Househunting (part 1)

Well, The Expert and I started with a list of seven, but three were eliminated at the very beginning: under contract already or otherwise pulled from the market.

That leaves four, which we will cover in the order visited, followed by an Entertainment Weekly-style letter grade.

1. A cute little stone bungalow on a corner lot with a huge yard. Some newish amenities, lots of ceiling fans, and evidence of a fair amount of repainting over old paint. And whatever they'd painted the exterior stone with, it didn't stick worth a darn. C+

2. Modern, at least by Fifties standards, and about 30 percent larger than #1, and in a nicer neighborhood to boot. So why was it selling for only slightly more money? The Expert figured it out at once: basically, the entire block is sliding down the hill, a few centimeters at a time, and implementing the fixes would increase the price by half. There was also a general air of dinginess. D+

3. I should have known this 1941 frame house was wacky before I ever saw it; the MLS description contains the cryptic phrase "faux walls." Well, the walls looked genuine enough, but this was the first mock fireplace I'd ever seen that had been converted from a real fireplace. What's more, there was a single-car garage with two half-width doors, vertically hinged, which makes remote operation highly unlikely. Add to this an utterly gratuitous Florida room off the master bedroom, and porch steps the full width of the porch, and this place screams Insane Owner! at the top of its sixty-two-year-old lungs. Had it been about ten or twelve percent cheaper, I probably would have put in a bid. I may yet. A-

4. A noisy box in a quiet suburb, though the noise was due mostly to the people next door, who apparently were convinced that there was a special White Trash Edition of Architectural Digest coming out and they wanted to fix up their yard accordingly. Lots of clever space-utilization techniques to make the most of the smallish interior; The Expert, tipped off by a floor irregularity, spotted a couple of places where the foundation might be cracking or otherwise failing to behave itself. Otherwise, a solid B.

The search resumes once we get another fistful of prospects.

(Update, 10:15 pm: So that's a "faux wall.")

Househunting (part 2)

We had three prospects for last night, but two of them evaporated — recession or no recession, houses are moving in these parts. However, today we had half a dozen more to play with, and we got to see five of the seven in what must be considered better-than-average time.

5. Small, vacant, simple, but executed well, and there's a not-as-rickety-as-it-looks deck out back. Backing out of the driveway is a trick, since there's a blind corner backed up with a hedge, but not what I'd call heinous. Docked a quarter-point for that godawful metal script passing for a house number; these things should have proper digits as Allah intended. Still rates a B+.

6. A few touches of whimsy here: proper digits, vertical, mounted on a block of wood covered with fabric; an added-on den (I assume) lined with knotty pine; slightly eccentric floor plan. Otherwise fairly ordinary, but kept up well, although the change from individual climate-control units to a central system has clearly been on an as-time-permits basis. A-

7. Huge, huge lot, demanding a John Deere to maintain it — and an empty storage building out back to keep one in. Decent interior, though I missed an actual step between the inside floor and the garage, 18 inches or so below. Very nice woodwork. B

8. Cute bungalow occupied by dog lover, maybe too cute. Gorgeous deck overlooking nicest backyard of the bunch. Floor plan leaves something to be desired, but exterior is nice and master-bedroom windows (on the corner of the house) strike me as brilliant. B

9. Tucked away in a neighborhood I'd never heard of, this is a smallish box with a big interior and 1¾ baths, something I hadn't seen yet. Nice kitchen. Exterior trim was actually being painted while we walked through. Good-sized backyard; neighbor's pecan tree will likely drop some freebies on this side of the fence. Slight cracking in the brickwork, though the slab looks solid. A-

Two more, plus anything else we catch between now and then, on Saturday.

Househunting (part 3)

No new listings since midweek, so The Expert and I had just two houses to check out this morning.

10. This place was a foreclosure, and it had been suggested in earlier discussions that despite what you see on those TV infomercials, there's not a lot of benefit to buying these things; apparently, once informed that they're about to be dispossessed, the occupants avenge themselves by trashing the premises. It was certainly the case here: non-functional appliances were scattered about, the window treatments were more trick than treat, and someone had made off with a couple of downspouts, fercrissake. This will be a beautiful home for someone someday — provided that someone is willing to spend half again the purchase price to restore its dignity. I'm not. C-

11. Located in one of the neighborhoods of which I dared not allow myself to dream, this house should have been a disaster: how else could I afford it? Well, it's small for the area, but it's up to the local level of spiffiness, all the major functions have been renovated to at least late-90s standards, and the floor plan is ingenious, once the mind accepts the idea of, say, an L-shaped bathroom. When the biggest gripe is "The cylinder in that deadbolt seems to be a little loose," it's time to sign the papers. A

And if they sign the papers, this is the last installment of "Househunting" you'll have to endure.

Househunting (part 3.5)

A mere half an hour before the deadline, the deal foundered, and I said to myself, "Self, do I really want to lose out on this over one lousy percent of the purchase price?"

I didn't.

They sent me a counteroffer, and I sweetened the deal to the extent requested.

Unless I hear otherwise — and at this point I don't expect to, inasmuch as I have met their terms — I'm going to assume that said deal is done.


Debt, schmebt

The Crimson Permanent Assurance

My desk is littered with Good Faith Estimates of how much all this real estate is actually going to cost me, and one thing I've noticed about all of them is that their annual insurance quotes seemed a bit low. I didn't realize how low, though, until I started talking to agents, and discovered that a policy tailored to my level of paranoia (I carry about five times the legal minimums on my car) will cost roughly twice what they're guessing.

This propels the monthly payment from the "tight, but not a problem" level to "Can I get one more week out of this basket of fruit?" It's not going to queer the deal by any means — no way am I going to back out now — but it's going to take more shuffling of priorities to make this thing work.

Please include your address label

It's four weeks until closing on the house, so I sat down tonight to hit the Web sites of the magazines to which I subscribe, in the hope that I could run the standard change-of-address scheme without actually having to talk to some poor soul in Customer Service. (Not that I object to poor souls, mind you; it's just that they might hate picking up the phone as much as I do.)

Thirteen of fifteen magazines contacted over the Web were able to process the change with a minimum of folderol. The two exceptions were Automobile and Out, neither of whose databases seemed to recognize me, and Out further sinned by resizing my browser.

Two magazines — Consumer Reports and Mother Jones — actually responded with email confirmations, although the response from CR contained, inexplicably, the old address.

"What kind of nitwit subscribes to fifteen magazines?" you ask. I don't know. I have about a dozen yet to go.

The mythical Average Home

If it's in the ZIP code to which I'm moving, it's 1509 square feet, was built in 1957, and sells for $92,392, or so says

My particular neighborhood skews a tad smaller, somewhat older — development began in 1946 and was mostly completed by 1950 — and similarly pricey: five other homes in the district were on sale when I bought, and their average asking price was $97,740.

New construction, out towards the edges of town, will of course cost Much, Much More.

Songs of appraise

No later than day two of Econ 101, they tell you: "The value of something is equal to what someone is willing to pay for it." The arcane art of real-estate appraisal is devoted to disproving this statement.

I have been reading over the appraisal for the new digs, and it's a complicated piece of work: there's a whole lot of WTF-level math and enough disclaimers to keep a passel of lawyers in Evian for a month. Still, I remind myself, this isn't for me; this is for the lender who is actually advancing the bucks for the purchase in exchange for three decades of servitude, and said lender isn't at all keen on forking over, say, two hundred grand for some place they can't sell for half that if I go off the deep end.

Interesting bits of verbiage:

Race and the racial composition of the neighborhood are not appraisal factors. (Freddie Mac Form 70)

Not legally, anyway. I suspect it plays a small role in some other characteristics, but is probably impossible to isolate.

Definition of market value: The most probable price which a property should bring in a competitive and open market under all conditions requisite to a fair sale, the buyer and seller, each acting prudently, knowledgeably and assuming the price is not affected by undue stimulus. (Freddie Mac Form 439)

A further paragraph adds more adverbs to the mix.

Even though the printed output is obviously from a PC software package, the guy who had to put all this together certainly earned his fee; there seems to be a tremendous amount of work involved just to make sure all the disclaimers are properly stated, and there's a fair amount of statistical analysis lurking behind the numbers. And, what the hell, he priced the place at 2.7 percent over what I'm paying for it, which is close enough for non-governmental work.

The appointed hour approacheth

At 11 am Wednesday, I hand over fistfuls of cash, and they present me with the deed to the New Digs and a thirty-year note.

This is, therefore, the last weekend out here on Shabby Road. (Although I'll be on the premises a week from today, doing a perfunctory cleanup.)

So far, everything has gone comparatively smoothly, considering that one of the participants is moi.

During this period, you can probably expect something of a reduction in the volume of prose generated here.

Imagine the interest

So what kind of real estate market did I enter? As of the 16th, one local expert (not The Expert) was saying this:

November trends have shown that NW Oklahoma City sales are steady and predictable. The low interest rates, first time bond money loans, and 100% down conventional financing are keeping the lower prices ranges strong in sales, especially homes that are updated.

It seems to me that if you put down 100%, you don't need much in the way of financing at all, conventional or otherwise.

Not that this is an option for poor shlubs like yours truly, unless we want to live in a tool shed.

It's official

At approximately 11:40 am on the shores of historic Lake Hefner, I signed a few thousand sheets of paper and became the owner of hysterical Shangri-Chaz.

My thanks to Carol Schick of Churchill Brown and Associates, described hitherto as The Expert, and justifiably so; Holli Smith of Keller Williams Realty, who served as Expert to the seller; and to Brenda Newberry of Oklahoma City Abstract and Title Company, who made all the legalese look almost sensible.

There will be further acknowledgments as this little drama plays out. A lot of people are contributing in substantial ways to making all this possible, and I'm grateful for their assistance; I could never have pulled this off alone.

Haul of fame

Things do change between vision and execution, and sometimes it's a matter of necessity.

I must have plopped onto three dozen pieces of furniture yesterday before settling, so to speak, on a chair/ottoman and loveseat combination. (The tale of the tape was inexorable: 84 inches was about all this room would accommodate, and sofas seem to have grown into the 87-96 inch range.) PETAnians will note with glee that I wound up with something of vegetable origin for the upholstery — leather was within the budget, to the extent that a budget can be said to exist, but I didn't find something suitable during this search, and I am not one of those people who will go look for days, weeks, years until The Right One comes along. I thought about ordering a side of beef to compensate, but there's not enough room in the new fridge.

Mental note: Do not assemble your own bar stools unless you have access to Bob Vila's tool shed.

Moving day

And Silly Billing Corporation hasn't cranked up my phone service at the new digs yet, so it may be a while before the next update.


This post comes to you from the Belle Isle Library of the Metropolitan Library System, inasmuch as a telephone company which shall remain nameless (though its initials are S.B.C.) has thus far failed to provide me with anything resembling a working telephone line.

Which is a considerable letdown, since everyone else involved in this move put forth truly heroic levels of effort. On the backbreaking-labor end of it, I must thank Steffanie and Bill, her son JP, Leslie, and the ineffable (no one dares eff him) Terkish Payne. I owe them lots (and lots of food also).

And the real driving force here is my daughter Rebecca, who flew down from Kansas City to see the old man finally clean up his act. I am indeed blessed to have the children I have.

We now return you to your regularly-scheduled blog, assuming the phone drones get off dead center.

All the schmooze that's fit to print

It's a new month, and as the literal New Kid on the Block, I got to go to my first Neighborhood Association meeting. It was cordial, if a bit short on actual participants, but what the heck; we had a quorum, and those who didn't show up have only themselves to blame when they discover that the annual dues have been doubled in their absence.

I just hope I remember to set the trash carts out tonight.

Scaled up

The Albertson's supermarket chain has relocated one of its stores by a whole couple of blocks, and inasmuch as I used to shop at one of their eastside stores out by the Ghastly Hovel, I figured I might as well take a peek at this new location.

Of course, the layout is utterly unfamiliar, so it took an inordinate amount of time to locate the usual items on my list, even on the second visit, and there is the requisite number of contemporary improvements — wheelchair accessibility in most aisles, an optional Self-Check which ostensibly will get you out of the store faster, and actual rest rooms labeled as such — but two things struck me as really, really different from what I'm used to.

The first is the vastly-expanded selection of kosher foods, including kosher frozen foods. (Yes, there are Jews in Oklahoma City.) I'm thinking that perhaps all their stores carry a small, corporate-mandated selection of Standard Ethnic Items, and local managers may expand this if the demand in their area warrants; there are probably a lot more Jewish customers on this side of town than where I used to dwell.

The second is what appears to be a much higher degree of personal interaction among shoppers. Back at the old eastside store, most people trudged down the aisles, dropped items into the basket, and moved on, scarcely saying a word. Now I'm seeing (and occasionally hearing, acoustics being what they are) conversations on seemingly every corner. Do all these people know each other? Or are these presumably more upscale suburbanites simply more inclined to talk to one another? I haven't figured this one out yet. Maybe I'll explore further, should it ever happen that I have something to say. (Or blurt out, inasmuch as one shopper I spotted yesterday was almost a dead ringer for She Who Is Not To Be Named.)

Prices, incidentally, are identical to those on the, um, poor side of town, though the city sales-tax rate is a fraction of a point higher, so mingling with the owners of Benzes and Lexi and 'Slades isn't adding substantially to my grocery bill.

Elastic measurements

Depending on whom you want to believe, the New Digs contain 1053, 1057 or 1060 square feet of living space. (The most recent appraisal says 1053, so that's the figure I give out to those who ask.) Not huge, but not so tiny as my former hovel out on Shabby Road.

When The Expert and I first saw this house, she commented, "This seems bigger than they say it is."

My brother did a walk-through yesterday, and he said that it was at least as big as his house, which he described as having 1400 square feet.

Good floor plan? Or just sloppy measuring techniques?

I suppose it's time to pull out the tape measure for myself.

Maybe it's my breath

The house next door to me is being offered on a lease-purchase deal — because, it's been suggested, the price the owner wanted on a straight sale was too high — and now, the house across the street (more or less) is being sold. In this case, since it's bearing a For Sale By Owner sign and a phone number in the next county, I think this is a refurbished rent house that the owner would like to get rid of. (And judging by the succession of trucks I've seen in the driveway, a lot of refurbishers were called in.)

Interestingly, this latter place is offered for about two percent more than my digs, though the house is nominally twenty percent larger. Of course, there's a certain elasticity in these measurements.

Fixed orbits

Part of the standard operating procedure for moving to a new address is adjusting one's local buying habits, which includes things like transferring prescriptions to a different branch of the pharmacy chain, observing the gas stations and guesstimating their price patterns, and finding a new batch of out-of-the-way eateries.

In my case, it does not include finding someone new to do my hair, such as it is; the same person, or a member of her staff if she's busy, has performed the tender ministrations upon my dying follicles for more than a decade now, and I am not inclined to go look for someone else to take over the job. (Had I moved 150 miles away, instead of 15, this would be a different story entirely.)

I decided not to spend any time checking out how the 'hood had changed, and it's probably just as well, though I did note that the traffic pattern on 10th Street had been altered again, this time to close a different set of lanes. Inasmuch as there will be lots of utility work in my new neighborhood over the next few months, I limited my response to a sigh and a grumble of "Criminy, aren't they through with this yet?" Of course, where I live, it's just routine replacement of old water lines; down 10th, it's extending services to an area that last year was wholly uninhabited, a far more complicated process.

Pass the tenterhooks

Donna's buying a new home, and once she found the place she wanted, what happened next was that strange distortion of the space-time continuum that besets every buyer: the time between putting in your bid and getting a response from the seller seems like approximately 2.3 days for every 24 hours you have to wait. I just hope she slept through it. I know I didn't.

Of course, once that's finished, things seem to happen in a big hurry, though I suppose it's probably still too early to try to wangle an invitation.

Our Lady of 46th and Miller

And while we're on the subject of neighborhood associations, Vincent Ferrari links to a story about a Florida woman who was asked (which is to say, ordered) to remove a statue of the Virgin Mary from her front yard because it was deemed to be a violation of the rules of the homeowners' association of which she was a member. Mr Ferrari asks, "Is this micromanagement of a person's private property a legally defensible action?"

The ordinance for the Urban Conservation District in which I live doesn't make any specific references to statuary; there is, however, a catchall phrase about "that which creates a disorderly appearance," which conceivably might be brought to bear. As a practical matter, though, someone would have to complain, and I suspect it might take more than a single religious statue to produce enough disorder to warrant a complaint.

Please note that I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV.

Speaking of moving

Now you know why.

First official home repair

One of those talk-show guys is fond of saying, "If you have a home, you have home repairs." This is, of course, not something I want to think about, but if I'm to avoid being at the mercy of some guy in a battered pickup truck, I need to be able to do some of the simpler tasks myself.

Problem: Extremely loose toilet handle — requires jiggling in any position and for any function.

Solution: Replace handle/actuator lever. (Float valve was judged to be working correctly.)

Tool used: Vise-Grip™, to remove old (and somewhat grungy) apparatus.

Time to fix: 6 minutes, not counting trip to Home Depot.

Cost: $4.28.

I feel better already. Okay, this isn't exactly retrieving the Beagle 2, but frankly, I'd rather not face something incredibly serious just yet.

Riding that drain

First city utility bill has arrived, and it's a monster: $135.71, though about $76 of it seems to be refundable deposits of various sorts, and there's $20 for a service initiation fee. This suggests that until Heavy Lawn Watering begins, I'm looking at $40ish water/garbage/sewage bills every month, which isn't exactly horrendous.

Once I recovered my composure, I noticed something marked "Drainage Fee — Fee Due To Unfunded EPA Mandate." Needless to say, I had to track this down, and here's the scoop:

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) now enforces strict storm water drainage regulations.

The monthly "drainage fee" is to pay for work we must do to meet these new EPA drainage standards and requirements. The regulations are the result of a federal mandate to clean up pollution from storm water which drains into rivers, lakes and streams.

Washington did not provide any money to pay for meeting the requirements. Every large city in the United States must spend local money — millions of dollars — to avoid crippling fines.

Of course, "unfunded mandate," if you say it loudly enough, becomes a buzzword. And it's said quite a bit, now that the Feds seem comfortable with handing out regulations without regard to cost. Still, absent evidence to the contrary, I am going to assume that this particular mandate is something that needs to be, or at least ought to be, done, and will pay my $3.82 (up from $2.73, unless this is prorated in some strange manner) with a smile and only slightly clenched teeth.

Now how much would you pay?

If you've got a spare $10,130 burning a hole in your pocket, you can come live next door to me for a year.

I've been avoiding asking the owner just how much he wanted to rent the place, but someone pulled one too many information sheets out of the little plastic tube, and the extra one was found lodged just this side of my flower bed, and thus informed, I pass the details on to you.

What you get: Three bedrooms, two bathrooms, central heat and air, washer/dryer connections, 1550 square feet of space by whatever arcane mathematics they use to determine such things, decently huge back yard, the dubious privilege of living next door to me.

What you don't get: A garage (this one has been converted to actual living space), much of a view.

What they want: Twelve-month lease, $650 deposit, $790 a month.

What they don't want: Smokers, pet owners, Section 8.

I haven't been inside, but the outside is pretty decent, and it's a block and a half to the grade school, if that matters to you.

Hizonner to be

Four men will be on next month's ballot to select a Mayor for Oklahoma City, to fill the last two years of the term vacated by Kirk Humphreys.

The presumed front-runner, at least for now, is Ward 1 Councilman Mick Cornett ("one of the rich Cornetts," Susanna might say); challenging are former Ward 1 Councilman F. O. "Frosty" Peak, bookstore owner Jim Tolbert, and Marcus Hayes, director of social services of a local senior center.

The ballot is nonpartisan; a runoff if needed will be held in April.

In the right place

The rental next door is still vacant, but across the street and one down, there's a sale. After the owner sank some serious dollars into refurbishing the place and then sat by the phone for a month of FSBOing, he finally bit the bullet and called in an Expert, who promptly sold the place in half a week.

As everyone knows, the three major guiding principles of real estate are location, location, and location, perhaps in that very order. But in my case, at least, to make the deal work, it also took research, elbow grease, and good ol' dumb luck. I wouldn't be at all surprised to hear the same story from the new folks on the block when they get here.

No sale

The contract for the house across the street and one over has apparently come undone; the For Sale sign was back on the curb this afternoon, and there was a card in the mail from the owner's agent with a picture of the very place — and the price, which has somehow gone up $9000 since December, when the owner was trying to unload it himself. Needless to say, this fellow would like to sell my house, too, inasmuch as he needs "well maintained 3-4 bed homes" in the area.

Not that I'm willing to cash in my seventy-nine bucks of actual accumulated equity, of course, but I'd be very happy to see someone pay that much for a house on my block, for reasons of personal avarice.

(Donna, dearest, pay no attention to this. It is not going to happen to you — not this close to your closing date.)

The demand side of the curve

Across the street and one down, there was an Open House yesterday from 2 to 4 pm. At least, those were the posted hours: at least three prospects showed up before two. The agent had gotten there half an hour early, and he was more than happy to honor the Sooner tradition.

Meanwhile, I concentrated on my yard work, perhaps with the thought that it might influence someone to think that this block was tidy.

Just sign the papers, young lady

Right about now, right around Philadelphia, Donna is handing over most of her life savings in exchange for a stack of papers this high, a set of keys, and a mortgage that looks for all the world like the federal deficit.

Remember that old shtick about "This is the first day of the rest of your life"? When I did this back in November, the very moment I turned the key for the first time, I knew that's where I was: square one on a whole new path. I have a feeling she's going to see it much the same way.

Buyer's remorse? Barring actual structural catastrophe — say, the roof deciding to come down and pay the floor a visit — it ain't gonna happen.

Now to wangle an invitation.

Saturday scenes

A few things I spotted today while wandering about town:

At 50 Penn Place, I found myself parked next to a Volkswagen Cabrio with a "Re-elect Gore 2004" sticker. Did I miss something?

Jim Tolbert, who owns, among other things, the Full Circle Bookstore at 50 Penn Place, is running for mayor of Oklahoma City — the election will be 24 February — and inasmuch as he lives around here, most of the yard signs that have sprung up in lieu of spring foliage are Tolbert signs. Curiously, he even has yard signs in Nichols Hills, which is outside the city limits; Tolbert may have friends in this old-money enclave, but he won't get any votes there.

Sign at a jewelry store on May Avenue: Valentine's Day Nomination Bracelets. Admittedly, I don't have an actual Valentine, and I have no reasonable expectation of ever getting one, but it bothered me no end that I had no idea what a Nomination Bracelet was. (Now I know.)

And for some reason, almost all the copies of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue in the rack at Albertson's were turned upside down.

The rake's progress

Yard work began today.

There isn't that much yet — only the faintest green is starting to show in the lawn — but I did redistribute some of the accumulated leaves from the last few months, scrape away mud from in front of the gate, and stir up the wood chips in the flower bed. (I have no idea what, if anything, is planted therein; by the time I bought this place, fall was well underway, and any actual blooms would long since have expired.)

The apartments around the corner did some serious tree-trimming last week, and rather a substantial amout of detritus dropped over my side of the fence. I stacked it in the far corner for now. Maybe some of the bare spots near the fence will be somewhat less bare, now that they're getting less shade.

The weather, atypically for March, was cooperative. By summer, of course, these same tasks will seem excruciating.

You're young, you'll adjust

After three house payments, I find myself with a brand-new payment book, containing the standard but nonetheless ominous notice:

[name of bank] has completed an analysis of your escrow account, and has adjusted your mortgage payment to reflect changes in your real estate taxes or property insurance.

And they did indeed adjust it — by one cent.

Downward, yet.

I haven't checked with the County Assessor yet, but I'm assuming this means I'm not getting a big jump (which, in this state, is defined as five percent) in property taxes this year.

The Finch Formerly Known As Gold