Thursday, July 24, 2008

Reverse Entropy

In the week since my last post, we have almost completely succeeded in moving into the new house; we still have a few items like a lamp, a fan, cleaning supplies, and my wedding dress at the old apartment, and have a few more cleaning duties to fulfill over there before we can turn in our keys. The move was...a qualified success. We moved almost all of our boxes over on Saturday without any hitches, thanks to the help of our wonderful friends and family, but the furniture didn't fare quite as well on Tuesday. The professional crew we hired consisted of three twenty-one-year-olds apparently on summer job duty; the "crew chief" had only been on the job for three weeks, and it showed. We ended up with a broken computer desk that's probably unsalvageable, a La-Z-Boy recliner with half of the handle snapped off, a nightstand with a chunk taken out of the top, a glass-top dining room table with a two-inch-chip missing from the corner, numerous gouges and scrapes on various doorframes and walls, a cracked baluster at the top of our staircase, and broken trim and a hole in the screen on the back door. Unfortunately, we discovered most of it after we tipped them and they left; the moving company received a prompt call, but we're not expecting to get much from the insurance claim. They're a bit notorious about not paying out on damaged goods. Add this to the fact that their moving truck lacked several pieces of important equipment (like a furniture dolly) and we had to sit for a half hour while they jumpstarted the van, whose battery had died...yeah, we didn't end up with a terribly favorable opinion of the company overall. I'm hoping this is the last move we make in a long time, but if it isn't, then we might go back to the U-Haul method in the future. :-P

But despite all of that, we are home, and I'm happy about that. We're slowly unpacking--progress on that should improve greatly once we're done cleaning the apartment--and the house is beginning to take shape. The neighbors we've met have been very friendly so far, and we've already discovered some more interesting features in the house. Even though the last few days have been tough, things are looking positive in general.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


We closed on the house at 4:30 yesterday afternoon--we're now owners of property! :-D It's such a strange feeling, like we got away with something sneaky...I don't feel nearly old enough to own a house and land. We'd heard a lot of horror stories about closing that made it sound like a torturous and neverending ritual, but ours was very smooth and even relaxing after everything that came before it. The closing lawyer was very nice and explained everything to us, and it was over before we knew it.

Now comes the hard part: moving. We have professional movers to take over the furniture next week, but until then, we're going to work on getting the boxes and small stuff over--including almost 40 boxes of books alone. Scary. We're also going to try to move over anything that, while being perfectly normal home possessions for people who are geeks, medievalists, and/or anthropologists, might be a bit disturbing for the movers...stuff like the sword collection and the armadillo skeleton (the latter is my husband's, not mine. Well, the sword collection is mostly his too, although I must admit to owning a reproduction of a Roman pugio.) I would have liked to do some work on the house before we moved anything in, but the timetable made that impossible. I'm amazed enough that we closed on the house in less than a month. So we'll have to work around furniture, but it's a worthwhile trade off for being able to vacate our apartment right at the end of our lease. I can't wait to get started with everything in earnest.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Long and Obstacle-Littered Homestretch

We completed the final walkthrough earlier today, during which we got to meet one of our neighbors (we got his dog*'s name but not his, unfortunately), and saw another one from afar. The house looks good. The sellers didn't leave too many extraneous items behind, and a lot of the rooms are much bigger than we thought they were at first, especially in the annex. We also found a mysterious pit in the back patio, what looks to be a heretofore undiscovered attic/crawlspace above the annex, and a tiny closet in the second annex room. We didn't find anything serious that had gone unnoticed during the inspection, so I'm happy. If all goes well, we'll be closing in about twenty-seven hours. If all does not go well, then problems will continue to happen with the sellers receiving the closing paperwork they're supposed to sign (they've already moved across the country), and we'll have to postpone. I'm going from the assumption that everything's going to come together at the last minute, though; that's been a frequent theme in these proceedings. :-P Between the uncertainty about the closing paperwork's location and the fact that our mortgage guy thought we were closing on Friday, there have been a few frustrating moments this week. But once again, we're hoping for no more problems.

Then, after tomorrow afternoon and a great many signatures, the house will be ours--and with it, a great many decisions about what is good the way it is, what needs to be changed for our own health and safety, and what we want to play with. In the short term, we're using the inspection report as our to-do checklist, but once the urgent and/or fairly inexpensive issues are dealt with there, then I fear we're going to begin to get creative.

The house was built in 1900, and as much as we can, we want to reflect that in our changes and decoration. That plan is slightly complicated because we don't have good examples to follow just yet. I've seen plenty of other houseblogs dealing with turn-of-the-century homes, but ours doesn't seem to be any particular style. It definitely isn't Victorian, and it isn't Craftsman either; the listing named it a "farmhouse," but it's in a former steel mill working neighborhood, not in a particularly agricultural area. I gather from my Internet research that farmhouse is often just a fancy word for "two-story house of undetermined style," so I'm not entirely sure what sources to look to for historical accuracy. So wherever possible, we're going to try to uncover older aspects of the house, and are going try to make our renovations not too contemporary.

A further problem is that we have nearly no experience with being handy; we can paint with not much mess, and I can hammer a nail pretty well and like stripping paint from wood, but other than that, we're learning as we go along. I understand that undertaking a historically sensitive renovation takes skill and talent, at least one of which I know we don't have yet. So it's going to be a balancing act making the place livable and enjoyable without potentially messing up its historic aspects, but we're going to try. We may end up indulging in some harmless stopgap measures until we're ready to tackle more serious projects. At the very least, for the moment, we can paint.

Twenty-six hours and forty-five minutes until closing. It's going to be a long day and night and morning.

*The dog in question is a mastiff puppy that currently weighs as much as I did when I graduated high school, and whose head comes up to my waist. She's ten months old and has a good bit of growing left in her. I hope she's friendly. O.O

Well, if nothing else, the neighborhood will certainly be well guarded.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Beginning

It's been a busy month.

Less than a month, actually--around this time in June, my husband and I had taken a look at the current housing market in our hometown of Pittsburgh, PA, scrutinized our finances, and resigned ourselves to a few more years of renting the Squirrel Hill duplex where we lived. We'd been seriously looking for a house for about nine months, but things hadn't been going entirely well. We fell in love with the first house we looked at in September, a beautiful, eccentric blue home whose only flaw was that it was beside a highway on-ramp, only to learn that someone had made an offer right before we toured it. And this past March, we went as far as making an offer on a crumbling old Victorian fixer-upper whose disturbingly low price was due to structural instability and impending foreclosure. After a few weeks of tense negotiation and immense frustration, we lost the house to the friend of a friend.

That brings us up to June 14 and our decision to abandon the house hunt for a few years. It seemed like several factors had converged to make this not the right time. The housing market in general wasn't doing well, academic politics and budget cuts at the college where my husband works were making finances uncertain for the fall, and we were realizing more and more that we'd have to shell out a lot more than we could then afford to remain in our chosen neighborhood. Squirrel Hill is a beautiful, safe area, bracketed by two parks and full of restaurants, stores, and the mingling of many cultures. It also claims some of the best public schools in the City of Pittsburgh. As such, real estate runs in the range of a few hundred thousand dollars--a pittance compared to housing prices in other cities, I know, but more than a young married couple just starting out can handle. We weighed the benefits of continuing to rent or moving out to the suburbs, and our stubborn love for the city and preference to live where our income taxes are going won out. We decided to settle down for the moment, and even to consider eventually buying the duplex where we were living.

Then our realtor--who has been awesome and indispensable throughout this whole complicated process--casually sent us a listing in a neighborhood most people have never heard of.

Four Mile Run, also known as Russian Valley or Russka Dolina, is a tiny area sandwiched between two of Pittsburgh's many hills and largely underneath an I-376 overpass. Some people know of it because of St. John Chrysostom, the church where Andy Warhol was baptized. Others have heard of Big Jim's, a modest bar and restaurant that serves gigantic portions. Many have seen it under the bridge while driving on the Parkway, but have no idea how to get to it. We were somewhat familiar with it, being fans of Big Jim's, and having had a cousin who briefly lived down there. It seemed pretty far out of the way, too far to be walking distance back to our favorite places in Squirrel Hill, but the price inspired us to take a look.

A twenty-minute tour of the house decided the issue. We immediately told our realtor that we wanted to buy it.

The story of how we ended up doing so is probably pretty standard, so I won't recount it right now; maybe later, or maybe not at all. There were negotiations, moments of sheer panic, and sleepless nights. But they accepted our offer on June 18, and we set about the insane process of trying to close in less than a month, on account of we had a lease that ran out on July 31st, and the sellers had to get busy making a cross-country move.

So here we are, five days before closing and mostly (we hope!) packed. My husband and I are both writers and like to share our lives with the entire Internet, so we talked about the possibility of branching out into a houseblog. The house, while awesome, is more than a century old and is going to require some work, and I've been exhausting all of our friends with house hunt details for so long that I thought I'd isolate that content here. :)

A little about the house: it was built in 1900, is covered in seafoam green asbestos cement shingles, contains a secret room that (according to our creative but unproven theory) may have been used by bootleggers during Prohibition, and is one of the longest houses I've ever seen (another reason for the blog name.) It has three bedrooms with a potential for four more due to a three-room add-on and a partially finished attic, a front porch that seems like it's doing its best to fall off the house, and Eastern European religious figurines stuck in the foundation.

A little about us: I'm a 29-year-old writer, currently of annotations for an economics journal, but maybe one day of fantasy and science fiction. Adam is a 29-year-old physical anthropologist and archaeologist by trade, also a writer, and currently an adjunct professor of biology teaching at three different colleges. We're also total geeks, and have been participating in two regular D&D campaigns for between 10 and 20 years.

And that's it for now, until next Wednesday, when we exchange a big and scary check for a tiny set of keys.