Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Everyone Loves a Good Christmas Story, right?

(We all get a little sappy around the holidays, so here I go...)

I heard a great bit on NPR this morning about random acts of kindness.

These random acts take the forms of Secret Santas, handing out $100 bills to total strangers in thrift stores, cafes and other places that may be frequented by downtrodden folks. Larry Stewart of Kansas City started the tradition in the 70s after a stranger gifted him with $20 at a time when he was down on his luck. After making his fortune in telecomm, he (anonymously) wandered through the community during the holidays, handing out cash to those in need.

Since his death a few years ago, others have picked up where Stewart left off. The NPR piece claims there are anonymous Secret Santas in about a dozen U.S. cities, mostly CEOs who feel like they have money to give back to the community.

The story included audio of the "new" Kansas City Secret Santa giving $100 to a couple in an urban thrift store. They were shopping for a space heater. The Secret Santa asked them how much they had to spend. When they responded, "$10," he inconspicuously passed them a $100 bill and said something to the effect of, "now you've got $110." Even though I couldn't see their faces, I could feel this couple light up with gratefulness and relief.

See more info and listen to the story here.

I always love hearing stories of kindness and generosity, but this year feels especially impactful because of prolific job loss, real estate distress and overall financial woefulness. I hope there are even more Secret Santas on the streets next year.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Temporary Quarters

Happy Holidays, blogland!

I haven't taken a photo of everything totally unpacked, but here's where we're camped out for now:

(Photo taken the day we moved in)

We're enjoying our adventure in the Virginia-Highlands. We found a one bedroom, one bathroom (with a sunroom) in an older apartment building. I.e., it was built in the 1930s and has lots of old "charm." Dan has given the place a pretty good makeover already, installing some practical items (extra rods in the closets, a coat rack, a key rack, etc.). I would like to say I handled most of the cleaning and unpacking... but Dan did the serious chunk of that, too.

Beyond the fun location (walking distance from Harry and Sons, American Roadhouse, Hand-N-Hand and Surin of Thailand - SCORE!), the other great thing about this place is that we didn't have to sign a traditional lease. We can be out when we find "the" house... whether that's in two months or five months.

So, to keep things consistent with my house hunting posts, pros and cons about the a-p-t:

  • Killer locale (proximity to shops, restaurants, bars and an overall walkable and bustling area
  • Affordable rent
  • Bigger than a traditional one bedroom
  • Didn't have to sign a traditional lease
  • Includes water, trash and heat
  • Slightly worse commutes for both me and the hubs
  • Roxxi's knee surgery seems to have slowed recovery due to now having to walk up and down the stairs
  • Dan = the dishwasher (i.e., we don't have one)
  • No washer and dryer in our unit (but at least there are shared ones in the basement)
  • Aesthetically, the place could use a little help

Friday, December 18, 2009

Google Voice Strikes Again: Now with more Christ's Birth

(From my husband)

"Hey Dad, It's around 2 o'clock. I just picked up those golf clubs. I had to withdraw 4 blocks here. There are 350 some reason. A. T M would work, but that's fine, thank you know that one of the the Fall or. Predefine about alright. 50 100 I heard. Whatever 200 trying to get you to know if it's Ross I can definitely grow, strictures. Anyways, got your fellow they've got a birthday present, so I'm excited and Andy, I was Peters Realty stopping by the office to drop off perishable Christ's birth so very nice. And yeah, I'm just sorry. I'll talk to you soon. We have a good day."

You tell me what that probably means...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Hours of Endless Fun (Google Voice)

When my friend Paul invited me to use the Google Voice (formerly Grand Central) app a few weeks ago, I had no idea what I was in for.

What I thought: Google Voice seems like a great way to handle voicemails. When you can't listen to your voicemails, Google Voice delivers them to your e-mail and to your phone in written form. Wow, this will make life a lot easier! Not to mention I don't always want to physically listen to my voicemails -- now I can just read them! (If you need to listen, you can click to play the message.)

Reality: Google Voice only accurately translates about 40 percent of what people say. Convenient? Ummm... maybe a little bit. Funny? YES! The computer generated messages are effing hilarious!

A few examples:

(From my brother Ben)
What Google Voice captured: "Hey give me a man. Gimme a call later."
What he really said: "Hey Katy B. It's Ben. Give me a call later."

(From my sister Anna)
What Google Voice captured: "Hey Hannah, I, and things dying at some point. Mister cost. You do want to go on Saturday evening. I don't know it's not to be dinner something. So gimme a call man. Love you bye."
What she really said: "Hey..umm it's Anna. I'll be driving from Columbus to Dahlonega on Saturday evening and I didn't know if you wanted to get dinner or something. So give me a call and... I love you, bye."

(From Mb)
What Google Voice captured: "Hey Baby, It's me a call. I'm just leaving a message and sorry I missed your call earlier. I'm heading home. I'll be home, so give me a call if you don't get me through everything lines give you a call back. I should be up for a while. Talk to you later. Bye."
What she really said: "Hey Katy, it's Mirabelle. I'm just leaving the gym. I'm sorry I missed your call earlier. I'm heading home and I"ll be home so just give me a call. If you don't get me for whatever reason, just give me a call back. I should be up for a while. Talk to you later. Bye" (hey baby back atcha!)

(And my all-time favorite, from my brother Paul)
What Google Voice captured: "Can a quit being. Lana Peterson 5 o'clock on Friday. I'll be back."
What he really said: "Hey Katy. Quit being lame and answer your phone. It's five o'clock on Friday. Love you. Bye."

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Inspiration: Kyle Maynard

This weekend, while helping my Aunt (Very)Vera out again, I had the pleasure of meeting Kyle Maynard. He was shopping with a friend and I recognized him from a news story.

Kyle isn't just a fellow Georgian and University of Georgia alum, he's a dude with an inspirational story. As if being an athlete isn't hard enough, Kyle has been a winning athlete in high school and (club) college wrestling... with no arms and no legs.

Kyle was born with a congenital defect that led to him not having any elbows or knees. While many people would let this get them down, Kyle has managed to not just led an average life, but an extraordinary one. He's regularly on the speaker's circuit, encouraging others to be the best they can be no matter what the circumstances. And boy would he know about beating the odds! This blog/article says his senior year record was 35-16. Incredible.

In our brief conversation, I told Kyle about something that you all may be interested in, too. I told him about another news piece I'd seen about a guy born with no legs who's made a project out of photographing people's reactions to him. He rolls around on a skateboard and snaps photos from below of others he approaches. The reactions to range from smiles and admiration to shock, dismay and discomfort. To add an additional level of interest to his photography project, Kevin Connolly traveled to several foreign countries to see how the reactions differ there. The result is a moving, interesting and brilliant series of photographs that Connolly describes as "15 Countries, 31 Cities, 32,000 photos, One Stare" on his site. Check out Kevin (another incredibly inspirational person) and his photography project here:

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

It's Over... Hallelujah!

Done. Finished. Stick a fork in it.

The house is sold ― and the papers have been signed. Closing wrapped just a few minutes ago.

Considering what happened when I prematurely posted our good news before, Dan and I wanted to wait this offer out before we said anything publicly. We accepted what I refer to as "offer #3" back on November 7. And because of the First Time Homebuyer Act ending on 12/1 (meaning everything had to be wrapped up by then), the whole process moved very quickly. Timeline is below:

  • Binding Agreement Date: November 7th

  • Due Diligence Ended: November 17th (meaning between 11/7 and 11/17, the buyers could pull out of the deal without explanation, without recourse)

  • Financing and Appraisal: FHA and ran through closing (due to short close)

  • Closing Date: November 25th

  • Move out date: Saturday, November 28th at 11 pm

Our goal in selling the house wasn't to try and make a big profit; instead, we hoped to sell at an okay price then make the most of this down housing market on the "buy" side. Because Dan bought the house before we met, this was my first experience with the whole house buying/selling process. It's been exciting, challenging, frustrating and sometimes a little emotional. But the late nights in September to get the house ready to list, keeping the house clean for three months straight and stressful negotiations were all worth it in the end.

I may think of additional advice later, but here are some things we learned in the process of selling our home:

  • Your house is only worth as much as someone will pay for it.

  • Not everyone will love your house as much as you did (we had nearly 30 visits before we even got our first offer).

  • You can't assume the first offer will stick.

  • A hardworking, professional, honest, well-selling agent (or team of agents) is invaluable. We are grateful to The Peters Company (Keller-Williams) for the selling, following up, and helping with negotiating and closing the deal. In this down economy, selling and closing a house is tough business.

  • Professional photography makes a world of difference in terms of giving online viewers a great first impression of your property. (FYI - we didn't pay extra for our professional photos for our listing; this was included when we listed with The Peters Company)

Closing ended on a good note. The buyers told Dan that they fell in love with the house the moment they stepped in the door. They were disappointed to hear previously that it was under contract then were grateful to find out they had another chance to buy it. The buyers were also very happy with the solid records we've kept about the house (everything from appliance instructions and explanations about what plants were used in landscaping to work orders and termite inspection reports).

From here, we move into an apartment for the next five to eight months. It will be fun to live in a different area for a little while (the Virginia-Highlands!) and to start house hunting.

Cheers to the next chapter of this adventure...


Monday, November 23, 2009

House #4

Sorry for the delay in between posts. It's been a busy but exciting time... we've been packing boxes, visiting new babies (hello little Mr. Chase Zoladz!) and apartment hunting*.

Okay, here's house number four from last weekend's house hunting excursion.

I had decently high hopes for this place. It's within our price range, features four bedrooms and an "open layout," is near Buckhead and Decatur — and is convenient to I-85 and 400. 

And... the house was just okay. I mean, I think it has lots of potential but it's just not the house for us. A tree or limb falling on the sunroom made the home feel moist, if even temporarily. And it's position on the lot didn't let in much natural sunlight. Like with the five-bedroom house near downtown Decatur, I'm glad we satisfied our curiosity to visit this house.

The house was neat — but I think it would have benefited from some staging.

  • Nice hardwood floors
  • No one will build in backyard because it's sloped and has a creek running through it
  • Four bedrooms
  • Enough within price range that we could put some money in it
  • Would shorten our commutes by five to ten minutes
  • Good-sized deck
  • Sloped yard with creek running through (i.e., not a very usable backyard) — the yard could also make the house victim to flooding/additional moisture
  • Smaller kitchen
  • House felt dark and moist (it didn't illicit the the warm, cheery feeling you hope to feel when you see a house)
  • Damage to sunroom from limb falling may be worse than what it appears
  • 1-car carport would be inconvenient 
  • Didn't feel like it had as much usable living space (though I think that it could work size-wise; the set up would be critical)
We decided to not go see the fifth house, as our agent pointed out that it was next to the interstate. In fact, our realtor almost laughed at me for wanting to see the house because of it's super crazy close proximity to I-85. Whoops. Should have checked the stats a little better...

*We plan to move into an apartment for five to eight months while we save and house hunt.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

House Hunt: House #3

After two houses that led to mild disappointment, we were happy to arrive at house #3. This house, like house #2, has been on the market for quite sometime. Despite its price not moving much over the past 12 months, our interest has remained peaked.

Master bedroom


Family room

Formal living

Relatively updated kitchen

Great deck for entertaining

This house is at the top of our price range as well, but considering that it's "move-in ready" (i.e., won't require much/any additional funds or work), it could be within reach after a few months of saving.

Dan and I both felt rather at home in this place. The layout is family friendly (don't start any rumors - no "family" for us just yet) and cozy. The home has four bedrooms, two baths, a formal living room and a TV/family room. I wish the kitchen were a little larger; but what it lacks in size is made up by the open floor plan (I can just visualize cooking and entertaining guests as they hang out in the family room). 

  • Great curb appeal
  • Move-in ready
  • Nice-sized front and backyards (with deck for entertaining)
  • Four bedrooms plus a second living area
  • Two-car garage
  • Good neighborhood (good school districts, opt-in swim/tennis community, friendly neighbors)
  • Wish the kitchen was a little larger (it's cute but it's about the same size as our current kitchen when you consider counter space and cabinet space)
  • Top of price range — and the sellers haven't budged on the price over the course of the listing
  • Laundry in the garage (note: this isn't a deal breaker by any means, but it is a little of a con)
  • Master suite is small-ish (bath has compact stand-up shower and could benefit from a light cosmetic update; bedroom itself is about the same as ours now)
  • Fourth bedroom is more suitable for an office — or eventual nursery (ah!)
Verdict: Definitely one to keep on our list. :)

Monday, November 16, 2009

House Hunt: House #2

We have been watching a 5 bedroom/3.5 bath house near downtown Decatur like hawks. This house was $359,000 but then went into foreclosure and has dropped multiple times in price.  Because the location and the size should make it an expensive house (tax info says it sold for about $550,000 in 2007), we knew something had to be off.

And so it goes with most things that seem too good to be true... this house was too good to be true. 

This once beautiful house has not been well maintained, not to mention it's been the probable victim of foundation troubles (the hills and valleys in the floors were unreal) and mold and moisture damage. The online photos show an "updated kitchen;" upon live inspection, it looks as though they put up nicer cabinets for show. 

Our realtor told us the house once was a duplex and/or apartments for college students. That nugget helped us account for the awkward and choppy layout.

Quasi-updated kitchen.

Neat glass light fixture (not neat enough to buy the house though)

Single-paned glass windows that overlook a concrete slab to the street.

Possibly the house's original fireplace.

Built-ins in the foyer. 

Mold. ANd my stepdad touched it just to be sure. Gross! (Mold was in most rooms of the house)

Odd little room upstairs. Our realtor said, "this would have made a great fraternity house!"

Second fireplace. 

You can't really tell from the photo, but this branch is on the roof. I'm talking laying and pressing down on the roof.

  • Killer location
  • HUGE (we joked that we could get lost in this house)
  • Period detailing 
  • Hardwoods
  • No covered parking
  • Countless repair needs inside and out
  • Foreclosure (means it will likely be sold "as is" — and it's tough to estimate how much the repairs would cost)
  • Choppy layout

The verdict: This house is NOT for us. This house needs major, major work that these can't fully explain. It's really a shame that the place has fallen into disrepair. Our group consensus is that it should probably be turned back into affordable college apartments. At least our curiosity has been satisfied. 

House Hunt: Stop #1

Our first stop yesterday was at a super cute three-bedroom, two-bath house in a great area of Decatur (read walkable to shops and restaurants and lots of awesome stuff).

The house is at the top of our price range, but especially since it was vacant, we wanted to check it out. This place had an immaculate red brick exterior with a nice screened-in porch. Other noteworthy info about this house: It has been on the market since July, had a price reduction and immediate "under contract" status in October but is now back on the market at its original price.

Our first impression inside was a good one. The house featured high ceilings, brick fireplaces, gorgeous hardwood floors and other 1920's/1930's period details. The layout was inviting and the rooms all good sized.

Wait for it... wait for it...

Oooh. The kitchen and bathrooms need major updating. Booo! The kitchen cabinets haven't been updated in 30-plus years and the floor is a bad linoleum. The bathrooms wouldn't be as major to update, but the cruddy broken tiles and dated tubs have to go.

  • High pitch in attic could mean a more affordable addition/expansion later
  • Decent-sized master suite with need office nook and relatively spacious master bath
  • Storage in an unfinished basement/crawlspace
  • Gorgeous hardwoods
  • Great curb appeal
  • Stunning period details (love me some old house!)
  • Spacious deck in backyard (plus a private deck on the master suite)

  • No covered parking (typical for this area)
  • Carpet in some areas of the house
  • Top of our price range
  • Older home may equal more upkeep
  • If the price were lower, we may be convinced otherwise... but we were really would prefer a 3/2 to have a second living area or basement
Verdict: it's really a shame this house is at the top of our price range. If it were $30k under our top, we'd consider making it a project.

Will post the other three this week...

Mom and Tripp, thanks for coming along to see a few of the houses. That was fun!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

House Hunting Today!!

In just a few hours, we'll be going to check out a few homes for sale. Because the first one I posted about on Wednesday is now off the market, we added two more to today's search:

4/2 in Decatur

3/2 in a historic area of Decatur

We're not in a position just yet where we're comfortable buying one of these houses — but we're looking forward to seeing what's out there and what we may feel comfortable buying after a few months of apartment living.

Will keep you guys posted...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

I'm no scientist or mathematician, but...

It doesn't seem like there could be TWO of these big bottles of wine in that box. Really?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

House Hunt

While we're not yet ready to buy, Dan and I thought it would be fun to start getting a feel for what we may be able to buy in a few months. Because our house isn't officially sold — and we feel bad about displacing anyone from their home so we can come see it — we are going to only visit vacant houses for now.

Here are the ones we'll be swinging by on Sunday:

3/2 in Decatur...UPDATE: booo. This one is under contract. :(

5/3 in great spot in Decatur (note: this one looks like it needs major work — we'll see)

4/2 in North Atlanta

3/3 in North Atlanta

I'll keep you guys posted about the hunt (planning to take pictures when we stop by each house)! We'll also be asking our realtor about other neighborhoods we ought to check out. Know if any great houses for sale in the Atlanta area with at least three bedrooms and and two bathrooms (and hopefully a family room or basement)? Comment with the link!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Offer #3: Does this complicate things?

And so it continues...
We've been countering back and forth with the second buyers (the ones who I blogged about on Wednesday). Their offer was lower than we would have liked -- and they were asking for quite a few of our existing appliances and furnishings (TV, washer/dryer, kitchen cart, etc.). They've come up some but not yet to where we want them to be. And so we wait...
In the mean time, another offer came in today from a showing that happened on Monday. This offer, like the second one, was lower than we would have liked... but in counter negotations, they came back and said they are willing to meet us at a number we feel comfortable and confident in.
Our realtor will be nudging offer #2's realtor this evening (letting her know there's another offer on the table and they need to make a decision).
Again, it's not over until papers are signed at closing, but we feel this activity is promising.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Meet Me This Weekend (and Eat Free Food)

Anna and I will be helping out our fantastic and entreprenuerial Aunt Vera. VeryVera is seeing how well her already popular "Gourmet to Go" casseroles would be accepted with the Costco crowd (starting with the Alpharetta, Georgia, Costco location). I don't know exactly what my role will be — but I do know that we'll be giving out samples of her various dishes and interacting with customers to see what their reactions are to the food.

(And to VeryVera's brand manager, I apologize that the below formatting got all funky when I copied and pasted from my e-mail.)

See details below:

We will be at the Alpharetta COSTCO this Thursday- Sunday!
VeryVera will be at the Alpharetta Costco store from open to close Thursday-Sunday November 5th-8th. Pick up our Gourmet to Go Best Sellers at the AWESOME savings you know you can expect when you shop at Costco!
Not only can you save big on these delicious VeryVera treats, we will be sampling them all day long as well! So stop by to meet Vera and sample away!
Is one of these VeryVera products your personal favorite?
- Shrimp & Crawfish Casserole
- Chicken & Wild Rice Casserole
- Creamed Spinach
- Parmesan Squash Casserole
- Cheddar Chive Biscuits
- Pecan Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce
You can participate in the decision making too! Be sure to buy all of your favorite dishes to show your support! The top selling items this weekend may be permanent fixtures in YOUR Costco warehouse before you know it!
The BEST Creamed Spinach EVER!
You know you are on to something when you get to enjoy something this delicious and know it's good for you too! A VeryVera staff favorite, our creamed spinach is delicately enhanced by the flavors of parmesan cheese, cream, cracked black pepper, and of course that pinch of nutmeg that was seemingly made just for spinach! ENJOY!