Under the Magnolia Tree

Since we purchased our house last May, we never really got to see our magnolia tree during its bloom, so watching the transformation over the past few weeks has been really lovely. The flowering season has come and gone over a short amount of time, leaving our grass sprinkled with pink pedals (which are so slippery, I’ve almost fallen on them a handful of times).

Our yard looked like it was straight out of a Monet painting for a while there, so I snapped some shots of the flowers during their full bloom. Pete even encouraged me to make a flower angel one Sunday afternoon, and I obliged (scroll to the very end to mock me in all my flower angel glory).

At the end of the day, it was a bit of a flower angel fail, but I’m fine with it. Next up, our dogwood tree will be blooming come mid-May. I’ll be sure to share photos of that as well since I’m not-so-secretly a sucker for all things pink and pretty.


Veronika & Bryan: Vintage Love by Live It Out Photography

When the lovely Veronika from Tick Tock Vintage asked if she could use our house as a backdrop for a photoshoot with her husband Bryan, I was totally flattered. It was an absolute blast watching behind the scenes as Amber from Live It Out Photography captured the gorgeous couple and vintage styling (all by the uber talented Veronika!). From handmade pies and mojitos to barbecued deliciousness, Veronika and Bryan totally spoiled us by providing dinner for us all.

Here are some of my favorite shots from the always-adorable Amber…seriously, this girl has major skills and you’d be crazypants not to hire her for photography if you’re in the D.C. area! Thanks again to Veronika and Bryan for hosting such an amazing photo adventure in our backyard…it’s pretty darn exciting to see how much potential our new home has for future shindigs. Keep an eye out for a glimpse of Betty White hiding behind me, per usual!

{Photos courtesy of Live It Out Photography}

1 800 GOT JUNK: Yes Please

Let me start this off by saying 1-800-GOT-JUNK didn’t pay me to write their praises or provide us with free hugs or cupcakes or anything of the like. Pete and I have been collecting a giant pile of tree branches since the guys removed the trees and hedges in our front yard four months ago. (Just as a quick side note, it’s crazy to think that we’ve been living in our new house for four months now!) Anyway, Pete spent hours and hours trying to bundle the branches and bag them up for trash removal, but it was a never-ending project, involving non-stop Lowe’s bags filling up on our front lawn. On Friday, we decided to give in and schedule a 1-800-GOT-JUNK pickup for the following afternoon.

We had a pretty hefty wood pile in our basement (inherited by the previous owner), which was a total time consuming pain in the arse to try to properly dispose of for trash pick-up. Not to mention the box spring upstairs that we also inherited, with a certain retirement home smell that could not be avoided when walking into the bedroom. Let’s not forget the large mysterious reddish brown stains as well. Eeep. Needless to say, the box spring was still lurking upstairs, due to the fact that it doesn’t fit around the stairwell corner.

Luckily for us, the guys at 1-800-GOT-JUNK came with a handy dandy massive saw, so they were able to cut the box spring in half to dispose of it. Success! Now that I don’t have to smell the box spring every time I walk into the guest bedroom (ew), I have a feeling I’ll be a lot more motivated to start removing wallpaper and making progress on the upstairs. Yeah, we have a whole room of wallpaper still. Big sigh.

When we got our quote for the junk removal, the guys said they thought we’d only fill up 1/6th or 1/8th of the truck (under $200). Once all of the branches, wood and box spring were thrown in, the truck was pretty much filled to the brim. Whoops. They cut us a deal and only charged us for 1/4 of a truck (which ended up totaling to $300), which is definitely a fair price for the peace of mind it brought us.

I can’t tell you how much of a relief it is to see the branches gone for the first time, even if the grass is totally dead underneath. We’re having a gardening consultant come over this weekend to give us advice on how to repair our lawn (we are overcome with weeds), so I’m sure I’ll be posting about that soon enough!

Have any of you had any experiences with 1-800-GOT-JUNK (apart from pitying the crews who have to deal with the people on Hoarders)?

Surviving the Home Buying Process: An Honest Review

Last time I mentioned the home buying process, I shared how there were some discrepancies between the required repairs in our contract and what was actually finished. When Pete and I had our final walkthrough of the house on settlement day with our realtor and mortgage banker, we made the unfortunate discovery that most of the large repairs were not at all addressed. Just to name a few: the main beam of the house in the basement was still cracked and hadn’t been sistered, a large washer/dryer hookup and vent revealed itself that had been cleverly hidden from us in the bedroom, there was electric work which had not been properly updated, chipped lead paint had not been addressed and the basement walls weren’t scraped or painted as promised.

We were infuriated and heartbroken. To have this happen during our settlement day made us want to walk away from the house entirely. We were baffled as to how both realtors weren’t on top of things and that we were all discovering this together on what was supposed to be an exciting day for us. Leading up to the settlement, our realtor, Patricia Wise Strehle, made us feel incredibly neglected and as if she was not interested in our well-being. Due to her inability to stay on track and meet deadlines, our settlement date was pushed because paperwork had not been supplied on her behalf. Paperwork which had been requested far in advance, so there was no excuse as to why it had been ignored up until the very last possible minute.

Pete and I were incredibly on top of things and couldn’t have done anything differently to make sure all deadlines were met. We worked together wonderfully with Adam Schwartz from the Integrated Financial Group, who handled all things financial and relating to our FHA loan. He was so dedicated to easing our nerves after this situation that he even emailed us from the hospital several times while his wife was having a baby. It was vastly different dealing with the realtor and financial advisor. Needless to say, we felt very taken advantage of by Pat.

When we sat down at settlement, we made it clear how we felt regarding the repairs not being made. The idea of creating an escrow account was brought up by Pat, and soon after there were back-and-forth debates for a couple of hours between ourselves and the seller. We weren’t in the same room, so we’d have to request an escrow amount from our realtor, who would speak to the seller’s realtor, who would speak to the seller, who would give the realtor his input, who would speak to our realtor, who would speak to a very agitated us. Not a fun way to spend a Cinco de Mayo. Eventually, we settled on $2,000 provided to us from the seller and $500 from Pat, who was willing to offer a small percentage of her earnings to prevent us from walking away. Pete and I originally requested a higher escrow rate, because there was no way of telling how much the sistered beam and other repairs would cost without several professional quotes by contractors. One of the realtors randomly threw out the number “$200” in conversation regarding how much the beam might cost, which Pete and I immediately argued with and said that would absolutely not cover it for the amount of damage the beam had. At the end of the day, we had $2,500 to work with and a lot of quotes to get. We had been excited to begin working on home renovations, but instead we had to focus on getting the required repairs finished within the time frame of one month.

We began collecting quotes and decided to work with Tony Hourmouzis, who was recommended by our financial advisor. The house had to be raised to relieve pressure on the beam to allow the contractors to remove the old one and install a new support beam. This also included removing ductwork to gain access to the beam, all which was photographed and provided to the seller. According to Tony, the seller had the opportunity to make the mandatory repairs to the beam on his own and failed to do so, so as the new homeowners we had the right to hire whoever we wanted to make the repairs.

Unfortunately, the seller decided that he only wanted to allow us to mask the problem instead of repairing it. He decided to only offer us “$200” of our escrow funds toward the sistered beam. This is where our problems began. Once we heard that news, we soon found out that the seller didn’t believe it was necessary for us to make the other promised repairs under our escrow account. The basement walls were chipped, sealed and painted. The electrical outlets which didn’t pass inspection were updated. The hidden plumbing was removed. All of these repairs were made per our signed and agreed upon addendum. Items which were clearly stated in our FHA appraisal conditions and escrow agreement were being completely excluded by the seller because he didn’t feel like paying us the full $2,000 owed. Our final invoice ended up being over $3,000 (including re-inspection and all necessary repairs), so Pete and I were correct in trusting our gut that these repairs weren’t exactly minor.

Overall, this escrow dispute lasted two months. Two long months of Pete and I waiting to receive news about the escrow funds and feeling awful that our contractor Tony was left unpaid because the seller did not want to address the obvious. Pete and I drafted formal letters, with attached legal documents clearly backing our case. When we received no response, we had an attorney acquaintance draft a legal letter to the seller, stating that it was our final demand for the release of the funds before we would file a claim in the county court.

Pete and I were confident that the entire amount in escrow was due to us, and refused mediation (having to pay a fee only to likely have the seller tell us he wouldn’t budge), as we found it was not an appropriate solution. We gave the seller until mid-June to respond and heard nothing back until the end of the month, when we were getting ready to submit paperwork to the court. We finally were given word that the seller had agreed to release the $2,000 in escrow funds. In mid-July we received the escrow check and immediately paid our very patient contractor.

I really wish I could say that we would have done something differently, but I truly believe we were intelligent about researching the home buying process in advance. Our major mistake was our choice of realtor, who we had heard nothing but rave reviews about initially. Unfortunately, her typo-filled emails during this entire process were incredibly brief and vague and made us feel like we couldn’t rely on her for help. Pete and I ended up finding all of the houses we went to see on our own (we toured five houses total) because she kept discouraging us from being able to meet our criteria within our budget. We were pretty certain that it wasn’t unheard of to ask for a house with A/C for under $200,000. Because of her large oversight during the final walkthrough of our house, the first few months of homeownership were incredibly stressful for us. Had there been better communication and attention to detail on behalf of Pat, we fully believe this entire situation could have been avoided. I hope other homebuyers will learn from our mistake and not be afraid to ask for references from their realtor before entering such an important process.

We were amazed, however, by how patient and understanding our contractor Tony was during this entire process. We felt awful that none of the funds could be released until an agreement was made between us and the seller, but we knew we were in the right and refused to be taken advantage of any longer. We would definitely recommend him for contractor work in the Philadelphia suburbs.

After speaking with several professionals in the financial field, we put our trust in our mortgage banker, Adam Schwartz, who was incredibly professional and helpful from day one. He made himself available at all times (even when his wife was in labor!) to answer our questions, no matter how silly they might have been. We had a lot of questions during this entire process since everything was so new to us, and he went above and beyond his job. We felt like he was doing the job of the realtor and mortgage banker at times, and he even came to our settlement to make the process easier for us. We would absolutely recommend him to anyone hoping to look into the loan process for a new home, he was a pleasure to work with. He even bought a chipmunk print from my illustration shop for his daughter and he still reaches out to us to check in on our latest home renovation projects.

Anyway, I’m really proud of Pete and I for working together during that frustrating time, instead of letting it get the best of us. We were both fired up numerous times throughout the escrow process, but when one of us had flared tempers, the other would pat them on the back to let them know it would all work out, and vice versa. I think we’re a good team and I’m looking forward to our relationship growing even more during our lessons as newbie homeowners.

For fellow homeowners out there, what were some of the stressful situations you had to deal with during the process? Did anyone else have a similar escrow experience, or are we the only ones out there with such wonderful luck?

Collecting Colors: Our Palette

Pete and I decided on the color palette above for our home back in March when we had been going through the process of having our soon-to-be home inspected. It’s been difficult to make sure we don’t stray too far from our original game plan because for some reason my eyes are automatically drawn to neon pops of color when browsing color swatch cards. Below is the palette we have in our house thus far, with the living room, dining room, bedroom, office and kitchen paints all finalized.

This weekend will consist of us prepping the kitchen for painting—removing the remaining bunny wallpaper, patching and repairing the walls and ceiling, painting the ceiling and priming the walls and finally painting the walls with Martha Stewart’s beautiful Lagoon. The walls are in awful shape, with uneven plaster sheets galore and concrete blocks peeking out in spots, so we definitely have our work cut out for ourselves.

For those of you who were confused as to why we were scraping away bunny wallpaper as the proud owners of three rabbits, we had to start fresh because the paper was so brown and smoke-stained. Pete recently discovered a fresh roll of the bunny wallpaper in its crisp white glory in an outdoor trash can. We decided to keep the fresh roll so we can pay tribute to the previous owner’s sense of bunny-riffic style. Who knows where it will be popping up in the future! Maybe we’ll line shelves with it or incorporate it into the furniture we inherited from good ol’ Elva (inside her desk that lifts up, perhaps?). We’ve been hearing some stories about the 90-something-year-old Elva and she sounds like my kind of gal. An army nurse with lots of stories to tell and an obvious love for small floppy-earred mammals.

Did you create a color palette before painting in your new home or apartment? Did you end up straying far from the palette or did you grit your teeth and remind yourself that a hot pink kitchen is probably not part of your significant other’s vision.

Nesting News: Our Color Palette

Last time I updated you, we were gearing up for our home inspection. Luckily the seller agreed to make a majority of the changes we deemed necessary for moving in. We’re aware that with an old house comes all things old, so we’ll be saving our initial funds for emergencies (at least 6 months of mortgage payments, just in case!), updating the insulation by adding spray foam and replacing the ancient furnace and air conditioning systems once our 1-year home warranty expires. We’ll have to put major renovations on the back burner and update the house in creative, budget-friendly ways for the time being.

Pete and I have been discussing what we envision for our home’s color palette, since we know one of the first things we’ll be doing is removing wallpaper and painting a fresh coat in every room. Eventually (probably next summer-ish), we’ll want to tackle painting the exterior of the house. By “we” I mean Pete, because I have no balance and will absolutely end up hanging upside down by a shoelace if I have to stand on a ladder for an extended period of time.

While browsing Behr for paint inspiration, Pete stumbled upon an image of this house. We decided to base our potential home’s color palette on the photo and plan to give our home’s exterior a similar aesthetic, with mossy green and sandy hues (“spirited green” and “peanut butter,” to be exact).

I came up with a quick illustration that represents the color palette we are currently leaning toward. As one of our first DIY projects, we plan to make a mason jar chandelier, if you’re wondering why that snuck its way into the sketch. I think I might start drawing one original illustration per week to coincide with blog topics (or is that way too nerdy?).

How did you come up with a color palette for your home, or did you just wing it and take on one room at a time?

Before & After Inspiration

Our house inspection is this Saturday, so we’re crossing our fingers all goes well on that end. We will be working on saving for any potential house emergencies for the next few months. That being said, we will have to be creative in figuring out affordable ways to modernize the house if it ends up being ours in a couple of months. Since we don’t want to spend on any major renovations right away, we will be removing wallpaper and painting for the most part. Once we have our goal amount of emergency savings, we can begin renovating the kitchen, which is number one on our makeover list.

Here are some affordable before & after ideas for sprucing up our potential new home:

“After” Image Source

In the smaller bedroom upstairs, wood paneling covers the walls and ceiling, which can hopefully be revamped with some cheerful color and painted white ceilings.

“After” Image Source

The sunroom is pretty as is, but could use a fresh coat of color and trim, maybe something subtle and earthy to go with the blue floors.

“After” Image Source

I’ve mentioned before my obsession with white fireplaces, which I think would look really lovely with grey walls and pops of color incorporated in the room.

“After” Image Source

The bay window area needs some love, which could be accomplished by hanging airy curtains with new hardware and an area rug.

What are some simple ways you’ve given your home a new look on a tight budget?