Thursday, April 23, 2015

Why Choose Greenbelt Station?

So, why did we choose to buy a home in Greenbelt?

I've mentioned before how the two most important factors for us were price and Metro accessibility, which narrowed our search considerably. But I thought it might be helpful to talk a little bit about how we chose the Greenbelt Station neighborhood in particular.

1. Distance
The community sits less than ten miles as the crow flies from where we work in downtown Washington, and less than a mile to the door of the Greenbelt metro station. (We actually measured this in Google Maps ourselves, and it's exactly .78 miles. Trust, but verify, right?)

2. Neighborhood
With our budget, we couldn't afford to buy a home we liked that was both in a well-established neighborhood and close to DC. While I'll admit the area immediately surrounding the subdivision is a little industrial looking, Greenbelt already has a nice community – you can see lots of different organizations here – and stores that we frequent (Target, IKEA, groceries, local restaurants, etc).

The other thing that really caught our attention is that the surrounding area is seeing a lot of positive development and growth. Some examples...

  • Greenbelt is one of the top contenders under consideration for the relocation of the FBI headquarters. There's a good Washington Post editorial about that here, and Greater Greater Washington blog posted the renderings of what it would look like if the FBI moved in.
  • Whole Foods is moving in just down the road in Riverdale Park, and will include space for "upscale restaurants, cafes and coffeehouses, boutique shops, a fitness club and a hotel." (Source here.) Construction is already underway on this project, and an Apple Store and Founding Farmers are among the rumored future tenants.
  • Several projects in neighboring College Park: new Urban Outfitters, new Marriot TownePlace Suites, new Courtyard Marriott, new University of Maryland Hotel, Knox Village, Target Express, etc. This map really gives a sense of just how many large scale development projects are in the works.
  • The mixed-use Hyattsville Arts District project.
  • Support for the Purple Line light rail project is uncertain, but Obama has said he's be willing to put in $100 million in federal aid. (Source here.) Dan Reed at Greater Greater Washington reports that Hogan is setting aside $313 million for the Purple Line and $106 million for the Red Line — enough to keep the projects progressing. Edit 7/25/15: Purple line is officially a go. It isn't projected to be completed till 2020, but it's still great news.
Especially as these projects come to completion – many of which are scheduled to finish by the end of 2015 – not only will these revitalize Route 1, these will translate to an increase in property value. Win for the community, win for our pocketbook.

3. Nature
The model of townhouse we're building doesn't include a yard, as you can sort of tell from the site plan, but the community has a lot of opportunity for greenspace. The neighborhood is building a two acre park, and there are all sorts of parks and trails nearby. We are not nearly this ambitious or fit enough to do this, but you can even bike all the way from Greenbelt to downtown in fourteen minutes!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Real Reason We're Buying in Greenbelt Station

Close to church of IKEA, y'all!

Ikea Store

Okay, we're kidding. Maybe half kidding. But it sure will be dangerous nice to have it a ten minute drive down the road.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Guardian Meeting and Selections

This will be a super quick post, since we only added one thing: pre-wiring for a flat screen TV in the living room. Done and dusted: the whole meeting took about ten minutes. Our Guardian rep was very nice; although he laid out different options, he didn't pressure us into adding anything unnecessary, which we really appreciated.

We're a Mac household, and some of the upgrades that Guardian had available were relatively easy to accomplish with what we already have. If you have a $99 AirPort Express, you can send music wirelessly to any speaker in your house, and use your iPhone or iPad as a remote. (An Apple TV will accomplish the same thing.) So, we can have iTunes running on one of our Mac Minis, and then beam it downstairs to play on our groovy soundbar. It's not quite as nice as pre-wired whole house audio, but you can't beat the price tag.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Say What?!

I'll write more later, but y'all, my husband just met with Guardian, and the rep announced that they just dropped their price for same-stud TV pre-wire from $415 down to... $330!!!


Flooring Selections

We just had our appointment for flooring and tile selections with T.A.C., and it was mostly a breeze – we'd done a lot of thinking about what options we liked, and where we wanted to save money.

If you can, I highly recommend going out to the showroom at least once prior to making your decisions so you can see what options are available and how much they'll set you back. In our case, the showroom is about an hour away and we both work full-time, so we weren't able to do that. On the other hand, we did look at Lumber Liquidators and Lowe's to get price estimates and also to see what kind of options they had.

Main Level

We chose Armstrong Hickory engineered hardwood with a Deep Java stain (part of the Rural Living collection) for the main level. We were lucky in that our design center actually had it installed in a corner of their showroom, so we could get a better sense of the color variegation. I guess our hardwood has an "off the grid" social media presence, because it was really hard to find pictures of it online!

Armstrong Hickory Deep Java engineered hardwood
Armstrong Hickory Deep Java

We love the look of a tile backsplash in the kitchen, but it's a significant cost outlay if you do it with Ryan Homes (around $2,000). It's also something you can install later with relative ease, so we skipped this option.

Second Floor

We went with the basic beige carpet upstairs. Nothing exciting there.

We already spent some serious cash upgrading to and end unit townhouse, so it definitely hurt to cut costs here. But – we definitely approach home ownership with the idea that we can improve it over time, rather than needing it to be perfect from day one.

The basic choices in the bathroom tile department are six inch tile in biscuit (like an almond color) or white. T.A.C. doesn't have any pictures for reference, and I was only able to find one teeny tiny picture of the biscuit colored tile. So, we went with white tile in the hall and master bath.

We asked the T.A.C. representative to see how much it would cost to add a listello with the basic tile, but we haven't heard back about that yet. We like the SF41 Ariston Random Blend, and if the cost is reasonable, it would break up the wall o' white tile. Although the choices at T.A.C. were fine, the choices they had for the listello trim were all rather disappointing. If you have the cash to have a nice bathroom, I heartily recommend checking out the options at Lumber Liquidators.

SF41 Ariston Random Blend Listello

We did request for two shelves to be installed in our shower ($35 apiece), because we hate that shower caddies tend to get rusted over time and the suction cups just fall off over time. It's also far easier to install these before the shower is tiled in.

One Final Tip

If you're schlepping out to T.A.C. in Elkridge, you might as well make a trip out of it. Arundel Mills outlet mall is five minutes down the road. Ladies, you can thank me later. ;)

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Cabinets and Countertop Selections

Google image search is just the best, y'all. It's so helpful to find examples of finished bathrooms and kitchens to see how the granite might look transformed from a little six inch sample into a larger space.


We selected Sonoma White Linen cabinets and New Caledonia granite. The cabinets are a Shaker style from the Timberlake line with hidden hinges. Since the Matisse has a pretty small main level, we thought having white cabinets would help keep the space feel larger, and have a nice contrast to the dark hardwoods we're planning to put in. Frankly, I prefer the Azul Platino granite in the model home, which you can see here, but since we're splurging on the cabinets and hardwood I figured we should dial down the expenses elsewhere.

Timberlake Sonoma Painted White Linen Cabinets
Example of Sonoma painted cabinetry

New Caledonia Granite
New Caledonia Granite

The only thing that has my heart rate going a little faster is that Google has turned up some pretty wildly different shades of the New Caledonia granite. Some pictures make it appear super dark, and some more neutral in tone. For example, compare these two:

New Caledonia Granite

Ultimately, since we are going with the white cabinets, I would be ok if the granite were a little darker than expected - but I hope it's not as dark as the picture on the right!

Master Bathroom

We selected Scottsdale Maple Espresso cabinets and Burlywood granite. For some reason the picture of the Burlywood has a greenish cast here, but that's not how it reads in person.

Master bathroom with Scottsdale Maple Espresso cabinets and Burlywood granite

Guest Bathroom

We selected Scottsdale Maple Espresso cabinets and white cultured marble countertops.

Friday, April 10, 2015

PSA: Calling All Ryan Homes Owners

One of the posts that consistently has the most views on this blog is the one where I expressed my frustration at how hard RH makes it to figure out upgrades will cost.

Since I try not to complain too much unless I have a solution in mind, I'd like to propose my idea. I've created a form where RH home owners can submit a) what upgrade they purchased, and b) how much it cost. Yes, you can absolutely email your sales rep for this type of information, and they will gladly share it, but it's hard to know what to ask about when you're not even sure what's available or standard.

Obviously, this isn't much of a benefit to those that have already finished with their Ryan Homes build, but I guess I'm considering this a good deed for future homeowners.

So: tell me how much you paid for your upgrades! You can add anything from appliances to structural upgrades.

Are you a prospective home buyer looking for the price list? Click here. I'll add to the list as people submit entries.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Pre-Wiring for the TV Question

Our Guardian meeting is scheduled in a couple weeks, so we’re trying to think about what upgrades we’d like them to do, and what we could reasonably do ourselves. I’ve seen a suggestion on some Ryan Homes blogs (like this one) about running PVC pipe for the low voltage components like RCA cables, HDMI, etc. I’ve seen some reasonably nice and cheap -- less than $30! -- solutions on Amazon for providing access to the wires, like this one.

My tentative plan is to ask Guardian to install an outlet for the TV higher up on the wall, because power cables aren’t low voltage and you risk voiding your insurance if there’s an ever an electrical fire, and then use the Amazon gizmo for the signal components.

So my question is… who do I ask to run the PVC pipe? What if I wanted something like this installed, that does include the electrical? Is that a PM or a Guardian ask? At $30, that sounds a hell of a lot better than paying Guardian hundreds of bucks.

Thanks in advance for your advice!

Amazon's $30 solution for hiding cables to wall-mounted TVs.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

She Works Hard for the Money

Ryan Homes offers some pretty serious incentives if you choose to use their affiliated mortgage company, NVR Mortgage. In our community, the townhouse condos are selling pretty fast, so they don't offer building upgrades as they do in other neighborhoods, but they do give you $7,500 in closing cost assistance. But... I wanted to do my research and see if using another bank might save us more money in the long run.

Before I get into the number crunching, I actually have to give a shout out to NVR Mortgage. (No, really!) When we started our house hunt, we pre-qualified with USAA. It was a painless process, and they immediately FedEx'ed us a one page document outlining the basics: loan amount, APR, our monthly obligation. Our loan application meeting with NVR Mortgage was similarly painless, but in contrast to the one page document, we received about fifty pages (more?) worth of incredibly detailed documentation about the loan and closing costs. Not only do I have everything I need to know about the loan terms, they provide a detailed breakdown of closing costs down to the penny, well above and beyond the basics required by RESPA's Good Faith Estimate document.

Detailed breakdown of closing costs, down to the penny.

But back to the mortgage comparison. We don't have a money tree in our backyard, so we don't have the cash to put a full 20% down and have enough for closing costs. Therefore, we considered two different mortgage types: a traditional fixed mortgage with PMI, and lender paid mortgage insurance. (There is also a third option, an 80-10-10 mortgage, but that's a less common offering.)

Initially, we almost fell out of our chair when we saw that LPMI APR. Yikes! But here's the thing: while the principal & interest looks super high compared to the other two plans, the amount is tax deductible. So not only is the overall monthly obligation nominally lower, you're actually getting more money back in the long run because you can deduct more on your taxes.

The other thing to keep in mind for any of these options is that once you've developed 20% equity in your home, you can refinance and choose a conventional loan without the PMI. Given that interest rates are so low right now, I'm not sure if that's really a good bet, but it is something to consider.

Did anyone else choose an LPMI loan? Also, is USAA a great bank or the greatest bank? (We tend to think the latter.)

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Calling All Greenbelters

One of the homeowners set up a Facebook group for the Greenbelt Station subdivision! Behold:

We have a really vibrant neighborhood listserv where we live now, so I'm super happy someone took the lead to set something like this up! It's so nice to be able to connect with (future) neighbors. I also just signed up for a community listserv for the city of Greenbelt (not just the Greenbelt Station development). They have some neat posts about farm CSAs, property taxes, town halls, and that kind of thing. You can find that one here: