer recycling their barrels so we may end up buying one.

4. Only use low-VOC paint. I prefer Olympic Paint anyways which is all low-to-no VOC.

That about covers my initial "greening". I plan on planting the back garden so it's sustainable and sustaining (i.e. edible plants), as well. I love me some fresh veggies.

Happy Earth Day!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Who knew that buying a house would take up so much time? Haha, that was a joke.

We're actually ahead of schedule on the closing process and might be able to close on Tuesday or Wednesday. Sure, two days early doesn't make much of a difference to most people, but I'm "eeeeee"ing inside.

We drove by the house this morning after a doctor's appointment to see what it looked like in full-bloom and to peek in to see if they had done the work to the house yet. And guess what we saw? All new outlets that are grounded and pretty! On top of which we have a gorgeous Japanese Maple in the yard that hands out underneath a towering tree. I was thinking that the lack of air conditioning would be a problem in the house, but there's so much shade already (Even without the gigantic tree fully bloomed) that it's definitely going to be cool during the summer.

There's also this sweet batch of blue and white ground cover flowers -- mainly on the neighbor's side of the lot, but we have a few. Unfortunately, we'll be digging up most of it for our epic gardening plans, but we're going to be replacing it with tons of flowering plants, so I feel it's a good trade-off.

I decided my priority is going to be the garden/outdoor space because my office will be overlooking the garden and I find flowers to be motivational.

Thanks to an excellent house warming gift from one of my Grandmas, we have a bunch of new flowers and later this evening we have a return trip planned for Home Depot. We found a ton of blackboard paint, Kilz 2 and some other items that need to go back. Since we can't save receipts to save our lives, that's $100 in store credit going directly towards more plants. Mmmm plants.

Just as a side note, last night, I got a kiwi plant. KIWI. Here's hoping it produces fruit. My strawberry plant already has two tiny strawberries growing. I think I might turn one of the back flower beds into a strawberry patch with some raspberry plants thrown in. I'm all about vertical gardening back there because the space sucks. I also saw some cool rain gutter hanging flower baskets on Apartment Therapy. Those will look cool hanging down from our 1950s awning.

I'll edit later with photos. I'm just feeling lazy right now.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

New Look

As you can see, I updated the blog and got rid of the pink. Trying to make it a little more "hip" as the young people like to say. I also had fun with fonts.

That's all for now!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Boys and Their Toys

I love my husband. I think that's a good way to start this post. Mainly because this entire post is going to be slightly-mocking to the aforementioned husband, and it's good to start with compliments.

That being said, my husband loves vacuums. BWAHAHAHAHAH. What a thing to love.

But seriously. He has favorites. He salivates over Dysons and he likes to wander the vacuum isle at Target. We bought a mini shop-vac a couple months ago and he hasn't stopped vacuuming things since. Then he kept complaining about not being able to vacuum his car out, so I bought him a pet-specific handivac (mainly because when the dogs ride in the car it looks like our seats have a fur coat-- can you say gross?). Now all he does is vacuum.

Exhibit 1:

Exhibit 2:

(Sorry for the super glowey shots. I realized the point-and-shoot somehow had a fingerprint on it's tiny lens a couple hours after I took these).

Now don't get me wrong. I hate vacuuming. Gravity has nothing on me when it comes to abhorring a vacuum. Every time I touch a vacuum it breaks. Then the house smells bad. Oh man. I hate it so much. So in short, I'm happy Steven has developed a weird obsession with vacuums, but it's very, very weird.

However, I do know what I'm getting him for Christmas!

But shhh....don't tell him.

Homemade Madness

Apparently, when I get stressed I get creative. Or at least that's what I think is happening. Could be I'm going through some odd domesticity phase. Either way, I've been a busy bee.

Outside of making the steamer trunk table and the towel rack the week before, I've been hard at work (.....yeah. We'll stick with that) on repainting this sweet book cart that I bought from a friend for $5 (no "before" photo. Whoops) and I've been engaging in a serious love/hate relationship with this tree trunk table I was going to make that was inspired (copied) from The Art of Doing Stuff.

I also saw neat map art that had me scrambling to Ikea/Target to put my spin on it.

Material List/Cost:

Map of Baltimore: $5 (Target. Who knew they still made paper maps?!)
Three picture frames: $5 each (Ikea)
An idea of a shape or cut-out to trace: Free


Step 1: Get really excited at the prospect of cheap art.

Step 2: Buy your supplies. Duh.

Step 3: Figure out what you want to cut out. I chose a raven because that's a very Baltimore thing, what with Poe dying here and the football team (I should mention I'm a die-hard Patriots fan).

Step 4 (Optional): Be lazy and find a silhouette of a raven, print it out and cut it out to use to trace. I'm going to say I did this for consistency, but the truth is I just didn't want to hand draw anything.

Step 5: Trace the shape on the parts of the map you want to cut out.

Step 6: Cut out shape.

Step 7: Unwrap Ikea frames, open them up and flip the insert over so you have the white background showing.

Step 8: Place the shape in the middleish of the frame, put the insert back in white side up and close up the frame.

Step 9: ART!

Part of the reason I chose to make a set of three is because beginning April 29, we will have lived in three different places in Baltimore. Each Raven encompasses an area of Baltimore that we lived in and I made sure that the exact location of our apartment/houses were in the raven. I lucked out in that the area that says BALTIMORE has our first apartment and the area that says MT WASHINGTON has our second. For whatever reason our new neighborhood isn't labeled on the map, but the park we live on is there, so that's good enough for me.

I think we'll even hang them chronologically. Although I do like the arrangement of labeled, unlabeled, labeled. Hmm...

I'm also diving into the world of homemade beauty products. Steven needs a pretty good back scrub and those can get pretty expensive. While flipping through Fresh Home I found a recipe for a DIY back scrub. To break it down, it's

1/2 cup Sea Salt
1/4 cup Baby Oil
1 tsp Vanilla Extract

And you just throw the ingredients in a bowl, mix them together and put them in some sort of container (I bought a .50 travel container from target that was the perfect size). I think all told, it cost $11 dollars and that's only because we were out of Vanilla Extract. From the looks of it we can make 10 or so batches.

Steven tried out the back scrub today so I'll post if he has some awful back outbreak, but he seemed to like it. Then we realized he was out of shaving cream and because my husband only cares about (me -- but that's not my point here) cars, shaving like "a real man", hats (because according to Esquire all men should wear hats -- really. That's almost a direct quote.) and vacuums (more on that later), his shaving cream is stupid expensive. To save some money, I offered to DIY his shaving cream. He rolled his eyes but agreed to try.


The ingredients are seeping as I type, so if all goes well then I'll post a how-to. So far the ingredients have been kind of a costly investment, but ounce-by-ounce it becomes significantly cheaper to make your own than buy. I'll try to put on my math hat and come up with a breakdown on DIY vs Buying. I will say, it would have been a lot of cheaper if I had amazoned the ingredients, but I was too excited and we live 2 minutes from a Whole Foods. I'll also have 90% of the ingredients to make homemade deodorant, so guess what's next!

To end with a bang, here's a teaser:


Monday, April 11, 2011

Plants: Art for the outdoors

Steven and I grew up in rural Virginia, surrounded by luscious green landscapes for the warmer months of the year. When my parents looked for housing, anything they rented/bought had to have a minimum of 2 acres and the house I consider my "childhood" home had a partially wooded, (eventually) beautifully landscaped lot of about 2 acres, but it was surrounded by 40 acres owned by the neighbors that they have fortunately never had any interest in developing. In looking for our own house, yard size was definitely a factor but we knew we had to be realistic since we were buying in Baltimore City. For those of you that have never been to Baltimore, traditional row houses are not exactly known for their yards (they usually don't have a front yard and at night, in a bad neighborhood, the rows and rows of stone and concrete houses look like something out of post-communist Russia).

One of the reasons we were drawn to this house is because it actually has a front, gardenable lawn and an "OK" back yard/full concrete patio atrocity that I'm ripping up. But more on that later. In addition to the yard, there's a gigantic, well-maintained city park across the street. We're definitely not lacking green spaces.

For the front yard, I have visions of a cottage garden, full of flowering plants and shrubs with a tiny meandering path to my rain barrel (that I already have picked out). I want lots of purples, pinks, whites with splashes of bold colors. I want big flowering herbs to add a splash of fragrance. I want hydrangeas or azaleas right underneath the windows for that extra splash of color.

Here's my rough sketch:

But the reality is that that cute cottage garden costs lots of money and I'm not sure we'll have the funds this year for it to be fully realized. But that doesn't mean I'm giving up!

Find cheap plants? Challenge accepted.

We received a $75 dollar home depot gift card for cashing in our points on our credit card, and though we went there with the intent to purchase a circular saw, we came away with plants and planters for the front porch/patio of our current apartment and those plants will be transferred into the front garden after we move.

Check out our basket of awesome:

While I'm not particularly a fan of buying my plants from Home Depot or Lowes, they are guaranteed for a year and you can take them back and exchange them if they die. It's hard to beat that. And their prices aren't BAD, they just have a lot of selection and I generally go plant mad when I'm there.

Remember my obsession with art? Plants are like outdoor art for me. I blame my parents (although my grandma is pretty big into the Garden Club of America). Their house is sooooo well landscaped and my sister and I spent many a summer out there, getting in their way and enjoying the yard/woods. We even got married in their back yard and did all the landscaping (they went a little nuts and put in a patio) so it has some sentimental value to me. We made Steven do a lot of the heavy lifting, so I'm sure he's a little less sentimental. But then, he brought it on himself. If wasn't so brawny, we wouldn't have made him do all that work. Right?

Obligatory wedding photo:

I was so pumped to garden yesterday I totally want to rework all my plans for the house and garden first. I think that wood paneling might trump a pretty yard though. We also realized that the ceiling tiles in our living room might be made with asbestos (they were installed after asbestos was discontinued, but given our penchant for second-hand buying we realize that these could have been a discount/asbestos filled buy), so that project has definitely moved up to the first or second place in our to-do list. I bought us toxic spore rated respirators (only $20 a piece on Amazon!!) and am picking up our asbestos removal suits today and have been reading extensively on how to properly remove the ceiling tiles (I'll do a post about how to do it when we get to that point). We may have to move back our demo party to make sure our friends aren't exposed to potentially toxic spores, which kind of sucks, but safety first!

Oh and 17 more days till we close! Huzzah!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

So, things have been busy here in our multi-named household. Last week was filled with loan officer and government shutdown drama (we both have the good fortune to be employed by the govt. in one fashion or another--normally that's not sarcasm) and after going to my best friend Sami/Darcy's (she recently changed her name and we haven't really changed with her. And BTW, when I say recently, I mean a year ago. Are we bad friends or what?) house warming party, we realized we close in 19 days. 19 DAYS! Time to get packing/cleaning/decluttering/crazy.

This is what the house looks like right now:

It's pretty bad. I don't think my living space has looked this bad since Freshmen year at UMass, and that's saying something. On top of packing, we're decluttering and having a yard sale next weekend, so all of those boxes in the foreground are boxes we're pulling from our super cluttered basement and Steven's sorting through lest I become emotional and sentimental about items.

In addition to just cleaning, packing, cleaning some more and packing, we completed a couple of DIY projects this past week.

#1: Steamer Trunk Table.

This was accomplished pretty easy. And here are the steps:

Step 1: Buy trunk. This beauty only cost $40! Since we bought it, I've seen mutltiple trunks, none of which are shiny and that big, for $175+. Apparently, overstocked, out of the way antique/junk/thrift shops are the way to go. And when I say, overstocked, I mean I could barely walk through the 1800+ sq foot space. I unfortunately left my camera home, so I couldn't capture the chaos, but next time we go (and there will be a next time), I'll take a picture.

Step 2: Buy Ikea legs for $10. One day, I'll rant about how much I've grown to dislike Ikea, but occasionally they still have things I want. Like, for instance, 10 dollar legs.

Step 3: Buy spray paint and spray paint the legs to match. I didn't do the best job of this. They match the handles, but not the metal on the front. I'll probably end up buying some gold Rustoleum (my new preferred spray paint of choice, for it's easy spray button. It's also supposed to reduce that drip effect you see in the pictures, but I'm bad at spray painting)

Step 4: Attach legs to trunk. We did this with four blocks cut out of a standard 2x4. And we had Lowes cut the four blocks for us, because we don't yet have a saw. The most terrifying part of this whole thing was watching the Lowes employ stick his hand down into the saw blade area to pull out the wood blocks. Apparently he's never heard of safety first!

Anyways, we took our four blocks, and put the legs on top of the block and marked where the holds should go. Like so:

Then we pre-drilled the holes into the blocks for ease of drilling. Steven then matched the holes on the inside the trunk and pre-drilled those holes as well. After that it was as easy as screwing in the screws. And voila! Trunk table. These things (usually without legs, but I wanted some height) run about $250. If you're Restoration Hardware, it's about $1000 (on sale). Ours cost $60 with trunk/legs/paint/blocks!

Yay DIY!

#2: Copper Towel Rack

For now, I'm going to just put up the pictures and do a "teaser", as they say in the biz. This was an incredibly frustrating project; it took about 3 hours of time, a really angry Steven and really specific tools. However, it looks amazing. Good job Steven! (I designed, he built. Isn't he the best?)

And we'll end with this over-exposed gem of a picture of Steven cursing the pipe gods.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Loan Officer Hell

I wrote before that there was a sacred trust between the person handling your mortgage and yourself. If you can't trust that person, then the whole process is going to be frustrating and to be quite frank, a pain in the ass. To further highlight this lesson, let me discuss what has been happening the last few days.

Our loan officer (L.O. from here on out) told us a couple weeks ago that the rest of our down payment, plus our closing costs would come out to a whopping $1200. Wee! That's great! Way less than we thought it'd be! But still, we were wary. The underwriter made some noise about wanting a specific amount in the account and our L.O. relayed on Friday that that amount would be $2800. Ok. We couldn't figure out why we needed $2800 when we owed $1200, and the best the L.O. could tell us is that sometimes they want a "reserve" of about two months worth of payments in the bank. So, whatever. We can deal.

Then Monday rolls along and we get the official approval back from the underwriter (yay!) but! He wants $3160 in our account. Now, while I feel that we have adequately prepared for this kind of scenario, being told two vastly different numbers in the course of 3 days is intensely frustrating, and if the L.O. wasn't confident in the first figure, he should have either expressly explained that it was just an estimate and in that case gave a worst-case scenario, or rather yet, kept his trap shut and waited until the underwriter came back.

My lovely husband, who is dealing with the L.O. for me because I can no longer maintain civility, expresses these frustrations and the L.O. promises up and down he will fix the issue. I'm still not satisfied, so I called his supervisor, who then calls our buyer's agent (whom he's friends with) and the L.O. to let them know what was what and that we were considering going with a new loan officer. This resulted in a slew of calls, the most annoying from the L.O. himself who called from the Oriole's Opening Day game, making it nearly impossible to hear him and after talking to me he called Steven, LITERALLY three times in a row until he answered to give the same platitudes he was trying to feed to me.

To interject -- we've been working with the L.O. for almost three months now, and he still pronounces Steven's last name wrong. This bothers me and I feel, is highly unprofessional. When you're working for someone, just a basic courtesy is to get their name right. But anyways....

Even our buyer's agent called and tried to convince us to give him a few more days, because by all accounts the loan itself is very tightly done and was done in a lot less time than expected.

Of course, if anyone in this situation bothered to listen, they would have understood that I just wanted options for what I could and couldn't do given that we close in less than a month. We had already decided we would get the L.O. until close of business today to get these issues situated.

So everything was honkey dorey. I was still unhappy with the L.O., but fine...I decided to give him one last shot. After all, third time's a charm...right?

No. It's not.

Turns out that $1200 the L.O. initially estimated for our closing costs + down payment remaining balance was grossly wrong. Despite iterating multiple times that we had 4% seller contributions he still calculated 6% into his estimates, coming up with that $1200 figure. So, the $3160 that the underwriter was looking for wasn't for a "reserve" in the bank-- no, it was for $2000 more in closing costs.

While I expected last minute, costly expenses to pop up, $2000 extra is ridiculous. Because we're not ones to sit idle and let a bank screw us over, through some haggling and intrepid adventures through the interwebs, we have managed to slice it down almost by a half, but most of that was by us finding deals on homeowner's insurance (my original topic for today) and by explaining for about the fifth time to the L.O. that our settlement costs are $200 less than originally quoted. The L.O. did manage to get us a discount of about $240, but to be honest, these would have been fees we would have negotiated down no matter what.

It's difficult to express how livid I am about this whole situation, and how out of control I feel. (And I'm keeping it in the singular here because I'm well aware that while Steven is just as angry, he maintains a much lower level of constant frustration.) There is no recourse for us but to switch L.Os, and even then, there's no guarantee that the next will be any better. And really, it all boils down to communication, listening and respect. If our L.O. had just listened when we talked to him, none of the disagreements would have happened and we would be better prepared for our closing. As is, I'm just thankful we over-saved because otherwise we wouldn't be able to close, given that we're beyond the thirty day period requirement for a loan from family for closing costs.

So a tip to all of you home buyers: if your L.O. is not communicating, seems unsure about any point in the process, or is a jerk about anything, switch to a different L.O.. Sometimes this can cause delays, and it sure is a pain, but the stress that our current L.O. is giving us with this situation is 15 times what it would have been if we had switched before the first argument when we started to get the feeling that he wasn't the best of the best, la creme de la creme if you will.

Our next post will be on negotiating insurance to for some bonus savings!

Bargain Hunting: Mortgage and Insurance Edition

I wrote in the previous blog that we've had a lot of issues with our L.O. and in getting a number pinned down for what we'll owe at closing. When we did finally get that number, it was $2000 more than we had expected and only by being anal-retentive did we avoid disaster (a small lesson there: over-save. You can never have too much money). However, through some bargain-hunting, we managed to get us back down to about only (only, pft) $1000 more than we had expected. While still mildly panic inducing, it's a whole lot better than $2000 more.

When you go to close, there's always going to be a list of items that the bank is charging that they don't actually need to charge for. For example: application fee, credit check fee, etc. All of those "administrative" fees are a way for the bank to pad their figures. They make more than enough money that they can waive those fees, and generally will if you request them to be waived. We saved $240 here, but sometimes these fees can be around $500-$1000. It just depends on the bank and the type of loan. With an FHA, a lot of these fees are already removed and, in fact, prohibited.

With our title company, we had the option to save another $500 by removing title insurance, which is insurance that covers us in case Uncle Joe Blow appears out of nowhere with a slip of paper written by drunk grandpa at a poker game who lost and signed over the house. This rarely ever happens, but because you can lose your 100k+ investment overnight because of something like this, it was worth the $500 to us. We may look at negotiating this price down though.

We DID get a discount though because of a lack of professionalism, and one we didn't have to fight for either. Our title company was recommended to us by the buyer's agent and when we called the woman was busy and accidentally misplaced our email address. When she realized she had lost it, it was three days (a weekend had passed) after we talked to her and to make up for not getting back to us when she said she would, we got $200 off. Just like that! Good, quality customer service is awesome.

When it came to insurance, this is where we, personally, saved almost $400. It would have been about $500, but I'm a strong believer in over-insuring. Could be my degree in homeland security and emergency management, could be I'm paranoid, but whatever. We paid extra for drainage back-up insurance (and after hearing horror stories from one of my friends about this problem, I'm quite happy with paying the extra $80). Insurance is one of those things that people don't realize they can get good deals, but it's easy to drastically reduce the price of coverage, especially given how many "big name" companies exist now-a-days.

However, it is time consuming. To get our $400 less insurance, we talked to about 9 companies -- and I do mean talked. While online quote generators are great for a base-line to get accurate, cut-rate quotes you have to call. We talked to Nationwide (I'll admit--it's just because their commercials are so superior to other insurance commercials), Geico (who we currently use for car insurance), Progressive (who we have our renter's insurance through), Erie, Liberty Mutual, and used the quote generators for All-State, Farmers, State Farm and a couple of others that at this point escape me. For Steven and me, we have two criteria: price and customer service. Chalk it up to a combined 10 years in retail, but I would much, much, a thousand times much rather pay $20 more for insurance and have a good experience on the phone than pay super cheap and hate the people we're talking to. Actually, this is how we feel about pretty much everything -- customer service really determines how we like a place.

So, we were able to knock out a few contenders right away with the online quote generator. As a general rule, home insurance isn't a huge addition to your monthly payments unless you live in a high risk area for natural/man-made disasters, such as Florida, but the cheapest price, without sacrificing quality, is always best. Once we narrowed down who we thought were the best contenders, we called them. On top of looking at home insurance, we're also switching our cars to MD insurance finally (or were, until we found out just how expensive it is to insure in MD -- thank god for my student status that lets us insure in MD), so we went through the process for two quotes, which was fine because that means multi-policy discounts. We also asked our friends and friends' parents that live in MD and own a house/pay car insurance for recommendations and many sent us their agent's information. Thanks guys! Once again though, our buyer's agent recommendation proved to be the one that saved us the most money.

I'd like to say, up until yesterday, I loved Geico. But Geico was knocked out immediately. While it costs us well under 1000/6 months to insure our cars in VA with Geico, just by moving 60 miles into the wilds of Baltimore, our premium bumped up to over 5000/6 months!!!!! Can you believe that? We couldn't (all of the sarcastic "!" marks should have been a clue) and laughed when they told us. Then when we realized they weren't joking and weren't willing to come down, we ended that conversation. I can't even remember if we got a homeowners insurance quote.

A note to MD residents looking for insurance: Geico apparently (and I say "apparently" because I do not have verification from Geico themselves) hates paying covenant fees to insure in MD and will drastically inflate their prices to discourage customers from using them to insure.

Nationwide hung in for a while. The guy was super polite and came up with a quote of $74 a month for HO insurance and 3800/6 months for car insurance. Still, way too much, but he apologized a million times for how high it was and worked diligently to get it down. He eventually did reduce the premium, but at over $450/month it was still too much for car insurance. Way too much. I was kind of sad. The guy tried really hard and I really love their commercials. Side note: I tried to find my favorite commercial to post on here, but youtube doesn't have it.

We called the Liberty Mutual agent that our buyer's agent recommended and while car insurance was still high, at 330 a month it was the cheapest anyone had quoted thus far and we didn't lose any coverage from switching from Geico to get that price. However, they really blew us out of the water with the homeowner's insurance: only $52 a month! At $627 a year, and the coverage/deductible being exactly the same as previous companies, we went for it. Definitely a no-brainer.

Here's a round-up of tips for people looking for insurance:

  • A burglar alarm is a good investment for safety and peace of mind, and gets you a discount on your home owner's insurance. Make sure to pay for reporting to the police station/fire department. An alarm does you no good if it doesn't alert authorities.

  • Even if it seems silly, let the insurance agent know every little thing that's been done to the house. A new roof, new electrical system, replacing the pipes in the bathroom, etc all lead to discounts.

  • Don't be afraid to haggle. Tell them it's not low enough. Tell them Geico quoted less. We looked at 10 large companies and there are thousands of small ones we didn't look at, at all, and other customers do that too. If the company wants your business, they'll go out of their way to make it happen.

  • Always call to get accurate discounts. The online system doesn't cover everything.

  • Car insurance is absurd in MD, and the higher premiums prove what we've been saying for years: Maryland drivers are awful and Virginians are far superior.

  • I think the biggest take-away is just that you should never settle in the home buying process for the sticker price. 90% of what you're looking at/dealing with is an inflated price that people are willing to come down on to secure your business. Always ask if a fee can be waived, and if it can't be, have them explain its purpose. I'd draw an analogy to a commercial about saving money, but the TV references are getting to be too much -- I can't wait to be able to exercise again.

    Sunday, April 3, 2011

    Lofty Goals

    With buying the house, we've had to step back and take a hard look at our spending habits and evaluate where we go wrong. Pretty much two things kill us: food and homewares. But mainly food. We love food. We work(ed --- I tore my meniscus in October, had surgery on my knee in December and after working out for about 2 months, well after when I was supposed to be able to, I have about a million more meniscus tears. So no working out currently) out obsessively so we can eat whatever we want, and Baltimore is chocked full of delicious restaurants. Just this weekend we went out to three different restaurants we've never been and we've been in the city for a year and a half.

    So, for the month of April, or rather the remainder of April, we have come up with a lofty set of goals to really buckle down and save money -- maybe even make money! And because everything we've read has said write down these goals, we've pulled out the handy dandy white board and put them down.

    Now, not all of these goals are related to saving money. Some have to do with moving and making Steven happy, but they're our "April Goals". I think from here on out, we'll sit down every month, make our goals and see how many we can meet. Since I love checking off things on a list, I'm fairly positive we can complete them 100%.

    Here they are though, not in my illegible handwriting:

    1. Go 31 days without buying food. I was reading Young House Love's blog posts on saving money, and this was one of the things they did. And it's genius. Like I mentioned, we love food. So we have two full cabinets, a full freezer, a couple of shelves and a full fridge of food. And we eat out all the time. So, we're buckling down and clearing out our pantry in the best way imaginable - by eating it all! I personally think we have more than 31 days worth of food, as we seemed to have been subconsciously hoarding for a zombie apocalypse, but I think anything more than a month will drive us bonkers.

    2. Clean out the basement - One of the reasons we rented this apartment is because it came with a nice size basement room for storage. Though we obsessively throw things out/sell things we don't want/need, we still have managed to pack the basement room with stuff. So we're going to spring clean and....

    3. Have a yard sale! This is a great way to save money and we're hoping to do it in two weeks time, just for extra cash right before we move and to clear out stuff so we don't have to take it with us. Plus we're in a prime location, what with all the yuppies around.

    4. Craigslist before yard sale - we're already doing this -- we're clearing out our guest bedroom of the "throw-away" ikea furniture we've stuck in there and starting fresh in the new house with a couple of big DIY projects. For one, we're going to build built-in shelves in one room to make a library and in the guest bedroom we're going to DIY a headboard and buy a full-size bed, since at this point most of our friends/family that stay over are in couple form.

    5. Make pipe towel rack - We have all of the pieces, so now we just need to do this. By building this ourselves, we're going to save ourselves about $100, since a similar one sells for a lot of moolah.

    6. Paint grill - this is all Steven. His grill has a rust spot and it's driving him nuts.

    7. Finish painting book cart - We have this nifty old library book cart that's dull and brown. So we started painting it a cheery yellow and we'll finish that this week.

    8. Primer walls - As a kind of "thank you" to the people subleasing our apartment, we're priming the walls so they can start fresh with their own palette. Isn't it nice having a landlord that lets you go nuts? We've certainly appreciated it.

    9. NO HOUSEWARES FOR 2 WEEKS - this should really be extended to April 29, but I'm in full on nesting mode, with gearing up to buy the house and I just want to get everything bought and ready for the house. But I'm going to stop -- even if I bargain hunt and haven't spent very much at all on housewares over the last month.

    10. NO ART TILL AFTER WE MOVE - Pretty much what I HAVE bought has been art. Though I still don't think I have enough for 800 more sq. ft. I'm going to wait until we're moved in and reevaluate.

    11. NO EATING OUT - This is really 1. repeated. This is going to be the hardest for us, but damnit, we can do it!

    12. PACK - duh, a no brainer, we're moving. But like I've mentioned, we're notoriously bad about waiting until the last minute, so we will definitely get a head start on this.

    13. Fix BMW - Another thing that's all Steven. He has a few scratches and needs a gasket something or another replaced, so he's going to DIY the work and save us a bunch of money (since BMWs are really expensive to have any kind of work done on them). Personally, I can live with the scratches but it's driving Steven bananas.

    14. DECLUTTER- this goes hand-in-hand with the yard sale and cleaning out the basement. It's not that we have a lot of stuff, but we could still have a lot less. I think a clean house is a happy house, and part of being clean is not being packed to the brim. Plus, I'm secretly afraid we'll become hoarders, so this is my way of making sure that doesn't happen.

    I'm really hoping we achieve all of these goals. Especially the food related ones. Moving food sucks, so the less we take over to the new place, the better.