The housing update

I’ve been in my house for just over eight months now, and have been living with a housemate for nearly five months. Overall, my housing situation is satisfactory and I’ve felt like I’ve made good decisions in both purchasing a house rather than continuing to rent, and taking on a housemate to increase my income.

While I had some trepidation about sharing a bathroom with a housemate, it’s worked out well. I had thought it most likely I’d be sharing my house with another woman, but the first confirmed booking I got was a young man just starting his first professional job. I think sharing a bathroom with a man is actually easier since they tend to do less fussing while getting ready.

Since I rent a fully furnished place, that means he has full use of my kitchen equipment (pots, pans, plates, cutlery, small appliances, etc.) and he’s been very good about not breaking things. He’s good about cleaning up after himself in the kitchen and bathroom, and our work schedules are complementary so there’s no problem with disturbing each other coming and going. I do the regular housecleaning myself (with the exception of his room), but he pitches in on things like rolling the trash cans to the curb and has helped me move some furniture when asked.

Although the reservation is through mid-April, he’s found an apartment that will work for him and I’m going to let him out of it early. He’s been a great person to live with and I wish him success. Last night he introduced me to one of his colleagues who is interested in finding a better place to live and we toured the house and generally eyed each other up. She seems like a nice young woman, but even if she doesn’t move in, I’m sure I’ll have no problem finding another short-term renter.

There are some downsides to renting out my second bedroom. I think the biggest one is that I have no room to host friends who are visiting the area. Last weekend my San Francisco friends were in town for the marathon, and I was regretful that I couldn’t offer them a place to stay. If or when I have any of my Chicago friends visit, I can only offer an air mattress on the living room floor as accommodation.

The only other issue I’ve run into with having a housemate is the occasional struggle with juggling the bathroom schedule. That happens pretty rarely, though. I just had gotten spoiled living in a house with three bathrooms for so many years.

The extra income has cushioned the impact of my higher housing costs and allowed me to painlessly afford the higher veterinary costs for my aging dog, as well as enjoy some luxuries such as a meal kit delivery service, and restaurant meals a few times a month. It’s also slightly softened the blow of having to buy new clothing to fit my expanding body size; I may be unhappy about the weight, but at least I don’t have the additional challenge of figuring out how to rebuild a professional wardrobe on a tiny budget.

Some of the extra income has been used to defray house repair and maintenance costs, too. While this house was well cared-for and in very good shape, it’s expected that some things will need fixing now and then.

In December I had to replace the control panel on the heating/cooling system. For some reason, it just started smoldering. My clue was the scent of burning plastic wafting through the heating ducts. With labor and shipping, it cost just under $800 to replace what looked like a pretty simple circuit board. I also replaced the laundry sink in the garage. The original, cast iron sink is very cool, but the capacity was too small for a load of laundry using the highest water setting. The plumber had looked at it back in July and said it wasn’t possible to increase the size of the drain pipe from 1.5-inch to 2-inch (the current standard) without trenching into the concrete garage floor. My only option for being able to run a load of laundry larger than a medium was to get a laundry sink with a larger capacity. (I’m saving the small cast iron sink for a garden sink; I understand it’s very valuable.)

Other maintenance/improvement expenses so far have been limited to some small handyman jobs like replacing the noisy ventilation fan in the bathroom with a quiet, properly vented one, and lawn and yard care. I don’t have a lawn mower and this house has quite a bit of lawn right now. I’d like to change that, but for now it’s less of a hassle to pay someone to do the grass cutting, edging, pruning, and fall leaf clean up than to invest in the cost of equipment and upkeep. (Not to mention the time I’d need to spend on cutting the lawn and cleaning up the leaves from several trees every year.)

I have some larger house expenses coming up this year. The trees in the back yard desperately need pruning, and I think one of them needs to come down. I had priced this work out last August, but never got it done. Now that the winter rains have slowed way down I think it’s time to get schedule that job before the tree starts putting out a lot of leaves.

The heavy rains this winter have also exposed the need for some more costly work. There is a drainage issue on this property and it could lead to more serious issues with the house. This past winter we went through periods of non-stop rain for up to 5 days at a time, with rainfalls averaging at least 2 inches a day. The soil on which the house sits is very heavy clay which absorbs water slowly. Despite using long extensions on my downspouts to direct water well away from the foundation, there will always be some rain that falls outside the gutters and saturates the soil near the house. With such heavy rain and soil that resists quick absorption, I had standing water next to the foundation in some areas. One particularly low spot accumulated so much water that it nearly reached the ventilation opening into the crawl space. The concrete pad on which the heating and air conditioning unit sits was also nearly flooded.

The lawn maintenance guy helped clear out a trench that ran to the year of the yard and seemed to be meant for channeling rain run off. I then dug a mini-canal along the side of the house where the water was pooling to connect with this trench. That helped avert disaster, at least.

I was too anxious to open up the access hatch to the crawl space to see if there was any seepage. My crawl space has a dirt floor and is very low and tight. The soil composition is almost certainly the same as the yard — heavy clay — and I noticed that the inspectors and electrician had quite a bit of damp soil clinging to them when they had to crawl under the house to work last July. I also noticed that even in the summer the house always felt sort of damp, despite this area not being known for humid summers. These are all indications that the drainage and dampness issues didn’t just occur because of an unusually wet winter.

The most likely scenario is that I’ll need to have french drains and a sump pump installed to keep water away from the foundation next winter, and to help keep the soil the house sits on more dry. I’ve been running a dehumidifier pretty much constantly for about a month and it’s amazing how much moisture has been extracted from the air, and how much more comfortable the house has been. During a rainy day I need to empty the dehumidifier twice a day; now that we’ve had no rain for a week I’ve only had to empty it about once every 30 hours. That still seems like a lot of moisture for a little 1100 sq ft house, especially when we’re very good about running the ventilation fan in the bathroom and over the range when cooking.

With a big project like this approaching, the extra income from renting the second bedroom takes on more importance. Just knowing that money will be regularly coming in gives me confidence that I can afford to maintain and improve the house and property without a lot of financial stress. I have other plans that aren’t cheap, too: adding some storage solutions to the garage, getting a new washer and dryer, putting in some xeriscaping and vegetable beds, and adding a closet organizer to my closet, among other things. There’s always something to do around a house.

With all these expenses, I still don’t regret buying a house instead of continuing to rent. It’s likely that I won’t be able to claim the passive loss from renting out 50% of the house this year since my income has increased in the past few years (yay!?), but the mortgage and property tax deductions are still a big help. My mortgage payment alone (principle + interest) is the same as I was paying in rent. And, these expenses will be fixed for the next 29 years; renting can’t guarantee that benefit.

Of the “extra costs” associated with owning — property taxes and maintenance — at least one is tax deductible and reduces my tax load. Using this tax savings calculator, my tax savings in 2016 will be over $5,000, and my after tax rate for my mortgage is just under 2.5 %. (Hat tip to Grumpy Rumblings blog for the link to that calculator!)

Even without the tax advantages, it seems like I’m getting a pretty good deal for a place roughly 300 sq ft larger, a better kitchen, covered parking (if I can just get the storage situation sorted out, that is), and a much bigger yard for the enjoyment of me and my four-legged friend. Bay Area real estate is crazy expensive, but as long as the market doesn’t plunge, I’ll be doing OK.

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!

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?

Drive By Blogging

Some quick, odds and ends updates.

  • Yesterday I had to call the complimentary road side assistance number to get my car started. I guess the other day when I went out to check on the mileage so I could blog about the car, I must have not turned the car off properly and that drained the battery; not the hybrid battery, just the 12V one that powers accessories and so forth. The car was still in the garage and I got the car started in plenty of time to run the only time sensitive errand I had (picking up a friend from the hospital). I have no idea what I did wrong to drain the battery, but at least I can say the road side assistance offered as part of the Toyota certified program was very prompt and helpful. The guy liked my chickens and was actually quite envious of my little rooster.
  • Speaking of the chickens, the winter decline in egg laying has started. Yesterday B told me we got two eggs, and the day before that it was only one. I should hopefully still get half a dozen eggs a week since there are five hens, but there are no guarantees.
  • The chickens are also molting, so they are looking rather ragged. At least they aren’t looking as bad as this chicken. Yes, that’s a real, non-Photoshopped image of a chicken going through a horrific molt. You can see more of little Kung Fu Henny in this post, and some updated lyrics praising her bravery here.
  • “Little roo” (a.k.a. Rory the rooster) is very cantankerous whenever we open up the coop to let the chickens out for their afternoon stroll. He apparently thinks we are after his ladies. I guess it’s understandable since in the past few months I’ve temporarily removed a hen or two about four times so they could be taken to various chicken-promotion venues, chicken-keeping classes, the vet, etc. I hope he calms down a bit since we are tired of him acting like an asshole and flogging our legs.
  • I’ve lost weight over the past few months. Yay! I have no idea how much weight since I don’t have a scale at home and rarely weigh myself at the gym. I know I’ve lost weight, though, since my clothes are much more loose, I had to buy new bras in a smaller size, and I was able to fit into some suits that I haven’t been able to wear in at least a year. 🙂 I’ll probably write more about this in another post since there are a lot of points I could expand upon.
  • I spent nearly $900 last month getting my heat to work properly. I made a stupid mistake letting the handy man move a pipe that is part of the radiant heat system for the first floor of the house. It took four visits by the heating service to properly identify the problem and fix it since there were so many variables in play. The heat works really well now, though, and I’ve learned another valuable lesson about boilers and radiant heat. Too bad these lessons usually result in me spending a lot of money.