Saturday, June 20, 2015

Construction Progress: Week 2

Happy Father's Day to all you wonderful papas out there.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Pre-Construction Meeting

We finally got a chance to meet our project manager this morning, and he seems every bit as nice as we’d heard from neighbors who have already closed. Plus, he mentioned he has the same granite as us in his kitchen and Shaker style cabinets, so he has to be a wise man, amirite?

Our pre-construction meeting was quick and easy; our PM was very methodical and thorough, so frankly we didn’t really feel we had many questions to ask. The main point of the pre-construction meeting is to make sure the PM has all of your design selections listed correctly, so it's helpful to have a quick reference of what selections you've made. If you have a selections page on your blog, just print that out and bring it with you to the meeting so you don't have to thumb through all the papers that RH gives you.

One thing I really liked is that he mentioned a couple ways in which Matisse models have changed from when Ryan Homes first started building them, even above what building code requires. For example, Matisse units used to come with a 50 gallon water heater, now they come with an 80 gallon capacity. I’m just going to leave the hot water running ALL DAY LONG, y’all. Most important for us, he mentioned Ryan Homes has improved sound attenuation between the units. We were very impressed with the lack of sound transfer in between the Matisse and Picasso model units, so I really hope our home lives up to those expectations. The only change in the building plans was the Matisse used to come with a full wall separating the commode from the rest of the master bathroom; they’ve since cut that down to a little half wall.

If you’re wondering what questions to ask, there are a ton of blogs out there that have sample questions to ask – check out these posts here, here, and here. Some of the questions that we asked were:

  • Are screens included with the windows? We love fresh air!
    • Yup.
  • Can you tell us more about where the radon mitigation system will be placed?
    • I'm summarizing his response, but basically the mitigation system sits under the concrete slab and is vented all the way through the Matisse/Picasso unit and vented out the attic. It has an independent inspection from the county to make sure it works.
  • Have any of the appliances changed since we signed the purchase agreement?
    • Nope.
  • Can we adjust dampers on the HVAC to better direct airflow?
    • No dampers, but all vents have switches to help push the air.
  • What kind of oversight do you have over subcontractors, and how to you ensure quality work?
    •  Another summary here, but they review all the subcontractors and make sure they're licensed, etc. They pay by the job rather than the hour, so there's a financial incentive to do it right the first time.
  • Where will the mailbox be located? Our community uses centralized mailboxes like these, and we want to make sure it's not going to be an eyesore out our front window.
    • TBD. He needs to check with the developer on this, but he thought it would likely be placed in a private alley in between condo units.
  • What procedures do we need to follow to have an independent home inspection done pre-drywall
    • Let him know in advance, and have the home inspector provide a copy of his license to Ryan Homes (liability reasons). No real hurdles.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Picking an Insurance Agency

Pretty soon after signing the purchase agreement, we were contacted by a Ryan Homes partner company about insurance for our townhouse. I was pretty sure we were going to go with our regular insurance agency that we really like, but I thought I'd check it out just in case. This post is basically about how to compare insurance agencies... and why you should think twice about signing with the insurance agency that Ryan Homes recommends.

How to Compare Insurance Agencies
  • Check for reviews. I'm not talking about Yelp, I mean checking with your state insurance commissioner and the Better Business Bureau. If your state doesn't really have a lot of information (mine didn't), check other states around you.
  • Check for how they pay claims. Every insurance company has a "loss ratio," which is basically an indicator of how much they are paying in claims. The lower the number, the more likely the company is overcharging for premiums. The industry average is about 60% (source), so use that as your starting point.
  • Check for financial strength. In case anything happens to your home, you want to make sure the company has enough money in the bank to pay your claim. A.M. Best, Standard & Poor's and Moody's Investors Service all evaluate insurance companies.

A Warning About Ryan Homes' Recommendation

I should start off by saying that RH doesn't place any pressure whatsoever for you to go with a particular insurance company. You can pick whoever you want, no questions asked. But, I think it's a little dirty to partner up with a company that has horrible business practices, so I wanted to warn others here.

Not too long after signing, we got an insurance quote from Westwood Insurance, although the policy was actually going to be serviced by a company called Praetorian.

Praetorian has been under fire for all manner of poor business practices. Some sample quotations and sources:
  • In Texas, in 2013, Praetorian had nearly 15 (!!!) times higher than average compaints compared to every other insurer. In 2014 they had double the number of complaints. (Texas Department of Insurance)
  • Current and proposed ... rates are clearly excessive and in violation of statutory rate standards. The very low loss ratios alone indicate excessive rates. (Florida Office of Insurance Regulation)
  • [Praetorian] has offered to lower its rates by an average of 18.8 percent, despite the fact that state regulators said the rate decrease should be double that amount. (Insurance Journal)

If you have a military connection (you, your spouse, your parents), we can't recommend USAA highly enough. I'm not being paid or comped to say this or anything, we've just had a really excellent experience with them for fifteen years.

Friday, June 12, 2015

And We're Off to the Races

FINALLY! It feels like it's been forever and a day since we signed the purchase agreement (non-hyperbole time: three months), so it's SO invigorating to see them start construction. I have a feeling I'm going to burn up a lot of gas wanting to stop by and see the progress they've made. Based on timelines from other bloggers, I'm guessing we have about 2-3 weeks before framing begins.

Compared to the pre-construction photos I've seen of other RH homes, I have to confess this just seems like one big dirtpile. I guess I thought they'd clear out more dirt first, but what do I know about home construction?

Now we're officially off to the races on the construction calendar!

And on the way home, we spotted this guy. I always feel a little sorry for deer right in the middle of a big city, but he sure is cute with those velvety antlers.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Ridiculously Easy $8 Home Security Upgrade

Home automation has come a long way, baby. Lighting is one of those things that make your home just a little bit safer, so setting up automated systems in place to turn on lights is a really cheap and easy step to make your home less tempting to would-be thieves.

Automating anything used to mean one of those noisy timers, and those of you who have used the “old school” kind know exactly how ticky and loud they are. On the other hand, they are very cheap and incredibly easy to set up, so I guess I can’t complain too much. We do put some of our lamps on daily digital timers, which are just as easy to use and completely silent. Both of these kinds of timers plug right into the wall socket, have a clock to determine on-off times, and most come with an “override” switch so if it gets dark early you can go ahead and have your lamp on.

Incidentally, daily timers are great if you use any kind of electronic air freshener like a Febreeze plug in or a wax warmer, because then you’re not wasting fragrance when you’re not even at home. We schedule ours to come on about fifteen minutes before we get home from work, and it’s so nice to open the door to the house smelling good.

But how do you automate things that are hard wired, like porch lights, rather than plugged in like lamps are? Well, if you have a little bit of electrical know how (we don’t), you can install a timer switch right into the wall. These allow for more sophisticated timing than a daily timer – for example, different schedules for different days of the week – but the switch is not exactly glamorous looking. I recently found an even easier, cheaper solution: photo-sensing light bulbs! The difference between timers and photo-sensors is that timers work on a prescribed interval (like 8 AM to 8 PM), where photo-sensors just cut on whenever it gets dark.

Philips 429746 Energy Saver Dusk-to-Dawn CFL bulb

We bought two Philips Energy Saver Dusk-to-Dawn14-watt CFL bulbs. The little red dot at the base of the bulb is the photo-sensor that monitors how dark it is outside. These are actually designed to go on at dusk, so they turn on before it’s completely dark outside, which we like. We currently have two carriage style porch lights, and I was a little bit concerned the light from one might cause the sensor in the other to trip and not come on, but they work perfectly. I do notice that on especially cloudy or dark days sometimes they stay on, but because they’re CFL bulbs the energy usage isn’t a big deal. I love that when the days are short and it gets dark before we get home, the our house is automatically lit up before we even get home.

Philips 429746 Energy Saver Dusk-to-Dawn CFL bulb

So there you have it: the easiest $8 you will ever spend to make your home more secure.

The easy to install, energy efficient $8 home security upgrade, via A Maryland Matisse blog.