Thursday, December 31, 2015

And to All A Good Night

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas with family and friends! We spent Christmas in my sister Monica's beautiful brand new house in Charleston, SC. (Actually, we built together and we blog together, 'cause we're sisterly like that -- you should check it out.) It was an amazing week full of family, good food, and good wine. A LOT of good wine. Here are some pictures...

She lives in this super charming neighborhood called Park Circle that does a really nice Christmas light display each year. (Full disclosure: the first time I took the video I didn't do it right, and I made my sister drive around the circle three times. Oops.)

The sweet doggy cousins all got to hang out and eat treats. And, yes, it was warm enough for flip flops!

Monica made beef wellington and she made it look as easy as Gordon Ramsay's video. She didn't use a recipe, just talent.

My sister's version of Gordon Ramsay's Beef Wellington

My mom made a feast for Christmas dinner:

We ate an amazing charcuterie platter (pardon the potato-gram) and drank amazing wine at Accent on Wine, which you should totally visit ASAP:

Charcuterie platter at Accent on Wine in Park Circle

We saw a fantastic movie called "Spotlight." Have you seen it yet? You should. It reminded me of a contemporary "All the President's Men," which is also a great movie.

We ogled the gorgeous multi-million dollar houses near the Battery:

Overlooking the Battery in Charleston, South Carolina

And that's the wrap on our sweet Christmas with the family!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Welcome Home

We closed! Actually, truth be told, we closed well over a month ago, but life and work just gets busy around the holidays, and it was hard to carve out time to update the blog. I feel like our weekends have been full of trips to Target, Home Depot, and IKEA. Houses need a lot of stuff, y'all. We're exhausted, but we have so much gratitude to finally be in our first home.

J in front of our Ryan Homes Matisse townhouse.

Precious metal for us. (For you fellow Ryan Homes owners keeping track out there: nope, we didn't get a keychain! We're okay with it. Haha.)

Our wedding picture: the very first thing to be carried into our first home
The very first object carried into our new home.

White Sonoma cabinets and New Caledonia granite kitchen
All ours!

I'm sorry to say our house is still pretty messy and chaotic, so I'll share pictures soon. We jettisoned a lot of furniture when we made the big move from Mississippi, and it's hard to put clutter away without desks, bookshelves, etc. (Hence the multiple trips to IKEA.)

We've done some minor improvement projects here and there, which I'll share in a later post: garage shelves, a keyless entry system, a door peephole, etc.

The closing process was a breeze. We showed up with a certified check from our bank, they cashed it, and that was that. NVR managed to send us a check for totally different RH homeowner in a different community, and even though it didn't harm us, I had some choice words for the branch manager at the Beltsville location that they were so callous with sensitive client information. (I should point out it wasn't an isolated incident, either; a neighbor had her loan information sent to another neighbor in our subdivision.)

If you're going through the RH/NV building process, one piece of advice I can share is instead of (or perhaps, in addition to) marking spots with painter's tape, take pictures with your cell phone to mark problem areas you'd like addressed during the 30-day post-settlement visit. We had remarkably few things that we felt needed fixing -- in fact, most of the touch-ups are dings and scuffs caused by us during the move-in process -- but taking pictures probably would have allowed me to be more organized.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Tips to Make the Closing Process Go Smoothly

We are just one very short week away from closing (wow!), so I've been giving some serious thought about how to ensure it goes as smoothly as possible. We're first-time homeowners, so what the heck do we really know, but here are some of the tips I've found online that seem pretty solid. Anything you'd add to the list?

  • Make sure the house is ready for you. It's your responsibility to make sure the home is being delivered in the agreed upon condition. Regardless of whether you're buying an existing house or new construction, if something isn't right, you shouldn't sign those papers.
  • Make sure your have a valid, unexpired government-issued ID in the same name as you are taking title. If for any reason you need to take title in a different name than your ID, make sure your lender knows this and is OK with it. You will have to sign the documents that require notarization with the name on your ID. Some lenders may actually require two forms of official ID, but most will accept a government ID, and a credit card as the secondary form of ID.
  • Get a draft copy of your documents sent 48 hours in advance so you have time to review them. Misspellings, missing information and incorrect addresses or loan amounts can hold up a closing. Are all the amounts correct? Purchase price? Appraisal? Taxes? If it's a variable rate loan, is the adjustment period listed correctly?
  • Friday afternoon and Monday morning are some of the busiest times for the title company and lender. This means if you schedule your closing then, you have limited the amount of time to solve any potential problems.
  • It's worth scheduling your closing for mid-week. That way, you've got some runway to burn, and you can still have a normal weekend move in regardless of whether issues arise.
  • Get your cash ready. The federal wire cutoff is generally 2 pm in your time zone. If your funds aren't at the title company by then, you're not closing on that day. If you are bringing a certified check, this doesn't apply to you; you are good to go.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Happy Halloween!

Hope you had a spook-tacular evening. In honor of Pope Francis's visit, allow me to introduce our holy terror.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Something in the Air

The other day, as I was coming back from work, I looked out the bus window and spotted this, pulled up right in front of our house:

And an ambulance. And the fire chief's SUV.

Before I go any further, let me stop right here and tell you that everyone is totally safe, and no houses were burned down in the production of this blog post. But let me tell you, seeing fire trucks and an ambulance right in front of your house is scary as shit. It turns out, my neighbor had a carbon monoxide leak.

Make sure the detectors you have in your home do both smoke and carbon monoxide. If you take it off the wall and look at the back of the unit, it will say if it does both! It turns out we didn't have carbon monoxide detectors in our home, we only had smoke detectors. I guess it just never occurred to us to check if they also monitored CO. Frankly, as apartment dwellers who have never had any combustion heating or appliances, it just never even crossed our minds. But it's no joke, y'all. Carbon monoxide is an exhaust product; any combustion (from a stove, fireplace, whatever) that's incomplete can cause it. It's also completely odorless, so you won't smell it.

Anyway, this is pretty much what Amazon one day shipping was invented for, so we bought a six pack of these bad boys ASAP:
One of the things I really like about these Kidde detectors is they have a "hush" feature for nuisance alarms. So if you burn something on the stove and the alarm goes off, you can punch one button and tell the alarm to hush for ten minutes. After ten minutes has gone by, it re-tests the air, and if all is well, it goes back to being its quiet, unobtrusive self.

This feature is SO IMPORTANT because we have a family member who has been known to unplug smoke detectors when she cooks and never plugs them back in again. I won't name names, but let's just say her name rhymes with "Dom."

Even if you have carbon monoxide detectors, it's important to know they need to be replaced every 8-10 years. The sensor component is a chemical fuel cell (a device that chemically combines oxygen and a fuel to produce electricity) that runs on carbon monoxide. When it's present, the cell consumes it, producing an electrical current in the process. The rest of the detector measures that current to figure out the concentration of the carbon monoxide, and set off the alarm if necessary. The point is, it's not just a matter of replacing batteries; after a certain number of years, the chemicals in the fuel cell dry out, or otherwise just lose their potency. New detectors come printed with the manufacturing date so consumers know when they expire, like ours below.

Kidde Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detector
Sorry for the potato-gram quality picture, but you can see our detector should be replaced around the summer of 2023.

I find that it's hard to set a reminder for things so far off in the future, so I just pop it into Google Calendar while I've got the detector in front of me and I don't have to yank it off the wall. Your phone's reminder system works fine, too.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Stall Warning

Welp, I guess all that progress had to slow down at some point.

One of our future neighbors invited us to look at his place a couple weeks ago, and we were kind of surprised some of the things that had been completed in our house that hadn't yet been done in his – granite, sinks, etc. Our guess is that they either start with the lower units first and work upwards, or possibly start with the end units and move inwards.

Either way, we went out there this weekend and it looks pretty much the exact same. Nothing new except cabinet pulls.

Our mortgage lady emailed us and told us she anticipated a closing date of November 1st (a whole month earlier than anticipated), and then a day later said November 9th. We would be thrilled to move in earlier, but I'm trying not to make any hard plans or let my crazy go into overdrive until we get something official.


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Construction Progress: (More) Granite, Garage, Electrical

As we get closer to the finish line, the progress is a little bit less dramatic than in weeks past, but there's still plenty to be excited about. The garage door is installed, granite in the kitchen is in, interior door and trim moldings are up, vinyl flooring in laundry area is in, and some of the outlets have been wired in. Pepco (electric in our area) is supposed to come Monday or Tuesday, so I think electric stuff isn't far off.

Timing wise, our PM said they are "on track for construction to be completed in November, then it’s just up to the mortgage side of things to get you settled, hopefully before Thanksgiving." Only two months to go now! I suspect we'd be done even sooner, but because it's such a big row of condos, they probably have to make sure construction is finished on the other nine units before anyone can move in.

Ryan Homes installation of New Caledonia granite
New Caledonia granite installed in the kitchen. It looks really good!

sink under wraps
Sink is in, too. There's something about the blue clingfilm that makes me want to rip it off just like Christmas wrapping paper. CANNOT HANDLE THE EXCITEMENT.

Garage door on the Matisse unit.
Garage door, natch.

Flooring in the Matisse powder room complete
Flooring installed in the main floor powder room.

Electrical outlet being installed
Outlets and electrical starting to fill in.

Brick complete on the Matisse and Picasso unit.
Brick complete, and siding (for the back) due to arrive this coming week.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Construction Progress: Paint, Cabinets, and Granite

Hope everyone had a great Labor Day weekend! It was about a thousand degrees this afternoon, so I didn't linger too long, but as always the amount of progress in only a week is just incredible. They've been working hard, y'all.

Working on the brick exterior of the Matisse and Picasso
Working on the brick exterior.

Sonoma Painted Linen cabinets
Kitchen cabinets (Sonoma Painted Linen) are in, and paint is up. The cabinets look a tiny bit dingy in this picture, but that's just my camera and no flash. The color is more accurate in the next picture.

Sonoma Painted Linen cabinets
Better view of the kitchen.

Burlywood granite installed in the master bath
Burlywood granite installed in the master bath. The cabinets are theoretically supposed to be a maple espresso, but they sure do look black here. But maybe the lack of electricity in a dim room is fooling me?

More espresso cabinets that look awfully black in the guest bath. The counter and sink is what RH calls the white cultured marble. (I think that's a fancier way of saying synthetic, I guess.)

Tile complete in all bathrooms. Yes, we are officially the only Ryan Homes owners on earth that did not splurge on fancy tile in the master bath. Mo' money, mo' problems.

Paint is looking nice! We do intend to paint after closing, but we haven't settled on colors yet.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Construction Progress: Houston, We Have Drywall

Our project manager emailed us to say that the drywall had been hung, so of course we had to go and sneak a peek. And buddy, does it look amazing. There's something about the drywall that makes the house feel ten times more finished than it did last week.

View from kitchen to living room

Master Bedroom

Master bedroom (en suite bathroom on the left)

They've also pretty much finished bricking our unit, although they still have work to do on the rest of the block.

And, finally, we got to see some cute neighbors.

They sure do leave behind a mess. The National Park Service has found an adorable and happy solution... I bet our dog would be an enthusiastic GEESE POLICE volunteer...

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

We're #1! We're #1!

The reason we're spending what feels like a kazillion dollars to live by a Metro stop: DC officially has the worst traffic in the country (source), beating out no lesser competitors than LA, San Francisco, and NYC.

Traffic on the Beltway around Greenbelt Station
(image via WTOP)

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Kudos to Our Project Manager

Literally one business day (in fact, less than!) after emailing the project manager the report from our home inspector:

(You'll recall the inspector was concerned the orange sprinkler pipe was close to the bottom of the joist, where it wouldn't be as well protected by insulation, especially in an unheated space like the garage.)

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Pre-Drywall Meeting and Inspection

Today we had our pre-drywall meeting with one of the PMs this morning, followed by an inspection from an independent home inspector, and everything is looking fantastic!

Why did we choose to do a pre-drywall inspection? In every community, the city and county do their own inspections as part of the permitting process, but your house is just one of fifteen on their list for the day, and they are not going over things with a fine tooth comb. In contrast, our inspector spent about two hours with us. J and I have very little construction knowledge, so having a qualified home inspector look at the house really gave us peace of mind.

We hired Greg Kemp (of Kemp Home Inspections), and we were super pleased - he was very thorough about looking in each room of the house. Not only did he highlight a few things to fix, I appreciated that he also took the time to mention things where Ryan Homes actually exceeded standards and building codes.

Overall, Greg was very positive about the home's construction. We don't have the official report yet, but here were a few things that he identified as areas of concern:

  • One of the sprinkler pipes (for fire safety) pokes into some of the HVAC ductwork in the garage, creating a problem for airflow.
  • The sprinkler pipes in the garage are fastened to the bottom of the joist, which poses a potential problem for keeping them well insulated. (Picture below.)
  • Electrical wiring in the master bedroom didn't have much slack along one span of wall.
  • Some minimal mold on one of the wood posts in the kitchen (could easily be sanded off).
  • One wall in the common entry area has an overhang of a few inches that doesn't fully rest on the foundation. Because our unit is technically a condo, this would actually be the condo board's responsibility, but it's good to know to see if it can be resolved. (Picture below.)
Some pictures from today's visit:

Brick on the exterior of the Matisse and Picasso units at Greenbelt Station.
They've bricked the entire side of the Matisse unit (first two floors) and are almost done bricking in the Picasso. The gap in the brick on the first floor is where the utility closet will go, which will be bricked over too.

Noritz tankless water heater, a free upgrade from Ryan Homes!
How's this for a crazy bonus: a tankless water heater!!! WHAT. According to Consumer Reports, gas tankless water heaters are "22 percent more energy efficient on average than the gas-fired storage-tank models."

This was one of the areas our home inspector was really impressed with, how the cuts in the joists (for the ductwork) have been reinforced for strength. This was one example (there were a few) where Ryan Homes actually exceeded standard building practices.

Fire safety sprinkler system in Ryan Homes Matisse and Picasso units.
The orange pipe is the sprinkler pipe for fire safety. See how it's fastened close to the bottom of the joist? That dropped ceiling area will be insulated, but it'll still be pretty close to the garage's air space, which will be unheated and pretty cold in the winter.

The area circled in red is where the wall isn't fully supported by the foundation, because there's an overhang.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Construction Progress: Week 8

Week eight of construction has seen a ton of changes: windows (hooray!), ductwork, pipes, a tub, etc... and what might be the beginnings of a walking path to the metro? We've also set a date for our pre-drywall inspection in about a week and a half.

The extra windows are in! (One extra in the master bedroom, and another in a secondary bedroom.) They may not look like much in this picture, but we love having all the natural light.

Ryan Homes window installation
Windows are in.

Ryan Homes ductwork
Lots of ductwork has been installed.

Ryan Homes tub
Tub for the guest bath.

Ryan Homes meter box
Meter boxes mounted by the garage.

Greenbelt Station walking path to metro
The beginnings of a walking path to the metro, maybe?

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Master Insurance Policy for Condos

It came up on our community's Facebook page that not everyone received a copy of the master insurance policy for condo owners. (We certainly didn't, I had to ask for it.) If you're considering or buying a Matisse or Picasso unit in Greenbelt Station, here you go:

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Construction Progress: Week 7

Sorry for the radio silence last week; I had a work trip that brought me out to sunny San Diego! I feel vindicated, because the last time I was there for a conference, it was rainy and cold the whole time I was there – which I'm pretty sure is the only time in the last ten years San Diego has actually seen bad weather.

The past couple of weeks saw the addition of the gypsum and concrete barrier between the condo units, some special flooring poured in areas that see moisture (laundry area, water heater closet, etc), electrical meters, and the roof sheathed and shingled. Our PM says the house is due for a few inspections next week, and then they can get going on HVAC, windows, and exterior doors.

The completed roof.

The gypcrete flooring (gypsum board & self-leveling concrete). This is what provides the sound barrier between the Matisse and the upper unit condo, and it also provides fire resistance, too.

Gypsum board material for the Ryan Homes Matisse.
The gypsum board material.

Sealant in the laundry room and other areas with potential sources of moisture (water heater closet). A little messy...

Windows for the Ryan Homes Matisse.
Windows ready to be hung next week!

Ryan Homes Matisse and Picasso units in the framing stage.
Lookin' good.

The start of insulation.

I'm not saying I looked in another Matisse unit, but – asking for a friend – isn't it a little odd that they leave this kind of stuff unsecured in an open garage? I mean, I doubt water heaters and fixtures are hot items on the black market, but still.