So you think you want to live in a travel trailer?

Downsizing sounds great when you think of cutting your bills or finding a temporary solution to economic uncertainty, but…it isn’t as easy as you would think. We’ve been out of the travel trailer for over a year, and our small house still feels huge.  With that said, I have seen some recent media advocating the travel trailer/RV for solving the unemployment & repossession issues.

It is small–that means very little fits IN the new space.  Storage of items is expensive, and we learned something along the way.

So what were those lessons?

Mostly to just not bother.  Donate, sell, giveaway, or throw away all of that stuff.  Have you got heirlooms that won’t fit?  Do the same thing.  It’s a lot easier than paying the storage bill, risking losing the items due to inability to pay the bill, or retrieving it only to discover it has been ruined in storage due to insects, rodents, humidity, or temperature changes.  Out of the stuff we had stored in our storage unit, the vast majority is simply not fit to be used.  Clothes smell musty and it won’t wash out, leaving them as havens for allergies and useless for future use.  The same goes for linens.

Furniture finishes were ruined, along with fabrics, and there were no leaks in our unit.  That was simply the South’s natural humidity going to work inside of a hot, enclosed space with items that weren’t being used or moved.

We also discovered that we had a number of items that we paid to store, but we also ended up having to buy another one of simply because we needed it during the 2 years of storing stuff, but it was logistically impossible to find it in the storage unit.  Paying to store the old item turned out to be a waste.

You have got to become a minimalist when in a travel trailer or you will end up with too much stuff in the trailer, resulting in no room for YOU.  That goes for everything from clothing to groceries, and yes, that means over time, you will probably spend more for items because of the inability to keep out-of-season items.

The easiest way to cope is probably to stock your trailer/RV with the necessities, then get rid of everything else in the house.  Sure, it means that your local charity is going to get a lot of stuff, even if you have the time and energy to have a yard sale.  It also increases the likelihood of you staying sane!

Learn to prowl thrift shops, yard sales, and flea markets to buy things you need.  Why buy new when it’s highly likely that the item is going to be donated soon?

Remember, for everything you buy while living in an RV, you have to get rid of something, and that goes from a new frying pan to a book to a t-shirt.  You cannot be a pack rat.  You don’t really NEED 16 dress shirts anyhow!

Give everyone sharing the space with you an allotted portion of space for “personal items”, and make sure they understand that everything has to fit there, from their clothes to their musical instrument.  It may seem rough at first, but when you get used to it, it will become second nature.

My advice is to also not have a larger travel trailer than your vehicle can tow. I’m serious in that–we had to rent a truck to tow ours, and it was a serious pain.  Also go with the smallest space you can manage–it’s a lot easier to find places to park smaller RVs and trailers.  At 30′, ours was too large for most spaces.

Learn how to maintain and repair your RV.  Things WILL break, from plumbing to leaks appearing in the roof.   Repairs are expensive enough without paying for labor and waiting for someone to do it too.  Know your RV so that you are able to recognize small problems before they grow into huge ones.

Learn to utilize “borrowed” spaces for holidays and entertaining.  This can be outdoor space, parks, restaurants/coffee shops, or even a motel room.  You don’t have room for diddly inside.

Forget a desktop computer.  There isn’t room. Don’t delude yourself that there is.

Oh, and your relationship WILL be affected, even if it is incredibly strong and you are both very tolerant.  Cram that tolerance into an anorexic section of space, and it will be tested.  That doesn’t mean its impossible though!  We got married halfway through our stint in the travel trailer, and we’re still happily married, marking five years of co-habitating.  Bad weather, forcing you to remain indoors will be among the toughest time in an RV.  Learn how to give your partner space when you have no space to waste.

Got kids in one?  I have to admit, I don’t think I could cope with more than one child, and that child would likely have to be very young for me to tolerate child rearing in that cramped space.  I can’t give advice there either–I’d have to imagine it.  I’m a grandmother now, so it wasn’t an issue for us, other than it wasn’t possible to do the sleepover at Grandma’s house routine.  Instead, we’d sleepover at THEIR house.

Learn to adapt and roll with the punches.  People living in RVs tend to be either OCD neat nuts or adaptable.  I’m not a neat nut, I’ll confess.  We did adapt.  But I am also not sorry to relocate to a small house, even if it wasn’t what we’d hoped for!  We adapted there too–I wanted either a “historical” house to live in or something rural, and even entertained the idea of DIY micro-house, but in the long run, we opted for cheap & livable to avoid the mortgage situation.  It’s not ideal, but we do adapt.

If you can’t adapt, if you can’t give up the “stuff”, then you can’t do the downsizing to an RV either.

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And nine months later…

It has been a long time since I posted on this blog.  These days, the attention that was once lavished here goes to “Our 1948 House”, the new blog about the joys of owning a 1948 house.  Sometimes, it’s a good idea to revisit the past though, and see how things have changed.

This house no longer seems gigantic.  Sometimes, it seems very small!  We’re still working on it, so only about half of it is being used right now.  That’s still far more space than we had in the travel trailer.

So how did our travel trailer experiment work?

It served its purchase.  It was cheap.  We bought a cheap used travel trailer, and it was cheap to live in.  That was the biggest advantage.  Maybe the only one, for us anyhow.

There were some other advantages.  It was portable, and we could have moved it to any location we desired.  That is a useful feature, but wasn’t practical for us.  We had to rent a truck to tow it.  It’s a massive trailer (30′) to tow, especially when you aren’t used to towing anything bigger than an 8′ cargo trailer.  I don’t think I would be thrilled with its size if we were actually nomadic.  We also learned that a 30′ trailer that was badly designed offered no more real space than a much better designed one half of its size.  We probably would not have minded our downsizing if we had had space that was better designed for storage and workspace.

It is really tough when you are stuck inside due to weather, day after day.  On the coast, with the heat and humidity, punctuated by frequent severe storms, that was often the case for us.  There was no way we could just take our laptops out and sit by a portable outdoor table to work.  Maybe it would have been better if we had been somewhere that was more conducive to outdoor living.

We had too much stuff in the trailer.  It meant we couldn’t find anything ever.  We had too many clothes too.  If you are going to live in a space like that, you need to eliminate almost everything you normally have from the space that you’ll be sharing with it.  Unfortunately, we kept the tools we’d need and a number of the books we’d read.  Add in summer and winter clothes (we were in the trailer for two years) and it was way too much stuff.

We paid for a storage unit to hold the overflow.  That didn’t work so well.  Granted we were going to need all of that stuff when we moved into the h ouse, but…

A lot of the stuff was ruined after two years of storage.  Clothes smelled funky.  Baking pans rusted.  Electric motors died.  Books smelled musty.  We may as well have gotten rid of it at the beginning and put the storage money towards new stuff.

You  might want the storage unit to hold your “overflow” items, such as hobby gear, tools, bicycles, etc., but…don’t store furniture unless it’s heirloom quality (and maybe then go with climate controlled storage) and don’t store general household goods either.  Storing clothing beyond exchanging seasonal boxes is also a waste.  The same goes for books.  Face it, after paying storage for two years, we could have bought entirely new stuff, and we’d have been ahead of the game.

Storage units need to be nearby if they are your overflow storage.  We had ours what we thought was close, but it was still an hour round trip to and from it, plus the time required for hunting through the unit.  By the time the two years was up, it was a jumbled mess.  Many things were broken too.

So when  you downsize, do it full tilt.  Get rid of the stuff.  Sell it.  Give it away.  Donate it.  Throw it out.  Whatever it takes, make it disappear.  Most things, you will never miss.  For keepsakes, get a small container, whatever you consider appropriate for your circumstances, be it a shoe box or a trunk.  Make yourself ONLY keep what fits in it.  Go through it once in awhile  and when you can’t remember why you saved that thing…throw it out and make room for a new memory.

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Good intentions?

I had the best of intentions in posting about our “new” house a month ago, but…intentions are not the same as sitting down and DOING it.

We bought a house.  At just under 1200 square feet, it’s not exactly “SMALL” after living in a travel trailer.  In fact, I almost feel like I need to pack a lunch to go from one end to the other.  Compared to a McMansion, it’s still small.  It’s also larger than anything I’ve lived in for over a decade.

It just doesn’t qualify as “downsizing” in my eyes.

So…that means something else is happening.  This blog has sort of reached it’s end, in a sense.  We did our experiment, and it indicated that 240 square feet of badly designed space was not enough space for us to live comfortably.  Permanent residence in a travel trailer is probably fine for the OCD or if you have private outdoor space and storage, but for people like us…it was too small.

Why do I say it was too small?

I cook.  That kitchen was impossible.  Undersized, under powered, and without storage space, I became the queen of the one dish meal and my rice pot.  We ate crappy food and gained weight doing it.  We also ate out a lot more than usual.

I sew.  Forget sewing in a travel trailer.  Forget arts & crafts too.  Forget everything but escaping from the four walls that too often begin pressing in.

We both read.  Travel trailers are hopeless for storing often read books, reference materials, and anything else.  Lighting is very poor inside too, with the inadequate 12 volt system not being LED.  It was like living by candlelight in a cave.  The lights had to be turned on during the day because of the few windows too.

No workspace for computers either, especially for two people that really use them daily.  We aren’t just doing blog posts and playing games on Facebook.  Even with laptops to use, they require space, and two wouldn’t fit on that dreadful dining booth table.  GM’s big feet didn’t even fit between table leg and bench.

For us, it was an opportunity to learn about each other in tight quarters.  We even officially got married while living in the travel trailer (we were in our second year at that point.)  Tight quarters will tell you a lot about your relationship, but over the long term, the stresses began taking their toll on us too.  The lack of space was inhibiting our creativity, restricting our activities, and complicated by frequent bouts of insomnia from one or the other of us, we were also becoming often very sleep deprived.

Our travel trailer technically would have slept eight people.  I can tell you now, with eight people in that thing, homicide would have occurred after the first week.  It would have been utterly impossible for more than a weekend, and that’s a weekend where everyone spent 99% of their time outdoors.

So what are my long term plans about downsizing?

We’re not sure.  We know that 240 badly designed square feet wasn’t enough, not for people who do more than eat and sleep at home.  We opted to buy a smallish “normal” house to renovate, largely because the travel trailer experiment had to end or one of us was going to go insane, taking the other one with us!  We do intend to do some work on the trailer, changing some things that were impossible to change while we were living in it, as well as repair the ravages of two years of full time living in it.  We have a tentative buyer too, if we opt to sell it.  We may opt to use it as our studio too.  We haven’t made up our minds.  (It would make a great studio with some relative minor adjustments, btw!)  Maybe we will opt to keep it and use it as it was originally intended–a portable temporary house.

We won’t use it for camping, however.  It’s just not practical for us, and we didn’t like it that much either.  For one thing, it weighs too much to be economically towed.  For another, it’s just too big for two people to justify.  We’d also need a different vehicle to use to tow it, one that sucked down gasoline at a horrifying rate.  When we say “temporary” house, we’re thinking weekend place somewhere, and moving it with a rented truck rather than buying something to move it with.

For us, a truly portable “house” may stay a tent, and then again…we may decide that it’s time to go with something a bit more formidable to the elements and wildlife.  I’ve long entertained a fascination with tear drop campers, and it’s something that I’d really like to explore further, with GM’s help.  I love the idea of dry, warm/cool, and bear resistant, as well as the quick set up of using something like a tear drop camper.  On average, we spend about two hours total between unloading and setting up when we arrive to a campsite.  When we tear down one, it’s about the same in reverse.  That’s not using an inflatable bed, either–we sleep on a simple pallet of a pair of thermal pads, a sleeping bag, and a wool blanket most of the year, with another sleeping bag and a blanket on top of us.  We don’t zip the sleeping bags together, and the extra blanket is mostly for me to steal during the night–I prefer to sleep cooler than GM does!  (We do more winter camping in the South than we do any summer camping–I don’t do well in the heat.)

Obviously, with my inability to function once I get hot, the idea of air conditioning in our sleeping space is more than a little appealing.  It would expand our camping season to year round, and eliminate the worries of what-if-I-overheat for me entirely–even in the daytime, I could retreat indoors and cool off while reading a book or magazine!

It would also allow us to store our gear when we weren’t camping in a secure and dry location, keeping everything together and no more worries about where-is-the-lantern.  Packing the kitchen would be easy too, and using it would be even easier.  Even if we were camping with a number of other people who were using tents, it would serve well as a cargo area to carry tents, chairs, duffle bags, and other supplies in a closed compartment, freeing up valuable passenger room in vehicles.

Best of all, tear drop trailers make little to no dent in one’s gas mileage, according to reports from other users.  They also can be homemade, and while a new, factory produced model might set the owner back a good $10,000…a comparable model can be built by their owner for around $2000-3000, and will also be a show piece of craftsmanship the builder can be proud of, as the traditional tear drops were always owner-built projects that often were far more show pieces than merely utilitarian pods for sleeping in with a kitchen at the rear.

So, with our new project being the house, it’s likely that a new blog will be born.  I haven’t decided.  We’re in the middle of a nightmarish move that has been under Murphy’s thumb from the outset, and we’re hoping to complete it this week.  That doesn’t mean we’ll be properly “moved in” but rather that we’ll have everything here and be trying to find sanity among the chaos and renovations.  After a month, we have one room about 3/4 finished–we still need to paint the trim, put furniture together, arrange it, and do the window treatment.  We have six more rooms, a carport, two sheds, and a workshop to go.  Oh, and a hallway complete with a closet that apparently was never painted since 1948 when the house was built.  (Actually, all of the closets appear to have never been painted, one more peculiarity of the house.)

We’ve had the house for a month, and we’ve already had three people say they’ve seen the former occupants who bought the house new and lived in it up until near their deaths.  I’ve not seen anything out of the ordinary, nor have I seen our cats or dogs react to anything I don’t see.  Is the house haunted?  I don’t know, but at least those who claim to have seen Bill & Eunice have indicated that the “ghosts” were friendly and curious.  Maybe they’ll haunt us less as we progress with our conversion of the house into our home, right?

In the meantime, we’re still puzzling over the whole downsizing and tiny house concept, even though we are engaged in merely managing renovation of a fairly small house instead.  There are some things we really like…and some things that have us scratching our heads and wondering what they were thinking of.

Like the paint colors.  We have a pinky-orange sherbert kitchen with natural maple cupboards.  The cupboards are fine and in good shape, but that color…nauseates me.  The putrid green walls of the living room and dining room, accompanied by stained green carpet in the living room are equally nauseating to GM.  The turquoise blue spare bedroom?  Dingy, dark, and depressing!  The heavy drapes and total darkness of the house is equally depressing to me–I despise dark houses with draped windows that forbid seeing anything outdoors!  Yes, privacy is nice…but at the price of self induced seasonal affective disorder?  Give me light!

The yard is smaller than we wanted, but it may still be bigger than we can manage.  It’s a modest sized yard, but far larger than most urban yards would dream of being.  It’s a corner lot, we have two pecan trees, and a couple of large live oaks too.  There’s also a number of crepe myrtles that have been viciously pollarded over the years and then ignored for the past few years.  The fences have been overgrown with trash tree saplings and vines.  We don’t have a fenced yard for the dogs–there are fences on two sides that likely belong to our neighbors.  We do have a workshop, even if it’s a chaotic jumble of junk right now, along with a double car port instead of the garage we wanted.  It will work for us.  We don’t have a patio or outdoor living area…yet.  There is no garden, and there are no fruit trees.  The landscaping is outdated, overgrown, and neglected.

Yeah, we’ve got a lot of work to do.

Especially since we DON’T have a lot of money to spend!

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Another chapter as the house hunt continues

I haven’t been good about posting lately, and there really is little excuse about that.  Not even being on the road and busy works–these days, you can connect with the internet in a variety of locations, including all McDonald’s.  Still, I have been incredibly busy and we have been “on the road” a lot, especially for us.

I must confess, we have spent more on gasoline in the past six weeks than we normally do in six months, hardly a “downsizing” or even being particularly green.  There was little alternative, however, since public transportation options in America positively stink outside of urban areas.  It’s not like we can get on a train in Gulfport-Biloxi and ride one to the Jackson area.

But, off of THAT issue, and on to much more personal ones.

We have been house hunting, and not being very successful.  We started our house hunt right here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and that deal, after occupying more than two months of our time, ended up not closing due to a list of buildings that were condemned in October 2005 by FEMA, and the list remaining someone secret.  I don’t like lists of condemned structures that aren’t publicly available.  To me, it implies selective enforcement as well as no recourse if that is what is claimed about a particular property.  It spooked me, and added with the hurricane risk, flood risks, high insurance costs, and the sheer number of biting insects, we decided that it was time to move inland.  We just aren’t that attached to the Gulf of Mexico.

Next, we were on a search along the eastern side of Mississippi, heading nearly to Meridian.  We found a house, we made an offer, and we lost another month of time with another agent that wasn’t particularly “on the ball.”  We learned a lot, after losing out on a house that I really DID love almost everything about it from location to lot to interior to exterior.

There is a huge difference in the effectiveness of one real estate agent and another, and these part time agents who have other businesses or are otherwise not engaged full time in the real estate agency are nearly a waste of time to try and deal with.  We weren’t even sure our offers had been submitted in a timely manner, nor that the seller’s response was forwarded to us in a timely manner.  Paperwork seemed missing or excessively casual.  Phone calls and emails are not returned in a timely manner.

So, we headed back to our favorite site for hunting for real estate in Mississippi. has been a huge asset in speeding up the process, but just because agents list properties there doesn’t mean that they are truly professional, modern, efficient, responsive, etc.  I must have sent out 50-75 of their click to inquire things, and out of all of those, I got TWO responses back, both in the same city, although they were over a week apart despite the initial inquiries being placed within a day or two of each other.  I also chose an agency that I thought would be “professional” from the agencies in Jackson, MS–a Century 21 agency.

While we had a great agent located in Vicksburg, MS, we weren’t quite as lucky in Jackson. In Jackson, the agent didn’t seem to actually listen, hear, and understand what we were saying about our budget and wants.  Instead, we’re being shown properties that we aren’t interested in purchasing at all.

It wasn’t that we were trying to be difficult.  We gave them our budget, specifically stating that this included necessary renovations and repairs.  We said we prefer anything BUT a ranch style home, and were more interested in “historical” property.  We also said we wanted off street parking, preferred a large yard, and only had a few “must haves”.  Our must haves were to stay in budget and have access to high speed internet (dsl or cable, no satellite or dial up).  We had already learned that much of Mississippi hasn’t entered the new millenium in terms of connectivity, with entire towns (some of which contained the only high school in the county) not having internet access.  Appalled, we were being forced to check out larger towns.

So, we have opted to seriously attempt to purchase a home in Vicksburg.  We had four properties that we were seriously looking at there, and we made an offer on one of them.  It wasn’t our “favorite” of the four–it wasn’t the cheapest either.  It was the one that we felt we could most easily turn into a home with a viable chance of reselling it in the future without losing our shirts.

The offer expired on Friday afternoon.  The seller didn’t respond.  That doesn’t mean that they won’t respond on Saturday or Monday, but we aren’t obligated to hold to it.  I’m not sure I am interested in offering more for the house either.  That remains to be seen.

I do know that I am heartily sick of house hunting.  In Mississippi, that’s a hot task for July/August.  Looking at 10-15 houses in a single day is a marathon of gawking too, and I don’t recommend it if you can avoid it.  (We looked at a few in Jackson, then another dozen in Vicksburg on the same day.)

Vacant houses have (usually) no bathroom facilities and no air conditioning either.  Many of them also have boarded up windows, which really makes it difficult to assess whether or not they are going to have sufficient lighting to make me happy! If you are forced by circumstances (such as ours of living over 4 hours away from the new destination) to do a marathon of house viewing, prepare yourself and your agent.  Know your limits and let everyone know about how long before you will want a pitstop with bathroom and a cold drink.  Stay hydrated, it’s too hard to honestly view a house when you are panting from the heat, soaked with sweat, need a bathroom and dying of thirst all at the same time.  By preplanning the pitstop, it gives you a chance to make notes, regroup your brain, and clarify things if the agent isn’t showing you what you are honestly going to seriously consider.  (Our agent gave us a preview on his computer before he left his office, so we could weed it down as necessary.  In our case, we weren’t particularly interested in mobile homes.)

That agent can make or break you and a potential house, so if you are at all concerned about how responsive and professional they are, walk out.  Find one that will listen to you, submit your offer(s), and walk you through the process.  Most of the time, the agent will be paid by the seller, although you can hire one to work for you too.  You don’t have to like who lists the house, but it sure can be a huge asset if you like the one that you are working with!  It will also reduce the time you are forced to invest into the process.  We literally wasted from March through the first week of July between two agents that weren’t on our side, so to speak.

So how can you tell who is good and who isn’t?

First of all, do they answer the phone?  You’ll be surprised at how many agents don’t bother, and instead you are left with voice mail, even in their offices.  Many of these agencies that aren’t very professional are also apt to not have anyone working in the office regularly.

Do they respond to online inquiries in a timely manner? I submitted over 50 inquiries online, but only received two responses from agencies, and only one of them was in less than a week.  I don’t expect it to be immediate, but a personalized response in a timely manner is a huge thing with me.

Do they seem to listen to what you say, whether it is via email, telephone or in person?  If they don’t pay attention to the details there, I question whether they are going to pay attention to the details of the house deal too.  A good agent will listen, ask you questions, and then respond appropriately.

It doesn’t matter who lists a property, most agencies use MLS services (multiple listing services).  Other agents have access to a lot of information that isn’t publicly available, much of which is important to you, as a buyer.  A good agent is going to be willing to help you find that property, no matter who is listing it.

Be willing to compromise.  You rarely find everything you want in a house, especially with a tight budget.  That means compromising.  You and your family need to decide what the absolute “must haves” are, make a list of likes, and then that final list of “don’t wants”.  We regularly traded our likes around, with a sort of informal scoring system for houses.  This is what our must have and like list looked like:

Must have: high speed internet, bathroom, bedroom, kitchen, parking, and in budget

Wants: rural, large yard, garden space, fenced yard (or portion of), garage, shed, porch, historical house built prior to 1930, 2 bath, 3 bedroom, den/office, pantry, dishwasher, hardwood or plank floors, lots of interior light from windows,

What we offered on…well,, it didn’t have much on the want list.  It has two bathrooms, but one is unfinished.  It does have 3 bedrooms, sort of.  It was built about 1940.  We can park on the lawn, which is about postage stamp sized.  It does have a porch and a deck…sort of anyhow.  Who knows what kind of floors it has, but we know they have been badly patched often.  There is no fence, no garage, no shed.  There is no pantry, and the kitchen is original to the house…and badly battered.  The flooring is awful, patched, and mismatched.  Drywall is unfinished, an old through-the-wall holes for air conditioners are located in several locations of the house with nothing more than plywood and boards holding it into place.  To be honest, it’s a mess.  It needs a total makeover, and the goal is to purchase it with enough money left for the necessary work to happen, while keeping the overall cost of the house low enough to at least break even when we are ready to sell it.

Now, to see if this deal goes through…or if we are still hunting!

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And the house hunt continues…

The house hunt.  For some, it’s a time of anticipation and excitement.  For others, it’s a source of dread.  I’m not sure what I think of it.

For one thing, our budget is still downsized, so we’re looking at houses that have “issues” of one kind or another.  Often, they’ve been the centerpiece to a foreclosure, for one reason or another.  Sometimes, it’s quite obvious the last occupants were not happy when they left, and vented much of their anger on the house itself.

We have seen some doozies too.  Some have obviously housed vagrants on a temporary basis, or been the location of some other less-than-legal activity.  Some have had animals make them their homes for a while.  Others, well, I guess the house just gave up, because it seemed to be literally falling down.  We’ve seen houses that were far beyond habitable, and we’ve seen houses that just needed a spark to bring them back to life.

We’ve also encountered something that has finally provided us with the incentive to leave the Gulf Coast too.  It’s called “FEMA” and what it means is there is a list of properties essentially condemned in the initial post-Katrina surveys of communities and rural property.  The real problem is that this list is NOT available to the public, and as a result, enforcement seems to occur somewhat randomly.  Real estate agents, loan officers, banks, insurance companies, and even building departments also don’t seem to have access to this list.  In fact, we were told the only one with access was the mayor of one small town (for that town.)

I don’t like secret lists.  I don’t like the idea that we could buy a piece of property, repair and renovate it, and then…at some future date, have some one come along and tell us that we had to move out because we couldn’t live in it and have utilities anymore.  What is even more unsettling is that we could buy insurance on this property, and when the unthinkable happens (which is why you own insurance) the insurance company could say, oh, gee that’s too bad, but your house was condemned in 2005, and we aren’t going to cover your fire/flood/storm damage.  (Yes, I  know that flood insurance is separate, essentially underwritten by FEMA, but I do know of a case where flood insurance was obtained, and then the city refused the “certificate of occupancy” based on that 2005 survey.)

We had a narrow miss on just such a scenario with less than 48 hours to closing.  I kept thinking about it, as well as the family that bought a house, closed, and then were told that it was a condemned structure and had to be raised or razed.  Random and arbitrary enforcement of this secret list put me off on buying anything in the coastal counties, as there is no way we could know for certain that our new home wasn’t included.  For that matter, there isn’t any way of knowing whether or not anyone hasn’t had that sentence of doom delivered when in fact their home isn’t on the list at all–no one has access to the list!

As far as I was concerned, my coastal living days were numbered, and it was a low number.  I wanted inland, where we wouldn’t be facing evacuation for storms nor worrying about storm surge and flood from one.  It’s one thing to have it occur as a surprise, when rains come to hard or a dam fails…it’s another to know it’s going to happen if a tropical storm or hurricane makes land fall too close.  We just don’t have enough financial or emotional investment in coastal life, I guess.  I don’t see any reason to make it either, it’s too transitory.

Crossing Harrison, Hancock, and Jackson counties off of our list of potential home counties in Mississippi seemed to take stress off.  We had made part of our decision, and we were free of the evacuation scenario now.  No more wondering where we would go and where we would stay when it happens next time, because it was not ever a case of an “if”…it’s inevitable, and with global warming, we’re told it will happen more often than in the past.  Typically, it seems that about every 20 years, the region sees a “major event” such as Katrina or Camille.  That would mean that when the next one came, I’d be approaching the “elderly” stage of life, hardly a good time to deal with all of those issues.  The elderly evacuees I had known during the first days after Katrina were the ones that were hardest hit emotionally and financially–it’s not a good time in one’s life to start all over again.

That still gives us a vast area to search for our new home.  We’ve started the search, looked at some more houses, and while I was still thinking small and compact, I was learning something too.

Small houses are often newer houses, supposedly “energy efficient” or “more energy efficient” than the older, more spacious homes of days gone by.  Still, we ended up looking at some older homes, and that’s when I discovered something new to me.

These older homes, even without air conditioning or electricity to operate them, were usually cool, fresher smelling, and well lit.  The smaller homes of more modern construction (post 1940) were usually hot, stuffy, and often smelled musty, as well as being dark and more than a little creepy.  Maybe I’m wrong, but my thinking indicates that if a home is cool and comfortable inside when it is 90 degrees or hotter outside in the summer, it’s likely to be equally comfortable in winter when it is 30 degrees outside.  Even if it isn’t very warm inside, I know I cope a lot better with cool than I do heat anyhow!  (For one thing, warm clothes goes a long ways to having a warm body, but being a nudist isn’t my idea of fun post-50!)

Maybe small and newer isn’t necessarily better?  Maybe “recycling” one of these older homes is more environmentally friendly than it is to consider building new or retrofitting a newer house?

I’m not sure, we’re still “hunting” for that place that says “this is home” to us.  But…I keep thinking about where our daughter lives, in a modern, energy efficient home.  Once the temperature outside hits about 75 degrees, their house is a stuffy oven to me, with poor air flow.  It also seems dark, unless electric lights are used, and most rooms don’t have enough natural daylight to allow me to even read easily.  I don’t find that cave-like feeling “homey”–I’m not an animal seeking a den, but a middle aged woman seeking a home.

One home in our price range and regarded as “move in ready” was viewed by us with one of our favorite real estate agents (ever looking in Lucedale, MS area–give Russell Evans a call–he’s great!)  The house wasn’t listed by him, but we prefer dealing with him, so we had given him a call.  When he unlocked the house and the door was opened, I was immediately aware of a musty, empty house smell.  I didn’t like that–it makes me worry about mold.  Inside, the tiny three bedroom house was cramped, with the most impossible looking kitchen I had ever seen.  While GM had ideas on renovating the kitchen to make it workable, and we could cope with the three tiny bedrooms (none of which were big enough to allow walking space and a king size bed), the yard was really the negative despite being fenced with chain link (great for our dogs.)  It was tiny, and the backyard, while it faced a small neighborhood park, was incredibly sloped.  Large trees overshadowed everything, making gardening a near impossibility.  I just couldn’t see the yard working for us–there was no way to garden, no garage, no space for a work shop…and not even any place to store a lawn mower.

I have found several homes with great kitchens, but bad kitchens are much more common.  So what makes a bad kitchen?  First, it’s tiny space and poorly designed work areas.  Sinks crammed into corners or beside doors are a huge “yuck”, and I’m equally un-thrilled with stove locations that appear to be an afterthought.  Plenty of counter space, a dishwasher (or a place where one could be installed) are huge pluses.  Pantries are actually rare in this part of the country, even in older homes.  I happen to be one of the few people that actually LIKES a well designed narrow galley kitchen, especially with doors at either end.  I really like it when they open to the outside on one end (great for carrying in groceries) and to the dining area/room on the other (great for serving).  I also like, probably because of childhood experiences, a country kitchen that features a “kitchen table” in the center, as part of the working triangle.  Essentially, in that design, the table becomes a work island during meal preparation, in addition to serving as space for casual meals or snacks, as well as having a cup of coffee while baking.

Living spaces for us are flexible.  We know we need office space, and ideally, we’d not have that in our public living room or “front room” as it was called in my childhood.  Back in those days, the front room was a more user friendly version of the old fashioned parlor.  A den was even less formal, often the preferred location of men, and usually the location of the lone family television set too.  (Yes, they were often black and white and in a huge console when I was a kid!)  The den would also often have the book shelves and desk that served as the home office.

Few families have formal dining rooms today.  Our houses aren’t big enough often, and the dining room doesn’t seem to feature strongly in family culture either.  When I was a kid, the dining room was where most family meals  were held, especially when they included the head of the family (i.e. the man!).  Informal meals for the kids happened in the kitchen, along with snacks.  The dining room held the china cabinet, buffet, the large table, and typically was set up to seat eight people.  Holiday or special occasions when more were seated usually meant that the children (or the youngest children) were banished to the kitchen table or a card table.  These tables often had table cloths, featured the “good” china, and also featured food served in serving dishes rather than directly from the pot or pan in which is was prepared.  It also meant plenty of dish washing, as we always had not only our dinner plates, but also separate dishes for our salad, our vegetables, and our dessert.  I also never remember a big family meal that didn’t feature my mother preparing an elaborate “relish tray” with everything from carrot curls to exotic pickles that she made herself all summer long, from pickled green beans to watermelon pickles.  We adored these tiny bite-sized treats, and were threatened with bodily harm if we dared touch the trays before the arrival of our dinner guests too.

I’m not planning on trying to return to days-gone-by.  We don’t have the large extended family living nearby, and we certainly don’t entertain in the same way.  Our lives have changed immensely from when my great grandmother arrived to join in on  a summer croquet game to shock us all with her appearance in a pair of our great grandfather’s pants (that was the ONLY time I ever saw her wearing anything but a dress!)  Today, we’re more likely to entertain with a casual gathering around a barbecue grill or over a rustic pot of stew than we are with a formal dinner.  Besides, I lack my mother’s grace and skill at being able to prepare the elaborate meal and then serve it with everything at the right temperature, in the right dishes, at the right time, while making it all look easy.  (Never mind that it often included a week or more of preparation beforehand.)  I’m also older than she was when she indulged in that–today, she’s just as apt as anyone to have entertaining include the guests help cook AND serve the food.

We don’t know what house we’ll end up buying.  We don’t know exactly where either.  We do know that we want it to be a place we can call home.  We would like it to have a big yard,  spacious kitchen, and a home office.  We’d love it if it was fenced and included a garage.  We don’t have a very stringent “must have” list, actually.  I hope that when we do find the perfect place, it also comes with the perfect price tag, because ultimately, that’s our bottom line for the perfect home.  It has to come with the right price.

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It’s officially over

Well, our wait is over.  It should have been over yesterday, but once again, the agent from hell dropped the ball.

The house we were supposed to close the deal on Monday is no longer a deal in the works.  It’s entirely off–the house can’t ever have the utilities turned on.

I thought we’d done our homework prior to ever making an offer, because when it comes right down to it, that’s the buyer’s responsibility.  We’re just fortunate that I’m none too patient and wanted the city’s inspection done so we could turn the utilities on as soon as the house closed.

It seems that prior to the building (it was a garage pre-Katrina) being converted, FEMA had surveyed the damage in the area and had designated the building as damaged beyond repair.  That meant that it could not be repaired or remodeled without being raised to above flood levels.  (The area had about five feet of water with the hurricane, but normally does  not flood for hurricanes or tropical storms.)  There isn’t anything anybody can do–it’s apparently a case of what FEMA says is as good as law.  The house is unusable.  We’re not buying it, and the lot itself is over priced if it only contains a building that has to be torn down as per FEMA.

Yee haw, we’re still homeless, but as my husband keeps reminding me, there is a silver lining to the cloud.  We aren’t the ones who own that useless piece of property.  Our money isn’t tied up in it.

That isn’t helping me very much today.  I am depressed, I had seen the light at the end of the tunnel.  I had begun to think about paint, landscaping, and fencing for the dogs.  I was excited, and could see French doors installed in the living area towards the yard on that side.

It reminds me a lot of a house my mother and I looked at years ago.  She’d fallen in love with it from the outside.  She had actually gotten a pattern to crochet by hand some curtains for the bay window.  She was so disappointed when we got inside, discovered it was far beyond our ability to fix up, with everything from dangling 1930’s electrical wiring to dissolving plaster and grass growing up through the toilet.  I wasn’t thrilled to discover that the third “bedroom” was actually a dirt floored lean-to on the back of the house.

Never get excited until all the t’s are crossed and i’s are dotted.

So we’re back on the prowl.  Not that we have  much to look at.  What aggravates me the most is that we passed up several other optional purchases, because this one was the cheapest of the group, and we were then locked in on the offer.  Two months later, we have no house at all.

I can try and be philosophical about the entire situation.  It’s not working too well right now, it sounds more like sour grapes than philosophy to me today.  So, I’m focusing on extracting the earnest money from the real estate agent (she cashed the checks) and continuing the search.

So we weren’t meant to get this house.  It was Fate looking down at us and shaking their collective heads and pushing the house aside.  I only hope that the same group of Ladies of Fate see fit to help us find the right place for us.  I don’t want something big and fancy, I just want something dry and safe, that we can make attractive and comfortable for us and our motley crew of rescued companions.  I want a yard that I can plant a few shrubs and trees in for fruit, along with a garden, and still have space for the dogs to run and be dogs in.  I want my granddaughter to look forward to visiting us in it.

I’m just not cut out to be a nomad, it seems, yet at the same time, its as though those Ladies of Fate keep trying to push me into a nomadic lifestyle.  I feel detached and disconnected without a place to call home.

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More setbacks?

Today is supposed to be the Big Day in regards to our house purchase.

Closing Day.

Having found ourselves with the world’s most lackadaisical seller AND agent…we saw the sun rising this morning with doubts about whether or not the sale was going to go through.

Guess what?

It doesn’t look like it is going to go through.  The title company is getting the blame today, and I’m still worried about the unreasonably high “earnest money” fee being forfeited due to it NOT closing.  I don’t trust this agent to tell us the truth.  I don’t trust this agent any further than I can throw her, to be honest.

She doesn’t answer the phone, she doesn’t answer emails, she doesn’t answer text messages, and never responds to phone messages either.  The agency’s office isn’t much better–we waited in the office, after ringing the little bell on the desk, with our none-too-quiet under 2 year old granddaughter in tow…while we listened to someone making obviously personal phone calls in one of the offices off of the main reception area.  No one came out until I called it off and said we’d come back later.

Professionalism is not part of this agency’s vocabulary, apparently.  It certainly wouldn’t be one that I would recommend on the Mississippi Gulf Coast either.  They are also going to stay nameless until this deal is done, agency and agent alike.  We’re not having much luck already with this group, and certainly don’t want to risk real animosity from the lazy bunch.

I am seriously irritated.  It’s been a month of waiting for who-knows-what to get to the scheduled closing date.  They cashed the earnest money checks, despite protocol indicating that these would not be cashed until the closing date.

I am also suspicious.  I want something in writing about this deal being dragged out, indicating that we’re not forfeiting that earnest money.

So…I think we’d best be bugging that agent again.

What do you think?

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Small house, big mistake

We did some measuring on the house we’re buying earlier this week, which explained a peculiarity about the house…and brought a huge problem in a tiny space to our attention.

Where is this problem?

The utility room.

Somebody made a huge mistake in that tiny cramped space when they planned the utility room.  It has all the basics–the closet for the central air/heat, the water heater, the washer hook ups, and the 220 volt plug in for the dryer, as well as the dryer vent.  It all looks good when you just look at it.

The House laundry fixtures

Utility room's laundry hook ups. They look "normal", right?

But we had noticed a peculiar thing about it too.  It sports two doors–the “back” door and a door into the living area.  On the door to the living area, there was weather stripping, and a lot of it.  Why on earth would anyone put weather stripping on an interior door?

Initially, we thought perhaps it was to prevent heat transfer from using the dryer, or to block noise from the machines.  We were happy with that explanation until we measured.  It seems that here was the mistake.

There is exactly 26″ from the back of the space for the machines to the door frames, both of which open inwards into the tiny space.  Without allowing for hoses behind the machines, the machines measure 26 1/2″ on upwards to about 29″.

It won’t fit…and allow the back door to be used.

Moving a door is a major project, even if GM does it himself.  It’s not exactly an afternoon’s work.  There is plenty of room to move it further away from the machine without interfering with the water heater’s closet or the closet holding the central air/heat unit…so why on earth did they screw this up so badly?

We’ll never know the answer, but eventually, we do have to come up with a solution.  We don’t currently own these appliances, and they are a ways down the list in terms of priorities for purchasing them as well–we’ll get by initially with trips to the laundromat.  (Thank goodness it offers free wi-fi, right?  Nothing ranks as boring as sitting and waiting for laundry to wash!)

Problems are easy to find.  The real challenges are found in finding solutions that fit our budget, tools, skills, and abilities.  That’s next…but not until after closing.

The formal handing over of title and deed seems so far away right now!

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And so the weeds grow and the fire ants build an industrial complex

Waiting to close on a house is an exercise in patience.  We did go back to the house after signing the contract for the bid, mostly to double check a few things and do some measuring.  We had missed some of the “problems” too, although that wouldn’t have made any substantial difference in our bid.

It’s “livable” and it is dirt cheap, so we’re just faced with making it into our home and doing the repairs.

In the meantime, here on the Gulf Coast, we have ample moisture, plenty of sunshine and fertile soil–a perfect recipe for a neglected lot to start looking like the weeds have won the war.  The fire ants are also taking full advantage of the lack of a human presence to make their industrial complexes.  They are even hiking through the back door into the utility room.

I hate fire ants, like anyone who has ever been inflicted with their painful bites.

It’s also killing me that we can’t get the lot mowed until we close.  It looks horrible as it is, and I’m sure our new neighbors aren’t thrilled with the way it looks either.  It also makes it virtually impossible to assess the lot properly–the weeds hide any holes, hills, or other obstacles that need dealt with.  Even the parking area is waist high.

Weeds and fence

This section of lattice was used to form a short section of fence in the front, alongside the parking area. It is now being consumed by weeds.

So we wait…and know the fire ants are preparing their complex for battle in the meantime.

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Another step closer…

The property we made an offer on has an agreed price after the haggling back and forth.  We’ve got the financial aspect covered.  We have signed that initial paperwork for the process.  The earnest money has been paid.

Not that there haven’t been some bumps in the road along the way.  It turned out that this particular house had never been given an address…in this day and age, no less!  That required a lot of trips from city hall to court house, back and forth, over and over, for the real estate agent.  It had also never had its own electric meter, which required the seller to hire a licensed electrician and coordinate with the power company to install one.  It was at that point that I must confess…I was worried the seller (a bank) would back out.

Now, those hurdles have been jumped, and we’re on to the waiting game until the closing.  We can, however, arrange for the city to inspect the house and give us that oh-so-necessary certificate of occupancy that we need in order to turn on the utilities after we do close.  The missing item that was going to cause a failure from the city was it’s utter lack of smoke detectors, which the agent promised to install prior to the inspector’s arrival.  I thought that was a very nice gesture on her part, since she’s been making me crazy with her manner of returning calls.  (She apparently prefers text messages and email…and I prefer to hear a voice!) Since it’s all electric, no carbon monoxide detectors are required.

Since this house was converted in the aftermath of Katrina…I have no worries about that inspection–the codes haven’t changed.

But that isn’t the end of it. I’ll get photos posted as soon as I actually start taking them and we start working.  It will be interesting to see before and after pictures.

We have so much work to do…from the waist high weeds onward.

To make it a bigger challenge, we don’t really have any money, so the repairs, work, and materials…are all being done on a shoestring.  There’s no furniture either–we’d gotten rid of nearly everything that could be called “furniture.”  That means we have camp chairs to sit on, a camp table…and a bookshelf.

GM has the skills to do the work, whether its building a new entry or a new table, but we are also “tool challenged.”  For power tools, all we have now is both a corded and battery power drill, a cheap jig saw, a dremel tool set, a router, and a scroll saw.  Our most critical need is probably going to be a circular saw, as it can safely accomplish most cuts on both sheet stock and dimensional lumber.

For the house, the critical needs are going to start with plumbing and painting, and we already know that we need a new toilet.

toilet with damaged tank

The tank is cracked, the tape is because of winterization of the house. The cracked tank has been "repaired" with metal duct tape.

We hadn’t noticed this particular detail on the initial inspection, but it wouldn’t have made much difference anyhow.  This is probably one of the more glaring needs-to-be-repaired items, but it’s certainly not the most serious or expensive.

So our shopping list is growing: caulk, caulk gun, toilet, new wax ring, corner molding to replace the lovely job the toilet currently sports with corner bead for drywall…and plumbing parts. Some things have to wait due to financial crunches–we have to move in as soon as possible, and just plain don’t have the money for an instant remodeling of the house.

That means we are stuck with the flooring for now.  It’s special too…along with the closet installations, the door to the utility room and a few other horrible things.  The damaged kitchen cabinets, despite the bad installation and damage, are also something we have to live with.  They too will get a scrubbing, coat of paint, and a promise for better things to come.

Despite the problems and needed changes and repairs…I like the house and the lot.  I don’t like that it is considered “flood plain” but most of coastal Mississippi IS somehow flood prone.  This area flooded during Katrina, but doesn’t habitually flood for every incoming tropical storm, unlike the bayous and some of the river front areas.  (According to the neighbors, Katrina delivered about 5′ of water…enough to indicate that a hurricane is an occasion to go visit someone inland.)

So we’re looking at the weeds and sighing…we don’t even own a lawnmower.  The graveled parking area is even sporting the waist high crop of weeds.  For this, I had recently read something about how straight distilled vinegar, sprayed on weeds, will kill them quicker than using chemicals such as Round Up.  Since we would prefer to avoid that kind of chemicals (we’re intending on doing some gardening and prefer organic practices) and distilled vinegar is one of the cheapest chemicals on the market…I’m going to give that a try.  We have a healthy crop of native vines taking over some fencing, and that too will get the pickling treatment with the hopes that it works on them.  (I already know that these vines are apt to thrive on Round Up from previous experiences.)

So here is our shopping list as we wait for news about closing.

  • 2 gallons vinegar
  • yard & garden sprayer
  • drywall mud
  • trowel/knive
  • sanding block
  • sand paper
  • paintable caulking
  • caulk gun
  • toilet
  • roller pads
  • roller
  • extension handle
  • paint tray
  • paint brushes
  • small/trim roller
  • masking tape
  • step ladder

While we can drive to Mobile, Alabama or the Gulfport/Biloxi area for supplies, we only have a Lowe’s in the Pascagoula area, along with the standard Walmart.  That doesn’t give us a lot of options for supplies and tools.  We also don’t see a lot of benefit in spending an entire day and half a tank of gas (to the tune of $30-40 these days) to save $10 on our supplies.  For some things, there is also the option of mail order/internet shopping to get the items we need.  We’ll see.  I dn’t mind saving a bit if I don’t have to sacrifice too much quality to do so.

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