House Journal – Plumbing Fun

Buying a house that is well into middle age is always a challenge. Appliances are old, electrics are often ancient, and not up to current code, and of course there is plumbing from the dark ages.

Not that in the mid 1960’s was bad for plumbing, but back then a lot of sketchy piping was imported from a rapidly industrializing Taiwan, and the early plastic piping and junctions often had polypropylene blended with paper (why?).

We of course had some that we knew about from the inspection. The main drain pipe under the house was at the end of its serviceable life (the Taiwan steel), and the sewer junction between the bathrooms was the polypropylene/paper junctions. Plus some small things (like plumbing the kitchen for gas). Total bid was $2100.

Of course, adding a cleanout to the main sewer line near the house allowed us to inspect the main 4″ sewer connection, and of course that was not good. After nearly 50 years, there was encroachment of tree roots into the main sewer line, that we should clean/replace, as well as adding a cleanout at the property line to the city for future maintenance issues.

The neighbor has had the Rotorooter people out a couple times to snake the main line, so we know that it is endemic to the neighborhood.

Add to that a failing water valve at the street, and crappy old steel piping of the main water to the house, which we should replace as well, and we added 3 days and $3750 to the total.


We have the money, and it is good to do it before we move in (imagine living without sewer or water for 3 days in the future), but it is an unexpected expense. What can you do?

Of course, none of this is in the disclosures, and even if they were, we would be stuck anyway.

Suck it up cupcake, and get it done.

House Painting – DONE

For the first time EVER, we have had the time (and enough, barely, money) to spruce up a house before we move in. We have a long list of things to accomplish, first and foremost was the interior painting.

Our Real Estate agent recommended a painter and a color consultant that he had used often. I was a bit hesitant on the color consultant, but if it meant peace in the family, then so be it.

colors-10Our colors were a grey/olive color for the kitchen that worked well for the cream colored cabinetry, switching to a lighter shade in the living rooms, and a yet lighter shade for the hallway. A dark grey paint on the bricks on the fireplace, and a white cream/off white for the trim and the ceiling.

colors-9It looks great.




For the bedrooms, there are four.

colors-8Barbara’s Office – a red called “Cinnabar” that looks fantastic. She currently has white shutters, and the contrast looks great.




colors-4My Office – as I am a fan of purple, I ended up with a dark burgundy. It is called “Bewitched”, and it came out dark and perfect. I am visualizing wall mounts for my guitars.



colors-3Master Bedroom – we went for a deep green, called “Fair Isle Blue”. We wanted something that was fun, and yet dark enough to allow for good sleeping in (not for me, for Barbara who will sleep all day if she could.


colors-1Guest Bedroom – We have a 4th, “guest” bedroom, that will be a post seizure resting area with Tate, It was panted a lighter blue, “Cornflower”, and it also came out spectacular.



The house looks great. Now we have plumbers, electricians, and handymen to come and work on the rest. New appliances will be installed late next week (they are deserving of a post by themselves), and on 3/25, the west fence will be replaced. The other fence will be replaced when the permit for removing our neighbor’s monster tree is approved.

House – Painting part 2 the Woo-merchant

The painters are half done. The popcorn is off the ceiling, the walls have been repaired and textured, and the real work will begin on Monday. Today, we had the Color Expert in to advise us.

I wasn’t sure what a color consultant did, and how it would be better than looking on Sherwin Williams website for color pairings. In fact, in the past, that is how we selected colors, find something we liked, and then looked for colors that complemented it. Seemed simple.

But our realtor raged about his color expert, and Barbara signed her up. Yesterday was the day. Of course the house is a bit of a mess, the painters about half way done with the work (almost all the prep work is complete, and it looks FABULOUS).

The Consultant was about 10 minutes late. Not a big deal. She is an energetic, middle aged woman who talks in a constant stream. She asked us questions to determine who we were, and what we did/liked in the past.

tucson_house 3584Sidebar: We painted the interior of our Tucson house in loud, and southwest-ish colors. Golds, Purples, Brick red, Hazel Greens, and even a “Curry” Yellow in the bathrooms. I liked it, but it was a negative when trying to sell the house. Party poopers…

Since we have cream colored “Ikea” cabinetry in the kitchen, and a natural stone tile on the floors as well as dark granite tile counters, we started there. She worked on the ceiling and the trim colors, close to white, but a good blend with the ceiling, since they run to the ceiling.

colors-4For the walls, we settled on a grey/olive shade that I will admit looks pretty good. (Of course, the proof will be in the pudding when it is sprayed on the wall). There is a transition to a slightly lighter grey/olive into the living room area, where the TV will be, with a dark color for the fireplace (the brick is already painted white, so we will paint over it.)

Then we will lighten it up in the entry way, and down the hallway to make it look less like a cave.

Barbara’s office will be either a deep blue (that looks great) or some red. She hasn’t decided yet, and won’t until we go see the swatches in the better light today.

My office will be a red/purple color that I happen to like. I am already thinking about the options of mounting wall hangers for my guitars, and to eliminate one of my computer workstations. Very serviceable.

The master bedroom will be a deep blue-green that will keep the mood for sleeping (we are one of those rarities, people who don’t have a TV in the bedroom.)

While the weather turned dark and dour yesterday, I think we came pretty close in selecting our colors. I will admit that the Color Consultant is a bit of Woo, and the running commentary was a bit much, we did get to a good place.

But was it worth $500?

House – Interior Painting

While the outside of the house has pretty decent paint, the inside was a bit, uh, hideous. Nothing too awful, but it clearly hadn’t been painted in a long time. The bedrooms had some odd paint colors on some walls, and one was obviously a child’s room with some odd trim.

painting 7Add to that the awful 70’s vintage “popcorn” ceiling, and you have a mess. Fortunately, our real estate agent recommended Mario to work it over. In a mere two days, they have:

  • Masked all fixtures and cabinetry
  • Removed the popcorn ceiling
  • Fixed some drywall damage
  • Replaced the particle board shelves in the closets
  • Retexture the walls and ceiling

Once we choose colors, we will have an awesome interior to come home to.

I can hardly wait.

The Kitchen

Before moving into our new house, we are having a lot of work done. While the “bones” of the house are in good condition, it is clear that some of the extremities were in need of some massive overhaul. The Kitchen Appliances are one of the worst offenders.

As a former professional chef, I am lucky (cursed?) with the ability to make anything “do” around cooking. Old stoves, inadequate ovens, etc, I can survive with it. Hence I have never felt the need to spend the money to upgrade appliances unless they are broken.

Doubly bad, having tagged along with my step father, an appliance repairman, I am pretty good at keeping appliances alive.

Thus, I have worked with some pretty crappy gear in the homes that I have owned. From the AEK at the condo I first bought, to the so so gas range in Tucson (neither good nor bad, but a serviceable GE unit) to the radiative heating stovetop at our Chandler house, I was able to cope.

appliances-11However, now that we have bought a house here in San Jose, it is time to splurge. The appliances in the kitchen (stove/oven, dishwasher, and microwave) are all abysmal. The dishwasher is just yucky, I don’t want to even touch it. The oven/stove? Well, it is a 1970’s vintage Roper that is not only plain, but in pretty rough shape. The burners are the old coil type, and the drip pans, well, instead of spending $15 to replace them, they were just wrapped in aluminum foil.

So we plopped down some bucks for new appliances. Since we are doing a lot of other work to the house, the new appliances haven’t arrived yet, so this will just document the meh that was there. The stove will be a sweet gas slide-in Kitchen Aid unit that will probably be the best stove/oven I have ever worked with outside of a commercial kitchen.

I have already replaced the halogen “can” lights in the kitchen with LED’s, and added dimmer switches, so it is slowly, but surely becoming ours. Next week the plumber comes to fix a few issues, and to plumb gas into the oven area.

I can hardly wait to move in.

House Hunting Journal – Mortgage Companies Suck

I wrote this a couple weeks ago, before we closed so I wouldn’t jinx the process. The process of mortgage underwriting is completely f*cked up at this point. This post is some of the zaniness I had to endure.

The last house I bought, in Chandler Arizona was a breeze. We bought it in 2012 (i.e. well after the global financial crisis), and apart from documenting my wages, and supplying some paperwork about our house in Tucson that we were keeping and renting, it was a relatively painless process. That is not to say that we didn’t have some hoops to jump through, but they were easy, and quickly dispatched.

The loan we got here is a whole other story. Granted, we are borrowing the maximum allowed for a conforming loan. But it is a standard 30 year, fixed rate mortgage (that we locked in at 3.56%) I make plenty of money to qualify and repay the mortgage, and we are putting 10% down, a considerable amount of cash, so it seems like it should have been an easy process.

Nope. The wrinkle is that we are selling our Tucson house, (it is under contract, but it will close after we close here in San Jose) and that bears on the total debt ratio. So it was an unending stream of requests for documentation, and justifications for everything in the package. My relocation letter wasn’t good enough. My 4 pay stubs with my salary weren’t enough. My promotion letter with my new salary on it wasn’t enough.

We supplied the insurance policy information three times for Christ’s sake.

A few things that really got stuck in my craw:

  • The Tucson house HOA. They insisted on a printout from a secure website that showed the dues, and the payment schedule. Of course, the rinky-dink HOA was run by a rinky dink company that didn’t have a secure website, or really anything that was acceptable. All for a HOA fee of $45 every quarter. Yes, that’s right, $15 a month.
  • The transfer of funds when we closed a bank account. Upon moving here, the bank we used in Arizona, BBVA Compass, was not going to work for us. With only two branches int he bay area, neither within 20 miles of our house, we changed banks. So on December 23, we closed the BBVA account, and Barbara got a cashier’s check for the funds there (something north of $42K). The teller made a mistake and made the cashier’s check a little less than the total. The difference, $2.18, he just paid in cash. It took 3 hours over three days to satisfy the underwriter of this $2.18 discrepancy. I burned about $200 worth of work time to account for the price of a tall regular coffee from Starbucks.
  • The mortgage company uses a portal to communicate the status. that seems to be a common portal. It started relevant with a lot of documents that I needed to sign, and return. But also is a panel to explain the needed items to clear. The problem is that they never updated it as we cleared the documents. Useless as tits on a boar hog.

Look, I get it that the fast and loose times that lead to the crash in 2008 were bad, and that we need to tighten the process up, but the mindless drones, questioning $15 HOA fees, and $2.18 discrepancies in a transaction of over $42,000, well, fuck me.

I am also certain that the required mortgage company that we needed to use due to the relocation company was part of the problem. They were located in New Jersey, and the time differential (3 hours) didn’t help. Add in the nuttiness of the California market, where you have to act fast, and process it immediately. They never picked up the sense of urgency that is demanded to win here.

The process is done, the loan was approved, and funded, and we have the house. Next up will be the before post with plenty of pictures of what we will be changing before we move in.

I can hardly wait to get out of the apartment. Our formal move-out day will likely be March 31. I will hate to pay the termination fee on the lease, but I would hate even more to have the mortgage AND the rent.

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House Hunting Journal – looking forward to moving

We have found a home we liked, placed an offer, and to our surprise, won the bidding. Woot. Now closing day is 10 days away, and it is time to reflect on how nice it will be to have a house again.

Some of the downsides to apartment living will be lifted.

  • Having a pantry – As a former chef, and someone who enjoys cooking, the worst aspect of apartment living is the limited space for storage of foodstuffs. I.e. a pantry. Being able to stock up on staples, to have room for some esoteric ingredients, a true spice rack. Right now, all the space I have is a kitchen cabinet, and it is cramped.
  • Buying sundries at Costco – as much as I hate the zoo that is Costco, it is nice to be able to buy toilet paper in 48 packs, and paper towels in quantities that will last. And cheaper too. We will once again have room to store these quantities.
  • private laundry – I have bitched about the laundry rooms on the premises at our apartments, contention for the machines, having other peoples’ soap scents in your clothes, and the general filth of the facilities. Having our own machines hooked up again will be awesome.
  • A yard – A fenced off, safe place for our hounds. Having to leash them up every time they need to potty is a drag.
  • non-through street – not strictly an apartment thing, but we will be living on a street that isn’t a thoroughfare. We currently are at the corner of Lean Avenue and Blossom Hill road, with a highschool next door, and two elementary schools walking distance across Blossom hill. That leads to a lot of traffic, at all hours, and it is difficult to sleep.
  • Garage – while it is not the awesome three car garage I had in Tucson, we will once again have a garage. A priority will be to unpack enough to allow us to park in the garage. It is good to be able to park under cover. My S2000 has suffered in the 7 months we have lived here.

Yep, we can hardly wait. The list of things to fix/change is piling up, but soon, oh so soon, we will be moving. Yay!

House Buying – the Offer

House hunting in the Bay Area is a bit insane. I have written about this in the past, but since today we lifted our contingencies, and in a mere 11 days we will get the keys to our “new” old house, I will write a few posts on the search.

I have already mentioned the coded language in the listings. How certain phrases imply some, uh, unsavory or unsettling aspects of the house or the neighborhood.

I have also mentioned how often by the time a new listing hits Trulia or Zillow, it has had several showings as the MLS listings are on the leading edge.

Pro Tip: yes, you can go hit open houses without an agent, but often you will be late to the bidding party. Get an agent, and get access to their portal. Totally worth it.

It is scary to place an offer. You count your pennies, you check to see what you can scavenge from every account you have, IRA, 401k, brokerage account, even your piggy bank and you make your best guess.

Continue reading →


I am not cut out to be a landlord

Our house in Tucson, which we rented for 2 years before we desperately needed the cash to buy a house in San Jose, is under contract. The “buyers” are doing their due diligence and part of that is a home inspection.

We got the results of the inspection. Holy fucking shit Batman, our tenants over the last two years treated the house like shit.

Numerous little things, nothing that is earth shaking, but beyond normal wear and tear, I am appalled at the stuff they didn’t do.

The filter for the furnace/AC was absolutely blocked. It was a rinsable one, you just remove it, hose it out, and let it dry before returning it to the heater. I suspect that they never drained the sediment out of the water heater (something that I did twice a year).

One of the items on the report is that they put the door on the gas hatch of the water heater on wrong, so there is motherfucking scorch marks on the outside of the water heater above the flame lighting hatch. You have to be a retard to not put that door on right.

They burned wood in our gas fireplace.

I guess this is to be expected, but it is sad to have taken such good care of that house for 10 years, just to have two sets of renters trash it.

When we moved into the apartment that we are renting now, I thought to myself that it is a shame that they hadn’t modernized or updated. It has crappy Hotpoint appliances, the counter tops are formica, that are “painted”. The fixtures are ancient, serviceable, but not elegant. I would be much more satisfied with living here with just a few tasteful updates.

Now that I have rented property, I understand. Tenants will treat it like shit, they will break things that boggle the mind, and you are better off just doing the minimum to keep it functional.

A shout out to our lousy property management company, who shall remain nameless. They did nothing to prevent or curtail abusive behavior from the tenants. They were really quick to spend our money on repairs with their favorite contractors. But looking at how they ultimately left the property, I am nonplussed.

I an not cut out to be a landlord.

House Hunting Journal – hidden meaning in real estate listings

Any serious time spent looking for homes for sale in the Bay Area, and you begin to learn some key codewords. You begin to think like Alan Turing deciphering the Enigma.

In the way back time, when I was first hunting, in the pre-internet era, the code words were clumsy. For example, “A Mountain View” didn’t refer to being close to the now-Google headquarters, but instead was East Side San Jose (Gang land).

Now, there are these gems:

  • Good Bones – This is a wreck. You will need to do significant work to make it livable. It probably was a rental for a decade or more, and the tenants probably crapped in the corners. Seriously, appliances will be straight out of the 50’s, and the carpets will likely be removed as they were health hazards. Yuck. These will be bought by contractors, tarted up, and flipped for a $250K profit.
  • Some TLC needed – A little less dire than the “Good bones” house. You can probably live there, but it will be like your first crash pad out of college.
  • Low Crime – the fact that they feel the need to mention this in the description is an indication that it is a crime infested hell-hole. Go to the SJPD crime map, and expect the neighborhood to be lit up like a Christmas tree.
  • Good Starter Home – Meaning that it is in a mediocre neighborhood, and the current owners didn’t want to tart up the place. Expect to spend $20K to make it comfortable.

Of course, you learn the gradations of the neighborhoods. Often just moving across the street will greatly increase the pleasantness of your living experience. Where we are currently renting an apartment, just east of Blossom Hill road, spitting distance from Oak Grove High School. Not a terrible neighborhood, but a lot of crime, and gang activity.

Cross Blossom Hill to the west, and the neighborhood is better. Yes, it is a high traffic area (3 schools within 1/4 mile) but you fear a little less for your life. There is still graffiti, but much less prominent.

Going further west, you cross the 85 freeway. Neighborhoods get a little better. Less traffic, the houses and yards are better kept. Schools are “meets expectations” and property values are a bit higher. Cross to the west of Santa Teresa, and you again get a bump.

And, if you are wealthy, bump over the hill to Almaden Valley, drop at least $1M and you get Willow Glen schools.

The further west you go, and the further north of Monterey Highway you go, the better the neighborhood.

Of course, even some cities with great reputations have bad areas. Check out the crime map of Sunnyvale to be shocked.