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Archive for August, 2011

Washington Lessons

This past week, all of us visited Sherrie in Yacolt for six days, partly to visit, of course, but also to get the lay of the land and make sure this was a place that we wanted to live. We met with two realtors, looked (unofficially) at a few properties, talked with county building people, and generally drove all over Clark County. (Oh, and we also visited Mt. St. Helens and did some fun stuff, too!) The trip has given us a whole lot to process; more than one entry here can digest. But, some general observations are in order.

  • Buyer’s bonanza. It seems that every third driveway has a For Sale sign out there. There are tons of properties available, many in foreclosure, and some auctioned off every week. But did we find the perfect property with the perfect house that is exactly in our price range? No.
  • Travel time. Forty-five minutes in Chicago gets me from home to downtown or home to Triton. Forty-five minutes in Clark County gets you basically anywhere in Clark County! Of course, the real distance is much greater, and we prefer to live closer than 45 minutes to Vancouver if possible. Washougal, for example is about 15 minutes away.
  • Small-town Vancouver. About 145,000 people live in Vancouver, but it really feels like a small town. When we drove into downtown the first time we said, “Where’s the city?” Portland boats over half a million people, so I suspect most of my work will be there. It’s just statistics.+
  • People are friendlier. People seem much more willing to help a clueless stranger than are people in Chicago. We went in with a bunch of general permit questions and the inspector at the county building talked to us for fifteen minutes, giving us all sorts of information, advice, and suggestions, and even wrote down notes for us to remember. He wasn’t’ the only one like this—many other people exhibited the same helpfulness and friendliness to us.

Beyond the general feel of southwest Washington, we also discovered a few ways in which our approach needed to be modified.

  • Two acres isn’t enough. One- or two-acre lots are surprisingly scarce—they’re zoned larger, as a rule. After looking at a p 2-acre lots, Melissa realized that a five-acre parcel was much more in line with our vision of Barewood. Two acres is a fine yard, but not enough space.
  • Pre-existing may be better. Building on undeveloped lands incurs impact fees for traffic, parks, and schools—from $6,000 to $10,000. However, if a house, mobile home, or shack was on the land first, no additional impact fees are required. So, it puts land with any old house on it back onto the table.
  • The best deals are out there. Auctions happen every Friday at the courthouse, but you need to pay the tab an hour after winning your bid! Foreclosures are not sold with contingency (i.e., I’ll buy this IF my property sells) so you need the cash in the bank. Translation: we need to sell in Chicago first, move out to Washington and rent, and be there to catch the best deal.
  • Family is nice. Beyond the physical amenities of the barn swing (the girls’ favorite part of the trip) and Lisa and Ken’s pool, it’s nice to have family out there. Even nicer, Sherrie and Garry offered to let us stay at their place during the in-between times if we need. We will probably rent our own place, but it’s wonderful to have family to rely on if there are weird housing transitions.

All in all, that was a most informative trip, and we came back ready to shift into high gear to get our Chicago house ready for sale. More later.

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Crisis of Confidence

Just a day before our flight to Washington, we began to re-think our whole approach. Melissa was the first to speak up, but her misgivings also struck a chord in me. We worry that we are not the most “handy” of people and that we know next-to-nothing about many home systems (like plumbing, foundations, vapor barriers, etc, etc.) and absolutely nothing about the process of plans, permits, inspections, and the myriad other hoops a home-builder must jump through in modern America. We also fear that we have not counted the cost realistically enough. If we sell our house for the price we hope, we’ll have about $80,000 left after debt payment. If we buy land, then buy a manufactured home, that seed money will be gone, and we will be left to build a new home on the surplus our monthly budget–which may be a complete fallacy! It may behoove us to look instead at homes already built, especially foreclosed homes which have been selling for a fraction of their appraised value. Even if we needed to carry a $20,000 or $30,000 mortgage but could buy the land and a house we liked, that would spre us the five-year ordeal of home building and likely be cheaper in the long run!

Another consideration is the time factor. If it takes a year to move and five years to build, the girls will be 11 and 13 when we’re done and settled–leaving only a few years to build the home memories that we want. A house that’s already built would jumpstart that process. Things to think about.

 

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Crisis of Confidence

Crisis of confidence. Just a day before our flight to Washington, we began to rethink our whole approach. Melissa was the first to speak up, but her misgivings also struck a chord in me. We worry that we are not the most “handy” of people, and that we know next-to-nothing about many home systems (like plumbing, foundations, vapor barriers, etc.) and absolutely nothing about the process of plans, permits, inspections, and the myriad other hoops a home-builder must jump through in modern America. We also fear that we have not counted the cost realistically enough. If we sell our house for the price we hope, we’ll have about $80,000 left after debt payment. If we buy land, then buy a manufactured home, that seed money will be gone, and we will be left to build a new home on the surplus of our monthly budget—which may be a complete fallacy! It may behoove us to look instead at homes already built, especially foreclosed homes which have been selling for a fraction of their appraised value. Even if we needed to carry a $20,000 or $30,000 mortgage but could buy the land and a house we like, that would spare us the five-year ordeal of home building and likely be cheaper in the long run!

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The Parents Know

Last night I took a small but important step in this process–I told my parents about our developing plans. We had told Sherrie and (much more recently) Debbie, but we weren’t sure how Mom and Dad would react. Not because they wouldn’t want us closer, but because our upcoming visit to Sherrie’s precludes a visit to California. They didn’t mention that, though, and they seemed very supportive.

I also let Lisa and Ken Brown know, and they are keeping an eye out for a good realtor; hopefully we can meet someone on our u[coming visit and start a relationship now, rather than waiting until the house sells and we need to find someone last minute, long distance from Chicago.

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It’s Becoming Official

We had told Sherrie and, much more recently Debbie, but I wasn’t sure how Mom and Dad would react. Not because they wouldn’t want us closer, but because going to Sherrie’s precludes us going to California. They didn’t mention that (though not sure they would) and they seemed very supportive.

While this plan is hardly a secret, it is far from common knowledge either. We have been somewhat reticent to tell most of our friends until the plans are a little more concrete. We especially don’t want to get Melissa replaced at First Free…and then have another 2 or 3 months waiting around until the house sells!

I also let Lisa and Ken Brown know, and they are keeping an eye out for a good realtor; hopefully we can meet someone on our upcoming visit and start a relationship now, rather than waiting until the house sells and we need to find someone at the last minute, long distance from Chicago.

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Permaculture Musings

We just got back from a camping trip to Door County, Wisconsin. While there, we visited a U-Pick cherry farm, and now we are thinking to add a couple of cherry trees to our dream homestead, along with the juneberries, raspberries, apple trees, and other fruiting delectables. Perhaps we could line our driveway with such trees, rather than set them aside in an orchard or something. we’d like to integrate as many food-bearing plants as possible into a permaculture habitat, so that they seem a natural paart of the landscaping or ecosystem, rather than a forced “taming” of the land.

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Door County

We just got back from a camping trip to Door County, Wisconsin. While there, we visited a U-Pick cherry farm and now we are thinking to add a couple of cherry trees to our dream homestead, along with the juneberries, raspberries, apple trees, and other fruiting delectable. Perhaps we could line our driveway with such trees, rather than set them aside in an orchard or something. We’d like to integrate as many food-bearing plants as possible into a permaculture habitat, so that they seem a natural part of the landscaping or ecosystem rather than a forced “taming of the land.”

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