Author Archives: Jess

Homeowner To-Do List: September 2012

Matt and I have a five year plan for various renovations, additions, and purchases we want to make for the house. Every month, we’ll be posting what our to-do list is for the upcoming months. As the months go on, we’ll hopefully be crossing things off and adding things on.

Here are the current goals on our to-do list:

  1. Replace older boards in deck
  2. Add new handrail to stairs going to second floor
  3. Adjust kitchen layout to accommodate new appliances
  4. Get quotes on upgrading electric
  5. Investigate getting new dryer
  6. Purchase small shed
  7. Look into getting UPSes for office and for living room
  8. Get quotes on gas-powered generator installation
  9. Purchase new curtains for living room
  10. Fix coat hook in kitchen
  11. Purchase or make a table for grilling preparation
  12. Get gutters cleared and repaired
  13. Reassemble shed
  14. Clean up branches in backyard
  15. Update living room ceiling
  16. Move in new couch set
  17. Get rid of vines growing on the side of the house
  18. Get rid of vines growing on fences
  19. Contact garbage company about getting rid of old couch

Another month of not getting much crossed off the list, but two of the things we did cross off were biggies.

First, we finally reassembled the shed this past month. The lawnmower has apparently not been damaged by the rain, yay. We’ll see how the snowblower does this winter.

Now that the shed is put back together, of course the storms have lightened up, so we’ve finally had time to tackle yardwork again. I got rid of all the vines that started growing like crazy on our fences (we have a grapevine that grows all over the place). The worst, though, is that I hadn’t been maintaining the vines by the north side of the house, and now they’ve grown past the second floor and nearly to the roof. I’ve cut back some, but we need to do a ton more work on that side of the house. (The bees tend to keep me out.)

Now, might I take this opportunity to mention that I’m writing this while sitting on our lovely like-new couch! Our neighbors bought a new couch set, and so they gave us their old set. Perfect timing, because our old couches were shot. This makes it the third time in a row that our couches were free. (The set before this was gotten rid of by a coworker of Matt’s, and before that was a futon brought by Matt’s renter at the time.)

The old loveseat was moved into my office/library on the first floor (to give me an alternative cozy place to read or study), and the old couch is in our alleyway waiting to be thrown out. We just need to contact the garbage company about picking it up, and then that’s that.

Financially, we were thrown for a loop last week when my back right brake finally said enough is enough and had to get replaced. Thank goodness for the emergency fund! But now that’s more money I need to pay back into it, on top of the tree removal. So, everything on this list that actually costs money is being put on the back-burner for the next few months.

On a less to-do note, this month Matt and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary! We spread the celebrating out throughout the week because of course my grad school orientation fell on the same day. (366 days this year! And of all days, it had to fall on that one?) The highlight of our celebration was us going to see singer-songwriter Jeffrey Gaines in an intimate performance on his birthday. He’s perhaps Matt’s favorite still-active musician, and since 1991, Matt has taken every girlfriend he’s had to see JG—well, except me. (Not his fault, because every show we tried to go to either rained out or fell on a day we were unavailable.) After seven years together, we finally had the pleasure to sit right in front and hear JG play his heart out.

The show was sponsored by Matt’s workplace, and so they had reached out to Matt and offered him two comps. On top of that, they slipped to JG the names of some of Matt’s favorite songs. So, the show was basically tailored to my husband. What a special night it was for us.

The next few months will be even harder to cross off things on our list, not just because of money, but because I’ll be starting grad school this fall. And, because I’m crazy, I’m also still working through a certificate program at a local community college too. However, I love what I’m studying, and I love that I have free tuition for both degrees—it’s time consuming and stressful, yes, but I genuinely love the challenge. Being in a classroom is one of my favorite places to be. I’m ridiculously excited for what’s to come!


Homeowner To-Do List: August 2012

(It’s been a busy month, but here’s August’s post, finally!)

Matt and I have a five year plan for various renovations, additions, and purchases we want to make for the house. Every month, we’ll be posting what our to-do list is for the upcoming months. As the months go on, we’ll hopefully be crossing things off and adding things on.

Here are the current goals on our to-do list:

  1. Get quotes on tree removal for dying tree in backyard
    1. Have tree removed
  2. Replace older boards in deck
  3. Add new handrail to stairs going to second floor
  4. Adjust kitchen layout to accommodate new appliances
  5. Get quotes on upgrading electric
  6. Investigate getting new dryer
  7. Purchase small shed
  8. Look into getting UPSes for office and for living room
  9. Get quotes on gas-powered generator installation
  10. Purchase new curtains for living room
  11. Fix coat hook in kitchen
  12. Purchase or make a table for grilling preparation
  13. Get gutters cleared and repaired
  14. Kill grass/weeds growing through patio blocks
  15. Book hotel for cousin’s wedding weekend in July
  16. Reassemble shed
  17. Clean up branches in backyard
  18. Update living room ceiling
  19. Move in new couch set

July felt so busy, yet we only have a few things crossed off the list. One of them was a biggie, though: we got rid of the one dead tree in the backyard and removed the dying one next to it. The one downside, though, was that the day we had the trees removed was the day it went from being 105 degrees during the first half the day, only to transition into a major storm with lightning, heavy rain, and hail. The workers were actually willing to work through it (?!), but we made them come in once it got really bad. They still had some branches to clean up, but since the storm wasn’t looking like it was going anywhere, we told them to not worry about it and go home. …And here we are, three weeks later, and we still need to get around to doing something with those branches. Oops! (We’ll probably use them for our firepit, but we’re looking for a non-rainy day to do that.)

Also, the plastic shed we had next to the trees had to be disassembled, and yeah, that’s still sitting there after three weeks, along with the things that were in it (the lawnmower, the snow-blower, the weed-whacker, etc…). Mind you, ever since the day it was disassembled, we have had crazy storms, hail, microbursts, and tornadoes in the area almost every single day. So, I’d just like to apologize to the entire New York metro area for our lack of appeasing the storm gods with a built shed.

We went to Matt’s cousin’s wedding in July and had a fabulous time. They wound up having a hotel block at the country club where the wedding took place, so all of the bridal party wound up staying on the second floor together. I have some of the best in-laws ever, so it was a fun ride the whole weekend.

While we were at the rehearsal dinner, the cousins were talking about where they were going to hold Thanksgiving this year, and we realized that Matt and I have the most spacious house out of the bunch, so it looks like we may be hosting dinner this year. We hope it works out that way, but that means some of the interior repairs we’ve been meaning to do are more imperative now. For example, I’ve added the living room ceiling to the list, which is something I had planned to get fixed in a year or two; however, now with the possibility of the whole clan being here, we need to at least paint over where we scrapped off the old paint. (What we really want is these paintable tiles, but that’s going to be a pricey investment—about $1500. Another time.)

Oh, and the new bed did come in, the same day we had the trees removed. We got this adorable sleigh bed which matches the rest of the room nicely. It was already at a good price, and with the Fourth of July sale on top of it, we knew we couldn’t pass it up.

Once the weather starts to let up more frequently, we’ll be able to take care of the outdoor things on our list. I’m holding off on any expensive purchases till after I get my raise at work this October. I want to get my savings equal to what it was before paying for the tree removal because I’m a big believer in having a savings account with at least three months worth of expenses saved up at all times. By the time October roles around, I should be in a good place again.

Also, it’s going to start to get harder to get things done starting this September because I’ll be starting grad school. Super excited to be working on my masters degree, but I’m already dreading the lack of free time I’ll have during the semester. I’m hoping that August will be a productive time for us.

Homeowner To-Do List: July 2012

Matt and I have a five year plan for various renovations, additions, and purchases we want to make for the house. Every month, we’ll be posting what our to-do list is for the upcoming months. As the months go on, we’ll hopefully be crossing things off and adding things on.

Here are the current goals on our to-do list:

  1. Get quotes on tree removal for dying tree in backyard
  2. Repair outside pipe
  3. Clean and open pool for the summer
    1. Make repairs as necessary
  4. Replace older boards in deck
  5. Add new handrail to stairs going to second floor
  6. Get headboard for master bedroom bed
  7. Adjust kitchen layout to accommodate new appliances
  8. Get quotes on upgrading electric
  9. Investigate getting new dryer
  10. Purchase small shed
  11. Look into getting UPSes for office and for living room
  12. Get quotes on gas-powered generator installation
  13. Purchase new curtains for living room
  14. Fix coat hook in kitchen
  15. Fix kitchen screen door
  16. Purchase storage box for back deck
  17. Purchase solar cover for pool
  18. Add solar lights to front walk and back walks
  19. Purchase or make a table for grilling preparation
  20. Get gutters cleared and repaired
  21. Kill grass/weeds growing through patio blocks
  22. Book hotel for cousin’s wedding weekend in July

Some progress is better than no progress! And as you can see, there were things we added to the list during the month and quickly got done (or I forgot they were supposed to be added last month, ha).

I found three tree services in our area with good reviews to get quotes from, but with a show opening soon for Matt, he didn’t have time until yesterday to make the phone calls to schedule them. This will hopefully be done within the next week or two.

We’re really getting geared up with yard stuff this year. Last year, we were so busy getting ready for the wedding that everything related to the yard was put by the wayside. We’re doing a total 180 this year! We’re spending most of our time home outside on the back deck—grilling, listening to Mets games on the radio, taking dips in the swimming pool, tending to the grapevine and flowers… It’s really fabulous. Work for both us has been stressful (Matt with a show opening up, and me with major structure changes happening at my workplace and having to build all the high-profile administrative websites related to these changes). So, these times out in the backyard provide a nice escape from the workday craziness.

We repaired our outdoor pipe in such a way so that we shouldn’t have to worry about it freezing again in the future (therefore, nothing to prevent the pool opening again!). Then we got the pool cleaned, bought a storage box to hold all of our pool equipment and other deck equipment, bought a solar cover to keep the pool warmer (it doesn’t get much sun during the morning, so every little bit helps!), and added solar lights to the foot of all deck steps, as well as along our front walk. We’ve de-weeded the front and back yards and just need to kill off everything growing in between the patio block in the back and front yards. It’s starting to look very elegant; we’re quite proud!

We do have the new deck boards purchased; now we just have to pull up the older ones and put in the new ones. I forgot to add last month that we want to get the gutters cleared and repairs, so that way water flows out they way it should—last thing you want is too much water leaking near your house’s foundation!

We searched in earnest for a new headboard this month, and we finally found something we could both agree on at Value City Furniture. It’s actually a whole bed piece, and not just the headboard, and we should be getting it delivered next week. No more dealing with pillows slipping down behind the mattress while sleeping!

The more expensive tasks (small shed, other quotes, etc.) will be held off until we get the trees taken care of. The trees are our biggest expense coming up; then we’ll save up for the next biggie on the list.

Matt is a groomsman in his cousin’s wedding—since we’ll have a rehearsal on Friday night and a noon call time for Saturday, we’re going to try to book a hotel room for Friday to either Sunday or Monday (depending on how expensive the room winds up being). The wedding is at the Delaware Water Gap in the Poconos, so it sounds like a nice opportunity to make a long weekend of it.

July is going to be a busy time for us, between Matt’s workload, my workload, and the wedding, but we’re hoping to at least get the trees done and the other yard-related stuff done. August should be a lot quieter, so we’re anticipating some great strides there.

How NOT to Save Your House from Foreclosure

The following post was originally written for this blog on 9/15/2010. It has been updated to be more relevant today, but it is mostly the same. If it’s new to you, then enjoy!

Foreclosure: it’s easy to get into, and oh so tricky to get out of. There’s a common foundation to the stories of how people find their homes being foreclosed upon (job loss, medical bills, financial disaster), but in my years of research, there’s been so few consistent explanations on how to get out of it. The stories are the same, but the outcome rarely is. It’s a world of scams, flukes, ignorance, and fear. All I had to go on, when my family faced it, were a few points that were emphasized over and over again. These are the biggest red flags:

  • Don’t pay for any counseling or mitigation service upfront, before services are rendered.
  • Don’t stop talking to your bank yourself.
  • If somebody tells you they can fix your mortgage and solve all your problems, remember the saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

If you want to know more, the two articles I found most helpful were from CBS News and So, armed with this information, we began our hunt.

Our Story of Red Flags

When my now-husband and I first began our search in earnest, a family member had an acquaintance of hers come to our house to talk about our options. This woman is a financial advisor for a reputable nationwide organization and apparently had some experience with this stuff, so it was thought she could help us.

When the advisor showed up, initially she pretty much stuck to her usual presentation, which wasn’t relevant to anything we were going through, but oh well. After that hour spiel, she finally got away from her script and started to focus on our individual situation. She recommended highly this one particular person and his loan modification company, stating that the work he does is “amazing” and that we should talk with his associate here in New Jersey. I’ll sum up a few of the details:

  • They look over your case, and if they think they can help you, you must then pay them $495.
  • You then pay them every month for three months. The money goes into a trust—if the modification doesn’t go through, you get your money back.
  • “The great thing is you don’t have to talk to the bank anymore, they do all the talking for you.”
  • The one case she knew of personally was of someone who hadn’t paid their mortgage in two years, and they managed to get the mortgage modified to about a thousand dollars per month.

Do you hear the warning sirens going off? Good. Because you should.

So, while I didn’t like it, my now-husband was on the fence about it. We decided it couldn’t hurt to at least talk to the associate to find out the full story. Just talk, nothing official. (In the mean time, I found this loan modification company’s website—or should I say, websites. Holy crap. Okay, maybe I’m biased as a web developer, but if you’re going to be a professional company, have a professional-looking website. Not duplicate(!) websites at different addresses that look like they were built in 1997. It was laughable and embarrassing.)

My now-husband called the woman, and our hunches were pretty much confirmed. The topper was when she said that she wasn’t even sure if they were able to write any mortgages right now because of some legislation going on at the state level. (If this is your profession, shouldn’t you know exactly what is going on?)

So, look at this as an example of how not to save your house from foreclosure. And again, note that this lead came from someone who works as a financial advisor at a reputable nationwide organization. Keep your eyes open at all times.

The Success Story

Fortunately, during all this time, I had been doing my own research. I looked through HUD’s recommended list of agencies and then checked each agency at the Better Business Bureau. (By the way, unsurprisingly, that other company was not listed at either site.)

I found one agency in particular that was local, had a good website, and didn’t have any red flags in their information. Also a good sign was when we mentioned this company to people who worked in finance—these people had nothing but good things to say about them. (So, not only had people heard of them, but it’s actually for good things.) We played some phone tag, booked an appointment, gathered our paperwork, and hoped for the best.

Well, the meeting we had with the HUD counselor exceeded my expectations. She emphasized the biggies: Everything is done at no cost to us—even our lawyers! We the homeowners talk directly with the bank, but we are to run everything by our lawyers and counselor first so that we say the right things. There is no guaranteed success, but they will try their best to get the banks to listen to us and understand that we are financially capable of paying our mortgage now.

From September 2010 to July 2011, we had court appointment after court appointment and a constant stream of paperwork being faxed and mailed to the bank, our counselor, and our lawyers. The bank kept dragging their heels to the point where even the bank’s lawyers were actually apologizing to us, saying that our case is pretty straightforward and we should wind up with a modification easily. (There’s few things that feel quite as bizarre as when the big ol’ scary bank’s lawyers are telling you that you’re going to win your case.)

Then, just a month before our wedding, we got the wonderful news—the bank is granting us a new trial period. If we pay our bill on time for three months, then our house is officially pulled out of foreclosure, all the late fees on the mortgage are forgiven, and we get an affordable interest rate for the life of the loan. We could hardly believe that all of our hard work finally paid off, thanks to the wonderful resources that we found through HUD.

Fast forward to today, and all that foreclosure drama that happened over the course of six years is now like a distant bad dream. The mortgage is officially listed as current with the credit bureaus. There’s peace at last.

Can you imagine what would have happened if we went with the first company?

Finding Hope

There are a lot more scam artists than trustworthy people out there, unfortunately. Foreclosures bring out the bottom-feeding predators because they know people are desperate. Keep in mind you may not have the same outcome as we had because of my and my now-husband’s unique situation. However, the most important thing I want you to take away from this is to look out for the red flags. Keep a checklist of them for yourself. Don’t let people take advantage of your weakened state, always think logically, and listen to your gut at all times. Use HUD and BBB to your advantage. If your home is beyond saving, but you throw money at someone who’s promising you the world, then you’re just going to wind up without a house AND without a lot of your money.

I wish you much luck!

Questions To Ask Your Partner and Yourself Before Living Together

The following post was originally written for this blog on 4/16/2010. It has been updated to be more relevant today, but it is mostly the same. If it’s new to you, then enjoy!

I’m an advice column and self-help article junkie. Before and after I moved in with my now-husband, I kept track of all the ways we were proactive in making sure living together was a positive experience for both of us. This blog post is the fruits of that labor. I hope this helps you as much as it helped us.

I’d recommend these questions be asked over the course of a few months, at least. That’s because you’ll probably have a full blown discussion with each question and be emotionally burnt out by the time you’ve hashed even one out, let alone the rest. Plus, you’ll probably be revisiting these questions more than once as you learn more about each other and yourself.

Things To Ask Your Partner

How do we handle the finances?

Someone has to pay the rent/mortgage! Make a list of every expense you’ll have: rent/mortgage, utilities, food, home maintenance, cars, pet care, etc.

Who will be responsible for paying the bills in full and on time?
Will you take turns paying for food?
If you’re short on money for your next car insurance payment, is your partner willing to help you out?
How will you keep track of the due dates together?

The answers may seem obvious to you, but your partner may presume something else entirely. Don’t complain that you’re the one doing all the food shopping if you never discussed who’s supposed to be in charge of it.

Do we merge our finances? Are there any liabilities that make you a risk to me?

One of you may be comfortable merging everything right away. The other may want separate bank accounts all the way to the grave.

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