Monday, October 31, 2005


Not much to report on Halloween. The home-buying situation is same as it was a couple days ago -- we're waiting for the appraisal on the new house, which has the potential to sink this whole deal if it fails ("but don't worry about it"), and we'll get our rates locked in as soon as the lawyers fax the P&S to the lenders. It should be there already, but if it's not, it'll be today.

Jess went to the house on Saturday with a full SUV-load of stuff to sell at a big tag sale. Our main concern was just not moving this stuff, so even the 60 bucks or so we made was a huge profit in my book. In the process she met all our neighbors, and they all know we're moving in. Works for me!

While she was doing that, I helped my mother move into her new apartment. The folks at the Kingdom Hall showed up in force, with a solid 3 adults, 3 teens, and handful of rugrats to help out. The move itself was insanely quick, and as Witnesses always are they were polite and generous and all that. It was kind of weird being there, because while I'm on the outside now I used to be on the inside. Their little jokes, their inside references -- I catch it all, but I'm not a part of it. Very odd feeling.

Still, I can't thank them enough for helping out. They paid for the U-Haul and turned what could have been a very stressful move into something fairly easy. After they left I helped my mother get situated, which took longer than the move itself. Overall it was about a six-hour "event" but only a couple hours of that was actual hard work.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Call the Waaaaahmbulance

A rock bounced onto my windshield yesterday, chipping it. By the end of the day I had a 9 inch crack. Now I gotta find a reputable place that'll come out to my work, make an appointment, get the insurance company involved, etc.

Just bitching, ignore me.

What use is a blog if you can't just bitch about your life in it? Where's that image of Jesus on the cross saying "I am SO writing about this in my livejournal" when you need it?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

House and Writing Progress

Things continue to progress on the home purchase. Yesterday I faxed a small stack of paperwork to Amber at Wells Fargo, took a call from our lawyers office requesting some title search documentation, and had Amber fax that to them. Nothing like playing go-between. I also sat with my insurance agent and found out what information I needed to get about the house (which I got last night and mailed to him this morning). The excitement never ends *yawn*.

On a more personal front, I finally sat down and wrote something to satisfy the next exercise in the fiction-writing book Clint loaned me. I've had mixed results with the exercises but their main purpose (in my mind) is just to get me used to expressing my creativity in a more focused way. This last one was a joy to write, even though I had been dreading it for a couple weeks (I know, you're supposed to do one a day, at least).

The exercise said to take a fight you had been in, whether verbal or physical, and turn it into a scene. The idea here is to explore writing about conflict, but also to help train you to take real life experiences and fictionalize them (i.e. lie about how they happened in order to make them more interesting :) ). My problem here is that I am not a fighter. I have never been in a real physical fight (been beat up plenty of times, ran away from plenty of fights, but that's not the same), and I try to avoid verbal fights as well. I am always trying to calm verbal fights down, get people to detach emotionally and discuss the reasons behind the conflict (perhaps to a fault). That's what I do. It's what I've always done.

But then something Jess said reminded me of something -- I used to have this real problem with arguing online. I was right, damnit, and loved to try and prove it. Looking back now I realize that I was wrong a lot of times, and even when I was right I was a real prick about it. But that's not the point. The point was I could fictionalize an online "fight" and make it a funny scene where I poke fun at my own history of being an online idealist with no real knowledge to back up his furiously defended opinions.

And so I did. It was a ton of fun to write, and looking back at it afterwards it definitely satisfied the conditions of the exercise, even if it's not quite what they had in mind.

Time to move on. I gotta try not to read the next exercise before I do it, because it makes me dread doing them. I should go in blind. But I saw the first sentence of the next exercise, and it has to do with recreating a scene in your memory which was important at the time but which you don't remember well, or something similar. Ought to be challenging, but I guess that's part of the point.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Housing Update

I only write about this because it's the biggest thing in my life right now ... and because I know that somtimes it's cool to read about the day-to-day process of this kind of thing instead of just hearing "Oh, it went fine." So, if this bores you, skip ahead to ... well, it's all rather boring isn't it? :)

The sellers are finally signing the Purchase & Sales Agreement today with their attorneys. Assuming nothing goes wrong with that, they'll be getting that to us and our attorneys quickly. This will enable us to fax it to Wells Fargo and lock in the interest rate. It also gives me enough confirmation that this will go through that I will feel comfortable contacting our landlady and giving our 30-day notice to vacate. I'll make that phone call and then follow up with a written letter.

I also received yesterday Wells Fargo's "Commitment Letter." This is their promise to loan us the money for the house assuming certain things are true. We need our attorneys to have this by Oct 31 in order to satisfy the conditions of the Purcahse & Sales, so it feels good to have it in my hands. I asked them to fax a copy to our attorneys. I'll call them tomorrow and verify that they received it.

An interesting note about how this works -- basically when we applied for the mortgage, we gave them a bunch of numbers about our financial situation. Average bank account balances, salary information, and retirement account balance, specifically. Well, the commitment letter spells out that they need proof of those exact numbers. This was a little shocking -- I expected, for example, for them to require proof that I was over (X) where (X) is some number less than my actual salary. But they evidently need exact proof.

This, of course, caused our first true panic. Our current bank balance is about half of what we claimed as our average throughout the past year. We'll be well over that figure by the time the loan closes, but my last printed statement shows the much smaller number. I called Wells Fargo this morning and spoke to the woman actually handling the loan (Amber ... Dawn handled the application process, Amber the actual loan ... is there something about mortgage reps' names?). She was just as personable as the last one I dealt with and assured me that everything would be fine. I'll fax her the statement showing less than the amount claimed as well as the income and 401K statements and if that isn't satisfactory they'll ask for more.

I keep forgetting the cardinal rule here -- they want to loan me this money. They'll look for excuses to loan me this money. Of course, they may charge me higher rates and bigger fees if I screw this stuff up, but it's highly unlikely I'd screw it up enough to lose the loan.

deep breath

So, yeah. Lots of excitement. Tomorrow the adventures in faxing begin. I'll be sending them:
  • 2004 W2
  • My last pay stub
  • Last month's bank statement (with balance = 1/2 claimed average)
  • Online statement printout from 401k (actual printed copy to come from Fidelity within 5 business days)

I also am supposed to talk to someone from Liberty Mutual tomorrow about homeowner's insurance too. This stuff never ends, FYI.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Did too much this weekend

Ok, I really didn't do that much. But Jess was struggling with a cold on Thursday and Friday. I felt a little under-the-weather on Friday but was doing okay. Saturday around noon I was feeling okay, so when we heard from Steve & Brenda that they were going to her cousin's farm store in Barre for some kind of haunted hay ride, it seemed like an okay way to spend some time with the kids.

First off, it was a good time. The kids were thrilled to see us, which is always heart-warming. And it was cold and just a little nasty out, which made the whole "late fall" feel work pretty well. We took a hay ride through their farm land, made scary for the kids by a couple of family members wearing masks and wielding chainsaws, chasing the ride on 4-wheelers. It was actually fairly entertaining, and a few of the kids were really scared. I also bought some locally brewed wine, beer, and miscellaneous food from the store, so that was cool.

But we were done. I could tell I was tapped out after that.

And then they all came over :).

It was a good time; we ate tacos, watched Samurai Jack, and caught up on a few things. So that's cool. But I was dead-on-my-feet beat by the end of it, and woke up Sunday feeling like death warmed over. And then I had to entertain my mother.

Overall, it was an enjoyable weekend, but not the "relax and recover from this cold" weekend I wanted.

Friday, October 21, 2005

It's fall. For real, yo.

So I go outside this morning, start the car, and turn on my wipers to clear away the layer of wet mist on my windshield.


Ok, so it's not so much wet mist as, well, frost.

I'd love to pretend to be upset, as I'm sure many who come in to work today will be, but I'm actually kind of happy inside. Fall in New England is where it's at as far as I'm concerned. And while I'm far from eager for Winter, I can't help but be excited by the evidence that Summer is well and truly gone and Fall is here to stay.

In other news, Jess has as an awful cold which I'm struggling not to catch (I may be failing this effort, grr) and our progress bar on the home purchase hasn't moved in a week (grr).

It's not all bad, though. I won a buck fifty playing poker online last night. See? There is good news!

Monday, October 17, 2005

Home Inspection (Invasion?)

I've been updating as things progress on the house, so I'll keep that up in the interest of completeness :).

Friday afternoon we had our home inspection. We only had a couple days to get it done so we didn't really have time to try and find someone who came well-recommended. We basically picked a reputable big-name place (Tiger) who others had dealt with and had them send somebody. The guy they sent actually turned out to be very thorough and pleasant to work with.

We learned a few important things during the home inspection, but the biggest is that we have no idea what it's like to own a home. Until this guy explained it, I had no idea how a boiler operated to heat your house. It's stupid, but it's true.

Anyway, there weren't any huge surprises during the inspection. The biggest issue we learned about that was new to us was that there were minor structural issues from when the house was put together. If you picture two "chunks" of the house, attached to each other, imagine that the process of adjoining these chunks leaves a small gap which you can look up at from the basement. You're looking up at two big beams, and there's this one-inch gap between them. Now there is material inserted between these gaps to prevent the house from shifting. Ideally, the material completely fills the gap. What happened here is that the builders left some small spaces in the material.

Picture you're filling a one-inch gap with half-inch plywood. Instead of making it so every inch of the gap had two boards in it, they interleaved them, leaving some areas with only one board and some with two.

I tried to do this in MSPaint but I couldn't really pull it off. Here's some ASCII art instead. The dashes are empty space, the X's are the beams, and the pound signs are boards in between. Here's what they did:


It's a little detail, but it shows me that this house wasn't put together by people who took their craft perhaps as seriously as they should.

Of course, he shows us this detail with the same sense of gravity with which he pointed out the totally-wrecked gutters (which they're taking care of) and the slight catch on one of the cabinet doors in the kitchen.

That's the surreal part. Every single issue earned his attention, but he did very little in terms of helping me understand the relative seriousness of the issues.

Anyway. After the inspection we sat with the sellers by the fireplace and just chatted about the whole thing. It was a nice way to end a fairly stressful afternoon, and a reminder of how good it will feel to have our own place....

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Quick house update

We spent the afternoon yesterday chasing down lenders for final figures. Last chance to get our business :).

Drew Mortgage, a smaller place in Shrewsbury who was recommended by our attorney, was a pleasure to work with but came in high on the rates.
Bank of America was also a pleasure to work with. Our representative was quick to reply and sent me detailed information via email, always a plus. I was ready to sign with them. And then...
Someone from Wells Fargo got back to me. Our rep was in training, but managed to get a co-worker to look over the file and send me an update. They were an eighth of a percentage point below Bank of America, and a quarter point below Drew Mortgage.

Decision made. I'm sick of comparison shopping. Rates change daily but consistently WF has either been tied for the best among its competitors or beating them. I'm going with them. I called today and spoke to our rep over there, and they're moving forwards with a letter of committment.

Now I just need the lawyer's office to fax them a copy of the Purchase and Sales. We can't lock the rates until they have that, and even though we've signed it, the sellers haven't.

It's always something....

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Big Busy Day

This morning we went to our Real Estate Attorneys' office and met with one of the lawyers there. She went over the Purchase & Sales agreement, told us what we need to do next, and got our signatures, and collected around 800 bucks (combined deposit on purchase offer + deposit on attorney fees).

Assuming Lee & John sign the forms now, we're committed to the purchase. This is a big step!

Very next priorities:
  • home inspection (supposed to be done by 15th, eek). Jess is arranging that today.
  • financing (done by 31st). Been on phone with 3 lenders today, figuring out best deal for us.
  • insurance - just need to do it soon

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Wells Fargo wakes up

Looks like I was unfair to Wells Fargo in my previous posts. I suggested that they were sluggish in getting back to me -- and they were -- but when I went back and read my email to them I can understand why. I wasn't really clear that I wanted the answers right away; it was easy to read into the mail a message of "we're waiting for more details before I get back to you."

So, when I actually emailed them (her, actually -- her name is Dawn, same as the paralegal at the lawyer's office) with 3 concrete questions, they got back to me right away (well, within 8 hours at least).

Rates are going up. A month ago, they quoted us 5.875. Now we're getting 6.125, which is the same rate GMAC is quoting, and the same rate Bank of America is quoting. WF gave us a slightly better rate on the 20% loan, though, once I asked them to recompute it for a 15/fixed or 20/fixed.

Right now, WF is looking good. GMAC's rates are competitive but their closing fees seem higher. Sallie Mae doesn't have any of their information online, and neither does Sherwood -- the two other places I was considering.

The next step? Signing the purchase contract.

Steps after that? Deciding for sure on the lender, faxing the contract to them to lock in the rate, and scheduling a home inspection.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Home Buying Adventures, continued

Looks like some progress is being made in our home-buying adventure. As the cliche says, once you involve lawyers in something, you lose all control.

Lee and John spoke to their lawyer, and accepted our offer, with certain limitations -- he (the lawyer) wanted to change some of the dates, and tie a deposit to the offer. He said he would prepare some documentation and fax it to our attorney, and that's the last we heard of it.

We called our attorney's office today, after finding out that the seller's attorney faxed them the revised documentation LAST THURSDAY. The paralegal at our attorney's office says they'll finish going over the documents today and we'll be able to move forward.

Frustrating, but ... oh well. We move.

As far as financing, we have two lenders we're talking to so far. I need to decide who else I'll involve, and then sit down and hammer it out later this week to determine who will get our business. So far:

Wells Frago: Were very nice on the phone, but have been unresponsive to my emails. I need to be able to do business via email, at least on some level. I can find time to hammer out a quick email, but don't have the time or privacy to handle financial matters on the phone at work. I need to know the revised rates if I were to go with Wells Fargo, and I need to talk to them about switching the 20% loan from a 10-year balloon to a 15- or 20-year fixed.

Bank of America: This is our bank, and the only people we've talked to in person. Again, the person we dealt with was very helpful and friendly. As BoA customers our closing costs would be reduced (bonus!) but this might be offset by extra legal fees if our lawyer doesn't work with BoA (he does work with WF). The rates at BoA seemed higher than WF but it was a whole month later, and the 20% loan was a 15-year fixed and not a 10-year balloon so it's not really an apples-to-apples comparison. The guy at BoA specifically said he does a lot of business via email and could answer my questions that way quickly. They'll also do all the paperwork at our local branch office, which is convenient. Finally, if our credit score is high enough, because we have accounts there they do reduced paperwork loans without any impact on rates. It's just a convenience issue but it does seem nice.

I probably want to talk to a couple more lenders. Sallie Mae, who does my school loan, is offering a reduction on closing costs because of that. GMAC, located in the same building where Jess works, has good word-of-mouth from my manager. Finally, Sherwood Mortgage in Worcester is also being mentioned as a good place by people we trust.

Do I feel like working with 5 lenders to get the best rate? Not especially. But this is serious money, so I probably should. Grr :).

Movie Review: Troy

I finally saw Troy last night, after letting it sit on my end table for over a month. Go netflix!

In brief, I was disappointed.

The movie had no life in it. Something was missing, and it was missing across the board. The scenes felt play-acted; I wasn't seeing Achilles, I was seeing Brad Pitt acting out his lines. The fights were acceptable but most were lacking any real impact. Even the props seemed off to me, and I can't explain why. Sure, some were awesome, but many just seemed like ... props.

I think Jess put it best, fairly early in the movie. "I should be feeling awed by this, but I'm not."


One other nit -- the movie is rated R. You've got naked people everywhere, but all the "naked bits" are hidden by clever shooting. What is the point of that? It's a distracting flag of disbelief, and while it bothers me in PG-13 movies I can at least understand the point. In an R-rated movie it's unforgivable and pointless.

I've seen worse movies, sure. But I was expecting better than this. I would not recommend it -- you've got better ways to spend 2h45m....