8/25/11

Happy House Anniversary!

We officially moved into our house the last week of August in 2010. I can't believe we have been living here for a year already. We still haven't gotten around to putting in the baseboards and mouldings. Our doors still need to be stripped and refinished. Of course we are trying our best to save money to finish all these projects. But then unexpected things happen to the house and money for the planned projects had to be spent on fixing those things. We had the unfortunate leaky window that cost us a good chunk of change to fix and replacement of all the rain gutters. The recent break-in attempt made us realized the need for a security alarm system which will no doubt cost a pretty penny.

Now moving onto the things we have accomplished this past year, our house got a new coat of paint, giving her a complete transformation from tired and old to fresh and new. I no longer look at our house and get depressed by the ugly exterior knowing the interior is brand spanking new! We have a healthy 8 months old boy who's about to start crawling all over the house. We rented one of the apartments to an awesome tenant. Our house refinancing went through without a hitch. Everything I planted in the garden thus far is thriving and we got to taste our first home grown veggies recently...life is great.

Happy one year house anniversary to us!!!

I love the Japanese Maple in our garden.

8/23/11

Mortgage Update

Previously on our refinancing story...

We just received an appraisal for our house because we are trying  to get a mortgage. The good news is that our house was appraised at almost double the purchased price! I did a little math and found that with all the money spent on the renovation in addition to the purchased price we still gained equity! Woohoo!!!

We were worried about the neighborhood comparables giving us a low appraised value. A low appraisal means we wouldn't be able to pay back the full amount we owe our family. According to the appraiser's documents, there are very few recently comps to use for evaluation because our house is a multi-unit in a mostly single family home neighborhood. Most of the comps are in need of TLC and our house is basically brand new. The appraiser did find eight comps and our house is in the higher end of them. But it was good to know that we didn't over improve for the neighborhood. The rent we get from our apartment downstairs is in line with the rentals in the area. It is smaller square footage wise, but it is has brand new everything so it's comparable to other larger units that need updating. If we do eventually decide to move and rent out all three units, the rental income will more than cover our mortgage payment. I am seriously considering renting out the other unit to further lower our monthly mortgage payment. 

We locked in the rate at 5.25% for a 30 year fixed. We didn't get a super low rate because Justin doesn't have a high enough credit score, but it's a huge improvement from two years ago when we first started looking for a house to buy. I have pretty good credit, but being a stay at home mom and having been freelancing on and off for the last few years due to school prevented me from applying for the loan with Justin. 

The loan officer at Chase told me that even though we have formally been approved for the loan, the underwriters might still request an additional appraisal review for our house. He said it's because our house was appraised at the high end of the comps so we are not totally out of the clear yet. I am keeping my fingers crossed. With the current appraised value, it means we can take out the amount that we need and still have the mortgage payments be affordable on a single income.
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Update...

All the paperworks (gazillion pages) were signed by all parties yesterday at the title company. Now it will take three days for the loan to fund. We opted to have the mortgage payment withdraw automatically from the checking account each month which gives us a 1% refund at the end of the year. Every little bit of savings count.

Now let's talk about being landlords. We currently have one of the two apartments downstairs being used for storage and as the occasional out of town guest suite. We have considered renting it out like we did with the other apartment, but we are not sold on the idea of having to deal with another tenant. We got an email from a friend the other night asking if we would rent it out for three weeks to another friend who'll be in town for work. After some back and forth, they decided to stay for a whole month and pay a slightly discounted rent with all utility included. If this works out, I would seriously look into doing some short-term rentals to take in some extra income. Now I just have to get the apartment furnished and ready for our new tenant!

There is an online company that help people looking for places to stay and those who have places to rent connect with each other called Airbnb. People list on the site to offer vacation or short-term rentals in their houses to travelers for less than what you would spend on hotels.

Hotels are crazy expensive in New York city,  I would definitely give Airbnb a try the next time we go visit friends there. I checked out available rentals in our city and all the places are pretty nice and reasonably priced. I think our apartment can definitely be in the running once I have it furnished and get the yard fixed up. 

8/22/11

Saying Adieu to an Old Friend

Ok, maybe I am being a little melodramatic. I said my finally goodbye to our first "grown-up" couch. It was Ikea's Kramfors leather sofa in dark brown. When we first moved in together four years ago, we had no furniture to speak of besides a table and a dresser. We had a borrowed futon as our couch and the futon pad would never stay on the frame. We've finally had it after couple of months of slip and slide so started our search for a new sofa. We fell in love with the Kramfors sofa but didn't want to pay the full price of $900. I waited patiently and found one on Craigslist for a lot less. Four years later, the sofa came with us to the new house and we had no intention of replacing it. But it gradually became clear to us that the sofa just didn't work in our new place. And now thanks to Craigslist, our old sofa has found a new home with a nice Korean couple. On the night that they were coming to check out the couch, there was a road closure on the way, so they had to take a detour and what should have been a one hour drive turned into four! When they finally arrived with toddler daughter in tow it was already 9:30pm. My asking price was lower than the other sellers on Craigslist, but when the wife ask for a discount I relented because I felt bad that they had to drive for so long to get here. I am also hoping my Craigslist karma will lead me to a good bargain on my next purchase. :)

Our old apartment. The living room was tiny and the couch took up a lot of room, but we were able to seat three people comfortably on it when need be.

Another view of the couch in our small apartment. 

First day at our new house. I don't have any photos of couch in this room after all the stuff was put away. I wish I had one though.  

After we bought our new sectional sofa, the Kramfors was stored in one of the apartments that we use to store my art stuff and Justin's music stuff. 

This is one of the last pictures of the Krampfors. I know we've out grown it, but there is a part of me that was really sad to see it go. We spent many a night lounging on it; watching tv, reading, talking...it was one of the last remnants of our lives in that little apartment. Our first big purchase together. Oh and the Krampfors have been discontinued, so I will probably never see another one again...? Anyways, I feel stupid for being so sentimental, it's only a mass produced couch after all. I will miss it though, the wonderful couch that served us well for over three years...

8/18/11

Exterior Paint, Done! (updated with more photos)

The painting project on the exterior of our house was finally finished last Tuesday. Here are couple of before and afters.

Before. Garage.

After. 

Before.

After. The gold on the triangle didn't look quite as yellow as I had hoped. The color looked fine close up, so it must be due to how the light reflects from the gold that makes it appear darker.

I put a little table out on the porch with a pot of plant to make the entry way a little more welcoming. 

Patio door before

Patio door after.

Front apartment entrance before.

Front apartment entrance after. 

Back of the house before.

We removed the stairs and the enclosed addition that was ready to collapse, replaced it with a patio and utility room below it.

Garage door. Sadly there was no before.

Door to the second apartment. 




Our Year of Living Dangerously

Well, not not by choice anyways. We had a break-in while the house was still under renovation when we were still living in our rental apartment. That incident left us traumatized and super paranoid. We got a quote to install a security alarm for the house right after we moved in. I don't remember how much but the quote was an exuberant amount in the thousands of dollars. So we put the idea on the back burner seeing as how there was no money left from the house renovation.

Fast forward almost a year, during which I've heard gun shots from one street over and had our hubcaps stolen when we used to park our car out front. We've met neighbors who have had close calls with burglars trying to break into their houses. So when the time came for our week long vacation in Michigan this summer, my protective maternal instinct/paranoia kicked in. I told Justin we need to install an alarm, because our house will be sitting empty and it's just too vulnerable without any kind of protection. I had even considered getting a dog to bark at any suspicious persons or activities, but Justin was not into getting a dog and said the alarm was too costly and wouldn't do much good. Luckily nothing happened while we were away.

Not long after we got back from our vacation, we were being our usual couch potatoes on a Sunday night when we heard a loud sound coming from outside our window. Justin immediately when out to investigate and I opened the window trying to look out into the darkness, couldn't see a thing. Justin came back and told me that our tenant's apartment window was opened and he saw two guys leisurely walking away from our house. I called the police and made a report. Our tenant works nights so we let ourselves in the apartment to fix the broken piece of the window temporarily. It took two hours for the cop to show up to talk to us. I don't think either of us slept too well that night. When I told the tenant what happened, she was really freaked out and subtly implied that her might break the lease and find a place that allows dogs. I hope it doesn't come to that because she is a really good tenant.

Obviously something has got to be done to make our tenant and ourselves feel safe in our own house again. Since allowing a dog in the apartment was out of the question, Justin has agreed to getting the security alarm. I did some research and found that the national companies such as ADT and Brinks lock you into three year contracts and have bad customer service. I made couple of appointments with two local companies to come out and give us some quotes. Does anyone have recommendations on what to look for in a good burglar alarm system?



8/4/11

National Night Out

Once a year, our neighborhood group, Lowell Connected, sponsors the annual National Night Out. What is it? "It's America's night out against crime", according to its website. We went to our first one last year, before we had officially moved into our house. It was a nice introduction to our neighborhood and the diverse group of people who live here. The party was held couple of blocks away on Lowell street. There were burgers, salads, sweets, and drinks for all. The funds for the food were raised from a neighborhood garage sale recently organized by Lowell Connected.


The band was good, but no one wanted to dance except for couple of cute little boys. A face painting booth was set up for the kids. There were surprisingly a fair amount of kids under the age of ten in attendance. 

I checked out a newly opened glass blowing studio next to where the party was and it was pretty nice. They had a sign that announced glass blowing demonstrations on the first Friday of the month that got me all excited to come back and check it out later in the week.

Works from the studio.


Some of the neighbors that we were hoping to see weren't there. But we met some new neighbors and I can't get over how small the bay area is. Just as we were leaving the party a couple with a baby around little D's age approached us to say hi. Turned out their baby is a little younger than D and the dad was an acquaintance I met over a decade ago. We lost touch when our lives went in different directions. How weird that we are now neighbors and both just had babies. He offered to give me some plants from his garden. I got his email and will hopefully take him up on his offer soon!

8/2/11

Garden

We spent a week in Michigan recently and boy was it hot and humid there. It was a much needed break for us and the little one. Our good friend/neighbor Randy took care of my plants for a week and water them diligently. I was really surprised at how much everything grew in just a week.

This was about 2 months ago when I first planted the veggies and strawberries. 

This is how the veggies look today. There are a bunch of green tomatoes and the zucchini plant has been very productive.

 The zucchini plant has gotten so huge. I have harvested five giant zucchinis so far and there are couple of small ones growing. 

Little D with big zucchinis.  

Little sunflower.

Not so little anymore.

Hopi red dye amaranth. This little guy's leaves keep getting eating by something. Apparently it has eatable seeds and leaves. Native Americans used the seeds for ceremonial food dye.

It's flowering. I am going to save the seeds and plant them all over the place next year. It looks kind of sickly because the leaves are all chewed up. Bugs, squirrels? 

I got a hydrangea about a month ago. I really wanted a white one but this was all I could find at the time. I am not crazy about the pink color though. 

I found the tall plant foxglove at CVS yesterday, on sale for 2 bucks down from $19. I just couldn't say no to that even though most of the flowers have fallen off. 

I also got the salvia purple Majesty below at CVS. We went to Flora Grubb, a fancy nursery in San Francisco today and there were a huge variety of plants with purple flower. I spot a trend...not that I would garden according to what's in, that's just silly.

I love the tall, slender look of this plant. It kept getting blown over in the pot it came it, so I had to put it in the ground as soon as possible to keep it standing.