Basement Oil Tank Removal Update

Oil Tank Removed

Well, would you look at that?

Sure, it only took 4 years and the whole house kinda sorta smells funky right now but it’s gone.


Posted on November 18th, 2013 at 1:30 pm by Brainy Smurf
Home Improvements | 11 Comments »

What Does the Fox Say?

Yeah, this is a little old now but it’s so catchy.

Actually, I’m just putting it up here so it’s easier to play for my kids — who both know all of the words — and so my mom will know what they’re talking about.

Posted on November 14th, 2013 at 9:06 pm by Brainy Smurf
Current Events, Music | 10 Comments »

Basement Oil Tank Removal Cost

Okay, so does anyone remember that elephant in the room that occupies my basement?


Well, here’s the photo that accompanied that post 4 years ago.

Pretty awesome, huh? Back then, we’d planned to have it taken care of — as in, removed.

And, well, here’s a photo of what that side of the (still scary) basement looks like today.

Basement Oil Tank

Not much to report.


Yep, we’ve been harboring this “environmental disaster waiting to happen” for nearly a decade now.

There are 200 gallons of heating oil in that rusty thing and there hasn’t been a week gone by that I haven’t feared hearing the sound of the sump pump kicking on to pump out a flood of heating oil.

I’m not certain what would occur if that scenario ever became a reality but I imagine it’d be a lot like the move E.T. where they’d wrap our whole house in plastic and send men in space suits in to “clean it up”.

Either way, it’d likely be financially damning.

But I have some good news to report — the tank (and the oil inside) will be gone in a matter of days.

For real, this time.

Dude, this loooooong overdue $500 project is happening.

Posted on November 11th, 2013 at 10:03 pm by Brainy Smurf
Home Improvements | 1 Comment »

Attention Walmart Shoppers

Sharknado at WalmartSo, yesterday, we took a family trip to Walmart.

We don’t go there very often, partially cause of how busy it always seems to be but mostly because of the people that shop and work there.

I’m not one to judge but… Wait, yes, I am one to judge…

Really — you might think websites like “People of Walmart” are a gross exaggeration of reality for comedic sake but, I’ll tell you, there truly is no other demographic like the Walmart shopper.

Stereotypes exist because they are grounded in truth.

Walmart takes it to another level.

So, anyway, while I was digging through the $5 DVD bin with Duncan in search of Sharknado (don’t judge — where else would I find it?) an announcement comes over the loud speaker.

“Attention Walmart shoppers…”

Yes, it really started like that, but not all cool like it would have sounded at K-Mart. Imagine it in the voice of a barely literate 20-something male hillbilly lacking front teeth.

Yeah — somehow Walmart brings out the hillbillies of Connecticut. Really, there was a shopper in there wearing a cowboy hat. In CONNECTICUT!?

The message continued, in the cadence of a first grader reading out loud, “In two minutes, [insert sponsor here] will be giving away one razor sharp paring knife to everyone in the store over the age of 21. Supplies are limited. Please visit the red kiosk at the back of the store near the baby aisle. First come, first serve.”


First of all, a quick visual survey of the people surrounding me made it pretty unsettling that they we’re about to hand out “razor” sharp knives.

There might even be a stampede — the word “FREE” in Walmart is almost like “FIRE” in a movie theatre.

Further — they’re doing it in the baby aisle?

Are you kidding me?

I don’t know about your local Walmart, but in all of them around here, the “baby” section is in the back corner. The “kitchenware” aisle is usually part of that middle section where lots of just random household stuff is. In short — they’re not close to each other.

Why would *ever* you hand out knives to the gutter of society in an aisle full of diapers?

You can’t make this stuff up.

Making things even funnier, err scarier, while we were checking out, there was an announcement asking employees to do a “safety sweep” of their departments…

Hmmmm… must’ve been a report of someone wielding a “razor” sharp knife or something.

Back to Target we go…

Posted on November 10th, 2013 at 7:48 am by Brainy Smurf
Bargains, Rants | 3 Comments »

(More) Required Documents for a Home Equity Loan

And then the corporate incompetence rears its ugly head.

So, after receiving a letter from TD Bank to fax a couple documents — w-2s from the last two years, two tax returns, and our most recent pay stub — to a fax number that wasn’t listed anywhere, on Friday morning I received an email where they’re now asking for 30 days worth of paystubs.

So, to recap… Earlier this week they asked me for, among other things, my most recent paystub.

Today, they asked me for 30 days worth of paystubs.

Couldn’t they have asked for that in the first place?

I swear, the number of pieces of mail we’ve received since initiating this process is borderline obscene.

This is the list of documents we need.

Oh wait, this too. And this.

Oh, and we forgot to mention this — send us that too.

And to expedite things, fax it to the number we never gave to you.

If it were my company, I’d have a standard letter to send out requesting everything I needed in ONE envelope. Not 15 envelopes over the span of 10 days.

I’d list a fax number too. Just sayin’.

My first impressions of the simplicity of working with TD were wrong.

So, while gathering older paystubs isn’t that big a deal — I have them handy — it’s certainly not convenient. TD’s slogan is, afterall, America’s Most Convenient Bank.

Further, I assume they’ve already confirmed my employment but a simple calculation on the paystub they originally requested would show that my last paycheck was the same as the one I provided to them.

Yep, just divide those Year-To-Date totals on the right by 22 and you’ll see that I get the same amount every two weeks and that it lines up exactly with the number I provided on the original application.

I don’t look at pay stubs all day long like I’m sure someone over there does but even I could figure that out. If it were an hourly wage listed on the stub, well, sure, I’d give them the benefit of the doubt. My stub clearly says “SALARY”.

In other news, the email also mentioned that there was a $99 application fee, which I have no qualms with, and that the entire process would take between 30 and 45 days.

Merry Christmas.

Posted on November 9th, 2013 at 10:19 pm by Brainy Smurf
Finance, Home Equity Loan, Rants | 131 Comments »

Revised Home Equity Loan Offer

So, even before we’ve got all of our ducks in a row, TD Bank has revised their offer from the original offer.

I know this would happen as even the hard copy printed estimate numbers are just barely more that the teaser offers they openly advertise.

I remember when I leased a VW Jetta back in 1997. I was in the dealership with my dad and I was getting ready to sign the lease when we looked at the bottom line. My payment would be $251 per month.

Confused, we pointed to the poster on the wall — with numbers 3 feet tall — that said that VW Jetta’s were $199/month. I still see car ads that hawk numbers like that… No clue how they get away with it — it’s never true.

Anyway, back then, we met half way between their advertised number and their offered number.

Today, for the home equity loan, they said the appraisal on my house came in lower than what I said it would. I kinda figured that would happen but no harm in aiming high, right?

Now I didn’t go all out and lie about what I think my home is worth. In fact, I used the Zillow zestimate which generously lists my house as the most expensive on my street. And this is BEFORE the garage is built!!!

In reality, as far as I can tell, Zillow is boosting the value of my home (in comparison to the others on the street) based on square footage and lot size.

My house isn’t the biggest — maybe 3rd largest — but it’s on the biggest lot. To them, that’s worth as much as a renovated kitchen — which I don’t have but most of the other homes on the street probably do.

No worries — the garage addition will still not price my home outside the rest of the neighborhood. Sure, my house will take the crown, officially, as the best on the street but it certainly will NOT look grossly out of place compared to the others.

So the amount I’m borrowing ($70k) is the same, the term (15 years) is the same, but they jacked the interest rate by about a half percent.

If I take all 15 years to pay it down, which I won’t, this’ll “cost” me an additional $3k.

No big deal.

It’s still a go.

Posted on November 5th, 2013 at 6:52 am by Brainy Smurf
Finance, Home Equity Loan | No Comments »

Home Equity Loan Terms and Conditions : Pre-Payment Penalty

Okay, so the ambiguous disclosure (in my eyes, anyway) of the pre-payment penalty for the home equity loan has been cleared up.

No joke, for the past 4 days, we’ve received at least two more envelopes from TD Bank with additional (and often redundant) paperwork. One of the funniest/annoying aspects of the whole thing, besides the fact that they could have just asked for everything all at once, is that all of the forms so far have said to return the “documents” or whatever to the store or fax them to: ________________.

No joke, the fax number isn’t listed out. Just a blank where it’s supposed to be.

Now I understand that the fax machine is going the way of the record player but for this sort of thing — you know, transmitting documents — it’s still kinda effective.

Either that — or email. Really, I’d prefer to not have to print and mail 100+ pages worth of tax returns when a simple PDF attachment in an email would do it. They don’t offer that, apparently, either.

So, anyway, back to the pre-payment penalty.

It’s a $450 penalty if the loan is paid in full with-in 24 months.

That’s not gonna happen anyway so I’ve got nothing to be concerned with.

Posted on November 4th, 2013 at 1:38 pm by Brainy Smurf
Finance, Home Equity Loan | 3 Comments »

The Devil is in the Details

823 Credit ScoreSo, we received our package from TD Bank that lists out a few details about the loan and one single page document (regarding an attorney) that we need to sign.

Easy peasy.

One of the pages in the packet, though, indicates that there *is* a pre-payment penalty.

Well, you know me, I’m not gonna take 15 years to pay this off. I’d say it’s a safe bet to be done in less than 10.

Anyway, to that end, what the packet fails to disclose is what, exactly, the pre-payment penalty is.

If we’re talking $500 or something, well, that’s a drop in the bucket. If we’re talking 10% or something, well, that’s a different story.

So we’ll need clarification on that.

I’m not sure, having never done this before, but maybe it’s a standard practice with second mortgages. I just don’t know.

We’ll see.

And, yeah, nothing gets the “I’m gonna pre-pay this thing” juices flowing like having it clearly listed out in black and white that a low 5% interest rate still works out to paying $30k in interest.

Borrow $70k and pay back $100k?

Yeah, I don’t think so… I’m planning on paying maybe $10k in interest before this one is off the books.

In separate envelopes, my wife and I received copies of our credit scores. I don’t recall this being the case with other loans we’ve taken as I flat out asked what my score was when we bought the car a few months back — maybe it’s a new regulation/disclosure type of thing — but I kinda like it.

Anyway, my score came in at 823.

So, while I might feel, and often sound, like my finances are in complete disarray, the banks think otherwise…

Posted on November 1st, 2013 at 12:26 pm by Brainy Smurf
Finance, Home Equity Loan | 27 Comments »

And then Borrower’s Remorse Sets In…

Oh Snap!So, we’ve yet to even hear back from TD regarding our loan application and my wheels are already spinning.

Back in 2010, we had $40k worth of work done on the house. We’d saved up a bit — maybe $15k? You could look it up on here — but most of financing came in the form of 0% credit card offers.

In the end, the entire project (including a new tv and furniture) was paid off in full in less than 2 years, if I remember right… Again, if you care, it’s documented in the archives here on the site…

So now I find myself on the cusp of borrowing $70k but it’ll take 15 years to pay off?

Could that be right?

Sure, I could’ve done a ten year term but wanted a lower payment for added flexibility.

Even still, where did our ability to pay down debts so rapidly disappear to?

I don’t feel that, for even one second, we could pay down that kind of debt in, say, 5 years even…

Yet, for years, I made it a habit of paying down my debts to the tune of $20k per year…

The cost of daycare is the only thing I can think of that’s “new” since the days when I was able to do that so of thing…

Not with ease, mind you, but it was do-able.

Oh wait, we’re currently paying around $24k per year for daycare…

Now I get it…

We’re gonna be fine.

Posted on October 31st, 2013 at 5:59 am by Brainy Smurf
Finance, Home Equity Loan | No Comments »

Home Equity Lender Chosen

Toronto-DominionSo, now having done more than minimal research, it seems I’ve now found my lender of choice.

I scoped out the rates of the big banks, the little banks, and a bunch of the local credit unions and the one thing they all had in common… was the interest rate.

Very little variance.

You might have read on all kinds of websites to “shop around” and submit applications all over the place to get the best rate. I dunno — based on my experience — that’s more a waste of time than anything else.

In the end, I selected and submitted a loan application to TD Bank.

Here was my reasoning:

  • Competitive Rate – They weren’t the highest and they weren’t the lowest but they were in the sweet spot of my target rate. The rate is 5.04% on a fixed 15-year term.
  • Proximity to Home – When we refinanced our original mortgage, my wife and I end up having to take multiple days off, visit the mortgage broker, hit a law office, and, well, it was just a bigger hassle than it should have been. The TD branch for this loan is literally right around the corner. And they’re open on weekends too.
  • Clear and Concise Website – While some of the credit union websites were far more upfront about what the monthly payments would/could be, no site was as well organized and informative as TD’s. They didn’t try to lump it all together with HELOC using terms that apply to one but not the other throughout — plain old home equity loans have their own section and aren’t littered with fluff that applies to other types of loans.
  • They’re Canadian – What can I say? It shouldn’t matter but it does… There is some expat pride going on as I see the banks in Canada flood the US market using abbreviations as names to veil their maple leaf identity. Now if they could just figure out how to connect my Canadian checking account to one opened here in the US — I’d ditch Bank of America in a heartbeat…

So I did the application online since it’s been my experience that when you do it in person, the person at the bank essentially just fills the website out for you.

No thanks, I’m pretty sure I can type out my info faster.

So it took maybe 10 minutes, a bunch of the simple questions you’d expect, the stuff they need to pull your credit, and minimal debt declarations.

Apparently, two days from now, they’ll have a “decision”.

Seems too easy.

I’m skeptical but that’s just my nature. We’ll have pay stubs, W-2′s, and tax returns handy just in case.

And I’m crossing my fingers that an interior appraisal won’t be necessary — not that I have anything to hide since our last HUGE remodel. At this point, it’s just a hassle (and day off from work) that I’d rather not have to endure.

During the application process, the site claimed that I could borrow $115k. Yowzers.

I asked for $70k and a 15 year term. Monthly payment will be $550.

Yep — right where I thought it would be.

I’ll keep you posted!

Posted on October 30th, 2013 at 5:59 am by Brainy Smurf
Finance, Home Equity Loan | 28 Comments »

I’m Building/Buying a 3-Car Garage. Seriously.

Regarding the garage thing… Last year around this time we were ready to pull the trigger and hire a contractor to get the whole garage thing taken care of.

Clearly, it never materialized.

At the time, I was ready to sign off on a $60k project.

Like, hand me the pen and I’ll sign right now…

Actually, I brought my own pen. Just show me where to sign…

We went to one of those barnyard places — you know, the places that sell sheds and things — but an upscale one. Oh, why not name names. It was Kloter Farms — they’re pretty big around this area.

Anyway, they build furniture, sheds, gazebos, pool house, horse stables, and, yes, two-story 3-car garages.

So my wife and I took a day off from work and drove out there with the intention of signing off on a purchase pending a loan application through their own financing, pulling a building permit, and just getting the whole process underway.

We got there on a very un-busy fall morning and hung out in the “model” that we liked best until a salesperson finally made their move and sunk their hooks in.

Up to the “office” we went — time to hammer out a deal…

Or so I thought.

The dude asked us simple questions like “How big?” and “How many bays?”.

“Seriously, man? The one we were standing in when you saw us and we said that it was perfect… Just like that one. That’s what we want. Duh?”

Obviously, I was too gracious to vocalize the snark outloud…

So he proceeded to circle pricing figures and turn down corners of pages in their catalog so we could “reference them later”.

“Um, yeah, I get the catalog in the mail and I visited your website before coming. I know the price and I pretty much know what I want too.”

So, here this sales dude had us AT HIS DESK where we were 100% ready to make a deal and he just circled a few charts in their catalog, stapled his card to the front cover, and sent us on our way.

Befuddled, we did just that. Went on our way.


Or, should I say “NOT” seriously since he clearly did not take us seriously.

Needless to say, they’re no longer our first choice for constructing this thing…

We’ll still buy a kitchen table from them though…

Anyway, it took me back to when I first ventured into that BMW dealership back in 1999…

After casually pondering the idea for about a week, I decided that I wanted to buy a BMW Z3 just like the one in the James Bond movie that, to this day, I’ve still never actually seen.

One night, after work, I drove my Jetta to the dealership, got out, and started milling about the lot.

Much to my surprise, none of the scummy looking salesman in the pecking order took notice. Not one.

Sure, I was a 23 year old VW driving kid trying to sport a wannabe beard in jeans, a tie dye t-shirt, and sneakers so I might not have been their typical customer but, still, I was in the showroom on a Tuesday night — the only customer there — opening doors and playing with radio knobs.

Unbeknownst to them, the “so slimy that I’d even call them buttery” salesmen were totally missing some low hanging fruit.

Someone was going to sell a car that night. A blue one.

To the kid in the t-shirt.

For real.

So eventually, after maybe 30 minutes of opening and closing various compartments in an escalating fashion (in hindsight, I should have “tested” a few horns at the onset) inside the showroom to draw attention to myself, a younger salesman that hadn’t been out in the lot chain-smoking earlier finally approached me.

I say “younger” as in he was clearly not a longtime grizzled chain-smoker, err, car salesman. He was probably in his mid 30′s — so, still a good dozen years older than me — but, besides the gel in his curly hair which was still kind of in style at the time, there was nothing “buttery” about him.

“Are you looking for anything in particular?”

“Yep, I’d like to buy the Blue Z3 convertible right out front.”

Not even 30 minutes later, Tyler Westcott (who I really doubt stuck with the auto salesman gig so I’ll throw his name out there) had sold a BMW to me.

I’m pretty sure that none of the other guys in there sold a car that night.

Oh, how I’d have loved to have been a fly on the wall after I left the dealership.

Posted on October 29th, 2013 at 6:00 am by Brainy Smurf
Life | 29 Comments »

Going the Home Equity Route

I talked before about how I’m more apt to paying down debt than I am building savings.

I dunno — for some reason, the “money game” is more fun that way for me.

Playing with someone else’s money — and then paying them back — just feels safer than risking my own.

Reality tells me that’s a wacked out way of thinking but it’s always worked for me. Can’t argue with that.

So, going back to this garage dream that I’ve had brewing for the past few years… I’ve decided the time is now.

I’d always been afraid of the “second mortgage” — why would you ever leverage your HOUSE? — but I’ve come to realize that, well, it’s probably one of the smartest things I could do for me and my family right now.

We need this garage. We need the space. We need the re-configured yard.

My kids are getting older. I’m getting older. And, really, this is the time when, if at all possible, I should have the things I want — you know, when they’ll be appreciated the most and for the longest.

I tried “saving” up. It’s not working. Something always comes up. You know how it is…

That new car put a real damper on the savings trend line…

And, really, it would be foolish to save for 15 years only to be priced out (as things naturally increase in price) rather than get something now and pay it down over the next 15 years…

Buying my house when I did was an excellent financial move. It would be irresponsible NOT to build a garage now — regardless of the added risk.

Right now, I believe we can afford an “additional” $600 per month payment. Combined with my current mortgage, that would bring my monthly mortgage payments to $1100 per month, which, in this neck of the woods is unheard off unless you bought your house in the mid 1980′s and are 27+ years into the mortgage.

I’ve got like 27 years to go…

Really, my current sub-$500 mortgage payment is off the charts.

Like, under the charts.

Underground, even.

So, my goal is to secure at least $60k in the form of a fixed rate home equity loan. If I can secure more, great, but my primary objective is to secure a minimum of $60k at somewhere between 4 and 6 percent.

Minimal research indicates that these terms will land me a roughly $600 payment over 10 years. I’ll shoot to secure a 15 year loan for added flexibility at the onset.

My preference of a regular loan over a line of credit is simply because I’m more comfortable with a fixed rate -and- having all of the money at once is just easier to manage. There aren’t withdrawal windows, or limits, potential overdraws, or variable sized payments to be made.

Here’s the money, do what you want with it, pay us back this much each month.


As for the dollar figure, I think it will take $60k to build the exterior of the garage that I want and, frankly, we need. It may take a bit more to “finish” it — as in make the upper level look, well, like a real finished room — but at least the expensive part will be taken care of.

My minimal research also indicated that, using my very conservative guesstimations, $60k is about what I expect a lender will offer to me based on my current loan-to-value ratio.

Time is of the essence here too, I think.

I’ve said before that I feel that I’ve plateaued when it comes to my earning power. Sure, I might be a little young to make that claim but I still feel it’s true.

It would be incredibly stupid of me not to take advantage of the “numbers” supporting my position at this very moment.

Buy low, sell high. I feel my stock is high right now…

Also worth mentioning, our oldest son will be joining the public school ranks next fall as a kindergartner. Financially, this is HUGE as it will cut our childcare expenses by at least 40%.

Forty percent is like $750 extra per month in my pocket.

Yep, that’ll make a $600 second mortgage payment that much easier.

Two years later, both kids will be in school. Barring a third smurfling (which I’m actually hoping for — we *can* afford it!), paying this loan doesn’t carry much risk as far as I’m concerned after the first few months (which, technically, I’ll be able to use the funds from the loan to pay).

Seems like a pretty solid plan, no?

Time to start getting all of my documents together and testing the waters…

Posted on October 28th, 2013 at 6:07 am by Brainy Smurf
Finance, Home Equity Loan | 19 Comments »