Sunday, February 16, 2014

Signing Day

It felt like it was never going to happen. We are still not officially approved for our mortgage, but we were able to make our final selections, today. From the beginning, we have had the mindset that we would invest in structural upgrades, rather than cosmetic ones, and we stuck with that plan.
When we started down the road of building our home, we quickly realized that we would not be able to afford everything that we wanted. This was difficult to accept as we increased our maximum budget by twenty, and then forty percent. We are planning for the long-term, however.

This strategy has been validated by some of the blogs and anecdotes that we have heard from friends. Someone we know did the exact opposite as us. She spent extra money on all of the cosmetic updates, to make the house look great inside and out, but made the sacrifices on the structural side. No morning room, no four-foot extension, etc. A couple of years later, when they began pricing out the cost of building an addition onto their home, they really regretted their decision. Although the home is very nice-looking, it does not meet their needs the way that they thought that it would, and the cost of expanding is exorbitant.

The cost for adding cosmetic updates is much more palatable than the high cost of structural changes, and there are fewer complications. With that said, plain Jane siding is not going to win our new home any awards, and we are likely never going to reside it with brick or stone. Inside, however, we can paint, carpet, refloor, etc. to our heart's content, much more reasonably. One of our first priorities is finishing the basement space. While we pricing out different options in the initial stages of our experience, I noticed that the taxes went way up on one; it was the square footage of the finished space in the basement. So, we figured that we could buy our home with an unfinished basement and save on taxes while we finish it, one room at a time.

  • Morning room
  • 4' extension on family room
  • Side fireplace
  • Attached garage
  • Alternate master suite
  • Kitchen counter peninsula
  • Tray ceiling in the dining room (our only purely aesthetic option) - my wife wanted one nice thing
  • Maple spice cabinets
  • Kitchen recessed lighting
  • Family room recessed lighting and ceiling fan
  • Ceiling fan prewires in all bedrooms (Ryan Homes does not include overhead lighting. This is one completely ridiculous thing. The ceiling fan options are so-so quality and overpriced, so we just had them wired and will buy and install, ourselves.)

Friday, January 3, 2014

Waiting is the hardest part

The last couple of weeks over Christmas and the New Year have entailed a lot of waiting. The mortgage application was submitted to the underwriter, who, in turn, requested more information. I know that this is the way that mortgage applications go, but it is still frustrating. New banking regulations have made banks extremely cautious, complicating the process. With the holidays, things have been slowed down a little bit more. Our NVR rep has been great to deal with, but there is nothing more to do than wait at this point, and I hate waiting...

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Flooring meeting

We met with Nicole at Rite Rug, today. Yet, again, we were thrilled with her knowledge and professionalism. With the holidays and everything else going on, a Saturday appointment worked best for us and she was so gracious, even though we were fifteen minutes late because of Christmas traffic.
As for the flooring options, we really lucked out. We started out with the first floor. We're getting laminate flooring in the kitchen, dinette, morning, and powder rooms, plus the hallway. The problem? All of the patterns are wood grain. We really prefer tile patterns. You can go "out of line" and pick different flooring, but there is no availability guarantee, which means that you risk them being out of stock and delaying the closing or having to choose a different pattern. Until a week ago, we would have had to order samples and come back another time to make the choice, but they just added residential flooring services, so they had a ton of options in the showroom! We are taking the chance and chose a stone tile option with some tan, rust, and dark grey colors, the Armstrong Roman Grey pattern. We also picked a wood grain backup option, just in case, Bruce Bronzed Jatoba. We plan to keep this flooring for the long-term, so we went with top-of-line (G) laminate. If you think of cardboard with a low-quality picture on it when you think of laminate, you really should take another look. Laminate has come a long way since it was introduced in the US twenty years ago. The high quality flooring is textured, has high-quality images, is very durable, and very affordable. We have a stone tile laminate in our current entry and kitchen and people have to do a double-take and look closely before confirming that it is not actual stone.
We're getting carpet in the family, living/study, and dining rooms. We upgraded the carpet to second tier (B) because it is stain-treated through the whole pile; the bottom tier is only topically treated. The second tier is also 3.25 rated out of 4 for wear, as opposed to 2.5. Even though we plan on replacing the carpet within a few years, with three kids and a dog, the more durable carpet is a better choice. There are only about a dozen color choices of mostly tans. We chose a dark tan for the family room, and light medium grey for the study and dining room. My wife and I disagreed about the padding, but I went with her choice, the base 5#. We ended up choosing a steel blue-medium grey for zone 2 (the bedrooms, upstairs hallway, and steps. While there is no charge for different options in the first floor rooms, every different option in zone 2 comes with a $200 fee, on top of prices variations.
The bathroom options were the one thing that was extremely disappointing. I realized after the fact that it was because we chose level 2 tile. We get two options - white and almond. The base countertop comes in your favorite color, as long as your favorite color is white. Ugh. I said multiple times that I was not happy at all with the options, but Nicole did not once point out that there would be more options if we upgraded the option. In the end, we chose the almond tile. We think that it will look better than having white walls, with a white countertop, and white floor time, but I really do not think that it will look good.
As for the laundry room, we went for base-model rolled linoleum resilient flooring. It's ugly and cheap, but no one should ever see it, except us. We chose a stone tile pattern, which my wife is virtually certain is the same exact pattern that we chose when we temporarily needed to cover our kitchen floor in our current home. If it was good enough then, then why not, now? The thing to be aware of with the linoleum flooring is that it is glued down! It can be a huge pain to pull up. Originally, we were just going to go with linoleum throughout the house and then pull it up and replace it, ourselves, but once we remembered this, we elected just to pay for the linoleum that we want to keep. Carpet is easy to pull up, generally, but the staples that hold down the padding can be a pain. It is nothing compared to linoleum glue, however.

Pictures do not do it justice, but this is our first choice.

The linoleum for the laundry room, up against the second-floor carpet.

Our backup laminate flooring selection.

Our laminate flooring and counter top selections. Again, the colors are off on the picture.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Wiring Meeting

We met with Jeff, the rep for Guardian Home Technologies, the low-voltage wiring service provider for Ryan Homes in the greater Pittsburgh region. When I made the appointment, I explained that while I undertsood the value of their services, I helped start a home automation company (albeit a long time ago), so I would listen to what they had to offer, but would not be very likely to add anything more than the base services.

In the Cobblestone plan, the standard wiring options are 2 Cat 5e runs (phone or network) and 2 coaxial cable runs (television). This is very basic. We only wanted television runs to the master and the family room, but Jeff convinced us that the study would be good, too. He also convinced me that they way that Ryan builds homes with their super energy-efficiency, they seal all of the walls and the ceiling in the basement, making it much more difficult to wiring after the fact. I don't know if it's true, but for a reasonable $95/run, we ended up also adding two more network connections, as well. The one thing that is genuinely top-notch (at least from what I could tell from the pictures) is the cabinet. When it comes to structured wiring, the cabinet is the heart of your home system and having a good one with plenty of room to work and the ability to easily add and remove modules to keep the system organized is critical. The Guardian base cabinet seems to meet these needs very nicely. It is also a nice-looking unit, which my wife was particularly happy about. It appeared to have a white enamel coating on the steel frame.

The one thing that my wife was genuinely interested in was a security system. These systems can be purchased from independent providers very affordably, but when it comes to the monitoring, they may leave a lot to be desired. Jeff was quick to steer us towards a special that they had, which saved us a great deal on the upfront costs. The monitoring is a little more than I would like, but in line with going rates for such services. For security reasons, I am not going to get into what, exactly, we chose. Needless to say, Gaurdian has a lot of options with motion detectors, keypads, door chimes, window and door opening detectors, mobile phone backups, a mobile app, etc. The mobile app is a double-edged sword, because you will be in serious trouble if that ever gets hacked, but the convenience is a really nice option to have.

Overall, again, it was a very pleasant experience. Jeff's job is to sell things and he is good at his job, but he was not pushy and accepted "no" as an answer. He was very reasonable and helped us to make what I feel are educated decisions. At the end of the day, we only added a few hundred dollars to our mortgage, but did add a monthly service fee with a five-year agreement (one thing that I was definitely not thrilled with).

Again, we met in the morning room of the model home, and that stupid chair leg is still loose, but I couldn't help looking around and thinking of how nice it will be to have a room like that in our house...

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Initial NVR Mortgage Application Meeting

We met with our mortgage specialist, tonight. Kendall has been truly great this far. I was as little worried because we heard from the flooring and wiring folks at Rite Rug and Guardian Home Technologies on Monday, but not from NVR Mortgage. We have 30 days to settle the former, but only seven days to take care of the latter. Kendall called me on Tuesday, however, and was able to work around my work schedule to make an appointment for tonight.

We met at the Cobblestone model home, and completed the application in the morning room. You've got to hand it to the Ryan Homes folks; they know what they are doing. Except for my chair having a loose leg, everything was warm and inviting, and I could completely envision myself having Christmas dinner, doing homework with my children, or having a glass of wine with my wife in the morning room in our new home.

As for the actual application, other than being long, it was surprisingly painless. Kendall explained everything to us and was incredibly patient with all of our questions and my need to at least skim the documents before signing them. She had everything prepared, including having the documents in a sensible order and highlighting where the needed to be signed. I could tell that she'd done it, before. She assured us throughout the process that our credit score allowed us for the best rate (although it was not quite as high as I would have expected or wanted). She gave us excellent advice on what to do and what not to do, to keep our score and mortgage-worthiness high. The most surprising thing was that they had a problem with our bank account transactions.

Last year, we took a Dave Ramsey class called Financial Peace University. We loved it and learned a number of things, including that we were already doing many things the Dave Ramsey way. Just to be clear, I think that Dave Ramsey would call us insane for buying this home. Regardless, the basis of the program is to pay for as much as possible with cash, and to save up for expenses (predictable and unpredictable). The problem with that is that we withdraw and deposit cash from the bank on a regular basis. The banks apparently consider these "large" cash transactions a red flag. And by "large," I mean hundreds, not thousands of dollars. This came as a complete shock to us. We had never imagined it, but these cash transactions can be considered evidence of illegal off-the-books business. When you think of it that it way, it kind of makes sense, but it still seems crazy to me... being penalized for using cash...

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Excited Homeowners To-be!

As we left our agreement signing last night, it was snowing pretty badly, so we drove straight home. Our children were pretty upset about the prospect of leaving our current neighborhood. One way that got them excited about the move was by agreeing to let them put the SOLD stickers up the next day. It was surprisingly fun for our whole family, including my in-laws:

It's official!

It's official! We signed our initial agreement last night. It's kind of overwhelming with all of the decisions that need to be made over the first 14-day and 30-day periods. Full mortgage application, exterior colors, finalizing options, and choosing the flooring is just the start! All this over the craziness of Christmas. Ahhhh!

We are so excited. Our daughters are excited, but also anxious about leaving our current house, neighborhood, and friends behind. Also starting at a new school is always a cause for anxiety. Our contact and experience with Avonworth thus far has been stellar, however. Just knowing that we will have our forever home, and that all of our children will be able to stay in the same schools and home until they go to college is the type of stability that we have been working so hard for, for years. This is my first post about our journey, but I will backfill a few posts with our experience and update this blog with everything that happens as we move forward.

I would just like to thank all of the other Ryan Homes bloggers out there who have taken the time to chronicle their experiences. You have all simultaneously given me the confidence to make the decision and the ammunition to fight for the best price and against the pitfalls that they try to lead you into.