Yet another week

I stumbled through last week and then spent another weekend hanging around the house a lot. I’ve been really tired and lacking in energy lately, so taking naps has become an important part of my weekend.

Saturday morning I managed to make it to the local farmers market to fulfill my volunteer commitment with a local animal rescue charity. Then on Sunday I took Hannah dog out for a walk at a local park and ran a couple of errands.

One of the errands was a visit to store to get some furnishings for the extra bedroom. I took my old neighbor and friend along to get her out of the house for a bit. (She’s reovering from a hip replacement.) I kept yawning and saying how tired I am and this friend told me I should probably see the doctor to get some meds for depression. I think she’s partially right.

I am depressed. I know how to tell the difference between fatigue in my body from medical issues like illness and fatigue from other issues, like anxiety or depression. I’m sure that what I’ve been experiencing is the latter. I’ve also been feeling like I could just start crying at the drop of a hat, but I’m not in a rush to go on meds.

I have strong feelings about SSRIs. In the past I’ve been on two different ones: one for treatment of anxiety and panic attacks, and the other for depression around the time when my marriage was dissolving. Both times I had to deal with side effects that were unwelcome and impacted my health in different ways. So when I say that I’m not up for trying another SSRI right now, that’s based on personal experience.

Besides, I wonder what is so bad about spending time with my feelings. Yes, I’m feeling dejection. Work has taken a really unhappy turn lately, and for the past year I’ve been struggling with a lot of health issues. But I just have to hang in there for a few more weeks.

I’m having surgery on September 21 that should put the diverticulitis issues behind me. There will be a break of at least 6 weeks from work to recover, and I can spend that time healing mentally, too. For now I’m trying to keep moving through the checklist of things that have to be done to prep for my medical leave.

But if anyone is still reading this and has some input on how to slog through a mild depressive episode, please share.

Laying low

Last week I learned that I had some significant challenges ahead of me at work. I’m apparently not on the “favorites” list of the new head of our unit, and it was hinted that I was lucky not to have been let go already.

Wow.

I spent the weekend in my den (house) licking my wounds and trying to recover. This is a big blow to me at a time when I’m already feeling very vulnerable.

In the past year, I’ve had major health challenges: multiple bouts of diverticulitis, hormonally induced fatigue and brain fog, incurable eye disease that impacts vision in one eye, and a cancer scare that resulted in major surgery. And I’m not done on the health front yet because I’ll be having another abdominal surgery in one month. (Which will hopefully eliminate the diverticulitis for good.)

My work/career hasn’t been getting enough attention from me in the past year. I know that and have had every intention of addressing the lack once I’m through the upcoming surgery. Apparently it’s not so much my actual performance that is the issue, though, as it is my lack of political savvy in the new business unit to which I was transferred last year as part of an internal reorganization.

I’m motivated to fix the situation, since I really like my company overall and it has been good to me. Not to mention I just bought a house and need a certain income level to make the payments. (Gulp!)

This state of affairs really blows away my financial reckoning in other ways, though. With this information in hand, I highly doubt I’ll see much of a raise or bonus. I’ll find out for sure at the end of next week.

Considering all the extra things I’ve had to pay for since moving into the house, not getting a decent bonus will be a blow to my budget. I was hoping that the bonus would cover most of my property tax bill this year.

Well, it’s a good thing I’m interviewing a potential housemate tonight. *sigh*

Home sweet home

The electrician left yesterday. Finally. This re-wire job had turned out to more than either of us bargained for. But isn’t that often the case with home projects? I hadn’t planned to be living in the house until he was done, but instead was moved on the 27th and had him work around me.

My project list for this house is surprisingly small compared to my last house. The roof was replaced two years ago and is in fine shape. Electrical was just replaced, although I may want to make a few more changes to it at some point. (Mainly splitting some outlets in the kitchen onto separate circuits, adding under cabinet lighting, and adding an outlet or two here and there.) Windows, doors, bathroom, kitchen, and floors were all recently replaced/updated/refinished. Appliances are recent and seem OK. Plumbing seems to be in good order, although I think the water pressure could be a little better. I may ask the plumber about that and see what she suggests.

The only infrastructure type project that needs attention is the landscaping and trees. I have several trees on this property, and a few of the mature ones are in need of serious pruning and help. I’m going to ask a friend who has a landscaping business to look at them and give me her opinion of whether I need to consult an arborist. I may also pay her to put together a landscaping plan. My front yard is a slab of lawn, and I really don’t care to water such useless vegetation. I doubt I could afford to actually put in new landscaping this year, but it would be good to get a plan together, nonetheless.

I think furnishings are going to be my next big expense. Window treatments are a must. I’ve put up tension rods with sheers in the living room, but am eager to get some real curtains in place so I feel less like an object on display at night. I’m awaiting the delivery of the curtain rods today, and hope to have the new handyman hang them tomorrow. I put up rods and black out drapes in my bedroom the weekend before I moved in, but I had to do more research into how to best cover the living room windows since the windows wrap around a corner.

I have enough furniture to live, but my bedroom is mostly empty. I had a small dresser that I’ve placed in the closet (just as I did in the rental house), but that’s all I’ve put in place. In the rental I also had a set of shelves in my bedroom, but I’m thinking I won’t set them up here. That means my large (12′ x 14′) room contains only my queen-sized bed and a nightstand right now. I can furnish it slowly as my budget allows.

I’m thinking of fully furnishing the second bedroom. That would attract housemates that are mainly trying to rent month by month for shorter periods of time, but that could work OK. (Harvest interns, families with visiting relatives, and traveling nurses don’t need year-round housing). For now, I’m not rushing into anything. As I thought about the housemate situation, I realized that it’s best to wait until after I have my colon surgery and have recovered sufficiently before taking on someone. Sister will travel here to be with me during the week after surgery, and I’d like her to have her own bedroom.

There are many consignment, thrift shops, and re-selling Facebook groups from which I can source the furniture and rugs I need or want. I think furnishing the house is going to be my next big budget item and project. What a fun one!

Back to being a homeowner!

Or maybe it’s being a “home slave?” Anyway, the close happened Friday morning with little fanfare. I presented myself to the title company office at 8 AM, signed a whack of papers, and was out of there by 8:45. That includes some chit-chat time, and a few minutes of education on how property taxes work here. (VERY different from Cook County/Chicago, so I’ll have a new learning experience over the next year.)

I didn’t actually get the keys until about 3 PM. I met my real estate agent at the house and we took some photos of me with a Sold sign for kicks. I also brought Hannah dog with me so she could check out the house and yard. (Hannah was also included in the photos, of course!) After the agent left, I started walking the (now empty of staging furniture) house with the idea of measuring windows and rooms. But then the neighbors started arriving.

The sellers used to live in the house, but now live across the street. The story pieced together by the real estate agent and I through some sleuthing through public records is that the husband’s mother lived in the house they now occupy. She died last fall, and the couple decided to move across the street to her house and sell the one they had been living in. So the former occupants of my home currently live across the street.

The husband arrived at the house just a few minutes after the real estate agent left. He met Hannah and noted that he and his wife used to have a German Shepherd Dog that had died a few years ago, and the yard was great for a dog. (Dog lovers, phew!) We had a nice chat for about 30 minutes about careers, hobbies, and the property. It will be good to have such easy access to information about the house, although I hope he and his wife won’t get too upset when I start making the property over to my own tastes. (There’s too much grass! I don’t like lawns.)

I also met the neighbors who live on one side, and was given some brief info about the man who lives on the other side of the house. The seller/neighbor also offered to introduce me to others on the block.

It seems like the block is a nice community, and I’m looking forward to moving in. For now, though, I’m still occupying the rental house. The electrician should be at the new house tomorrow to start the rewiring work. I’m also having the termite treatment done before I move.

I’m so excited and happy about the house and I find myself wishing I didn’t have to share it with a housemate. But I need to be practical and get that extra income. For at least two weeks, though, I expect to just occupy the house by myself and enjoy my last solitary time.

If I had a windfall…

Over on the Grumpy Rumblings blog nicoleandmaggie have regular posts about money. The last two weeks there have been some particularly resonant posts. In one, readers were asked what they would do with a windfall, and in the other they were asked whether their parents struggled financially when they were growing up. I feel that these two posts can be closely related to each other. After all, most of us learn about money from our parents, even if that is only indirectly.

Growing up, money wasn’t something we had in great supply, but we weren’t poor. Both of my parents worked, but as far as I can recall my mother worked mostly part-time jobs (one memorable job was crossing-guard) until I was in high school. At that time mom got a full-time job doing phone work and data entry that she really enjoyed. My father was a foreman at a paint factory and worked the night shift most of the time. He said it was because he was paid extra for that shift, but my parent’s marriage wasn’t great and I’m sure he was glad to be away from the family stress, too.

We lived in a house in the suburbs. It wasn’t a prestigious suburb and we lived on the less desirable side of town. Sister and I were sent to private, Catholic school from Grade 1 through Grade 12, but private high school was outside my parent’s means. We went on vacations every year that usually involved camping using one of a series of campers my parent’s bought used. We didn’t get a “new” car that hadn’t been previously owned until I was 15. (And that car was hard for me to learn driving on it because it was a manual transmission!)

It wasn’t until I was in high school that I started to understand we weren’t as well off as many of my schoolmates. Wearing uniforms every day really helped equalize things in grade school, but when I was getting clothes and shoes for high school it was always at Kmart and never at the nicer stores. As soon as I was old enough to work (15 with a work permit) I got a job. After that I was expected to pay for my own clothing and fill the tank for the “beater” car my dad bought so I could get to and from work. When I was 17 my parents separated. It took three years for the divorce to become final and much more was revealed to me about my parent’s finances during that time.

I think my mother was the more frugal and cautious person who managed our money very well during most of my childhood. Dad seemed interested in money-making schemes that involved more risk, such as flipping houses. (He failed miserably at it and never paid back all the money he borrowed from me to get started in it.) Mom’s frugal habits could be over the top, but she did teach me practical habits about running a household on a budget. Overall, I don’t think I saw much struggling going on around money, but that doesn’t mean we had a lot of it, either.

Mom now has very little income and is very reliant on stepfather for her support. I’m not sure what my father and stepmother’s financial situation is, but they seem to be able to take care of themselves. We never talk about money, though. The crappy things dad did during the divorce make money talk something to avoid.

As for what to do with a windfall, well, there are only a few times I felt like I had a personal savings windfall or one I received in some other fashion. The first time I recall getting what seemed like a generous sum of money out of the blue was after my parents separated. Since I was still a minor at 17, dad had to provide some money for child support. The amount he had to fork over seemed very generous and mom gave me the green light to purchase luxuries like clothing from trendy stores. I had a blast buying funky tights, skirts, and tops to wear in my last months of high school. (Think Cyndi Lauper “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” fashion.) As I recall, dad only paid that generous child support a couple of times and then stopped the payments a few months before I turned 18, but I still enjoyed those one or two brief splurges.

It was several years later that I received my next windfall of cash. I had completed undergrad, was working full-time, and had moved to my first apartment. My grandmother died and left a little money for sister and I in CDs that we were able to cash in when they matured. The first round of money was around $2,000. While I could have used the money to pay down student loans or start a retirement account, I instead decided to use it on a two-week vacation in Europe with some college friends. I don’t regret it one bit. The next CD that matured was around $800, I think, and I used most of it to buy a TV and VCR.

In the years that followed I never had windfalls, but I supported myself, paid my bills, and succeeded in paying off my student loans at 31. I was married by then and had found that living with a financially stable partner really helped me be more financially successful, too. My (now ex-) husband was nothing like my father; the ex was conservative with his money and was a great saver. We built up quite a bit of wealth together as DINKs, and I miss having such a high degree of financial security.

I learned good money habits from my marriage and have been able to take care of myself quite well, but I’d likely have a much higher net worth if I had never divorced. I can see how that could work the other way around, though, if my spouse had poor money skills.

 

House update and thoughts

Well, after what seemed like a whirlwind of activity to get all the inspections done, and to complete the massive amount of paperwork involved in getting a mortgage these days, I’m sort of on hold right now. Next Friday the bank’s appraisal report will be complete, and that is the last hurdle before close. I’m hoping to close on July 15 and start moving in some things that same weekend.

The general home inspection wasn’t very satisfying for me. The selling agent had scheduled a broker open house the same day, and despite having accepting my offer she decided to continue with it. So we had other agents wandering in and out of the house while the inspector was there and I didn’t feel like I could really poke around at stuff myself.

But the pest and electrical inspectors were scheduled at the same time, and being there for the full inspection process was a very enlightening experience. As a long-time homeowner, I’m familiar with some of the more typical trouble spots in a home, so I wanted to poke around a bit on my own. The general infrastructure and types of risks are different here (such as crawl spaces instead of basements, and termite concerns, for example), and I was glad to get a chance to ask questions of the specialists as they did their work.

In general, the house is in good shape. But it is still a 1941-built house, so it’s not up to standard code in some ways. The knob and tube wiring is a problem. My insurance company insists that it be replaced, and the sellers don’t want to do that before the sale. They have committed to a credit at close that would cover the vast majority of the replacement cost, but it is a pain nonetheless to think about having major electrical repairs done after close and before I can truly move in. I don’t want to pay rent for another full month if I don’t need more than an extra day or two to complete the move.

The pest inspector also found termites in the soil under the house. I guess this is pretty common around here and the structure itself is OK, but there will be the cost of a termite treatment in the crawl space and the need to vacate the house for a few hours. Again, this would be nice to complete before moving in, but there’s that pesky time factor to deal with. Also, the credit the sellers are giving won’t cover this cost at all.

Some minor plumbing items must be addressed: a small leak in the bathtub drain needs fixing(it was pure luck that I was running the tub tab while the pest inspector was in the crawl space near that area!); a P-trap must be added under the laundry sink, and; a water line run to the refrigerator. (The sellers had remodeled the kitchen and added a nice refrigerator with an ice maker and filtered water dispenser, but didn’t have a water line installed to the refrigerator. I’m thinking they didn’t want to pay the expense since the fridge is on a wall opposite the kitchen sink.) With the exception of the leak, the plumbing work could likely be put off for a few months, but if I’m going to pay someone to go down into the crawl space to fix a leak, I figure I should also get the water line to the refrigerator done, too.

I’m also considering buying a one-year home warranty to cover the major mechanicals (heating/cooling system) and home appliances. The kitchen appliances are new, but the washer/dryer unit is old and the combination heating/cooling system is old, too. If I end up needing to replace any of the older appliances or systems, I’m sure the warranty won’t cover the full cost, but if it covers enough to pay for itself, at least, it may be worth the gamble.

Before the winter I also may need to get some grading work done to make sure heavy rains won’t lead to water in the crawl space. But that’s all I should need to do from a major system/infrastructure perspective on the house.

Moving expenses should be pretty low, at least. I can shift quite a bit of the smaller stuff through multiple car loads, and I have friends with pick up trucks that can help carry small loads, too. I’m sure one small cube truck and two strong guys can move the rest of my belongings.

I will want to get some sort of window treatments in the large bedroom right away, but can take my time with getting them for the living room. The smaller bedroom and kitchen already have blinds in place and they will work just fine for now.

Getting a housemate right away is important, and that will be the next big thing to tackle. Overall, though, I think I’m covering my bases pretty well.

Is there anything I’m overlooking? Does anyone have experience with home warranties to share?

Decisions, decisions

All quiet does not mean everything is calm. There was a fair bit of excitement around here the weekend of the music festival, and most of it was not the good type of excitement. I don’t want to engage in gossip or be a complainypants (nor can I promise that I won’t want to relay all the gory details at some point), so for now I’ll just note that I (once again) did not get to use my weekend music festival pass to its full capacity, there are some acquaintances that I won’t be inviting back as guests ever again, and that I was painfully reminded of how much it can suck to be a renter, all in one weekend.

For the sake of context, I’ll elaborate on the latter point just a bit. Two weekends earlier, I had noticed some issues with the drainage in the house. When the dishwasher, washing machine, and shower drained, I heard gurgling noises from the bathroom sink. Although stuff was still draining, I knew that this was Not Good. It wasn’t an emergency, however, so I waited until the regular business hours of the property management company to report it. When I contacted the maintenance department, I was told that I would be contacted after the property manager had been reached for authorization. Meanwhile, the ominous gurgling noises lessened, so I wasn’t panicking.

A series of unfortunate delays ensued which meant the drainage issues did not get addressed before Memorial Day weekend, and I found myself with house guests and a non-functioning bathroom the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. We couldn’t use the shower, the sink, or flush the toilet, and I was forced to call the management company’s emergency line get help. I placed my first call at 11 AM that day and it took until 8:30 PM to get someone out to address the issue. In the meantime, I spent a lot of time sitting around the house and backyard waiting for notification that a plumber was on the way. By 10 PM that night I finally had a working toilet, sink, and shower, but was still quite frustrated by the experience.

If I didn’t have to go through all those layers of administration to get the drainage issue fixed, I wouldn’t have been stuck missing 95% of the music festival on Sunday and stressing over finding a place to pee. The only “benefit” of the situation: I wasn’t personally on the hook for an emergency plumbing job on Sunday of a holiday weekend.

Now that the context of “being a renter can really suck” has been elaborated, let’s look at the decision staring me in the face right now: I’ve put an offer on a house. Will this lead to an actual sale? Maybe. I’m trying to dispassionately analyze the situation, and have been talking about it with friends over the past several days.

I’ve put offers on two other houses here in Napa and lost them both. Back in Chicago, I’ve also been through the entire buy/sell cycle twice, so no part of this experience is new to me. I’ve run my numbers multiple times, received approval on a mortgage and locked a rate, opened escrow, and had a home inspection in the last 5 days. The house has two bedrooms, one bathroom, and was built in 1941. It is about 1100 sq ft and has hardwood floors, new windows, upgraded kitchen and bathroom, a single car attached garage, and a big backyard already set up for entertaining. All of the kitchen appliances (range, refrigerator, dishwasher, microwave with vent) are new and included in the price. The washer and dryer are included, but aren’t new and look a little tired.

It seems nearly perfect, but I am being cautious because of a couple of things that surfaced in the inspection.

  1. The selling agent states that the house is bolted to the foundation (meaning, it’s been “retrofitted” to mitigate damage from an earthquake.) My home inspector couldn’t verify this, mainly because of the next issue.
  2. There is knob and tube wiring in the house. The home inspector was unable to get into the crawl space under the house because there was K&T wiring located too close for his comfort. He found another way to look into the crawl space, but didn’t see evidence of the foundation being bolted, so he couldn’t confirm it had been done. He recommended that I get documentation from the homeowners about the work.

Because of that wiring, I’m going to need an inspection by a licensed electrician. I talked with my insurance company yesterday, and they’ve indicated that they will insure the house if I can get a report from the electrician that the wiring is safe. Even if the electrician thinks it is safe, I’d still need to get the electrical service replaced for my own peace of mind and to allow me to live in the house comfortably with my modern appliances. (I really want to be able to run the washing machine, make coffee, and have my computer on at the same time without losing power.) In less of a seller’s market, I should be able to use these faults as negotiating points, but I’m not sure if that will work here and now.

Putting aside those concerns, let’s exam the affordability of the house.

  • Down payment and estimated closing costs should leave me with eight months of emergency fund (EF) living expenses in the bank. Savings for things like vacation or a car replacement will be wiped out, though.
  • The monthly mortgage payment should be just under $200 more than I’m paying in rent for a smaller 2/1. That mortgage payment does not include insurance or taxes, however. (I was a bit surprised that I was even offered an option to get a mortgage that doesn’t require escrow of those expenses, but I’m happy to deal with both taxes and insurance on my own.)
  • A budget which includes line items for taxes, maintenance (at 1% of purchase price), increased insurance expenses (even pricey earthquake insurance), and increased utilities leaves me with roughly $70-$100 “extra” each month. The budget line items for “wants” (like $$ music festival tickets) is not covered, though, nor is savings for things like vacations and car replacement. This budget does include generous lines for things such as eating out and groceries where I’ve been challenged with cutting back in the past. So it is by no means “bare bones.”
  • Property taxes are a straight 1.25% of the purchase price. I have enough money in savings to pay one full year of property taxes, but it would drop my EF to just over six months of living expenses. Luckily, I won’t have to pay anything until November 1, but I’m not sure how much will be due then. (In Cook County/Chicago, tax bills were issued twice a year, too, but the first payment was higher than the second.)
  • If I have to pay out of my own pocket to upgrade the electrical system or deal with any unforeseen repairs, then I’ll be dipping into the EF even more.

There are some positive financial events on the horizon for me this year, though. Between now and the end of the year, I’ll be getting two additional paychecks (being paid bi-weekly has its perks!), so those funds can go straight into savings, home maintenance, or be used for discretionary expenses like home furnishings. In September I should see some sort of salary increase and possibly a bonus. I never count on bonuses (although I usually get something), but I’m hoping to get at least a small salary increase that would bump my take home pay by about $100 a month.

This morning I found myself pulling out my tax files for the past two years and creating a worksheet to validate my assumptions about tax implications of a house and mortgage. In 2014, I was still a homeowner and had paid property taxes and mortgage interest, which are deductible expenses. In 2015, I was a renter and had no deductions. My deductions for mortgage interest and property taxes would be quite substantial for the next few years. To me, the main value in these deductions would be to get an annual refund of cash that I can then put aside or use for property maintenance. That worked well for my much larger 1951-built house in Chicago, and I don’t see why it wouldn’t work here in California.

If I took on a housemate, I could also start using the house as a way to generate more monthly cash flow to help me tackle home maintenance/repair expenses, add to the “wants” portion of my budget, or put in savings. It’s not my ideal to have an unrelated housemate with whom I share a bathroom, but in my present state of mind I feel that it’s a compromise I could make. Around here, it’s pretty easy to rent a spare bedroom for $700 to $900 a month, even with a shared bathroom. The other benefit of having a housemate is that there is a built-in housesitter, and the potential to negotiate pet care more easily when I’m away on business trips (or personal trips, if I can scrape together vacation money again.)

Other options for generating cash flow/savings are taking on a seasonal intern in the wine industry or a traveling nurse/medical professional as housemates for only a few months a year, or looking into Airbnb. (The latter would require me to get a license from the City of Napa and would require some work on my part to turn over the room, though.)

By next Tuesday all the inspections (roof, pest, and electrical) will be completed and I’ll have to make a decision about whether I should go forward or walk away. Home ownership can be stressful, but I do miss being a homeowner. I’m grateful that I found a great place to “land” in the Bay Area, but I don’t feel like I’m thriving in my current living arrangement, just surviving.

What would you do in my place? I’m taking all the advice I can get at this point, so please do leave a comment!