Monday, July 23, 2012

Making friends with my HOA

Yesterday I spent several hours re-reading through my HOA documents in an attempt to better familiarize myself with all the  different aspects of the organization.  I have filed the paperwork needed for my landscaping, patio, and rear steps as well as for future landscaping.  Hopefully the board will approve my plans.  I still feel annoyed that the houses that have fans/ac units in their front windows need to move them; and if for some reason a neighbor complains that my barbacue is annoying them I'm going to tell them where to go.  But since I live in a community with an HOA, I need to make the best of it.

Friday, July 20, 2012

HOA, friend or foe?

I live in a Planned Development Area (PDA).  There is a homeowners association that assesses a monthly fee and can wield a certain amount of muscle over my house.  In general I like the idea of the Home Owners Association (HOA), but there are some issues.  For example my HOA recently sent everyone in my development a nice thick packet highligthing updates and changes to our original agreement.  I have never had a chance to run for the board, nor did I have a chance to vote on the changes but I'm expected to accept the changes. 

I don't agree with a lot of the new rules (no AC units on the front of house, getting permission before planting any shrubs/plants, unable to change a flat tire in my driveway, etc.)  My concern is that the association is being too vague in the wording of rules. Vague wording can turn into messy legal battles which can cost us, the homeowners who front the HOA's budget, a lot of money.  For example, each house has at least 2 outside hose bibs.  The HOA states that we must not water our lawn for more than one hour per day.  If I only have one hose and therefore only use one hose bib at a time (instead of 2, 3, or more) do I get to water my lawn for more time?  (I'm not using more water, I'm just using less water per hour).  Isn't the idea behind the rule to conserve water?  The lack of clarity is beging a laywer to get involved and I don't want to be paying a share of future legal expenses because my board can't figure out how to properly word a contract.  Another example: the rules of 'obnoxious' odors and sounds.  As written now, if I cook anything a neighbor finds 'obnoxious' I must cease my cooking/noise making.  The neighbor doesn't have to close their window, or suck it up.  What is the legal meaning of obnoxious?  I don't know, but  I know it is a subjective word that can have any number of meanings.  Hence the legal issues my HOA is delving into.  If you're considering buying a house in a community with an HOA, please, think about it first.  HOA's can be nice in some ways, but they can also be very annoying, and can create massive legal issues that the homeowners are ultimatley responsible for. 

Suggestions for your Ryan Home

Ok.  After nearly 5 months since moving into my house, I've decided it is time to make some suggestions. 

*The base carpeting in the Buffalo market is 'Shaw Baseline' carpet.  It is a fairly inexpensive carpet but if you're willing to vacuum several times per week, and you're willing to upgrade the pad under the carpet, it is fine.  A very soft carpet that will crush quickly if you don't regularly vacuum.  Word of caution, this carpet does not come with any stain resistance, have your carpets professionally stain treated before moving in.

*If you're thinking about vinyl flooring, think twice: I love the ease of washing vinyl, but it kind of 'floats' on the sub floor similar to laminate. If you have the money purchase solid wood flooring or tile.  Only use vinyl if there is absolutely no money in your budget for wood/tile.

*Cable/Telephone/Outlet options:  Really sit down and firm up exactly where each outlet will be.  I'm not unhappy with my outlet locations but I would change things up if I had to do it over again.  My suggestion:  put a cable/Internet connection in every bedroom, the kitchen, and every living area you have in your model.  It isn't expensive to add electrical outlets, splurge, spend the few extra dollars in advance and save hundreds of dollars in the future. 

*Optional windows/garage door: Sometimes the optional windows in model homes look great, but they also take away wall space where you may want to put bookcases, or art, or whatever.  Don't assume every optional window is essential.  That said, there are many optional side windows that serve two purposes:  1) they add cross ventilation/light 2) they allow the siding on the sides of the house to look better and have less 'wrinkels' in it.  Ditto the optional walk-through side garage door.  It really helps prevent that excessive bowing/warping/wrinkling some new houses have on side walls that have no windows.

*Cabinet upgrades:  If you really want those expensive, slightly better quality cabinets go for it!  Don't feel ashamed about spending the money.  Better spent know than latter.  With that said, if you don't find the perfect, and I mean perfect, cabinet as an option, don't waste your money buying a upgrade cabinet that you really don't love.  I wanted a natural stained wood in my house and Ryan Homes only offered the standard oak in that color.  No I didn't really want the standard oak, but I didn't love anything else they offered.  The one option I liked was the full-overlay 'Rushmore' white cabinets with butterscotch glaze.  But for $3,500 I thought the better of it. I can paint my cabinets off-white and add my own butterscotch glaze for a whole lot less.

*Counter tops/appliance upgrades:  my advice, save your money, get your use out of what Ryan Homes offers you (standard) and when it is used up, then spend your money on upgrading to marble, granite, or stainless steel.  Builders typically charge the full cost for upgrades meaning you're buying the standard product and paying full price for the upgrade too.  Builders pocket the extra money and you help add a large margin of profit for them.  Why waste your money?  Also, if your property taxes are based on sales price, you're permanently adding an annual cost for each upgrade. So if you spend $25,000 dollars upgrading flooring to the very best (and builders rarely give you the very best product no matter what) you're always going to pay for that upgrade, even after it is worn out and you pay to have it replaced.  It is a permanent part of your tax assessment.  If you go with the standard product and replace it in a few years, it is a tax free 'investment'. 

*Upgrades to invest in:  walk-in shower instead of tub, extra bathroom, special elevation you absolutley love, bonus room, anything structural that will be more expensive to change out latter.  Carpet, flooring, countertops, appliances and lighting fixtures can all be changed out easily.  Don't spend too much money on these options as you can use what Ryan gives you and save your money (without paying interest and property taxes) to invest at a latter date. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Mood Lighting...

If you've been reading my blog you know that I opted to not install the optional island in the middle of the kitchen.  The reason is this:  the area in the middle of the kitchen is more than large enough to accomodate a dining table, which opens up the dining area to become a sort of 'morning room'.  When I was building the house I had the idea that this might work, but I wasn't sure so I didn't have the electrician move the lighting to the center of the kitchen area (to be centered above the table).  Well, I moved the lights myself and I really do like the results, a nice kitchen with dining table and a morning room to have coffee. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

New Home vs. Existing Home: The Dilemma

I love old houses.  I also love existing neighborhoods with their charm, landscaping, and very nice houses.  I can't afford to buy a house in most of those charming, great areas.  So my options were to buy a 30, 40, 50, 60, 100 year old fixer upper and sink a good deal of money into it.  In some modest areas I looked at 100 year old houses that were small, had asbestos, needed massive repairs and were in the 90k range.  Crazy to think that these weren't even really acceptable areas to live in.  The houses easily needed 30k worth of repairs to make the houses viable to live in, and I could have easily 'invested' 40-50k to make the houses suitable.  Is it a good idea to invest 140k into an area that isn't that great to begin with?  Then there were the nice, but declining areas where 60 year old cape cod's were selling for the 90s through low 100s and they too needed at least 10-15k worth of repair work, paint, carpet/refinish floors, etc.  My issue here was the fact that the area was in decline, and I couldn't see getting the money back in the next 3-10 years.  Option three:  buy a total wreck in an 'up and coming' part of the city for about 35-40k and invest 60-70 thousand into the house to make it something nice.  Sounds great, but if I need to leave Dodge in the next few years, who's going to come in and pay me for my 95-110k 'investment'?  So option four: purchase a new house suddenly seemed good. 

My honest opinion:  If you can afford to buy in the great, existing neighborhood DO IT!  Really great neighborhoods seem to maintain their value over time, they have wonderful houses, owners tend to invest in keeping their houses maintained (part of what makes it a great area), they tend to have solid schools, libraries, services.  If you can afford it, why not enjoy that life? 

If you can't afford the great area but you really have to live in a house with 'character' then go for it.  Enjoy the repairs, and learn to do them yourself so you have more satisfaction in owning your house.  In many ways, I wish I had chosen this option.

Then there is the new construction option.  I love my house.  The floor plan is great, and I like the area a lot.  But new houses are not built the same as old houses.  In some ways new houses are better (energy efficiency, open floor plans, modern technology built in) but in many ways the quality of materials used is just bad (lower quality lumber, minimal trim/detail work).  MDF trim can look nice, but it can also be problematic.  Just because those cabinets look great doesn't mean they won't fall apart the moment they get wet.  Further, old houses have had time to settle; new houses will settle as you live in them and it is unnerving to see your brand new house crack, and settle around you. 

I was truly surprised by all the work I've needed to do with my new house.  I have cracks in my concrete, drywall pulling away as the wood framing dries, squeaky floors, some bad floor joists (all but one has been repaired), and all sorts of quirks.  I guess my point is that just because it's new doesn't mean it's perfect, nor lacking in quirkery. 

So in the end, if you want new, build new.  If you like old, go for old.  But please don't think that either is going to be easy, nor will it be without serious issues/problems/quirks.  One more thing:  MONEY.  I really underestimated just how much money I would spend on my house!  Appliances, rakes, shovels, dirt, flowers, plants, shrubs, patio bricks, furniture, storage shelves, paint, caulk, tools:  all this 'stuff' adds up to thousands of dollars of money I somehow new to save for, but I didn't really grasp just how much money I would need to spend in the months after my purchase.  I love my house, but it is NOT a financial investment, it is a personal investment.  A very expensive investment of time, effort and money.  Please don't make the mistake of thinking owning a house is cheaper than renting:  there is no way owning a house is less expensive than renting.   You may get more square footage for your dollar by owning versus renting, but renting requires far less outlay of cash, and costs less on a monthly basis.  Renting is easier (good landlords do the work for you and they deserve to make some money in the process).  Renting is less expensive, and renting can be a very smart choice.  Personally I'm still unsure if I made the right choice for me in buying a house, but in the end, I love my house and I'm happy I've gone through the process.  How long I own my house is another matter as I have a feeling I'd prefer to be a renter than an owner. 

Ryan Homes Quality:  the good, the bad, and...

There are a lot of blogs taking you the reader through the process of building a Ryan Home.  If you search you will find some good, some bad, and some just ridiculous (complaints about uneven [small] gaps under a counter top, etc.)  If you search the web you will also find massive complaints about the company.  My opinion is that Ryan Homes builds a fair product for a fair price.  I have no illusion that after 10 years Ryan Homes is responsible for a bad toilet seal, or that they are responsible for lax building codes in your community.  They build a house up to code, but rarely above code.  They didn't lie to me, they didn't deceive me.  My house is very similar in quality to the model house I viewed. 

Modern construction materials aren't always as good as what you will find in an older house.  But modern houses are more energy efficient, and they tend to have better floor plans.  Yin-yang, give-and-take, you get the idea?  There are pros and cons of old and new homes.  You have to decide which is best for you, Ryan Homes can't do that for you.  If you're unsure, visit as many of their models as you can, spend time in them.  Take your shoes off, walk around, feel the walls, inspect the corners, the small details.  Spend enough time in them to look beyond the great interior decorating and get to know the basic design, materials and construction quality.  I feel my house is basically well built to modern specifications.  It isn't perfect, but it is good.  I didn't pay a fortune for my house, in fact it cost me less than quite a few of the older houses nearby -once new Ryan Homes, or other value builder homes- that haven't all been updated over the years.  Those houses may have better lumber, but it is now old lumber that has had time to dry out, rot, and be stressed.  I can see how the houses have settled, and I have landscaping, but I also have the need to insulate and replace old building systems that are at the end of their lifespan (windows, roof, furnace, etc.).  As you know, I decided to buy new.  You need to way the pros and cons of all your options and make the best decision for yourself.  Ryan Homes will build you a good house, if that's what is right for you.  Good luck!

Another day of work...

Today I built a small patio off my new back steps.  I love the simple design!  The town/village building inspector came by the other day to inspect a couple things for me and he commented on my 'temporary' stairs.  Apparently he felt they were a little too permanent.  I told him I wanted them to last two or three years so I could decide what type of permanent deck/patio to build.  He shrugged and accepted that they were temporary.  This is the problem with wanting to do things right from the beginning.
 These really are temporary stairs.  I haven't decided whether I want to add a small deck with large patio, or a large deck altogether, or keep the stairs and build a large patio.  Until I decide, these are temporary.  When I decide, if I need to keep these, I will make sure I get all necessary permits and make any needed improvements.
As with so many of my projects, they are a work-in-progress.  I still have to add some wood handrails above the metal risers as well as some wood framing on the sides.  Off course I also need to stain/seal the steps in early fall after the pressure treated lumber has had enough time to dry out and acclimate.
Last Friday a contractor was supposed to stop by and help me install a bathroom vanity cabinet under the open space under the counter. Ryan offers a double vanity in my bathroom and I didn't want the second sink and the SR didn't think I could install only the extra cabinet (I latter learned that she was wrong). Well, the contractor never showed so I spent most of today pulling out base trim, cutting vinyl and Luann sub floor, repairing poorly finished drywall, moving the existing bathroom vanity, and finally reinstalling both bathroom vanities and putting the whole thing back together. Wow, what a HUGE project. Not truly for the DIYer, but I had help and we got through it. It looks great. There were some huge, unfortunate obstacles that made this project a nightmare. For instance, the floor in the bathroom slopes a little so instead of shimming the cabinet from the floor, they left the front 'suspended' by screwing the back of the cabinet into the wall. This is fine, but they used three different types of screws and two of them were stripped. Another issue was that they had put the wrong cabinet in during construction and when they replaced it, they tore some of the drywall. This was never correctly repaired but covered over with a piece of wood; even though my new cabinet hides this area, I needed to fix it for my piece of mind. I also had to move the existing cabinet over because it was too close to the wall so I could fit the second cabinet in (this was more of an annoyance as the contractors had no way of knowing I planned on purchasing a matching cabinet and adding it to the empty space under the counter. Finally, the counter was glued to the drywall at the wrong angle so I needed to pull it off and repair the drywall damage. A whole lot of fuss for a 'small' project. Suffice it to say, I love my house, but there is substance to some of that stuff you read about Ryan homes on the web. But let me be clear, this would have been an issue in almost every house I bought, new, existing, Ryan Homes, or another builder.

Above: Original Cabinet (wrong type, wrong height)
 Below:  Correct cabinet installed with open space under counter

 Above:  My addition of an inverted copy cabinet (drawers on left side)  I will finish the trim this weekend.
Below:  Another view

Above:  I love my square bathroom window!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Guests in Town, AC, and patio steps oh my...

Wow what a week.  I'm grateful and thankful I have the opportunity to host my brother's family-all four children.  But having eight people living in my house for a week is trying to say the least.  I haven't seen my poor cat in days; Tigre, are you still alive?????   (Yes, he is) 

My Central air conditioning will be installed in mid July so I purchased one of those 'portable air conditioners' from Lowe's.  It works pretty well, definitely cools the entire first floor, but the partitioned off second floor doesn't cool so well.  HINT:  if you can't get central air, get two portable AC units, one for the downstairs and one for the second floor, turn off all the first floor and closet heat exchanges and turn the furnace fan on, this way the cooled air is circulated through out the house.  It does a fair job on the second floor but it is still too humid up there for my comfort.

I also built stairs for the patio door yesterday.  Overall I enjoyed the process, my first set of stairs and it was definitely a DYI job, no need to hire someone to do this.  I will post pictures soon. 

One more thing:  the house next to mine went on the market tonight.  I hope I didn't scare my neighbor away.  Hopefully whoever purchases the house is very, very, very nice.  I want nice neighbors.  Please say a prayer.

Hope everyone enjoyed their Independence Day.