Thursday, October 31, 2013

New Home Builder Review: Standard Pacific

One of the main reasons I started this blog was to provide a candid account of the new construction process for others considering going this route. It was especially daunting for us because the first house we built is our first home ever. When I was still surfing blogs for insight, I seemed to find bits and pieces, but a lot of bloggers largely excluded their experience with their builder.

Like, tell me how none of your doors close and the roof leaks, but not the builder who did the shoddy work. Thanks?

To me, your builder not only dictates the quality of your house, but the experience could affect the perception of your home. Hypothetically, if every time I spoke with one of our builder's representatives it was bad news, I would think of the house as a burden, not a haven, before we even move in. Then, every time anything went wrong, no matter how small or routine, I'd blame them. "What do you mean a light burned out?! Probably due to our home's terrible craftsmanship." Only there would be blog-inappropriate words.

So, if any one out there is looking at building a new home, here's the official account of my experience with Standard Pacific Homes.

The good: The people we met and worked with were so nice and genuine. They quickly answered every question they could and helped us find the answer when they couldn't.

One of the main things that stands out to me is before we even signed a contract, we asked our sales rep, Josh, about the demographic makeup of the community. Being a couple of marketing majors considering building in a gentrifying part of town, we were pretty obsessed with what type of people were attracted to the neighborhood. Problem is real estate agents aren't allowed to comment on specific demographics as part of the Equal Housing Act (or something like that; basically, they don't want people to discriminate against neighborhoods due to the neighbors themselves).

What Josh did do was put us in contact with a current resident who could answer all our non-P.C. questions. Even though Josh couldn't control the answers that resident gave us and risked losing a sale, he took the risk. He showed integrity by not breaking his real estate agent oath. And he showed he believed in the product by trusting the fate of his commission to a third party. Honestly, I don't know if we would have chosen this neighborhood over a safer (physically and fiscally) suburban option without that resident's reassurance.

When things got spotty near closing (more on that in a minute) both Josh and our construction manager, Scott, showed true concern over our situation. Scott even arranged a couple of (small) freebies to make up for any inconvenience and show that StanPac was committed to doing right by their homeowners.

I never felt like StanPac was trying to hustle us, pass off a sub-par product, or do anything sketchy. One of the statements on the new homeowner survey was "I trust Standard Pacific to do the right thing," and I felt obligated to give them a perfect ten.

So far our house seems to be superior quality. The few issues we did find after closing, Scott has been adamant about getting them resolved quickly and on StanPac's dime. Very important, since after closing they have every right to say, "it wasn't like that when you bought it. Sorry."

The bad: Oh, Standard Pacific Mortgage, the stress you caused us should have warranted 0% financing.

While I have nothing but good things to say about the building process, I have almost exclusively bad things to say about their in-house mortgages. Even though Pat works for Bank of America, StanPac Mortgage offered several thousand dollars in closing costs and a very competitive interest rate so we decided to give StanPac a shot. Our loan officer was very helpful prior to applying for our loan to figure out which option would get us the best rates, and how to make sure we were approved all together.

Once we officially applied, the communication effectively ceased. We received no updates, no requests for further documentation, practically nothing. It's a good thing Pat is a mortgage industry insider because every time he insisted we send in some apparently meaningless document, we'd get a response to the tune of, "oh thanks, we did need that. Good catch." It took longer than anticipated to receive our initial approval (they were "backed up") and they went right up to the federal government's deadline for the maximum time to process a new purchase loan.

After we finally received our initial approval, we didn't hear much until we received our 60-day notice to lock in the interest rate. Which was a full percentage point higher than when we applied (admittedly not their fault). We knew interest rates could fluctuate, but we expected .25% or .5% tops. We didn't really want to go up that much, so we inquired about purchasing points (Pat says that's not the correct sentence usage. Oh well...) and our loan officer's responses only made us feel like we were bugging him.

You'd think that'd be enough, but no one even contacted us prior to closing through any medium to discuss money. We didn't know how much we were bringing to closing until we were driving to our pre-closing tour (about 2 hours before the papers are signed) and even getting our down payment amount involved me making about a half dozen phone calls (our loan officer never answered). We never received our HUD 1 and basically walked into closing blind.

Even with all the hassles, the substantial savings from using StanPac Mortgage versus an outside lender made it worth it for us. Maybe we're just cheap. I'd take a moment of reflection to see if you could tolerate the emotional roller coaster in order to save a dollar. If so, StanPac Mortgage could be for you. If not, run like hell.

The only other qualm I have with our StanPac experience is our closing date situation. Loyal readers (I think I now have four) will know that we didn't know our official closing date until 13 days prior when we were supposed to receive a 60-day notice. Big issue for renters who needed to vacate an apartment. I won't rehash all the details because we've been there, done that and I'm in a pretty good mood right now. If you want to know more, almost every post from August-September covers some detail of that extremely frustrating topic.

In all fairness, the delay wasn't caused by StanPac (it was cause by Duke Energy), but I do think StanPac could have done a better job handling it. On more than one occasion we asked for a tentative closing date and they couldn't give one because they had "been burned in the past." Up until mid-September, we had no idea if they were going to say, "you close in two weeks," or "this is your 60-day notice, you will close just in time for Thanksgiving." If they had said the latter, we would currently be homeless.

Remember, when we signed our contract in February we believed we would be in around late July. I do want to say that was in no way StanPac's fault, but a result of the rainiest summer in a millenia and Duke Energy's errant thoughtlessness. StanPac even told us upfront that while they can build a house in about five months, they had people who had taken almost a year due to "acts of God." If you're on a tight timeline, new construction (from any builder) probably isn't for you.

Overall: Sure we're only one month into this crazy thing we call home-ownership, but at this point we feel comfortable recommending StanPac given you are a patient person. I'm very happy with the quality of our home and the people we met along the way. The finished product was definitely worth waiting for.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Lot and Nothing, All at the Same Time

Well, well, well. Long time no see.

I knew it had been too long since I'd written a post when even the hubs noticed me slacking. "You read my blog?" "No."


It's been a busy couple of weeks, and while we've accomplished a lot, we've gotten nothing done. You know the feeling: you are constantly doing things, can't count projects without using your toes, but still can't pinpoint where the change is. It's like that, yo.

It's been a long time since I've shared a moment of blognesty, so in that spirit (or pure desperation for material that's ready and realizing there's nothing close), I've decided to share with you how the house looks now: one month after closing and more projects still to tackle than the number of touch-ups our paint needs. And that's saying something.

Even more proof that I've been neglecting you: I decided to do this post around 11:30pm without a bit of cleaning. Not that we're messy people, but living in a construction zone doesn't exactly bring out my inner Monica Gellar.

I've gotten at least a first coat on all of the first floor. Except any edging that requires a ladder. Sad thing is, it's "done" enough for me not to feel an urgent need to finish it...

For any item we intend to go in the foyer eventually, it's currently laying on the foyer table.

The dining room picked up some new, cute table accessories. 


It also picked up a bunch of unwanted mess. This just in, the ceiling fan for our living room arrived yesterday. As neither of us knows anything about electrical work (other than how to shock ourselves and cause mass power outages), it will stay in it's box until I can bribe my dad or brother to put it up for us.  

Pretty, pretty please with a cherry on top...

Here I'm not sure whether I'm trying to show off the cool housewarming gift our friends brought or how many Boonebleweeds one round of Swiffering can pick up. And since I must Swiffer so often, I only put it away when we have company.

 Like most of our rooms, the half bath has a couple cans of paint waiting for their time to come.

One thing that really surprised me is how much painting the walls grey made the house immediately feel like home. Even though I've never lived with grey walls, they instantly felt inviting and relaxed. I especially love that we picked a warm greigey grey, so our walls can have that popular grey moment with feeling cold.

Boo has taken over the breakfast nook with all his supplies.

The living room rug came in last week and we love it so far. Yes, I know my couch clashes with it; just remember, we'll have a white slipcovered couch before long.

Since the paint needs a second coat still, I haven't unpacked anything that is supposed to go on that bookcase or even pushed it against the wall.

One thing we have accomplished is teaching Boone that, while he's still allowed on the couch, he can only sit where his blanket is. We even use the word "blanket" as a command to invite him to cuddle in his spot. We got this great idea from our friends with a lab and a border collie and no pet hair problems. Fingers crossed.

Our loft is one of the few clean rooms, but it's also home to tool central. If you need anything home improvement related, it's "organized" by the wall in the loft. Ironically, there's a completely empty set of shelves.

Our laundry room looks like a laundry room. Functional with no personality (yet). One thing worth noting is that cats' food has moved in here. It may not be pinworthy, but I'm thrilled that my future guest room is no longer called the Cat Room.

Bathroom: could be wrapped up with 15 minutes of attention. Not important enough.

One very exciting change is we now have ceiling fans in all three bedrooms, thanks to my bro-bro. Sorry there's no pic of the master, my hubby was sleepy. I assure you it's just as boring as last time you saw it, but with a ceiling fan and furniture.

It's pretty sad how exhilarating I find it to walk into a room, flip a switch, and have a light turned on as if sanctioned by a higher power. At least that's how it feels to a long time apartment dweller.

Oh that office is crying out to me.

Shelves are in over the toilet and the master bath is painted although I'm already rethinking the wall color...

And Pat loves arranging the extra TP.

I took down the towel bar in favor of hooks and a shelf. I patched the walls, but I am yet to sand, repaint, or hang the hooks. And for someone who literally folds clothes for a living, my towels are in pretty shabby shape.

There's the candid, uncleaned, unedited, late-night look into our home. Hopefully having these pictures on the interweb for my three loyal readers to see will shame me into getting something done. But I guarantee it won't happen until Friday. Oh well.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Dining Room Reveal

As we mark two weeks as homeowners, people are starting to ask a lot of questions. Are we all settled in? Is everything unpacked? Are we done decorating? The answer to all these questions (for you inquisitive types) is hell no! We've only lived in the house for less than two weeks, people! I've barely unpacked all my bags from the Container Store, let alone all my earthly possessions.

But I get it, you all are eager to see some progress, and I've been slightly reclusive and extremely lazy these past two weeks.

So let's meet half way: I will show the only room that's even semi-decorated in exchange for you not judging the fact that it's also the only room in our house that doesn't currently have a stack of cardboard boxes and paint cans.

I've known for months that the dining room would be one of the highest priority rooms. Of course I'm eager to entertain some friends and family, but the real reason is because I couldn't take one more day eating at the coffee table. I originally planned to buy barstools for the island to tide us over until I had a chance to decorate the dining room properly. But, of course, the barstools I selected are backordered until mid-November and another month of TV dinners was too much to bare. So the dining rooom took a hop, skip, and a jump to the #1 spot on the to-do list.

I guess I was truly motivated because I managed to knock it out in about a week.

If you remember from the last tour, this is what our dining room looked like on closing day:

And this is what it looks like today:

This picture was taken at night, with flash (please forgive me!), but the color is actually a very nice greige. It is more accurate in the pictures below.

Keep in mind, the dining room is still far from done. We still need window treatments (blinds with curtains layered over them) and it's a blank slate seasonally, but it's presentable in the meantime.

We chose simple tufted linen chairs with nailhead trim from World Market. This is one of the few chairs that comes with the back and seat preassembled. They seem much sturdier than other self-assembled chairs, but they are about half the price of anything from PB, C&B or Ballard.

The floral rug is off white with versatile green leaves and touches of rusty red. Through the rug definitely has an autumnal feel, it will easily transition to Christmas/winter and can even complement spring and summer designs. Very important since I don't plan on swapping out the rugs regularly. I'm a one rug kind of gal. Plus, it will be the only large piece that's not exclusively neutrals and I know I need to include some color.

The table was a tough decision; our space is only 12'x12' meaning the largest table it can accommodate is roughly 72". I'm a huge fan of the farmhouse table trend, but almost all farmhouse tables are 84", a full foot over our maximum. My other concern is that those have been in style for a little bit now, and the trend may be nearing its end. That makes me a little bit hesitant to commit on a piece of furniture I hope to have for the next ten years.

The table that we ended up with, the Carroll table from West Elm, seems to toe the line between farmhouse and another one of my favorite trends, rustic industrialism. The table features large, solid legs and a planked top.

Important note, the top only looks planked; there are no nooks and crannies for crumbs to fall into. I had never even imagined that could be a problem until almost every review for every table I liked said they had to vacuum the crevices. No thank you. I've got enough to vacuum with all the blond tumbleweeds around here (I call them Boonebleweeds).

I also love that the wood shows several tones in the grain. No worries about having to match nearby woods because everything goes. The table seems relevant for the current farmhouse/industrial trends, but isn't so style-specific that we'd need to redecorate to keep up with the trends. Accessories will be enough to change up the space.

Speaking of accessories, those panels on the wall are basically interwined pieces of wood finished in an oil-rubbed bronze. I plan on pinning decorations onto the panels with the changing of the seasons. Picture garlands or snowflakes for Christmas or pinwheels in summer. Seems like a great way to bring some seasonal spirit up above table level... I guess we will see soon enough.

And if any one is wondering if I'm worried about having off-white, linen chairs and an off-white, looped rug considering the housemates we keep, I'm slightly terrified.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Lazy Pet Parent's Guide to Successfully Moving with Pets

It might seem crazy, but we've been home owners for a week already! One of the unfortunate parts of moving is I always put off calling any and all service providers until waaaay too late; that meant no internet for a whole week...sorry.

My media black out was good for a few reasons, mainly that it saved me the agony of constantly hearing about the government shutdown, but also because I've been super productive without the distractions of Pinterest and online furniture shopping.

That being said, big things are happening around here and I can't wait to share the changes with you. Look out over the next few days for the progress we've made so far.

I'm happy to report that it only took our scaredy-cat Leo five days to gather the courage to come downstairs and with that development, I consider our pets' transition complete. Overall I'd call it a successful move, so I figure I can share my tips for moving with pets to help ease other overly cautious pet-parents fears.

The Dog

With the dogs, the key seems to be maintaining as much normalcy as possible. Give them access to their toys, keep the place they sleep consistent (crates have been proven to help reduce stress following a move), walk and feed them at their normal times. Pet supplies are one of the last things we pack and first things we unpack so they won't miss their stuff.

Remember, dogs are pack animals and trust the pack leader with their lives. Since you're the leader, if your dog sees you handling with the situation with confidence, they will feel safer. If you get stressed, they will worry. Just keep your cool and let thousands of years of evolution do the rest.

If you have a high-strung or territorial dog, you'll need to take some extra precautions. Some experts encourage talking your dog through the move, explaining the process calmly and rationally. While your dog doesn't understand the words (obvi), he can certainly sense your tone and emotions. Plus, sharing with your dog is a great way to address your concerns and make peace with them. Free therapy and no judgement.

I'm obviously not an expert, so if you need more help, I really liked this article: Moving tips for dog owners

We're lucky in that we have a very mellow, easy-going dog. We're also lucky that we were able to bring Boone to the new house countless time before moving in. He's seen the house at every stage, played in the yard, and even gone for walks in the neighborhood. By gradually introducing him to his new surroundings, the newness of this area waned prior to moving day.

We also arranged for both Pat and I to be home for the first few days after the move. We were able to move at a reasonable speed, take plenty of breaks, and give Boo the attention he deserves.

The plan for the dog was simple: on the morning of moving day, I took him to the groomers (conveniently located next to a Krispy Kreme). When I picked him up, instead of going back to the apartment, we went to the new house.

Since this is Boone's first move and the house isn't new to him, we figured it would be better to remove him from the stress of being there while we physically move. The A.P.T was Boone's only concept of home and seeing everything get boxed up and then an empty apartment might have confused him

Bonus: we brought a clean dog into our new, pristine home.

The Cats

With cats, no matter how much you try to ease the transition, there is no tricking them into being okay with it. While dogs can be very territorial, they also have that pack mentality which can make them more at ease. Cats are solitary creatures and will perceive the new house as enemy territory. They will be nervous as they explore. Their belongings being present can comfort them, but your main job as pet parent/property owner will be to minimize the destruction they cause until they're okay with their new surroundings. Cats will claw, cry, and pee until they feel the territory is theirs.

Fun fact: cats are the only domestic animal that does not live in packs in the wild. Legend has it, cats were smart enough to realize the benefits of companionship outweighed the annoyance.

This article was particularly helpful in planning my strategy for our move: WebMD: Moving with Cats.

Our cats were the first things to move. As soon as Boone was at the groomers and I had eaten my weight in Hot Donuts Now, I packed up the cats, drove them across town, and left the boys at the apartment to do the heavy lifting. Atty traveled all the time as a kitten and takes it like a champ. Leo, on the other hand, gets scared, shakes, and cries whenever he's zipped up in his carrier. Irony: he routinely sleeps in his carrier on his own accord.

Before we arrived, their new litter box was set up along with food, water, and boxes lined with their blankets. I knew our boys wouldn't be comfortable in an open, empty room and giving them different areas would help them feel more secure.

I kept the cats in our future guest room (now being called the cats' "safe room") while we moved everything in, then gave them the chance to explore later in the evening. We did lock them in their room overnight to ensure they wouldn't get "lost" and have an accident; since they were purrrfect we let them out for good first thing the day following the move.

Throughout the entire process, I was surprised with how much rubbing/pheromone transfer the cats participated in. Cats will rub their cheeks, sides, and even butt across anything and everything to claim it as "theirs." Every door frame, carpet, and chin was subject to two kitties being all up on that.

I was taken completely off guard when Leo jumped out of his carrier immediately, but then he promptly ran to a blanket and hid for the next several days.

Around Day 4 he was exploring upstairs, and by the end of Day 6 he was downstairs and acting as normal as he gets.

When we felt the cats were mentally ready (about a day and a half for us) we started migrating the litter box from the safe room to its permanent home in the laundry room. Cats can lose track of their litter box in a new place, so if you can't set it up initially in the permanent location, it should be moved slowly, not more than a few feet a day. We moved ours 2-3 feet twice a day, so it reached its destination about 2 days after we started moving it. While it was tedious and frustrating to have litter pebbles in our brand new carpet, our cats didn't have one single accident. Like a boss.

It took about a week, but everyone seems happy and at home, which is much faster than most "Pet Moving Tips" articles suggest the transition will take. I think the animals really benefited from their mom and dad being laid back through the whole process. And treats. They loved being bribed with treats.