Oh, hello again.

posted by harlie in home

Dear Domino,

Back in late 2008, I decided to sign up for my first ever magazine subscription. Before then, I never felt that settling down with a magazine made any sense…I would just pick up whatever looked good at the newsstand. I wasn’t the commitment type. But you inspired me. Yes, you, Domino. Ifelt that I’d finally found a mag worthy of my commitment. With your gorgeous photo spreads of beautiful, yet homey living rooms and bedrooms, you made me feel like anything was possible. I was hooked.

And then, not three or so issues later, you disappeared. Just left me in the lurch. You broke my heart. Condé decided to hook me up with Glamour to help ease the pain of losing you, but it just never felt right. It just wasn’t a good match…not like you and me. Since you left, I’ve taken up with HGTV and I dally with Martha during the holidays and Real Simple if it’s convenient. While I’m happy with my new relationships, I still think of you frequently. The past four years hasn’t dampened my love of you.

Now, I hear you’re back. Forget that I had to find out through mutual friends and random on-line rumours. I’d have loved to find out from you…a letter, an email…but I’m thrilled regardless! It’s so nice to see you again. But…you’re different…I’m different…and I’m not sure that we can pick up where we left off. Still, I’m hoping we can rekindle a little of the old magic. You, with your lovely home tours and makeovers. Me, with a new place to transform into a lovely, family-friendly home. You couldn’t have shown back up at a better time.

Please never leave me again.



House hunting: Why and how it went down

posted by harlie in home, shopping

As you know, we bought a house (holy crap!). We had been looking for a house for the last few months. And, for those who don’t know: house hunting is hard. Those of you who know how true this is are sagely nodding your heads or are thinking, “No shit, Sherlock.”

We long ago narrowed it down to a few neighborhoods. The many of the schools in California are in dire straits, so we had a pretty good idea of the handful of communities we wanted to move into. That is, the ones with strong school districts. We’ve been living in Oakland which is, sadly, NOT one of those communities. Not by a long shot. This was disappointing because whatever you may have heard about Oakland in the news, it’s not a terrible place to live. Yes, it has terrible areas, but it also has some really wonderful neighborhoods that are pretty much free of violence. Neighborhoods where you can walk to the store with your kids or stroll down to the corner sidewalk cafe and enjoy lunch or just an ice cream cone before heading to see a movie at the local theater.

This is the kind of area where we’ve been living and we love it. Our walk score is 97. Seriously. It doesn’t get much better than that. It’s awesome. When I was on maternity leave, I never had to worry about anything being too far to get to. Grocery stores, restaurants, clothing stores, gyms, salons, hardware stores, day spas, craft and fabric stores, a theater…all within a few blocks of our house. But it’s still the city and it’s still Oakland; we have people digging through our recycling, pickpockets, car break-ins, muggings, addicts in the street, and the very occasional shooting. Whoa. That sounds really bad, but it’s not. I promise. Our personal track record: one stolen purse (my mom’s), one pick-pocketed wallet (the Mr’s) and one broken-in car (mine). But all of that is something you can recover from if you act quickly. Just…don’t walk down dark street after sundown and don’t be hanging out on the street at 2am and you’ll pretty much avoid the rest. And if you’re like us, you don’t really want to be doing any of that anyhow because Lil’Man’s bedtime is before sundown (during the summer, anyhow) and once he’s asleep, you want to get as much prepped for the next day before diving into bed yourself. Especially when he has started waking up at 1AM wanting milk and/or hugs.

Anyhow, I promise it’s a nice place to live and it’s especially a great place for a street-wise adult. We are going to miss the convenience of all the shops and restaurants being nearby. Forgot eggs or ran out of milk? No problem, the store is 5 minutes away if I walk. Craving some artisan gelato? It’s right down the street. Broke a needle on your sewing machine? That shop is open late on Saturday. Craving French burgers Vietnamese Ethiopian tapas just about anything? I’ll go grab some takeout. We have gotten so spoiled here, it’s not funny. But it’s not the kind of place where a kid can roam and explore and it’s just not where we want to raise our son.

Both the Mr and I grew up in semi-rural areas (him more rural, me more suburban) and we want that experience for our kids. We want a place where he can walk out the front door and play basketball in the driveway. A place where he can bike around the neighborhood without most motorists speeding down the street and where there aren’t cars lining both sides of every street and possible on-coming traffic just around the bend. We want him to have his choice of trees to climb and dirt to dig in. We want an area that encourages being outdoors with parks and hiking trails. And as parents, we also want an area with great schools.

Sometimes it seems like an impossible list to fit in our budget.

We interviewed a few realtors and all of them warned us: we could fall in love and buy the first house we saw or it might take a year or two to find just the right one. They warned us that the market is crazy, even now. I had a co-worker who made offers on twenty-six homes before his offer was accepted. Yikes! And because the market had stabilized some, more and more people started looking for homes just as sellers (particularly banks) started to hold onto homes a bit longer because they saw prices rising again. Buyers with deep pockets who had been waiting for the market to bottom out were entering the market with all-cash offers. So, yes: still crazy and quickly becoming a seller’s market.

Well, we didn’t fall in love with the first house we saw. Or the second. Or the dozens after that. But after looking at what felt like a couple hundred houses, we put in an offer for a house that we felt needed a lot of updating, but also had a lot of potential. Sadly, we didn’t get the place (as I posted before), so we kept looking.

A few weeks later, we visited another house. It had been on the market for over a month and I’d bookmarked it in my browser weeks before. I hadn’t pressed our realtor to go see it because 1) it was at the very,very tippy top of our price range, 2) it was a two story, when we had been focusing on ranch homes because: stairs, 3) the backyard photos showed a lot of slope with not a lot of useful space, and 4) the “remodeled” kitchen had the fridge sitting in front of a window. A SOUTH FACING WINDOW! It’s right there in the listing photos. Just completely blocking a window and exposing the condensing coils to a plethora of thermal load. I mean, who pays out big bucks to remodel and doesn’t properly account for the fridge and what other impractical weirdness have they inflicted on their home? I ask you. Seriously…who does that? If nothing else, I had to see the horrid craziness of this house.

But, fridge weirdness aside, it turned out to be a great house! The yard is sloped, but it’s not as steep as the photos made it appear. And while we had been leaning toward getting a ranch home, this home was laid out in such a way that we wouldn’t need to be trekking up and down stairs all the time. So, we made an offer. Since the home obviously needed some work *coughthekitchencough* and it had been on the market for over a month (highly unusual and a possible red flag since homes around here often sell with multiple offers within the first week or two) we sent in a lower-than-asking bid to the selling couple and waited.

Apparently, the wife looked at our offer and balked. She didn’t even want to dignify it with a counter-offer. Fortunately, her husband is a realtor and wasn’t too surprised. We counter and counter-countered for a while. After a bit of back and forth, we were close. We verbally asked the sellers if they would reduce the price 1% more (that sounds small, but house prices are insane out here and it still comes out to a good chunk of money) and have a done deal. But then another potential buyer came into the picture. His realtor was out of town, so he requested 24 hours from the sellers if they got another counter from us. Having researched the trends in our area, we knew that most bidding wars ended with the sales price either being higher than asking or with an all-cash offer. We weren’t able to do either. The last counter to us was higher than we wanted to pay, but they had offered to complete a good chunk of the work that an inspector had designated as needing to be done ASAP. That was going to save us money, but also time that would need to be spent dealing with the contractors. If we accepted their offer, we’d be paying more than we’d hoped. We were ok to get a slightly larger loan and could afford the increase in payments with some budget tweaking. If we let another bid come in, we could potentially lose the house. We weren’t ok with that. We swallowed hard and signed their last offer.

We were finally under contract for a house. Yikes!


House hunting: the nays

posted by harlie in home

I feel like we looked at a million different homes. I never realized how weird and quirky other homes are! I guess you get used to the little oddities in your own home and don’t really think about them after a while.

Our strategy was that I look at the homes with our realtor or on my own as much as possible. This meant browsing Redfin and Zillow like my life depended on it, researching sold-by-owner options and heading out during my lunch break on Tuesdays and attending open houses mostly aimed at realtors, not clients. When I found a house worth looking at, I would let the Mr know and we’d go see the house together on the weekend (if possible) or he’d get a special tour off-hours (sometimes they’d want a bid before the next open house).

In all, there were three homes that caught my interest before we finally found our diamond in the rough.

The Classic Two-story

As soon as I drove into the neighborhood, I was smitten. Flowering trees in well-manicured yards. Literal white picket fences. Kids playing outside — I even interrupted a street hockey game. And it was a pretty level area, a rarity in the hilly, earthquake country.

I drove up to the home and it looked quaint and lovely. A two-story home on a little less than a quarter acre and it looked beautifully cared for. With 5 bedrooms, 2.5 baths in 2,424 square feet, It was classically laid out — living spaces downstairs with the more private bedroom areas upstairs. It was also updated with hardwood or tile throughout and solar panels on the roof, which was very appealing to us. Walking in, I was greeted with a beautiful staircase in the foyer and stylishly updated rooms on either side. The bedrooms upstairs were a decent size (the master, though was enormous) and the bathrooms were up-to-date (a rare thing in our area, so it would seem). The backyard wasn’t HUGE, but it was a good size (plenty of room to run around with the kiddo), well-maintained and half of it was taken up with a pool. We weren’t interested in a pool, so removing it would double the space in the yard, which would be a huge gain in our books.

The main sticking point was the kitchen. It was tiny. REALLY tiny. It was a U-layout and I think I could touch all the counters without moving from the center of the kitchen. We tend to hang out in our kitchen a ton, so that wasn’t going to work for us. It had a dining nook to one side (which was bigger than the kitchen, I think) and the dining room to the other. It would be possible to open that all up and get a larger kitchen, perhaps even with a pass-through to the living room, so it wasn’t a deal breaker but it did factor into our considerations.

In the end, we decided not to bid on the house. Even though the neighborhood was amazing, it was a bit farther out than we had originally planned to move. When the Mr looked at the place, he felt the second story floor felt too “soft” and he was concerned about the minimal overhang of some areas of the roof, which could lead to problems with leaks. Both these things could probably be fixed, but I think it mostly came down to the fact that he just wasn’t as in love with the home as I was. We needed to both love the house, so we passed on it.

The Killer Yard

I will admit that there was one thing that I loved about this house and the rest of the house was a lesser factor to me. In fact, the house itself, while perfectly nice — 2,125 square feet, 4 bedrooms, 3.5 baths high ceilings, fairly open floorplan, slightly outdated in some areas, but all cosmetic issues — was not what I loved. It was the YARD. OMG THE YARD. The house sat on 2/3 acre and it was the most amazing 2/3 acre I’ve ever seen attached to a home. It was the kind of yard that makes you want to be outside all the time.

The yard was on an upward slope and wasn’t overly manicured. Of course, it DID have a couple of grassy areas. One off the master bedroom deck and one in the lower yard, off the (humongous) basement rec-room/theater. On the side of the house was a half court for basketball. But as you walked up the hill, the yard just got better and better. Halfway up, there was a large, flat expanse where they had obviously had fireside campouts and movie nights. That would be AMAZING because, with the landscaping, you couldn’t even see the house from there. It felt private and removed, but it was just their backyard! Run out of grahams for your s’mores? No problem, come on down and grab some more! Farther up the hill, was a small grove of fruit trees to one side and raised garden beds to the other. It was all well-maintained, without being overly managed. It was the idyllic wild.

But we passed on the house. I was sad to say farewell, but in the end it was the location that killed it for us. The neighborhood was great and definitely kid-friendly, but the actual street with the house on it was…steep. And this is coming from someone who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. This is the kind of steep that you don’t want to deal with on a regular basis. Plus, the neighborhood itself was small, far from the city center and kind of tough to get to. This house made the previous house look close by comparison. It was twice as far down the main road and once you turned off the main road, you had to drive along a two-lane road with a sheer drop-off on one side and a “watch for falling rocks” hilly cliff on the other side with little to no easement. Not really something I want to drive down for a mile or more everyday on my commute. To make it worse, this was the only way in or out of the area. There were no stores or restaurants or even schools that you could bike to, much less walk. It was the kind of isolation we weren’t quite prepared to embrace.

The House of Groovitude

After all that, we finally put in an offer for a house — a 4 bedroom, 3 bath single-family home built in 1965. It was 2,483 sqft on a quarter acre lot, which I thought was just enough yard and more than enough house. It had TONS of storage with multiple walk-in closets, an attic and a large 2-car garage. It was situated in a wonderful location — prime for us, really — and had good bones, but the house had sat on the market for a few weeks without an offer. It wasn’t hard to see why. This place sported a totally groovy vibe that was straight out of the Brady Bunch. If the Bradys had been on crack. The Mr suggested that we throw an Austin Powers-themed cocktail party before starting renovations. Seriously, it was bad. Really bad. But totally fixable.

A patchwork of wall-to-wall carpets plagued the house: blue shag in the living and family rooms, maroon and green plaid carpet in one bedroom and pale yellow and pink floral carpet in another bedroom. Large, clinical fluorescent lights hung too low in the bedrooms. A wall of mirrors graced the dining area. The bathrooms were blinged out with gold fixtures everywhere. The owners had broken up the backyard with a bunch of sad-looking, dangerously-tilting sheds flanking a wanna-be-zen garden. We knew that all of these things inside the house were just surface clutter and that we could tear down those make-shift sheds and double the size of the yard.

But the kitchen…oh, awkward might be the best word to describe it. Let’s just say that while the rest of the house needed simple cosmetic fixes, the kitchen needed more than just a face-lift. But that sad, plasticy, grey kitchen opened up to the family room where a wall of windows let the sunlight stream in. Overall, the home had an excellent layout and tons of storage. We knew we’d be in for a kitchen remodel, but we saw potential out the wazoo.

We thought the price they were asking was a bit much given the work needed on the house, so we wrote up what we felt was a fair price. I still think it was a fair price, but you know what they say: a house is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it. And someone else was willing to pay more. A lot more, as it turned out. As in well-over-asking-price more. After all the time it spent on the market with no interest shown in its totally righteous groovitude, it suddenly got two offers on the same day and ours lost out. Our hearts weren’t broken, but there was major disappointment. We felt we made the right offer for us and for that house. Even though it was disheartening, we couldn’t be too upset.

We kept looking for something better (Spoiler alert: we eventually found something better!).


Aaaaaand we’re back.

posted by harlie in day-to-day, family, home

Sort of. I had hoped to have posted a lot more about our new home by now. I just had NO idea how completely stressful these past few weeks would be. Also, we just got our internet back up yesterday.

Apparently buying and moving into a new home while both working full-time tech jobs just wasn’t enough for us, so we also replaced the flooring in the new house, flew across country just before our move and the Mr started a new job around the same time. I was completely overwhelmed and I wasn’t even the one doing the floor installation and I definitely wasn’t doing a book tour. Sheesh. I have no idea how the Petersiks do it. They are seriously an unstoppable powerhouse.

Anyhow, we had our moving day last week and finally handed over our keys after packing up the last odds and ends and cleaning up the old rental over the weekend. We had no idea that we had
I know that packing for a move is a great time to sort your belongings (keep, donate, sell, trash) and I normally follow this practice, but we just didn’t have the time. The upshot is that we didn’t quite fit into the truck that the moving company sent to move us. The crew did an amazing job fitting in as much as they could, but it was really embarrassing because this truck was HUGE.

In the end, we not only had them load up the Mr’s truck, we had to go back and make a few runs over the next few days. The horror.

The Mr has been a trooper. Even though we’ve both been exhausted by this whirlwind pace of the last month, he makes sure I get naps when possible (I’m usually the one who gets up nightly when Lil’Man wakes in the middle of the night, but it’s still a major luxury) and did most of the heavy lifting when it came to the final haul from our old rental.

Plus, the Mr started a new job! The timing is really scary, but it’s a promotion and pay raise for him, so I told him to go for it. His hours are generally better, but it’s still a good long commute. The house move meant that we needed to rethink our commuting strategy, anyhow, so we came up with a new morning agenda. The plan had been to drop off the Mr at the BART station on my way to drop off Lil’Man at school and then reversing that in the evening. Of course, our first day at this new routine for us, the public service unions went on strike. No BART. *siiiiiigh* It was just kind of the icing on the cake for this busy, tiring month.

Oh…and just so you know it hasn’t been all about the house, we did have this cuteness when we were in Ohio:


Hopefully, I’ll have more time to get up some photos of the new home in the near future. And unpack more boxes. And to get more sleep.


Sneak peek

posted by harlie in home

Empty houses make great bowling alleys. Especially when you like to chase the bowling ball after throwing it.

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