30 September 2009

Learning to Appreciate the Little Things

Today we actually made some progress.

After getting unexpected negative feedback from the city's plan reviewer last week, I have been trying since Monday to get him to acknowledge that he's judging our plans by the wrong criteria. Today, after no response in over 48 hours, I went over his head, which finally spurred him to admit that we don't need most of the things he had told us we needed to add to our plans. So now it's just a matter of confirming the three or four minor things that remain on the list and getting our designer to make the changes so we can resubmit the affected pages...and then waiting some more. But progress is progress, and this process has taught me to appreciate victories, no matter how small.

Over the weekend I had sent R some details to help him fill in the blanks on our plans (he's used to thoroughly fleshed out specifications, and given our rush through this process, we haven't picked out every option yet). Last night I revisited the plumbing fixture info I had given him and picked out specific items for each fixture, except for the bathtubs (Kohler has about a gazillion of them, which makes it hard to commit based on 2" pictures on their website). Anyway, I changed some of my earlier choices and am really happy with the direction we have taken. It's been too long since I've had pictures to share, so here's a picture of the sink we have picked out for the master bathroom. There will be two of them, and Steve's will be on a taller cabinet (he's really splashy).

(No, Mom, this is not a $75 sink.)

When I sent R the list of plumbing fixtures, I asked him if he could give us a sneak peek into his bid. He sent a few of the bids he has gotten from some of his subcontractors, and based on that (extremely limited) information, I think we're on track for his bid to be in line with the two we have already gotten. What's important here isn't so much that his bid be the lowest -- we doubt it will be -- but simply that his bid be within our reach, and since the other bids are pushing the limits, too much more would put R out of range. Everything we know about R suggests that his quality is far and away superior to the others, so we were bracing ourselves for his bid to reflect that. While we still need to see the big picture, for now it's a big relief to see that he's still in the running. And he expects to have our bid ready around the middle of next week.

28 September 2009

Don't Ask...Won't Tell

The frustration continues, as R still hasn't given us his bid. He's gotten bogged down in the three houses he's currently working on, and while it's nice to see how dedicated he is to his current clients, I kind of want to shake him and remind him that he needs to focus on upcoming clients, too, or he may find himself without any (he has told us that he has nothing planned for after these three houses are finished). Secretly, I know that his dragging his feet won't cost him us as clients, but I would like him to believe it could. Secretly, I also know that we have crossed the other two builders off the list, but I don't want to show all of our cards, so I only told him that we crossed one off. He doesn't usually have to "bid" jobs -- people choose him and only him, and worry about cost from there (if they worry about it at all), so it's a fine line between reassuring him that the effort of putting together a bid is worth his while, and leaving enough question in his mind that he'll make it competitive. I hate playing these games. And I really hate having all of our eggs in one basket -- especially a basket that he won't let me carry (not that I'm a control freak or anything).

Meanwhile, at the City of Austin, our application has been rejected -- both "rejected" in the sense of rejected-'cause-seven-days-are-up-and-it-was-forwarded-to-flood-plain-review and actually rejected because certain things are missing from our plans. These things fall into three categories: things that actually are on our plans but the reviewer apparently didn't care to look for, things that aren't required for our our type of structure, and things that our designer should have known to include. We are pretty peeved at all three categories of issues, but the third is particularly annoying because we're not only going to have to pay our designer to go back to the drawing board to do what should have been done the first time, but we're also going to have to pay for more plans to be printed to resubmit to the city. Good thing we got a head start on all of this.

Oh, and the big news this weekend was that the city has been so inundated with applications for solar panel rebates that they have suspended the program and will be reducing the amount of its rebates, if not ending the rebates altogether. Since the rebate was supposed to cover almost two-thirds of the cost of the panels, it's likely that we will have to abandon the solar plan.

To close on a happy note, the lawsuit in which I was named as a defendant was dismissed last week. So I guess that's something.

22 September 2009

Not a Great Day

I know people out there are facing much worse things than we are, but in the grand scheme of our admittedly very blessed lives, today wasn't the best day.

It started with a call from the builder whose bid we already received (not R -- we're still waiting on his). Although the numbers were different, the format was very similar to the guesstimate he gave us a couple of months ago. The numbers were rounder than it seemed like they should have been for actual bids from subcontractors, they were presented in really broad categories, they didn't indicate what the allowances were (for things like plumbing fixtures, tile, etc.), and our alternate bid items (such as a solar water heater as an alternate bid for tankless water heaters) didn't seem to have been taken into account. During our call, when I asked about these issues, his answers were wholly unsatisfactory, and I realized that he's too much of a spec house builder for us. Our strategy throughout this process has been to go for the best value we can afford; while he seems to be a good builder, it has become clear that his strategy is more about simply what the budget is. He had no explanation for not bidding the alternate bid items as we had asked and even asked me to e-mail him a list of those items (which were already in our plans) for him to look into. No, thanks.

I just wish R would give us his bid so that, assuming it's within the realm of feasibility, I can break up with the others. Imagine being forced to keep on dating someone you don't want to date. That's just awkward all around. So I keep hoping that R will get his bid to us soon. I'm a low-stress person, and I'm frankly not great at dealing with anxiety. This is causing me lots of anxiety.

Today I also had to run home to meet the appliance delivery people. They were bringing us a new dryer because the first one was scratched. During the installation, one of the guys bumped the gas valve (it's an electric dryer, but there is a gas line right behind it). Fortunately, the valve whistles when it's all the way open, so it was immediately obvious that gas was flooding into the garage (where the washer and dryer are located), and we were able to turn it off quickly and air out the space. Then, when the other guy plugged in the cord, a huge spark leapt out from the outlet. I assumed it was caused by the really, really old outlet and felt terrible for trying to kill not just one but now both of the delivery guys. We promptly e-mailed our landlord to let him know there was a problem with the wiring, but when Steve got home and checked on the way they attached the power cord, we found that the delivery guy had connected the hot to the neutral. So back to the store we went to sign up for another exchange and to encourage safer installation practices among their delivery staff.

After the dryer debacle, I returned to the office to a phone message from the reviewer assigned to our permit application. I'm still waiting on the promised e-mail telling us what we did wrong, but he said that there were issues with McMansion compliance. (That is the ordinance that prohibits construction of overly large, boxy houses that would overwhelm the neighbors. Our house is no McMansion.) I know we did everything in accordance with the published requirements, so I can't wait to see what unpublished requirements await us. At least he said that he was forwarding our application to flood plain review, so we'll be working toward that while we're sorting out the McMansion issues.

AND I was supposed to pick up my little buddy, Schaefer, from school and take him to his swim class, where his mom would meet us, but he woke up with a bloody ear, which messed up the whole plan. His ear is okay now, but I'm bummed that I didn't get to hang with him. That would have been the perfect pick-me-up after an otherwise draining day.

21 September 2009


Maybe reason is prevailing at the permit office -- it's been seven days, and our application hasn't been rejected. Perhaps I was misinformed, and our application is just quietly being forwarded to flood plain review without the need to reject us. More likely, they just forgot to update the computer today, and my call to check on the status will remind them to get out their big, red "REJECT" stamp.

In unrelated news, I was sued at work last week. Nothing to worry about; just a very confused consumer, trying to avail herself of a recovery fund we administer, who apparently though I had told her that she had to sue me personally in order to get her application for payment processed. (FYI, dear reader, the way to get me to help you out is pretty much never going to be to sue me.) Fortunately, I have the best law firm in the state (the Attorney General's office) representing me, and it will all be taken care of soon. But seriously, people, don't sue someone and then call the person you just sued to ask for advice in your lawsuit against that person. It's just common sense.

14 September 2009

Our Building Permit Application Will Be Rejected

That's what the permit office employee told me this morning. After many questions (mine) about the idiotic policy (hers), I figured out that some rule somewhere requires city staff to approve or reject all applications within seven days. Since flood plain review takes three weeks, our application can't be approved in seven days, so it will be rejected -- at which point they will continue processing it. Bureaucracy at its finest. Apparently, in my case, "rejected" really just means that seven days are up, and the main review people have forwarded the application to the flood plain folks. It sounded to me like their computer needs a "pending" status, but apparently I know nothing about how to run a bureaucracy.

On the other hand, I arrived at 7:55 and was served at 8:05 -- a personal best. (Arriving five minutes before the office opened, I was still fifth on the list. The first person signed in at 7:34.) After finally piecing together why I shouldn't be alarmed that my application will be rejected, I asked about the electrical service application (which leaving out of one's application, incidentally, is also a grounds for rejection -- I think pretty much anything you do gets your application rejected). Despite all of the complicated questions about amperage and voltage and air conditioner tonnage, it turns out all Austin Energy really needs to approve the electrical application is name and address, plus a site plan. They just check that you aren't proposing to build anything in the utility easement. So down I went to the first floor to get the sign-off from Austin Energy (the longest part of my visit this morning was the 10-15 minutes I spent waiting there), the actual processing of my electrical application took perhaps two minutes, and then it was back up to the dreaded second floor, where, fortunately, all I had to do was drop off my plans and application and log the drop-off in the mystical permit application book.

All in all, in and out in about 40 minutes (not bad for three stops), and at the office at 8:45.

Now, of course, begins the process of wondering when I should call to check on the application. Apparently you have to do this periodically, lest your plans get lost under everyone else's plans on a desk somewhere.

And let's not forget next week's highlight: rejection!

11 September 2009

I Should Never Have Said, "It'll Be a Rainy Day in Texas Before I Go Back There...."

This week we got our foundation plan from the engineer (who -- small world -- turned out to be the same engineer our neighbor/landlord/friends are using for the remodel on the house they recently bought and will move into once it's ready). We promptly forwarded the plans to our builder prospects, so now it's just a matter of waiting for their numbers. Have I mentioned that we are not patient people?

While we wait for the bids to come in, we decided to go ahead and submit our building permit application. We will need to provide our builder's information to get the permit, but for now we can get a head start on the application process, which in our case requires an extra three weeks for "flood plain review" because our house is near (although definitely not in) the 100-year flood plain. We have been assured that flood plain review will be no problem, but we have to go through the extra steps anyway. (How can it take three weeks for someone to look at the address on our application, look up that address on the flood plain map, and conclude that we're not in it? I have no idea.)

So...back to the City development office I go bright and early Monday morning. I think I've worked through all of the kinks from last time, but this time we may get hung up on the application for electrical service, which we will need to get the permit, but we don't know whether we need to go ahead and apply for construction service (the electrical box attached to a wooden post in the ground) now, which is the usual process, even though everyone knows we're not really applying applying right now; we're just trying to get a jump on flood plain review. If we do have to apply for electrical service before submitting our application, that will set us back a few days -- and lead to another trip down there, and another stint in the waiting room -- because we don't have answers to some of the questions on the electrical form (how many amps we need, the size of our air conditioning unit -- actually, we don't have answers for any of the questions except, you know, name and address). We hope this won't be a problem but are prepared for the worst.

In other news, the fear that plagued Austin all summer -- that we would never see another day below 100 degrees -- has been allayed. We have had cooler temperatures and rain (we had forgotten what that is) almost every day for the last week, with more on the horizon. And the amazing thing about the rain is that the grass at the lot, which hasn't been watered since January and has been brown since May or June, is sprouting new, bright green growth! Hopefully the area where the hole was dug for the water main/sewer line repairs will quickly grow new grass, too.

Once upon a time, our hope was that we would begin construction at the beginning of September. Now the beginning of October seems overly optimistic. The upshot is that all the rain actually makes me feel better about the delay because I know that even if we had been ready to start last week, the weather would have prevented much from getting done anyway. A rainy fall has been predicted; hopefully we're getting that all out of the way before we're ready to start.

06 September 2009

We Really, Really Need a Mudroom

I think all of the rooms in our new house are going to be pretty fabulous, but the room I'm most looking forward to is the mudroom. More than one design professional tried to talk us out of having a mudroom, citing reasons like "we don't need a place to take off our overalls when we come in from the fields anymore" and "you'll never recoup the money you put into a mudroom." While technically accurate, these people didn't fully appreciate how great a mudroom is going to be for the way we live.

Steve proved the need for a mudroom this evening when he came home from swimming in the lake at our gym and promptly muddied the freshly laundered white bathmat in our master bathroom. How great would it have been if he could have rinsed his feet in the shower in the mudroom (between the garage and the house) on his way in?

Modeled after the locker room at our gym, the mudroom will be about the size of our master bathroom but will be tiled in slate or some other rugged, medium-to-dark flooring. Along the wall with the shower will be the washer and dryer (we just invested in a high-efficiency Whirlpool set; according to the energy label, the washer will only cost $11/year to operate!). Along the opposite wall will be cabinets and a series of cubbies (at least 15-20) for all of our swim, bike, and run gear. At the far end of the mudroom, a pocket door will open into a small powder room with a toilet and sink. The sink is essential for soaking wet swimsuits and tri suits, and the toilet will just be nice when nature calls while we're outside or working in the garage and don't want to have to come all the way into the house.

Living in a fairly small condo for nine years, and now an older house almost totally devoid of storage, we are thrilled at the prospect of storing like things together -- bike helmets with bike shoes and riding gloves, swimsuits with caps and goggles, running shoes with visors and ipods, and sunscreen with all of these things that take us out into the sun.

01 September 2009

Ohmigosh! Bunnies!

In a previous post, I mentioned the bunnies, whom we adopted while our purchase and sale were pending, but I can't believe I haven't posted any pictures of them yet. So, without further ado, here are Millie and Dash, enjoying their favorite hobby:

Yeah. Extraordinarily cute. We know. (If you look really close, you can see their tiny pink lips and sometimes even their little tongues.)

At the very beginning of the process of designing our house, we knew that a bunny room was essential. (There is talk of 2-4 more bunnies when we move in.) In fact, our first hint that the first architect we talked to wasn't right for us was that, after we made clear that we needed a bunny room open to the living room, she kept suggesting floor plans in which the bunnies would have gone in some back bedroom. Not acceptable. The plan on which our design is based had a smallish office right off of the living room, also visible from the entry, kitchen, and dining room (and just around the corner from the master bedroom). That office now appears on our plans as "Bunny Room."

These guys have had a rough life. How anyone could ever give them away is beyond us, but they were homeless when we met them, and we cannot wait to show them their new forever home.