Archive for category Pre-Ownership

Signed All the Papers

Spoke with the appraiser on Friday, and he said that everything checked out just fine, so the underwriters should be happy now.

Yesterday, the notary from the escrow company came by our place and we signed all the papers necessary to close.

Now all that needs to happen is for Wells Fargo to fund the loan and the transaction to be recorded with the county, and we’re homeowners — our real estate agent will hand over the keys and we’re in. Hooray!

(I’m a little disappointed that we don’t get the big meeting where everyone sits down together and papers are signed and keys are handed over, but according to the escrow company person that only happens on the East Coast anymore, except on TV.)

The sellers, who are completely moved out, have apparently abandoned an old ’80s-model car on the property (among other things, mostly junk that we’ll have to pay to have hauled away). Our real estate agent has given us to understand that any personal property left behind becomes ours with the house sale, but does anybody know if that applies to cars and if so or if not what we should do to dispose of it legally?


What the Underwriters Want, the Underwriters Get

The sellers moved out on Monday, and we got access yesterday and today to do the work the underwriters called for. We had Bob the Handyman for the professional guidance and lead on the work, but Jen and I put in a whole lot of physical labor ourselves.

Here’s what we got done:

Jen went up on the roof of the kitchen porch to scrape and paint the bargeboards where apparently the previous owners ran out of aluminum flashing to cover them after covering all the other ones. The electrician has already removed the knob & tube wiring extending from that gable peak over to a hanging receptacle box in the pergola.

Jen on the roof

Jen on the roof painting the bargeboards

Here's the bargeboards all painted

Here's the bargeboards all painted

We decided that merely replacing the rotted floor of the kitchen porch was the path of least resistance, as opposed to demoing the porch back to the original roof projection (that Jen is on above) and concrete steps. Bob the Handyman knocked out the rotted supports and replaced the base plates with pressure treated 2x6s. He cut the plywood and I screwed it in — I’ve never had a drill that could actually countersink a screw; even my corded drill doesn’t have that kind of power.

Frame and plywood floor to replace rotted ones.

Frame and plywood floor to replace rotted ones.


The underside of the kitchen porch showing the new frame.

I built this railing at home on Sunday, and happily I measured everything correctly and it screwed right into the jamb. As it turns out, that door is not nailed shut and only has a little pushbutton lock like you’d find on a bathroom door. Great!


Jen cleaned off all the green gunge from this wall that had come down from the missing downspout. Along the way, she cleaned all the moss and dirt (it was like potting soil) from all the gutters around the house.

No green gunge!

No green gunge!

No gunge on this wall either!

No gunge on this wall either!

Jen and Bob demoed the entire patio deck. The supporting frame was okay, but some of the planks were falling in. Bob suggested just patching the falling-down part, but we wanted the thing gone anyway. I was off doing something else, so I don’t have any photos of the demo.

Apparently it’s very difficult to find vinyl siding in less than whole-house lots, so getting some to patch where the deck was wasn’t possible. Instead, we installed aluminum flashing, which you can see behind the steps in the photo below. We flashed the back corner under the hanging door as well. I called our mortgage broker to confirm with the underwriter that flashing in lieu of patched siding was okay, and not only the underwriter but her manager as well approved the plan, so we’re good on that item.

It turned out that the staircases off the deck were still pretty solid, so we salvaged one of them and put it directly against the house off the back door with a couple of bags of gravel to level the ground. I took this photo late in the afternoon when the first stick of the handrail was in place, but Jen and I were too tired to continue at that point so we went home.

Salvaged stairs

Salvaged stairs

We needed to replace the basement stair handrail. I found a handrail the basement, but it turned out not to be long enough, so Bob and I went to Home Depot to get a new one (along with the rest of the supplies for all the other projects. This recounting isn’t strictly chronological). Before we got to install it, I had to run to McLendon’s Hardware for some lag bolts for the porch stairs, and while I was gone Jen found the original hiding in the little channel between the stairs and the wall. (Why that channel is there instead of the stairs butting up against the wall is a mystery.)

We also fixed the stairs themselves. What we had thought was a loose tread turned out to be the left-hand stringer split all the way across. (Why the previous owners thought that was okay not to fix I don’t know.) Bob cut a couple of 2×6 braces to push the stairs up and close the crack and a patch to bridge across the split and bond the upper and lower pieces together. The space was too cramped for me so Jen got her hammer on and nailed it all up but good. We’ll still want to replace and/or move the stairs later, but for now they’re way safer than they were.

Basement stair handrail

Basement stair handrail

At that point, we’d been working from 8:00am to 5:00pm with a short break for lunch, so we quit for the day. Both of us were very sore, but luckily we had already scheduled massages for both of us that evening.

Bryan is full of ow

Bryan is full of ow

Jen too

Jen too

Jen went back to work today, but I took another day off and went back to the house at 8:00am again. Bob built the handrail to the patio stairs while I held the level, but I got to use the nail gun for the last few bits.

Completed handrail on the patio stairs

Completed handrail on the patio stairs

Bob and I put up the new downspout and angled it so it wouldn’t drain into the basement stairs.

New downspout

New downspout

Bob checked the plywood roof of the kitchen porch extension and discovered that although the edge was rotting and looked bad, the rest of the sheet was perfectly sound and quite well attached. He then screwed clips in where Jen had noticed that the gutter was loose.

At that point, we’d run out of jobs that we needed his help on, so he went off the clock, but was perfectly happy to gab for an hour about our plans for various parts of the house and all the systems, about which he had lots of very helpful suggestions. We may very well be re-hiring him to get the upstairs bathroom done as quickly as possible after I do all the demo.

Bob took off and I went and got lunch. I decided that next I’d pull up the plywood cover over the access stairs. I figured the plywood was at most maybe anchored into the concrete in few places. Nope. I went to pull it up and about fifty pounds of stuff came with it for a couple of inches before I dropped it. I cleaned it off and took a closer look and discovered a nail head about every four inches all around the outside and across the middle in a few places.

I set to pulling them all, which involved basically chiseling out the top layer of the plywood to get at them with the wrecker bar. An hour and a half later, I finally had the plywood up. This is what was underneath it.

Under the "unsafe soft" plywood

Under the "unsafe soft" plywood

So basically, the only soft edge was where the 8-foot sheet butted up against the 2-foot sheet between the closest two braces. The rest of it was probably good for another five years or more. But, we were planning on opening up those stairs anyway, so it wasn’t a waste in the grand scheme — I just wish I’d been able to put it off and not have to rush through it.

Then I thought that if the green gunge on the back walls was a problem, then the green gunge on the side wall might also be one even though the appraiser didn’t mention or didn’t notice it. Turns out it just needed brushing and rinsing; no cleaner was required. Tony the neighbor was very accommodating about letting us cut back his holly tree so it didn’t touch our house.


The last task on the schedule was dealing with the crawl space under the addition. Bob had already cleared out all the insulation from the access window in the basement and strapped up the duct running through it so it wasn’t in the way.

I put on the tyvek coveralls and the respirator mask and got to work.

Before crawling in the filth

Before crawling in the dirt

First, I pulled out all the existing plastic and loose insulation. The plastic wasn’t thick enough and I was afraid because there were rodent droppings on the part next to the access hatch there might be more on top of the plastic further in. Turns out that I was wrong — the droppings were only at the front, probably because rats had at one time nested in the loose fiberglass insulation around the opening.

I had to crawl in and go all the way to the back to get all the plastic, loose insulation, and assorted wood scraps left over from insulating out of the whole thing. That was bad enough, but nothing compared to what was to come.

Along the way I found absolutely no rot in any of the joists, beams, or posts. The wood looked like it came from the lumberyard yesterday. There was a little bit of a ditch around the outside next to the footings, and the insulation wasn’t just stapled up but strapped with furring strips, so I suspect that quite some time after the addition was built a previous owner had professionals come in to insulate the floors. (It’s a pity they didn’t have professionals do the rest of the work too.)

Next I filled up five big garbage bags with the cleanup. I kept the respirator mask on for this since I didn’t want to breathe in any of that dust at all. Then a break for drinking a whole lot of water, since those coveralls theoretically breathe but I was already very hot and tired.

Instead of pre-cutting the new vapor barrier sheets, I decided it would be easier just to roll the plastic out as I went along and then unfold it. I may have been wrong.

Two hours later, I was done. There’s no photo since black plastic in a dark crawlspace would just look like a whole lot of dark.

That was a job that I’ll be very happy if I never have to do again as long as I live. It’s very difficult to do hard physical labor when you have to lay on your belly and can’t even get up on your hands and knees. About every fifteen minutes I would have to take a break and basically just lay there and hyperventilate to get enough oxygen to keep going. By the time two full sheets were down (out of three) I was exhausted and ready to stop, but just had to power through and finish.

Bryan after crawling in the filth

Bryan after crawling in the dirt

The respirator and coveralls were entirely worth the money and then some. I was soaked in sweat but hardly dirty at all, and my lungs are fine instead of being filled with dirt, dust, and fiberglass.

At 6:00pm I was all loaded out and finally able to head home. Four ibuprofen, two bowls of chili, and one of Jen’s Flexerils later, I’m feeling a lot less stiff and sore, but I make no guarantees about how I’ll feel in the morning.

Tomorrow, the appraiser goes back to sign off on all the items on the underwriter’s list. Saturday we meet with an escrow officer and sign documents and give her a cashier’s check. Hopefully the underwriters will expedite approval so the loan will fund Tuesday, and then we can close Wednesday after the escrow records the transaction with the county.

Then our realtor hands us the keys and the house is ours!

(Apparently the big meeting where everyone sits around and signs stuff and at the end the keys are handed over only happens on TV, or at least not in this state.)

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No, Monday was not the 1st

Yesterday I got cc’ed on an email from my real estate agent to the seller’s agent saying “get me the hold harmless agreement since my client’s contractors will be in tomorrow” (meaning today, Tuesday). I sent him an email saying, “no, they’ll be in on Wednesday the 2nd” and he emailed me back saying he got the date wrong.

Last Friday I gave the roofers the go-ahead to do the necessary work, and the head guy said he’d see if he would be able to schedule the help for the 2nd and that he’d get back to me Monday (yesterday). After not hearing from him and leaving a series of more and more worried messages, I contacted our agent, who apparently had the guy’s cell number.

That’s right, he got the date wrong and thought today was the 2nd. He and his crew are out there at the property right now working on the roof.


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Contractor Wrangling

So we kinda sorta got that straight answer we were looking for. I talked to the appraiser, who was very helpful in telling me exactly what he wanted to see to address the problems he outlined:

  • The door that opens out into space needs to have a railing built across it
  • The porches can certainly be demolished and stairs built for the one without concrete steps
  • The knob & tube wiring hanging from the roof peak over to the pergola needs to go away
  • There needs to be a hatch cut into the floor of the bedroom in the addition to gain access to the crawlspace, and there needs to be vapor barrier and any necessary repairs done in there
  • The roof couldn’t be certified for more than two years of life remaining, so it has to get partially reroofed and partially repaired (which is going to be the biggest-ticket item)

And, of course, we get to be the ones to pay for it all. It’s not as big a hit as we were afraid it would be, but it’s still a really good thing that we had a big buffer in our savings account. If all we’d had was down payment and closing costs, we’d have been screwed.

The big problem for us isn’t the appraiser per se — he’s being quite reasonable — it’s the underwriters at Wells Fargo. They keep pulling things out of their ass for us to fix, all of which are cosmetic issues. For instance, they’re insisting on the missing vinyl siding being replaced, and after looking at a photograph they’re insisting on some of the fascia boards being scraped and repainted (an issue that neither inspector nor appraiser noted as a problem spot), and a green stain on the siding beneath a hole in the gutters being cleaned off (ditto).

Ruby, our mortgage broker, explained that they’re practicing CYA — fixer-upper houses aren’t supposed to be candidates for ordinary FHA loans, and houses have to be in pretty good condition to qualify. So they’re just looking at the problem bits and getting scared and wanting us to make it look pretty (on top of “safe” and “structurally sound”) just to make themselves feel comfortable.

In retrospect, we should have gotten an FHA rehab loan, but we originally intended to get a small house that didn’t need huge amounts of work, and also Ruby advised us that rehab loans were huge amounts of extra hassle and paperwork.

As for the fascia boards, they haven’t told us exactly which ones they mean, but I suspect that it’s the ones on the kitchen porch … that we’re demolishing anyway, so it might not be a problem after all.

So after a great many phone calls, we’ve arranged an electrician, a roofer, and a handyman, all of whom will be converging on the property next Wednesday at 8:00am. Jen and I are both taking the day off to assist as much as possible, run to Home Depot for supplies, fetch and carry, and so forth.

While out shopping today at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore and Second Use, we went by the house today where I measured the width of the hanging door from jamb to jamb. On my to-do list for tomorrow is to assemble the railing so that Wednesday we can just hold it up and screw it in, instead of paying someone $65 an hour to build it from scratch on site.

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Needing A Straight Answer

Paperwork continues apace, I guess. Apparently Wells Fargo (our lender) misplaced the appraisal and didn’t think they’d ever received it. So they haven’t been working on it at all until today when Ruby, our mortgage broker, sent them a new copy and they simultaneously discovered the old copy.

Even though we haven’t heard back from the underwriters there yet (obviously), Ruby said in her email that she was sure that the “hazards” would have to be repaired.

Yes, I know they’ll have to be repaired. It would be really nice if we could get a straight answer from somebody about:

  • who has to do the repairs — can we do them ourselves or do we have to hire an independent contractor?
  • what exactly do they expect us to do? Because I’m damned if I’m going to both pull the rotting plywood cover off the basement stairs and build a mini-porch for the door cut into the wall directly above them.
  • do the repairs need to be “like new” or will a patch sufficient that nobody falls and breaks their neck be enough?
  • how do we prove that the repairs are done? Do we need to schedule another appraisal, or will photos of the work be sufficient?

I’m really tired of hearing over and over, “oh, there will probably have to be repairs done” without anybody ever actually, y’know, conveying any information.

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Got the Appraisal

…And it’s for exactly $1000 more than what we’re paying for the place. Which is pretty much irrelevant; we were only worried that it would appraise for less.

There’s a list of recommended repairs, of course, all of which we were aware of and had plans for. Now the appraisal goes to the underwriters, and we get to wait and see what they require before the sale.

I suspect that the sellers are neither willing nor able to make any of the repairs — if they were they would have done so long ago since the issues are obvious. I’m hoping that my email detailing what we plan to do on day one after taking possession but before occupying the premises helps mollify the underwriters; but if not we might be in the position on having to go on the property before we own it to fix things.

Stress stress stress.

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Jen always packs way in advance of moving (I’m more of a “the week before” kinda guy but that idea makes her crazy), so we went out and got a bunch of wardrobe boxes and packing boxes from U-Haul. We also dumpster-dived the recycling bins at McDonalds for french fry boxes (almost exactly the same size as the U-Haul “small box” at 1.5 cu. ft.), because hey, free.

The only problem with this plan is that our place was already at capacity when the books, DVDs, VHS tapes, plates, cups, etc., were being efficiently stored on their bookcases and shelves. Now the stuff is in boxes taking up floor space and the bookcases are still taking up floor space, and we’re running out of room to turn around in. And we’ve still got a lot more stuff to pack.

Also: buying nifty furniture off Craigslist for way less than it’s worth is great. Buying it before you move and having to stash it somewhere in your crowded living room, not so much. There’s a reason we never bought a dining room table and chairs.

But, getting everything packed up as much as possible means that when we have the movers over for a Mk 1 Eyeball estimate (as opposed to a rule-of-thumb internet estimate), they’ll see exactly what needs to get moved instead of having to guess.


Basement Ceiling Heights

The Seattle Building Code generally requires a 7′ ceiling height in all occupied rooms. Our basement is 6’9.5″ from concrete slab to bottom of joists.

However, Director’s Rule 23-2008 provides:

B. Buildings in existence prior to October 17, 1979 may be remodeled to create new dwelling units, or existing dwelling units within such buildings may be enlarged, with minimum ceiling heights of 6 feet 4 inches, provided:

1. The use (dwelling unit) could have been lawfully established either by construction or by conversion under the Land Use Code in effect at the time it can be proved that the use first existed. This means that the Land Use Code development standards in effect at the time, such as those requiring setbacks from property lines, must also be met if the use is to be established now. Further, if discretionary approval, such as a conditional use permit or variance, would have been required for establishment of the use at the time, written proof of such approval must be submitted.

2. The use shall meet minimum standards for habitable dwellings in the Seattle Housing and Building Maintenance Code in effect at the time of the application, including standards for minimum size requirements and egress windows where applicable.

3. Except as specified herein, the use shall meet minimum applicable Building Code standards as set forth in Chapter 34 of the SBC.

4. New basement and sleeping rooms shall have a window or door for emergency escape or rescue consistent with the requirements of the Seattle Residential Code or the Seattle Building Code.

5. Projections below the ceiling, including but not limited to beams, pipes, and ducts, shall not reduce the headroom to less than 6 feet 4 inches.

6. In areas with sloping ceilings, the minimum ceiling height in at least 50% of the space must be 6 feet 4 inches (not the 7 feet minimum cited in the Seattle Residential Code), and no portion shall be less than 5 feet in height.

7. For additions or alterations that change the existing building envelope:

a. When new rooms or areas are created by raising a portion of the roof, this Rule may be applied, provided that over the life of the structure, the aggregate area of such rooms or area does not exceed 50% of the area of the new rooms or area.

b. When new rooms or areas are created by excavating below grade, this Rule may be applied, provided that:

• The 6 foot 4 inch minimum ceiling height cannot be increased without modifications to the existing footings; and

• Any modifications to the existing footings are proposed for purposes other than to accommodate the 6 foot 4 inch minimum ceiling height; and

• Any modifications do not reduce the structural integrity of the foundation wall.

8. Where the existing building envelope is not changed, new rooms or areas meeting the requirements of this Rule may be created without the restrictions of 7a or 7b above.

9. The exit door from a dwelling unit shall be no less than 6 feet 2 inches in height.

10. This Rule does not apply to spaces that are not ordinarily occupied, such as storage areas and mechanical rooms, since ceiling height in these areas is not regulated by the Building Code.

11. Requirements for additions in other codes, including but not limited to the Seattle Energy Code and the Seattle Mechanical Code, shall be met.

[emphasis added]

So, assuming 5/8″ drywall on the ceilings and 7/8″ flooring, that leaves a finished ceiling height of 6’6″. As long as no ducts, soffits, etc., hang down more than two inches, we’re in luck — we can remodel our basement into “habitable” space. Now just to figure out how to reconfigure the walls and mechanicals to squeeze a reasonable bedroom and bathroom in…

I Can Haz Backyard Cottage?

Proving that Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels doesn’t have his head completely up his ass, he has proposed extending southeast Seattle’s backyard cottage ordinance to the whole city.

Our property is perfectly suited to having a backyard cottage — we could demolish the south shed, widen the foundation slab by eight feet, build a 20’x20′ house to one of many many plans on the internet, and privacy-fence off the southeast corner of the property. Voilà! Backyard cottage with parking space and (small) lawn!

I’d happily use it as a guest cottage, a mother-in-law (in the unlikely and hopefully far-off event that any of our parents need to live with us), a semi-independent living unit for our daughter when she’s sixteen or so, or (most useful in my mind) a rental unit that could offset our mortgage payment by 33% or so.


Basement Plan


And here’s the basement plan. I have absolutely no idea why the builder put in all those internal concrete walls (in black) when beams and pillars would have done just as well and left the space a lot more open. The concrete walls in the long (up-down) direction are especially unnecessary since that’s the direction of the joists. (Gray walls are 2×4 framing.)

I kinda hope they’re removable, since they’re really in the way. So is the drain/vent stack, which is right smack in the middle of that room (it apparently goes up right behind the first floor toilet). I’m hoping it can be relocated over next to the outside wall.

Ceiling heights are 6′ 7.5″ from concrete slab to bottom of joists. I’m pretty sure that since the house was built before 1979 we’d be grandfathered in if we wanted to make it into legally “habitable” space. We’d really like to be able to add a bedroom, but I’m not sure right now where we’d be able to fit it without major re-routing of utilities.