New Toys!

Check out the new stuff I get to play with!

Okay, while it would be really cool if I got to play with the bulldozer and excavator, I can’t convince the builder to let me.  Womp, womp.

So, I’ll just have to be satisfied playing with my new drone/quadcopter.  I’ve been researching for quite some time and kept hesitating on pulling the trigger.  After all, it is a pretty expensive toy.  Ultimately, though, I was able to convince myself that I needed it to be able to get awesome shots of the build in progress.

And, as you can see in these pictures, we actually have some progress at the site!  Things are no longer just theoretical plans on paper; the wheels– or more accurately treads— are finally in motion and it is so exciting to see.  I should have more photos and even 4K videos coming soon.

Back to the drone, I ended up getting a Yuneec Typhoon Q500 4K.  It’s not the fastest one around, but it has great reviews for ease of use as well as picture and video quality.  So far, I’m starting to get the hang of flying it.  There are a couple of “smart modes” that make learning to fly and getting great shots much easier.  The one I plan to use most is called “Watch Me” and will allow me to have the drone orbit around me while keeping the camera pointed at the controller to capture 360 degree shots of the house as it goes up.

Like most electronic devices, battery life is the limiting factor.  It takes 2+ hours to charge one battery for about 20 minutes or so of flying.  So, I’ll happily accept any donation for more batteries and a nice multi-battery charger.

That’s all for tonight (actually this morning since it is 3am).  I’m hoping to head over to the site to see some digging later on today.


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It’s Closing Time…

Alright, cue the Semisonic anthem because we close today on our construction loan!

After providing some last minute documentation to the bank at the beginning of last week, we got the news that everything was approved to move forward mid week, but because of the need for time to prepare all the documents as well as federal regulations requiring that we acknowledge the final paperwork 3 business days before the actual closing, we couldn’t close until this week.

Of course, most of the time a real estate closing happens and then the new owners get the keys and take possession of the property.  In this case, we are basically just getting possession of a line of credit.  No keys for us yet.

So, today will actually be a bit anticlimactic but it’s one of the last hurdles before we can finally see something happen on our lot other than weeds growing.  We are expecting groundbreaking to occur in the next 2 weeks and then I’ll try to share frequent pictures.

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Almost there! (to starting anyway)

We are finally getting very close to starting!

Yes, this blog has seemed dormant for a while and there has been no physical progress on the house, just lots of behind the scenes work.

After months and months of design and all the decisions about layout and exterior, the last 6 weeks or so has been dependent on paperwork and decisions that are out of our hands.

First, we had to get HOA approval for our design.  Our neighborhood has pretty strong design requirements to maintain the feel and property values.  Not just dictating that you can’t paint the house bright pink, but down to the point of defining how much stone is needed on each exterior wall, square footage requirements, the pitch of the roof and the list goes on.  It sounds pretty constrictive, but in reality, we probably would have wanted nearly all the things they dictated even if they weren’t required.  So, we had no trouble meeting those requirements with the exception of the roof over our screened porch which had to be more shallow than “required” so that it wouldn’t end up blocking upstairs windows.  In the end, we obtained our approval with no concerns from the review committee.

Concurrently with HOA review, our builder started the permitting process.   There are apparently multiple different types of permits– zoning, building, septic– and each has their own process and requirements.  I’m just glad they are handling all that for us.  The last we have heard is that the zoning and building permits have been issued and there is just some additional work to approve our septic plan.  Septic is a completely new beast for me that deserves its own post some day.

The biggest question mark recently has been the financing.  We had received preliminary approval for the amount we wanted to borrow for the project months ago, but now we had to do the formal application process where the bank’s fine tooth combs were put to good use.  Seriously, I think I could have delivered my entire filing cabinet and forwarded them every financial email I’ve ever received and they still would have found something else they wanted.

As soon as we knew that the design didn’t need to be altered in any way, we entered a contract with our builder that lays out as many details as we already know with allowances for all the things we don’t know yet.  I actually went through and increased our allowances in nearly every category knowing that we will want nicer things at many steps and because we’d rather plan higher and get pleasantly surprised rather than the other way around.  (Even with that, I’ve already realized that we will definitely go over our cabinet allowance, possibly by $5-10K!).  With the increased allowances as well as the general scope of the project, we ended up with a contract price that is about 25% higher than the budget we had thrown out to the builder in our initial meetings.  I was pretty sure that type of thing would happen… I just hope there aren’t a lot of additional increases coming.

So, with a contract in hand as well as final plans, we finalized our loan application and have been waiting for that for the past 3 weeks.  We were pretty sure our finances would be okay, but the concern was the appraisal.  A bank doesn’t really care how much you spent to build a house, just what it ends up being worth.  Well, actually they’ll loan based on the lower of the appraisal or the cost, but in our case the cost had potential to be significantly higher than the appraisal.  If that happened, then not only would we be responsible for our 20% down payment toward the project, but everything above and beyond the appraisal.  That’s why you have to be careful to not overbuild for the neighborhood.  Like any real estate transaction, the value of a new build is based on surrounding similar houses.  So, if every house in the neighborhood is about the size of the one you are planning to build and sell around $400K, but you decide to put travertine floors everywhere, a Tesla solar roof and all the bathroom fixtures are made of gold, it doesn’t matter that you spent $1 million to build that house, the bank is gonna say it’s only worth $400K, maybe a bit more, and you’re gonna be left with a ton of out of pocket cost.

That’s why the appraisal is so important.  Luckily, our appraisal which came in yesterday was very good.  Not great, but very good.  Once we account for landscaping and the purchase of the land itself, the overall project cost is still significantly above what the appraisal says, but it does give us the option of financing more so that we can save some of the out of pocket costs for other things like window treatments, furniture, and pool.  Of course, that does mean the mortgage payment will end up noticeably higher.  Also, we hope the township assessor comes up with a significantly lower opinion of value when determining our property taxes.

Well, that’s it for now.  I’m hoping we’ll be able to announce a groundbreaking date very soon and I will try to share some of our design journey with you.

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Hardwood Flooring Overload

Happy New Year!

I can’t believe I haven’t provided any updates in nearly a month, but with the holidays and work keeping us busy, not many decisions were made.  One of the things that we did try to make progress on is our hardwood flooring choice, but I’m honestly not sure we are any closer to making a decision than we were when we first started.

The problem is that there is a nearly endless supply of choices when it comes to hardwood flooring these days.  I almost wish we were just given a handful of options to choose from– the way most of the larger, less custom, builders would operate.  Instead, we can pick from the entire universe of options with their different construction, materials, finishes and sizes.  It can be overwhelming.

Here is a quick pic of samples of just some of the floors we are currently considering.

Traditional hardwood floors are laid in place and then sanded to be perfectly smooth before the finish is applied.  It’s been done that way forever.  A newer trend is to order the wood prefinished by the factory.  Almost every person we have talked with has been in favor of this method.  Apparently, because the finish can be applied under controlled conditions in the factory and a higher number of coats can be applied more easily, the finish of a prefinished floor ends up being more durable.  And durability is one of our big goals for the materials in our house.

I hadn’t been sold on the idea of prefinished floors initially– and they aren’t perfect– but we have come around and are pretty sure that is the direction we’ll be going.

Alright.  Decision made, right?  Just pick a color and be done…

Not so fast.

Beyond deciding what type of wood and how wide the planks should be and whether we want an engineered floor (a discussion for a different day), we also have to decide what type of finish.  But didn’t we just say we wanted it prefinished?  Yes, but there is more than one way to finish a floor (whether onsite or prefinished by the factory).

This decision is where a lot of recent effort has gone and I would greatly appreciate anyone’s insight about it.  From my research, the 2 main types of finishes are polyurethane or oil.  Most people are probably familiar with a polyurethane finish which typically give a more shiny appearance and sits on top of the wood.  An oil finish, by contrast, gives a bit more natural appearance because it soaks into the wood.

The shiny appearance of classic polyurethane finish is not the look we are hoping for and while there are apparently options to make it more “matte” that we need to investigate, the oil finishes that we have seen definitely seem to capture our style better.

Of course, no decision can be simple.  Oil finishes have a major drawback of increased regular maintenance.  (And they tend to be more expensive, but that’s a lesser factor right now.)  As I already said, low maintenance and durability are key features for every part of the house so hearing that we need to apply oil to the entire floor– which will end up being about 1000 sq ft– once a year or more for at least the first few years does not make me excited.

The sales pitch that we keep hearing, though, is that oiled floors are easier to repair damage or conceal wear.  Basically, all hardwood floors will get damaged by scratches and dings and general wear in high traffic areas.  In a polyurethane floor, there is no way to fully repair a scratch without completely sanding off the existing finish and refinishing it.  And we are told that you can’t just refinish one area… the whole thing would need to be done.  On the other hand, if a scratch or wear pattern happens in an oiled floor you apparently can just clean and then re-oil that area and it will end up blending pretty nicely.

Again, this is what I’m hearing from salespeople.  Does anyone have experience they can share about trying to keep up either type of hardwood finish?

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I Spoke Too Soon

I hadn’t even finalized yesterday’s post— about how we had amazingly managed to not pick the most expensive cabinet designs– when we had another shopping trip that had a more expected outcome.

We decided to brave the frigid temperatures to check out Chelsea Plank Flooring.  The production facility and factory store are only about 10 minutes away from us and our builder highly recommended we consider that product.

So we made our way into their showroom– probably about 40 feet by 40 feet– and talked to one of the nice salesmen.  I wanted to hear more about prefinished floors versus site-finished floors among other inquiries and we both wanted to see the different style/color options.  And they have a pretty good selection.  The floor of the showroom was finished with at least a dozen, maybe more like 20, different options and then another 3 dozen or so samples were “installed” in about 2×4 foot sections on the walls all around.

We couldn’t have been there more than 5 minutes– just talking at the desk– when Stephanie pointed to one of the samples on the back wall to say she liked it.  To which the salesman replied, “you have excellent taste…that’s the most expensive product we sell.”

No joke.

I don’t think we had even gotten our bearings in there.  I know I hadn’t even seen 50% of the options, but my beautiful wife was able to find the most expensive one– distressed walnut– just like that.

To her credit, I like it too.  It does look very nice and even after trying to find something else that we both like as much or more, we were unsuccessful.  Here is a pic of the sample they had in the showroom.

There’s a lot more to investigate before we would be making a final decision.  Apparently walnut is a relatively soft wood so it would be more prone to damage.  The runner-up option we found was hickory and would be much tougher so more research is necessary.  Plus, I’m still not completely sold on the prefinished flooring.

More to come.

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