Asheviller: Ron and Valerie Move to Asheville…

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Dec '11

Western North Carolina Report – Our Yearly Christmas Letter


Signed, Sealed, Delivered

March 8, 2011 was a very good day. That afternoon, with the aroma of fresh landscape bark and drying paint wafting through the air, the moving vans arrived at our newly completed home and after a long, arduous, twenty-six months, our relocation from Seattle was complete. Okay, okay, it wasn’t quite complete (more on that, below) but it was close enough to declare victory. We were officially moved in!

The whole construction process went very well. There were a few gotcha’s and a few coulda-shoulda-woulda’s and we ended up taking eleven months instead of the planned ten, but all-in-all everything turned out great. Valerie still calls it “Ron’s house” but she kinda likes her mega-sized pantry, great kitchen, and outdoor pizza oven. We both especially love the screened porch and spent nearly every summer evening out there reading, watching TV, and listening to the cicadas.

Camp Bell – We Hardly Knew Ya

Although March 8 was a milestone for moving into our new home, we did have the little matter of selling good ol’ Camp Bell, our temporary fixer-upper house on the other side of town. Although Camp Bell had good bones, it was vintage 1975 and was fairly rough around the edges. We spent a year-plus in remodel hell (there, I said it) painting, grouting, spackling, flooring, fixing, wiring, plumbing, landscaping, etc. Our goal was to make Camp Bell spotless and move-in-ready so it would stand out from the many other comparable houses for sale in the area.

Over the year we watched the real estate sales numbers decline and cringed at our prospects. The move didn’t kill us, the construction didn’t kill us, the remodel of Camp Bell didn’t kill us, but sitting on an unsold Camp Bell in a tanking market for who-knows-how-long might do us in.

Well…Camp Bell went on the market on Monday, April 11. There was a showing on Saturday, April 16. We had an offer on Sunday, April 17. And, we closed the deal on Tuesday, May 17, five weeks after Camp Bell went up for sale. With the right house in perfect condition in the right neighborhood at the right price being marketed by a super real estate agent it is possible to sell a house in today’s tough market!

Unfinished Business

We’re not sure what took longer, packing 369 boxes or unpacking them. Needless to say, you know what we’ve been doing since we moved in. The phrase “Hey, do you remember this thing!?” has been said too many times to count. As of last week there was still one unopened box under the living room bench seat. It has a label on it so we could look up what’s inside, but, as they say, if we haven’t needed it by now…

One thing that contributed to our long unpacking process was that we chose not to finish the workshop when we finished the house. Ron had planned to work on it, himself, but March became July became September and he finally (with Valerie’s prodding) decided to just let Steve, our builder, finish it. Wow! That was a great decision. Steve does awesome finish work and the shop came out way better than we expected! We’ve spent the last few weeks unpacking those boxes, putting away long lost tools, and getting ready to be crafty, again.

Our Local Fauna – Bear and Delinquents

Although our house is just one mile from downtown Asheville we live in the woods. Lots are large and homes are sparse and the further you go up Town Mountain towards the Blue Ridge Parkway the fewer people and the more wildlife you see. Turkey, fox, coyote, bobcat, and black bear are common sights. In the late summer and fall as the bear search for food they become a bit too common. We had bear within peach-throwing distance of our house or along Serena’s walk nearly every day. Ron had to shoo one away that was sitting in our front yard eating berries off a bush, and Serena, on two occasions, chased one down the street. They are skittish and will respond to yelling and hand waving but it is a bit unnerving to walk out the door or round a bend in the road and happen upon a 250lb bear sitting there staring at you.

While the bear come from the woods, our other local fauna, delinquents, comes from downtown. We live in the only house on a dead-end street about 500’ from the end. The dead-end was created in 1977 when Interstate 240 was cut through the mountain and split Vance Gap Road. Our neighbors tell us that since then our street has been a magnet for mischief-makers. Luckily, we only had one incident during construction when someone stole the American flag from our front porch.

Wait, what? Someone stole your flag? Yep. It was a she, last January, in the dark of night. She ripped it from the flagpole and ran back to her car. We caught the whole thing with our security cameras. Ron reported it to channel 13 and sent them the video. Next thing we know the news crew is out front and Ron is being interviewed on TV to tell the sordid tale. They ran the story, “Our Top Story, Tonight”, for several days. The thief was never caught, but hopefully, with her picture splattered all over the TV, she and her family were thoroughly embarrassed.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor

Our neighborhood is not all bear and delinquents. The people who live here are fantastic and are a good match for us. Everyone’s laid back, friendly and inviting. Being on a quiet street, we have dog walkers going by the house throughout the day – Serena likes that. Wayne and Sally hold fantastic, over-the-top, dinner parties. We held a tamalada (a tamale making party) and have had neighbors over for ribs and pizza. Ron’s found a couple BBQ buddies and Valerie will be looking at starting a Town Mountain Book Club.

A Walk in the Woods

With our relocation fun behind us and our hiking boots unpacked we were able to get out and explore the area this summer. Every Friday the Blue Ridge Parkway rangers hold guided hikes on trails along the parkway and we made it out for at least a half dozen. The rangers talk about the history of the area, the geology of the region, and the plants and animals we might see. This was a great way for us to learn about the mountains of North Carolina and to get some exercise as well. We also went hiking several times on our own. One of our favorite hikes was on the Laurel River Trail, and old abandoned railroad bed, near the North Carolina/Tennessee line. On that hike we got to check something unique off our bucket list: “Saw a live rattlesnake in the wild!”

Other fun things we did…Asheville Tourist Baseball, Brewgrass Beer Festival, Texas Instruments/Siemens reunion, Ribfest, Asheville Food and Wine Festival, Western North Carolina Chef’s Challenge, Biltmore House, Grove Park Inn Gingerbread Festival, Belle Chere Summer Festival, Southern Highlands Craft Guild Show, Big Crafty, numerous plays and shows at the Diane Wortham Theatre, and last but not least…Discount Shoes! Hey, even Ron has been seen shopping there!

Miles and Smiles

It had been a long long time since we had been on a vacation so we made it a point to get away this year. Our first trip was to visit Cara and Mike in Phoenix. We had a great time doing the educational-tourist thing visiting Meteor Crater and the Titan Missile Museum (two must see sights). We got our vortex spiritual fulfillment walking around Sedona and, Cara and Mike, being fellow foodies, took us to several great restaurants for hot and spicy Southwest food.

In November we returned to St. John, USVI, for ten days. It was our fourth visit! We love the place for the views, beaches, snorkeling, food, and relaxation. It’s so much easier to get to now that we’re on the east coast. We rented One Particular Harbour, a house that we stayed at in 2004, high on the hill overlooking Coral Bay. On this visit we found a couple new bays to snorkel (glad we had a Jeep) and we sampled true local food at two hole-in-the-wall restaurants – Clean Plates (love that name) and Vie’s Snack Shack. We had a surprise, but very welcome, guest this time. Valerie’s sister, Pat, called the day we arrived and said she was coming, too. To quote Southwest Airlines: “Gotta Get Away!”

In June we attended a mini-reunion of a bunch of the people we worked with at TI and Siemens. My how we’ve grown up. We were just kids back then. It was great fun reminiscing old times and hearing what everyone has been doing for the last twenty years. The common theme seems to be that they’re all very ready to become empty-nesters.

Living closer to family we had lots of visitors this year: Mom and Dad Patton (twice); Linda, Steve and Sarah; Pat and Jack; Cindy and Jeremy; Aunt Edith and Cousin Denny. We also made some family visits: Ron to San Antonio and Pittsburgh and Valerie to Indiana.

Next Year

What’s in store for next year? Hmmm…Making a trip to Seattle. Crafting in our new shop. Celebrating Ron’s big Five-Oh birthday. Volunteering. Taking classes at Blue Ridge Food Ventures. Chasing Bear. Europe? Ron might even look at finding a paying gig…

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Ron and Valerie

Jun '10


Greenwashing is the practice of describing a product as environmentally friendly when, in reality, it’s “green-ness” is highly debatable. Compact florescent bulbs are one example. Yes, they use much less electricity than incandescent bulbs, but they are made with mercury and must be properly recycled and almost require a hazmat cleanup if broken.  Bamboo flooring is another example. Bamboo is a renewable grass that grows quickly vs. local oak and maple trees, but because of its popularity, some Chinese companies are clear-cutting forests to plant it, using child labor to harvest it, and then shipping it via huge container ships thousands of miles across the ocean. Green? Maybe, maybe not, it depends on your definition of green.

Enter solar hot water heating. Way back in 1977, I entered a science fair in Pittsburgh with a model solar house. It was a crude little thing that pumped water up to the roof, dripped it down over black corrugated metal, returned it to a large tank surrounded by rock in the basement, and, if I remember the resulting heat gain, would eventually coddle the home’s occupants. It proved a point, though, that you could indeed get lots of energy from the sun for heating hot water. I won a couple awards, too.

Solar technology has come a long way since then, but it still works on the same basic concept. During the design phase of our house we left open the possibility of adding a solar hot water system to provide our hot water. In North Carolina, with a good southern exposure, solar can easily provide 100% of your hot water needs, even in the winter. The cost for such a system? Our architect has a saying, “How much can you afford to save?” What he means is, how much money are you prepared to spend now to save money in the future? A typical hot water heater, installed, is about $300. The average annual cost to heat water for a two person household is $400. A solar system that would provide 100% of our hot water would cost…$6,500 before tax credits and $3,400 after tax credits. Is it worth it to spend $3,400 now to save $400/year for the next 20 years (the expected life of the system)? Payback would be in 9 years. After that, hot water would be free, essentially saving $400/year. Not bad. If you assume that the cost of energy will continue to rise and/or you believe global warming is real and caused by pumping CO2 into the air then going solar looks even better. I’m not ready to commit, just yet, but it does appear to have potential.

Now, to the greenwashing. When I talked to the solar salesman he said that he would also quote a system that had an extra solar panel, an extra tank, and a “booster coil” that would go in the cold-air return duct of our furnace. In the winter, once our water heater was at the right temp, the excess hot water from the solar panel would be pumped into this “booster coil” to preheat the air and, ultimately, reduce our home heating bill. The theory is, don’t throw away the excess heat; dump it into your house. The cost for these add-ons: $4,000 before tax credits and $2,000 after.

If you’ve read the book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking you know all about how we make snap judgments. Our brains can work through thousands of criteria and make a decision without us realizing it. Sometimes you just know the answer without knowing how you know the answer. I was dubious that this booster coil thing was the real-deal. It just sounded hokie. So, I asked him, politely, to PROVE IT, send me the calculations that will show how many BTUs this thing would actually put into our house. I figured, hey, you’re selling it, you must know if it works.

A couple days later he emails me a page of calculations and a long disclaimer saying that they had to make lots of assumptions about our hot water usage, daily temperatures, furnace efficiency, etc. Fine, I would think that these should all be pretty well established numbers, but, whatever. So, what was the final answer? Each year the booster coil would save us 421kWh of electricity. Wow! Four hundred twenty one thousand watt hours! That’s a lot of electricity, right? Ah, no, not so much. In North Carolina (and most of the US) the average cost per kilowatt hour is 10 cents. So, the average net savings would be a whopping $42/year. A $2000 investment to save $42/year!? Payback would take over 40 years! To put it in perspective, I ran these numbers: If you replaced just 5  75-watt incandescent bulbs with 23-watt CFLs at 5 hours/day you would reduce your annual energy use by 475kWh. For $20 in bulbs you would save slightly more energy than you would by spending $2000 for this booster coil. And, I’d be willing to bet that there is way more energy spent and carbon emissions produced in its raw materials, manufacturing, transportation, and installation than will ever be saved by its use.

Mr. Solar Salesman and I had a long talk. He’s a very passionate environmentalist. I’m a skeptic. After an hour of discussion we basically agreed to disagree. He did concede that the booster coil might not make sense for us (I can’t figure how it makes sense for anyone) but he feels that we should all be doing whatever we can to save the planet – replace the bulbs and get the booster coil. I think you need to look at the big picture and consider the feasibility and practicality as well as the costs, especially the ROI. Valerie put it more succinctly: “If someone came to you and said they had a small black box that would sit in your back yard and would power, for free, five light bulbs for twenty years, you’d probably be intrigued. If they told you that it costs $4000 ($2000 after tax credits) you’d tell them they were crazy.”

Solar hot water probably meets my bar. A solar booster coil for whole-house heating—that’s Greenwashing!

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Mar '10

A House Built Over Time

I’ve finally gotten around to posting our house plans so y’all can see what we’re building. Below is the front view, facing east. The overall architectural concept is that of a house built over time. We didn’t come up with this, our architect did, but it seems to work well given all the wish list items we wanted in our house. The center of the house has a 2-story stone section that is considered the “original” structure. A 3-story stairwell is in that stoned area. Directly attached to it is the remainder of the original house that has our entry, foyer, powder, dining, and kitchen. Attached to the main section, to the north, is a shed-like section (remember, this house was built over time) that contains the Costco room (pantry), mudroom, and screened porch. The pantry is about 100sf and contains not just lots of shelves and storage but also a freezer and small upright washer/dryer. It reminds me of the addition on Valerie’s parent’s farm house that’s used as a pantry and entrance. The screened porch that connects to the house and to the deck is similar to the screened porch on my parent’s house. To the other side of the center section is an “addition” that was built some time later that contains our living room and office. Above is the master suite with a large shower and walk-in closet. Our touch is having the washer/dryer in the closet–where all the dirty clothes are–imagine that! On the lower level are two bedrooms, a smaller version of our Woodinville house game room, and the mechanical room. There’s also an unfinished room that could be finished and used as a fourth bedroom.


To the left (north) of the house is a separate garage. We really wanted this feature for two reasons. One, we think it just looks better than a house with massive garage doors on the front. Many of the houses in Seattle (and ours was one of them) have two or even three garage doors front-and-center, often making them larger than the rest of the house’s facade. Yuk. And, two, having a separate garage is much better for indoor air quaility. If the garage is attached to the house that’s typically where the furnace is placed. You pull in with your car, turn off the engine and close the garage doors. All that carbon monoxide and other gases spewing from your car then get sucked into the furnace and circulated into your house. Double yuk. We think that having the garage connected to the house via a breezeway that leads to a mudroom and pantry will make it just as convenient as having the garage as part of the house but without the negatives. Our workshop/art studio is under the garage and is accessible from the lower level of the house under the breezeway.

A couple other things to note…We are on a steep hillside which is why we ended up having three levels. For that reason, and because WE ARE NEVER MOVING AGAIN, we have an elevator shaft. Someday, if we need it, we can have an elevator installed. For now, we’ll have three extra closets. Also, because of the steepness, we need to create our front yard. We are building a concrete “tub” from the road to the front of the house and filling it in. On top of that tub will be our driveway, walk, and front yard. One cool feature our architect designed is a bridge that leads from the side of the tub to our front door. Standing there, visitors will be able to wonder how the heck this house was built on such a steep hill. Other tidbits…2997 square feet plus the garage; metal roof; pre-painted fiber-cement siding; 9′ ceilings; 6′ high windows in the back to take in the view; cherry cabinets and trim; several built-in bench window seats; two levels of deck; and many many other little features that we’ve noted and wanted “over time”.

Main Floor Plan   Upper Floor Plan   Lower Floor Plan   Front Elevation   Rear Elevation   Side Elevations

P.S. Today is an anniversary. Twenty one years ago, today, March 17, 1989, we moved into our just complete house in Johnson City, TN.

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Jan '10

Hurry Up And Wait

We keep getting asked, “So, when do you break ground?” Well, probably, February 23. We’ve had a couple permitting wrinkles with the City. Steve, our architect, says that Asheville aspires to be Seattle as far as regulations and red tape go. He keeps apologizing for the delay, but we aren’t fretting it. Compared to Seattle and King County, this is nothing.

One problem is that there is a difference of opinion as to the minimum setback from the street right-of-way to the house. We are “correctly” assuming that it’s 18′ as opposed to the normal 35′. The developer got this reduced setback approved when he built the subdivision because the lots were so steep. Otherwise all the homes would have to be built with very steep driveways and with their garages underneath in the basement. Unfortunately, the City seems to have lost their record of approving this reduced setback. So, we had to ask, again, for the 18′ variance and cited on our application the date that the approval was previously granted. It should be a rubber stamp to get this but the variance committee doesn’t meet until February 22.

The other problem is that there are strict rules for building on steep slopes above 2500′ elevation. A few years back a couple developers and builders clear cut several ridge lines and put in monstrous condos and McMansions that became real eye sores. Recently, there have been a few houses that have slid down the slopes because they weren’t properly engineered. In 2006 the City instituted strict rules for everything from colors to reflectivity to engineering to height. Because of the slope of our lot and because our garage is detached, the garage roof is considered to be too high per the guidelines. So, we need to get a variance and the variance committee doesn’t meet until, drum roll, February 22.

Our architect and builder have met with the powers-that-be and filled out all the appropriate papers and paid all the appropriate bribes fees. We have been assured that everything will be approved, which makes me wonder why we need to go through the all trouble, but, alas, the City has a few more $$ in its coffer and we need to wait until February 22 to get the “formal” okay. No way around it.

In the mean time, we’re waiting on our construction mortgage approval and an okay of our plans from the subdivision developer. The surveyor was out, today, marking the corners of the foundation so we can visualize where the house will eventually sit (and adjust the location as necessary). We can do anything and everything except break ground. February 23, or shortly thereafter, is the day.

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Dec '09

A Little of Everything

Our friends Luis and Jolie visited Tuesday evening through Saturday morning. Luis’ mom lives in the Raleigh area and they visited her for a few days before coming over to Asheville and then heading back there for a few more days. While they were here we checked out the Gingerbread houses at the Grove Park Inn. The top 10 finalists in each category were simply amazing. Valerie was considering entering next year until we learned that many of the entrants spend 600+ hours working on their houses. That’s a bit much and hard to compete with. We also went to the Biltmore to see the decorated house. It was nice but I don’t think really remarkable – except for the 35′ tree in the banquet hall! Now, that’s a tree. We’ll try to go back for the Candlelight tour where they have choirs singing European carols, vintage ballroom dancers, and dramatic Christmas readings. That’s the nice thing about the annual pass, we can go as often as we want.

Today. we’re back to painting the bedrooms, hallway, and bathrooms of Camp Bell.

The escrow company has FedEx’d our closing paperwork. It should arrive on Monday. We sign and FedEx it back. The buyers sign and on the 21st we become renters of 13404 184th AVE NE. Incomprehensible.

We met with Steve Farrell, our architect, and Steve Williams, our builder, to knock out a few details and discuss the path forward. We may go for permit this month just to get the ball rolling and could start construction in late January. We need to meet again early next week. Still lots to do. 

We stopped in at one bank that our builder has worked with. I wasn’t too impressed with them and will talk to a couple more this coming week about their construction/mortgage programs. Interest rates are at an all-time-low and we’ll never see money this cheap again. Need to take advantage of it and lock in before rates go up to pay for TARP and Obamacare.

We and Serena have an appointment on Tuesday morning at Happy Tails Country Club to see if Serena would be a good fit to stay there while we go back to Seattle in January to pack and move. They seem to be pretty thorough and don’t take just any dog – and that’s a good thing! Our decision as to where we leave from and where Serena stays for our 2-week Seattle trip will be made after our visit.

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Aug '09


Here are a few other titles for this post: 

“Say What?”
“Just when you thought it was safe”
“Houston, we have a problem”
“Whoda Thunk?”
“Not so fast”
“Wow, I didn’t see that coming”
“You can’t always get what to wa-ant” (apologies to the Rolling Stones)
“What a mess”
“What now?”
“You’re serious?”
“The best laid plans of mice and men so often go astray”
“We were going to stop in Spokane, anyway”
“It’s only heart surgery”

Are you sitting down? The short story is that our cross-country driving trip is off and instead I’m going to have heart surgery ASAP in Spokane. No joke.

First a bit of background. When I was 24 and living in Johnson City, TN, I went for my first real physical outside of little Edinburg, PA. The doctor comes in, does his pleasantries, puts his stethoscope on my chest, listens, listens again, moves it around, says “hmmm,” listens some more, stands back and says, “do you know you have a heart murmur?” Never had a clue. He then asks if I would mind if his interns could listen because “it’s pretty pronounced.” A few minutes later in walk several interns, same age as me, who proceed to listen to my chest as the doctor explains what they should listen for. Fast forward to nearly every visit with a new doctor I’ve had since. Same scenario, though not always with interns. I’m told it’s nothing to worry about, that it sounds like a leaky Mitral Valve, that 5% of the people have it, and since I’m not having any symptoms (shortness of breath, dizziness, etc) that I’m fine.

Now, on a parallel track I’ve also had marginally high blood pressure — 140/90ish. I’ve never done anything for it. Doctors have always said to watch it and if it ever got higher we’d address it. Three years ago it started to creep up to 150/95ish and I had a couple instances of heart palpitation. Two years ago I went for a physical. After the nurse took my BP and the doctor (and a couple interns) listened to my heart he told me that I needed to see a cardiologist, that my high BP, my murmur, and my palpitations were likely related. Valerie had been trying to get me to go for a while so this was the push I needed.

I month later I go see a cardiologist, Rubin Maidan. After a short listen to my heart he schedules me for a stress test, electrocardiogram (EKC), and an echocardiogram. A week later I’m on the table, and on the treadmill, and on the table again while the doctor and his technician watch the EKG and the images of my heart on the screen in normal and stressed conditions. The diagnosis: MVP (Mitral Valve Prolapse with regurgitation), a very leaky mitral valve with maybe 30% regurgitation and an enlarged heart. Translation: the heart valve between the left atrium and left ventricle goes past its normal closed position and 30% of the blood flows back through. My heart has to work harder to compensate so it’s enlarging and my blood pressure is increasing. My enlarged heart is also stretching out the electrical pathways and that could be causing my occasional atrial fibrillation (A-fib). Several times during the test they ask me if I have any shortness of breath or light headedness. Nope. I do my 12 minutes on the treadmill no problem. Pretty good for a guy whose heart is only operating at 70%. I’m now on a yearly test schedule to see if my heart gets worse over time.

Last summer I have the test again. Over the previous 12 months I logged 5 instances of A-fib. The doctor thinks that’s acceptable — but if they go longer than 24 hours, I need to go to the ER. My heart looks unchanged. Blood pressure is down a bit. That’s good and is probably due to me walking every day and taking Lycopene. I will probably, eventually, maybe need to get the valve fixed in my lifetime, but for now it’s unchanged. Come back next year.

Over the last year I’ve only had 3 episodes of A-fib, though one was nearly 24 hours (see 20th Anniversary). My blood pressure is great at 120/70ish. I feel fine. I briskly walk with Serena at least 45 minutes a day. Last week we hiked around Cougar Mountain. Did I mention that I feel fine? Today’s test should be routine. Valerie didn’t come because I was so sure I was fine. We leave on Sunday for our 6+ week roadtrip to Asheville. Ha Ha Ha. Curveball.

The technician, the same one I’ve had the last two times, isn’t her usual chatty self. While she’s doing the ultrasound she asks me repeatedly if I’m ever short of breath or dizzy. Nope. I ask her what she sees (as we know, she’s not allowed to say). She says that she needs to go outside to log her measurements, get the doctor, and that she’ll be right back. They come in and Dr. Maidan asks me if I’m ever short of breath or dizzy. No, again. He and the tech peer over the screen and start talking medicaleeze. I hear “maxed out”, “new jet”, “increase over last year by a centimeter.” Hmmm. I get on the treadmill and begin to walk. Every minute or so it increases in speed and elevation so that by 10 minutes I’m jogging up hill at a pretty good clip. The goal is 12 minutes — which I easily did the last two years. As the minutes tick by I’m doing fine. The doctor comes in and out. I can carry on a (slightly winded) conversation. The nurse takes my BP three times. It’s fine. My heart rate hits 186 at 12 minutes and the technician reminds me that I did 12 minutes last year and wants to know if I want to try for more. At this point I think I have an idea where things are going, I need to man up and prove that I’m healthy, so I say “sure, lets go” and I run full out, up hill, for another minute and a half. Then I quickly jump off the treadmill onto the exam table where she does an ultrasound of my stressed heart.

Dr. Maiden comes back in to look at the screen where the tech has placed non-stressed and stressed images of my heart. There are two view angles for each and they are running in an endless loop of a few beats. He toggles between that view and one with color doppler (think weather radar) that shows blood flow direction, red one way and blue the other. After a minute or so he swivels the stool around, clasps his hands, looks me in the eye and says, “I’m sorry, but it’s time. You need to have your valve fixed. Your heart has enlarge 1cm over the last year. It’s now the same size at rest as it is when stressed. A second  area of regurgitation has formed because the original one has maxed out. I recommend doing this sooner than later. One year would be too long, six months too long, three months max, one month better.” Yikes! 

We discuss the fact that I feel fine. That I can do 13+ minutes on the treadmill. He tells me that most patients with my level of valve failure can’t climb a flight of stairs. My heart is compensating but it’s reached the point where it can’t compensate any more. And, my lower blood pressure may be the result of my heart not being able to keep up. It’s possible, after I get the valve fixed, that I’ll have high blood pressure again.

We talk about the valve repair surgery. He recommends getting it done in Spokane. A Dr. Leland Siwek there does it robotically through 4 dime-sized incisions. He’s done several hundred repairs this way. In hicksville Seattle they still do it the old fashioned way by sawing and cracking your chest open. Apparently, Dr. Siwek is pretty well know for this surgery. Dr. Maiden will send my info to Dr. Siwek. I need to schedule an angiogram to get a detailed map of my heart. And, I may need additional tests, but we need to hear from Dr. Siwek to see if he wants them.

So, I don’t know when this will all happen. But, it will happen soon, probably in September. We, obviously aren’t leaving on our road trip to Asheville on Sunday. We don’t know what this means for selling our house. It does mean that no matter what we won’t start construction this fall — but that wasn’t happening until we sell the house, anyway. It’s all quite the Curveball.

More coming as I learn it.

P.S. Here’s a video that talks all about the valve problem and the robotic surgery.

P.S.S. Another video from Cleveland Clinic about mitral valve repair using robotics.

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Jul '09

Choosing a Builder

The purpose of our Asheville trip was to interview our two finalist builders and work with them to “squeeze a few more dollars” out of the price of construction. It was a mentally, and somewhat emotionally, grueling process.

Builder SW is a one-man operation. He’s been building in western North Carolina for over 20 years. He usually has 1-2 houses going at a time. We’ve been in two of his houses. He does nice work. He’s an honest, hardworking, caring guy. Valerie noted that he calls his homes by the owner’s names. He’s not “corporate” meaning he doesn’t have a website or bound booklets with pictures of his work. He does his bids in Word and not Excel. He typically builds houses in our price range. He and his wife live about 1/2 mile from our lot.

Builder EM is a step up in size. They have several employees including project managers and site supervisors. They’ve been building in WNC for 20+ years, too, and have several houses going at once. They have a reputation for doing very nice work and although we didn’t visit any of their houses they have lots of pictures on their website and in their booklet that demonstrate their quality. They are more “corporate” in their approach. According to our architect, they typically build higher-end homes than ours. Their office is about 30 minutes away and they usually build in the next county over.

I mentioned in a previous post that the bids have come in a bit high and that these two builders, though having almost identical final bids, arrived at them in different ways. Concrete was higher on one, lower on the other. Decking higher on one, lower on the other. EM has a site supervisor for $20,000 and SW doesn’t but he makes up that $$ elsewhere. We wanted to work with each of them to figure out ways to cut costs. Our architect would give up some, we would give up some, and we wanted them to give up some.  

We had hoped that throughout their 2+hour interview/meeting one of them would stumble and make our decision easy. It didn’t happen. They both have pluses and minuses. They both have good chemistry with us. I think we could hire either and get a great house and have a great construction process.

They left the meetings with action items to calculate price reductions for the various things we discussed. Our selection may simply come down to who wants it more as demonstrated by their lower price on this go ’round. We’re waiting for the results…

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Jul '09

The Bids Are In

The bids for building our house are in and my first impression is that I don’t think the Asheville builders (and subs and suppliers) are starving. One of the bids is WAY high (bye bye, thanks for playing) and the other two are approximately 7% over our maximum price. Argh.

One of those bids is by a builder we’ve already met. Call him W. Nice guy. One-man operation. Builds 2-3 homes/year. Doesn’t do spec houses (so he’s not sitting on unsold inventory and potentially insolvent). And, he lives less than 1 mile from our lot. The other builder, two guys – call them E&M, is a mid-sized company. They build several homes a year. They have an office, small staff, website, and have $$ in the bid for a site supervisor.

Steve, our architect is suprised that E&M priced it where they did. He says they are high-end builders and he only asked them to bid as a data point to compare with the other bids. It turns out they were the low bidders, beating Builder W by $2000.

What’s interesting is that although the final costs are virtually identical, the underlying numbers are not. I needed to figure out how that happened but the bids, as they are written, are apples to oranges. Each builder divided and grouped things differently. For example, you can’t directly compare the excavation costs because one builder has a single number for all excavation and the other broke it out into clearing and grading, foundation, utility ditches, etc. I had to see how they got to their numbers so I built a spreadsheet, input all their numbers, and grouped them into like buckets. The result was very revealing.

Remember that E&M have a site supervisor in their bid. He’s $20,000. W does not since he’s on site every day. But E&M is charging much less for their concrete work and make up that difference. It’s the same thing across the board. One charges more for decking but less for roofing, more for stucco but less for cultured stone. After three pages, though, it all averages out to almost the same final price. If we could pull out the low priced line items from each bid and hire a mythical 3rd builder we’d be in good shape.

Anyway, we now need to do what our architect calls “value engineering” — otherwise known as cost-cutting. We need to select a builder and then work with him to identify areas that we can cut to shave 7-10% from the overall cost without sacrificing our dream house. Time to get out the meat cleaver carving knife.

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Jun '09

Details Details Details

I spent the day examining the latest draft of our house plans. This is the set that was sent to three builders for bids. It’s not 100% (as you’ll see, below) but it’s close enough for them to work up pretty close bids. Once we select a builder, we can iron out the details, make minor tweaks, and he can then adjust his price accordingly on the the final draft. We’ll also work with this builder to do what our architect calls “value engineering” — translated, that means figuring out where and what we can cut to get closer to our budget.

The interesting thing about this project is that we are working with an architect via FedEx, E-mail, and phone. We’ve only met in person four times. That’s one reason that it’s taken nearly eight months to get to this point. Whenever Steve sends us a new draft of the plans we review it and comment on it. Steve takes our comments, sometimes he calls to discuss them, and rolls them into the next draft. To give you an idea of the process, I copied, below, the comments that I’m sending Steve tomorrow on  just one page of our plans. There are 15 pages. You’ll see why this is a non-trivial project…

1. Need some sort of crawlspace access under the Shop and under the House. Best place is probably under the deck.
2. Shop Door #107 is drawn as a 3'-0" but scheduled as a 2'-8". Should be 3'-0".
3. Shop Sink should be double basin utility.
4. The subpanel in the shop can be placed at the electrician's discretion for minimum cost in either the shop or the garage.
5. A1.1 correctly shows no windows on the east Shop wall but Window #70 on A2.1 needs to be removed to reflect that.
6. Why is there an "extra" deck rail post (denoted by "EQ.A") in A1.1 and A1.2? It is not shown on A2.1. We prefer not to have it.
7. The post under the Breezeway is not directly under the center post above it (and the three posts above need to be changed to one post. See A1.2.).
8. Put a hose bib (2 of 4) at Bath #2 shower exterior wall
9. Need a note stating that one 220V/30A circuit and one 110V/15A circuit are to be run to and terminated at the elevator shaft pit in crawl space.
10. Change elevator note to say "8" Pit" instead of "6" Pit". There are some elevators that only require 6" but many are 8". Don't want to be limited in the future.
11. Family Deck Door #101 is drawn as a 2'-8" but scheduled as a 3'-0". Space limits it to 2'-8" so change the schedule to 2'-8".
12. The dimensions lines 4'-0" and 8'-4" are not correctly denoting the center of Door #101. They seem to be remnants from a previous door position/size. Remove or correct them.
13. Three east Family Room windows are shown on A1.1 . Four windows are shown in Dining on A2.1. Need to eliminate Window #64 from A2.1 and Schedule.
14. Move Door #102 to the west to line up with Door #105. This eliminates the conflict between an open Door #102 and Closet Door #116. Having two doors side-by-side probably not cool so we're okay with eliminating Closet Door #105 and making this 12" deep open shelves. Expand Closet #116 slightly to the west to fill in the space.
15. Door #111 can be 2'-8" (currently drawn and scheduled as 3'-0"). The max size exterior door into this level is 2'-8" so that's the biggest piece of equipment that can come in.
16. Door #112 is drawn as a 2'-8" but scheduled as a 2'-6". Should be 2'-6".
17. Eliminate Door 115 (elevator) and make it a 3'-0" cased opening. A pinball machine is going in that hole.
18. At Door #109 (under stairs) what is the clearance at 32" into the opening? I'd like to put a 7' tall phone booth in there. If it will fit, then eliminate Door #109 and make it a 2'-8" cased opening.
19. Bedroom #3 Closet Door #113 can be some sort of French door but only if it won't conflict with an open Door #112.
20. In Bathroom #3, flip the tub so the faucet/drain is on east side - easier access.
21. Put a hose bib (3 of 4) at northwest corner near solar water heater placeholders.
22. Put a hose bib (4 of 4) anywhere at crawlspace wall under Bedroom #2.

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May '09

The Asheville Tourists

Yesterday and today are a bit of a blur. We unpacked a few boxes but left most sealed as there was nothing in them that we needed. The neighbors came by—Gwendolyn and her two kids next door, Lee and Megan and their two kids across the street, and Sophia (70-ish widow) next to them. Dad hit it off with Sophia! She claims to be the cul-de-sac watchdog and told us not to worry about our house and the stuff inside. I believe her! We didn’t meet the 80-ish widow next door on the other side but were told by all three neighbors (in a hushed whisper) that she doesn’t spend much time at the house, that she has a boyfriend in the subdivision that she stays with most of the time. Small neighborhood.

Yesterday (Wednesday) we had lunch at 12 Bones with Shelle and later went to a Tourists game. Yep, that’s right, the minor league baseball team in Asheville is call the “Tourists.” So appropriate you gotta love it. The great thing is that Wednesdays are “Senior Nights” and all seniors get in for free. They also get 20% of merchandise. So, we walked up and got two box seats, five rows behind the home team dugout, for just the price of my ticket—$10. Thursday nights are “Thirsty Thursdays” and all draft beers, even microbrews, are $1. Cool town.

Dad enjoying the game  Ted E. the Tourists' Mascot

Today we woke up to a problem. There was water in the basement. Argh. It rained overnight and although there is a recently installed fancy perimeter drain around the basement walls, water was coming up through the concrete under the stairs and running into the center of the house and garage. Lovely. Luckily we moved our ladders so Dad and I checked out the gutters. They were all clogged with pine needles, but not enough that I was sure that was the problem. I cleaned them out and then poured a 5-gallon bucket of water on the roof to wash out the last bits of debris. Lo and behold much of the water ran behind the gutter and straight down to the ground rather than into the gutter. On closer inspection I saw that the shingles did not extend over the gutter, just up to it. Doh! This has probably been going on for years (since the roof was reshingled in 2005) and the water problem and the need for the fancy drainage system may have been due to this. We formulated a plan to buy and install flashing up under the shingles to create a 1-2″ extension/lip over the gutter. This afternoon we installed it and all the water poured from a 5-gallon bucket now runs into the gutter. Fingers crossed, this has fixed the water problem. Time will tell.

This afternoon, between buying the supplies for the gutter repair and installing them, I met for four hours with Steve, our architect. He had several pages of questions. Luckily Valerie and I had already discussed most of the topics and I was able to answer for both of us but there were several that we need to think about and get back to Steve next week. We are getting close to submitting to builders for bids. If we nail down some details that could happen in two weeks. They then have three weeks to respond. Steve continues to say that now is the time to build. Contractors, even the good ones, are hungry and willing to deal on price. Hope so!

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Apr '09

Elevator 1, Kitchen Seat 0

Our lot on Vance Gap is on a steep hillside. To make our future house work we needed it to be three stories – master suite on the top level, kitchen/dining/living on the main level, and two bedrooms and the game room below. Since we plan to “age” in this house (as well as having “aging” parents visit) we have allocated space for an elevator. We aren’t putting in the elevator, just framing in the 3-story shaft. When we eventually need an elevator we can have one installed. For now there will be three large closets.

Until last week, our architect has held a placeholder space in the plans for the shaft. The dimensions were “typical.” Well, last week he discussed the details of our design with the folks at Asheville Elevator and it turns out that for our 3-story elevator we’ll need more space.

When Steve first drew our kitchen he threw in a bench seat along the back wall (between the elevator and the oven). We had never thought of such a thing but it’s one of his trademarks and he said people love them because someone can sit in the kitchen and watch the cook, cook. We weren’t sure about it, but it grew on us and we decided to keep it. Well…with the expansion of the elevator shaft, the seat is now too small to be practical so it’s going going gone. Valerie will work on her kitchen design this weekend but that area will most likely become counter space for a coffee/beverage nook. That’s okay, we wanted such an area but it was an interesting progression from never thinking of a kitchen seat, to seeing it, to thinking it’s kind of cool, to making it part of the plan, and then losing it. Oh, well, such is house design. Now you’ll be able to make coffee and sit at the bar, instead.

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Apr '09

Windows – and not the MSFT kind

I haven’t discussed our house design much but some of that is coming later this week or early next week when we get a bunch more stuff from our architect, Steve. Also I’ll post some info on how we’re going to approach our contract with a builder. But for now…the issue of the day is casement, double hung, slider, or awning?

We had initially ruled our casement (that’s the kind with two latches and the crank) because of the crank, the fact that your open window is open to the elements, and that the breeze won’t come in if your window is pointed the “wrong” way. But, they are very energy efficient and they have another plus that I’ll mention in a minute.

We decided to go with double hung (two panes, top and bottom, and each pane slides up or down). They look good, especially with muntins in the top window and don’t have the problems that casement have…but we discovered a problem that we can’t live with – one of those little things you think about when designing a house that Joe the Building completely overlooks.

The back of the house is all about the view. We’re going to have 9′ ceilings and 6′ high windows so that you’ll be able to stand and look out a massive wall of glass. With double hungs the rail between the two panes is half way up the window. So…if the bottom of the window is at 24″ + 36″ for half the window height, the dividing rail will be at 60″ or 5′. Anyone between 5′-6″ and 6′-0″ tall standing just back from the windows and looking out and down would look right into the rail.

Since the view is the most important thing, we are switching to casement for the back of the house and will go with double hung in the rest of the house, except for some awnings in the stairwell and maybe the master bathroom.

And the reason we aren’t doing sliders (as we have in our Woodinville house) – they supposedly are terribly energy inefficient and our architect says that they just “scream 1970′s”.

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Apr '09

65 Boxes and Counting

We’ve packed 65 boxes so far. Looking around I’m scared to think how many we’ll eventually have. 300 maybe? There’s a line in Jimmy Buffet’s song, One Particular Harbor:

But now times are rough
And I got too much stuff
I can't explain the likes of me

The ABF truck arrives two weeks from today. We have lots of packing to go.

Meanwhile…the house inspector report came yesterday and I have a few little jobs to do. There are a couple places where the mulch around the house has been touching the siding and the siding has rotted. I need to get some new siding, tear off the old stuff, and replace and paint the new. A woodpecker has apparently been pecking at one of our deck post tops and made a nice hole that needs repairs. And, there are three outlets that should be GFCI that aren’t (two have always been that way and the other is new code but for $6 I’ll fix it). That’s all probably a day of work but needs to be done before May 1 so I can then pack my tools.  We also have two windows that need replaced in our bedroom because broken seals have let moisture in and etched the inside of the glass and there’s a broken slider window in the Living room. Those will be $$$ but I won’t have to do the work.

And…we should be getting a package from Steve, our architect, tomorrow with lots of stuff – CAD drawings, exterior perspective sketches,  interior views, etc. We’ll need to review all that over the next week.  

Valerie’s ready to start construction NOW. She said so.

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Mar '09

Long time, no bloggie…

It’s been a while but I’ve been super busy and just couldn’t find the time to blog. From February 26 through March 4, I was in San Antonio visiting my two, going on three-year-old, niece (and my sister, brother-in-law, and step-niece). What a cutie – and smart, too! Then, Friday through yesterday, our friends Cara and Mike were in town visiting from Phoenix. We had a very interesting dinner at Culinary Communion. The theme was eggs.  Let’s just say, it was the most daring stuff we’ve ever eaten.

So, what’s happened over the last 10 days? Valerie did an awesome job re-doing the powder room with new countertop tile, vessel sink and faucet, and new paint and Venetian plaster. Just a couple odds and ends are needed to finish it up. It looks FANTASTIC – hope the potential buyers think so, too.

We received a bid for a couple repairs (what we thought were the most expensive ones) on the white house. We have a buy-as-is contract with a $3000 limit. Adding up the contractor bids plus material costs and my labor (at a measly $20/hour) to fix the rest of the items on the list we’re over $8600.  Ouch. It would easily be over $10,000 if all the work was contracted out. We’re sending an itemized spreadsheet to the seller’s agent today with no actual request, just the info. We want him to chew on it to see if and how he responds – “let’s negotiate” or “hell, no!” If he doesn’t respond by tomorrow, our contract deadline, we’ll send him our offer. If this deal falls through, we’ll probably rent  – maybe this same house…

We’ve been reviewing the latest draft from Steve, our architect. It’s mighty close and the footprint might now be locked down. There are just a couple interior nudges, nips, and tucks to do and we sent that list last night. Hopefully Steve can get us another (dare I say final?) draft to take with us to Maui on the 24th. Last week Steve also sent a very rough draft of the 119 page specification document for review. Getting those details down will be the next step.

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Feb '09

Oh my gosh we’re about to buy a house

It sunk in yesterday afternoon that this is all about to happen. Up until now we could have put the property up for sale and fired the architect. Yesterday, with some signatures and initials we are weeks away from owning a “temp” house in Asheville. I picked an inspector this morning and Shelle is arranging with him to do a home inspection next week (he’ll also do a radon test and inspect for pests). We need to also arrange for an appraisal. If those come back okay we need to scrounge up some cash and arrange to pay for the thing.

Yesterday we also met with M&D, our potential agents, to sell our house. They are fantastic and, besides Shelle, are the hardest working agents we can imagine. We have not signed with them, yet, but in researching the market for us (in hopes of getting our listing) they looked at 30 houses. Wow. Yesterday they took us to three of them that they thought best represented our price-point and our competition. They were spot on. The bad news is that the prices are much lower than we would have hoped. But, if we make our house spotless, de-clutter it, and stage it (we have a stager coming on Monday) we should eek out the highest possible price. It will be sad leaving this monster (and it is a monster) because of all the work we put into it but we will be getting it all back (less the size) just the way we want it with higher quality in our new custom home.

This morning SteveF (our architect) emailed back his comments to our comments on his latest sketches. He’s mostly in agreement with our wishes – actually I think he’d agree to anything if it involved reducing the size more. The house is really taking shape. The master suite is awesome. Valerie will have her dream kitchen and pantry (we call it the Costco room). The flow is great. And…there will be a large unfinished area in the basement for Game Room #2.

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Feb '09

An offering…

On Tuesday, we re-offered (slightly higher than our rejected low-ball offer) on the “white house.”  Yesterday Shelle called to tell us that the offer was accepted on price, but the seller had a few changes he wanted to make on the terms (dates, inspection/repairs, etc). They are nothing major and ones we can accept. The downer though is that the renters have given notice and will be moving out on March 10. Rats. We wanted that income for a few months. However, if this all goes through we will now have a place to stay when we go back and won’t have to pay $100+/night for a hotel.  And, Ron can start planning a cross-country trip in a U-Haul with all the stuff we “declutter” (that’s a new verb) from our house in preparation to sell it. So, we’ll initial the changes and send the offer back. Next up will be an inspection, appraisal, and that little issue of finding a way to pay for it.

We meet with M&D (the potential agents to sell our house) again this afternoon for a follow-up interview. One of their references gave a rave review. She’s a discount real-estate agent and she gives M the houses she has trouble selling. He knows how to price them and move them. Still waiting on feedback from another refernece.

We’re also deeply engrossed in reviewing and editing the most recent draft of our house plans. More on that in tomorrow’s post.

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Feb '09

What to do? What to do?

On Tuesday the M&D (we’ll call them that for now) real estate team came by to introduce themselves and look over our house. This is the team that Shelle interviewed and referred to us as part of Beverly-Hank’s relocation service. First and last impressions…I now think there are two personality types in real estate – buyer’s agents and seller’s agents. Buyer’s agents are more touchy-feeling, calm, soft. Seller’s agents are matter-of-fact, hyper, hard. M&D are the latter – which is a good thing. Would they ever be long-time friends of ours? No. Would I fully trust them to market the heck out of our house and get the best price possible. You bet!

They spent a good hour looking over the house, being very complimentary of our upgrades and remodels (especially the basement). They said that although the market is terrible, houses can and are selling if they are priced right and show well. The trick, obviously, is getting the word out about what’s special with our house and getting people in to look at it. They wouldn’t reveal what they thought we could sell it for but they didn’t blink when I threw out a number. So, they are sending us a list of references, some sample flyers, (I think they’re a revealing example of an agent’s marketing), and we plan to get together next week to talk more. I was considering talking to a neighbor who’s an agent but she just dabbles in real estate and in this market we’re going to need a full-time, pull-out-all-the-stops, professional.

Meanwhile, we have not made a decision on the “white house” in Asheville. The seller has come down in price (see previous blog entry). It’s close to what we offered and if we choose to rent the house after we move out and wait for the economy to recover for a year or two we could get our $$ back. I’ve run the numbers and allowing for paying taxes and maintenance we could make 4% on our money if we rent the house. If it goes up in value, all the better. My goal is to live “free” for a year while our house is built. Maybe we’ll do it.

And…while all that is happening, we’re working with Steve, our architect, to tweak the current design to shave off a few square feet and to redesign the master suite and lower level. We spent a few hours of our own working on the master and sent Steve a suggestion. He says he woke in the middle of the night and came up with another option.  It should arrive via FedEx today.

And…while all that is happening, Valerie is demolishing the powder room and I’ve got the toilet/shower area of the guest bath ripped up to start our redecorating. The powder gets a new tile vanity top, sink, and faucet as well as a faux finish and repainting of the walls. The guest bath gets a new tile floor and painted walls to match the vanity area that Valerie finished last week. The toilet is now sitting in the middle of the floor in the guest bedroom. It actually looks good there!

And…while all that is happening, I’ve been going back and forth to Burien (near the airport) to monitor construction of the Red Cross supply storage building. Next weekend (not tomorrow) I’ll be wiring it for solar electric, lights, and alarm. Whew.

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Feb '09

Power Bars and Chocolate

Today was another whirlwind of a day. At 11:30 we met Steve at his office and he drove us to Camino’s Cantina in Black Mountain for a lunch meeting with a potential builder. His name is Steve, too. (For now will refer to him as SteveW and will refrain from expressing an opinion about him one way or the other.)

We chatted about the state of the building industry, builders who have gone out of business (sitting on multiple spec houses will do that), sub contractors, etc. We then drove up to see a house under construction about 2 months from completion. It was a modern house built on a tough site. It sits directly on top of a seasonal stream and has four in-floor 2′ square glass viewing portals in the floor to look down on the running water. WAY COOL and not something you could even think about doing in the Seattle area – because you might kill a fish. The general workmanship was superb – including the sheetrock work which is a Ron pet peeve.

Next we went to a house in Montreat, a vacation home area near Black Mountain where SteveW built a house that SteveF designed. It was very nicely done and had great finish work. You could tell that both of them were very proud of it and took the outcome of the house personally. We got a few ideas and raised a few more design questions, but that’s a good thing.

After we got back to the hotel we crashed a bit from mental exhaustion. We even skipped dinner and ate power bars and chocolate in the room. Then we made the decision to make an offer on the “white” house (because it’s white). We emailed Shelle the details and she started working up the offer.

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Feb '09

It’s all about compromise

Today at noon was our meeting with Steve, our architect. More on that in a minute.

We were still full from last night’s dinner so we went to Weaverville for a muffin and coffee (hot chocolate for Ron) at the Well Bread Bakery. We had some more time to kill so we checked out a place Shelle had told us about, The Screen Door. It’s sort of a consignment antique store. If you need some 4′ bellows, a section of wrought-iron fence, or one of thousands of other antique knick-knacks, this is your place. Oh, and they sell new and used books, too. Hey, it’s Asheville.

At noon we met with Steve. We had a working lunch at Tod’s Tasties and To-Go’s.  Steve had truffle Mac and Cheese, Ron had an organic burger, and Valerie had a chicken melt. All were YUM! and Valerie says it was the best tasting food she’s had on this trip.

Then…drum roll. Steve dropped the bomb. The initial, rough estimate, for our new house came in 20% higher than our goal. Ouch. But, he had a list of things that he thought would get us back in line. Fortunately, none were really painful. We had known about and discussed many of them. And, a couple of them (such as the elevator at $30,000) could be easily cut. We’ll frame for it, and if we ever need it we can add it. Another biggie is buying and contracting the installation of the cabinets, lighting fixtures, plumbing fixtures, and flooring ourselves. He felt that we could save thousands if we didn’t mind spending the time comparison shopping and looking for good deals. We are there!

Back at Steve’s office we looked at the plans and discussed the changes we had pending. We also considered some nips and tucks that would save some cost. By 3:00 we were mentally drained and he had a meeting to go to so we adjourned for the day.

Tomorrow we head back to Steve’s at 11:30 then go to Black Mountain for a lunch meeting with a builder for an “interview” and then to look at some of his work – completed and under construction.

We’re back now at the room, plans spread out and architect’s ruler in hand.

Oh, and Shelle called asking what we want to do about the Ballantree house…

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Jan '09

Ready to go (almost)

We started throwing things in the suitcase, today. That would be the “$15 for the first bag” suitcase. Luckily we have a monster bag so we can pack all of our stuff in it and get away with one carry-on bag and one checked bag — as long as we stay below 50lbs. Oh, we hope Southwest Airlines starts flying into AVL or GSP.

Valerie is working feverishly on the guest bath. We have a few projects to do on the house before we list it. One is to refresh the guest bath and powder room. She tore into the guest vanities a couple weeks ago—removed all the tile grout and wood moulding, removed the faucets, removed the towel bars, etc. We’re leaving on Wednesday evening and Kathy is house/cat sitting so Valerie is trying to get it finished and cleaned up for her. Worst case Kathy can use our bathroom so it’s no big deal if it’s not done. After we get back it’s my turn. I need to pull up the yellowing, peeling, vinyl floor and put down something new.

We confirmed today that we’ll be meeting with a potential builder next Tuesday to look at some of his houses, completed and in process. Our schedule is set: Drop Serena off at Annmarie’s Wednesday afternoon, fly out Wednesday night arriving Thursday morning, nap (Holiday Inn Downtown) and do some drive-bys of for-sale houses near the hotel, look at houses with Shelle on Friday and Saturday, vacation on Sunday, meet with Steve on Monday, meet with the builder on Tuesday, vacation Wednesday morning, fly back Wednesday afternoon. Whew.

In our free time we want to check out a kitchen design store and revisit Ballard’s Appliance a great appliance showroom just south of Asheville. I want to find Harbor Freight Tools. Restaurants on the list: Market Place (fresh, local),  Mela (Indian), 12-Bones (BBQ), Mamacita’s (Mexican), and we need to give StoveTrotters another try (first time was GREAT, second not so good). Stovetrotters does hold cooking classes and Valerie is excited about that since she occasionally takes classes at our Culinary Communion.

Off to walk Serena then clean the house and pack.

P.S. We just got confirmation back for a potential job. Yesterady, a  jeweler posted an ad on Craigslist looking for someone to write some software for him with the potential of packaging it and selling it to other jewelers.  We emailed him and he just replied that he wants to talk with us. Now where can we fit that in….?

Jan '09

Heading back to Asheville

We’re heading back to Asheville on Wednesday night (cheap red-eye flight and $99 companion fare) for a week. It’s an ugly flight with a 3-hour morning layover in Charlotte (you can drive from Charlotte to Asheville in two hours) but I’d rather fly directly into Asheville because the airport is small and it gives us more time on the day we leave. Asheville’s airport is very convenient. There are no lines, TSA is local and friendly, bags take mere minutes to get from the plane to baggage claim, and the rental car counter is a desk in the hallway. There’s usually a $ premium to fly there but the extra cost may be offset by the fewer hassles. If we could just get Southwest to fly into AVL we’d be all set!

We have three goals for the trip: Look at houses with Shelle (our realtor) to see if one would work for us to buy as a temp house. Meet with Steve (our architect) to discuss changes we want to make to Draft #2. And, talk with a potential builder and look at some his houses.

We haven’t yet decided where and how we’re going to live for a year (or so) from the time we move until our new house is built. Do we rent or buy and flip? Renting is the easy answer but I hate to throw away $12,000-$15,000 on rent. We need 3-bedrooms and a 2-car garage to store all our stuff and most rental homes with those features, well, ones that we would want to live in, are $1000-$1300/month. The alternative is to find and buy a house that’s a screaming good deal (motivated seller, short sale, etc) and hope that the economy picks up so that we can sell it in a year or so at a higher price to cover realtor fees and taxes – essentially try to walk away even. I guess we’ll know more after we spend a couple days looking.

We meet with Steve on Monday, Feb 2nd, to talk about our current draft. It’s getting closer to what we want but needs a few more changes – nothing major – flip this area, rotate that area, etc – but you can’t change one thing without impacting others so we’re in for a good day of discussion. But, that’s why we’re paying an architect. We don’t have to figure out how to do it, just what we want to do.

On Tuesday or Wednesday we’re going to meet with a potential builder. He’s one from Steve’s “little black book” and was given the draft plans last week to come up with a rough estimate to build the house. We want to spend some time talking with him (we won’t call it a formal interview) and look at one of his finished houses and one or more under construction. Steve says he’s a really good builder at our price-point and that he’s not gone bankrupt like so many other builders because he only builds custom homes. He doesn’t do spec houses and isn’t sitting on hundreds of thousand of $$ in unsold homes.

Those are our big-3 objectives but we have lots of other things to do. More on that in a day or so.

Jan '09

Designing our home

Bier Garden Napkin Sketch

First Draft - on a Napkin

Once we did due diligence (survey, geotech, utility availability, clear title, etc) on our lot and completed the purchase, our next step was to select an architect. We won’t get into all the nitty gritty details of the interview process but in short we: looked at the websites of all the Asheville architects to determine their styles, based on that had several of them answer a bunch of questions via email, talked to a couple on the phone, met with a couple in person, checked reference, and finally…drumroll…selected Steve Farrell of Stephens Smith Farrell Architecture as our architect. The thing that differentiated Steve from the others was that he really genuinely cared, he was interested, he really wanted to design our house.  The others would surely have been capable but just didn’t seem to have the desire. (Maybe that would be different now that the economy has tanked and housing starts are at historic lows…?)

In mid-October we met with Steve to sign our contract. We spent about 5 hours with him one afternoon discussing our likes and dislikes, needs and wants, and how he would approach our design. Some of that was over lunch and some was at our lot with a builder and a civil engineer to give us a sanity check on whether we could build what we were thinking.

After the meeting, Valerie and I went to the Bier Garden in downtown Asheville to have a couple beers and decompress. The above drawing is Valerie’s first draft of our home drawn on a Bier Garden napkin. We actually scanned and emailed this to Steve. Hey, you gotta start somewhere.

Since then we’ve exchanged tons of email and had a couple conference calls. Valerie has checked out probably 100+ design books and magazines from the library and we’ve tabbed and scanned numerous pages showing examples of what we want. Steve has sent us two drafts for comments and he’s in the process of putting together a package to submit to builders for a sanity check on cost. That should happen by January 15. Our home is really taking shape and it’s fun being able to make it our own, having it be just what we want. The picture in the upper left of this page is one view of draft 2.

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