Home Improvements

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Back during the summer, I posted some things about potentially purchasing a $750k house as kind of a ‘toungue in cheek’ type of deal.

But the more I thought about it…the more it started to, well, make sense.

Say, for instance we nixed the plan to build our extravagant 3-car garage and instead put that money towards a down payment on a much larger (and nicer) house that already had a three car garage and more bathrooms and an updated kitchen?

And then I started perusing real estate listings…

Before long, we were doing drive-bys. And we even nearly attended an open house a couple of weekends ago.

Things were starting to “get real”, as in, we should probably tell our architect that our renovation and addition plans had changed drastically… we’re moving instead.

It all made sense.

Bigger house, better neighborhood, better schools, and a house that wasn’t still in need of major, not to mention expensive, updates. We could get everything we were looking for elsewhere…at a price we could afford.

The timing all seemed right.

So my wife and I finally found 7 minutes to actually discuss something that adults should probably talk about every now and then, you know, without one of the kids interrupting…and we made our decision.

We’re gonna stay put.

While we’re probably in the midst of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to purchase the type of house we’ve only dreamed about, financially, it just feels too risky.

Our current location is close to major highways — not so close that we can see or hear them or anything but it doesn’t take us an eternity to get to them either.

We’re close to “stuff” like grocery stores, Targets, Walmarts (ugh), banks, restaurants, you name it.

During my time in Canada, I can’t tell you how much it sucked to have to drive 45 minutes just to get to a mediocre shopping mall full of dollar stores. And I never lived “in the sticks”, either…

Where we are now, we can pick one of five malls that are all within 45 minutes, like good malls too, with stores with names I can’t even pronounce. That’s really convenient.

My wife really likes our neighborhood and the schools too.

We differ in opinion on those.

While our long established tree-lined street is great now, I’ve seen it decline consistently over the past dozen years or so.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still nice, just not as “tree-lined” as suddenly everyone is paranoid that a tree is going to fall on them. Or something.

Maybe they just hate trees?

Can you tell we have one annoying tree-hating overly paranoid neighbor that likes to report EVERYTHING to the city?

Further, many of our “other” neighbors are elderly. Again, that’s great in my opinion, but as time passes, “new” folks will be moving in. Based on the price point of their homes, well, I’m not sure the “new” neighbors will be of the same ilk…

Now I’m sure that when my neighbors saw me move in as a 25-year old, and the first thing I loaded into the house was my HUGE stereo system (currently covered in dust), they thought the same thing,

“There goes the neighborhood,” but more recently two of the more modest homes in the area were sold and turned into legit crack houses.

Really, like you’d see on the news.

They went from little houses with an old man living in them to houses with broken windows and different cars coming and going at all hours of the day and some scary dude sitting on the porch staring you down… within a week.

No joke, one even had some sort of late night fight club in the street on a regular basis. Thankfully an arson charge and a couple of foreclosures took care of it but for a good five years, that area of the neighborhood went down hill really fast.

For the following five years, the houses were boarded up. Yeah, eye sore. Big time.

Both have since been purchased by development companies, totally gutted and renovated, and currently sit on the market… and have been for quite some time.

I pray they don’t lower the price to the point that more scum move in…but that’s what I fear for my neighborhood in the years to come when the current owners pass. These century-plus old homes will be considered entry-level.

As for the schools, well, my oldest in the only one currently in the school system and he’s killing it, obviously. I switched schools at his age and survived so I wouldn’t have a problem switching him now.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a SINGLE home in his current school district, on the market or not, that will suit our family’s needs so if we were to move, he’d be in a different school (and likely a different town).

Of all of those issues, though, it’s really the location and the conveniences that it offers that really weigh the most.

They always say, “location, location, location…” Well, we have that.

And then there’s the financial aspect…

This part of the discussion took up at least 6 of the seven uninterrupted minutes we had.

As I’ve said before, probably to the point of boasting, we can afford a bigger home without issue. Maybe not a $750k one but we could very easily swing something with a $400k price tag. Easily.

Once the two young children are out of full time day care, well, that would be an additional $2000 per month to use at our discretion. No small sum.

But here’s the thing that convinced us to stay put and move on with our original “build a garage” plan…

It’s been OVER a decade since we’ve had a sleepless night worrying about money.

I can’t remember the last time I had a bill that I was unsure how or where the money would come from to pay it.

If our car were to die tomorrow, we could go out and but a new one, same day. If both cars died at the same time, we could buy two.

Duncan’s hockey tuition of $2500 out of the blue, no problem. Sure, it sucked making that payment but we could do it. And it didn’t mean we had to not pay something else.

Just last month, we decided we needed a new mattress. Five minutes and $800 later, we had one on it’s way. It’s awesome, by the way.

I’m not so far removed or so wealthy to not know that most people would have to save up for things like this.

I might sound like I am but, truthfully, I know I’m in a *very* cushy place to be able say those things.

And a lot of that is due to the fact that the house we live in isn’t beyond our means. It’s not far below our means. In fact, it’s probably just about right.

So, yeah, I don’t know if we’d be the “true” definition of house-poor if we moved to a larger home but just taking in our current situation — even if the opportunity to make it so much better is right there for the taking — I’m not sure I want to disrupt the path we’re on.

We’re in a pretty good place.

And a garage addition that will nearly double the size of our home (putting it in range of the home we’ve been looking at) won’t mess that up.

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Clover LawnOver the years, I’ve probably spent well over $1000 on various types of grass seed, fertilizer, and new sprinklers in a feeble attempt to make my lawn look amazing.

Success has been, well, minimal.

My lawn looks pretty much like it did when I bought the place 14 years ago — some nice grass, lots of brown stuff, the occasional dandelion, that really tall mossy stuff, and bright green crab grass.

A mosaic, really. Nothing ever dies (even when I poison the crap out of it) and nothing ever spreads either. (The picture of my son practicing his shot is an accurate representation of my entire lawn.)

Not suprisingly, the lawn looks a lot like the lawn I had growing up, the one I was paid $5 each week to mow.

No green thumbs in this family, apparently.

At least we’re consistent.

Anyway, while doling out professional advice to a client, who Facebook friended me out of the blue and I then cyber-stalked online, I couldn’t help myself but to ask how she kept her lawn (that I’d seen in the background of nearly all of her Facebook photos) so green all the time.

Flattered and embarrassed, her one word response was…clover.

And that got me thinking…

The few really nice green patches on my lawn that always have the fat furry bumble bees hovering above are clover.

The stuff never turns brown and looks amazing just after I mow the little white flowers off…

Hmmmmm…a lawn full of clover…

Growing up in the land of cul-de-sacs, which doubled as hockey arenas and baseball stadiums, there was this one house just beyond the “outfield” wall, err, curb where we’d get hollered at anytime a home run sailed into their, ahem, grass.

For real, the guy that lived there was tending his lawn daily and, frankly, you could tell.

Perfectly straight mower lines in a criss-cross pattern and bright green all of the time…right up to the first snowfall.

But I also remember sitting on that curb with our hands in the grass searching for four leaf clovers with pretty decent success.

And we used to “catch” those furry bumble bees in our hands there too.

(One time we made the mistake of trying to catch yellow jackets in the same manner behind home plate. BIG mistake.)

Thirty years later, I now know that guy was a total fraud.

He was mowing his lawn every single day so as to not EVER let one of those little white flowers pop out.

His ENTIRE lawn was clover.

So I ordered sixty-something pounds of clover seed and it should arrive sometime this week.

Actually, I just checked the Fedex tracking and it’s apparently hanging out in Augusta, Montana right now…

So, being that I google almost everything, I decided to look Augusta, Montana up.


Um… how is it that a place with just 284 people has a FedEx ground “warehouse” or whatever they call the places where they scan all of their packages…

I mean, this is really the middle of nowhere.

For real, I Google Earth’d it. Three bars, a diner, and some place called the “Bunk House”.

Their high school graduated nine last year.


Augusta Class of 2015

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ConstructionSo it’s been quite a while since I last mentioned that 3-car garage we were planning on having built.

During my nearly two year long hiatus from the site, we took out another mortgage (you may have noticed on the net worth reports) to get the finances in place, worked with a local architect, and had a survey done of our property to ensure we wouldn’t run into any building permit issues.

That was 2013.

We’re midway through 2015 now and we still haven’t broken ground.

What’s up with that?

For real, with the money to fund such a project readily available (currently sitting in a savings account), you’d think that we could have our old garage torn down and the new one up in it’s place in a matter of months.

And, for the most part, you’d be right.

I could totally make a phone call tomorrow to get one of those Amish barn-raising groups out here prepping the site and have a full blown garage up sometime next week. [or maybe not]

But that’s the thing — I don’t really want a pre-fab (Amish guys in hats with mallets in hand or not, they’re still pre-fabricated) garage.

Especially when we’re talking six figures…

I want something that, well, that I didn’t pick off a sales sheet that only offered three or four options to begin with from a pushy salesman at a big box store.

So we decided to contact an architect and, let me tell you, while there are a lot of residential architects out there, most of them only work on $1M+ projects or entire new construction sub-divisions.

No joke — if you’re not asking them to design a palace made entirely of marble or an entire neighborhood, they’re not interested.

And that’s the pickle we find ourselves in…

Sure, we could go out and hire a general contractor like we did for our interior renovation and get this done but… well, while our contractor did exactly what we asked him to do on that project, in hindsight, I wish we would have hired someone that would have done what we’d asked but ALSO advised us on what we should do too.

The goal isn’t to find someone to build it for us — that’s easy.

The goal is to find someone that’ll guide us towards a building that we want but will also stop us and say, “Actually, it’d be a better idea to put that here so that the this doesn’t get in the way of that.”

You know, things we never even thought of cause, well, we’re not architects. Where does the plumbing fit in? Should there be an outlet there?

Often times, when you work directly with a general contractor, you’re playing the role of architect. I’m a pretty smart dude but I’m certainly not an experienced architect.

If we’re spending this much money on a freakin’ garage, I want it done right…and that’s why it’s taking so long.

The good news is that the old garage hasn’t tipped over yet and, somehow, I’ve managed to keep from spending all of that “garage” money sitting in my savings account.

The downside is that our current architect doesn’t foresee the project happening until 2016.

Hey, maybe I’ll be able to save a little more by then!

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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.

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Raining MoneyThe point of having money is, from time to time, to spend it.

Not that I was ever that great at saving money anyway but I’m about to spend pretty much all that I currently have…and then some.

History has shown that debt repayment is one of the financial tasks at which I excel. And I’m gonna try my hand at it again.

Like a lot of other authors in this genre, I too have a negative connotation towards debt.

I don’t like it and I don’t want it.

No question, being saddled with debt puts a lot of unnecessary weight on your shoulders.

At the same time, though, as long as it’s not debt being carried for the stupidest of reasons (like an airplane, or a BMW, or dirty polyester), I’m perfectly okay with it.

Kind of like how a lot of people call their mortgage “good debt”. I guess I’d fall into that line of thinking too, though, I still have a tendancy to pay that down like the dickens when I can…

Anyway, like all of my recent big ticket purchases, this one is another home renovation.

Unlike the previous runs, I want to get my finances more in order. I mean, it’s not that they weren’t in order for the last one…

I had over $10k in a savings accounts ready to go but… then the estimate came in double what I’d been hoping for and then by the end of the project’s completion it ended up a full additional $10k more on top of it all.

I had $10k in my pocket, hoped for a $20k estimate, got a $30k quote, and ended paying over $40k. Ouch.

That said, we made it work.

And we had it paid for in roughly two years — hardly crippling. I don’t regret it.

This time, while I don’t plan on having the resources to pay for it all upfront in cash, I want to, at the very least, have the final bill fall close to where I expect it to.

We’re not talking about hoping it’s $20k but kind of expecting $30k and then coming to learn it’s actually more like $40k.

I don’t want that to happen. Not again.

I also don’t want the cost to “limit” my expectations.

Yeah, there are a couple coulda-shoulda regrets about the interior renovation in 2010…but we chickened out because we saw the price tag going up, up, up, and then up some more.

Mmm... GarageSo, with that, in the Spring of 2013, I’m hoping to replace my 20×20 detached two car garage (which is in a state of decay — for real) with a 24×36 two-story three car garage (kinda like the one I dreamed about in 2008).

My budget is $60k to demolish the current structure, remove the current foundation, cut down some trees, remove the current driveway, level the land, pour a new foundation, build the new garage, install a new driveway, add electricity, and finally landscape the redeveloped area.

I’m not a contractor but here’s what I’m “anticipating”:

  • $2000 to demolish and remove the current garage and foundation
  • $1500 for tree removal, driveway removal, and grading (a landscape company can handle all of this)
  • $5500 for the new foundation (this is an uneducated guess — I really have no idea)
  • $46000 for the structure
  • $1500 for subpanel and wiring throughout the structure
  • $2000 for a new driveway (again, this is a guess)
  • $1500 for landscaping

So how much do I have right now, you know, to get the process rolling?

About $5000.

Yeah… Not very much.

But here’s the thing… We’re still a few months away from breaking ground (and this is a pretty concrete goal) so time is on my side.

By early Spring (and barring anything crazy), I should have close to $15k saved up. That’s 20 percent.

Yes, I’m aware that that’s NOTHING.

But here’s the “payment” plan…

Demolition and site prep will go on a low interest rate credit card. No clue who we’ll use for demolition (I’d love to do it myself over the span of a few but I’d probably hurt myself). We might even get lucky and the landscape company that we’ve used in the past for tree removal and leaf pick-up will do it. As far as I know, they have all of the equipment necessary and, really, what team of guys wouldn’t really, really enjoy knocking over a building…

The project would be underway and we’d still have $15k in cash on hand.

For the foundation, I’d do a low interest cash advance from a different credit card for $10-$15k… This would pay for the new foundation in pull and also give us some “slush” money to play with should anything go over budget.

At this point, I’d have $9000 in credit card debt, $9500 in “borrowed” money, and (at the high end) $15000 in cash.

Oh, and a perfectly prepped construction site.

Next week we’re planning on meeting with the builder — it’s a modular custom pre-built elsewhere and assembled on site but a bunch of amish dudes type of place — where I’ll get some more solid details but it appears pretty standard for them to want 1/3 down and you can finance the rest.

Guess what?

I’ll have 1/3 in cash available.

Imagine that?

Yeah, that’s right. I’m planning.

The wildcard here is the interest rate. I don’t really know what to expect but it had better be under 10%. If it isn’t, I’ll have to do some long and hard thinking depending on what my minimum loan payment turns out to be.

So, in this scenario, now I’ll have $9000 in credit card debt, $31000 due in some sort of construction loan, $9500 in “borrowed” money, and zero cash.

Once the building is up and good to go, I’ll bring in the electrician that we used when we re-wired the main house and make it “functional”. Lightings, garage door openers, you know, that sort of thing.

This is where I’ll be forced weigh a few options depending on how I’m feeling financially…

Technically, a new driveway and landscaping are “finishing touches” that don’t really need to be done right away so if I’m feeling in over my head, I’ll just give the $8000 that are left right back to the credit card company I took it from.

That scenario would mean I’d finish with $16000 in credit card debt, a $31000 construction loan, empty pockets, and a brand new and totally functional 1728 square foot outbuilding.

Otherwise, I’ll just blow the whole load on a new driveway, some landscaping, and any other bells and whistles that the money will allow.

The break point is $800 per month.

If my monthly loan and credit card payments exceed $800 per month, I’ll have to put the project on hold.

We’ll see…

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Prepared Lines of Defense

Q: Hey Brainy, why are you only building a three car garage when you have four cars?
A: By the time this all comes to fruition, we won’t have a fouth car anymore. Whether we sell one outright or do a two-for-one trade-in is still to be determined but we’ll most definitely be down to three cars once this thing is up.

Q: Why not make it a little smaller to cut the cost down when a 20×30 would suffice for a 3 car garage?
A: Two reasons. First, a 2011 Toyota Sienna Minivan is nearly 18 feet long. We don’t have one of those but, even still, that’s tight. Our current 20×20 garage fit two cars, snuggly, and little else (which is why there’s only one (very small) car in it…). That won’t do.

Secondly, I’m only doing this once. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from past projects it’s that you should overextend as far as your comfortable with. I will never regret having an extra 264 square feet on two floors when the added cost isn’t really substantial to do so.

Q: Two floors? Really? Do you need a second floor? Chop it down to just a garage to keep things under budget….
A: The answer here is essentially the same. Sure, a three car garage will add value to my house all on it’s own. An additional 864 square feet of storage space (and possible even living space) adds a whole lot *more* value for, again, somewhat minimal cost.

Q: Dude, just go all out and build a four car garage already…
A: I wish I could and I’ll even inquire about it but I’m pretty sure zoning will give me the big NO if I try to get a variance to go that big.

Q: Is you garage really that bad? Juest deal with it…
A: Yes. I’m not making this stuff up. It is in a state of decay but I’ll take pictures to prove it. Upnon viewing them, you might even set-up a “Rebuild Brainy’s Garage” fund just to make it disappear.

Q: Wouldn’t it be smarter to revamp your 1940’s style kitchen?
A: Hell no! It’s vintage! You can’t buy that kind of authenticity.

Actually, the garage has risen to the top of our priority list as it’s about to fall over, it’s an eyesore, and we hate it. The kitchen, while an eyesore and something we hate, is still functional.

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If all goes as planned, next month I’m hoping to make some more room in my house.

I know a lot of people like to say “de-clutter” but I’m pretty sure those same people don’t have two toddlers under the same roof.

Clutter comes with territory here.

But having been in this same house for nearly 10 years now and never having really cleared anything out, not to mention being a self diagnosed hoarder, well, it’s time.

It’s past time.

Now, it’s not that we’re out of room or anything. I have to stop saying “we”…

The “stuff” is predominantly mine and not my wife’s.

Okay, so, it’s not like I’m out of room, it’s more of an organizational thing.

Stuff — that I definitely want to hold on to — that should be together isn’t.

Like how things like tape and scissors and staplers should all be in the same junk drawer — in my house, they’re not even on the same floor.

That’s the root of the problem.

Ideally, I need a ton of extra space to take everything out (and I mean *everything*), organize it, and then put it all back.

In my head, a minimal amount would be thrown away but that’s the hoarder in me talking.

That’s not that big of a deal, I’m not so bad that I can’t throw away things that have no value. I’m sure I’ll fill our garbage can to the rim each and every week.

What is a problem, though, logistically, is that I have two toddlers — I don’t have anywhere that I can put everything for that organization stage and that is why this whole endeavor is going to be such a challenge.

Now I’ve read all that stuff where “experts” say that if you haven’t touched something for an entire year, you shouldn’t keep it in your house.

Well, there are boxes in my attic that I haven’t opened since the early 90’s that I’m pretty certain are worth keeping.

Yeah, I have a problem.

But I’ll get through it.

In May.

Defrost the Fridge

Spider FridgeNo, silly, not to cut down on your electricity usage…

A few months ago, MoneyBeagle wrote about clearing out the spiders from his gas grill.

Don’t worry, this isn’t about spiders in or on my fridge.

But his advice couldn’t have come at a better time for us.

We don’t use a gas grill — opting for the old school charcoal method instead — but I was having an issue with another food related appliance at exactly the same time.

The fridge.

My ice cream wasn’t as cold as it should have been. My house-brand grape soda was luke warm.

We’d seen this before.

I’m on my fourth refrigerator since I moved into this house 9 years ago so I was kinda shrugging my shoulders and thinking, well, the streak continues…

(I’ve always thought it was a wiring issue in the house that kills the fridge but haven’t bothered to have it checked out because I’m always of the mindset that we’ll get the entire kitchen totally re-done before this fridge dies…)

Anyway, with the daycare bills crushing my finances and all of the auto trouble, and did I mention that I had to buy a new computer too yet?

Well, anyway, purchasing a new refrigerator would just add insult to injury.

Like I said yesterday, when I pretended to be an auto mechanic, this time I put on my appliance repair man hat.

First attempt was just to jack the coldness setting up in both the freezer and the fridge.

Sometimes it’s as simple as that but after a few hours, well, things were only getting warmer.

It was at this point that I remembered the reading about the spiders in the grill…

Maybe I just needed to clean out that plastic vent/grill thing at the bottom of the door. I know that when I clean the air filter on the lawn mower that it runs better. Maybe it’s just too dusty for the fridge to do its thing.

After a few more hours, I thought the coldness factor was a little better but still far from where it should be.

Somewhat stumped, I decided to dial the coldness dials back to their original position.

But I couldn’t.

They wouldn’t move.

While trying with all of my might to turn one of the knobs, I pushed on the back wall of the inside of the refrigerator for more leverage and heard the sound of cracking ice.

Well, duh?

The knobs were now frozen into place.

After pushing on the back wall here and there I concluded that there was probably so much ice built-up back there that the vent opening that cools the fridge from the freezer was probably totally blocked.

So I pulled the whole thing away from the wall, unplugged the beast, left the doors wide open, grabbed a hair dryer, and some towels.

After an hour or so of hair dryer action (the first action the hair dryer has seen in at least a decade), we loaded the fridge back up and plugged it in.

My ice cream is hard as a rock now; just the way I like it.

And sometimes, the Tang on the top shelf of the fridge even gets a little slushy. Mmmmm…Tang slushie…

Thanks MoneyBeag!

Your spiders saved me a fortune!

Can You Dig It?


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