Thursday, December 30, 2010

Week 2: A Solid Foundation

Hello Everybody! I hope everyone had a good holiday. Mine was great! It was very restful (which explains the lack of blog posts last week).  While the rest of the East Coast was buried in several feet of snow, the DC area was spared in what several DC blogs have called “No-mageddon.” Hehehehe…I am so happy that it didn’t snow in our area mainly because our kitchen renovation would be delayed.  Let me show you some pics of what has been done so far!

Here is a hole in our ceiling.  I think our contractor was maybe tinkering around with the roof.  In our new kitchen the ceilings will definitely be taller and it will have a skylight too!  However, I don’t think this hole in the ceiling is the skylight. J

Here is a view from the doorway and the dining room.  I just wanted to point out that huge gap at the top of the door.  I can easily imagine money going right through the door—literally!  I can’t wait to get a new door that will be energy efficient in keeping the heating/cooling inside and the elements out.

Lastly, here is a shot of our floor.  As you can see, the debris (and ladder) have been moved, leaving the floor exposed.  By uncovering the floor, we discovered that the existing foundation wasn’t enough to support our new, bigger kitchen; basically, we have to a build a whole new foundation under the kitchen from scratch.  Long story short, it means that we will be spending more money than we originally intended. L They always say that you always go over budget in any renovation, but I just wasn’t planning on going over our budget so early in the renovation process.  Our FHA 203k loan included a reserve fund to cover any unforeseen renovation costs and with our foundation issue we have already tapped into it.  I guess it just means we’ll have to be really careful with the cost of the finishes and appliances—the things we have somewhat control over.  Or maybe we’ll have to wait a little longer for central air-conditioning. Whatever may happen with the rest of our renovation, it’s a fact that we’ll have to tighten our belts to account for the extra expenses early on. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Week 1: What’s Cooking in Our Kitchen

You might remember from my very first blog post that the kitchen in our new house needed a lot of work.  Well, let me get you up to speed with what’s been done so far.

The week that we closed on the house (last week of November/first week of December), we didn’t do anything on the house.  I guess we were just basking in the glow of owning our first home J

The week after our closing consisted of a lot of filming and packing.  We thought our contractor was still in the process of obtaining permits, but boy were we wrong.  Let’s just say that it’s still “Week One” of the renovation.  We arrived at the house and the kitchen looked like…but wait…just so you get an idea of what happened, let me show you a before pic taken at our faux housewarming party  (pay extra attention to the window).

Isn’t it funny that no matter how small or crappy the kitchen is, people still congregate in the kitchen?

And after…the “surprise” demo! See the window now amidst the pile of trash?
The pictures were taken in the exact same place—in the doorway between the dining room and the kitchen.  Wow, I knew our old kitchen was small, but taken apart from the walls with a pile of crap in the middle, it looks even smaller!  Here's another before picture.

The kitchen from another angle...with Justin pointing at the faucet for some reason...
The reason it was a surprise was because we didn’t think that our contractor was going to started on the demolition as fast as he did.  I mean, he just got the permits not too long ago, and we didn’t think he would start the next day.  We couldn’t get mad at him for being ahead of schedule.  With the impending winter weather and all, we should be glad that he got started…it just took us by surprise.

According to Justin, our contractor was on schedule to knock down the wall between the kitchen and the dining room today, and install a load-bearing beam to take its place.  By doing this, it creates an open space between the kitchen and the dining room.  We definitely need more openness since our old house has a very, traditional closed floorplan layout. 

I’m excited for what the next stages of the renovation will bring.  I will continue to update you all and I promise to make posts on the changes as they occur (pending me getting pictures of course)!

Friday, December 17, 2010

It's a Family Affair / We've Won the (Running) Lottery

If you know me and my workout habits, you would know that I have an utter dislike of running.  I know it is one of the best workouts for burning calories and getting fit.  They say it’s one of the easiest things to do, but I can’t get past all the impact and breathlessness.  I can elliptical to my heart’s content and do aerobics classes until kingdom come, but I do not run.

When Justin and I went down to Louisville for Thanksgiving, his sister suggested that Justin and I, along with her, her husband, Justin’s brother, and his wife all run the Kentucky Derby Mini-Marathon.  Don’t let the word “mini” fool you.  The word “mini”, in this context, doesn’t refer to anything cute or bite-sized (e.g.:  fun size Snickers), but instead refers to a half marathon in all its 13.1 miles of glory. 

Logistically, I am not sure we could even do it.  The mini marathon is scheduled for the weekend before the Kentucky Derby  (April 30, 2011), and the Kentucky Derby is the first weekend of May.  We had been planning on going to Derby, considering that we didn’t go last year.  We would either have to go to Kentucky two separate weekends in a row OR take an entire week’s leave to attend both. 

Like this mountain, I will have to overcome my dislike of
We told her that we’d have to think about it, to which she sweetly responded, “Your registration fee will by my Christmas gift for the both of you.”  Uhhhm…thanks?  But of course she wouldn’t lead us blindly into something we’ve never done before.  She suggested that we run a ten miler prior to this daunting race, and it just so happened that the Cherry Blossom 10-miler in Washington, D.C. was scheduled right before the mini marathon.   I’ve heard of this race so many times, since it is during the peak of the cherry blossom season in the first week of April.  Because this race is immensely popular, you must be selected at random, via a lottery, in order to participate.

After Justin and I returned home, I seriously started thinking about the 10-miler.  I started thinking about how I should change my negative view of running and how I needed to get out of my unhealthy and inactive rut (which approximately started after the wedding; getting too comfortable I suppose L).  My sisters also had mentioned to me that they had similar health and fitness goals to mine, but couldn’t find the time and/or motivation.  Justin has never run a race before, but always encourages the both of us to be fit.  It dawned on me since misery loves company that we should run the Cherry Blossom 10-miler together!  After all, if we do the Kentucky Derby Mini-Marathon as a family, we should prepare for it as a family, too! I then registered Justin, my two sisters, and myself for the Cherry Blossom 10-miler.  We found out a few days later that we had been picked.  My sisters were less than enthused and Justin seemed indifferent.  On the other hand, I was excited because now I get to go shopping for some cold weather running gear (hahaha…I know I’m such a poser, but I have to dress appropriately, right?)!  All joking aside, this is the first race that all of us will run, which means training should have started yesterday.  We need to get in shape!  Training for any race is serious business and I hope we’ll be able to pull through with as little problems as possible.  Since this marks the beginning of our race-running journey, I’ll be sure to keep you posted on all of our progress.  Wish us luck!  J

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Sundance Bound!

Girls’ weekends are a time to bond with your girls and to take a break from ordinary day-to-day activities.  I’ve never been on a girls’ weekend before (unless you count bachelorette parties).  So, when my friend, N*, asked me if I wanted to go on a girls’ weekend this winter, I thought, “Why not?” After all, three of Justin’s friends are getting married next year and you know what that means. He’ll be going to three bachelor parties in 2011.  While he’s off “gala-banting” (said with best Filipino accent) I could squeeze in a trip with my girls’ right?

In my mind, I was thinking she would want to do something a little closer to home. Perhaps we could go on a trip to Atlantic City (unless you gamble, probably not a whole lot of fun in the dead of winter) or an antiquing trip to Charlottesville or St. Michaels (uuhhhmm, maybe not so much). But then she said something that totally took me by surprise,

N: “How about Sundance?”

Me:  “As in the film festival?”

N: “Yes.”

I started thinking about what I actually I knew about it.  I knew it was a film festival in Utah where all the big movies get screened, before they hit the general public.  A lot of celebrities go to it…basically it's an event full of swag tents and schmoozing. Hmmm…why not?  I’ve never been one to turn down an adventure and this looks like it could be my latest adventure (for the grown and sexy sort). Hahaha…I laugh because in my younger days, I was always on the hunt for the next party.   Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Cancun College Spring Break, Winter Music Conference (twice), Kentucky Derby (several times), and the ultimate in partying locales, Ibiza—I’ve done them all.  This trip sparked something that I had always loved to do, but thought maybe I had to give it  up after I had gotten older or married.  I’m still on the hunt for a new adventure, but hopefully with less recklessness and hangovers, LOL…and it looks like this trip to Sundance is it.

A few days later, we booked our flights/lodging/passes.  It’s exciting to know that I have a chance to view the next summer blockbuster or Oscar-winning movie, before the general public gets a shot at it.

With all that has been going on, I’m excited that I have another fabulous thing to look forward to!

*Names have been withheld since, “Heck, I don’t know if they want to be in my blog or not! LOL…”

Image from here

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lights, Camera, Action

Do you remember last Tuesday, when I said that you would have to stay tuned for another busy weekend?  The weekend got started on Thursday when we all went to the National Christmas Tree lighting.  It was pretty cool seeing the First Family, Common and Maroon 5 (just to name a few), but it was freezing!  Thank goodness for hand warmers!

Anyway, the tree lighting, although fun, wasn’t the big news.  The real surprise I was alluding to was that Justin and I are going to be on TV!  We got selected for one of my favorite TV shows!  I’m super excited and I can’t wait to have a super cool memory of the experience.  The bad news is that I can’t tell you what TV show it is (although many of you who know me probably know which one it is).  I will definitely do full “behind the scenes” blog entries for each day after the show airs, but until then, I will try to give you some tidbits of what I can say, without giving it away. 

First up, what to wear.  The casting director had specific instructions on what to wear.  Some of the guidelines include the following:  no bright/intense colors, no small prints or polka dots, darker, solid colors are preferred (e.g.:  forest green, jade, burgundy, rust, royal purple, etc.).  I got a little stressed out deciding on what to wear. Justin didn’t have a problem picking out what to wear.  He just wore his usual variations of blue sweaters and/or blue button downs. 

Next, make up.  Unfortunately, they did not provide a hair or make-up person.  **Hint** This show is a quasi-reality TV show, so I understand that they want to see the real-ness of people. However, this girl REALLY wasn’t going to be on national television without professional assistance.   I ended up going on Craigslist and looked up make-up artists, finding two to help me make my television debut (one of the artists couldn’t make it one day, so she referred me to another artist)!

What do you think of their work? I liked it and it definitely wasn’t something that I could do myself. 

The Before

I’m so vain, and yes this song is about me
Mike and Mike getting, er….mic’ed up…LOL!

Filming a “reality” TV show is a lot harder than I thought.  As an avid reality TV watcher, I thought a camera and boom mic followed you around as you ran amok, doing whatever it is that you do (challenges in the rainforest, traveling around the world, gym/tan/laundry…).  I found out that starring in a reality TV show requires a lot of patience on the part of everyone—the producer, the audio person, the cameraman and the participants, to make sure everything is right.  We got used to answering questions and doing things over and over again, in order to get the right shot and/or sound.  On my part, I had a difficult time doing the interview portions in present tense, which required several takes.  Hahaha…oh well, at least I wasn’t speaking in the third person!  Anyways, we finished filming about half of our episode and they’ll probably be coming back in a month or so to film the rest.  By that time, I’ll definitely know what to expect!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Weekend Review

Hello Everyone! I had such a busy and fun-filled weekend, probably one of the most jam-packed weekends I’ve had in a while. Justin and I had a full social calendar that started on Thursday. (I'm really bad at keeping up-to-date blog posts, I'm telling you about what I did over the weekend on Tuesday, sigh...)

On Thursday, Justin and I, along with my sisters and our roommate, went to see David Guetta at Fur (Yup, the guy behind “I Gotta Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas and “The Club Can’t Handle Me” by Flo-rida). I haven’t been to Fur in a while, but I would have to say it was packed!  David Guetta isn’t my top choice for “house,” but why not? Everyone needs a little cheese in their life, right? J The hubby, who doesn’t even listen to dance music, even enjoyed himself with the help of some good ol’ friends: red bull and vodka. It definitely was a good night, as Guetta played all his popular jams.  The downside of the night was that I had to go to work a few short hours after we got home (he didn’t start performing until Midnight and we didn’t leave until 2:30am), and I left my credit card and license at Fur (boo!).

I asked my sister Jill to do one thing: “Take a picture of David Guetta.” Behold, she comes back with no picture of Guetta, but instead has a million pictures of the crowd. Gah! Despite there being no picture of the man himself, the crowd pics were pretty cool—like this one.

Kinda Ibiza-like if I do say so myself!
On Friday (while running on four hours of sleep), we went to the Wizards vs. Trail Blazers game at the Verizon Center.  It was John Wall bobblehead night so we made sure we got there early!  Did I mention that I have a thing for bobbleheads and sporting events? If you are a sports team having a bobblehead night, I will be there! (LOL)  I got a nice little collection so far!  The Wizards were behind most of the time (Wall’s game looked a little off too), but they were able to catch up and pull off an 83-79 win! Yay! Justin and I definitely root for the Wizards more since John Wall got drafted.

Saturday we had two parties to attend.  The first one was a potluck with my Filipino co-workers. We had a great time sharing our Filipino-American stories of growing up, singing magic mike and watching the variety shows on The Filipino Channel.  We couldn’t stay long because we had to head to my friend’s birthday party up in Maryland.  For her birthday, I got her a pretty sweet Hypnotiq gift set, with some glasses and an ice bucket; however, upon our arrival, we were surprised to find out that she is pregnant! I am so happy for the both of them! J Justin enjoyed himself also, sampling my friend’s husband’s collection of boutique/small batch bourbons. 

Sunday is typically “fun day,” but for us it was a running errands day.  We started the day watching the Redskins-Giants game at Hard Times Café.  By halftime, I couldn’t stomach any more football, so we headed off to Bed Bath and Beyond à la Old School.  Haha, just kidding (we’ve been watching Old School on OnDemand all week). We really went to IKEA to look at some kitchens. Here are some of the kitchens that caught our eye.

We like these cabinets

Can you tell we like dark brown?

Hopefully this trip inspired us and will make it easier for us when it is time to make decisions on our kitchen renovation.  At least we’ll already know what we want, right?

Whew! I’m exhausted just telling you about our weekend! I hope you all had a good weekend as well. Did you go Christmas shopping yet? I still need to do that, but we have another busy weekend ahead of us…but you will have to stay tuned. J

Friday, December 3, 2010

It's Official: We're Homeowners!

In case you missed our Facebook/Twitter/4Square statuses, we closed on our first house on Monday, right after we got back from Kentucky.  We are super excited, but it hasn’t really hit me yet—probably because we haven’t moved in yet.

Monday was pretty hectic (just like the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, when I tried to leave at noon and ended up leaving two hours later). I was scared I wouldn’t leave in time.*   Luckily, I was able to make it to the bank to get a cashier's check for our down payment and closing costs.  Let me just say that the amount of money I cut for the check could have bought a sweet 2011 BMW…wow…It’s by far the largest check I’ve ever made. I digress…

Anyways, we did the walk through which was pretty straightforward.  Since we were able to negotiate the price waaaayyyy below the seller’s asking price at the time, the seller sold us the house “as-is.” 

Then we went to the title company for closing.  Everyone kept telling me about how much my hand would hurt after signing my name multiple times on the closing papers.  To be honest, after signing paperwork for five rejected offers and filling out paperwork for loan approval, this process was a breeze!  The sellers handed us a bunch of keys (many of which we still have no idea what door it opens) and then we were officially homeowners!

Homeowners, at last!
We got a bottle of champagne from the title company and a really generous gift card from our realtors, Greg and Christina.  I didn’t know you got gifts for buying a house. How cool is that?

On Tuesday, we invited a few friends over to have a little “pre-housewarming” get together, so people could see the place before we started the renovations.  We even got to meet our neighbors on each side of our house.  Hopefully, we didn’t freak them out.  Even though there were only ten of us we got a little raucous, probably due to a couple cases of beer, a few cans of Four Loko, half a bottle of bourbon, and several bottles of champagne loud.  Hopefully, we’ll be able to make a better impression as good (somewhat), quiet neighbors once we move in.

Although we’re not moving into our house for another two months (hopefully earlier), our life on the Hill has already begun.   I’m very lucky to have Justin to share in this experience, and I know the two of us can’t wait to explore what the Hill has to offer.  In the meantime, we’re going to enjoy Capitol Lounge’s 25 cent wing special…

*I always do this. As opposed to taking a half-day, sometimes it’s just better to just take the entire day off. Work can’t keep you longer if you’re not even there, right?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Country Roads Take Me Home

Sorry, I’ve been slacking a bit this week as far as blog entries.  We’ve been very busy this week (as some of you may know) and I’ll surely be blogging about it later this week.

This past weekend was our first attempt at driving to Kentucky together.  Being a holiday weekend, airfare for Thanksgiving was through the roof and we thought we’d save some cash by driving.

The trip down was pretty easy, taking us from interstate to interstate.  We even took a couple of toll roads (which we didn’t mind), and we made it to Louisville in a little under the anticipated nine hours.  Despite our late departure (because of me) and the smidgen of traffic we hit as we left D.C, the drive there wasn’t all that bad, even though Justin did do all of the driving.  The drive back was a different story.

Driving back to DC wasn’t nearly as efficient.  Like sheep, we “blindly” followed our GPS, which unfortunately lead us over the river and through the woods…literally.  As soon as we entered West Virginia we thought we were in the clear when the GPS told us to exit the highway and take the local road.  The local road then led to back roads, and then twisty-turny steep roads with signs like this:

Steep grade on a 9 hour drive = no fun (Photo Courtesy of johnsantic)

 and this:

This is one I’ve never seen before (Photo Courtesy of Pbase)

Although this shortcut may have been more beneficial to take during the day, Justin was none to happy to be taking this impromptu driving skills course (he officially hates the state of West Virginia for other reasons besides the UK-WVU game last March).  Oh well (easy for me to say since I didn’t drive, LOL!).   The lesson to take away from our mishap: make sure to at least preview your route before you take off on a road trip.  The shortest route isn’t always the fastest.

Despite our little adventure, our trip to Louisville was great as usual.  It was nice seeing family and friends, most of which we haven’t seen since our wedding in July.  We did a lot of eating (of course) and a lot of much needed relaxing.  Although we wish we had a little more vacation time, now we’re back to the usual DC grind…At least we finally closed on the house! J 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Uncle Jesse and Aunt Becky of Full House

The following blog post is brought to you by my love, Justin...yay! It's his first blog post ever and hopefully it won't be the last. Enjoy!

We close on our house a week from this past Monday.  Are we excited?  Hell yeah we are, but we still have a few more hurdles to cross over before we can sit on our couch and watch the UK game in our new home.  Am I talking about the planned renovation to our kitchen?  Nope.  How about all the repainting that we need to do to the rooms?  Nope.  I’m talking about living with the in-laws for the next two months…in the suburbs.  As I had just mentioned, Joanne and I will be living with her parents, her sisters, her aunt, her cousins, and their tiny annoying dog for the next two months.  Due to the fact that we are getting our kitchen totally remodeled, we decided it would be in our best interest to not live in the house while the contractor does his thing.  Considering the rent in DC is extremely high, and our mortgage isn’t exactly “chump change”, we opted for free living out in Gaithersburg (hereinafter referred to as “the ‘burbs’”).  This scenario reminds me of Full House.  Joanne’s sisters are DJ and Stephanie…and JJ (the dog) is Michelle.  The laundry list makes the house sound pretty crowded; however, there’s a little more space to work with than our current living situation.

The “original” cast before John Stamos auditioned.

Prior to us getting married, the two of us lived separately from each other.  I lived in my bachelor pad in Rosslyn (Arlington, VA for those not from the DC area), and Joanne lived in the ‘burbs with her parents.  I lived in this apartment for almost two years.  It was the perfect location; close to DC and all the nightlife, yet not necessarily in DC.  When we got married, we had planned on having a house in place when we returned from our honeymoon.  As you may have guessed from the previous blog entries, this little plan didn’t quite work out as planned.  Upon our return from Aruba, Joanne moved in with me…and Mike…and Mike.  Yes, I lived with two guys named Mike, but we became one happy family.  Over the past four months, Joanne and I learned to cope with the lack of space we had, living in my three bedroom apartment.  Further, having to live with her family our in the “burbs” should be nothing but a walk in the park for the two of us. 

Actual photo of Mike and Mike…our roommates.

I will dearly miss living in Rosslyn for the next two months.  My commute to work will grow from a 10 minute drive to an hour drive in the mornings.  My life will be terrorized by a papillion-poodle that thinks he’s the best thing since sliced bread.  Either way, life goes on, and Joanne and I are one step closer to living in our dream home on Capitol Hill.  The best way to go about this is to look at the positives: 1) we finally have our house;   2) we get to spend the next two months close to our loved ones; 3) lastly, I won’t have to cook every meal.  Now, Joanne and I must prepare to become the Uncle Jesse and Aunt Becky of this “Full House” for the next few months…and we’re excited…somewhat.

From our "Full House" to yours, Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Lucky Charms Pt. II - Jo Meet (St.) Joe

We had our little bulls for about two to three weeks, prior to our wedding (July 3rd of this year).  As we continued our house hunting, weeks, and then months went by, and we were still at square one without a home. Justin and I thought we needed a little something extra and drew upon our Catholic roots…if you guessed that we got a St. Joseph statue, you’re absolutely right!

I know what you’re probably thinking to yourself right now:  “Joanne, I thought these St. Joseph statues were only for home sellers having difficulty selling their homes, not homebuyers.” Well, I did some research (i.e. surfing the internet) and found out that St. Joseph is not only the patron saint for home sellers, but also for all real estate.  I bet it’s due to his mad carpenter skills!! Woot, woot! (just kidding J)

After finding out this neat little tidbit, I went off on a St. Joseph statue hunt (during my lunch break at work).  My search for catholic supply shops led me to The Paschal Lamb in Fairfax, VA.  As I was perusing their statue section I had some difficulty picking out St. Joseph from the rest of the other saints (they all seemed to share a similar look back in the day). I asked the salesperson to point me in the right direction and she led me to this:

This looks like a Jell-O pudding pop :/
Bleh, I am not a fan.  It was colorless, cheap, hollow, and plastic.  These statues were more appropriate for burying in the yard (its actual intended use), but definitely not something to display in your house.  Not digging this colorless selection of St. Joe, I asked the salesperson to show me some statues that were a little nicer, with a little more color and personality.   The salesperson then showed me a display of porcelain saints, to which she cheerfully said, “These are hand painted from Italy!”  As I looked at these colorful, “hand painted” versions of my potential lucky charm, I could see one of them begin to mouth something to me with its lips.  Was I seeing things or did the St. Joseph statue tell me he’s expensive?  Nope, I was just seeing things, but by just looking at these statues, you knew they definitely weren’t cheap.  “Hand painted from Italy” equals “expensive”.  I had to think for a moment how much I was willing to spend on this thing, but I figured I should shell out the extra dollars if this was going to get plenty of face time in our current and future home.   It may even come in handy if we ever want to sell our home in the future.

A fine piece of Italian craftsmanship: Our St. Joseph Statue

As evidenced in my first post, we succeeded in getting our first place.  Now, do I think the St. Joseph statue had anything to do with it? Well, a week after I purchased the statue (with the blessing by our priest the following Sunday), we found out that our offer was accepted. Coincidence? Possibly…or maybe we got a little divine intervention J

You can find out more about this tradition/superstition here.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Lucky Charms - Holy Cow!

Lucky charms, amulets, and such…They are magically delicious and often used by the superstitious (hehehe…I made a rhyme!).  I never considered myself one to believe in lucky charms and things of that sort, but after losing out on our fifth home offer, we were willing to try anything. 

Upon returning from her semester abroad in Peru, my youngest sister Judy brought Justin and I two little ceramic cows bulls.  Before she left she knew we were experiencing some frustrations with our home search.  We were continually striking out against buyers who offered waaaayyy over asking or investors that made all cash offers. Apparently these bulls can be found all over Peru on the people’s roofs.  They are said to bring good luck, fertility (Don’t get any ideas now, people!) and protection.  Since we live in 15-story apartment complex, we opted to keep our bulls in our room on the TV console and hoped that would suffice.   

Maybe we can construct a quasi-diorama for our bulls like this one complete with birds and miniature pots?

The bulls in their natural habitat J

The bulls in their “not-so natural” habitat next to our TV.

Upon further research I learned that these bulls were called, “torito de Pucará,” which I believe means “Bulls of Pucará.” I took four years of French so feel free to correct me if I’m wrong!

According to Peru Travel & Tours,

“Pucará is a region in Peru famous for it's ceramic production, a tradition dating back at least 2500 years. The most famous of it's ceramic figurines are the Pucará bulls or toritos; which can be found on the roofs of houses to bring luck and fertility.”
I’m sure the Peruvian people probably never envisioned their lucky bulls to be used as a home-buying good luck charm!  Anyway, it was really cool learning about our little toritos and you can sure that they will have a place of honor in our new home.  Stay tuned because the “Toritos de Pucará” aren’t the only things we added to happy house-buying/good luck arsenal!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What Not to Do Before Buying a Home

Now that Justin and I are in the home stretch of the home buying process, I thought I would take a look back on our application process.  I heard that back in the day, a mortgage lender would only ask you for your credit score and you would have a house with just the snap of someone’s fingers.  With the economy the way it is, coupled with the foreclosure crisis, you can definitely say those days are long gone. Here are some tips we learned along the way.

1)   Don’t wait until you find a house to get your paperwork in order.  Do you have your W-2s from two years ago? Check. How about your pay stubs from that part-time job? Check. Account and credit card statements, rent receipts, etc?  Expect to dig through your drawers for all these documents.  It’s always a good thing to have documents, such as these, on file once you start your house hunt.  In anticipation of your potential lender and his/her annoying information requests, you should try to be one step of the game.  If you’re anything like myself, you might have to do some digging.  Our lender had tons of patience and would remind our slacker-butts ever so often that these documents were due.  Once you grab a hold of these documents, make sure you keep them handy because you never know when you’ll have to submit them and to whom.  We often had to resend these documents to other people that worked with our particular lender.  This became a major annoyance.  Considering that they all work for the same lending institution, you would think they would share this information between each other; however, they don’t, and prepare to answer the never-ending requests they send your way.

2)   Don't do anything that will change your credit report. Lenders don’t like change.  Take a good look at your credit report.  Look at it in all its glory, and keep it that way during the entire duration of your house hunt.  If you don’t keep your credit report the way it is, you will have to explain these changes, which may affect your eligibility for a mortgage.  I learned about this the hard way when I headed to Macy’s (fistful of gift cards from the wedding in tow) and went on a mini-shopping spree to get all the gifts on the registry we didn’t get. I was like a kid in a candy store, picking up everything from Le Creuset casserole dishes to the much-coveted Dyson Ball vacuum cleaner.  When the lady at the register said I could save an additional 10% to go with my 20% registry discount if I opened a Macy's credit card, I let this little “sales pitch” get the best of me.  Justin was none too pleased when I told him I opened a new credit card and that credit pull showed up on our report shortly thereafter.

3)   Don't take who you work with for granted. Pick who you work with wisely.  Asking people you know for referrals is generally the way to go, but you have to make sure you do your due diligence. Check your references and look at the person’s work or portfolio.  If you decide to work with a friend that happens to be in the business, make sure they have the expertise in the areas you need, in which you need additional attention (e.g.:  a realtor with first-time home buyer experience, a home contractor with kitchen remodeling experience)

I know this isn’t an all-inclusive list, but these three things are what Justin and I had the greatest experience with. Hopefully, first home buyers can learn from our own advice above. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to send some additional paperwork over to our home insurer/underwriter/lender.  I swore we just sent this to them last week…

Cheesy graphics courtesy of Microsoft Clip Art

It's Begining to Look a lot Like Chirstmas

Last Friday, I entered the National Christmas Tree lottery on a whim.  Although, I have lived here for over a decade (and still haven't seen many of the wonderful sights that Washington D.C. has to offer) I thought that this would be a great opportunity to be a part of one of the most famous holiday White House institutions.  Plus, Maroon 5 will be there and I love me some Adam Levine!  I opened my email yesterday morning I found out that I won not just one, but FIVE tickets for the Christmas tree lighting ceremony! Woohoo! I am super excited and can’t wait to figure out who to bring (besides Justin of course)!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Home Sweet Hill

As many of you know, Justin and I have been looking for a house for quite sometime (about a year to be exact).  I am happy to report that we’ve finally found our first place! It’s a cute Federal-style porch front row home, located on the edge of Capitol Hill (some might call this area “Hill East”).  This adorable house has 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, and needs some TLC. Justin hates it when I use the words “fixer-upper,” but I feel that there’s no better way to say that it needs a little fixing up!

Yes, that's us in front of our lovely house. Excuse the window unit (we'll be getting rid of those soon enough)...and excuse the the various signs, the random ladder (it was the inspector's), etc...

While the house is generally in good shape, the kitchen is atrocious.  It seems like an afterthought to whoever built this house; the kitchen doesn’t seem to be fully integrated with the total layout of the house.  Located in a closed-off extension of the house, the kitchen has very low ceilings and little room to move around, to even make the smallest of people want to complain. We knew we wanted to put our own personal touch on our first home; however, the amount for renovations and the down payment for our mortgage posed a huge challenge.
Our realtor Greg told us about the FHA 203k loan program, in which home buyers are given a home renovation loan, combined with the mortgage.  The unique characteristic about this FHA loan is that you only have to make one monthly payment, for what actually is “two loans rolled into one”.  We figured this would be a great way to get the kitchen renovation we wanted, along with some other things (e.g. energy efficient windows).  The added bonus with this loan (or with any other type of loan we could have used) was that we locked in a great mortgage rate. 
Upon buying our first house, I never thought we would be in charge of a major renovation.   Neither of us had experience in planning home renovations, but here we are doing everything from obtaining contractor estimates/bids to examining floor plan sketches.  There’s also the endless amount of paperwork to fill out that makes me feel that we’re providing the same information over and over again.
We are hoping to close next month at then end of the month, but we still have to complete some requests from our lender.  Our lender has given us about nine to ten questions, all regarding our personal information.  For example, some of these questions include: “Why were you living at addresses x, y, and z during this time period” Uhmm…I didn’t think it was that unusual to be living at my parents house, a sorority house, and then an apartment within a four to six year time span, but apparently it raises some red flags.  Another question, wanted Justin to clarify whether he was an independent contractor or whether he worked for a Federal agency (Justin’s company’s client).  In my mind, I’m thinking that whoever asked this question is not from the DC Metro Area and familiar with the large amount of government contractors EVERYWHERE in the area, or the actual concept of a government contractor. Around here, almost everyone I know works as a government contractor; if not, they’re a Federal employee themselves, or an attorney, or a Hill staffer, or....  Hopefully, we’ll be deemed credit worthy after we complete this laundry list of demands to explain the last twenty to thirty years of our lives. J