Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Adventures of a First-Time House Buyer

If you've ever gone through the home-buying process, you can relate to the story you're about to read. And if you've ever bought a home, moved, celebrated the holidays with family out of town, gone on a Maui honeymoon, had your car transmission go kaput, and discovered your new home sits on a tree-root-rotting mess - all in about a month's time - then you can really relate to this story.

Lauren and Aaron are a newly married couple whose optimism was put to the test during their home buying and moving adventure. Fortunately, they passed the test with flying colors and can now laugh about their experience.

And you all know how I feel about finding humor in even the worst situations! Here's Lauren and Aaron's story, as told by Lauren, a now-experienced home buyer.

My husband Aaron and I recently bought our first house together! This was icing on the cake after our May 2013 wedding and our scheduled 10-day honeymoon in Maui, which was planned for Dec. 6. We were moving from Seattle to Gig Harbor, Washington, which is only about an hour drive away and we hired a professional moving company to pack and move our things.

It began with a 30-day escrow from us securing the purchase of the house on Nov. 5  at 11 p.m. with a set closing date of Dec. 5, because on Dec. 6 we were already booked to go on our  honeymoon to Maui. We asked the sellers if we could close on the house upon our return and they said no, it needed to be done before we left. The sellers were professional flippers and they had taken our 1980s built house and made it look all pretty  and brand new on the inside in a matter of three months and couldn't wait to get it off their books and move onto the next flip.

Up until 6 p.m. on Dec. 4 we had no idea if the bank was going to approve our loan in time. They had promised they could meet the steep timeline at the beginning of the process, however it required a ridiculous invasion of our financial records, which we have found out is going to now be par for the course when securing a home loan because of the recent changes to the government regulations.

At 9 a.m. Dec. 5 we drove to Bellevue, Washington, on the east side of Seattle, to the title company to sign the papers. I was excited, this being my first home purchase! Aaron was stressed as all get-out and was "done with the whole process" because of all the back and forth with securing the loan.  It seriously started to become a full-time job for him, our financial advisors, bank and Realtor. We sat down in a conference room and were rushed through signing the title documents so they could get it to a courier to drive it down to the county we were moving to in order to file the papers that same day. We kept getting interrupted by a women telling us we needed to hurry up and sign everything, which was super annoying. At the end of the paper signing there was no "congratulations" or hand shake or giving us the keys, just that someone should call us around 5 or 6 p.m. that evening confirming that everything was filed.

As we got in the elevator I started to tear up and was attempting to have my tear ducts re-absorb my tears back into my eyes, but it wasn't working. Aaron hugged me and apologized that the whole process was so stressful. Tears streaming down my face the elevator door opened on the first floor to some huge company having their Christmas party in the lobby with caterers and a barista (Hello - it is Seattle) and there were tons of people looking at me with my puffy, red eyes as Aaron held my hand as walked through the parking lot to the truck. We sat in Aaron's truck and I was able to catch my breath and my sadness turned to frustration at the title document lady for not being more hospitable. Aaron started the truck and put it into reverse to back out of the parking space and nothing happened....the truck went nowhere. Side note:  If you know Aaron you know that he knows the tire pressure in all of his tires at all times and takes AMAZING care of his truck. Confused, he put it back in park and then in reverse again and pressed on the gas and the truck didn't move, it was as if he had put it in neutral. I could actually hear the sound of his blood pressure rising by the millisecond, as he turned the car off and tried the sequence again. We both could clearly hear that the transmission was not turning over into reverse, it would go into drive, park and neutral but not reverse. He immediately cut the steering wheel, told me to stay in the car, and began pushing his truck out of the parking spot.

Meanwhile I am trying to be positive and attempting to make up some car malfunction that would be cheaper to fix than needing a new transmission, and that clearly was NOT helping. He jumped back into the car and I immediately pulled out my iPhone looking for the nearest Chevy dealership. As luck would have it there was one less than a mile away so we drove in silence as the automated voice told us to make a few turns and we pulled into the dealership . We walked into the service center at which point the service guy asked us "how are you doing today?" to which Aaron said, "Not great, I just bought a house 5 minutes ago, my wife is upset by the process, and I think my transmission just went out." They were able to look at his truck that day and they called Enterprise Rent-a-Car for us and roughly 20 minutes later we found ourselves driving a Ford Focus to Denny's of Bellevue to get something to eat and have a chance to sit down and comprehend the morning. We needed to go home to finish packing for our honeymoon for which our flight took off at 8 the next morning.

Around 2 they called and said the best thing would be to get a new transmission. He would have a 100,000 mile warranty on it, and at $3,500 vs $2,900 it was a better value that just trying to fix part of the transmission. At this point we are like "OF COURSE THIS WOULD HAPPEN!" The Chevy dealership said it was fine if we picked up the truck when we got back from Maui in 10 days and we left it at that.

We had an amazing honeymoon in which we didn't think about our upcoming move, the truck or anything else. We enjoyed going whale watching, sitting by the pool and beach, attending luaus and enjoying $5 Bloody Mary happy hours at the pool every day.
After getting back from Maui we had planned two days later to drive the 10 hours to Montana to spend the holidays with Aaron's parents and so we unpacked our bathing suits and shorts and repacked, including things like long-underwear and multiple pairs of gloves and scarfs.

In January we were extremely excited to move out of Seattle and into the 'burbs' where we could have 2,400 square feet of house, beautiful tall fur trees and be able to have a conversation without our neighbors hearing us and inserting their opinions like they were included in the convo. The town of Gig Harbor is an old-timey fishing village that is surrounded by  Puget Sound on almost every side. We are not beachfront by any means but we enjoy a nice ocean breeze from time to time and a peek-a-boo water view from our bedroom.

The movers came on Jan. 9 to pack all our things and stack our boxes to the ceiling and returned on Jan 10 to load the truck and follow me to the new house. Aaron had to be at one of his facilities that day. We parked our cars out of the way of the moving truck so they could pull right up and connect their ramp to the front porch of the house. The movers got all our boxes into the house and beds set up by around 4 p.m., with somewhat minimal scratching of our newly painted walls.

At this time we took a deep breath and looked at the large tasks in front of us of UNPACKING, ugh! We both realized there was so much work to be done and we had no food in the house. Since Aaron works from home 50 percent of the time, his priority was getting his home office set up ASAP. I had no energy to get back in the car and go to the grocery store for the basic staples but with encouragement from my husband and minor amount of whining on my part I took my car and went to Safeway to get Chinese food from the prepared food section, bread, milk, flour tortillas and shredded taco cheese because those are our staples. When I returned from the store it was pouring rain and windy so I pulled all the way into the driveway and as close to the front door as I could get so as not to get wet. Even though the Seattle/Tacoma area is known for rain, it rarely rains hard enough that requires a raincoat or umbrella. Since I had no idea which box my additional sweatshirts were in and the suitcase I had packed with a few days of necessities was blocked by the MANY boxes just unloaded by the movers. I unloaded the groceries, organized the Chinese food at the coffee table in the living room, we ate, and then continued to unpack until roughly 11. As we went to bed I noticed how nice it was to hear the patter of rain on the roof and the breeze in the trees. In our old house our bedroom was in the basement and it was like being in a room on a cruise ship with no port-hole and if you didn't have a clock next to your bed you would have no idea what time of day it was.

We slept great that night and Aaron woke up like clockwork at 7:30 on Saturday morning. The wind and rain had stopped and I was lying in bed enjoying my view of the beautiful green trees surrounding our house.  From all of the windows in our house you look out and all you see is green - it's awesome. It was so quiet in the house until I heard "HOLY S&#%!"and "F*#% Me!" coming from just outside our bedroom door. To be quite honest this didn't even startle me because of the other profanities that had been yelled over the last few days. Aaron ran back into our bedroom yelling that there was a tree laying across our driveway and he immediately picked up his cell phone and ran outside. This made sense since it was windy and there were little tiny trees and brush all over our yard. I got up and looked out the window and was completely blown away with what I saw.

This was not just "a tree." This was one of the largest trees on our property. I went outside to see this massive tree laying next to my car, Aaron's truck, our 19-foot camping trailer, the beautiful rhododendrons lining the inside of our driveway, and the house, all of which had escaped without a scratch. Aaron was already on the phone calling tree removal people as it had blocked both our cars in, making it impossible for us to leave. I grabbed my camera and started clicking away. Aaron was able to reach one tree removal company on a Saturday morning. The owner, Brett, said his crew was on another job that day in Tacoma, but said he would come over himself, so we could at least get our cars out of the driveway. He arrived within a few hours and we ran outside to greet him. (Also, before he arrived we had Home Depot delivering out new washing and dryer). Brett took one step out of his Jeep Liberty and had a huge smile on his face. He was like "this was not at all I was expecting when you said you had a single tree laying across your driveway." He observed the relation to our cars, our new house and camping trailer at which point he said "MAN, you hit the jackpot!!!" He apologized for only bringing one chainsaw with him and that his crew wasn't available today and he immediately got to work cutting up the large rounds in the pouring rain while Megan, his girlfriend and business partner, was keeping the car warm.

We unpacked and watched over the next 2-3 hours while he cut up this 105-foot fur tree. All of a sudden we heard the doorbell ring and it was Megan saying that Brett had taken a wood chip to the eye and had scratched his eye pretty bad and she was going to take him to urgent care and have his crew come back from their other job to finish up at our house. I already felt bad that he was out there in the pouring rain cutting up and hauling heavy logs, missing watching one of the Seahawks play-off games on TV, and now I felt even worse.  We said "don't worry about it, just take care of yourself!" and they pulled out of the driveway. We again said "OF COURSE" this would happen!

imagejpeg_0Fifteen minutes later another ring at the doorbell and it was Brett. He had removed the wood chip  himself as they pulled into the urgent care parking lot and was OK to finish the job. We smiled and were overly appreciative of his help, kindness, and only charging us $100 to clear the driveway and cut up the tree. We had already established a relationship with this company before we even moved because we had already observed at least 5 trees on our property that were leaving on or near the house that we wanted to have cut down. If you had given me 10 guesses as to which trees would have fallen in a wind storm the tree that fell would not have been on that list so we got incredibly lucky. Bret finished clearing the driveway and we made an appointment for them to come back the next day to give us a quote on the other trees we wanted removed.

The next morning Brett and Megan showed up and all four of us walked around the property and they educated us about the trees native to this area and what we actually had sitting on our property. I forgot to mention that the home owner before the flippers was a guy who walked away from the house and let it go to hell in a hand basket and apparently used to just throw trash in the back yard because it quote "made the animals happy" despite MANY of the neighbors complaining. The brush is so overgrown that the ground can never dry out and the tree roots get so saturated they just breakdown. Apparently the roots of 100-foot fur trees do not spread out at all and are not very wide so can easily be compromised in a wind and rain storm, especially when there is a lot of brush and smaller trees compromising the root structure and hogging all the nutrients. A positive outcome of this is that Bret and Megan are so nice, around our age, and only live about 15 minutes away and through talking with them we have found we have a lot in common. Brett and Aaron have already bonded over hunting and outdoor stories to which Brett responded "oh darn, I guess we are going to have to be friends."

Overall we learned A LOT during this entire process. I have learned the importance of not letting the process of moving stress you out. It can be REALLY hard to do that for some people (my husband) but can be done because it is what it is and eventually a long time from now we will think, "Hey, remember when we bought our first home?"

What's your moving story? Share it with us at


If you like Diane's humorous take on moving, you'll love her book Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Changing the House You Love


When my husband and I were house-hunting here in San Francisco, I talked him into looking at this huge, old Victorian mansion. It was a historic landmark and was where the  head of the Church of Latter Day Saints died in the late 1800s. The place was technically in our price range, but it needed a new roof, all new windows, new electrical, and it had about four too many sinks. There were sinks in the most unexpected corners of formal rooms. It also had carved wood paneling, a back staircase, secret passageways and a bunch of fireplaces.

Needless to say, I wanted that house. And I wanted it bad. I could see us doing a blog/book/reality show about our renovations of the house and ensuing divorce and/or spousal aggravated homicide. We could start out on HGTV and then move right to Snapped: Women Who Kill and then a guest spot on Orange is the New Black. Seemed like a savvy business move to me.

Needless to also say, we didn't buy that house. My husband and our Realtor conspired against me and told me to get a grip on reality, and not the show kind.  So we bought the next best thing: A smaller, slightly newer, better maintained Edwardian house with an appropriate number of sinks and only one that needed to be replaced.

We started renovations immediately. Now, eight months after my move into this house, I am starting to see that even this simpler renovation is creating so much chaos and upheaval, I can't imagine how I could have coped with anything larger.

We've already completed some major projects, including having hardwood installed on three staircases, and painting the exterior of the house. Currently, we are having the kitchen gutted and redone, including a small addition, as well as four rooms in the top floor painted. The top floor also got some new electrical and new wet-bar improvements. Next up: Renovating the master bathroom and having the rest of interior painted.

All of this got me to thinking: How many people move into a house and make major changes in it, just months after moving in?  Moving seems to naturally precede renovating or - at the very least - redecorating. If you bought a house and loved every single thing about it, including the color of every wall, you probably bought the house for all the wrong reasons. Even if you love, love, love that house that you just bought, it won't be long before you want to start making changes.

Not all home renovations are smart. According to HGTV's Homekeeping, there are at least 25 big mistakes you can make when renovating your home. Things like buying cheap materials, inaccurate measurements, avoiding permits and skipping prep are shortcuts that you'll most likely regret. Mistakes like going too trendy and ignoring your home's style are usually made by first-time home-buyers who can't see past their visions of a dream house.

One of the big 25 mistakes is failure to anticipate chaos. "I see this time and time again where people just start, and they think they're going to pull a piece of wallpaper off, and by the time the process is over, they've completely gotten themselves into a deep, dark hole that's very difficult to get out of," adds Eric Stromer of Over Your Head.

That "deep, dark hole" is a familiar place for me. Our home renovations projects have consistently been more complicated, more expensive and more chaotic than we ever expected. But let's face it: If we knew how chaotic home renovation would be, we might not tackle it in the first place.

That big Victorian mansion with all the sinks? It was bought by someone. We drove past it a few weeks ago and saw that the windows had been replaced and the exterior was painted. Who knows what other gorgeous improvements have been made on the inside. Or maybe that's where the chaos is going on. I'd love to knock on the door and offer an encouraging word. And offer them my spot on This Old House.


If you like Diane's humorous take on moving, you'll love her book Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

An Army Brat Who Wrote the Book on Military Life

I've been reading up on military families and all that they endure, not least of all the frequent moves. A US serviceman or servicewoman's family moves about every three years, and children from military families move an average of 10 times during their childhoods.
That's a lot of being the "new kid."

I know from my own experiences that when my kids were going to their new school on their first day, I felt like my heart was being torn out. I wanted to drive alongside the bus and follow them from class to class, making sure they were OK. Knowing that would never fly, I stayed home and picked my cuticles and watched the clock. I don't know who was more relieved after the first-day stress was over - me or them.

My kids have had to do that way too much. And military kids find themselves there even more often.

Organizations like the National Military Family Association has programs that help the children of military families adjust to new towns, new schools, and parent deployments. But it's still not easy for military brats, knowing the next reassignment is right around the corner.

Author Christine Kriha Kastner of Cleveland, Ohio, has a different version of this story in her memory banks. By the time her father retired from the US Army, Christine and her family had moved 14 times. One of their homes was in Okinawa, where Christine formed lifelong friendships. She returned to her old school and wrote a book about it.  Soldiering On - Finding My Homes: Memoir of an Army Brat tells of Christine's time as an American child in Japan and her memorable return visit there as an adult to reconnect with old friends and classmates.

Living in 15 different homes and going to 10 different schools could make Christine and other military brats feel sorry for themselves. But Christine saw it all as an adventure. You won't find any whining or complaining in her book.

As a frequently-moving military brat, I can tell you that our moves were mostly fun—for us kids—but probably not so for my mother!  We lived in 15 different houses by the time my father retired from the Army.  For military families, moving arrangements were dictated to us, and we were used to following orders.  The packers showed up.  We had to be ready.  No excuses.

Sometimes we had to sort belongings to send off to permanent storage while we lived overseas.  Every move involved weight limits and Mom was always “purging” our belongings.  We never knew if something was off in storage or had been given away.  The best part about returning to the States was when the stuff from storage was delivered back.  It was so much fun to rediscover past treasures—toys and games and books that had been stashed in those boxes for all those years—that Mom had not tossed after all.  It was like Christmas all over again!

Learn more about Christine and Soldiering On - Finding My Homes: Memoir of an Army Brat at


If you like Diane's humorous take on moving, you'll love her book Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves.