Asheviller: Ron and Valerie Move to Asheville…

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Jul '09

Sittin’ on the Lawn at Chateau Ste Michelle

We’ll be at Chateau Ste Michelle Saturday and Sunday for the KWJZ Music Festival. Serena will be at Annemarie’s for doggie summer camp. The weather is supposed to be perfect – sunny and mid 80′s. Let the wine and jazz flow!

The house will be prepped and waiting in case someone, anyone, please, wants to look at it.

Big decisions to be announced next week. Stay tuned…and pass the wine!

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Jul '09

Someone, Quick, Call Al Gore!


That would be the temperature outside our house, in the shade, at 5:00pm.

The forecast is for 87° at midnight, 79° at 3am, and 73° at 6am. 100° plus again, tomorrow.

Inside the house it’s 88° and climbing so it won’t drop overnight, even with the whole-house fan going. It’s gonna be a sleepless night.

Link to the local news…

Jul '09

If You Can’t Stand the Heat, Get Out of the Kitchen

We’re in for a record setting heat wave this week. It’ll be at least 90° today through Thursday and possibly over 100° on Wednesday. It’s never been over 90° for more than 5 days in a row and the hottest on record for Seattle is 100°. We won’t break the 5-day record because yesterday it was (only) 89.7° and it’s predicted to go down to 85° on Friday.

For all you Arizona and Texas dwellers who are poo pooing those temperatures…remember…we don’t have air conditioning up here in the northwest!

We ran the attic fan all last night and the house got down to 73° by morning. We shut it off as soon as the outside temp got to 74° (10am). I’m guessing that each night this week will be warmer than the previous because the mass of the house will heat up more and more each day and that heat won’t be dissipated by the fan overnight. We may be sleeping in the basement media room Wednesday and Thursday nights.

And, everything is DRY. We’ve had just 0.25″ of rain since May 20. Typically, June is wet and once we hit July 4 it doesn’t rain much, if at all, until October. We may not see rain for two more months. Luckily we had massive amounts of snow this past winter so there’s lots of water running off the mountains and there are no water restrictions. We’ve been watering our lawn (to keep it looking good for potential buyers) and it’s still mostly green but many of our neighbors have solid brown lawns. I think their grass has gone from dormant to dead. This sure isn’t what you think of when you picture the Emerald City.

More on our historic heatwave…

It’s high 70′s and low 80′s in Asheville! Just sayin’.

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Jul '09

Should We Stay or Should We Go?

After our meeting today with our Realtors, Michael and Dana, I’m mumbling the 1981 Clash song, Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Should I stay or should I go now?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double
So you gotta let me know
Should I stay or should I go?

They think that in order to sell our house we need to drop the price at least $50,000, maybe $75,000. That would put it on par with other three bedroom, two car garage, houses. As I said in a previous post, the game room, workshop, etc and all the upgrades and extra square footage are worth zero. Lowering the price this much will bring in another group of potential buyers. And, it may entice someone to look and maybe buy because it will be perceived as a great bargain. Alternately we could leave it where it’s at and maybe, hopefully, someone will be interested enough to buy it. But, given that the open houses are only yielding a couple lookers and we’ve only had three showings, that doesn’t seem promising. And, if the market keeps going down we would need to keep lowering the price, anyway. Every real estate guru will tell you that you need to be ahead of the market, not behind it, or you will never sell.

That little issue, coupled with the fact that our construction bids are higher than we planned, means that this relocation idea is no longer viable. Originally, I wanted the move to be a wash. Now it’s far from it. As I told Valerie, we can buy a whole lot of walk-up-to-the-counter, emergency, airline tickets to IND or PIT for what it will now cost us to move.

We’ve tossed around the idea of moving to Camp Bell for a few weeks to fix it up and then putting it on the market. I think we can get out of it for even or close to even. It’s a nice little house in a great subdivision. We move our stuff back, thank our architect, and then sit on the lot or try to sell it for a loss. Chalk it up to a bad decision. Woodinville is a nice place. Maybe someone is telling us the answer to Should We Stay or Should We Go Now?

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

A Week at Camp Bell

We spent last week at our temporary home in Asheville. Its address is 23 Campbell Circle and Valerie has affectionately and appropriately named it Camp Bell. It’s a bit of a fixer-upper, it’s only temporary, and it currently doesn’t have all the amenities of home—so the name fits perfectly. The primary purpose of our trip was to meet with our architect and interview the two finalist builders. Since that was only going to be one day of the week we decided to spend the rest of the time tackling some projects on Camp Bell. Up first was redoing the closets.

The six closets in the house (bedroom, bedroom, master bedroom, linen, coat, and laundry/pantry) are pretty good size but they still contained the original 1975 dark wood shelving and just single clothes rods. The shelves had warped, some I think to about 1/16 of a circle, and the rods were all slumped 3+” in the middle. The linen closet had gobs of petrified goop on several shelves, probably from leaking shampoo bottles of years gone by. One bedroom closet had a kitchen counter built inside that could have been used as a large storage shelf or maybe a desk. And, they were all painted in various colors—that would be various colors in the same closet, not just various colors in different closets.

Over a couple days we gutted them, patched and sanded the walls, primed and painted. Then we hung new Closet Maid wire shelving in the bedrooms and laundry and installed new white solid shelves in the linen closet. They look fantastic and have doubled the storage space. Now we have more room for our stuff. This little bit of upgrade made us both feel better about Camp Bell and realize the potential of getting our money back on resale with a little TLC and lots of paint.

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Jul '09

What if We Held an Open House and No One Came?

The report from our Realtors who held our 5th open house (4 public and 1 broker) today was that only two couples and one neighbor came through. Ouch. We scheduled a meeting with them for Wednesday to strategize. Michael hinted that we need a SERIOUS price reduction to get people interested. The problem is that we only have three bedrooms and a two car garage. The finished basement and the 4300sf doesn’t matter a bit. It’s worth zero. People want expect four bedrooms and a three car garage at our price. He’s going to suggest that we lower our price so that people will overlook those “problems” or that our price will be similar to other three bedroom and two car garage houses. Argh.

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Jul '09

Run, Run for Your Lives!

We’ve all seen the movies where someone is desperately trying to leave their house (or boat or spaceship) and as they run towards the door their surroundings start to collapse around them. The roof caves in, the doors don’t open, holes form in the floor, the lights go out. As they run faster the destruction gets worse. You don’t think they’ll make it and then finally, finally, they burst through the door to the outside. They scramble to a safe distance, turn around, and watch as everything falls in on itself in one tremendous kaboom.

Last night I turned on our eight-year-old 52″ HDTV (you know where this is going). We had planned to sell this TV with the house because it fits perfectly in the family room’s custom built-in shelves. It might be difficult for the new owner to find a flat-screen TV to fit in the same hole so we thought it best to just leave it. They can consider it a gift from the Pattons. Ten minutes into Good Eats I look up and, poof, the blue (of red, green, and blue) shrinks in about 6″ from the right side rendering a picture that looks like a 3-D movie without having 3-D glasses on. Change the channels. Same problem. Switch inputs. Nadda. Power cycle. No fixie. Crap.

I don’t believe that you can will bad luck upon yourself but lately I’ve been thinking…”Hmmm, that TV is eight years old. It’s been on a lot. I sure hope it makes it through the house sale ’cause it fits well in those shelves and I don’t want to move it or sell it—or HAVE TO FIX IT.” Three months ago our clothes dryer died. We now have a new one that will transfer to the future owner.

Anyway, in high school and college I used to repair TVs. I’m also Imaging Science Foundation certified. And, just a couple years ago I fixed Al’s TV that had the exact same problem. It’s very likely one of the convergence ICs. (Convergence is the TV term for lining up, or converging, the red, green, and blue electron beams to form a dot on the screen’s phosphor.) There are two Integrated Circuits in most big-screen TVs that perform the convergence. They run hot and, as I’ve learned, it’s not uncommon for them to burn out.

If you call a TV guy to fix this problem it would be a $400-$500 job because he’d replace the entire convergence assembly. But, you can buy just the chip on ebay for $6+shipping. And, in this case, there’s one available just down the street. When I fixed Al’s TV we ordered two. He only needed one. He has since sold the TV and still has the extra chip. Time to break out the soldering iron.

My “U Can’t Touch This” mantra now applies to anything mechanical or electrical because it might break! Gotta sell this place and move out before the roof falls in!

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Jul '09

Say What? You Want to Show the House, Now?

Coming into the holiday weekend we figured we wouldn’t have much sales activity on the house. The John L. Scott offices were closed on Friday. Our agents were leaving today through Wednesday on vacation. Who would be out looking at houses over the 4th of July? So, we let the house go to heck (relatively speaking). We only partially made the bed. We didn’t vacuum. Serena’s toys and beds were scattered about. There were even a couple dirty dishes in the sink. Oh the horror!

At 10:00am yesterday (Saturday – July 4) the phone rang.

It was Michael, our agent, asking if he could show the house at noon. The “biotech” couple wanted to see it again. This would be their third visit. Michael and Dana were on their way out of town. We didn’t expect a showing. But, you gotta do what you gotta do. We said sure, bring them on over. Fifteen minutes later, Michael called back and asked if 11:30 would be okay. No. We split the difference at 11:45.

We’re getting pretty darn good at getting the house ready to show in 60 minutes. Sweeping the decks, walkways, porch, and garage. Vacuuming the entire house. Sweeping the kitchen. Wiping the kitchen counters. Putting the plastic artichokes on the kitchen table. Stuffing the laptops, magazines, and whatever in the cabinets. Moving all of Serena’s stuff into the bed of the pickup. Hiding the dirty laundry and folding the bath towels just right. Turning on the music. Putting on the accent lights. Playing a movie in the theater and turning on all the games and jukebox in the basement. And, just before we leave, Valerie warming brownies in the oven then walking around with a bowl of them wafting their aroma throughout the house.

We were AIS (Ass In Seat) and backing out of the driveway at 11:30.

An hour later, Michael calls to give us the “All Clear” sign. The “biotech” couple brought some friends with them. They love the house. They want the house. But, they have their own house to sell and any offer they would make would be contingent on them selling their house, first. We will only accept an offer if it allows backups (someone without a contingency can come in and buy the house out from under them) because there still is that Microsoft couple out there with cash in hand.

The big decision looming for us is would we move out with just a pending contingent offer? Or, would we wait until it’s a done deal? We really can’t start construction until we have the $$ from the sale of this house. And, although they do build year-round in Asheville, breaking ground in October or November is not ideal. It’ll be an interesting July.

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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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