Yesterday started with our signing and faxing back the cancellation paperwork for the deal on the Birch Street house. Seeing "our" house reappear in the online real-estate listings, with its status changed from "Pending Sale" back to "Active", was painful. I think that we'd both gotten far too ahead of ourselves in mentally furnishing the house and imagining what it would be like to live there.
Later in the day, we got out to look at some houses. First we walked through some houses in Santa Ana -- older homes that were basically okay, had they been selling at a price that would have allowed for updating/repairs after purchase. In one house, we opened a closed bedroom door and were assaulted by a WALL OF STINK, a sudden blast of dead-body-in-the-closet repulsion. Any would-be buyer for that house could look forward to spending an additional $580,000 in room deodorizers just to get the house to the point where they could use all of its rooms.
Next, we drove up to Anaheim, where we looked at another house that met all of our requirements -- the right size, the right price, cute, historical, in a better neighborhood than the Birch Street house. Seeing such a promising house right after cancelling our initial deal and then spending the rest of the day touring smelly dingy cavelike $599K mouldering heaps lifted my spirits, and I felt pretty good for the rest of the day.
This morning, our agent called at 9:30 AM to tell us that the Anaheim house was off the market. The owners received their first offer yesterday evening (as we walked through their house with our realtor, their realtor was visiting -- with the offer), and decided to take it. So, after a brief detour, it's back to being in a deep funk.
Later today we'll be driving down to San Pedro to take a look around there. Tommorrow I'll think that we'll (or at least I'll) drive up to take another look around Pasadena, along with a first look at Alhambra, which seems to have a stock of decently-priced nice-looking older homes (are they so much cheaper than houses in nearby Pasadena because Alhambra is simply Not Pasadena, or because Alhambrans are held in the thrall of a vicious Crime Syndicate that cares nothing for property and human life? Hopefully I can tell just by driving by). Our agent has got the Orange County listings pretty well covered.
I don't doubt that we'll find someplace to live -- and someplace that meets all of our needs and that we're very happy living in. I'm just increasingly worried about how long it will take to find that someplace -- I hope that it happens before we burn up the goodwill of family members (who we're living with) and co-workers (who have to put up with my erratic work-product producing self).
Well, it seems that what seemed like a done deal last weekend is now a definite no-hoper.
Their real estate agent was apparently as much on our side as he could be -- telling the sellers that given the altered circumstances, our new offer was still very reasonable, even generous. But the sellers are apparently very stuck on getting their original asking price, $499K, for the house. (They'd had one offer before ours, for $490K. They counter-offered at $499K.)
The option of getting a second-opinion appraisal was mentioned, but the sellers' agent didn't seem too optimistic about that -- doubtful over whether or not the second value would be much different than the first, and doubtful about whether or not the sellers would even bother to heed any appraisal that didn't come in at exactly $499K or above.
Because the house is worth exactly $499K, you know. Because it has reproduction light fixtures from Rejuvenation Hardware!
So tomorrow we'll start the paperwork to cancel the deal. Good luck getting your $499K from somebody else, folks!
God, I'd so hoped that we'd gotten lucky and found The House right away. I just hope that we get another chance at something else we like soon, and that the months to come aren't an endless succession of days spent confronting other peoples' greed -- especially now that the housing market finally seems to be deflating, and sellers are scrambling to get what they think they're entitled to get, rather than what's actually feasible.
. . . we think. After the home inspection, which revealed that the house needed some repairs, and after the lender's appraisal, which appraised the house at $37,000 less than our agreed-upon selling price and revealed the house to be two hundred and fifty square feet smaller than the sellers represented it to be, we amended our offer and sent it, along with a request for repairs, to the sellers yesterday.
Today we got their response. They offered to knock $4,000 -- that's four, not forty thousand dollars -- off of the original selling price, and refused to make any of the requested repairs, with the sole exception of fixing a running toilet in the back room.
They might as well have faxed us back a page that said nothing but "NA-NA-NA-NA-NA-NAAAAAHHH ... WE CAN'T HEAAAAAAAAAAAAR YOU!!!!!" in big, bold block letters. What part of your asking price is now unsupportable and unfinancible didn't you guys understand? The inside of the house is beautiful and tastefully finished, but they seem to expect that to carry the day against all logic and sense -- and the absence or presence of updated systems and repairs don't seem to matter to them at all (probably since you can't boast that you got your new roof at Pottery Barn, or that the formerly-open drain pipe beneath the floor that you can't see was capped by authentic reproduction plumbing fixtures from Restoration Hardware).
There is a chance that we can still pull this deal out of the fire; our lending company is open to having a second appraisal done by a third party. We've communicated through our agent that if the sellers can find an appraiser who truly appreciates their shining historical gem for what it is, and if that appraiser raises the appraised price to a level that they find acceptable, and if that appraisal is accepted by our lender, we're willing to entertain staying in the deal.
Although what I'm really hoping for is that the second appraiser will value the house exactly like the first appraiser did, and that these folks will get a cold glass of reality sloshed in their face. And if that doesn't change their tune, and they still refuse to budge, they can join the people who own the Pasadena house (which, weeks later, is still on the market) at the monthly barbecue for the Southern California chapter of Overly Optimistic Idiots Holding Onto Unsellable Houses.
(Did I mention that these people are moving to Wisconsin next month? And that they wanted to close escrow as quickly as possible? Who are they to be playing Extreme Hardball?)
I went to take a look at my recent amazon.com orders this morning, and found the following alert at the top of the page:
. . . obviously one of you must have read last night's blog entries and then decided to buy me a gift certificate to cheer me up out of my foul mood. Hey, thanks!
After a blog entry like the last one, it's time to take a levity break -- so here are some links to:
Dogblog -- which is basically a guy walking around San Francisco and taking pictures of the dogs he comes across. I particularly like the picture/caption for the Basset Hound on page 10 (search down the page for "HYPNOBASSET") -- all pictures involving Scout and flash photography end up looking like that. We call them her DEMON EYES pictures.
And while the media and other easily-distracted sections of America have been spending the past few weeks obsessing over John Kerry's war record, let's not ignore the history of George Bush:
Well, I was going to sit down this morning while waiting for my daily build to compile and write a chatty-Cathy blog entry about how we had no problems getting homeowners' insurance for the new house (despite my worries about the knob-and-tube wiring; thank goodness we're not in Canada, where the presence of any K-and-T recently seems to have become a no-go for insurers), or how Shelby and I went to Plummers yesterday and looked at couches (surreptitiously "scratch-testing" certain favored models with our fingernails to get an idea of how they might look after being worked over by Beagle claws).
But then Shelby's mom told me that I had a message on the answering machine. It was from our rep at the mortgage company, telling me that they'd received the appraiser's report on the house, and that she had a couple of things to discuss with me. Like an idiot intent on ruining his day, I called her right after I finished listening to the message.
Long story short, the house appraised for significantly beneath what we agreed to pay for it -- and to boot, the appraiser measured the house's dimensions at a couple of hundred square feet smaller than the size the sellers were claiming it to be.
The valuation was a total surprise -- at the originally-claimed square footage, the house was a bargain (relatively speaking; this is California, after all), and even at the now-revised square footage, the price seemed spot-on when compared to the average price per square foot of other homes sold in the neighborhood during the past six months. The appraiser's fieldwork seemed pretty sloppy, as the three "comparables" that he chose to include for purposes of valuation in his report didn't seem very comparable at all. Two of the houses were outside of the historical/landmark neighborhood that our house is in, across major streets in either direction, well into scruffier lets-all-put-burglar-bars-on-our-windows territory. One of these houses was a modern ranch house! The final 'comp' that was in our neighborhood looked like it was originally very similar to ours -- the same floorplan, only flipped left-to-right -- but where our house had been carefully taken care of, this house featured a dead lawn and vinyl windows. But still the appraiser decided that our house was worth $4 per square foot less than the cheapest of these three houses! Recent interior renovation and preserved historical niceties didn't seem to count for anything.
The square-footage issue was actually something I'd been expecting; there was a lot of hand-waving over whether the back bedroom (added in the 1930s) had been added to the total assessor-reported square footage of the house when it was premitted and built seventy years ago. I was prepared to forgive a size discrepancy of fifty-square-feet or so -- but a couple of hundred square feet? Wasn't the house appraised and measured when they bought it, less than a year ago?
Our agent called their agent this afternoon, and on the basis of what we'd learned, adjusted our offer to a markedly chopped-down price. The sellers' agent seemed to think that our new offer was entirely reasonable, even generous, and still favorable to his clients -- and our agent, after getting off of the phone with him, said that based merely on that man's attitude alone, he thought that our new offer still had a good chance.
We still want the house; it's still the right size for us, and it hasn't become any less cute than it was on home-inspection day. In the best case, we end up with the house and a lower housing payment than we'd originally planned; in the worst case, we walk ($1000 lighter, thanks to a non-refundable deposit with the mortgage company), and start the fun that is househunting all over again.
Please think good thoughts and keep your fingers crossed!
|Today was Inspection Day: Shelby and I drove down to Santa Ana to meet the current homeowners, their real-estate agent, our agent, and the house inspector at 8:30 AM.
When we drove up to the house, I was distressed to see that the realtor's sign stuck in the front lawn hadn't had an additional "SOLD" or "IN ESCROW" sign tacked on to it: sure, the house was listed as a "pending sale" on the realtor's website, and it was no longer available on the online MLS, but when you write giant checks and pledge yourself to thirty years of financial serfdom, you want to see palpable results in the real world! This unease was sustained once we walked into the house, where the dining room table was still decked out like a real-estate branch office, stacked with business cards and flyers and brochures about the house -- were they still holding everything in readiness, just in case a casual browser with a better offer happened by? But then we walked into the kitchen, and Lee, the wife of the couple, started loading me up with receipts and warranty cards and other ephemera for the appliances and fixtures that were staying in the house. No, they were ready to move after all. Whew!
The inspector's report was mostly positive: we're buying a house that's in good shape for its age (either 75 or 76 years old, depending on your source). There were a few items of immediate concern that we'll want to pressure the sellers to fix before we take possession: the vent pipes for the furnace and the tankless water heater have insufficient clearance from the surrounding wood (a fire danger); there was an uncapped drain pipe in the crawlspace which could, under the 'right' clogged-pipe conditions, cause sewage to back up underneath the house! There were a number of minor-league things that didn't strike us as a big deal either way: ungrounded three-prong electrical plugs, a door that may need to be re-hung, or may just need its hinges tightened.
There were a few items of concern for the future, however: the house isn't earthquake-strapped to the foundation. The attic is full of still-in-use old-style 'knob-and-tube' wiring -- it's stable and in good shape (copper wire, no decaying insulation), but we'll want to replace that with a modern, higher-capacity system over time. Our biggest potential bone of contention is the roof: both the house and the garage will need to have their roofs replaced sooner rather than later. While both are in acceptable shape and neither is leaking, they're both showing their age -- and each is at the magic three-layers-of-roofing point, where you have to tear everything off and start from the beginning, rather than adding an additional layer over the existing roof. (Why a maximum of three layers? Apparently someone picked that as the point after which any additional material would make the roof too heavy, leading to Bad Things Happening. This is a new fact that I've learned during our housing search.) The current homeowners have been making noises about having a certification for the roof that's good for two more years, but they have yet to produce any actual documentation. Even with a trustworthy certification, the roof shows damage -- from a tree rubbing against the house -- that's probably not covered. I suspect that we'll be getting a quote on the cost of a total roof replacement and asking them for a concession against some percentage of that cost.
And, of course, I brought my camera along and took pictures of the house.
Taking a short break from house- and work-related matters, I spent a little time today catching up on some of my backlog of photos from Europe. Today: pictures from my visit to the Schönberger Strand railway museum near Kiel. This museum is the bigger brother of the Aumühle roundhouse that I visited in June; if you're interested in trains, it makes a decent day trip (or half-day trip) up from Hamburg.
Side fact: there are no more streetcars in Hamburg, but someday Hamburgers may be able to ride a Hamburg streetcar in San Francisco as part of the Market Street Railway. Hamburg car #3557 was brought to San Francisco in 1979; it ran in SF for four summers, but currently sits sidelined, awaiting restoration for rust problems and modifications for handicapped accessibility.
My personal grab-the-hanky moment of this year's Olympics: not only did Tyler Hamilton win the Olympic men's cycling time trial today, but he also dedicated his ride to the memory of his dog Tugboat, who had to be put to sleep during the Tour de France last month. He carried Tugboat's dog tag along with him during the ride, pulling it out to show to the TV cameras while he talked about his dog during the standard how-do-you-feel post-race interview.
Tonight confirmed my already good impression of Hamilton -- given the bad luck he's experienced during the past couple of Tour de Frances, hopefully he can come into his own during next year's (possibly-post-Lance?) TdF.
(Meanwhile, a certain German cyclist distinguishes herself in a different way -- apparently her gesture is directed at the German cycling federation, rather than anyone at the Olympics or in her race, but still ... )
We got the house! Our offer was accepted with a counteroffer that contained only what our realtor called 'housekeeping' items. Excepting the unthinkable, escrow starts tonight or tomorrow, and we take possession in 33 days!
More to come -- here's the realtor's listing, with pictures.
. . . I just feel like it. I've definitely been burning the candle at both ends: trying to work full-time (especially during a crunch period) while simultaneously shopping for a house was not a good idea. But if I used all of my vacation time now for house-hunting, I wouldn't have any left for moving in once we finally get the house. No pain, no gain, I guess.
And everything seems to be coming together. We found a good house candidate this weekend, and we put together an offer last night -- not an I'll-have-my-agent-call-your-agent trial balloon like the last house, but a real offer, with pages of signed-and-initialed documents and a ten-thousand-dollar check to an escrow company. (Nothing says "hey, we're really doing this!" more than writing a giant check.) They get our offer this morning, and have until tomorrow to say yes, no, or counter.
We'll see how this one goes. I think that we made a good impression on the selling couple (we've got a lot in common), and we have a solid offer (they've already got an offer on the table, but it's for less money and the other person is trying to unload a condo that's already been on the market for sixty days), so I think that we have an excellent chance. The sellers are interested in closing as quickly as possible (they're leaving California to go back to Wisconsin!), so assuming that our offer is acceptable and we don't encounter any hitches, we could be in our own house by the middle of next month!
And then I can permanently change the name of this blog to reflect our new reality.
Stamps.com, a print-your-own (legal!) postage from home service that debuted with great fanfare during the dot-com heyday and then slipped into quiet obscurity, has now opened photo.stamps.com, where you can upload your own pictures to produce personalized postage like this:
Well, we tried to make an offer on the house -- at a price that was $50,000 less than what they were asking for it, but that would still have offered them a healthy 22% increase over what they paid for it five months ago. Given the magnitude of our attempted cut, our realtor thought that it was best to call their realtor and float this by her verbally before making a written offer. Their realtor's response was succinct, along the lines of "no way in hell" -- reminding us that this property is owned by investors, that it had already gone through two price reductions (originally the sellers were going for a fifty percent increase!), and that the sellers needed to sell very close to their asking price, because they had to protect their investment. She then added that if the house didn't sell after this price reduction, the owners would probably take it off the market and rent it out.
My first reaction was frustration and depression, to have our first feint at an offer rejected so hard that the agent didn't even consider asking the seller about it. My second reaction was "you idiots" -- nice way to protect your investment!
Thanks to the title company, we know that they bought the property for 5% down -- so turning it around and selling it to us (allowing for agents' fees and hypothesizing that they spent $25,000 on renovation) would net them a 173% return on their original investment! On the other hand, given that the rental market is cold and rents have been falling, good luck to them in finding someone willing to shell out the $3.5K or so in monthly rent that they'll need to eke out a profit while covering that five-percent-down mortgage of theirs. In the meantime, every month that the house sits vacant eats another mortgage-payment-sized chunk out of the profits, and since it's been on the market for sixty days -- two weeks of that at its current price -- it's clear that we're not the only ones who still consider this house overpriced.
Maybe tomorrow they'll find someone who'll write a check for the full amount, but I suspect that we might have another chance at this house as it makes its way downwards -- in the meantime, we keep looking elsewhere.
We just got the first of the boxes that I mailed from Hamburg to California -- 16 days for it to travel, non-airmail, from the Hauptbahnhof post office to our doorstep here in Torrance. Less than we expected!
I'm glad that we only put clothes and books, and not anything delicate or breakable, inside each box, because this first package looks like it was drop-kicked by gorillas the entire way. The box no longer has any sharp corners or flat surfaces -- every square inch of it has been creased and crushed, and one seam is starting to split a little. Perhaps I should have chosen a higher class of service. Good thing that I was my usual overcautious self and wrapped almost the entire outside of the box in packing tape!
|This morning I pick up the L.A. Times to find that the Bush Administration thinks that New Mexico's Valle Vidal, the landscape pictured to the left, would be immeasurably enhanced by the addition of 500 natural-gas wells and associated machinery -- so much enhanced, actually, that the White House has intervened to "fast-track" the project over the opposition of the U.S. Forest Service, New Mexico state officials, and local community groups.|
I just don't understand the mentality of people who feel the need to "fast-track" the destruction of beautiful places for dubious claims of national necessity. And every time I'm willing to concede that there might be some shred of human decency or genuine love-of-country inside the Bush White House, they take some new action, come forward with some new policy, or make a pronouncement that shows me that no, they actually are a bunch of soul-sucking zombies intent on destroying everything they can get their hands on, after all. (And I'm sure that thinking such things these days makes me an Unpatriotic Unamerican -- all of my thoughts should be focused on our great and ongoing national struggle! If we don't pillage the earth for methane extraction as soon as possible, then The Terrorists Have Already Won!)
If you're going to try to sell a 'house' for $550,000, make sure to take down the "Little Lambs Christian Preschool" sign first.
(Moving the mailbox [?] off the front walk might help, too. But still, "ITS GOING TO MOVE FAST", because the realtor's description says so!)
I figure that I'd better keep posting some vaguely German-related content until I can figure out what new, more-American title to give this blog ...
I've been back in the States for a week now, and while it hasn't been hard to get readjusted to my native land, there are still some things that give me pause.
It's not just the cars that are bigger: a few days ago, I was shopping in the Target near Shelby's parents' house when I stopped to reflect that this store must be half again as large as the Feldstraße or Berliner Tor Wal-Marts, the closest things to an American 'big-box' store I'd been in while in Germany -- and most people in Torrance would consider that Target to be a 'normal' sized store! I'm sure that after a few weeks, I'll go back to being a normal American, and won't freeze up when I'm confronted with an entire toothpaste section instead of just a toothpaste shelf.
But if you get on the highway in the right place or at the right time -- out in the middle of nowhere or early in the morning -- and the Autobahn is working the way it's supposed to, you can't beat the experience. On the way back from dropping Shelby off in Amsterdam, I got to take the Mercedes C-Class wagon we'd rented all the way up to its electronically-limited 210-km/h (126 mph) speed limit! And then I reached the next cluster of underpowered-cars-passing-trucks. Sigh.
(And with all of the driving we've been doing through warrens of residential streets this past week, I'd love to have that Mercedes' GPS navigation system with me now. People may complain about how we're not driving the automatically-piloted flying cars we all were promised in the 1960s, but I regard in-car navigation as truly an amazing invention from the future, descended to be here among us today.)
Good News: I got my car back! It seems that its primary problem was that something had been chewing away on wiring inside the engine compartment. I guess that this is what happens when you basically leave your car sitting, unmoving, for six months. The damaged wiring was replaced to the tune of a few hundred dollars -- more than the 'nothing' that I wanted to spend, but better than the thousands dancing around in nightmarish visions inside my head. I was told to drive the car around for a week before my next smog test, to give the engine-control computer a chance to fully clear itself out -- one more week, and I'll be fully legal!
Bad News: After some preliminary research on the house mentioned in my last installment, our realtor found that it was purchased this March by an investment company for $440,000. This mysterious entity bought the house, made some unknown improvements -- added the picket fence? refinished the hardwood floors? -- and is now trying to 'flip' it less than five months later for a profit of thirty-three percent! We'd assumed that the house was empty for reasons that would be advantageous to us -- the seller moved, and was desperate to get rid of the old house, or somebody died, and his heirs were desperate to turn the house into cash -- but now it looks like we're dealing with someone/something that'll be hot to reap !!BIG PROFIT$!! from its 'investment' and thus won't be amenable to negotiating downwards.
Well, we'll see. It's not the only house in the world. We go up to see it with our realtor tomorrow; today we'll be driving around Eagle Rock/Glendale/Burbank.
House hunting continues apace. We think that we've found our dream house, and we've been pre-approved for a home loan of mind-boggling size -- now it's a matter of contacting our agent and finding out how much he thinks that we can lowball these people by (or lower-ball, at least; I don't think we'll be getting any great bargains here in SoCal), while hoping that the house doesn't sell out from under us. And in the meantime, we're driving around to different neighborhoods every day and looking at other houses, searching for other good dream-house candidates just in case the house does sell out from under us, or in case the sellers counter our lowball offer with a counter $20,000 over their original asking price (or in case the house turns out to be termite-infested, and so on ...)
Nobody is anybody in LA without a cell phone and a car, and I'm halfway there: after some back-and-forth with AT&T Wireless (including one customer-service call that ended with the "service" rep dumping me off by saying "and if you have any problems, just go to our special website" -- a special website! I'm going to get the elite treatment I deserve! -- "W W W DOT A T T -- that's just 'AT&T', without the, um, 'thing' in the middle -- WIUUURLESS DOT CAWM. 'attwireless' is all one word." Gee, thanks!) But despite those initial problems, Shelby and I had spiffy flip phones with color screens delivered to us yesterday; Shelby's phone even has a camera. I'm sure that you'll be seeing lots of fuzzy Beagle phonecam pics on the Web as soon as we work out all of the hows-and-whats of phone operation.
I don't have a car yet, though -- my car failed its smog test. Its emissions levels were just fine, but the "CHECK ENGINE" light was on -- and apparently ignoring your Check Engine light is an unpardonable sin, an instant-fail transgression. So now it's off being repaired; soon I'll find out just how much an error code of "P0113 IAT CKT High Input" is going to cost me. Which is hopefully not very much -- my car has a special talent of needing expensive repairs at the exact time that we're most not feeling like spending extraneous money. I guess that it feels neglected and is calling out for attention in its own particular way ...
Well, I just finished my first hands-across-the-ocean conference call with the Hamburg team, and it was horrible -- voice-quality wise, at least. Speakerphone on their end + transatlantic link + cordless phone on my end does not for clarity and understanding make.
Phone connections between the US and Germany can be a real crapshoot; most of the time they're decent, sometimes they sound better than if you'd called someone in your own city, and sometimes they're horrifying, with rising and falling static and crosstalk from other peoples' conversations drifing in. Today was one of those days. As for the phone, perhaps Shelby's parents have an oldstyle corded phone stashed in a box somewhere; if not, I think that I'll have to go out and buy one before next Monday.