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The State Of The Rental

January 06, 2015   //  Posted in: Buying and Renting and Selling   //  By: Emily   //  3 responses
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I’ve been stalling on writing a post about the state of our old house, which is now the rental house, for a few of different reasons. 1) Slow learning process: From figuring out how to rent it, and who to trust, and how to repair and improve the property all while we aren’t on site, we’ve had ups and downs to sort through. It wasn’t all intuitive, and I didn’t have a lot to share. Things are stable now, and I think if you’re considering something similar for your home, now that we’re not as green at the whole thing, you might enjoy hearing of our experiences. 2) I respect the privacy of our tenants: The house, and all of the projects I did for it are already on the internet (they do know about it). I don’t feel any overwhelming need to add more, at the possibility of exposing them. I rarely (if ever) acknowledge their home, take photos, or do anything that would seem violating. It’s kind of like posting photos of your neighbors kids all over the internet without them knowing. Boundaries! 3) I kind of forget about it? When it’s running itself like it is now, it’s not a top-of-mind thing (and sometimes, it’s not until someone asks about the house in passing that I realize “oops, it’s the 4th, I totally forgot to pick up the check.”).

Nonetheless, I know you’re curious. I regularly get questions from friends and family and blog friends (you guys!) about it; “Do you still rent it,” and “How are your tenants?” and “Is anything different over there?” so I tried to make a list of things that I most commonly hear, so I could give you the dish. (If curiosities are now piqued and you have more questions, just leave them in the comments!)

Are you at the old house often?

Thank goodness, no. It’s weird to be on the premises knowing someone else lives there, I feel like I’m snooping, even though I’m not. Strange to walk into your old house and see the core furniture organized differently (“no, that’s not where that goes.”). Or the cars in the driveway pulled up too far/not far enough (“you’re too far left.”). The time I spend there is purely for maintenance, and it’s like having an extra job. We continue to weatherproof the deck and pergolas every fall, and we replaced the driveway, and I did spend the spring and summer mowing the lawn once a week, but overall it no longer feels like my house. We contracted a snowplow service this winter for the first time, so we won’t have to be responsible for shoveling. Last winter, oof, not having hired that out was a big mistake. There were days that Pete would leave for hours at a time to shovel 2-3 times a day, early and late, while I was home with the newborn. That was stupid; everyone should have a plow service for their rental properties. Next year I’ll probably hire a lawn service too, but we’ll still likely stop by every few weeks because I like to maintain the gardens, clear weeds and trim back the rose bushes and other stuff that can get wildly out of control.

Are there a lot of rentals in the area? Were your neighbors upset to see you go?

There’s a nice blend of homes in that neighborhood; a good mix of permanent families and temporary rentals, but you wouldn’t really know it because all of the homes are single familes or duplexes. No big apartment buildings. There are also a lot of families that have lived there for decades, and younger families with kids as well. Fortunately, the house is surrounded by nice retired families who are quiet and unobtrusive but also are watchful over the property, like an extra security system… sometimes too watchful bordering on tattletail-ish (we had some issues right when we started out renting), but that’s OK, we appreciate their good intentions.

Yes, they were sad that we were leaving, or so they said. I understood it as they just wanted some permanence, and liked feeling like they knew their neighbors, and I can’t blame them for that. I promised not to rent the place out to assholes and so far, we haven’t. They like to see the baby when I stop by, and they like Cody a lot, so we’re still friendly with all of them.

Has anything changed? (For the worse, for the better?)

Stuff.

There was an incident one time with the garage door; it was manually locked shut, but the garage door opener tried to pull it open and the mechanism was so powerful that it literally tore the door in half, vertically. All of the glass in the windows exploded instantly (invisibly, into a pile of snow). That was something. We were able to repair the wooden door back to a solid state with some brackets, but we put wooden boards into the window spaces instead, and repainted the whole door white, so the door is solid now, which I kind of prefer anyways, for privacy purposes.

Repaired garage door at the rental house.

The driveway is perfect since we had it completely redone. It looked like shit the entire time I lived there.

The basement stairs need new treads. It’s on the list.

The tenants hung curtains, pretty decor, and even a gorgeous light in the sunroom that makes me want to curl up with some coffee and a good book blog.

One of our tenants bought mulch for all of the gardens in the backyard, which is something I had never gotten around to affording myself. The plants along the bed in the front of the house look great, especially this time of year with the lush, red dogwood and winterberries.

We removed a bunch of raspberries that grew in the back left corner of the yard, because they had metastasized into MONSTER BERRIES THAT ATE EVERYTHING THAT CAME NEAR THEM. Including my hands when I mowed. Off with your head!

Our wooden planter boxes are still there, and this year were filled with gorgeous dahlias. The tenant sent me home with a bouquet once, and made my year. The peonies that I transplanted from my parent’s garden get better and better and lusher and bigger – I trim some of those for myself because they are my faves. I would totally take them for our house if I knew the deer in our unfenced yard wouldn’t devour them.

I have never once in my life managed to tear a screen on a window or a door, but in 18 months, we have already replaced two, plus the entire sliding screen door, plus a new glass insert for the front storm door. Bottom line here: People are really rough on things that aren’t theirs, I think whether they mean to be or not.

Our neighbor man lost a large branch off his tree in the late summer during a bad storm; it was bizarre, really, like the branch exploded off the trunk, flew 20 feet sideways, and then crash landed on our back fence and in our yard (it almost missed landing in his yard all together). When one of our branches falls, we would just chop it up. When one of his branches falls, it becomes a whole situation with insurance companies, an investigation over fence ownership, a negotiation with professional tree cleanup crews, and the realization that people are lazy and nosy and always looking for loopholes so they can get more money out of State Farm. After about a week, we got tired of the shenanigans and cleared it ourselves in an hour. The fence, come to find, is just a hair onto his property line, but Pete was able to get it back upright and secured so that we could still have a fenced in yard. He’s manly like that.

Big fallen branch in the yard at our rental house.

How are your tenants?

My canned answer for this is: We’ve only rented to people we would legitimately be friends with so far, and I think that is great. We started out on a rough patch, renting to a couple who’s relationship seemed to disintegrate, like, minutes after signing our lease, so the girl never fully moved in and the guy couldn’t swing the rent on his own, and there were kids involved, and there was a subletter (fine) that was being laid off (uh) sleeping in the unheated sunroom? Into like, October? (I was totally not OK with that set-up). So, in the nicest way possible, we asked them to leave, and then we had to help the guy move out and clean because all his friends bailed. This was also after a situation with a BB Gun and broken glass, and a slip and slide that transformed our backyard into a sunken mud pit (and still, to this day, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Pete more angry than I saw him when he discovered our trashed yard). This is when it paid to have really watchful neighbors. Side note, did you know that there are adult people who DON’T have checking accounts and have to pay for everything using cashier’s checks? Can you actually be denied a checking account? I probably shouldn’t judge, but in amazement, I shake my head. Somehow, we did not lose any money on this situation, and we were able to turn around a new lease very quickly. This actually all happened the week before I had my baby, for some surrounding reference, so if you’re pregnant, and considering renting your home, maybe you shouldn’t put yourself through that much stress in the third trimester.

All that said, our current tenants are good people, I want them to stay there forever, and if it didn’t seem like I was crossing an unspoken boundary, I’d totally try and meet up for drinks (on the patio in the backyard, where I could also snuggle one of their friendly kitties).

Your tenants have pets?

Yeah, and I have no problem with it. Cody smelled/smells way worse. As far as I’m concerned at this point, there are hardwood floors throughout, no carpets to stink up, and a fenced in yard. It’s perfect for pet lovers, so I’m glad to see it used in that way.

Do you think you’ll continue to rent it?

Mixed feelings central! Life would be a bit simpler without it, but it still kind of runs itself. We’re on the brink of some pretty big expenses relating to the house – it will need a new roof, a new furnace, a hot water heater – so we’re trying to save carefully so that when those expenses hit, we’re prepared for them.

It would be a bit harder to sell the house if we chose to do so, because it would likely be completely empty and unstaged. So, there’s that.

And our accountant encourages us to keep it for some certain amount of time, so that we begin to see the benefit of owning it in our tax return. Eventually, it will be worthwhile, at least that’s what I keep telling myself. I’m aggressively chipping away at the mortgage, in the hopes that in another 10-15 years I’ll have another small stream of income.

We have had an easy enough time renting it out both times we’ve tried, so I’m encouraged that we can continue to find families who appreciate it for what it is, with the size and privacy and the location that we loved so much.

But if the right offer comes along, I think it’s yours.

Re-Zoned

January 05, 2015   //  Posted in: DIY   //  By: Emily   //  6 responses
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If you’re like “single me,” you probably haven’t paid very much attention to your home’s heating zones – you just layered on a sweater, and figured it reason enough to buy some awesome sherpa-lined booties. And then the tables turn. You marry someone who insists on being comfortable in a basic tee in his own home any month of the year, hates all sweaters, and you find yourself giving in to a home that feels like a summer day. In January. Bare feet.

Your thermostat might also be riddled with fingerprints, because, well, jam hands.

New location for the thermostat in the hallway.

There are underlying issues with the way this home’s heating zones were set up, not just my husband’s distaste for wool. The intention of two heating zones, one would assume, would be to control the temperature in two very separate spaces of the home. But in our case, the two thermostats were positioned just 11 feet from one another, in our open concept-type living and dining room space. Curious, right?

We consulted with a few people on the matter, determining that one thermostat was installed to regulate the living room temperature, which could more easily fluctuate with the use of the fireplace (that we don’t currently use). The other, located in the dining room, was used to control the heat to the rest of the entire house. That zone that supposedly controls the entire house had been installed in a corner of in the room that–while not directly above a heat source–was not in a location influenced by air currents, in a nook without a lot of air movement where it seemed that warm air might concentrate. Basically speaking, the dining room heats itself up, and then kicks the furnace back off (pretty quickly too, it’s just ~10’x12′ and influenced by heat coming from the kitchen and from the moderate living room thermostat temperature). It never stayed “heating” for long enough for the three bedrooms and hallway also under its reign to benefit. And thus, the bedrooms always seemed cold, usually 6-10-degrees cooler than our main living spaces, and even cooler if we were measuring nearby the windows which are old, and though not completely inefficient, not entirely draft-free.

The solution here wasn’t to keep the temperature higher (having an 78-degree living room just to get the bedrooms up to a comfortable 70 degrees is… stupid), but relocating one of the thermostats (the one from the dining room that controls the whole house) to a new location where the air from the bedrooms will be a primary influence of the on-status of the furnace. You guys. High-five.

We moved it from the dining room, down to the very end of the hall outside both of our girls’ bedroom doors, and the difference is incredible. The bedrooms are warm, and thanks to the living room thermostat still providing a read of the temperature in the dining and living room open space, we haven’t felt any difference in the rest of the house. I like to think it’ll be efficient too, not having to spike the thermostat to get the bedrooms warm before bedtime, but to let the house simmer at a consistent temperature.

It’s easy to relocate your thermostat if you’re in a similar situation (ranch house, two zones, no need to be digging through first floor ceilings to reach a second story zone). You’ll probably need to buy a length of thermostat wire assuming that you’re going to be moving the unit more than a few feet, and also assuming that you don’t have a lot of slack, but the rest of the tools–the cordless drill, drill bits, string–you probably already have around the house. We spliced the new wire right to the short old wire, because it’s low-voltage and a simple solution in this case.

Be wise and move your thermostat temporarily for a few days at first by removing it from the wall and unwiring it from its current location. From below (take a trip to the basement) you’ll want to run the new thermostat wire from the zone control valve to the floor boards beneath the new location – just make sure that the new location isn’t directly above a heat source, which will skew your read.

Remove the piece of floor trim below where your new thermostat is going to be installed. Use a 5/8″ drill bit and–at the point where the base of the drywall and the floorboards intersect so it will be hidden when you replace the trim–bore a hole downwards into the basement. Have a friend standing below to help pinpoint where you drilled, or else tie something small, like a bead, to a string, and lower it through the hole so you can find it when you go looking. Upwards through this hole, thread the new thermostat wire. Leave the floor trim uninstalled for now, but connect the thermostat and hang it on the wall at your preferred height (mine is at ~4’10”). Kick on the heat, see if the rooms are improved with the thermostat in the new location, and see if any previously comfortable rooms became noticeably too warm or cool. Find balance both day and night.

Relocating ours made a difference immediately; instead of the thermostat heating only our dining room and shutting off before the room produced enough heat to circulate into the bedroom hallway, it measures the temperature of the air at the end of the hallway, which is more influenced by the bedroom temperatures. Being able to control the temperature around our kids bedrooms is the best part about it; comfort is key.

To make the relocation permanent, remove the thermostat from its temporary placement, and unwire it. Drill through your drywall using the 5/8″ bit. Directly below that hole, at baseboard level right where you already have the wire emerging from the basement, do the same. The wire will need to come up from the basement, enter the wall between the studs, and then travel straight upwards behind the drywall to the new thermostat location.

How to relocate a thermostat, stat.

The trick to navigating the wire running up from the basement up through that hole, is to source a piece of strong string, and tie something small to the end – a tiny hex nut worked for us, glinting metal is easier to see if you’re shining light at it. Put the end of the string with the object down through the top hole in the wall, holding onto the end. As the thread makes its way downward through the wall, kneel and look through the hole for the metal object. Be ready to snag it with anything you can find–pinkie finger, needle nose pliers, an unfurled paperclip–and pull it out from behind the drywall.

How to relocate a thermostat, stat.

The string should still be visible going in at the top of the wall, so that when you tie the thermostat wire to the string, you can wrap the wire and string together, and pull the string out again and draw the wire up the same path.

thermostat_relocating_3

Couldn’t be easier, unless you choose a wimpy string and have to do it 2 or 3 times. Choose something heavier than embroidery thread, people.

Once the thermostat is hooked back up, reinstall it on the wall over the hole you made. Put the trim back along the floorboards, and consider the move a success.

New location for the thermostat in the hallway.

 

Hope you guys had a great holiday season. Happy New Year!

That Time I Visited The HGTV Dream Home

December 29, 2014   //  Posted in: Supporting Sponsors   //  By: Emily   //  5 responses
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That time? You guys, whoa. Thanks to Delta Faucet for inviting me to come along with you for this ride.

In the world of sweepstakes, the HGTV Dream Home giveaway is a big one–the biggest on cable television. In the world of my life, touring the HGTV Dream Home was a significant notch on the timeline, marking somewhere in between getting married and retiring.

The sweepstakes kicked off this morning, and it ends on February 17th. You can enter twice daily – once on HGTV.com and once on frontdoor.com.

Visiting the HGTV Dream House in Martha's Vineyard.

Martha’s Vineyard is obviously a lot different in the summertime when it’s lined with hydrangeas and buzzing with tourists and its summer residents, but the charm wasn’t lost when we were given a full tour of the island on a cloudy December day. Coastal towns are always beautiful. The Cape itself is gorgeous (we stayed at the charming Woods Hole Inn, on the mainland right next to the ferry). Martha’s Vineyard is especially un-commercialized, so it’s really like a great escape this day in age. The architecture has long been a favorite, and I had never been to the island, so it was a fun and inspiring few days.

With the company of a few representing Delta Faucet and Ferguson Showrooms, fellow bloggers Kathleen from Grosgrain Fabulous, Julia from Cuckoo4Design and I ate lunch at Black Dog Tavern, bought our friends and family gifts at local souvenir shops, and spent time in the 19th HGTV Dream Home in Edgarstown.

The tour ended at the Dream Home itself; new construction comes at a premium in Martha’s Vineyard, where towns, beaches, and estates line the coast and leave very little free land available for the taking. The Dream Home is not waterfront, but in a new quiet development where similar, beautiful homes will be going up on either side.

There are a lot of sponsors that participate in the construct and design of the HGTV Dream Home, and Delta Faucet was responsible for all of the faucets, shower heads, bathtubs, towel bars and other accessories, even the toilets. If you’ve ever toured show homes recreationally as a home enthusiast, imagine this as the ultimate, with brands’ top-of-the-line products, no architectural detail opportunities overlooked, a really fluid coastal theme from room to room. Winning it wouldn’t just be winning a prize listed at over $2,000,000, it’s instantly acquiring a perfectly furnished vacation home.

HGTV Dream Home 2015 Great Room.

Visiting The Home was an exclusive opportunity, I learned. Not many press or “outsiders” are invited in, and they do their best to keep the house clean. Even the furniture itself has never been sat upon – it’s all mint for the future owner.

Overall, it provides a lot of great inspiration for anyone building or remodeling a coastal-themed home, but it strays from the traditional in a few ways. One of my favorite features in the kitchen was a big skylight directly above the sink in the island, which felt like it really opened up the space, even on an overcast afternoon.

HGTV Dream House Kitchen.

The kitchen is fitted with Delta’s Cassidy faucet with Touch2O® Technology, as well as a chrome Pot Filler faucet over the stove.

HGTV Dream House Kitchen.

I wish that I could remember definitely, but I think the countertop you see in the above photo is Mahogany (it’s pretty much the only thing I left out of my notes, I guess). The floors throughout, visible in the below photo, are Lumber Liquidators 3-1/4″Walnut Hickory, and yes, I inspected them closely after my own experience with LL products because I had to know how their seams fell.

The appliances in the kitchen are incredibly awesome too; we had just purchased our new range when I headed out to see the Dream Home… no comparison. And that range hood? Amazing.

HGTV Dream House Kitchen.

The Great Room in the Dream Home is where the design of the home breaks most dramatically from the traditional Cape. With lofted ceilings and dormer windows all around, the very open-concept living space is also lit with natural daylight.

Jack Thomasson and Linda Woodrum have worked together on all 19 Dream Homes. Jack, the Home’s planner, is responsible for everything from location scout to managing the build, whereas Linda is responsible for all of the interior design. They were both there at the Dream Home the day we toured, and it was a real pleasure to be able to meet them both and see them showing off the project and detail-work they’ve spent so much time on this year. They’re involved beginning to end, and their enthusiasm doesn’t stop when the build is complete, they’re really excited to meet the person who wins it. Jack and Linda couldn’t divulge anything about the location of the 20th Dream Home, currently in progress, but if they’re going as big I would expect to celebrate the milestone, I’ll be excited to see where they end up.

HGTV Dream House Kitchen and Great Room.

Almost every time I questioned the source of something – from furniture, to fixtures, and decor – the answer was Ethan Allen, so if there’s something you like in these photos, that’s where I would direct you to look first.

The Master Bath featured a set of minimalist Compel faucets and an extremely shiny shower head, the In2ition® Two-In-One Shower Arm Mounted Shower (I posted a close-up on Instagram that day). In another bathroom, there’s even a new product that isn’t on the market yet.

HGTV Dream House Master Bathroom.

The designers integrated lots of subtleties into the home’s decor too, like beer from Bad Martha which I regretfully didn’t get to sample, art from local artisans, and some special finds from local vintage stops in town. There was something to admire at every turn, which made it a really fun place to explore.

HGTV Dream House Bathroom.

The bathrooms all include a Delta FlushIQ toilet (flushes with the wave of your hand – no levers!); we’ll be getting one too in the next few months, my compensation for this post and a much desired upgrade in our home.

HGTV Dream House Bathroom.

My photos don’t do anything to capture the true beauty of this home, partially because it was an overcast day and mostly because I’m not a professional photographer. I’m not even showing you any of the bedrooms in this cool home, so be sure to check out the tours put together by HGTV, and don’t forget to enter to win!

Editor’s Update, later that same day: I forgot three of my favorite photos! 

I would love an outdoor shower someday, and the set up at the Dream House was incredible, also featuring Delta products. A functional space made super classy.

Outdoor shower at the HGTV Dream House.

Dog house, OBVIOUSLY. Yes, a huge, awesome coastal dog house.

A coastal dog house designed for the HGTV Dream House.

Lastly – yes, the GMC Acadia that is given away with the house was there, posing in the front yard! And then we rode back to mainland on the ferry with it. A real star!