Saturday, November 30, 2013

Money Matters

So here's a funny story, buying a house is expensive. And furniture is expensive. And decorating is also expensive.

Go figure!

With all these expenses compounding on each other, I seem to be drying out the money well that is my husband. So decorating has taken on a new challenge: spend as little money as possible for the foreseeable future.

Sure, our house has come a long way, but it's also still very incomplete. Most of our walls are still bare, our couch lacks throw pillows, and let's not even discuss the progress upstairs [read: none since move-in].

My normal style is to go and buy what I want to make our house a home. Even though I typically go to  bargain stores like Home Goods or Target, even those can really add up. So now it's time to look into DIY options or ways to revamp what we already own. Step one is going to be hanging pictures. Soon-ish.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Giving Big Thanks in a Small Way

There's a lot of times I really enjoy my job, but one of them is not when coordinating family plans for the holidays. Since I work retail, I typically work either the day before or the day after any major holiday (and on all the less major ones) meaning we either have to stay in town or drive long distances in short time spans.

In the past, we've made the trip in one day but it is exhausting! Driving for four hours, eating a lot of tryptophan, then driving another four hours makes for one long day. Plus, Black Friday is one of the most chaotic days in any retail worker's year and the hours are crazy. It's hard enough to handle when you're well rested, which is impossible when you have had to squeeze a weekend trip into approximately eighteen hours.

This year, we were planning on going to Atlanta to celebrate Thanksgiving with Pat's family. But relatively late in the game, I discovered it would be a marathon work week with little rest and no days off. Not only do I need a day to relax in general, I need to prepare mentally for Black Friday. So at the last minute we decided to stay in town and have a small Turkey Day, just the two of us.

That's all fine and dandy, but it left me with only three days to plan and prepare. Since Thursday also happens to be my day off, I wanted as little added stress as possible, so I made some concessions when it comes to Thanksgiving dinner; I'll only be making our absolute favorites. That means no stuffing, no cranberry sauce, but lots of baked mac & cheese. Not that I don't love all that, but for me it's more sentimental than yummy, yummy food.

Our Thanksgiving line-up looks like this:

1. Turkey - I didn't have time to thaw, brine, and cook a turkey so we'll be trying the Bojangles' fried turkey this year; not only is it our first experience with the Bojangles' turkey, it's our first adventure with fried turkey in general
2. Baked Mac & Cheese - I'll be using my favorite crock pot recipe for added ease
3. Mashed PoKaties (I'll share that recipe someday)
4. Sweet Potato Casserole - no idea what I'm doing here
5. Green Beans - from a can
6. Biscuits - I grew up on Brown n' Serve, but I just had a hankering for the Pillsbury ones with flaky layers
7. Pumpkin Pie - homemade by Marie Callender

I'll also bought a ton of apple cider and egg nog, plus made the coordinating trip to the ABC store. I love wintry beverages on Thanksgiving and throughout December, but we're also planning on picking our tree this weekend so we'll need lots of jolly drinks for the decorating.

I'm normally very finicky about maintaining traditions, so it's very stressful for me to let go of anything. I'm trying to think of this as a trial run for our first go at hosting a holiday...even though this will be far from homemade.

Despite all the stress and craziness, we have a lot to be thankful for this year.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Dreams Do Come True

Well it appears the good people at West Elm do read my blog (or the gods of good timing were on my side), because not 12 hours after I posted lamenting the loss of my copper utensils, they were there - in stock and ready to go - and for $3 less per (25% savings).

Note: they're labeling them as "NEW"...they're not.

Thanks, West Elm, for shining a ray of copper-colored hope in my direction. Consider these ordered.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

I'm Dreaming of...

It's not quite time to think about a white Christmas, so for now I'm going to dream about ways to make my kitchen slightly less white. And I want some copper kitchen utensils.

Let me give credit where credit is due: this image is property of West Elm. The utensils pictures were sold by West Elm a couple months ago. I pinned it, they sold out, and now they've disappeared from the website.

But I want them so bad!

I can't find anything like them anywhere. I even bought a beautiful wood jar for them to go near my stove.

See it right there, all sad and empty? (Also, did you spot me in my white PJs?)

They would be the perfect compliment to my simple style that needs a little coppery zest. Enough gushing, now that I've found perfection, nothing else will do. Has anyone seen anything similar anywhere (at any price)? Or have any suggestions on the perfect replacement?

I only ask because I seriously need help!

Living Room Furniture Reveal

Something big happened. Like huge. Like approximately 84"x36"x29". And it's from a little mom and pop place I discovered called Crate and Barrel. I think this place is gonna be big.

Our couches are here!

Or, more accurately, our couch and chair and a half. I hesitate to call this a living room reveal, because we are still very far away (like, it's laughable) from sticking a fork in this room and calling it done. Why you'd want to stick a fork in a room, I don't know. Anyway, it is safe to say the furniture will stay relatively consistent.

We chose the Willow sofa and chair and half from Crate and Barrel. If couches could be a favorite comfy pair of jeans, this would be it.

And like a true crazy person/golden retriever mom, we chose the stock color "Snow." I've seen a lot of snow in my day, and this ain't quite it. It's not a true snowy white, more of a paper white, but it's still super pretty. The only thing that makes me comfortable with the color is the fact that it's slipcovered and machine washable.

Still, Boone is only allowed on his blanket, as provided in the Rached Humans and Animals Treaty of 2013 (Boone's own words). It's very close in color to the couch, but it has little bones on it. The pretty grey and brown blanket is for his parents.

The very same day our couches arrived, we received a long awaited call: our barstools had finally arrived.

Here we chose the French Bistro Counter Stool from World Market, but it's a rip-off of this one from Ballard. Yes, I love the new barstools, but good luck laying your hands on a set; the bar height is readily available, but getting the counter height is a bit of an adventure.

When we originally joined the waitlist for our barstools, we were told to expect mid-November. But during a late October shopping trip, someone casually mentioned the expected date was now in January. Despondent, I looked at new stools and came this close to buying these from West Elm. Luckily, before I could buy (aka get a good coupon) I was quite surprised to hear the original stool of my dreams was being held for me, as promised, in mid-November. Of course I made haste picking them up.

Those with a keen eye will recognize we also hung the blinds and ceiling fan in the living room. (by "we" I mean my brother. Thanks, Hall!)

All in one day, we gained two rooms of furniture. It's still quite sterile, but I'm actively working on adding some texture and color. And a lot more pillows.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Foyer Reveal

Well, there have been quite a few exciting developments around the old house, but today I just want to share the foyer.

We finally got around to painting the rest of the first floor and are starting to clean up our moving mess throughout. As if that didn't take long enough. I've accomplished a wee bit of decorating, but it is definitely still evolving.

The six mirrors (LOVE! just maybe not there...) will be repurposed as soon as I find the right foyer mirror which is turning into quite the debacle.

Even though we moved in October 2nd, I feel like we kind of missed the boat on fall decorating. Fall is by far my favorite season and second favorite time of year to decorate for (nothing will ever top Christmas!), but I was too preoccupied with moving-related projects to be bothered with knick knacks and the like. By the time I was ready to decorate, it was almost Halloween and everyone else had been there, done that...

I keep telling myself I'll whip up something for Thanksgiving, but I'm always disappointed by Thanksgiving decorations that aren't table settings. So it's looking more and more likely that Christmas will be the first big decorating extravaganza! Long story short, our foyer is the only bit of the house to show any fall spirit currently -- other than my dying mums on the front porch.

One thing I am really proud of is our wreath. It's not technically in the foyer, but this is as close as we'll get for quite a while. 

The R wreath is from Ballard, with a bit of wire burlap ribbon. The copper wreath hanger is Smith & Hawken from Target. I planned on Fall-ing it up a bit more (pinecones, leaves, what have you) but like the rest of the house, I ran out of time for autumnal decor. Here's looking at you, Christmas.

What a great blank slate. It will look even better once that door is a deep, brick red.

We also installed the blinds in the living room/kitchen sitting area, but I will wait to reveal that until after a very exciting delivery from Crate and Barrel next week!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Valuable Upgrades and Omitted Options

To upgrade or not to upgrade, that is the question that every person building a new home asks themselves. Inevitably, every feature you care about is an added extra while the dozens of "bonuses" that are included aren't important enough to pay a second thought to. That's why every patron of new construction seems so surprised that their house costs more than they planned.

At the time all of our friends were like, "how are you surprised? The price is right there." And it was there, plainly visible for anyone with an internet connection to see. That price included granite countertops, 42 inch cabinets, stainless steel appliances, and hard floors through most of the first floor. That's more than we wanted or expected, so what else could we possibly have to pay for?

Oh, cable jacks and outlets. We need those. And overhead lights. And a railing on our stairs. What about a lot to build on? I guess we'll need one of those too.

By the end of the day we signed our contract, we had added $5,000 of "non-negotiables."

The first days add-ons were "structural" upgrades, such as the front elevation, deluxe master bath (just the layout, not the finishes), window trim, and light fixtures. This is also the time we would have added on french doors, additional windows, crown molding, a fireplace, a screen porch, a third floor, an apartment over the garage, and the list goes on and on. All things considered, we got off easy only spending $5,000.

We were also asked to select our lot on that first day, which mandated we chose a location (and the coordinating lot premium). I knew several neighborhoods have lot premiums on waterfront or corner lots, but I had no idea builders add on a fee for the most basic land your house will be built on. I expected to pay more if we wanted an uptown view, not for our little lot at the bottom of a hill.

Yep, that'll be extra.

In our neighborhood, corner lots carried a $7,500 lot premium with a mandatory wrap-around porch upgrade to the tune of $8,000. Basically, more than $15,000 for the privilege of having a marginally larger yard. For some reason, people still jump hurdles to get a corner lot so there wasn't even one available.

By the time we signed, there were only 4 lots left in our "phase" of construction, two of which we immediately ruled out because they backed up to a church's parking lot. Of the remaining two, one had a larger lot and a lower premium. Decision made.

Once our financing had been approved, we had our design center appointment. We went in telling ourselves that we had a budget of $8,000 for this appointment, where we would select all the finishes and agree to pay the price for each. Overall, my mom convinced us to spend a little more (around $11,000) to get all the features we wanted. She wisely pointed out that we would hate ourselves down the road for nickel-and-diming the building process.

Our prevailing theory was to pay for what we can't DIY later and skip anything within our skill set. We also tried to rule out a few desirable features that wouldn't add value to our day to day lives. We tried to think of everything in terms of trade-offs, ex. "we can afford an unfinished 3rd floor with no other upgrades, or almost everything except the 3rd floor." "If we want to upgrade the cabinets, we won't be able to do the double sinks in the guest bath."

Design-wise, we picked two alternatives for everything: good-enough, budget option or all-out, dream finishes. Then we used those when deciding on which features we needed and which to skip. "Would we rather have the perfect kitchen or the good-enough kitchen and a screened porch.?"

What we chose:

Window trim for the whole house came in at $1,300 and crown molding would have been around $1,000 per floor. I knew we couldn't afford $3,300 of molding and since our builder would have only installed a 1x4 for crown molding I decided I could tackle that later. I also plan on adding some wainscotting down the road.

Overhead lighting seemed like a no-brainer, but our builder (like most builders) doesn't see it as a necessity. To get a ceiling fan prewire was only $25 more than an actual light, but we did have to buy and install our ceiling fans (we would not have to do that for basic lights). Considering we always have a fan running in any room we're in, it seemed like the natural choice to shell out a few extra dollars.

As a matter of fact, we didn't add a single light fixture that wasn't a ceiling fan prewire. The value was just there for us. This is one of the few things I knew I would regret not doing. Our builder also accidentally included an outdoor prewire on our covered porch (score!), so there will be a fan outside come spring. That's six ceiling fans total.

I knew we wanted to run hard floors through the first floor, rather than having carpet in the dining and living room. In order to do that, we had to settle for apartment carpet upstairs. Okay, no biggie. As we see it, the carpet will likely need to be replaced within 5 years, so we can upgrade then. LVF (Luxury Vinyl Flooring) was the included option for most of the first floor. While I would have loved hardwood floors, it's nearly impossible to justify a decrease in durability for a $5,000 price hike. To add LVF to the two rooms it wasn't included in came in around $1,000. That's a $4,000 savings.

Speaking of $4,000, the most inexpensive off-white cabinets would eat up that savings and then some. Like every other blogger, I knew I wanted off-white cabinets, but I needed to make some huge trade-offs to bring it into our price range. I considered the standard, dark wood cabinets with an upgraded cream-colored granite (only $900 more), but in the end realized that our kitchen will truly be the heart of our home and so I should get something I will love for quite a long time. Our cabinets were our single largest upgrade.

Because we sprang for the nice cabinets, we had to skip the "easy kitchen package" (for approximately $400) which is basically pull out shelves and cabinet organizers. We really don't need much of that stuff and can get the little bit we do need from The Container Store.

Also in the kitchen, we knew we wanted a gas cooktop. After comparing and contrasting we realized the cheaper gas range would make the rest of our kitchen's finishes look cheaper than they are, so we selected a mid-level gas range. Lucky for us, the range we selected wasn't available in time for our closing, so we got a free upgrade to a double oven. To save money, we omitted pendant lights (it's still pretty without them) but we do have a prewire should we want to put them in later (another accidental builder bonus).

White subway tile was one of my non-negotiables of home-building, so I was thrilled to discover it was considered a lower end upgrade. Don't confuse my words, it was still an upgrade that we paid more for, but not the most expensive tile they offered by far. One surprising upgrade is we had to pay extra for the staggered, brick pattern versus having it set in a grid pattern. Even though it was $175, it was $175 well spent. We also upgraded to tile walls in the master bathroom and tile floors in the guest bath and laundry room. It just didn't seem right to have low end linoleum floors in an otherwise nicely finished home.

We omitted the extra windows and french doors in the dining room. Those upgrades changed it from a "dining room" to a "study," and I knew the high price tag was more for the name change than the features themselves. Looking back, Pat really wishes we had added the french doors.

Upstairs, we decided against closet systems in favor of cheap, terrible wire shelving. We also skipped cabinets in the laundry room for more wire shelves. Those are easy after-market upgrades that we plan on doing as needed/money allows. Right now the plan is to professionally finish one closet per tax return and we are in no hurry.

As I mentioned, we chose the deluxe master bath which basically includes a separate tub and shower versus just a shower. It also added an extra, large window. While we are mainly shower people, I do love a good bath every once in a while.

Personally, I think it seems foolish from a resale perspective not to include the garden tub. Even if you never take baths, some people simply won't buy a house if there's no tub in the master bath. While we definitely built our house for us, not the future owners, I did try to foresee and avoid any potential dealbreakers for future buyers. One of the houses currently under construction decided to skip the deluxe bath (and it's sad that I can pick them out as the one house that didn't get a tub)... I do not understand why anyone would make this choice, but to each their own. They got the 3rd floor.

Total we spent about $15,000 over the base price, some in non-negotiables, like the lot premium or the master bath but mostly on features to make the house more personalized. Compared to buying an older home or even an inventory home, there is no way we could have found a home that featured exactly what we wanted. Building new, even with all the added costs, was definitely the way for us.