Saturday, October 31, 2009

Last minute scary

This is what last minute looks like:

I got inspired by Mrs. Limestone and decided the day before Halloween to put a little spook on our front porch for the trick-or-treaters.  I could never go all out like she did, but this is not bad for a $2 bag of spider webs, two $5 skulls, a red light bulb and 20 minutes.  It looks really cool at night!

I could've done a better job with the webs, but I got impatient.  Hope you are all having a great Halloween!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The big cover up

After the fiasco with our french doors that made me want to eat an entire bag of Reeses question my ability as a renovator, I am happy to say the shy doors that didn't want to be stripped naked are now demurely covered up with a nice coat of oil-based primer:  

I know you can still see things through the primer, but the doors were pretty much looking like a battlefield before, so this is great in comparison. 

Can I get an 'amen' for how annoying it is to paint divided-light doors?!  I figured out after painting the china cabinet doors in the dining room that it's pointless to tape off the glass, so I never do.  You spend hours taping, then you have to leave it on so long through all the coats of paint and primer, that it pulls off your paint with it.  It is infinitely better to just use a high-quality angled brush, try to be neat, and then use a glass scraper after everything dries to clean up your oopsies.  And uh, I haven't done that part yet. 
I'm hoping to get these guys painted this weekend and hung asap!  Mmm, Reeses....thanks goodness for Halloween, the only time of year I can buy six huge bags of candy at Target without the cashier giving me a side-eye.   

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Jamie's Condo: Behind closed doors

Over the weekend, Jamie was on a roll.  After a work-til-midnight painting session all by herself last Friday, we were ready to hang the upper cabinet doors up Monday night!  It was important to let them cure for at least three days to avoid soft spots or dings during installation, so look at how happy she is to finally be getting these up after three weeks of them laying around her garage:

She may also be auditioning to be a spokeperson for Black and Decker?  We were both giddy with excitement when we got all them all up:
Seriously, we did the happy dance around the kitchen while her 3-year-old looked at us like we were idiots.  We reused all her old brassy hinges by spray painting them (two coats) with Rustoleum Universal Satin Nickel paint for less than 8 bucks:

This saved not only gobs of money, but time and aggravation getting new hinges to fit.  And they look brand new!  We just went and bought new stainless screws to replace the old brown and rusty ones.  Once the doors were up, I went around with the handy-dandy Measure Pro Cabinet Kit from Menards and marked with a sharpie where we wanted her knobs to be placed.  Since she didn't have any cabinet knobs before, she had to put some muscle into drilling the holes:

She kind of looks like she's praying, doesn't she?  We didn't need the prayers, everything turned out great (except my photography skills, sorry!):

Here's a 'before' to remind you what these cabinets looked like three weeks ago:

We made sure to hang the cabinet doors before drilling the holes and attaching the knobs, it makes it easier to drill through when it's not resting on the ground, and it's also at eye level.  The knobs are from Target, a pack of 10 was $20.  Hardware doesn't have to be expensive to look great, right?  Next up is finishing the wall paint, attaching the lower cabinet doors, and installing the amazing satin nickel bin pulls we scored from Target for the drawers!


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

One smaller mortgage payment, please

My last post gave you all the hairy details of our house aquisition last June.  This one is all about the way we worked the system like the Gosselins got a great deal on a refinance this year. 

Last year we refinished the living room/entry floor, removed miles of wallpaper, painted, painted some more, cleaned up the yard and added paneling to the dining room.  Even with all that, the place was looking pretty rough in January, and this was for a reason.  We wanted to get a city assessor in here to lower our assessment, and the soonest this could be done was the first of the year.  So...we left things looking like this to plead our case that the house was not 'worth' what we were paying taxes on:

Do you like how I hung a picture up to distract from the wallpaper that is still on the upper walls in the stairway?

Before this, I actually used to have a bunch of pages from the Victoria's Secret catalog taped on this wall because I thought seeing Adriana Lima in lacy panties would distract Shaun from my 'wallpaper picking'.  He thought it was stupid to pick off little pieces of wallpaper here and there because it made the house look worse, he wanted to wait until we were ready to do the entire project.  You can sort of see my handiwork in this picture:
My 'lingerie artwork' was up for a housewarming party we had, everyone thought it was hilarious.  Anyway, our plan to keep the house looking dumpy for the assessor worked, he lowered our assessment by 26k in April!  That would translate to a $566 annual savings if property tax rates remain the same this year, which I know isn't happening.  We will see what we've saved soon.   

After the city assessor left in January, we knew we were going to try to refinance because rates had dropped so much.  This meant we had three months to un-dumpify the house substantially to raise our value enough to avoid the dreaded PMI.  Our plan was:

Finish removing wallpaper in entry, stairs and upper hallway areas.
Prime, paint these areas including trim. 
Refinish stairs.
Change out light fixtures in entry, upstairs bath, downstairs bath.
Completely redo downstairs bath.
Stage the upstairs hall.
Stage the
master bedroom and guest bedroom.
Stage the living room, dining room and two attached sunporches.
Pray that our city assessment didn't get lowered until after the refinance!

Happily, everything worked out and the credit union we worked with received the inspection report stating that the house was worth 20k more than our new 'lowered' city assessment, and 35k more than we purchased the house for last June!  Pretty sweet in the bad housing market, if I do say so myself.  We now pay $200 less per month after securing a 4.875 interest rate and eliminating the PMI we had been paying.  Plus, our property taxes will go down because we were proactive in getting our assessment lowered while we still had a chance.  Since we escrow, this means that hopefully next year our total payment will be even lower.  And our closing costs were only $1200 so we have already recouped those costs from our lower payments.  Woot! 

In closing, please check out this hilarious photo I took when we first saw the house.  This is the upstairs linen closet containing a bottle of olive oil, and a can of WD-40 for all your bathroom oiling needs:
Other weird stuff the previous owners left here: a single (dirty) men's suit hanging in the master bedroom closet and a clean but taped-shut-like-it's-dirty diaper in the guest room closet. Wha??

Monday, October 26, 2009

How we started going steady with our house

It's a long story, like REALLY long.  So here's a little timeline for all those that are interested in our journey to home ownership:

March 2008 - I'm living in WI, Shaun is living in IL.  We decide that we are going to buy a house together in WI after almost three years of dating while living 65 miles apart. 

April 1, 2008 - I get us a buyer's agent and start pre-screening properties with her while Shaun is figuring out his work situation in IL.  His company (TJ Maxx) was very accomodating and he transitioned to a higher position when he came to WI.  It was a very nice thing.

April 12, 2008 -  I am discouraged (after only 5 days of looking, ha!) because there are so many boring 70's houses in our price range, and I wanted an older home with character.  My agent tells me that if we could go higher in price, she is listing an old house on a beautiful street that needs some work.  We go look at it and despite this

and this

We both really loved it.  Mostly, Shaun loved the deck over the garage, here he is seeing it for the first time:

April 16, 2008 - We put an offer on the house, however there were some big issues.  This house was listed by our buyer's agent.  You should NEVER write an offer using the listing agent since they are trying to make a higher commission on the sale.  I believe we could've gotten a better price, but she encouraged us to offer more because this was a short sale property.  We were told that because all short sale offers have to go through such a lengthy approval process with the bank, it would be better to offer a certain amount to ensure that they would accept it.  They accepted it 6 weeks later.  It was NOT FUN to wait, but now I wish we had offered less since it probably would've taken just as long to approve and we would've saved some cash.  Also, the house had been sitting vacant for over 9 months because all offers already made on the house had contigencies to sell their house, and were rejected based on those contigencies. 

May 28, 2008 - We finally hear word that the bank accepted our offer and we can pick our closing date.  Unfortunately, in the 6 weeks that the bank was 'approving' our offer, mortgage rates had gone from 5% up to the rate we locked at, 6.375%.  I am royally pissed.  We pick June 20, my birthday, to close. 

June 4, 2008 - Inspection.  The inspection goes smoothly, just minor issues except for water damage in the den area of the first floor, we ended up paying a separate 'water' inspector to check it out and it turned out to be old damage as opposed to a current problem.  Another $100 out the window. 

June 20, 2008 - We close on the house and immediately go to the rental place to pick up an orbital sander to start on our floors.  I discover the painted-over wallpaper in half of the rooms in the house.  Tears, curses. 

July 17, 2008 - I let my realtor talk me into buying a one year home warranty because all of our major mechanicals were 15+ years old.  She gets a commission on the sale of the warranty and we never once used it.  Tears, curses.     
Bottom line:  We got our house for 40k less than the assessed value and only paid half the standard PMI because we put 11% down and had excellent credit.  Plus, somewhere in the process we found out about the $7500 first time buyer credit, so we were really happy about that.  Early 2009 came and we saw the tax credit made one thousand times better by removing the repayment condition, and mortgage rates plummeted, so we scored ourselves a sweet refinance.  Too bad we couldn't have gotten the better tax credit, but we're happy we got anything at all.  More to come on the refinance later....

Friday, October 23, 2009

Gallery wall for cheapskates

In my last post you caught a glimpse of my upstairs hallway.  Back in March when we were looking into refinancing our less-than-8-month-old mortgage to get a one of those sub-5% rates, we were on a mission to clean up the interior of our house for an inspection.  More to come on that later.... 

We had finished the downstairs bath, stairway, and carpet removal right before our refinance in early April.  In the middle of all that work I needed to paint this hallway (Behr Antique White) and all the trim to make the house look clean and worth some big bucks.  I would come home from work on my 1 hr lunch break, throw on old clothes and paint for 45 minutes then swipe at my sweaty pits with a towel get dressed and go back to work.  It was dedication, people.  What took so long was the **8** doorways in this hall that all needed to be sanded, primed, and painted.  You can see here that I've only done the trim, not the doors themselves.  Patience is a virtue.  Painting all this trim was one of the only times I cursed having a home with five bedrooms.  Here is a progress picture:

After the painting was completed, I also knew that we had to put something on the walls in here to make it feel more 'finished.'  I had envisioned a small gallery wall of sorts, so I went to Kohls when they had all their frames 55% off and bought four matching gallery frames, to create this look:

It was a small thing, but I feel it dressed it up for when the inspector walked through.  I wanted to display black and white photos, but I didn't want to just go buy some.  I wanted photos that were a conversation piece and FREE.  So I did some googling and found a few websites that had amazing old photos of Milwaukee and my home city of Racine.  Some of the sites charged for prints and downloads, but others had free ones.  I saved the images I liked to my computer and printed them out on photo paper.  A closer look:
The quality isn't superb, but they are old photos so you can't really tell.  I also printed them a smaller 4x6 size so they weren't pixelated or stretched.  All of the pictures are dated from 1880s - 1930s and are taken of various areas in downtown Milwaukee.   Some of the ones I used on my wall are:
The Pabst Theater (which is still there and is the fourth-oldest continuously operating theater in the United States) with city hall (which is also still there and was the tallest building in the country from 1895 - 1899) in the background:

View down East Water Street from Wisconsin Avenue (1885):
Pabst Theatre again from bridge (1935):

The rest of these I haven't used, but I love them and may come up with other projects to use them in the future.  I may also purchase some prints in a larger size to support the Wisconsin Historical Society website. 
A coal wagon and pedestrians downtown (1904):
All the newsboys waiting outside the Milwaukee Journal building on 4th street (1920):
A bunch of little tough guys chillin on a corner (undated):
Wisconsin Avenue from the west bank of the Milwaukee River. The Pabst Building is on the left (1912):

This is a hysterical photo from 1905.  Check out the look on the ladies faces as the two men at the bottom of the steps tip their hats to them.  The caption says this is Mrs. Joseph Smith and her family.  Love that porch!!

 Oh yeah, and here is the other side of the hallway:

As you can see, we have one of those little 'phone nooks' that I have no idea what to do with.  Right now it holds a drawing Shaun did for me while he was on a fabulous vacation without me years ago.  He will never live that one down.  Any ideas?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

That is one foxy mirror

I've sort of finished the painting of the Hobby Lobby mirrors I posted about here.  Sort of finished, because I'm not really liking the shade of white for the skinny one.  Which means I wasted liquid gold really expensive Rustoleum Universal spray paint on it.  I bought it for this semi-dark corner of our upstairs hallway that currently sports a narrow wall, an Ikea accent table, and some Mickey-Mouse-looking popourri balls that never even smelled like vanilla thankyouverymuch Target. 

There is a bedroom directly behind where I'm standing to take this picture, with two windows that shine a little light into this hall.  I was hoping to take advantage of that natural light by hanging the mirror above the table to bounce it around a bit.

What the crap, it looks 'Dita Von Teese' white!  The table is the culprit.  It is a very creamy color.  So I have to put a coat of cream paint on this mirror to go with the table.  Poo.  But I do love the detail on this pretty girl.....

...why hello there, laundry chute!  White issues aside, the round guys are looking niiiiiice:

Too bad the reflection in them is not nice.  Empty air freshener, check.  Door cut 2 inches above the floor by previous owners, check.  Neglected moldings missing their 'shoes', check.  Floors in need of refinishing, check.  Argh!  Let's check out the detail on the mirrors to cleanse our eyeballs:
This picture *may* have been taken while I was in bed snuggling with my mirrors.  Hey, they are pretty and easy (to paint).  Now I just need to figure out where to hang them for all to admire their curves.   

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Completely unneccesary yet utterly satisfying

On Sunday, I attacked the clean and dirty clothes piles in the bedrooms and closets, and Shaun did laundry.  This only happens once a week or so because Shaun will only fold laundry while football is on because I really hate doing it.  Weekend mornings are ideal because I need at least a few hours to putz around and fold, put away clothes and 'prettify' my closet areas.  Last Sunday was also 'get the sweaters out of the attic and fall/winter work clothes out of the guest room closet' time.  When I pulled out my fall colored dress shirts in shades of dark purple, pumpkin, emerald green and brown, I was inspired to take the next step and do this with my button-down shirts and jackets:
Yes - I organized by color, folks.  And while it's unneccesary and more 'Bree Van de Kamp' than I will ever be, for some reason it kind of makes getting dressed more fun.  Like I'm shopping for an outfit in Cher's amazing closet from Clueless.  Except this is a two foot section of clothes rod, not a revolving department store. 

But you get the idea.  I may have to do a weekly 'check out the status of my closet' feature on the blog to keep it this way, otherwise I give it a week, tops.  And yowsa, I have a lot of dress shirts.  I blame YOU, Express!
Note to self: stop buying pink and white dress shirts. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Nice weather and fabulous finds

Yesterday was a gorgeous day, it got up to around 60 degrees which was such a welcome reprieve from the unseasonably cold weather we've been experiencing.  I was also very excited because on my lunch break I found 3 pine wall shelves for Jamie's kitchen at Hobby Lobby on sale for $6 each!  They are exactly like this one (that costs a lot more), but they are unfinished and will be painted the same color as her upper cabinets:

Three for the price of one (with no shipping costs, I love you Hobby Lobby!)  Anyway, my lunchtime score combined with the weather put me in such a wonderful mood that I couldn't resist standing in the middle of the street like a weirdo to snap a picture of all the mature trees on our block turning colors and dropping their leaves.

I think I freaked out the mailman in the process.  Oh well.  Our street really is lovely to drive down this time of year.  Also, our burning bush is seriously kicking all the other burning bushes' butts on our block.  Check out that color!

Teaser: something (or two somethings) in this picture will be replaced soon after 1.5 years of inoperability.  I'm sure you will never figure out what I'm talking about!
ps - doesn't the planter look sad without the annuals?  I really should figure out what to do there over the cold months.... 

Jamie's Condo: Progress

Here is the progress Jamie and I have made in her kitchen:

Whadaya mean you don't see any progress??  We painted the ceiling, silly:

Oh, and all these:

One more coat on the doors and the cabinet boxes, and we will be ready for her new satin nickel knobs and pulls!  After we paint all the lower cabinet doors, of course.  Sigh.

Everything is looking very nice so far, which is good since this isn't my house.  Grunt work aside, us girls really got into a lather at Pier 1 yesterday purchasing bamboo panels for the living room, and decorative items for open shelving we have planned for the kitchen.  Seriously, we were like a circa-2007 Britney Spears in a Frappucino and Cheetos store.  Watch out!       

Monday, October 19, 2009

Wine all you want

On Friday night Shaun and I decided last minute to attend a wine tasting that was put on by a great organization called Young Professionals of Racine.  We were very excited to have an opportunity like this so close to home, so we signed up online and made a night of it.  Can you tell how excited I am when we first got there?

As you all know, I put wine on my cereal I love wine, and this particular tasting event was set up as an 'International Wine Flight'.  There were tables of wines and complementary foods for North America, South America, Europe, Australia, and even a table for Japan that sported Sake and 'western' sushi for sampling.  We had fun and ran into people I didn't even know worked at my company, such as Ben here:

Nice looking guy, right?  If you're interested, I'll ask him if he's single!  We also hung around with a friend of mine from work, the lovely Kim (on the left), and her equally lovely friends:

Please ignore my horrible face in this pic, okay?  The event was held in the Sapphire room of historic Memorial Hall, downtown Racine.  This building was constructed in 1924 as a tribute to war veterans, and it was wonderful to see the original architecture mostly untouched. 

The moldings!  The doors!  The ceilings!  The limestone exterior!  The granite and marble interior!  I just love old buildings.  And wine, you case you missed that.