Monday, February 21, 2011

The Year of the House

This is the story of how Bill and I managed to sell our house in the worst housing market in decades and then find our little dream house that we want to retire in. It took a whole year, and 100% of all my energy. Looking back now, I realize that we were quite lucky to succeed at this because many have not.

January: On the seventh morning of 2010 that we discovered the lower level of the house had acquired a couple inches of water overnight. Uh oh. The toilet intake hose had let go. The cleanup crew efficiently demolished our newly remodeled family room and bathroom and put everything out in the garage. It took enormous heaters several days (and copious noxious odors) to dry things out enough for us to inhabit the house again. Meanwhile, a couple tablespoons of water seeped into the corner of the family room from outside, so we decided to fix that problem before reassembling things. This decision was the beginning of the end of our year.

This whirling dervish is tearing up the new flooring in our family room.
 February: We interviewed several contractors about fixing the drainage and managed to select the one who didn’t understand that water runs down hill and who proceeded to destroy the landscaping while transforming a slight problem into a REAL problem. We fired him and started over. Eventually we got the yard repaired and a proper drainage solution installed.

March: Now it was time to put the lower level of our home back together. We interviewed the requisite droves of contractors and hired two: a very good one and a not-so-good one. Meanwhile, after living in a chaotic mess for of a couple of months already, we decided to make a year of it, and so put our house on the market in mid-month. We’d been thinking about moving westward, across the lake to Seattle, and it suddenly didn’t seem so daunting, all things considered. We staged the house, putting half of our belongings in a POD to store until the house was sold, and we’d found another place to live. We interviewed a few dozen agents and came up with a realtor to handle the marketing and sale. Seattle, here we come!
April: We fired realtor #1 (the best thing about our house was the floor plan, apparently. Hmm. Unlikely to draw hordes of buyers to our split-entry home), and found realtor #2, Cindy Peschell Hull, who turned out to be an angel in disguise. We entertained a number of offers and picked the best buyers of the bunch, who proceeded to tie up the house during the last week of the buyer tax credit and then back out for no reason. Back to Square 1.

May: We spent the month at the neighborhood watering hole while scores of buyers checked out our house. I know that some of you won’t view this as a particular hardship, but given the fact that I don’t drink and Bill can’t, it wasn’t nearly as fun as it should have been. By the end of the month, we were so worn down that we decided to give the house to the next buyer.

June: This strategy worked. We had a buyer. Yeah! Cindy coaxed them towards our mid-July closing date while we completed inspections on a house in the Ballard district of Seattle. But by now you should know that something would have to go wrong this month or else it would interrupt the flow of the whole year. And you’re right on the mark. At the 11th hour before closing on the Ballard house, we learned that it was of high interest to the EPA due to its role as a used-motor-oil dump. The resulted in another flurry of interviews and the employment of a real estate attorney. So far, we’d been doing a lot to combat local unemployment, but we were to do even more in future months (this is foreshadowing, BTW).

July: The toxic-waste-dump house issue resolved, we were now officially homeless, as the sale of our Kirkland house closed in mid-month and we didn’t have another one on the line. So we put the remainder of our belongings in storage POD #2 and moved into a short-term apartment right next to Swedish Hospital in Ballard. We never actually heard any of the ambulance sirens I was concerned about when we first moved in. Instead, we heard the details of the many loud conversations and arguments taking place nightly on the sidewalk outside our bedroom window, effectively masking those feeble little siren noises. Our apartment, it turned out, was on a mandatory route between bars, which every drunk in Ballard was required to stumble along between the hours of 11 PM and 3 AM at a minimum. I was tempted to put a sign out, “Night Sleepers!” But I figured no one would be able to focus well enough to read it, so why bother?

Meanwhile, after firing our second selling agent, we turned to our faithful Eastside realtor, Cindy, to help us find a reasonably safe and somewhat-close-to-habitable home in Seattle, which we would be able to pay for by merely mortgaging all we owned and selling our souls for good measure, and she promptly did so. Closing was set for August 15.

August, September, October, November: After a blissful lull of five days that followed finalizing our offer and obtaining mortgage financing, a process too gruesome to describe here, we took possession of our lovely circa 1945 home on August 17th. Then we really began generating employment. The previous months turned out to have been a mere warm-up for what lay ahead – about 20 different repair and improvement projects.

With construction work still in progress, we moved into our new home with the belongings from POD #2 in September (sleep deprivation being a prime motivator). POD #2 filled the house completely. Then POD #1 was delivered in November, inspiring several weeks’ weeding out, with the eventual result of a crammed garage, but otherwise navigable house.

December: This month brought our reward. Visits from far-away family members! From Australia came my daughter, Liz, and her boyfriend, Jim, followed by Bill’s brother Barry from England. What a treat! And, although our little house doesn’t hold as much STUFF as our old one did, it seems to magically expand for company. It works out really well, indeed! And we just love it here! It is worth everything that was required to make the move.

We will have many fond memories to review over the coming years, such as the home inspector who broke our kitchen light fixture and left the circuit panel hanging off the wall, the electrician, long-suffering Eugene, whom I taught to use a drop cloth, and the contractor who put his foot through the kitchen ceiling.

Happy New Year!

PS Just so you don’t think that December broke the pattern, the basement was all set up for Barry’s stay, when we had a record-setting rainstorm during which every basement in Seattle leaked, including ours, so we had to cram him into the dresser-room instead. Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men… How fitting that a year beginning with a wet basement should also end with one.

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