Asheviller: Ron and Valerie Move to Asheville…

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Feb '09

Where’s Mike Holmes when you need him?

For those of you who don’t know him, Mike Holmes is the star of Holmes on Homes, the #1 show on HGTV Canada. There were a few shows broadcast on US HGTV that I accidentally stumbled on and was instantly hooked. Mike is my construction idol! Valerie bought me the first two seasons on DVD. Mike comes in when people have problems with their homes, he figures out the issues, cusses the contractors who did the shoddy work, and fixes it right.

Why mention Mike Holmes? Well, we got our inspection back for the “white house” and there were some problems. The house was built in 1975 so minor maintenance issues were expected. We saw a few when we looked over the house. We had built in a $3000 allowance for repairs but they will cost more than that. Most of them I can fix so it’s only material cost. The biggies in that batch are two shot sliding doors, a cracked and needing replaced front door, a rotted and sagging beam under the deck, and flaking chimney stucco.

There are three major issue. 1)The furnace flue is too close to the wood where it goes through the ceiling and the roof. The wood has discolored from the heat. That’s fixable but the fix could be difficult depending on if there’s room to move the pipe away or if structure needs to be cut out. 2)The bricks and mortar in the fireplace are cracked. Again, fixable by a pro, but we need to know if it’s just the fireplace or if it’s the entire chimney. 3)The worst problem. The basement ceiling joists and plywood under the front porch are significantly water stained and possibly rotting. The culprit is that the concrete porch is sloped towards the front door. Water is running towards the house, under the threshold and into the wood underneath.

The water problem is significant and is a dealbreaker for us. We are going to ask the seller to fix it before we will consider purchasing the house. We don’t want estimates and an allowance. With water damage there are too many variables. You can’t really know how bad the problem is until you rip out the concrete – a very expensive job in itself. The flue and the fireplace are big issues but we would be okay with just getting detailed estimates on them and getting allowances to fix them at our leisure.

Shelle has the info and is conveying it to the seller’s agent. We’ll see what they say.

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Feb '09

I feel pretty, oh so pretty…

D (of our potential Realtors M&D) came over with K today. K is an “accredited staging professional” who looks over your home and tells you what you need to do to make it more appealing to buyers. It could range from “remodel your kitchen” to “paint your walls” to “move you couch to the other side of the room” to “get rid of all your family photographs.”  Stagers claim that a properly staged home sells 50% faster and yields 6-10% more than an unstaged home. In this market, anything can help. We’ll throw her a few $$ for some advice.

K spent two hours walking around the house, looking at furniture, taking notes, asking what we’d be willing to do. Some of her recommendations: Lose everything personal such as pictures, plaques, awards, etc as they will distract potential buyers from the house. Thin out the book shelves by at least half. Have only one or two art objects per shelf. Have nothing on the kitchen counters except for the coffee maker (though I think we will also leave the mixer with the flames). Move furniture around in the family room and lose Valerie’s chair. Get rid of most of our plants – especially the 10′ high x 10′ round umbrella tree in the master bedroom! Move some furniture from the living room up to the master and create a “reading area.” Relocate the wicker table in the master to the main deck. And get a few pictures/art for the bedrooms. She also wants to change-out the queen bed in the middle bedroom for a twin and make it look more like a kid’s room. Interestingly, she said we didn’t need to do much with the shop or the garage – just thin them out a bit. She said people expect them to look like they being used and “they are what they are.” Oh, and we need to keep the dining and breakfast tables set.

All of that sounds reasonable, though a bit of a PITA (pain in the arse). And, that cross-country U-Haul trip or temporary storage facility sounds mighty close.

The good news is that once in the basement we lost count of the number of times she said “WOW!”  She’s an agent, too, and said that basements like ours don’t happen until you get into the $1M+ range. “WOW!”

P.S. Did you know that Realtor® is a registered trademark and needs to be capitalized and have the little ® after it?

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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

Not so fast

I typed up the following email and had Shelle send it to the seller’s agent with our formal rejection:

“We think $xxx,000 [their counter offer] might have been a fair price six months ago. We think $yyy,000 [our offer] is fair and reasonable in today’s market, especially given that housing prices in the 28803 zip code have dropped 2.3% in the last 30 days and 16% in the last year. If that rate continues, and we believe that it will, this house will be worth $yyy,000 by summer when we would move in. We’d rather let someone else (the current owner or another buyer) take that loss.”

I then told Valerie, “I bet he’ll crunch the numbers and come back with a counter offer of $zzz,000.” Low and behold, less than three hours later…ta daaaa…he replies “The seller is willing to wait for a price above  $zzz,000″—which is exactly my number. Too funny. Now, that’s not a formal counter-offer but we now know what he’ll take. We’ll stew on it tonight and maybe re-offer at $zzz,001. That’s much lower than the listing price but still higher than what we wanted to pay — but we could recoup it if we rent the house for a year or two after we move out, assuming that the economy recovers.

We have a realtor husband and wife team coming over tomorrow at noon to introduce themselves and look over our house. Shelle pre-screened them as part of Beverly-Hanks’ relocation service. When they give us a rough quote on the current value of our house I’ll go throw up.

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Feb '09


On Friday we made an offer on the “white house” and Shelle just called to tell us that it was rejected. The seller counter offered at 97% of the listing price. Ha Ha. That’s not happening. Shelle said that this is a wide-spread problem in Asheville. Sellers are not accepting that home prices are going down and they are holding on to their listing price for dear life. They won’t negotiate and they won’t lower their prices. So, the houses just sit there unsold. Oh well. We’ll be in their boat soon with our house so we won’t criticize too much. We have until Monday to reply but our answer is likely going to be, “Call us in 3 months and our offer may still be good.”

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Feb '09

Back in Woodinville

Today was a cross-country travel day with some errands to run before we left town. We had a simple breakfast at the Charlotte Street City Bakery, dropped an escrow check off at Beverly-Hanks, stopped at Ballard’s Appliance to see if there were any new appliance, stopped at Harbor Freight Tools, drove by the potential temp house (how’s that for indecision?) to take some pictures, visited BB Barns nursery (it’s like a baby Molbaks), had lunch at the Arden 12-Bones (the original one is better), toured Earthfare, then headed to the airport.

Oh, and we tried to find an ATM in a grocery store. We went to two and neither had one. I asked, and the clerk looked at me like I was from another state and pointed to the bank across the parking lot. Hmmm.

The flight was uneventful and we’re home at 11:00pm. Valerie will pick up Serena in the morning and I need to go to Burien to check progress on the Red Cross Disaster Relief Supply Center that I’m building…well, having built.

We’ll also work on the offer tomorrow.

Good night!

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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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Feb '09

Tupelo Honey

Today, Sunday, was a day of rest – HA HA! We decided to have a real breakfast (rather than just a scone or muffin) and went to Tupelo Honey Cafe. Valerie, the Egg’s Benedict connoisseur, had Betty’s Bene – made on a biscuit with country ham and grapefruit juice in the sauce. It wasn’t the best she’s ever had but she would order it again.

We needed a sanity check on the potential temporary Patton homestead so we headed south again to the Ballantree area to do a drive-by of the house and check out the neighborhood. It still has good vibes so we’ll probably make an offer – after we talk to our architect and builder tomorrow and Tuesday.

We did some mileage checks on the way back and found that’s it’s about six miles to Mr K’s used bookstore and to Home Depot and Lowes. It’s only one mile to Harbor Freight Tools!

There was an open house just down the road from our lot so we went to check out the neighbors. It was a 5400sf monster with a 5-car garage. Whew. It’s huge, and compared to Seattle prices, is a great deal. Other than a way-too-small kitchen it’s pretty nice, just too big. Anyone want to move to Asheville?

Coincidentally, this house is just above the funky house mentioned in the previous post. The agent, with some prodding, revealed that he had heard that the owner of that house was a not-mentally-stable-probably-on-too-much-elective-medication woman with enough money to be dangerous. Unfortunately, her ”work-of-art” goes to auction and will likely be gutted or demolished.

No trip would be complete without a visit to Discount Shoes. We went to La Paz for some Tex-Mex (it was good) then watched the Superbowl®. Go Steelers!

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