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?

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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!

House hunger

When I moved here in December 2014 I was looking forward to being a renter for the foreseeable future. I’d been a homeowner for over 15 years and was glad to let go of the responsibility of maintaining a property.

Except I never completely got into the role of renter. Maybe it’s a case of just not being able to let go of that homeowner mindset, but I’ve been looking at properties for sale in the my neighborhood pretty much since Day One. It’s easy to keep an eye on sales listings since I walk the dog around the neighborhood nearly every day.

Getting used to the price of real estate in the Bay Area is something I still haven’t mastered, but it’s getting easier for me to imagine ponying up half a million dollars for a small house. And in the immediate neighborhood where I’m living houses are generally small. If a house has more than two bedrooms it’s an anomaly; if the house has more than a single bathroom, that’s nearly a miracle.

The small rooms are the downside of older, vintage housing stock, but there are many other advantages to this neighborhood. It’s extremely walkable. I can (and do) walk to the public library, the post office, the little hardware store, and the restaurants and drinking establishments in downtown Napa. There’s a big park about a block away with lots of green space, picnic groves, and big trees. I also have gotten to know the neighbors here already, and have made some good friends.

Just last weekend I visited an Open House on a property that was along my walking route to the library. This tiny house had a 625 square feet floor plan, including two bedrooms and one bathroom. I paced out the larger bedroom and noted that it wouldn’t hold my queen-sized bed.

However, there is a house for sale on my block that I’m seriously coveting. Yes, it only has two bedrooms and one bathroom, but it has a lovely floor plan. Both bedrooms are larger than average (meaning the larger room could easily hold a queen-sized bed, plus a dresser or two), and they are in the back of the house where there is practically no street noise. (Another pet peeve of mine is that most of these vintage floor plans have the larger bedroom in the front of the house where there is more noise from chatty pedestrians, cars, and trucks.) The house also has a large living room, dining room, and a small breakfast nook. It’s a rare property, and I’m sure someone with a lot of cash in hand will snatch it right up so they can enjoy it as a vacation home they’ll visit about once or twice a year. *sigh*

Still, I have to take a crack at it, so I’m putting in my paltry offer. If by some slim, slim chance I even get a chance at the house I’ll basically become a house slave with the majority of my income going to pay the mortgage and taxes. I’ll also be required (really, truly REQUIRED) to get a housemate so I can afford that monthly mortgage and tax payment, but…well…what the hell. I still feel like I need to pursue this silly dream. Too bad my lottery tickets were useless last week.