Learning From Our Mistakes: Tips for Buying a Home

As a rule, I like to keep the blog light and fluffy. But, hopefully you’ll forgive me if I diverge from our normal path for a few posts, starting with a few basic tips on home buying that we learned the hard way.

1. Inspection, inspection, inspection. Our inspector was sub-par at best, and missed some major elements. Unless you have used your particular inspector before, or you have a trusted family member or friend that can vouch for your inspector, get a second opinion. It’s an extra expense, but it may save you some serious heartache down the road.

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2. Get beyond the basics. A general inspection is a must, but after our own experience, I highly recommend a foundation inspection and a mold inspection. If you don’t want to spring for a foundation inspection, this site has some great tips on looking for foundation issues. http://realestate.msn.com/is-that-crack-serious-foundation-issues-101 As far as mold goes, a few of the tell-tale signs we noticed were stains on the ceiling near air ducts, a musty smell, and a dark spot on the wall, near some base trim. Of course, we noticed those things AFTER we had already closed on the house, because, frankly, we weren’t on the lookout.

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3. Throw your assumptions and emotions out the window. Don’t trust that other people care for their home the same way that you would, or that they are as forthcoming as you might be about problems. And don’t fall head over heels for a house, because we all know love is blind – and that’s the last thing you need to be when you’re making a giant financial decision.

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4. Make your realtor earn his or her keep. Your realtor should be your advocate during this process – finding the right home for your needs, explaining nuances to you, keeping you in the loop on important discussions, and having your best interests at heart. While we weren’t smart enough to do this ourselves, a friend actually “test drove” several realtors before partnering with one. If a realtor pushes you to make a decision in a rush (yes, I know this is an overheated market. That still doesn’t mean you should make snap decisions about something as important as buying a home) or pressures you to do something you aren’t comfortable with, part ways.

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While the hubby and I are working hard to make lemonade with the lemons that were tossed our way, both of us still wish we could go back in time and follow the advice I shared with you. Here’s hoping this post will prevent a person or two from making the same mistakes we did!

Next post on-deck: an open letter to realtors. I’m snagging the opportunity to share my mini-rant here, and then I’ll consider this chapter of our lives over and done.

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It’s Official…

After several months of living in limbo, we’re officially living in our new house – hooray! While the transition took us a lot longer than planned, thanks to the master bathroom mess, our little family is excited to be under our new roof. The hound is particularly enamored of the new digs and has spent countless hours sprinting up and down the stairs (usually when someone is attempting to carry something ungainly). While most of the rooms are looking a little like this…

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There’s one room that making leaps and bounds towards being a finished space. We started with this, way back when we bought the house…

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Which looked a lot worse before it got better.

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We breathed a sigh of relief when we kissed the red walls goodbye forever.

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And then the beige floors made their exit. Plus, the contractor and his assistant managed to haul in the 450-pound tub for a dry fit. Straight, or on the diagonal?

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Day 2A

Diagonal, all the way!

The new shower valve was installed, and the plumbing shifted over by several inches to accommodate for a new, wider footprint for the shower stall.

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The concrete got chipped out so the tub plumbing could make a move.

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The super strange previous sink plumbing layout got revised – so the pipes could run in through the back of the vanity now, instead of straight up through the bottom. True story.

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Insulation installed. We’ll be warm and toasty in our new master bathroom!

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Next up… drywall. No super-chunky, dust-catching texture in sight.

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With the drywall in place, it was time to re-paint. Red it is!

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I kid, I kid. That crazy red paint sealed the Hardiboard behind the shower area – helping us ensure we’ll never have another Moldmageddon on our hands. Then it was time for the fun part – tiling!

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Before we knew it, the whole shower was tiled – including the gorgeous mosaic niche and floor. Plus, new molding and trim, which will get a coating of crisp white paint.

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With the shower knocked out, the floors were next on the list… Apparently the tiles we chose were a huge PITA, but the guys did an amazing job with them. And they never cursed my name (at least when I could hear).

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Hello, tub! Hello, amazing orb light fixture! I’ll smooch both of you.

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Sneak preview of the vanity… which looks way darker in these fancy iPhone photos than in real life.

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Today’s handiwork included the installation of a custom shoe shelf in the closet. So psyched.

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I must admit, the pace of a professionally-managed project is about 27 times faster than standard Lottery House fare. The major pieces of the remodel will be done in a few days, which means the hubby and I will be on deck for tackling the painting while we wait on counter tops and shower glass. Then our contractor will be back for a day of tying up loose ends, and we’ll call this unexpected project done.

I’ll be sure to share updates as we go! On the blog agenda for next week – some insight into the buying and selling process, based on our crazy experience.

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Worth A Thousand Words

While we’ve been working through the moldy mess at the new house, we’ve also had our hands full putting our current house on the market. After lots of frantic cleaning, de-cluttering, and tweaking, I finally declared our handiwork ready for its close up – namely, MLS photos. In school, picture day was always completely nerve-wracking, and this picture day was no different. When we got the pictures back, though, I was thrilled. It was seriously amazing to see all of our hard work photographed by a professional (note to self: must take photography classes). Ready to take the tour?

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Photos courtesy of Shoot2Sell

While there are still about a million projects I would have liked to tackle in our first home, it’s time to move on. We’re so happy and so sad, but most of all, so proud of how far our Lottery House has come.

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The Good, The Bad & The Moldy

After not-so-patiently waiting for our new home to be officially ours, we finally snagged our keys at the end of February and commenced rejoicing. File that away under good news. In the bad news column, note that celebration lasted only two days - thanks to a moldy discovery the weekend after we closed. Tony and I were peeping the scene at the new house, and noticed a dark spot on one of the wall, right above the trim. So, naturally, we did what any normal person would do – rip the molding off immediately, without any of the proper tools. Our handiwork revealed an unfortunate visitor: mold. After descending into an immediate and complete panic, I finally resurfaced once we made it through the process of professionally eliminating the mold problem (in case you’re counting, that was a full two weeks later). Thankfully, after having the mold tested, we confirmed that it wasn’t toxic. The silver lining to this storm cloud? Since the walls are looking like Swiss cheese and we’re shy a vanity and bathtub, it’s time to tackle a renovation.

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With more-than-full-time work schedules and a house to sell, we’re turning the majority of this project over to a pro. We’ll tackle basics like painting and light fixtures on our own to save pennies where we can (nothing like an unplanned and extensive renovation to make you consider an all-Ramen-all-the-time diet plan). The layout of the bathroom will stay basically the same, but we’re swapping the corner tub for a freestanding tub, which I’m super excited about. As far as inspiration for this major makeover, this Houzz pic is my favorite.


Farmhouse Bathroom by Denver Architects & Designers Chalet

I’m head-over-heels for the dark chocolate vanity with the marbled floors and the generally clean, bright color palette. Our take on this space will be a little less farmhouse and a little more glam (because you know I’m part magpie, and nothing makes me happier than a little sparkle). Here’s the board I’ve created for our new master bathroom.

Bathroom Mood Board

I’ll be sure to share the source list once we finally have everything installed!

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Back In The Saddle Again

After several months of extra-long days at the office, when January 1 rolled around, I was ready to start blogging again. The same day, we received a letter in the mail, telling us that our house was being re-zoned to a high school that was sure to take a toll on our home value. This came on the heels of months of grumbling about our neighbors a few doors down, who like to race hot rods up and down the street and have a less “conventional” way of acquiring income. On a whim, the hubby and I decided to look at a house for sale in a quiet neighborhood down the road in McKinney. That spur-of-the-moment trip led to two months of weekend showings, debate over what we really wanted (a fixer upper? something that was 100% move-in ready?), and lots of emails back and forth with our realtor. Then, two weeks ago, we toured a home that had been on the market for a few months, due to an overly aggressive list price and photos that looked like they’d been snapped by an 8 year-old with an iPhone. From the minute we stepped in the front door, I was in love with the flood of natural light, soaring ceilings, and attention to detail – moldings, trim, and built-ins. Plus, the home was in a beautiful, stable neighborhood – a must for us.

After lobbing in an offer significantly below the list price, we waited patiently – and were thrilled when our offer was accepted. We had our inspection last week, and if we can come to an accord with the sellers in the next few weeks, the home will be ours at the end of the month. It has been a whirlwind few months, and with this adventure heading in the right direction, I finally felt ready to share the news – and, of course, some pictures (just click on the picture to see the larger version).

The view from the street – disregard the truck, I was busy snapping pics during our inspection.

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Come on in… (Or, stop and paint the trim around the front door, if you’d like to help.)

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When you step inside, you can see the living room straight ahead, the dining room to your right, and to your left, Tony’s future study and a library/workspace for the whole family. Eventually, we’d love to unify the flooring downstairs with some medium-toned hardwoods.

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Don’t forget to look up while you’re standing here! The medallion on the ceiling is one of my favorite details in the house.

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The dining room is a great space for entertaining – room for an 8-foot table, plantation shutters, picture frame trim and crown molding. The door in the back of the room takes you into the kitchen.

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A sneak peek at Tony’s home office… Lots of natural light and plenty of space for a desk and credenza.

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And the library, which will be a great home for our bookshelves and current dining room table (with its leaves removed). It will be the perfect spot for crafting or homework. The trim in here makes me swoon… at least until I have to paint it!

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There’s even a full bathroom off of the study, in case you work up a sweat reading Stephen King’s newest tome. The border at the top of the wallpaper isn’t my favorite, but I do like the neutral faux-grasscloth otherwise, so I’m thinking chunky crown molding would be a great way to hide that floral trim. And the feet on the vanity… love.

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Next up, the living room. A built-in to hide the TV and trim all around the fireplace. Yes, please.

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The kitchen backs up to the living room (the hubby is daydreaming of watching football while we get dinner together on a Sunday). And I am pumped about the middle-of-the-floor outlet, because not running an extension cord to my laptop is gonna be the jam. It’s the little things.

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Heading in to the kitchen – lots of cabinet  and prep space, plus nice appliances. The sellers are even leaving the fridge! I’ll be the first to admit the colors aren’t exactly my favorite, but we’ll wait awhile before we tackle a reno. I’ll change my mind a million times before then, but I’m thinking espresso-stained cabinets and white & grey Silestone counters and backsplash.

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Through the kitchen, a butler’s pantry. I have no words for how much I love this nook!

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And the laundry room (again, more appliances courtesy of the sellers). Definitely more spacious than our current laundry room, which will decrease the likelihood of an errant elbow to the face or ribs as multiple family members try to remove their shoes at the same time.

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Backtracking to the other downstairs space now – the master. I’ll have to re-think our dressers-as-nightstands, because the room is a little smaller than our current master.

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One of the first things on our to-do list will be painting the master bathroom, which looks like Dexter had a plastic-wrap-free field day in there. Shudder. The texture is also pretty intense, but that will wait until a down-the-road renovation (when we’ll also get rid of that corner Jacuzzi).

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Taking a peek upstairs, we have 3 bedrooms.

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The last will be Livi’s – I’m envisioning built-in bookshelves on either side of her bed, giving her plenty of storage for her book collection and a loungey-feel.

The upstairs also has a second living area that opens up onto a second-story balcony, which will be amazing for enjoying the weather in spring and fall.

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The idea of moving is becoming more real as we hurtle through this process, and it definitely hasn’t been without mixed emotions. We’ve put so much time and love into our house, and have so many good memories here – there’s certainly a big part of me that will be sad to go. That said, I’m beyond excited to move and create more wonderful memories with our friends and family in a new space. So, I’ve got my fingers crossed that all of the details come together and that we’ll be getting ready to pack up in a few short weeks.

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Renovation Reality Check

In the past, Tony and I have always completed the bulk of our renovation projects without help from the pros. This time, we decided to call on some trades for help, in an effort to speed the timeline and limit our stress levels. Unfortunately, I think it’s safe to say we missed the mark on both points.

Let’s back up a bit. When I checked in last, we had finally kissed our “open concept” kitchen walls goodbye. The next step was tiling the backsplash, which we relied on a professional to knock out. The quality of work is just OK – there are definitely some sloppily executed details, which makes me slightly crazy. Pardon the iPhone photo.

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Cabinet painting was next up. This is where things really started to go awry. The contractor we chose had excellent reviews online, and really impressed me during our first meeting. Our project was a bit more complicated than the average paint job, since we elected to peel the thermofoil coating off of our cabinet doors and re-paint them, instead of opting for new wood doors. The contractor assured me he had just completed a similar job with great results, showed me some samples, and worked with us on staying in our budget. After day one, things were looking good. The cabinets were peeled and the doors were ready for hardware. P.S. Notice anything different about the cabinets? We also added feet – a small detail that makes a huge difference, in my highly partial opinion.

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After day three, when the first coat of paint went up, I started to get nervous. Brush strokes, blobs and chunks in the paint, and dings and dents that weren’t patched. I expressed concern, and the contractor assured me that these issues would be fixed. After day 4, I called in the big guns – Tony met with the contractor the following morning to let him know exactly what wasn’t up to snuff in the kitchen. Unfortunately, even after raising so many red flags, the end result simply isn’t good. I’m super bummed to have spent a pretty penny on a paint job that looks worse than what I could have done myself. Now, before you check out the pictures and chalk my concerns up to insanity, know that it’s practically impossible to capture the details of a crappy paint job on film – especially when you’re snapping pics at night.

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In spite of being less than thrilled with the work that was done by the pros, it’s time to call this project done – for now. Ideally, I’d like to order replacement doors for the cabinets and tackle the job of repainting the whole affair myself (after about a week of sanding off the current blobby mess). I’m also on the fence about a backsplash redo. But neither of these can be tackled when we’re in the middle of holiday season at work, so we’ll revisit in January.

Tony and I also tackled some more projects on our own. Hello, fancy new convection oven and pretty new microwave!

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I slapped a fresh coat of paint on the pantry door and the windowsills – nothing like a shiny, new coat of paint to brighten things up. I also ordered two black Tabouret stools for the bar, which I am loving. Please excuse the green tape – I’m working out the dimensions for a corbel. Definitely a visual thinker!

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Still on the agenda (hopefully before January):

  • Hem and hang our white Lenda curtains in the eating area
  • Sand and refinish my Craig’s List pedestal table
  • Replace the light fixture in the eating area
  • Add some architectural interest to the bar area with a pretty corbel
  • Sew a valance for the window over the kitchen sink
  • Find some chairs to go with our new-to-us pedestal table
  • Track down some less heinous alternatives to our current toaster and coffee maker
  • Taking some pictures of our handiwork with the benefit of daytime lighting

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On The Road to A Finished Reno!

After living without kitchen counters and a sink for several days, I can confirm that these are BY FAR the most important elements in a kitchen. Ovens and cooktops I can live without… running water, not so much. Late last week, after tackling the demo of our old counters on our own, we were working with a seriously function-less kitchen.

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Luckily, our countertops were ready for installation, so we didn’t have to manage without counters for long. After not-so-patiently waiting for 3 hours, our counters were in place and ready for ogling. I’m head-over-heels for the Carrera-esque pattern (and the low maintenance. Hallelujah). The colors are perfect, and I’m so thrilled we went with the 4 cm edge instead of the 2 cm.

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Although the new cooktop isn’t functional yet, we did have to put it in place for a test fit – so much more seamless and clean-lined than its grubby predecessor.

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Of course, no installation could ever go off without a hitch. The square corners we requested were lost in translation, leaving us with 3/4″ radius corners. Not the end of the world, but the rounded edge compromises the modern look of the counters (in my opinion, anyway). The upside is, there is less chance that a wee person will poke an eye out on a sharp edge in our kitchen. So bring your kiddos over, friends!

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We also kissed our “open-concept” (yep, that’s what we christened our wall-less kitchen look) goodbye. The installer that will be crafting our backsplash made a first visit to install some cement backer-board.

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And for a super-productive finale, we gave our kitchen walls a coat of Benjamin Moore’s Simply White in a Matte finish (you can peep it in all the pics above). The color is perfect – a creamy but not-yellow white. The Matte finish is a flat enamel, which is perfect for folks like us that love a flat finish, but want the wipeability of a satin. We’ve used low VOC flat enamel from Olympia for both of our bathrooms, but for this project, we opted to upgrade to higher-quality paint. In today’s world, it didn’t occur to me to verify that the paint was low VOC (unless you’re using oil-based paint, it’s tough to track down any of these extra stinky paint concoctions). After cracking open the Ben Moore, I was totally aghast at the stench from this paint. After spending $150 on 3 gallons, we opted to use the non-returnable paint, but it reaaaaally offended my nose and my environmental sensibilities. We spent the evening sleeping with the windows open, in spite of the 90+ degree temps outdoors. I liken that evening to sleeping in a paint factory in Vietnam. All that to say, I absolutely don’t recommend this paint.

Still on the to-do list: installing our microwave, oven and cooktop. Plus, on the “observing but not doing ourselves” list, subway tile install. After that, it’s just having the cabinets painted and tackling some of the details (curtains, swapping out the light fixture, re-finishing my Craig’s list pedestal table, and finding some new chairs and bar stools). The upside is, the end to this lengthy upheaval is actually in sight. Hooray!

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