The Next Big Project

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Last summer, I mused about needing a new house. At the time, the sentiment was real, and the motivation was there, but the desire was more wish than reality. Our list of requirements was long, you see. We wanted to either build something new, or completely gut a run down house in a good location. We also wanted to remain in our current town, have access to city water and sewer, and to own a relatively flat piece of property, but finding any land that checked off all the boxes AND not cost an insane amount of coin turned out to be like trying to eat soup with a fork.

K had doggedly turned over over every rock, and called anyone she could think of who might know somebody or something, but every promising turn resulted in a dead end. It was getting to the point where we began to wonder if we needed to revisit our requirements because at the rate we were going, there was no possible way we would move in 2019, which was the goal.

While this hand-wringing was going on, a new option presented itself almost by accident. We discovered an opportunity that was not yet public knowledge, and K ran with it. Lo and behold, after several months of back and forth, we reached and signed an agreement and forked over a deposit, which was necessary because the owner’s development plan for the property and not yet been submitted to or approved by the town’s Planning and Zoning committee. We had confidence it would, but timing was important because our desire is to break ground before winter, and move during the spring or early summer.

The town approved the plan on August 2nd, and we are currently in the waiting period where the requested changes P&Z made have to be submitted. The period in question also allows anyone who wishes to dispute the committee’s decision to file a complaint and gum up the process. Assuming the changes are made and nobody raises a fuss, we should formally close and own the property by the end of the month.

Now the fun begins really begins. We’ve been working with an architect for almost a month to create a plan that pleases K’s aesthetics in addition to being ADA compliant. We’ve also been looking at things like windows, doors, flooring and material of that nature so we can begin pricing this out.  We’ve had preliminary discussions with our bank to discuss financing options that are going to be predicated on whether we are going to serve as the general contractors for this project or hire a builder to oversee everything, which is another decision that needs to be made soon.

Actually, there is no “we” as far as being our own contractor is concerned. K will serve in that capacity. We’re familiar with the drill because we assumed that responsibility with house number one after we fired our general contractor before it was completely under roof, and hired all the subcontractors after that. Her father, a retired carpenter who knew how to build  a house in its entirety once a foundation was poured, was alive at the time and served as the on-site general foreman.

House number two was done by a local contractor, who built a decent house, but there were issues along the way. K has always been ahead of the curve in terms of healthy house construction. Much of what contractors thought was crazy twenty years ago is code these days. This wasn’t much of an issue with house number one because we subbed out most of it and paid the subcontractors ourselves, but it was on the second house. The contractor’s primary interest for that job was to get the thing up quickly with little deviation from his normal process, and he was therefore reluctant try anything new or different. Still, with K riding his butt, sticking firm to what she wanted, and making sure everything the subs needed was on-site so they didn’t wander off to another job, we moved into the place less than six months after ground was broken.

K has been and will continue to be the driving force behind this project. Of course, she will want to pull out her hair during the construction process, and repeatedly lament what possessed her to take this on, but the truth is she loves this stuff. The other truth is we can save a lot of money by doing this ourselves.  In retrospect, she and her Mom missed their calling. They have the eye and talent as far as house design and layout are concerned, and her Dad had the skills to make their visions a reality. They could have created one hell of a successful business flipping houses long before it became the rage, and maybe I’d be comfortably retired by now.

So, assuming there are no blips within the next two weeks, the thought of a new homestead has transformed from a conceptual idea to something very real over a relatively short period of time, and some anxiety comes with it.

Why? Well, it didn’t take long for sticker shock to set in. Building materials and costs have increased dramatically since 2000, the last time we did this. We know what we want this project to look like when we are finished. The great unknown right now is whether the cost is going to force us lower our expectations. I hope not.

We also know nothing ever goes as planned when it comes to building a house, so there will be many stressful and aggravating moments along the way, especially if this drags well into next summer. Managing stress is going to become paramount, especially for me since I know it exacerbates my symptoms. I may not be on the front lines while this is going on, but if K gest stressed, I get stressed.

It is going to be quite the challenge for her to pull this off, maintain her writing schedule, and keep up with the current house. I will do as much as I can, but we’ve long established the fact that my physical limitations prevent me from picking up my fair share of the slack. But I will try to approach things methodically as this develops, and address one item at a time. It is easier not to become overwhelmed that way.

I’ll post periodic updates as this process unfolds, and share more of the specifics of what our plans entail. Meanwhile, I have to dust off the calculator, figure out how to pay for the damn thing without mortgaging our future, and hope/pray that Mr. MS doesn’t decide to up the ante and create a host of debilitating problems before the job is done. What a shit-storm that would be.

 

 

 

Home Improvement

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Last Saturday evening, I was sitting around the fire pit in my back yard with my wife and a friend, sharing a drink and shooting the breeze. It was a perfect autumn evening: cool and clear, with no wind. A bright, full moon had emerged from behind the hills across the valley my yard overlooks, and was now perched in the center of the sky, casting moon shadows at various places in the yard. We had paused for a moment, and all you could hear was the hissing and crackling of the fire. I gazed at the moon and the picturesque scene, and thought: “I’m really going to miss this place.”

I need a new house, you see.

My condition is not the only reason I need to move, because I’m at the point in my life where scaling down makes sense. I never enjoyed yard work all that much, never liked house cleaning (who does?), and don’t take much pleasure in house maintenance, primarily because I’m not handy. A smaller house with a smaller, flatter yard would be cheaper to maintain, and require less work to take care of. The by-product of that would presumably be more free time for my wife and I to enjoy.

MS simply amplifies the need. Our house is too big for one person to maintain, and it’s frustrating for me to see my wife take on all of the inside house stuff knowing she could use my help. The cost of hiring people to mow a yard that is very hilly, remove snow from a driveway that is long, uphill and curvy, in addition to a portion of a private road we live on, is becoming prohibitive. Navigating the three stories (main floor, upstairs and basement) is becoming more cumbersome, and walking on terrain that has few flat spots has become a problem.

I’ve lived here the longest as an adult, so my connection to the place is deeper than any of my other homes, including my parent’s house. When I left home during my early twenties, I was ready to spread my wings and assert my independence. There wasn’t any melancholy or sadness, and when my parents passed away a couple of years ago, any emotional attachment I may have felt with the place was buried with them.

This is different. Quite frankly, we love our house. It is perched on a hill, has a wonderful view of a the Connecticut hills, and the interior decor and furnishings are just about perfect. So is the landscaping. It’s the house our son, who is now 19, was raised in. It took less than six months for us to move into the place once ground was broken, and we watched every step of the construction process, from the time the foundation was poured to the time we moved in. A lot of memories, good and bad, reside within those four walls, and it is going to feel very strange to call a new place home.

What is most daunting, though, is the thought of moving.

Back in the nineties, when I was twenty years younger, stronger, and had two good legs, we moved four times within a five year period. Two of those moves involved crossing state lines. The first move was a grand adventure, but the novelty had certainly worn off by move number four, into our current home. After that one, I swore that if I moved again soon, it would be in a pine box.

So I know what is involved, and understand that this move will be a royal bitch. First of all, we have far more stuff than we’ve ever had to move before, and we aren’t in our thirties anymore. Plus, I have a hard enough time helping decorate the Christmas Tree, so I have no illusions about what I will be bringing to the table when it comes to packing and moving a home. Maybe I’ll get an adrenaline rush and surprise myself, but that’s wishful thinking. The safer bet is that the process of moving is going to suck, and I will hate every second of it.

Having said that, the idea of a new place is exciting. We’ve built two houses already, and it is cool to see the planning and thought translate into the real thing during the construction process. Plus, when the new home is complete, you don’t have to worry about stuff breaking down, or having to replace anything in the near future. I relish the idea of having everything on one floor, ramps leading into the house from the sidewalks and garage, wide hallways that can accommodate a wheelchair, a bathroom/shower that will as well, and a stairway into the basement that has a stair lift.

As you can surmise, the new house will be ADA compliant, and knowing that we won’t have to worry anymore about my condition making it impossible to live in my home will put all of our minds at ease.  We want to incorporate everything we love about our current place, and, budget permitting, add a few things we don’t have but wish we did, like a sun room.

Do I have to move right away? Technically, no, but the progression clock is ticking. I would rather be in a place that will easily accommodate my needs should the day arrive when I’m wheelchair-bound, than have to look for a place because I have a hard time getting in and out of my home. Planning for a move now allows us to think clinically and rationally, and leads to better decision making. Waiting until it’s too late makes the process more emotional and impulsive.

My self imposed moving deadline is 2019. The biggest issue confronting us is finding a piece of property in our current town that checks all the boxes, and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. That isn’t easy to come by in the section of town we desire, and contractors usually scoop the parcels of land up when they do. I’d rather not be beholden to any one contractor.

I’ve pegged our odds at finding the right place in our current town 50-50 at best. If that fails, the fallback position is to buy a house that is is disrepair but has good bones on the cheap, rip it down to the studs, and fix it up. The problem with that, however, is there aren’t a lot of ranches in our town, and this might actually cost more than building from scratch. So we search, wait, and hope something will emerge. As a last resort, we may have to expand our search to neighboring towns, but would first have to decide if that would be better than staying in town and settle for something less than perfect. Hopefully is doesn’t boil down to that.

They say patience is a virtue. We’ll see. Hopefully, a parcel will become available and we’ll be able to build the house we want. A nice view would be a bonus.