Saturday, February 26, 2011

House Hunting: Moving in and Pics

Moving. One of the least favorite words of all in the Skloss house. We hadn't packed anything, not even one box, when we closed. Thankfully, two people we like to call Nana and Papa came in to rescue us!

I can't even begin to imagine the thoughts that crossed their mind when they stepped into our apartment. We had been in limbo for the past couple of weeks and you could definitely tell by the looks of our apartment. It was Monday and we had people scheduled to help move all the big stuff on Friday so we definitely had our work cut out for us.

We worked really hard that week. It was such a tough week but we really couldn't have done it without Mike's parents. I think Bobby about went into shock several times when he would think he had seen all there was to pack and Mike would show him one more closet (or the garage!). Bobby and Anita both walked through the week with us calmly and patiently helping us through all of the work that needed to be done.

Anita and Bobby stayed at the new house starting on Monday while Mike and I kept the kids at the apartment until the move was complete. Each day Mike and Bobby would pack the Expedition up and Bobby's truck up and unload them at the new house. The goal was to have all the small stuff out of the way when the guys came to help with the big stuff on Friday. The boys worked SO hard going up and down the stairs so many times during the week (without complaining). Anita was on Nana-duty and I was on packing. It was LONG!

Friday came and most everything was moved out. The guys moved all the big stuff and apartment was looking pretty empty. At least it seemed empty until Mike and his dad had to make about six more trips to finish it up! It was definitely one of the hardest working weeks we've had as a family but we all worked together and it was really neat on Friday when we got to sleep in our house for the first time.

Once again, Anita and Bobby stepped up and offered to help us through the next week as we unpacked and got settled. We got a lot done and we were so excited to have so much space to move around!

Over the next couple of weeks, we celebrated our first Thanksgiving in our house and then Christmas. We have been moving right along unpacking but we're still waiting to hang anything up. Each week we have new goals and I'm happy with the progress we've made so far.

Clay's birthday is coming up in May and we're hosting his first ever birthday party with friends. I'll be spending the next couple of months getting everything in order for us to finally have guests!

Since it's been such a dry spell of pictures on the last couple of posts, here's a few of the house before we moved in. Hopefully, in the next couple of months I can post some updated ones with all of our furniture and decor.

I'm so glad to be done with all the posting about the house hunt but really glad that I took the time to write it all out- it's therapeutic! It all seems so long ago and it wasn't that long ago at all. We are still grateful every day for this blessing!

House Hunting: Contract #5- Closing the Deal

After we finally made a decision to go with the new house, we put in a call to the builder's agent. We called, our realtor called and we got no response for several days. We were SO frustrated but we just assumed that the house was under contract and he would not be returning our calls.

Just when we decided to wait for a few months to start looking again, the guy finally called back. He told Mike that the other buyers that were supposed to sign papers that morning had stood him up so if we wanted to go to the house and pick up their contract that it was waiting in the kitchen cabinet. We got in the car and went.

We were kind of surprised that their "contract" was one sheet of legal paper with some numbers on it and a final sales price (that didn't even add up to the right number). We took the paper, signed it and called their finance company to set up our pre-approval before we signed our paperwork.

Because of the very attractive incentives that they had offered through their lender, we knew we would need to stick with them. Now we had loved our lender on the house before. He was super informative and always returned phone calls promptly and was so kind to us so we were so sad to have to move on from him.

We had worked with many lenders in the past couple of months with different Officer Next Door houses (HUD requires that you use certain lenders for specific houses), and then different lenders with the first home we were going to build and the latest contract that we had been under.

We had never had any problems with a pre-approval. We had just come out of a contract for almost exactly the same sales price so we knew financing wouldn't be an issue. I called their financing people immediately after we picked up the contract and gave them all of our info for the pre-approval. It was early in the day so I figured they would have plenty of time to get the pre-approval done before we went in to sign documents that night and give them our earnest money. The longest we'd ever waited for a pre-approval was a couple of hours. Huh.

I called the lender several times throughout the day and she kept saying she was working on it. I called the sales guy to tell him that we wouldn't be handing over our earnest money without a pre-approval letter. He didn't seem concerned. So that evening, with no pre-approval letter, we
drove over to the sales office.

This was our first meeting with their sales rep. Since the sales office was just minutes away from our apartment, we took separate cars and Mike took the kids to Chick-Fil-A while I did the first signing and then we would switch and I would take the kids home.

In the first couple of minutes of meeting us, the sales agent starts telling the realtor and me cop stories. Now our realtor is a police officer and I'm married to a police officer so you would think these stories would be favorable toward cops but no, no. Not this guy. He starts asking our realtor to try and get him out of some tickets he got in another city. I was leery but we moved on.

When we sat down I started asking him questions about the neighborhood. He said he wasn't the original agent for the neighborhood so he didn't know anything about it. There was no offering to call and check on it. Just a flat, "I don't know".

We got through about three pages of the paperwork (out of about forty) and I asked him a couple of questions about the energy efficiency of the house. We had been to visit enough builders throughout the process that I knew that they usually hand you some type of folder or pamphlet that tells you all about how they go above and beyond the government expectations for efficiency. I had gone to their website and wasn't able to pull up anything about that house or the neighborhood (all homes were done by the same builder) as far as energy efficiency. So here I am to ask the sales guy about this house and nothing. No pamphlet, no folder, nothing. This builder's salesman knew nothing about the energy efficiency of the house.

At this point I say, "Okay, well then sell it to me. Tell me why I should buy this house." His response: "Well, it's a little late now, isn't it??" Not really. I had only signed three papers and Mike hadn't signed anything. We hadn't given them a check or anything else. The guy was a total smart mouth and completely arrogant. I had been pretty patient through all of the home buying up until then but he was talking to someone who was VERY done with buying houses and had NO patience left (and Mike was feeling the same way).

We got to the end of the signing and they asked for our earnest money check. I reiterated that we didn't want to hand over our earnest money without a pre-approval. He said that was fine and we could bring it in the morning. I wasn't sure what was going on with the pre-approval and I asked him if he thought the deal was secure. His response, "I might have to do a little dance in front of my superiors but (pointing to the wall of awards behind him) I'm pretty good at dancing." Like I said, arrogant.

The next morning rolled around and still no pre-approval. Mike and I decided that we were done looking at houses and we wanted to try and make this work. Since they said it should be fine and we had signed paperwork stating we would get our check back if the pre-approval didn't work, we just decided to take them the check and hope for the best.

The next couple of weeks were brutal. For the first week, each day I would call and ask the lender about the pre-approval and each day her response was the same, "I'm working on it but can you send me..." I sent her every piece of financial paperwork from my whole life and Mike's in the first two days.

She did tell me that there had been three other buyers who had tried to get approval for the same house in the last week but they had all been denied. It explained all of the people who were in the house each time we were there but I can't say that gave me much hope. There was nothing more to send paperwork-wise but she would come up with one more reason why she couldn't get the pre-approval done. It was the end of the month so it was busy, then it was the beginning of the month so it was busy, she had too many projects, they had given her too many loans to complete and every other excuse you could think of.

We went in at one point to talk to the sales guy and ask him what he could do to move the situation along. After telling us some more fun cop stories about how he likes to be rude to officers who pull him over (he freely admits that he doesn't have a front license plate and likes to go over 100), he told us "I can't just go tap-dance on her desk and make her do work." I was having a really hard time holding my tongue. He was totally rude and never willing to do anything to move the deal along at all.

We had already canceled our contract with the other house so this was the only house we were working with. It was this one or no house for a few months. We were just at a point where we wanted to get some answers so we could move on.

Our closing was set 1 month from the day we signed the paperwork and it had already been a week with no pre-approval (again, the longest we had ever waited was a couple of hours). I just wasn't sure whether this company would ever be able to get their act together long enough to make our loan go through if they couldn't even get a simple pre-approval done.

At that point, I scheduled our trip to Great Wolf Lodge. We were so burned out on the house stuff and I just wanted to get away with the kids and not feel like I was sitting by the phone waiting for it to ring. I was hoping that maybe if I just gave the lender a couple of days with no phone calls that maybe she could get it all wrapped up. I'm so, so glad we did that trip. It was such a great decision to go and we came back rejuvenated.

While we were away, they finally got the pre-approval letter for us. It had been two weeks. That meant we still had several other things to take care of. The sales guy threw a huge fit for Mike about wanting to have an inspection done. "It's a brand-new house! Why would you want to waste your money inspecting a brand-new house??"

It got to the point where we would only talk to him through our realtor. Mike's normally pretty passive but at one point he told me that he's arrested people who were more cooperative than the sales guy. I believe it. Between the sales guy and the lender, there was a lot of stress in our apartment in those weeks.

The inspector came and (big surprise!) there were some things that needed to be fixed before we moved in. Our a/c had been run with no filters for a couple of months and the system needed to be cleaned out, plus some cracked brick and some outlets that needed to be fixed. We were glad to have "wasted" our money on an inspector.

So now that our pre-approval had been done and the inspection had been done, we still had to wait for the final approval. We were supposed to close in 1 month and it had already been 3 weeks. I really, really tried to be patient and not call the lender every day but our closing date was a week away and I had not packed one box.

I had scheduled the kids to make a trip to Mike's parents when we set our closing date originally so that I could take some time and pack without helpers. The trip came and the kids left but we still had no word on a final approval. We were so frustrated and overwhelmed.

Our closing date was set for Friday, October 30. Monday came but we had decided the week before that we were done playing on their terms. We had told them from day one that both Mike and our realtor had to work late that Friday and that we would need to reschedule closing but it really seemed pointless to reschedule since we didn't have the final approval yet anyway. And still, no boxes were packed.

Tuesday and Wednesday came with no word and finally on Thursday we heard from the lender. The loan was approved! We were so done at that point and we told them that there was no way we were closing the next day and they would have to wait until Monday (when Mike and our realtor were off from work).

Mike and our realtor got one call after another from the sales guy who was suddenly interested in our business. Even though it would have been entirely possible for Mike to go to the firm for closing right after work (it was just a couple of miles away), we still wanted to wait until Monday when we could get someone to look after the kids and we could focus on our paperwork. But it was the end of the month and the sales guy needed to make numbers. It was time to make a deal.

I have to admit I was still a little torn knowing the sales guy's numbers would benefit from us closing in October but when he offered us an oversized stainless steel refrigerator that matched our other appliances, I was ready to be done and sign those papers!

Our closing was at 6:30 and we had our two little companions to keep us company. The people doing the closing were very nice and very gracious about the kids. Before we left we were cleaning up a whole thing of paperclips on the floor, a bag of goldfish (crumbs and all) on the floor, a crazy amount of Dum-Dum wrappers, the coffee that came out when Clay put his hand up to the coffee maker and so,so many more messes. It was a long night (3 hours) and we were all so ready for it all to be over so we could have our keys.

Even now thinking back, it was so much fun getting those keys. The homebuying process was tough- so much tougher than I ever expected. There were so many times when we were ready to throw in the towel but I am so glad we stuck it out and stuck to what we wanted.

We totally feel that this is the house God wanted us to have from the beginning. We know that He used the process to help make our marriage stronger, our finances better and to help us grow as a family. We know He was faithful to us each step of the way and we praise Him daily for the blessing that we finally can call HOME.

House Hunting: A Final Officer Next Door Bid and Contract #4

I keep looking at the blog with it's lack of pictures on the last couple of posts and it looks so boring! So, sorry for the lack of pictures (I stuck one in here just for fun) and all the little details but it's a part of our story and the only way I'll ever remember all these little things to share with the kids someday when they go to buy their first houses!

Well, we picked up and moved on quickly after seeing that the contract on the new home wasn't going to work out. While we knew we could have probably worked it all out and made it to closing, we just didn't have the sense of peace that we really needed to have on our first house.

Our realtor came into town and when he did, boy did I ever have a list for him! It was a little crazy since we knew we would have the kids with us and we really wanted to give each house a good look. I had done all the homework to make sure our list was narrowed, even calling realtors to make sure homes were still available before I put them on our list so we wouldn't waste anyone's time.

I'm not 100% but I'm pretty sure that first day we looked at 17. If the house was occupied, Mike would sit in the car with the kids while I ran in with our realtor. If I gave it the thumbs up, we switched and then we would compare notes. We knew what we wanted so we were in and out pretty quickly!

We looked at a few sets of houses and I wanted to love them all (I really wanted to find something!) but we would scratch things off our list for one reason or another. I thought it was so funny how Mike and I have lived together for years but what we love in a house and decorating is so different! He hated houses with red dining rooms (I like it), I like houses with lots of hallways and closets and unique features (he couldn't care less), I thought renovating would be fun (he thought it would be work) and the list goes on and on. It's amazing we ever agreed on a house (and yet we did several times!).

As we were looking at houses, we still kept trying at Officer Next Door. It was a little complicated because our focus was all over the place. After we spent several trips out looking at houses, a really good house popped up on Officer Next Door. It was exactly what we were looking for in our search but normally it would have been way out of our price range (without the 50% off). The price was right and it was on a golf course. Mike loved it! Awesome houses are pretty rare on Officer Next Door so we checked it out.

Each time we would consider an OND house, it was such an emotional process. We spent a lot of time praying about each house and we were always torn about whether it was God's plan for us or not. Clearly, none of them were but with this house I think we felt like we had been led there more than any others. It had so much of what we were looking for that had it been closer to Mike's work, we probably would have bid on it if it was on the market.

It was quite a distance away but we drove the area several times and thought it would be a great opportunity. When the bids came back, we hadn't won again. After so many no's on OND and the 3rd contract not working out, we were a little gun shy about getting excited with any more houses.

We did keep looking, though, and we found another home that we loved. It was in the same city where Mike worked, built in 1998, was a great price and the whole kitchen had been recently remodeled. I loved the exterior and the layout and I could immediately picture us having Christmas mornings in that house (and I hadn't felt that with any of the others).

On our first tour of the house, I told our realtor I was sold. I loved so much about it. There were some issues, though. When we arrived during our appointment window to see the house our realtor couldn't get his key to work. When we came back to see it, the owner was home.

I was able to talk with him in the yard while Mike toured the house and he told me all about their situation. He was self-employed and his income had dropped significantly in the last year. They couldn't afford their house anymore and had to do a short-sale (where the bank agrees to take less than is owed on the house).

When Mike came back, we both agreed that we wanted to make an offer. The price was way below the comparables for the neighborhood and had just recently dropped (it wasn't in our price range before). We wanted to get the house before someone else did!

Our realtor told us all about the short sale (he was buying a short sale at time, too!). We had done some research on our own and based on that and our realtor's experience with buying a short sale, we were prepared to put it in our bid and wait months for a response. Our response was back within a week and our bid was accepted!

We were thrilled but also really nervous. We thought we would have time to let it all sink in and months before anything would happen but it moved so quickly. We started doing all of our documents but there was a wrinkle in the seller's financing. They had taken out a 2nd lien on the house to pay for all of the kitchen remodeling and the 2nd lien holder wasn't willing to settle.

Our closing date kept moving back again and again but Mike and I were fine with it. We were grateful to have more time and we were excited that our bid had been accepted. We had an inspection done and everything was fine. The homeowner was home for the inspection (kind of weird!) and he took Mike and I through the house and told us about all of the things that he had done for upkeep. You could tell from talking to him that he was super compulsive about the house and had records for every little thing that had been done.

The homeowner also went through all of the things that he was going to leave for us since they had moved to an apartment. He would leave ALL of the lawn equipment, all the paint for the interior and exterior, all the shelving in the garage plus a tall storage cabinet, a refrigerator in the garage and a desk in the office. There was a fancy gazebo spa in the backyard and he even offered to come over and do the first cleaning with Mike and leave all the chemicals. He made a list and signed it in front of Mike and told him that he would fax it to his bank to show that he would be leaving those items with the sale of the house. We were thrilled!

Things were looking good and we even took the kids over to take a picture in front of their new house. Through the whole process, Mike and I had kept our home search to ourselves and didn't mention anything (except an Officer Next Door house or two) to our families and friends. We were excited to finally share our good news!

But as time went on, the 2nd lien just wasn't going anywhere. Mike and I were both getting antsy and as adding an addendum to change our closing date approached again (for the 3rd time), I started thinking about looking at other homes. If the 2nd lien wasn't settled in time for our lender to complete the paperwork, we wouldn't be penalized for not closing and could be released from our contract with no further obligation.

I had really taken a break from looking at houses since we were under contract and it had been months so there was a new crop of houses this time around. I would look at them and then get overwhelmed at starting over. It's such a big process evaluating it all!

Each time we would look, we would reevaluate and go between wanting to look at houses on land to wondering if we should spend less to make our budget more comfortable to how far were we really willing to drive to get more bang for our buck and on and on...

I put together another group of houses for us to look through (some we were seeing for the 2nd time). We set out with our realtor and made another day of it. We trudged through houses but ultimately decided that we liked the one we were under contract with as we toured each one. We were a little discouraged throughout the day but then at the end of the day was a house that had never been on our printouts before. It had recently been reduced and it was being sold by the builder.

Our realtor talked to the selling agent and he said several offers had already been put in on the house but we could still see it since it wasn't under contract yet. We'd all heard this line before so we were pretty cynical but we went to tour it anyway. When we got there, we had to sit in the car because there was already another family touring the house. It was then that we realized that they did have other offers.

The neighborhood was brand-new and this house was the last house left to be sold. The price was great and it seemed too good to be true. The house had granite, stainless steel, 5 bedrooms (bigger than most any house we'd seen) and it was a great layout. I was a little disappointed because it was a more open floor plan than I prefer but it did have a lot of great stuff that I loved.

We toured the house several times and always saw other people there. We were pretty beat down from all of the negotiations with our current contract and we didn't want a big hassle of going back and forth on yet another contract (and we didn't want it messing with our budget). Our spirits were pretty low and we were seriously considering just not extending our contract for another closing date and waiting until after the holidays to pick up the home search again.

The brand-new house didn't go under contract in the next week and Mike's parents were coming in so we decided to take them along and show them both houses. As we toured them both, I made it really clear that I loved the one we were under contract with. I felt like it had so much character and I loved that it was in the same city where Mike works. Mike, on the other hand, loved the new house we had seen. I agreed that it was really great but I was also really nervous knowing that so many other people were interested in it. I was definitely interested in getting opinions from fresh eyes (Mike's parents).

So as we toured both houses with Mike's parents, I was just sure that they would see it my way. They didn't- they were all in favor of the new house.

I really wanted to like the new house but I was just really nervous about all the contract details again and some of the things about the house. The floor plan was a little more open on the downstairs than I would have preferred and I didn't love the color choices of the kitchen (cabinets, granite, floors) like I did with the other house. The master closet was a little small and the master bedroom was a lot smaller than the other house, too. They weren't major things but I knew we would be in the house for quite a while and I didn't want buyer's regret.

While we were touring the contract house, though, we noticed that several things had changed. All of the furniture had been cleared out and it was clear that furniture had been strategically placed for the showings to cover large patches in the carpet. My favorite was the office. The office was a forest green color...until they moved all the furniture and paintings out and we realized that they hadn't moved anything when they painted over the original red paint. It was forest green and red patchwork walls!

Many of the items that the seller had told us he would leave (and would be faxing over addendums to the contract to reflect it) weren't there. The fridge, desk and large storage cabinet were all gone. He said his wife had sold them all in a garage sale and he couldn't control it. We were disappointed about the condition of the house (and the additional costs the carpeting and paint would mean for us) and that the seller hadn't kept his word about leaving the extra things in the house or adding them into the contract.

We were really torn about what to do. I was leaning more and more toward the new house and Mike was totally leaning that way. We knew there were a lot of people in and out of the new house so we had to act fast if we wanted it. And after a lot of thought, prayer and consideration, we decided to go with the new house.

So...we canceled contract #4 and started on contract #5!

Friday, February 25, 2011

House Hunting: Contract #3

When we decided to move on from Officer Next Door, I went full steam ahead with searching for homes in our area. We weren't in a big rush but when I start researching something, I go all in!

I knew our wish list: 4 bedrooms, 2200+ square feet and a play room. I was willing to look at older homes (especially if they were ranch-style or had a lot of character) but I mainly wanted to focus on homes built in the late 90's and newer since we're not super handy people and we didn't want have to worry about fixing anything out of warranty. I also wanted granite countertops and stainless steel appliances but I knew we could always add them later, too.

I had saved every home builder flyer with prices and specs of things in our area for all the years we had been in the apartment so I had a general idea of what was available but I was still nervous that I wouldn't be able to find what I wanted in our price range or that my expectations were too high for our first house (but God is good and faithful!).

So I set out looking on all the home search websites and put my terms in their search boxes. Lots of lots of houses popped up and I immediately found some I wanted to see. We would drive around several nights each week and look at houses for sale and Mike would bring home flyers that he had picked up driving his area at work.

When we finally decided to dive in and start actually going to houses Mike called our realtor to let him know what we wanted to see. As it turns out, our realtor was out of town for the two-and-a-half weeks. This was not good news for an impatient girl like me!

I would spend nap times and bedtimes searching high and low for houses that fit what we were looking for. We would pack the kids in the car and drive all over the city and the suburbs evaluating neighborhoods and prices and all the same things that we had talked about with Officer Next Door (except now we had to pay full price :().

We spent a lot of time driving in the areas close to Mike's work since those are the areas we're most familiar with, we really wanted a short commute for him and there's a lot of new construction in those areas right now.

As we would drive through neighborhoods that still had model homes, I would jump out, talk to the sales rep and bring back the folder with info for Mike to look over. Mike and the kids were so patient to sit in the car while I would ask a million questions to the sales reps about the neighborhood and pricing and of course (my favorite question), "What kind of sales are you running right now?".

On one of the model houses I went in they didn't have what I was looking for in our price range. She told me she could show me one of their homes in the neighborhood that was slightly smaller than what what I was looking for and that would give me an idea of their quality, etc.

I talked Mike into driving over to the house that had the same floor plan (it was in the neighborhood) and while we liked it, we knew it wouldn't be big enough for us to stay very long. The sales girl suggests that they do have a bigger floor plan that would work for us but she'd have to check with her people (we all know how that goes!) to see if they could get the pricing right.

We went to check out the bigger floor plan and loved it! She checked with her "people" and managed to work it out to where it fit our price range and the house would be ready in 5 months (late-December). It was in a great neighborhood with a community pool and park, close to Mike's work, had 4 big rooms and big closets, a play room, whatever finishes we wanted (since we would custom build) and it came with all the appliances plus a new tv, washer/dryer and refrigerator. We were so excited!

We prayed about it but the promotional sale we would be buying on closed in the next few days so we needed to act quickly. And we had no realtor in town to give us advice! But since we had been under contract with houses before (even if we didn't buy them :)), we were pretty familiar with all of the terms and we had spent some time researching lots of other houses, areas and prices, as well.

We talked about it, went over finances again, drove the neighborhood again and again, looked up more houses and then agreed that this would be a great first house. We called the rep up to tell her that we were coming over to sign paperwork and bringing her a check!

I asked her on the way over about how long she thought it would take and she said maybe 1-2 hours, nothing more. Famous last words. As we drove over we realized that I didn't have my license and they would need a copy of it. Mike was fine with it saying that I could run in and sign a bunch of the paperwork and ask questions while he ran home to get my license and blew some time. That way when he came back, we could switch spots signing paperwork and then head home. But it didn't really go like that...

The sales rep and I went upstairs to pick out finishes for the house (everything from brick color to tile) and it took longer than I expected. Then when we went downstairs, the sales girl was having trouble getting all the paperwork to go into the computer the right way. She was going back and forth asking me which lot we wanted (which took a drive around the block to figure out) and then calling her manager to ask for this concession or that.

Mike would come in to check on me and I would give him "the look" (the "she's not competent to sell me Girl Scout cookies much less a house" look). He took the kids to get dinner, to the park and entertained them with the very little amount of things we had in the back of the car. Poor Mike.

At one point we switched and he came in and signed papers and finally, FINALLY we left. It had been 6 hours. Mike was done (livid, frustrated, tired, whatever you want to call it). It was 11:00 pm and he had to be at work the next morning at 6 am.

So the next morning I get a voicemail from the sales girl. Her manager has some questions about the contract and "everything's fine" but they need more money to secure the deal. Ooh. So not what I needed to hear after the night before and certainly not what Mike needed to hear. I pretty much told her in the first phone call that it probably wasn't going to work (I already heard Mike's skeptical voice in my head).

The amount of money that they wanted was very minimal. She said with all of the upgrades that we wanted and the oversized lot that we wanted that her manager just wanted more money down to make the deal more "solid". It was a reasonable amount to ask but that wasn't the point at all. After sitting for 6 hours signing paperwork and being told how serious everything was over and over by this sales girl, we were not about to start handing over more money on day one.

When I told her it probably wouldn't work she told me that maybe if we moved up the closing date, it would be better. Everything we signed the first night was supposedly set in stone...until the next day. We didn't want to risk them trying to make changes in order to make the deal more solid down the line or to pressure us into paying more for the house than we could afford just because we were caught up in the excitement of our first house.

This was one of the houses that I talked Mike into (he talked me into several, too) but it wasn't hard to walk away from the deal at all. We had felt strong going into it but it was peaceful to walk away, too. We knew that when we found the perfect house that we would know it. So that's the story of contract #3.

House Hunting: Officer Next Door

Sometime last year, we decided that, once again, it would be good to start looking at houses. We were focusing on a HUD program called "Officer Next Door" that sells home to police officers, teachers, paramedics and firefighters for 50% of the listed price. There's a few stipulations but the main things are that you could not currently own a home when you purchased through the program and you had to make the home your primary residence for 3 years.

The available houses are posted each Saturday and you have between Saturday and Wednesday to put a bid on the house. The winner is drawn out of a hat (since everyone would pay the same price for the house) and winners are announced Thursday mornings. Our realtor is a friend/colleague of Mike's and he was great about taking us to houses whenever one popped up that we thought might work for us.

The houses that come up on this program are interesting houses, to say the least. They have all been foreclosed on and most of them needed tons of work. Each time we would walk in a house we would take a deep breath and get ready for the mess we were about to see. We would talk about all of the needed repairs, the cost of the repairs, the distance of the house from Mike's work, the comparables in the neighborhood for resale, the neighborhood and if we really thought we could make that particular house work for three years.

There were SO many houses and SO many issues. We saw creepy neighborhoods, boarded up pools, crazy painted walls, a garage that looked like it was going to fall off the house, messed up foundations and more outdated kitchens than I ever care to see again.

I was kind of drawn to the ranch-style houses and older homes because of their charm (always have been) so the search wasn't all bad for us. I definitely I had fun seeing all the craziness and finding the good parts of each house. There were lots of neat things about some of the homes and I was looking forward to some good demolition on some of those bathrooms and kitchens!

We would check out a house (and hope our kids didn't get sucked in a time warp in some of them!) and depending on the condition I would spend the next couple of days talking with floor people, roofers, painters, pool people, landscapers, carpenters and sometimes most importantly, the people in that neighborhood. Then we would make a decision about whether it was prudent to put a bid in.

There were so many prayers, so many pros/cons lists and so many disagreements between Mike and I. With each house we would talk ourselves into getting excited about the potential and every single time it was the same answer--"You didn't win the bid" (and most of the time I breathed a sigh of relief!).

It would have been an awesome opportunity for us financially (imagine only paying half-price for a house that you can sell for full-price after three years!) but ultimately, we decided to continue looking there but expand the search to other homes as well.

House Hunting: The First Two Contracts and the Apartment

We've been in our house a little just at three months and we're loving it. We still don't have anything on the walls, the schoolroom looks like a storage facility and lots of things haven't found "homes" yet. Our big plans to finish up a lot of our projects while the kids were away at Nana and Papa's fell through when we got sick 4 weeks in a row (and still are). Someday, though, it will all be complete!

In the meantime, I wanted to document some of the time we spend searching, signing and buying our first house so I can look back and remember it many years (and probably many houses) from now.

We started thinking about buying our first house way back in 2006 when we had been married just under a year. We were both working and it seemed like a great time to stop paying rent, stop living in an apartment with noisy neighbors and no backyard and have something of our own. We did some searching and found a neighborhood where homes were just being built and we could choose all of our own finishes and the design of the house.

The neighborhood was full of young couples and families, the price was competitive and we were excited about the prospect of checking it out each week as it was being built. No sooner had we settled into our contract on that house when one of the other builders that we were considering came back to us with a finished house that was the same style neighborhood, same basic finishes of the house but the house was bigger and cheaper. Sold.

We got all of our financing lined up, got ready to finish our apartment lease, starting looking at Home Depot for all the fun extras and got excited about buying a house. We were nervous of course but ready-for-it nervous!

Just days before we were supposed to close on the house, Mike got a call offering him the courtesy officer job at an apartment complex. I was less than thrilled. It was a complex we had seen in our apartment search and decided against for lots of reasons.

Ultimately, it came down to a deal we couldn't refuse. I was very sad but I also knew that we could do it for any period of time and change our minds and buy a house. So we went from buying a 3-bedroom house and canceling that contract to buying a 4-bedroom house to canceling that contract and moving into a 3-bedroom apartment with a roommate (my friend, Rebecca) in just a matter of weeks.

From day one in the apartment, I HATED it. I had a very spoiled attitude and anything I could find to complain about, I did. I didn't realize until after we moved in how much I wanted to buy that house. Mike will agree with me that the apartment was far from perfect but it did have it's perks. The rent was great, it was brand-new and had fun things not normally in an apartment like a side-by-side fridge, granite countertops and all hardwood floors, we had a garage included, we had plenty of bedroom space for the two of us + Rebecca and it was close to everything we needed.

Over the course of time, Clay was born, Rebecca moved out, I quit my job and Carolina was born. Before we knew it we had been in the apartment for 4 years! Looking back, I grew up so much in that little apartment. Slowly but surely just as all three rooms filled up, my heart filled up with reasons why the apartment had helped our family.

We got to live in the same city where Mike works for the first couple of years of the kids' lives. After bringing home new babies from the hospital, I was so much more at ease knowing he was just a few miles away. Mike works 12-hour days so it was precious time that we got to see him home each day for his hour lunch.

When it came time for me to quit my job, I could do it with a sense of peace knowing that we didn't have a mortgage to pay each month. While finances weren't perfect, all the little things that add up over time just weren't as big because we didn't have a huge mortgage on top of everything else. Really more than anything, though, the apartment gave us time...

Sweet Tooth Carolina

Carolina: Mama, I unt a cookie.
Me: Well, you can have one after your nap.

The second she sees me in her room after naps
"I unt my cookie now."

So I give her an Oreo:

"Mama, I unt anudder cookie."

"Okay, Carolina, but this is your last cookie because we have to eat dinner. After we eat dinner, you can have another cookie. Now, what do you want for dinner?


Half the conversations I have with this child are about something sweet for her to eat. I'm thinking about calling Cookie Monster's Mom to get some parenting tips!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Father/Son Birthday Surprise!

One year when Mike and I were dating, I bought him a sunset plane tour of downtown Dallas for his birthday. We had such a blast and we talk about it every time we pass downtown as something we'd love to do again.

So when the opportunity arose for me to get another plane tour, I jumped on it! The plane was very small and I was a little hesistant about both parents being up in the air at the same time so this would be a surprise trip for Mike's birthday just for him and Clay. I knew Mike would love to do it again and it would be Clay's "first" plane ride (he had been on a commercial flight once before but he was so small he doesn't remember it).

I kept the secret and Mike was so eager to see what his birthday present would be. We drove over to the little airport and it was so much fun to let the boys in on the surprise! Clay could not wait to get up in the plane.

The pilot was so nice to take us all around the plane and explain all about it but Clay only wanted one thing: to get up in the air! I was a little sad to miss the experience with Clay but I was thrilled that Mike got to be there with him and watch him soak it all in.

Both Mike and Clay wore headphones for the flight and Clay oohed and aahed over every little thing. He loved looking at the swimming pools and recognizing the American Airlines Center where we had just been to the circus.

Mike and the pilot both emphasized how Clay was VERY sad when the plane had to land. When the flight was over, the pilot let Clay play with the controls and all the fun stuff in the pilot's chair. So cool!

It was such a special experience for Mike and Clay and I loved that they had such a great time. It was Mike's birthday present but I'm not sure who had a better time!

Bedtime Necessities

Carolina's before-bed-beauty routine:

Pearls- check.

Bow- check.

Something sweet- check.

And she's off to get her beauty sleep!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Great Wolf Fall Vacation

I have SO much catching up to do on our blog so I'll try my best to catch up and keep things in some kind of order.

Way back in October, we were super stressed! We had been near closing on a house and had changed our minds and were starting to negotiate on another house (our final choice!). We had been to so many houses and spent so much energy in the process and the whole family was just D-O-N-E with house hunting/buying.

Mike and I had wanted to do some sort of getaway in the summer but all of the house stuff just kept dragging on and there were so many papers to supply to lenders and the seller each day that we just couldn't go on any kind of trip away. We were desperate for some down time and some quality family time.

We love Great Wolf Lodge because it is so close (15 minutes from our old house) and yet it feels like a world away! We booked a night there right at the end of October ( and coinciding with Mike and Carolina's birthdays) and it was so much fun.

This was our third trip to Great Wolf so Clay was pretty familiar with the territory but Carolina didn't really remember it much. This time she was old enough to do so much by herself and she had a blast.

I didn't take many (if any) pictures the first day because I really wanted to enjoy just being with the kids and not worrying about the perfect shot (or dropping my camera in the water!) so all the pictures are from day two.

Our kids are best friends and we love that. It was so neat watching them pal around together and do slides and just have a good time.

I love this next pic because that HUGE splash coming at Clay is little Carolina! Can you see her sweet feet at the bottom of the splash?

We really encourage the kids to be brave and do things a little out of their comfort zones and they both do so well. We were so proud to see them do the BIG water slides that are three stories tall (they don't have any height requirements on them either!).

(This isn't anyone from our family on this slide but look how big it is and both kids conquered it!!)

Carolina wasn't a huge fan of the big slides but she has such a strong spirit that she didn't complain at all. Clay LOVED the big slides. He and Mike would go to the top and he would be down and back up before Mike was even finished going down all the way. I love seeing them be adventurous!

Carolina loved so much about Great Wolf but one of her absolute favorite parts was the rack of life vests. They had several of them scattered about the water park and each rack had about 50 life vests. Can you just imagine the fun of being (almost) two and having an unlimited supply of things to buckle?? She loved it!

The toddler area was the popular place for us on this trip. They have great slides for toddlers and the water is a little warmer than everywhere else. The kids loved doing the smaller slides again and again. Clay still wasn't a huge fan of the wave pool or the lazy river but the hot tub was a big hit with both kids.

The second day, in addition to the water park, we went to the Kid's Club and decorated a pumpkin and played in their playhouse. The kids had such a great time painting the pumpkin and Mike and I loved sitting back and watching them play.

At nighttime, they have a clock tower puppet show which is really sweet and totally captures our little ones' attention.

Since we went so close to Halloween, there was a costume contest every night. The show is really fun but it was so special for them to see all the other costumes and do the extra activities for Halloween.

Clay got to go up and show off his costume and say his name. He did such a good job and the other kids loved his penguin costume! We did the clock tower show two different nights so it was fun to get one more use out of last year's costume and this year's too.

I was so proud of Clay taking a picture with the wolf. He used to be so scared of all things in costumes and now he is so big and brave!

We had the absolute best time at Great Wolf this trip. I am so glad we decided to go! We didn't think about the house dilemma or talk about it. It's so nice to shut off our phones and not worry about anything except Clay and Carolina. They loved having our full focus and we loved getting to shower them with attention without distractions. I could have stayed so much longer but...there was a house deal to be made!

We love, love, love Great Wolf Lodge and we are already looking forward to our next trip!