Reassembling our lives

The Thinker by Rodin

The goalposts kept moving. Finally yesterday, three weeks after the date when our house was supposed to be completed, we actually staggered across the finish line. The finish line in this case was settlement. We were fortunate to be able to move into our house on September 24, which was good because after September 30 we otherwise had been either homeless or squatters. So it goes in the nerve-wracking business of buying a new house where completion dates are purely aspirational. Settlement dates came and went but eventually the necessary signatures were collected to add our property to a master deed, which meant we could actually settle.

9:30 a.m. yesterday found us in our attorney’s office where all the documents were ready. The odd thing about this settlement was that the seller was not present. In fact, the seller’s attorney didn’t show up either. He sent his paralegal who presumably had authority to sign their documents, but he would not show up until later that afternoon. And so we spent nearly as much time chatting with our attorney and his paralegal as we did signing papers. It was the first time we had actually met him and most likely the last as well.

There were the usual bizarre forms to sign. In one we signed our names three ways, with middle initial, with middle name spelled and with middle name absent I guess so they could have some assurance our signatures on the other papers were legitimate … but how do they know this one wasn’t fake? In another we agreed that if there were a clerical error we would not sue anyone. We signed one paper claiming a homeowner’s exemption. In Massachusetts the first $500,000 of your residence can be safe from creditors, but only if you take the time to sign the right document. Whatever. By 11 a.m. we were out of there with the usual cramped fingers from signing documents. Using pen and ink is so old fashioned — hadn’t anyone ever heard of electronic signatures? Also old fashioned were the stack of checks that would go to various parties, many for overpriced legal documents of dubious significance. Ever hear of bank-to-bank transfers fellas?

Monday we finally liberated our stuff from our storage unit. No more torrential rains that left a mini mudslide in our new backyard to allow the mover to postpone delivery. No more unexpected engine and brake problems to further delay things. My wife was fed up enough to find another mover instead. This mover delivered a very full twenty foot truck full of our stuff leaving us with a new house we mostly owned (except for a $30,000 mortgage from the credit union) and at least three times the boxes from the move from our apartment.

Which leaves us at the end of our long relocation journey, except for putting away all the stuff in these boxes. The piles of boxes are quite intimidating. But at least all our stuff has arrived. So far there has been little damage of note. So kudos to JK Moving. Expensive china emerged from our boxes with no breakage. Putting items away though assumes you know where you want it to go, and that’s not always intuitive. For our new house is not the same as our old house. It has more space in general but less space in certain areas. So everything has to be puzzled through. Our strategy is tentatively place items in certain places. When all the boxes are unpacked and are on the curb for recycling then we’ll probably have to go through everything again and figure out where we really want to store them.

The other hard part is remembering where you put stuff. I waste about an hour a day opening drawers thinking I placed an item in it, but not finding it there. This requires opening other drawers and if you are lucky finding the item after a couple of attempts. The kitchen at least is now wholly unpacked and I am remembering where certain common items like silverware are located. It’s all the other stuff, like the waffle maker or the measuring cups that are hard to find.

A new house takes some getting used to. Not only are rooms in different places but like a new car it has a new house smell to it. Our wood floors still smells of recently applied polyurethane. Our unfinished basement has a weird odor that I can’t quite place. It may be the insulation hanging in the ceiling or it may be the foam insulation along the perimeter and in the crevices. Speaking of insulation, the house is so weather tight and energy efficient that the designers were aware it would lead to indoor air pollution. So there is a special ventilation stack to ensure this doesn’t happen with blowers that come on periodically. Other noises take some getting used to, such as the icemaker in the refrigerator. It’s a house so solidly constructed that at least for the moment it does not creak or groan. When fans and the icemaker are not making noise, the house is eerily silent.

Two days later at best a quarter of our boxes are unpacked. There are so many things to reassemble, such as a china cabinet and various bookcases. Furniture is tried in various locations then gets moved somewhere else, in hopes of an optimal configuration. It’s hard to know what fits best until it’s all in place and you use it for a little while. Pictures and artwork need to be placed, but where exactly? Clocks need to be hung, floor lamps need to be screwed into a stack, carpet runners need to be placed and plastic and metal shelves have to be reassembled. At some point the house starts to feel like a home. It didn’t feel much like a home to me until Monday afternoon. That’s when the large pier behind our bed arrived and was reassembled. It’s amazing it all arrived undamaged. Suddenly my bedroom looked familiar again. No longer using the guest room furniture, things were right back where they used to be, just facing west instead of east. Our bedroom at least felt like home.

The complete home feeling will probably have to wait until some time after everything is put away and all the photos and artwork are again on our walls. For our house is missing something vital: a cat or two to take possession of the place. Until I see paw prints on the windowsill, I am changing the litter box twice a week and am vacuuming cat dander off the sofas, it won’t quite feel like a home. Cats don’t like change so there’s no point in getting a cat until everything is put away. I expect a new feline or two to arrive in our lives in November.

Meanwhile there is plenty more unpacking and rearranging to do, and more weeks of feeling lost in my own home until things settle in.

Of houses and men

The Thinker by Rodin

During the spring we watched our house — supposedly under construction — largely sit there for two months. It was a frame with windows and wrapped in Tyvek but that was about it. Yesterday our house was a beehive of activity as contractors tried to finish it at last, presumably to meet a September 15 deadline. They are unlikely to meet this deadline either, but it’s not from lack of trying during this final effort. Trucks working on our house were blocking traffic in and out of our development. We had to park down the street and amble up to our house. The din of construction equipment had doubtless woken up the whole neighborhood by the time we arrived around 8:30 am. The first layer of asphalt had just been laid on our driveway and was steaming in the morning sun.

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We walked slowly on some planks to get onto our porch rather than step in the mud that will eventually become our lawn. Inside dozens of workmen were running around on every level. The smart ones were wearing hearing protection because it sounded like a rock concert in there, principally due to the placement of the staircase to our basement. A carpenter was creating a space for the stairs to sit with his miter saw. The electricians were busy wiring up the kitchen lights, but needed to consult with us on the placement of hallway lights, which was why we were there so early. Upstairs they were nailing down carpet tack in our loft and storage room. The painting at least was done with the main walls colored a nice light peach color, just like in our last house. The kitchen looked nearly done with all the cabinets and the countertop in place, but with the appliances still missing. Our newly stained and polished hardwood floors thankfully were still covered in plastic, since workmen didn’t have time to remove the mud from the soles of their shoes.

We returned later in the day to find the foreman there. The carpet was being installed in the loft, while in the master bedroom the padding was being stapled into the floorboard. A second coat of asphalt was going down on the driveway while the truck carrying it totally blocked traffic. The hallway lights were in place, but the ones in the bathroom remained to be done. We discussed where they should be seated and noted that our toilets had arrived, just had not been connected.

In the midst of all this chaos, the appliances arrived. With the asphalt still settling they had to be lifted over the mud, dollied into the house and then positioned into place. It was organized chaos, but at least the windows and doors were open, letting in fresh cool air. The foreman had a group of guys working on windows. They were already in place but the plastic was still on the panes and the screens needed to go in place. We discussed concerns about a duct that was blocked and a vanity that didn’t quite fit on its cabinet. It’s on backorder, along with a missing light at the top of the stairs.

Even with all this work there was still plenty more to do. The air conditioner needed to go in and a lot of electrical mysteries needed to be solved. Plugs that should have current did not. Outside, there was still no landscaping beyond a general grading, but at least the deck was completed with railings and some steps. Would this all be completed by September 15, our latest completion date?

It was not likely but it didn’t matter that much because we had finally nailed down a settlement date: September 24. This effectively postponed the delivery date and would put our actual occupation date some two months after when it was originally promised. Promises in the home construction business don’t mean a whole lot, so it’s best to have contingency plans. Nonetheless, we were getting antsy. We had given notice that we would be vacating our apartment at the end of the month. Without a settlement date until yesterday we could not book a mover. The mover’s schedule was already largely full, but he was free on the afternoon of the 24th to move the stuff out of our apartment. I was able to get the settlement time moved to the morning so that would work. Moving the voluminous stuff out of our storage unit will have to wait until near the end of the month when our mover is free.

After a week trying to get a hold of our loan processor, and even leaving a note with her supervisor to call us, she finally deigned to call us back. She ordered the belated appraisal of the property at once, but the appraiser could not actually stop by for nine days. Due to her incompetence, if the house had been ready by the 15th we would not have been able to settle. It’s still unclear if we will be able to settle on the 24th because our loan is apparently competing for her attention amongst many others and her boss keeps sending her to mandatory training. New documents were demanded because the loan processor had changed and apparently they couldn’t be bothered to save the records we sent them in February. This meant more scrambling to assemble papers, some entirely new.

It seems both home construction and loan processing aren’t very amenable to deadlines. It helps to know this is normal, so it must have been normal for me to fret and wonder if we would be sleeping in a hotel October 1 with the contents of our apartment in another storage unit. When sufficiently pressed by exasperated homeowners like us things though generally do move toward the finish line at last. I have figured out that it will be generally up to me to dot the I’s and cross the T’s, as it is up to whoever cares the most to shriek the loudest to bring it all together. I am going hoarse.

Still, in a few weeks it will be over. A 14-month relocation odyssey will be over. It will be replete with innumerable pitfalls along the way that only sustained focus fixed. Barring any last minute deal breakers, two weeks from now we should be living in our new house with all the hassles of this relocation appearing blessedly in our rear view mirror.