The Story of our first house


(Last update: September 19th, 2004)

(Click here to jump to the latest update)

  With our lease ending March 31st of 2004, and with a yearning for a place of our own, Melissa and I started looking for a house earlier this (2003) fall.  We considered three areas, Belmont/Watertown/Lexington, Sudbury/Maynard/Stow and Ashland/Holliston/Hopkinton.  Our concerns were distance from Boston, distance from both our jobs, and having a yard.  In most cases, those are conflicting concerns!  We spent a weekend going to open houses in each area, and fairly quickly decided that we liked the Hopkinton/Ashland/Holliston area the best.  Of the three areas you get the most house for your money (For those that know how much we paid - believe it or not!) with the most land.  It also has the added bonus of being close to Mark's work!  Of course the major down side is the distance from Melissa's work.  It's not only far, but it's going with the rest of the commuting traffic.

  We also chose to go through a home buying "program" with USAA.  It's called "MoversAdvantage" and the purpose is to help you through the process.  Since we had no idea what we were doing, we figured that would likely help!  Of course, the promise for some money back after the closing didn't hurt either.  After making the initial innocent call, I found that I had set the dogs of war in motion (It may have been the four horsemen of the apocolypse, I'm not sure - in any case all heck seemed to break loose!).  Suddenly I found myself talking with the mortgage company allied with USAA and feeding them financial information.  Before I knew it, we were on our way to being pre-approved.  By the next day, I'd also gotten calls from our Coldwell Banker (realestate agency) coordinator follwed in quick succession by the agents that would be working with us in the areas we were considering.  I was quickly overwhelmed!  I have to say though, USAA was very efficient!  As the process has gone on, we have relied less on USAA to help.  Mostly that's because we've been learning as we go, and have been able to answer many of our own questions. 

  We continued going to open houses even after starting things with USAA.  While going to open houses in Holliston we came across one very nice colonial up a bit of a hill from the road.  It was the first house that we had walked into that felt like a home.  We spent a fair amount of time talking with the agent that was showing the house, and it was obvious to her that we had some interest.  We went home that night and talked about it some, but came to the conclusion that since we had just started looking (a few weeks before) and since the house is not in a neighborhood, although it's also not on what you would call a "main" road, the location was not great.  Due to that concern, we figured we'd let it go and see what happened with the market.

  A few days later, we had a message on our answering machine from the agent that was showing the house.  She said that since the sellers were very motivated (It turns out that they had already closed on their new house!) and we had shown interest, they had asked her to follow up with us.  So we started to reconsider.  We scheduled a time to go back the following Sunday as well as see a few other houses in the area.  In the end, we decided to make an offer on it.  The offer was accepted only a few hours later, and there began our journey to buy the house!

  We're now going through the trials and tribulations of that process.  It's not easy!  Our P&S is scheduled for November 7th, and the closing for December 30th.

  The first week was the most stressful as we had to run around looking into a mortgage, a lawyer and a home inspector.  Since we hadn't really planned on buying a house so soon, we weren't really prepared at all.  Below is the timeline of how things have happened, and are still happening!

  We're still dealing with the mortgage issue.  I'm so sick of talking rates, points, and locks.  Are the rates going to go up?  Can we get a quarter percent better somewhere else?  If we wait to lock, will any rate increase offset the savings?  Can we pit this lender vs that lender?  Blah blah blah!  It's almost worth it just to go with the first place you talk to and take whatever rate they offer!

Click here for some pictures of the house


October 18th, 2003: We saw the house for the first time.  We liked it, and spent considerable time speaking with the agent.  At the end of the day, we decided to keep looking

During the following week:  We got called by the agent to see if we were interested.  Being the suckers we are, but really the fact that we had liked it so much and mostly didn't do anything just because we were so early in the proces, we took the bait and scheduled a time to go back to see it again.

October 25th, 2003: We went back to see the house.  This time we paid more attention to things and while we found some things we didn't like, there were also many things we did like!  We also decided at this point that the location of the house was not so bad, and being in a neighborhood was not the end-all-and-be-all.  So while standing in a Burger King parking lot, we decided to make an offer.  We did up all the paper work (inside the Burger King) and Melissa and I went our seperate ways for the afternoon.

Later that day, I was sitting at home watching TV when Melissa called.  We talked for a few minutes until her cell phone disconnected.  The phone rang soon after, and although I assumed it was Melissa calling back, it was actually our agent!  She asked if I was sitting down (which I wasn't) and proceeded to tell me that our offer was accepted as it was.  My first thought?  No, it was not how excited I was that we were on the road to our own house.  It was "Damn, we should have offered something lower!"  Ah well, you really don't know, do you?

Then, Melissa called back while I was on the phone with the agent, and since I didn't want to rush telling her, I asked if I could call back.  I got off the phone with our agent and called her back - and asked if she was sitting down. :)

So that was the beginning of panic mode. 

The week of October 27th, 2003: Melissa and I spent a fair amount of time on the phone this week trying to tie everything together.  Who would have expected that the schedule for buying a house was so strict?  Only one week to have the inspection done, and about the same time to decide on a mortgage lender.  By the end of the week we had done both and had also picked a lawyer.

November 1st, 2003: We had the inspection.  It was a beautiful day which was great for us and the home inspector!  The previous two times we'd been to the house it had rained.  The fact that we had still liked the house was points in its favor!  As for the inspector, he didn't have to go up on the roof when it was below freezing.

The inspection went fairly well.  It took a while to get the inspector to comment about what was normal and what was a problem.  Since he described everything that was wrong, at first it felt like we were buying a lemon!  Fortunately the few problems that were really problems ended as soon as we moved inside the house.  (For those that are interested, there was some rot around the windows.  From what the inspector said it was mostly due to poor workmanship)  All in all, the inside of the house was in good shape, although there're certainly many things we wish to change!

November 6th, 2003: We had our P&S signing scheduled for 7:00 (At another Burger King, believe it or not!).  Around 5:00 I got out of a two hour meeting to find three voice mail messages.  One from our lawyer, one from Melissa and one from our agent.  Each one was telling me that the Radon test came back over the standard acceptable amount.  Our lawyer was not available at the time and all we knew was that we had a few options: Give up on the house, have the owners install a mitigation system, take money of the price of the house, or get some money back at the closing (The difference on the last two being that for the form it would have lowered the mortgage, for the later, it lowers the price without changing the mortgage).  We were also under the impression that for the last two we would need to get quotes.  So at 5:15 Melissa and I began calling around to see if we could get estimates in the hopes that we'd still be able to complete the P&S by the next day (Friday) which was our scheduled (and documented) last day for the P&S.  While we could get an extension it just makes the process more complicated.  After quite a few phone calls in many combinations of me, Melissa, our agent and our lawyer's voice mail we got it down to having the updated P&S faxed to our agent early Friday morning (The lawyer was going to be in court all morning, preventing any followup!) and our agent and Melissa would come out to Hopkinton in the late afternoon to sign.  In the end, we managed to sign around 4:30 giving plenty (!) of time for our agent to get it back to the sellers to sign before the 7:00 deadline.

To make the long story short, the P&S is now signed.  We got some more money off of price (in the form of a credit at the closing) and as far as we know, everyone's happy!

In other news, Melissa and I are still fighting with the mortgage.  Since we know who we want to go with as a lender, but they seem to have consistently higher rates than other lenders, we've been trying to do the estimate game.  The problem is that to get estimates from other people on demand and pick the right day to do it (when rates are low) so we can lock immediately, is really hard!  Sooner or later the other lenders are going to assume we're just choking their chain.  Ah well, what's a quarter of a percent between friends?  Piece of mind is worth a lot at the moment!

February 22nd, 2004: (A retrospective)  You may have noticed we had no more updates through the time where the house was supposed to be ours!  Well, with the house and the holidays we got so busy that we didn't get to it.  On the positive side, now you can read the abbreviated version!

With respect to the mortgage: We eventually decided to switch our lender.  Even though we wanted to go with one originally we just couldn't get past the higher rates.  Once we started shopping around (and it became clear to them) our representative being increasingly difficult to work with.  Multiple times he outright lied to us (We know this from talking to other reps with the same company).  In the end, we got switched over with only a couple of hundred dollars lost.  We saved about one hundred dollars a month so it was well worth it.  We went with Virtual Bank in the end.  That, in itself, is another story.  We were already most of the way through the approval process with our original lender by the time we decided to switch.  When I mentioned to our real estate person that we were considering switching at this point, the first comment was "I've never had anyone do that before." and the second comment was "You're doing that with a place called Virtual Bank?!"  I know, it sounds scary, but they're a real bank.  Part of Lydian Bank actually, you can look them up!

I don't remember having any other major concerns going into the closing.  Things were tight in the end, as I hear most are.  Our lawyer was also doing the bank work, and even our lawyer didn't have the information from the bank on the closing costs until about the day before the closing.  Which, of course, meant we didn't know either...  But it happened on time, and with no confusion or problems.  Hopefully any future closings will be as easy.  So, as of December 30th, the house was ours!

Before moving in, we wanted to fix some things up, and...

There was the wallpaper.  If you've looked in the pictures above, you can see the kitchen and hallway wallpaper (fruit and red plaid respectively).  Not our style.  So our first project was to fix up the kitchen.  The wallpaper came down VERY easily but in the process we had to pull it out from under the red hallway paper in a couple of places.  We figured, heck, we just pulled the kitchen down in a couple of hours, we'll do the hallway too.  As it turns out, the hallway wallpaper was stuck on good!  It took us multiple days and a large learning curve to get that stuff down.  It was aweful!

Once we got the wallpaper down, we had to patch spots and then sand the walls down.  The dust was incredible.  A warning to those sanding walls: Hang something across the doorways (we used plastic painting sheets) the dust will get everywhere.  We learned this from friends who had recently gone through the same thing - great advice!  Once we got the walls sanded, we had to prime and paint.  At this point, the kitchen is done (Much thanks to Mark's parents, brother and sister inlaw and to Kathy) and the hallway walls are painted.  I make the distinction on the hallway because there is wainscotting along the bottom half.  While this was actually one of the positives for us when we were originally looking at the house, we realized that there were some issues with it.  We are, in fact, currently in the process of finishing off that hallway.  We've gotten as far as painting the wainscotting itself and are working on the trim around it (and around the doors and the doors themselves).  We had originally hoped to avoid painting the woodwork but the original color (off white) didn't go so well, and we decided to fill some holes etc.  So we're in the thick of it as I type this.

On January 10th we started moving boxes over to the house.  Melissa borrowed a van, and with one trip on Saturday and one trip on Sunday we managed to move everything except for what the movers were going to move (and what we were putting in our car).  On January 17th we moved in.  The movers came early (too early, if you ask me) and we were moved in by afternoon.  The movers were very good, by the way (Charles Rivers Movers).  They were not fast, but they took great care in what they were doing.  We would recommend them. Thanks to Peggy, Mike, Jen and Jeremy for not only helping move boxes around, but for their moral support!

As you can imagine the house was (and is to an extent) a mess!  Even so, waking up on January 18th was really cool.  For me, getting up and walking downstairs felt like Christmas morning where instead of looking for presents under the tree, the whole house was a present!  The euphoria has worn off a little (especially when you think about having to PAY for it!) but for every little thing we add, or fix up, it becomes a little more ours, and that's a great feeling.

As of today, we have the office, the master bedroom and the guest bedroom fully set up.  We may add some furniture here or there, but they're all servicable.  The guest room will get redone at some point (although the nursery rhyme wallpaper is pretty cool), but is still nice as-is.  The family room needs some more furniture (but is also comfy as-is), the dining room is mostly temporary but we have a table in there that we bought from the previous owners (their old kitchen table).  The kitchen is mostly finished except for wanting a bakers rack.

Then there is the Stinky-Room.  There's another bedroom which for some unknown reason, smells really bad.  We have no idea what it is, but we keep the door closed.  One of our near-future projects is to pull out the Pergo floor to see if there's something rotting underneath.  We even had our house inpector come back out to see if he could figure out what it was (Thanks Tom!) - he said it didn't seem like mold, but he didn't know what it could be.  So, out with the Pergo, then we'll see.

In more recent news, we made the mistake of going to an antique show here in Holliston yesterday.  I say "mistake' because it cost us a pretty penny!  We got a great new kitchen table.  It's oval and made of solid walnut with foldup ends.  It can take a leaf as well, but there wasn't one with it.  It would also make a really nice dining room table with the leaf (without it, it can really only fit 4 people).  It looks great in our kitchen.  I can't explain what it did for the kitchen, but it really helped.

We also bought a writing desk for our front entry way.  We'd been wanting to buy one for years but never saw one that we really liked.  This one is a reproduction of a period piece, but considering that it's almost all mahogony (except for some hidden spots like the back and bottom) it's hard to be concerned with it being a "reproduction" - it's still better quality than anything we would have gotten today for the same price.  Now we just need a chair... Pictures here

For now, that's all the news.  Hopefully I'll keep things more up to date (but don't count on it!).

May 31st, 2004: It's been a while..   But to be honest, the big stuff is over!  Getting to the point of owning the house was the major part.  Now we're just slowly making it our own.  First some updates on things from the past:

Stinky-room: We pulled the Pergo and the carpet padding that was underneath it up and pulled the wallpaper down.  We still don't know what the smell was - it's still there to some extent.  We're working on it.

Hallway: We've finished the small hallway to the garage.  Ok, so we haven't painted the insides of the two outside doors yet.  We had waited for the weather to warm up so it wouldn't affect the paint.  All in all, we're pretty happy with it.

Furniture: We've been doing some furniture shopping.  For hours of trouble, all we've managed to order so far are two padded chairs and an end table to go in the family room.  We looked at dining room sets and at living room sets too.  The only thing we found that we liked was a tremendously expensive dining room set.  I suppose we at least have good taste.  So far the dining room and living room have stayed as is.

New stuff:

Plants: We've spread some plants throughout the house.  We felt like we had way too many but they just sort of disappear into their corners.  One that I'm particularly proud of is a lemon tree.  When I bought it it had tens of flowers on it (that smell great by the way).  Now it's got a few small lemons on it.  But it also has bugs.  We're working on it.

The Yard: This is where we've spent the bulk of our time since March.  With the number of trees around the property there was an amazing amount of leaves in all of the flower beds and blown against the rock walls.  So that was the first thing we took care of.  It was a painful process but it felt really good when we got it done.  Along with the leaves we also had to cut out all the dead perennials.  That was a trick as we weren't always sure what was a perenial and what wasn't.  We think we did ok.  After that came mulching.  Five yards of mulch managed to cover all of the existing beds in the yard.  We have a few new ones in mind, including under the line of tress that runs across the front of our property.  We're figuring at least another five yards.  But we have to say, the mulch made a huge difference.  After the mulch came some planting.  Not too much though, we were blessed with a lot of perennials in the yard.  A big thank-you goes out to the previous owners for that!  We also put some hanging plants around the place.

We bit the bullet and bought a tractor for the yard.  Nothing too big, but it is more than enough for our needs.  Other than the poison ivy all around the edge of the property, mowing the lawn is a snap.

We've got some problems areas in the lawn that we want to get fixed.  The whole right side fo the driveway is all weeds and there are a few other odd dead spots in the lawn.  We've been having problems getting someone to actually come out and do the work.  We're working on it.

So, if you've managed to read this far, here's your reward! Click here for some pictures of the plants and flowers around the yard.  The pictures at the end are from last fall (Hopefully it'll be obvious).

June 23rd, 2004: An update in less than a month!  Admittedly it probably wouldn't have come if it weren't for some parties pestering for more pictures!

Recently we've gone on a house spending spree.  It started with looking for dining room furniture.  We found a great set for a mere $27k.  Donations welcome...  After revaluating the situation we decided to look into other furniture.  We started with buying a couple of chairs and a table for our family room to fill it out (see pictures).  We looked at other stuff, but settled on that for the weekend.  A weekend or two later we decided to go for deck furniture.  We, as usual, gravitated towards the most expensive stuff they had - but it was the right size, and we liked it.  That stuff should be delivered soon.  The last two weekends we've been living room shopping.  This past weekend we went for it and have a whole living room set on order.  We also used it as an excuse to get the blue carpet out of the living room, stairway and upper hallway.  We're having new carpet put in within the next few weeks.  The carpet buying was an adventure.  We were looking through some carpet when we happened to look down and really liked the area rug we were standing on.  We decided to buy it for our foyer (see pictures) and then had to make sure the carpet for the living room not only matched the furniture but didn't clash with the rug!  Then we had to make sure the stairway carpet didn't clash with the rug or the living room carpet.  It was a big mess.  That's about it for furniture for now.  The last thing remaining is the dining room.  Maybe when we recover from the shock of spending so much money in so little time we'll get back to that...

In other news, we had the work done on the right side of the driveway.  They stripped it, put new loam in and put down seed.  It just started growing about a week ago.  So far so good, but this watering twice a day is a pain!  (And they suggest 3 times!)  We also did our own patch work on a couple of other areas.  We ended up using this mix seed/mulch stuff and due to a sizing mistake (and no desire to drive back to Home Depot) ended up using two different types.  The non-Home Depot stuff doesn't seem to be growing at all, while the HD stuff is coming in very nicely!  In fact, it's nicer than most of the rest of the yard...

We also started work on cleaning out the area on the house side of the small rockwall along the road.  We got all the leaves out, now we're planning to rototill the area, maybe put some good stuff in for plants, plant some stuff and mulch it.

Continuing the stream of conciousness...  We bought paint for our spare bathroom today.  We decided that repainting that was a pretty simple instant-result sort of things.  We're going to cover up the lime-green with a light shade of blue.  No progress there yet except for buying the paint.

We found an electrician!  (They were looking for an electrician??)  One of the guys Mark worked with at EMC left to go into business for himself.  We had a long wish-list of electrical things to do: fans for the bathrooms, ceiling fans for a couple bedrooms and running cable to the upstairs bedrooms among others.  That work should be starting in a week and a half.

I think that's it for this update (if that's not enough).  Lots of good stuff going on!  By the time we get everything set and can relax, it'll be winter again...

And before I forget - here are the new pictures - some are new yard pictures and some are inside of the new rug and furniture.

September 19th, 2004: It's getting harder and harder to remember what we've done around the house!

In the yard:

- The work on the side yard was finished, but due to some pretty heavy rain soon after, a fair amount of seed washed away.  Recently they came back, removed all the crab grass that had grown in, and did some more seeding.  Things are looking good!  More than that, Melissa mulched the bed that runs along the woods, and we put in some bushes!  We've put in some Rose of Sharon and some (many) hydrangea!  The Rose of Sharon were in bloom when we planted them but the hydrangea are first year, and so we have to wait until next year to get any flowers.  See some pictures here.  Special thanks to Melissa's Mom and Bill for helping us put the hydrangea in.  It was a BIG job and it went much faster and much smoother than it would have otherwise!

- We put in some more bulbs.  Melissa said I went a little crazy buying them, but the best thing about the yard last year was getting that early glimpse of spring.

- We finished off the area on the house side of the rock wall that runs along the road.  It was a LOT of work, but it looks much better.  Now all of the leaves are falling into it, so we'll have even more work in a month or so!

In the house:

- Our carpet was installed quite a while ago.  It came out really well.  We picked some lighter colors for the living room and the stairs/upper hallway and it really brightened up the place.  We're hoping to use the previous living room carpet in one of the spare bedrooms when we get to those.  You can see pictures of the living room carpet in the living room bullet down below and here.

- We spontaneously re-did the "green" bathroom.  We'd been planning it for a while as bright green isn't really our color.  We had some incentive as we had a string of house guests coming.  We had gotten the lights over the sink changed when the electrician was in, so we were left with a large hole in the wall where the original wiring came through.  We decided to fix that up, take all the hardware down, patch everything up, and paint it!  While the color is called "blue silk" it's more like a light purple.  We'll put some pictures up soon.  Right now there's still some parts that aren't finished: we want to replace the large plain glass mirror, we need to get new hardware to match the brushed look of the lights and we need to find new curtains (the old green ones are still up!).

- We got living room furniture!  This one took a while; we ordered it months ago.  It's in and it looks good!  We even christened it with a happy hour when Melissa's parents were up.  There's still a little bit to do in there but it's fully functional and really fills out the first floor.  Here are some pictures.

That's it for this update!

February 27th, 2005: Here's just a quick update with a link. My web site editing program is on the fritz so I'm doing this in an old fashioned, ugly way. I'll update more about this stuff when I can. Essentially this link goes to some pictures of the so-called "stinky" room makover and to a new antique china cabinet we bought. Fun facts: The "stinky" from that room seems to have come from the carpet padding underneath the Pergo. It still smelled for months after we pulled the main room so we eventually pulled up the pergo and pad in the closet to - presto, no stink! As for the china cabinet, it cost less than 8% of a china cabinet we looked at as part of a set at Cabot furniture. While we loved the set, we could have bought a very nice car for it. You can read about that way above here in the log somewhere!  Here are the pictures.