Wednesday, April 30, 2008

House-Buying Saga

It's been a couple of weeks since I alluded to writing this post, but, hey, I just had a baby :) Anyway, I want to share with you all the experiences we've had on the house-buying side of this move. It all started back back on January 9th of this year, when I wrote my first email to a Birmingham realtor...

I regularly communicated with several different realtors as I tried to feel out who would be the best fit for us. I knew we needed an agent who was hardworking, knowledgeable, not too busy with other customers, and willing to provide some atypical services for us since we are out-of-town buyers. I eventually settled on an agent, and we began the seemingly endless process of searching through listings, choosing some, getting more information, eliminating some, searching through more listings and on and on the process goes.

By the middle of February, I had a list of about 30 houses that seemed to be decent possibilities. We took our first trip to Birmingham Feb 15-17. (Keep in mind, Marcus only gets one day off each week, so he would have to work for 12 days straight as well as beg and plead to get a Saturday and Sunday off for a house-hunting trip.) We set off full of optimism and excitement...Caleb was at home with his Mimi (Marc's Mom) and we were off on our first childless trip. We even paid for two nights in a (very cheap) hotel, so it was an exciting excursion.

While we were driving, our agent Colleen called to tell us that about 1/3 of the houses we'd picked out were off the market for one reason or another. That was disappointing, but we still had almost 20 houses to see, so our excitement was barely diminished. The house-hunting went well that weekend, but we found a cute little house on Locke Lane that we really liked, so we made an offer on it and headed back to Florida. We were very excited about the house, though a little nervous about making an offer before our Gainesville house had sold. Regardless, we went through a stressful five days of negotiations until we finally had a price and closing date nailed down. I was very excited and sent out pictures of the house to family members and told all my friends about it, admittedly prematurely. Several days later, we got the inspection report back from our home inspector. Apparently the house was a mess...the roof, AC and heater were at the end of their lives, there were structural issues (foundation cracks, etc.), and to top it all off, the downstairs bathroom had no plumbing...just fixtures sitting in there to make it look like a bathroom. Wow! Did that series of blows ever pop our balloon! To make matters worse, the sellers decided to kick and scream about releasing our $1,000 binder deposit, even though it was entirely within our contractual rights to cancel the contract because of an unsatisfactory inspection. The sellers continued to refuse to sign the binder release document for about a week, but finally we got an email saying they had signed it, and we got our money back almost 2 weeks later.

Well this whole first-contract experience left us very disillusioned. We were frustrated and uncomfortable about the many differences between how things are done here in Gainesville and how they are done in Birmingham (pertaining to real estate). As a realtor, I'm aware that real estate practice and law varies greatly from town to town, but I still struggled with things that seemed unwise or unfair compared to how we do things here.

Anyway, we were now back at square one. I moped for a couple of days, and then I got on the computer and resumed the previously-mentioned cycle of choosing houses. It only took a couple of weeks to rebuild my list. In fact, a few days before our second trip, Marcus and I even decided to make an offer on our second-favorite house from the first trip. This house was more expensive than what we wanted to pay, and we didn't like it as much as the other one, so we decided to give a low offer and just see what happened. Feeling good about our emotionally detached offer on the Tal Brook Rd house, we hit the road for Birmingham again on March 7-9. This time, Caleb stayed with his Aunt Traci, and we stayed in Birmingham with our friends the extra money for hotels on this second trip.

The second trip was not charged with the same excitement, and we both felt more tense because I was 35 weeks pregnant and we knew this would be my last trip. We didn't like the houses as much on this trip, mostly because we'd seen the cream of the crop in Hoover (where we most wanted to live), and we were now exploring some houses in Pelham (the town south of Hoover), though neither of us felt good about a longer commute. On Sunday, while we were still in Birmingham, we found out that the owners of the Tal Brook house were not going to respond to our low offer. So we shrugged our shoulders and decided to offer on one of the houses in Pelham that we liked (Chandalar Way). This seller also didn't like our low offer, and he piddled around for several days about making a counter-offer. By the time he finally gave us a number back, we had gotten an email from a resident who lives in Pelham warning us that the commute is even longer than we'd thought, so we had pretty much lost interest in that house.

By now, we'd been back in Gainesville for several days, and we were feeling very discouraged about finding a house. We'd made two trips to no avail. Marcus had no more weekends off until after my due date, and I couldn't travel anymore. Then I found a house online (Loch Ridge Trail) that looked absolutely perfect for us...far more perfect than the 3 houses we'd already offered on. It had lots of pictures and a virtual tour which gave us a very good feel for the layout and condition of the house. We decided to ask Colleen to preview the house for us and take some additional pictures. She did so, and everything she found out made us like it even more. (Marcus went to see this house on his next trip, and we still believe to this day that it was the most perfect house for us.) Marcus and I were both so excited about this one that we agreed to make an offer sight unseen. We even decided to offer much closer to the asking price than we ever had before, both because we were learning from our mistakes and because we REALLY liked this house. We submitted our offer and waited with great excitement for a reply. We really thought this was going to be it...we had made a good offer this time.

Within 24-hours of submitting our offer, we got the phone call. The sellers' agent had done an extremely unethical thing...he had posted the house on the MLS as NOT located in a flood zone, even though he had in his possession a letter stating the the house was located in a high-risk flood zone. The agent told us after our offer was submitted, of course hoping that we would still be interested in the house. We were furious. We'd fallen right into this agent's unethical trap...we found out about the flood zone after we were already in love with the house, though we never even would have considered the house if we'd known about the flood zone. (It's a bad move to buy a house in a flood zone, because owners have to purchase expensive separate flood insurance, and its also much harder to find a buyer when the time comes to sell.) We deliberated for about a week, and finally decided we just couldn't make such a bad move, no matter how much we liked the house. But we did write a letter to the owners of the house asking them if they would consider us as renters. The owners called us and we had a very good conversation, but they really wanted to sell rather than rent, so we closed the door on that house for good.

On March 27th, one week before Ethan was born, Marcus went back to Birmingham for one day to look at a few more houses. He went to work Thursday morning, left work around 5 pm, arrived in Birmingham after midnight, got up at 8 am, looked at houses all day on Friday, got back to Gainesville around 11 pm, and then went in for a 30-hour shift on Saturday morning. Talk about insanity! We were so desperate to find somewhere to live before Ethan was born, knowing that making such huge decisions on no sleep was a very bad idea. This third trip was the least fruitful...we really didn't like a single house from this group. After Marcus got home and we watched the video he took of the houses, we finally decided that something had to give. We had to accept a longer commute and a house that did not have all the rooms we wanted, or we had to increase our price range. From this point, I started looking online for houses in the next price range. I found lots of promising ones, and Colleen was gracious enough to preview three of them and send us pictures. The third one stood out clearly as the best, and we decided to once again make an offer sight unseen. While Colleen was busy writing up the offer, my water broke and we headed to the hospital to welcome Ethan into the world. We signed the offer the day we got home from the hospital. The next day, the sellers counter-offered very reasonably. Ethan was 3 days old, and we had to decide whether to counter-offer again, or to have Marcus drive back to Birmingham to see the house before we went any further in the process. Susan (Marc's mom) was here with us, and she offered to pay for the trip to Birmingham if Marcus wanted to go. Since Susan was here to help me with the boys, Marcus decided to take the day trip.

When he got home with the pictures, we both agreed that this house would be wonderful for our family. The only thing we don't like about it is that the yard is sloped, making playing soccer in the backyard not possible. But everything else about the house, especially the location and the floor plan, are ideal for us. We finalized the details with the sellers the next day, and had the house under contract when Ethan was 5-days-old. We weren't really excited yet, because we'd had everything fall through so many times. Regardless of our skepticism, we received a huge blessing the day our contract was finalized...the interest rate for our loan, which had been steadily climbing higher by about 1/8 of a point every few days, dropped 5/8 of a point in ONE DAY. It was at 5.875%, which was the exact rate we needed to keep our payment affordable. So we locked in our rate that day and breathed a huge sigh of relief as the last major variable was removed. Because of this blessing, I felt very optimistic about the remaining items that needed to fall into place. And just as we hoped, the inspection went smoothly, the sellers agreed to fix all of the small items that we requested to have repaired, our loan was approved, and the appraisal came in high enough. Now there are no contingencies left, and we are just waiting to close on June 6th.

We feel so relieved that the numerous uncertainties we were facing when this year began are now largely worked out. Our house is sold, Ethan is healthy and strong, and we have a place to live in Birmingham that we are excited about. We feel very grateful for the blessings we are experiencing.

All of the pictures in this post are of the house we have under contract and plan to move into in June. All of the others are just an unpleasant memory. (Grandmothers, the next post will be all about Ethan, I promise :)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

House-Selling Saga

The main reason you have heard so little from me this spring is that we as a family have been as stressed as we've ever been while trying to facilitate several major transitions. Since we came home from the Christmas holidays, we spent every spare hour we had doing home improvement projects to prepare our house for sale. We put it on the market on February 20th, but the projects continued well into March. Only now, they were overlapped with the frenetic activity surrounding each "showing".

If you've never sold a house, let me tell you what a horror the "showing" is to a stay-at-home mom... A perfect stranger calls your house (or your cell phone) at any time of the day on any day of the week, and leaves a message something like this "This is James Michaels from Coldwell Banker, and I plan to show your house sometime this afternoon, probably between 1 and 3 pm." Hopefully I hear the message while it is being left, but bathtime, errands, playing outside, and a variety of other normal daily activities often prevented me from realizing it was there until an hour or two before the showing. Regardless, as soon as I am alerted of the showing, I go into crazy-cleaning mode. Caleb often watched TV while I swept the house from one end to the other, putting EVERYTHING away, making the beds, vaccuuming, sweeping, loading the dishwasher, taking trash out, airing out rooms, spot-cleaning bathrooms and on an on. After this hour of frantic cleaning, Caleb and I get in the car and go SOMEWHERE for the two hours or so that someone might come over. More than half the time, the realtor would come outside the time window in the phone message, or decide not to come at all (without the courtesy of a cancellation call). Those were the worst days...when I cleaned and then killed time away from home for hours, and still came home to no business card on the table. YOU'VE GOT TO BE KIDDING...NO ONE EVEN CAME BY!!"

Anyway, with the drag of incessant home improvement projects and the stress of showings, I have not felt very motivated to write...until now! Almost 3 weeks ago, we got our first offer on the house. A couple of days later, we got the second. We negotiated with both offers until one was high enough to accept, and our house went under contract on Thursday, March 27th. This past Friday, the last contingency in the contract expired (contingencies are ways the buyer can back out), so our house is now as good as sold. We took down the For Sale sign yesterday, and we are officially free from the dreaded showings. We prayed for so long and are so so so grateful to our Lord that the house came off the market before Ethan was born, so that we didn't have to keep the house clean with a newborn. God was faithful and it sold just a week before Ethan arrived. We have experienced God's faithfulness in so many areas these past two weeks, and I will share more about that in a future post. For now, adieu :)

Friday, April 11, 2008

Ethan Josiah Wagner

On Thursday night, April 3, Marcus and I were sitting in the living room discussing making an offer on a house in Birmingham when I felt a small gush of fluid that was definitely NOT urine. Over the next couple of hours, fluid continued to leak slowly. Other evidence suggested that I had lost my "plug" and that labor was on its way, though I was still not certain whether or not my water had broken. Marcus and I were both exhausted and inclined to just go to bed for a few hours until the contractions started, but we called the hospital and they said we really needed to come in if there was a chance that my water had broken, since they like to have baby out within 12-24 hours of membranes rupturing. So Marc's sister, Wendi, who lives in town, came over to spend the night with Caleb, and we headed to the hospital at 11 pm.

In triage, they tested me and decided that my water had not yet broken (according to the sample they collected for the lab test). Because of later events, I'm still not convinced that I was not leaking amniotic fluid. They also determined that I was dilated 2-3 centimeters, a huge improvement from the 0 centimeters Dr. Duff had pronounced me to be just 2 days before. I still was not having contractions, and the doctor and nurse both said that we could either stay or go home until something changed. We immediately elected to go home and get a few hours of sleep. We arrived home at 1 am and slept for a wonderful uninterrupted 5 hours of sleep. We slept so deeply that we didn't even hear Marc's mom and her little dog, Panda, arrive in the middle of the night. We woke up with Caleb at 6 am, and Marcus was trying to decide whether or not to go to work when I finally felt the huge gush of fluid that definitely indicated that my membranes had ruptured. Everyone mobilized fairly quickly from there. Wendi went to class, Mimi fed Caleb, and Marcus and I left for the hospital (everything was still in the car from the night before). My good friend Holly came over an hour or so later to keep Caleb so that Marc's mom, Susan, could join us at the hospital.

At the hospital, I made it through triage faster this time because I quickly passed the "Is my water broken?" test and I was having contractions every 5-6 minutes. We got into our labor & deliver room around 8:30 am and got settled in. The nurse came to do my IV, which turned out to be the most painful & difficult part of the whole experience. The first line she placed was on my forearm, and it was incredibly painful, like it was pinching a nerve or something, even after it was all taped on and she was done. She ended up deciding to take that one out and do a new line in my hand. It was much less painful the second time, and didn't hurt once it was in. I still have a large purple bruise on my arm from that first IV.

Then they asked if I wanted an epidural and I said that I didn't need it yet, but I definitely did want one. Apparently this nurse liked to get things done quickly because the anesthesiologist arrived less than 30 minutes later. I really didn't want the epidural yet, but also didn't feel like annoying the guy who was going to be sticking a big needle in my back. So I got my epidural at 3 cm while my contractions were only mildly painful. The epidural worked differently this time than it did last time, and for a while I was concerned that it wasn't working at all. Last time, I was completely numb from the waste down about 30 minutes after the epidural was placed and stayed numb until after delivery. This time, only part of one leg went numb, and I continued to have diminished sensation everywhere else. I could feel the contractions, the exams and eventually, even Ethan's head and body passing through the birth canal, but without the sharpness of the pain.

Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself. I got the epidural around 9:30 am, and the next four or five hours were very uneventful. Marcus and Susan took turns sleeping on the fold-out couch. I was too excited to sleep or even read, so I just watched the monitor and waited to meet my second little man. By 2 pm, I had only moved from 3 cm to 5 cm, even with the help of pitocin. We all thought we were in for a very long labor. I still held out hope that things would pick up, though, since I remembered that I'd moved from 5 cm to 9 cm with Caleb in a couple of hours.

An hour and a half later, at about 3:20 pm, we were all hanging out in the room...Marcus, Susan, the nurse and even Wendi & Caleb who had come over to visit. The doctor came in to check me in the midst of that chaos, and quietly pronounced me fully dilated and effaced. Everything was kind of crazy for the next few minutes...Wendi corralled Caleb and took him off to the waiting room, the nurse and doctor left for reasons still unknown to me, Marcus ran to change into some scrubs, and Susan and I were left alone in the room while a very strong urge to push came over me. I didn't push (much) and the doctor and nurse quickly returned, dressed for delivery. Of course my sweet husband cannot be hurried at anything, even dressing for his son's delivery, so I held out through another contraction waiting for Marcus to get back. He finally arrived and all took our places. The doctor and Marcus had spoken about it and agreed that Marcus could spearhead the delivery if he wanted to. He did, and so he sat on the stool and took charge of the whole thing, with the resident looking over his shoulder.

The clock said 3:30 when I started pushing, and Ethan was born nine minutes later. Several times I had to push without contractions because Ethan had what's called a body cord (cord wrapped around his chest), and his heart rate was falling in the compression of the birth canal. I actually enjoyed the pushing stage this time, because I could feel Ethan's progress, though I was not in pain. Also, it was a much shorter time period than with Caleb. So Ethan Josiah Wagner was born on Friday, April 4, at 3:39 pm. He weighed 7 lbs, 8 oz (13 oz. smaller than Caleb), and was 19 inches long. His eyes were smoky blue at birth and he had just a little blond fuzz on his head. Overall, he was perfect :)

fter Ethan was out, the resident clamped the cord and Susan cut it. They whisked him away to weigh him and assess him there in the room, while I delivered the placenta. A few minutes later, they let me hold my sweet new baby and I was immediately enamored. I had wondered if I would be as in love with Ethan as I was with Caleb, and that question was answered the moment they put him in my arms. He was perfect and so incredibly precious that I thought I would burst with love for him. Caleb and Wendi were back in the room within 30 minutes of Ethan's birth (as soon as I was cleaned up and modest), and Caleb was immediately fascinated with "his" baby. I nursed Ethan as soon as they gave him to me, and he suckled like a pro from the start. Caleb and I had issues with breastfeeding at first, but it went much more smoothly this second time around. All in all, this labor and delivery could not have gone better, and we are infinitely grateful for our precious son.