you’ve gotta have dirt

Ok, it’s silly not to type with caps. But I like subjects without caps. So I had this 30-ft tall dead tree in my backyard ever since I’ve lived in the house. I didn’t really realize it was dead until after I had made plans to buy this house as-is. The tree could’ve easily fallen on to the neighbor’s house, or mine, and insurance doesn’t cover damage from fallen dead trees that you knew were dead. So I decided that, after a whole year of home ownership, my first major improvement would be to get rid of the tree.

I didn’t shop around too much. I got one ridiculously high quote. I got one quote from a service recommended on a local list-serv. I went with that one. On the phone with the service’s owner this morning, I was intrigued to hear that they could probably clear away the wasteland that has been my backyard for what I thought was a very reasonable rate. The owner went into a bunch of details of what could be done, but I couldn’t understand him through a cell phone connection and his thick accent. I got myself home to talk to him in person. It appeared they had already commenced the yard clean-up. But it was looking really good. I told him to go ahead with it. I couldn’t stick around, but I trusted they’d do a good job.

Well, they did a good job of uprooting every living thing within the perimeter of my backyard with the exception of a few trees that dot my property line. I basically have a field of dirt in the backyard. It’s quite impressive. The problem is, I really thought we had been on the same page that it was the area beyond the lousy chicken-wire fence (about three-fifths of the backyard) that I wanted “cleaned up”, and I assumed “cleaned up” meant that piles of leaves and debris would be cleaned up and a walking area created between the rear of my house and the back alley. No, “cleaned up” meant obliterating everything.

I’ve been told this might be for the best. Now I can landscape however I’d like. But I have no money for landscaping. I had no money for this backyard gutting. So I think I’ll be stuck with a dirt/mud pit for awhile. The guy did take a couple hundred dollars off the bill due to the misunderstanding. I would actually recommend him, but I’ll just share his name privately with anyone who’s interested.

I’ll need to show some before-and-after (and, ideally, someday, after-after) pics.


Ferns forever, thanks to Google Maps

I just took a look at my home with Google Maps’ Street View. Damn, they’re good. It looks like the image is from August or September, whenever I still had my new Boston ferns healthy. I had lamented that I did not have a photo of them. Thanks to Google, now I always will!

My house, as it appears on Google Maps street view

I had seen folks posting street views of downtown landmarks but it hadn’t occurred to me that residential streets were all covered, too. Never again does one need to try to describe one’s house. You can see a detailed photo of every home on the route. Pretty nifty. And creepy. Mostly, nifty. It’s not like I was outside sunbathing when the Googlemobile came by. That would be horrifying.

TB: Swimming in money after the Durham tax revaluations

No, not really. But my disheveled bungalow winds up in the below-average-appreciation column as Durham does their one-every-seven-years housing revaluations. So my tax bill, paltry as it is now, should go down in a year, maybe like $50!

2008 vs. 2001 valuation: +20.7% (+24.0% for all Durham residential properties)

2008 tax valuation vs. 9/2007 purchase price: +15.4%

And the second figure just means that my disheveled bungalow is indeed disheveled, and I can see how investing 15% of the purchase price into repairs would probably get it valued at the tax valuation. Of course, I have absolutely no idea how much my house is really worth, given the convoluted process by which I purchased my house.

Barry has a popular thread on this topic, for any non-Durhamites who don’t really know what I’m talking about.

I want my rake back

I won’t tag this entry with anything tags that will encourage its viewing beyond the sphere of whoever normally reads this blog, whoever that might be. I think I’m somewhat two-faced, and how exactly will become apparent in just a moment. I wouldn’t want these words to hurt the causes that (psuedo) Activist Toastie is working for. But Selfish Toastie is a tad pissed and needs to vent.

While doing some yard work, my yard not really being much of anything, I noticed that two items were missing from my porch. My lovely, oversized rake is gone. Now, my neighbor has borrowed it from time to time, but her son always asks for it personally and then returns it. My guess is that it’s been stolen, because there’s another item missing. A boxed-up yard tool storage until is also missing from my porch. I had bought it just a few weeks ago and hadn’t set it up yet.

Now, these items are worth about $35 combined. The monetarily loss isn’t too big a deal. The fact that someone has stolen from me, now that’s gotten me a bit peeved.

Why not the shovel? Why not the empty planter? Who knows. This is the petty type of thing I read about all the time on the neighborhood list-servs. I’ve imagined for months that I’d be furious when it came my turn to be the victim of one of these petty thefts, but I also figured I could go years without having such a theft happen.

So what does one do now? Does one decide, when living in an urban area, to either just accept just incidents as a fact of life, or do one “get involved”? To be honest, I’m an exhausted human being. I don’t really have much energy to “get involved”, as much as I may have been trying to of late.

I can vote, and I can get others to vote. Yeah, but how much confidence do I REALLY have in the officials I’m voting for? I’ve told a couple of people with no knowledge of local politics that this city is on the right track, and that any “change” is going to be a change, ultimately, for the worse. I know that one candidate I support has worked for decades to make this city a better place, to create a climate so people don’t have to worry about their rakes being stolen. But how much can one such individual actually accomplish?

Part of the reason I’m so livid about a recent student newspaper article (which I haven’t gotten around to posting about) is that a few turns of a few screws in my head, and I’d be screaming “Amen!” to it, but I know that would be terribly, tragically misguided of me, and I hate that hundreds of people who don’t know any better could easily be convinced that their city is going to hell. At this very moment (and perhaps that moment has now receded to having been a half-hour ago), I feel/felt like giving up on this city, of taking my yard signs down, as of preparing to beat the living shit out of whoever next decides to try to take anything of mine.

Anyway, maybe I’ll feel better about my neighborhood after I see Gone Baby Gone later tonight…

TB: 3 weeks after closing, mortgage already sold…WTF?

I just found this blog post on the Googlesphere–Why do Mortgage Lenders/Brokers sell my Mortgage Loan?–so I am not terribly alarmed that a mere three weeks after closing on my house, my mortgage has already been sold. But it does reaffirm the persistent belief I’ve had that absolutely no one in the mortgage business is to be trusted. You deal with a lender and sign a thousand documents with their name on it. You get it drilled into your psyche that you will supposedly pay this mortgage company $X every month for the next thirty years. (Realistically, I figured I’d be refinancing pretty soon, anyway). Then, after you close, you get a mailing-a-day from the lender trying to coax you into buying some bullshit mortgage insurance. And then you get the letter that says your mortgage has been sold. All of the language designed to make you think you’re entering into some sort of “relationship” with the lender is bullshit.

Now, I’m not shocked that this is the way of the world. I’m sure I’d heard something to this effect before, that your lender is likely to sell your loan. I just didn’t realize it would happen before my first payment arrived at their office.

I’m not going to mention my controversial broker by name. He’s built quite a name for himself in this area, and his powers of persuasion would dwarf mine considerably. He’s still an enigma to me. He supports all these great charitable causes and has a general philosophy about mortgages that I agree with. But his customer service skills seem to be derived from the school that dictates you can condescend to your puny potential customers because you’ve already made it and don’t need to make these customers think they’re worth your time. If anyone ever asks me off-blog, I’ll tell you of whom I speak. If he personally happens to be reading this, my message to him would be that I’m sorry, but my homebuying experience was a miserable one, and you’re the one I entrusted with making it go smoothly.

Now for the mortgage company who initially owned my loan.

It has been a pleasure to service your mortgage loan.

F*** you, 1st Medallion Mortgage Corp. out of Greensboro, North Carolina. May Googlers find this post and have second thoughts of giving them their business. I’m actually paying 3/8 of a point higher interest than I could had I gone through a local credit union because 1st Medallion already had me by the balls due to the convoluted situation that Mr. Super Broker led me to.

TB: 4 days…

Ah, the magical HUD settlement statement is here.

Hmm…what’s this? The seller is paying $2K towards my closing costs, so some closing costs are itemized to add up to $2K, including the origination fee for the lender. But why is the origination fee listed in my column and the seller’s column? The lender’s going to get an extra bonus origination fee…

And then why is the contract sales price $500 more than the contract says?

I’ve presented these questions to my attorney, her assistant, and my broker. I was only able to reach my broker, who is looking into these matters. I really do believe these are all honest mistakes. I was a bit harsh on my broker in my previous post on this matter. I almost get the feeling that either he or an associate of his reads this blog, as he insisted to me yesterday that he had no reason to believe my original construction loan wouldn’t go through, and that the American mortgage industry has changed drastically in the last six weeks. If you are reading this, I do believe you; you could, however, afford to be a little more sensitive to your clients. Actually, I realize that you CAN afford not to be sensitive to your clients…

There’s one slight other concern, and that’s that my home insurance agent sent me an email yesterday that says, “Can you give me a call when you get a second? We’ll get you sorted out”. Get me sorted out? I left an unreturned voicemail yesterday and another one today. What exactly needs to be sorted out, I have no idea, and I don’t appreciate at all the worrisome language followed by a lack of a return call.

TB: September 4

I have a new closing date–September 4–but I wouldn’t stake my life on it. It’s been two weeks since I last commented on my home purchase predicament. I didn’t see much of a point in writing any further about the frustration of the limbo that has been the processing of buying my house. Even if everything is supposedly on track according to my mortgage broker, there isn’t a whole lot of trust left here. It has been suggested to me that my broker may have known all along that my construction loan had a significant chance of falling through, and that my broker led me down that path anyway, because I’d be left in a seemingly impossible situation where I’d have to take a mortgage through him barring any truly outrageous terms.

In reality, had I moved quickly to get another lender’s opinion two weeks ago, I might be going with a different lender. As things stand, I got that second opinion just today, and the $300 or so I’d save on interest over the next twelve months is not worth the headaches involved in switching lenders. I’m fortunate that the seller is accommodating of a later closing date; I’m not going to push this out another three or four weeks.

So the summer I spent frustrated over the process of getting estimates for numerous home projects has been a waste. Sure, I’m somewhat educated about the process of getting estimates now; I’d rather have spent my time in other ways.

I will likely own my house a week from now, but I will be unable to vastly improve the condition of this house in the next six or twelve months, if ever. It’s a fixer-upper that I’ll have to personally do the fixing-up in most cases, and I doubt I’ll have the energy to dive into it. I never aspired to be one of those people whose weekends are completely booked by home improvement projects. I was going to use that construction loan to pay other people to fix up my house.

This should be an occasion worth celebrating; I have no inkling to celebrate. I’m worn out by this process, which began unexpectedly two-and-a-half months ago when my neighbor abruptly expressed interested in taking a look at this house.

So I’m about to be a Walltown homeowner. I’m sorry I’ve made such a big deal of this. No congratulations are necessary.