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