Murdering plants and taking bad deals.

Our house sits on a lush 0.35 acre property just outside of Seattle. Getting a nice chunk of land was important to us me as we were house hunting. The obvious downside of a good-sized backyard?  Yard work. Check out our little plot of land….

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It was clear when we bought the property that the owners had let mother nature run her course and that the surrounding shrubbery was choking off the useable yard space. Especially when you compare it to how the backyard looked a few years ago (following picture stolen off the FB page of the previous owner)…

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This last week, a buddy of mine and I spent six hours with a 30 foot ladder and a ten foot pole saw limbing every tree, branch, and bush we could get to.

WE WERE MURDERING PLANTS!

The fruits of our labor are pictured below…

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We were left with a massive pile of branches. A pile so big, I could no longer rent a 27′ Uhaul to dump them as I originally hoped. I was going to need to pay a company to come and remove the debris.

I hopped on Yelp and called one of the higher rated Tree Service companies in my city to come out and give me an estimate. That afternoon I had a guy show up, walk around the property and quoted me $1,000 for chipping and haul away service. I asked him how soon he could get to work and he promised they’d start bright and early the next morning.

I shook his hand and we had a deal. 

The next morning comes and I set my handy-dandy security system up (facing our front yard) so I could check in on the work they were doing while I was away. But every time I checked in on the property, the workers were nowhere to be found. They didn’t end up arriving until 1pm, 20 minutes after I made it back home.

I was livid. 

Before they could even park their truck I went outside and met with my contact, told him I was extremely frustrated that he wasn’t on site in the morning as promised, and said I was going to look for a different company to work with. (side note: he told me he was late because traffic court went longer than expected)

I fired him.

 

I’ve never fired anyone before. It was pretty awkward, but also kinda liberating.

That afternoon I had another company come out and give me a bid for the same work. Get this, their bid came in at $490. That’s 50% less what Mr. Sketchball was going to charge me!

I was so glad I got a second quote, and feel way better about this new company, but I’m also angry with myself for not automatically getting a few bids before I chose a company to work with.

I’m realizing I’m either dumb or impatient as I literally did this same thing a month ago with our kitchen counters; Agreed to work with a company, and then said no thanks the next day after realizing we were getting screwed.

Take it from me, ALWAYS GET A SECOND QUOTE when it comes to any type of home service or project. I’ve learned this the hard way twice now, hopefully there wont be a third time. 

I got a few questions…

1) Have you used Yelp for hiring out contracting work before? Is it reliable? I feel burned.

2) You ever fired someone before?

3) You ever agreed to a bad deal before?

 

 

I bought a security system that isn’t a ripoff.

We were over at a friend’s house a few weeks ago, and after he gave us a tour of his home he asked Girl Ninja and I a weird question. He said “Do you want to see your entrance to our home?”

I had no idea what he was talking about so I said, “I have no idea what you are talking about.”

He pulled out his iPhone, opened up an app, and played back video of us approaching his front porch and knocking on their front door. Unbeknownst to us, he has a security camera that films his front porch. Creepy and awesome.

Being the tech nerd I am, I was intrigued and began asking him a billion questions about it. That night, I went home and bought myself a Dropcam.

***Note: I want to make sure it’s clear this is not a sponsored post. I’m just pumped about this discovery and want to share it with you all.***

Girl Ninja has been pestering me about a home security system since we moved in. I hate the idea of a home security system. We know a ton of people who have them, but have not heard one story where they have actually been useful. Heard too many stories about alarms going off (and cops being called) because of a cat in the garage, a family member forgot the security code, or an electrical issue. Couple that knowledge with the fact that I’m a cheapskate and you can understand why I was hesitant to get a security system.

 

Dropcam, however, seems like the perfect solution for someone like myself. I want to give my wife peace of mind, but keep as much money as possible in our pockets.

We hopped on Amazon and bought the camera for $135, now $149. It’s wifi enabled and after two minutes of set-up, it was ready to be used. We put it in our living room, looking out a window on to our front porch. Here’s a sreenshot of our camera’s point of view…

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Dropcam is awesome for a few reasons. I’ll list them in bullet point form…

  • It takes HD video.
  • The Dropcam app allows you to pull up the live (or archived) feed from your phone, tablet, or computer at any time.
  • You can choose to receive notifications anytime the camera senses motion, noise, or both.
  • For $99 a year, you can add 7 days of cloud storage. Meaning you can play back 7 days of footage at any time. Significantly cheaper than the $20/mo security system plans.
  • The camera has both a speaker and a microphone, meaning it can also be used as a Baby Monitor. You could also communicate to someone who is in the process of robbing your house, via the camera speaker, that you have called the police and have video of their face.
  • You can buy multiple Dropcams and place them anywhere you want.
  • It has night vision, which works surprisingly well.
  • It’s significantly cheaper than any big box security system and there is no contract.
  • You get video of the dudes robbing your house. EVIDENCE!!!!

As you can tell, I’m a big fan of our Dropcam. We’ve used it to check in on Nova while we’ve been out (making sure she isn’t barking or chewing at her crate). We love getting notifications when we are out that motion has been detected, pulling up the feed quickly on our phone, and being able to make sure everything was all good.

For $135 it’s the perfect home security system for us. We’ll probably buy a second one this summer and use it as a Baby Monitor knowing that a few years from now it can become a second home security camera.

I’ve asked our insurance agent to check with our homeowners policy to see if this is considered a legitimate security system in hopes that it will lower our homeowners insurance policy. Haven’t heard back yet, but if it does, that would be reason enough for anyone to buy it.

Anyone else have a Dropcam? What measures do you take to protect your home?

If you’re like me and interested in buying the Dropcam after my little review, I’m including an Amazon Affiliate link below to it. Meaning, I’ll make a small commission off your purchase, but you can totally just go to Amazon on your own and pay the same price if you don’t want me to get a piece of the pie 😉

p.s. Here’s the security footage of our stupid neighbors cat triggering a motion alert…

 

Real Estate Commissions Are An Absolute Joke

Girl Ninja and I were personal friends with our real estate agent. He has led Young Life with us for the last couple years and he’s a great dude. In fact, we had him over for dinner just the other night so we could show him all the changes we’ve made to our house since we bought it.

The dude is awesome and we love him to death, but I’m not quite convinced realtors in general are worth the 3% commission they receive.

We paid $357,000 for our house. That means our buddy made $10,000 when we bought our house (he doesn’t have to split his commission). I estimate we spent a total of 40 hours interacting with him over the course of the six months it took us to find our first home. This works out to about $250/hour.

My parents also decided to buy a new home shortly after we did. They used my friend, and within three weeks of searching, they found themselves a new home. That’s another $10,000 in our friend’s pocket. Oh, and did I mention my parents are about to sell their previous home, so he will make another $5,000 to $10,000 when that happens from them.

From just my family alone, our realtor will have made more than Girl Ninja makes all year as a kindergarten teacher.

That seems crazy to me. 

I mean, our buddy is a GREAT realtor. The best. That’s why we used him and this should not be taken as a knock against him. It’s not.

I just don’t think realtor commissions are justified.

Think about it like this. Say Girl Ninja and I decided to buy a $100,000 house. Our realtor would have provided us the same service he did for our current house, but only made $3,000 from the commissions. Fortunately for him, we bout 3.5 times that amount. The amount of work he put in would have been the same regardless of our purchase price, but he charges us $7,500 more if we buy a $$350,000 house.

Why is this not pissing off more people?

What seems logical to me is a fee for service model. Where I agree to pay $100 each time my realtor shows me a house – regardless of if I buy it or not, and a $2,000  bonus if I buy a house he has shown me. This seems much more fair. He gets paid every time he provides me a service (showing me houses or helping me purchase one). And I get to potentially save thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars.

Why the crap do we agree to pay commissions based off the purchase price of the home?! Who thought this was a good idea? And more importantly, why do we continue to allow it!

I’m starting to think I got in to the wrong industry. 

We almost lost $5,000.

Now that I’m back from Europe, and the holidays have passed, Girl Ninja and I are full steam ahead in making our 1930’s cottage more homey. On Saturday I spent a solid hour with an electrician getting quotes on everything from, running electricity out to our carport, repairing damaged outlets, and adding recessed lighting from Hinkley Lighting. I was surprised to learn electric work is nowhere near as expensive as I would have anticipated. Quartz countertops, however, are a different beast.

If you recall, back in October Girl Ninja and I sanded, primed, and painted our kitchen cabinets. Here are some pictures of the process…

 

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With the cabinets looking all purdy, it seemed only logical to explore the world of countertops. Full disclosure: There is nothing really wrong with our countertops. They are basic white tile and in pretty good shape for their age.

Although our current counters are okay, we really want Quartz countertops in our kitchen. Maybe something like this

 

or this

Yesterday we had an appointment with a counter guy.

We spent an hour or so discussing color, edging, amount of speckle, sink mounting, etc. He took measurements of our counter space and at the end of the appointment gave us a quote.$5,000 for our 50/sqft of counter space.

At this point I knew two things.

  1. I loved the thought of having quartz countertops.
  2. I hated the idea of spending $5,000 on quartz countertops.

Like the sucker that I am, I gave the green light. We signed some paperwork, gave a 50% deposit, and have our counters scheduled to be installed a month from now.

After the counter guy left, Girl Ninja and I spent some time talking things through. She asked me how I felt, I asked her how she felt.

Neither of us could really describe our feelings. 

Late last night we had an impromptu family meeting on our full-sized bed (any other couples still sleeping on a full?). We talked through the pros and cons of updating our counters.

As we made our lists we both came to the same conclusion; as nice as new counters would be, we don’t need them.  

Every other decision we’ve made on the house has been a no-brainer; new windows, new carpet, updating cabinetry, painting literally every wall and ceiling. For each of those projects we knew exactly what we wanted and never, not even for a second, wavered.

This counter situation was a different story. Neither of us could shake the uneasy feeling we had after signing the contract.

According to the document, we have to notify the company (by mail) within 72 hours if we want to cancel the contract and receive a full refund of our deposit.

Today I plan to do just that. 

We totally let ourselves get caught up in the sales pitch. Don’t get me wrong, quartz countertops are likely in our future, but for now the tile will have to do. At least until we know exactly what it is we want, and get a few more bids to make sure we are getting the best deal.

You ever had buyers remorse immediately after buying something or signing a contract? Did you stick with the purchase, or renege like us?

 

It’s official, people hate our house.

As you know I’m cooped up in a tiny hotel, in the middle of nowhere Netherlands, for six weeks. Girl Ninja, is back in Seattle, holding down the fort.

This last weekend she was a trooper and decided to conquer the gnarly task of leaf blowing our driveway. She spent the better part of an hour tackling all sorts of leaf and pine needle debris. About two-thirds of the way through the chore, GN noticed our across-the-street neighbor was making her way over for a visit.

Now we don’t know much about this neighbor except that she is old, retired, and has lived in the neighborhood for 20+ years. During the course of their 10 minute conversation, Girl Ninja learned one more thing about this lady.

She’s rude.

Even though the neighbor initiated the conversation, Girl Ninja didn’t feel like the lady had much to say. Naturally, GN starting sharing some of the house projects we had tackled.

That’s when things got awkward.

As GN was sharing about our mini kitchen remodel, the woman cut her off and said, “I was shocked when the house sold. I don’t know why any one would buy it. I mean, it’s only got one bathroom.”

Girl Ninja gave an awkward laugh and tried to explain that it’s just the two of us and we’ve always only had one bathroom so that wasn’t really a big deal to us. The lady wasn’t having it and continued to argue her point, telling Girl Ninja our house was essentially a bad investment.

Understandably, Girl Ninja was frustrated. She said she almost started to cry because she just felt like the lady was going out of her way to be harsh. I did my best to comfort Girl Ninja on the phone, but I could tell she was totally bummed.

What Grandma Jerkbag doesn’t know is that literally every house we considered buying had just one bathroom. It comes with the territory of wanting to buy a Pacific Northwest 83-year-old home.

Besides, it’s not like Girl Ninja and I poop at the exact same time. In fact, Girl Ninja doesn’t poop at all. Remember,  she is a girl and according to SCIENCE, Girls are incapable of pooping.

I get where the old lady is coming from. I mean, she lives in a 1970’s split level. Girl Ninja and I would never buy a split level. We don’t like the layouts. We also had no desire to buy new construction. Or a house with a sub 5,000 sqft lot. Or a house with a formal living room.

That doesn’t make any of those things bad. They just weren’t our style.

I’m not mad that this lady hates the fact that we have only one bathroom, I’m mad that she felt the need to go out of her way to make that fact known. I can only hope she felt justified in her actions because of this meme that was recently posted to MANteresting….

You ever dealt with someone who went out of their way to make you feel bad about a decision you made? 

Take a tour of our new home :)

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This is now the third home tour I’ve given to PDITF readers, and now that we own, will probably be the last one for a while. If you want to see our 600sqft San Diego condo ($1,500/mo rent) click here. If you want to see our 700sqft ($1,200) mother in law rental, 30 minutes outside of Seattle, click here. If you want to see what our new home looks like keep on reading ;)…

El Living Room (Before)…

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After…

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You can see from the before pictures the living room was staged in a totally non-functional way. Seriously, who puts the couch behind a TV? The new purchases for this room were…

  • Rug $350 from Overstock
  • Coffee table $220 from World Market
  • Curtain/Curtain Rod $80, Ikea Curtain and Lowes for the Curtain Rod
  • Lamp $180 from Pottery Barn, but we used Wedding gift cards (three years later haha) so it was Free 🙂

All the other furniture we’ve owned since our tiny condo in San Diego. When our roommate moves out we will replace her couch (the green one) with one that fits the room a little better, otherwise we have no major plans for this space.

El Dining Room (before)….

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Is now the piano room…

 

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We have a fairly large breakfast nook space, which you will see in the next set of pictures, so we opted to put our dining room table there and make this space a dedicated piano spot. We inherited the piano when my Grandma passed away a few years ago, and while taking ownership of it didn’t cost me anything, keeping it in climate controlled storage and having it moved 1,200 miles cost me around $2,000 over the years. It’s all worth it though, because Girl Ninja plays the piano and when Baby Ninjas come in to the picture, they will play too 🙂 Oh and check out that super sweet globe hiding behind the green couch. Picked that baby up for $30 at a garage sale. Best part, it lights up!!!!

Kitchen (before)…

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Before I show you the updated kitchen I have to note a few things. The kitchen shows waaaaay better in these pictures than it did in real life. For example, the refrigerator was literally held together by duct tape inside. The gas range had a leak and made our whole main floor smell like propane. The cabinets we thought were totally fine, until we realized the gel stain they used looked really pink and was tacky. The pot rack was awesome, but way to big for the space and choked off the room. All the light fixtures were straight off the Ikea clearance rack. If the kitchen was as nice in real life as it looks in the pics we wouldn’t have touched anything. Here’s what things are looking like now…

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So as you can see this is where the majority of our sweat equity has gone. Best to break it down in bullet points so it’s easy to follow:

  • We spent two weeks sanding, priming, and painting the cabinets white. Spent about $200 on supplies for that and another $80 on cabinet hardware from Amazon. Couldn’t be happier with the fresher, cleaner, more updated look.
  • We replaced the fridge ($888) and the range ($620) during a Sears Labor Day weekend sale, but sold our old range for $250 to offset some of that cost. The range hood was freaking expensive ($320 at Home Depot), but it really helps finish the space off. Eventually we will replace the dishwasher with stainless steel, but not for a while.
  • We probably spent about $300 updating all of the light fixtures. I’m pretty proud of myself because I added the two pendants above the peninsula, from what was just a single light fixture running down the middle. Total cost for the pendants was $90.
  • To add a little fun, we painted half the dining room wall with chalk board paint. Now whenever the high school kids come over they leave us fun messages.

Next year we want to add a charcoal colored solid surface counter and add a subway tile backsplash. For now though, we are perfectly content with our kitchen.

El Bedroom (before)…

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After:

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Nothing too exciting going on in the bedroom. Bought the dark dresser ($150 at Ikea) cause we needed a little more storage space since we no longer have a walk in closet (gotta love 1930’s houses and their tiny closets). Otherwise it was just a fresh coat of paint on the walls/ceiling and throwing in our double bed Girl Ninja has owned since before we were married. Anyone else sleep on a double?

El Basement (before)…

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The basement was the first and only space we’ve had to hire out work. We had the carpet replaced because the old carpet had water damage and smelled like old dog. Set us back $1,000 for a relatively tiny space because the exposed basement staircase was a nightmare for the carpet guy. We painted the trim, walls, and ceiling to lighten/freshen things up. Just in time for our tenant to move in and get settled 🙂

Backyard (before and after) 

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Haven’t had time to do much in the backyard yet. The previous owners kind of let things go and stuff got way overgrown. We’ve spent a couple of hours hacking things back and trying to open the space up a bit, which helped a ton. Still have a few more weekends worth of work to go before we can be in love with the space. It’s definitely a work in progress.

And that concludes the house tour for now.

We haven’t touched the two rooms upstairs or our bathroom at all, hence the reason we don’t have pictures of them. It feels good to finally have the nest moderately feathered. What better way to celebrate than to leave the country for six weeks!? Haha. Oh well, at least I have something to look forward to when I get home.

What do you think of our 1931 cottage?

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Houston, we have a roommate.

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And so begins the life of three adults sharing one bathroom. Fortunately for me, I am the only male in the household and my understanding is girls are physically incapable of pooping, farting, or burping. Unfortunately for them, as a male I am not only capable of each of these things, but I have mastered doing all three at one time.

Too much information? 

Our roommate moved in on Saturday, which means for the first time in my life, I’m a landlord. Do I get to learn some secret landlord handshake now!? Before we bought our house, we were paying $1,200/month in rent. As homeowners, we have a $1,600/mo mortgage payment (PITI). Can you guess how much we decided to charge our tenant/friend?

You’re wrong if you guessed $9,000/month, although I like your ambition.

We went with $400, which includes all utilities and cable. We’ll obviously have to pay taxes on that income (unless any of you know of some legal way to get out of it ;)). Assuming we’ll net about $300 after taxes. Stupid IRS.

Of our $1,600/mo mortgage obligation, $1,200 gets thrown away in interest/taxes/insurance, and the remaining $400 goes to reducing our loan obligation. So by letting our friend live with us, we can nearly double our principal payments each month. How sweet is that? 

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Will we actually use this rental income for additional mortgage payments? Probably not, but at least it’s an option. For now, we’ll just use the funds to help make our home better. Like yesterday, when we dropped some mad benjamins on new carpet in the basement.

You ever been, or plan to be a landlord?