Thursday, December 30, 2010

TRAPPED! With The Chickens

"I'm going out to water the chickens and close the coop for the night," said Steve, walking toward the door with a 3-liter bottle of water and a flashlight in his hands. He waved an "I Love You" at Debbie, still sitting at the table after dinner. She didn't wave back, and Steve thought, "Boy, she looks tired. I hope she goes to bed early tonight--we could both use a long sleep."

He trudged through the yard, past the barn and into the darkness. He flicked on his flashlight, and let himself through the gate into the pen around the coop. The chooks were no fools--when the sun went down, they all trooped into the coop and huddled up for warmth. He stepped into the coop and pulled the door around behind himself.

He turned on the 100W bulb they had put in to help warm the coop at night, and turned off the flashlight. December 30, and there were 4 new eggs in the corner! These girls just wouldn't quit laying! 2 dozen eggs a week, even when the temperatures had been below freezing. He picked them up and put them in a plastic bag from his pocket.

Then Steve checked on the level of feed in the hanging feeder. He had filled it the day before, so there was no worry the birds were hungry, but it paid to keep an eye on the level. A couple times, the birds ate the bin dry and he and Debbie had to scramble to come up with short-term substitutes--bird seed, peanuts, sunflower seeds. Once they popped popcorn, which the chickens seemed to really enjoy.

Finally, he picked up the water bowl and turned to the door to empty it. The door had fully closed, but there was a string leading to the latch. He would just pull it, and...

Pull it and...

Now THAT was a problem. The door wasn't opening.

Steve began to laugh. Overconfidence had bitten him right on the keister, and it was his own fault. He had just locked himself into the chicken coop.

Monday, December 27, 2010

On the Third Day of Christmas...

Hope you all are warm and well!

Here on Honeyhill Farm, the temperature is in the high 20's F, but the wind is around 30 with gusts. Our 1" of snow is DRIFTING, for heaven's sake!

We have had to resort to an old-fashioned way of watering the chickens: we carry it out twice a day. They have an annoying habit of tipping over the bowl.

We ran power from the barn to the coop via extension cords, and we have a 100W bulb we turn on at night. It's not much, but we have had fewer frozen water bowls and the chickens aren't all huddled together in the morning.

We poured several pounds of sugar into each hive on the last day we had above 40F. Sometime around the end of this week, it is supposed to be in the 40's again, and we'll have to top them off. But both hives are still alive!

Debbie received a spinning wheel for Christmas--an Ashford Traveller, second-hand but in wonderful condition, off Craigslist. Do yourself a favor and check out Craigslist.

Debbie got me an Android/Linux PDA, which has been interesting because all the documentation is in Chinese.

Today we are both a bit under the weather--fevers, aches, pains, and other unpleasant symptoms--but it seems to be a short-duration illness.

Stay warm and happy!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

More about the Chickens...

Well, the back wall got replaced just in time to move the chickens in for the party. 4 months on, and I STILL need to paint it.

I added another gate latch to hold the coop door OPEN, as once the chickens were kept OUT of the coop on a windy day.

Here's a suggestion for you: paint your doors ASAP. When it's humid, or rainy, the door swells and sticks. Paint helps keep the moisture out, and that means the door doesn't stick!

Now, you may remember that I said we weren't ENTIRELY sure about the sex of the chickens. Well, it turns out we had cause to wonder. We had purchased 2 Buff Orphington chicks, because the Buffs will lay longer into the winter. Well, that's not gonna happen, because BOTH the chicks were roosters.

But we aren't suffering from any shortage of eggs. Since they started laying, we've been averaging about 5 eggs a day from 6 hens, or THREE DOZEN A WEEK. We have over 6 dozen eggs in the refrigerator, and we can't eat them fast enough.

Maybe we need to eat a hen or two. (Just kidding, Debbie!)

Getting water to the coop has been interesting, as well. The spigot in the barn, as far as we can tell, attaches to NOTHING. We've never been able to get a trickle of water out of it. On the other hand, there's a valve in the house that leads OUT through the foundation and disappears, and we can't find the other end. And the spigot on the front of the house seems to have been shut off and the control valve walled in, completely inaccessible.

So we drag a hose off a reel near the one head we have in the front, across the yard, to a chain of 3 dry hoses. We pulled these out of the barn, where they were left by one or more of the previous owners, added some Y-valves, and VOILA! 200 feet of farm plumbing. That puts the water within 20 feet of the coop, so we don't have to carry it very far, and puts a spigot near the kitchen garden, near the barn, and near the paddock as well. Of course, we can't run them all at the same time, and I have to turn on and off 6 valves to make the water go.

And what am I going to do when it gets cold? We've already had one night in the 20's and the oldest hose already has a small crack that bubbles when the pressure is up...

By the way, would you like some eggs?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Housewarming Party

The BIG reason we needed to move the chickens was to get ready for VISITORS.

My kids were coming from Utah, and we needed the sewing room for my daughter. It was kind of Important that she not be sleeping with the chickens.

And we had a party to put together--after all, after living here for 5 months, it was about TIME for our housewarming.

So on July 24, we had about 50 people over for lunch. Of course, it was the HOTTEST day of the summer--about 108F, or over 42C.

It was kind of like Hell.

But it seems--right--in retrospect. I mean, after we froze for 3 weeks trying to move in, we certainly had a houseWARMING.

The next day, we had a windstorm that seemed just shy of tornadoes. Some places HAD tornadoes.

The rented pavilion was torn down. The steel buffet we moved from the back porch for the party turned into a bunch of twisted scrap. The patio table and umbrella were picked up and tossed into a tree. Glass table top shattered everywhere, but the umbrella was STILL in the bracket.

Good thing it was the day AFTER the party.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Door for the Coop

It's time for them to GO.

The chickens, that is. They've been living in a dog crate in the sewing room since the beginning of April, and it's time for them to GO!

But first, I have to get the chicken coop ready for them. And that means making a door.

Now, the opening in the coop is 2'x6', as I measure it. So we bought plywood and 2x4s, and a hinge and latch set meant for a gate. Last Sunday, with the sun beating down on my straw hat, I set to work.

We had Home Depot cut the plywood. Two pieces, supposedly identical--one is too wide, the other too narrow. We'll use the narrow one. Drink water.

I cut 2x4 for the sides. Drink. I cut the waste lengths a little shorter for cross beams. Drink. I trim a wedge from another 2x4 and make a matching cut about 4' down to make a triangular brace. Drink. I screw it all together. Drink, drink, drink.

The hinges screw into the cross beams. The handle and latch-post screw on. There is some trouble getting the screws snugged down, but it sure looks like a door to me!

Another cut from the piece of plywood, and the rest of the 2x4s, makes a 4' ramp so the chickens can strut in and out of their palace. Three scrap blocks will be used for mounting the ramp. Drink.

Altogether, I drank 3 quarts of water. It was a HOT day.

Three days later, and the weather has moderated. It's actually quite nice out this evening.

I carried the door down to the chicken coop. Using the wedge I cut 4 paragraphs and 3 days ago, I put the door at the position in the frame I want it, and mark where I will drill the holes.

The last hole runs into a nail. It's toe-nailed, which explains why I thought I had plenty of room. But what are the odds? I mean, let's look at the random variables here:

  • Entry point of the nail
  • Angle of the nail
  • Position of the cross beam on the door
  • Position of the hinge on the cross beam
  • Position of the door on the wedge

It's so unlikely, it HAD to happen.

I had to pull the nail, which is interesting when it is toe-nailed and countersunk.

Then I screwed the hinges to the door frame. There was some trouble getting the screws snugged down. Of course, the door was now TOO WIDE.

I had to trim some of the sheathing where it wasn't cut straight. Perfect fit! (Well, for a chicken coop. They won't complain.)

I marked where the latch needed to attach. Then I found that I had used the wrong screws attaching the latch post, and the latch post screws were too large for the latch.

Out come two screws. In go two screws. There was some trouble getting the screws snugged down. Then I put on the latch.

The fourth screw is malformed. The head is at a strange angle. The Phillips cross is off center, AND filled with paint. "Three screws will hold it for now," I grumble to myself.

High up the wall, I drill through the sheathing. I will run a string from the latch through this hole to a pull ring, so I won't get accidentally locked in.

Now I just have to replace the back wall...

(I found 3 dog ticks and 1 deer tick crawling on me. How many did I miss?)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Two Months On: What's Up On Honeyhill?

Wow! It's been two months. I mean, they've been BUSY months, but it's time to update!

Well, our garden isn't likely to happen THIS year. Debbie has been having some health problems, and hasn't been able to work outside the way she wants to. That's OK, because we don't even have a working LAWNMOWER.

That's right, what we're growing in the garden is a BUMPER crop of grass.

We inherited the lawnmower with Honeyhill. It was sitting in the barn, a Kubota W5019 5.0HP OHV. My research on the web says, "This is one of the best lawnmowers EVER! If I ever find another one, I'll buy it!"

Too bad it doesn't work.

Our first efforts involved adding fuel, opening the fuelcock, choking, and pulling the starter cord. After 3 or 4 (or 6 or 7...) pulls, gasoline began pouring out of the carburetor. Closing the fuelcock seemed like a good idea, as did replacing all the seals in the carb. Now it doesn't leak, but it doesn't RUN, either.

We also went looking for a replacement spark plug, on the theory that the old one might be fouled. What, all that black crud? Fouled? Who would think that? But we haven't found one, and so we sanded the old plug clean, on the theory that would help.

It didn't. It still doesn't run.

In the meantime, we have a Ryobi weedwhacker that starts, but CHUGS to a halt when you push the throttle. And we have a scythe, which works nicely, but is giving me golfer's elbow.

On the plus side, one of our locals, Mr. Frank D., is going to be cutting our fields for hay. This is an advantage to us, because even though we don't have a garden, the land is being used for agricultural products, and we get to keep our agricultural property tax rate. But he only cuts twice a year, and DOESN'T do the lawn...

And so we're looking for our own tractor so we can PLOW our own snow, PLOW our own fields, MOW our own grass. Our neighbor Tom said, "You're going to need one of these. Get a front-end loader, 30HP, diesel, and 4WD." Everyone we've talked to has said, "Yup. That oughta do ya."

The only one we've found was a Yanmar 336D with a leaking front axle. But my research on the web says, "This is one of the best tractors EVER! If I ever find another one, I'll buy it!" I'm just not sure I'm ready to take on a 4WD axle rebuild...

The tractor will be nice when we plow our BIG garden (NEXT year, I'm sure...). But we need a tiller for the kitchen garden, and they're all smaller than I want, or more expensive than I want. I may need to adjust my priorities.

One thing we have to be careful about is mowing around the beehives.

Well, not yet. The bees arrive TOMORROW, after being delayed WEEKS. But mowing around hives can be a ticklish business. You don't want to make the bees nervous.

The bees? What about ME?

Meanwhile, our other livestock is growing nicely. Debbie has 8 chickens in a dog crate in her sewing room, and they're well past the "cute and fluffy" phase and into the "miniature velociraptor" stage. What we're NOT sure of is:

Are they all HENS?

I mean, we're pretty sure MOST of them are. But one or two are giving us cause to doubt. But they're not at the "chicken coop" size yet, which is good. Because I HAVE TO FIX UP THE COOP.

It has to be weatherproof, cat-proof, fox-proof, and hawk-proof, or I'll be the one sleeping in the coop! Meanwhile, the birds will stay inside and lay eggs.

I'm kidding, of course. The smell (mostly concentrated in the sewing room, thank God!) is enough to knock you over.

City folk think chickens are stupid. Well, I'm getting over that idea! One thing is certain, they know HUMAN==FOOD.

Nonononono, NO! They do NOT eat people!

But at first, when we walked into the room, they huddled in the farthest corner of the cage, which made it easy to change their food and water. Now, they come to the door and try to get out. I'm sure it's only a matter of time until one of them decides to try to turn carnivorous...

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

There's A Giant Mushroom In Our Yard...

It was always clear that dial-up Internet access was going to be inadequate. Cable TV is not available at Honeyhill; fiber is a pipe dream; even DSL is out of range. Our only hope was to look up.

Satellite Internet service is available most places, but it's the 2nd worst of all possible options. We did some research to try to find service providers, and finally settled on Wildblue. We had the advantage of knowing that they had serviced our property before--we have a Wildblue satellite dish on a post at the bottom of our hill, and cable running into the house. So we called them, only to find that they were NOT available where we were anymore--their satellite was out of slots. They transferred us to our 2nd choice, HughesNet. (By the way, if you let us refer you, we BOTH get $50 gift to me!)

HughesNet is one of the piecemeal remnants of the old financial and manufacturing empire of Howard Hughes, aviation pioneer, eccentric, and zillionaire. They signed us up and arranged for an installer to arrive on 3 March.

3 March was raining. Not hard, but everything was slippery. The installer arrived, as promised, but he won't do roof installs in rainy weather--it's dangerous, and the sealing goop for the holes he drills doesn't set properly, leading to leaks later. We offered the Wildblue post, but the post was too small for the HughesNet mount, and the angle was wrong for the HughesNet satellite. If we wanted Internet service, we needed a new pole.

And that is why we have a giant mushroom growing in our yard.

The History of Honeyhill Farm, Part 8

On Monday, PAIN was the only thing keeping Steve awake at his desk. Sore muscles. Sore joints. Sore knee, banged on the ice in a fall 10 days earlier, but recovering nicely. He set up a contract for regular oil delivery; he set up a contract for regular garbage pickup; he set up a contract for dial-up Internet service; and he sent Chrissy a question: was there a list of foreclosed properties to be auctioned in Prince George's County, so he could see that the house was NOT on it?

Chrissy replied, "Steve, you are correct. The case is still active."

The foreclosure was still ON! They were going to SELL OUR HOUSE at a foreclosure auction on FRIDAY!

Steve was now awake.

Email flew. Phones rang. John, the title officer, had been trying to reach someone--ANYONE--at the foreclosing bank since February 1. Email had been ignored, phone calls went unanswered. Finally, he sent:

"I believe that this is at least the 3rd email that I have sent you regarding this matter without a response, as well as numerous phone calls, all of which have gone unanswered. It is my understanding from speaking to the attorney's office conducting the foreclosure that they still have received no instructions from you to call off the foreclosure sale presently scheduled for Friday, February 26, 2010.

"The Borrowers have fully and completely complied with the terms of the short sale agreement as set out by your representatives and the funds have been in your possession since February 4, 2010. You and other members of your office have continuously refused to even respond to inquiries regarding this matter and are clearly proceeding in bad faith. If I do not hear from a representative of your office by Noon Eastern Standard Time tomorrow, I will have no choice but to report the bank's actions to the Maryland Banking Commission and the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General's office. Hopefully, such will not be necessary."

They responded, not to John, but to Adam and Susanna! John did not send the threatened letters, but it was not until Thursday that we had independent confirmation that the house was OFF the auction block. I was afraid I was going to have to go to the auction and buy the house all over again!

Friday dawned, and the house was finally OURS. We could relax--until Russ and David's friends arrived for the weekend...

Monday, February 22, 2010

The History of Honey Hill Farm, Part 7

Saturday was--brutal.

Debbie dropped Steve at the Uhaul stand at 7:15. We were supposed to pick up our truck at 7:00. The office was locked, and Debbie was gone to pick up breakfast for our crack team of teenagers, even then assembling at her house in Halethorpe. Fortunately, the Chevron employee who was supposed to be running the Uhaul office that morning was only over at the Chevron station, buying coffee.

WARNING: If you rent a moving truck, they may offer it at $39.95 a day, but the actual COST is going to be over 6x MORE. Mileage, insurance, dollies and pads, all adds UP!

Steve drove to Debbie's house, where we loaded stuff into the truck. Then he drove to HIS condo, where we loaded stuff into the truck. Then he drove to Honey Hill, where we UNloaded stuff from the truck.

Then we returned the truck.

14 hours of continuous driving, loading, unloading, carrying. And then we had 5 teenagers having a sleepover, watching movies and playing video games until all hours. Torture! But the MAJOR pieces of furniture, and lots of the smaller stuff, was IN.

We slept at Honey Hill for the first time, 20 February 2010. Home at Last!

The History of Honey Hill Farm, Part 6

Saturday we were able to contract a man to come plow out our drive. In the end, it was $500 we spent getting the drive cleared. Steve shoveled a path out of the house to the driveway, 1 shovel wide. We TIED the mailbox back into place.

Sunday we made a tank gauge out of a 11/16 piece of wood trim, 10 feet long--we have about 1/3 of the oil we bought remaining. We moved in some more stuff, enough that we're starting to see empty holes at Steve's old house. And we shopped for tractors.

John Deere. Kubota. New Holland. Massey Ferguson. New. Used. Scams on Craigslist.

Monday (President's Day) we visited 4 tractor stores, and looked at one private sale. There's just one problem:

Steve doesn't fit.

Tractors are sized for "normal" sized people. Steve, at 6'6", is out PAST the 2nd standard deviation on the normal distribution curve. This made buying a house a challenge (YES, the ceilings ARE OVER 8'!!!), makes buying clothes difficult, makes buying cars difficult...but we didn't expect it with tractors. Foolish us.

On Tuesday, Verizon apparently came out and fixed the phone line. Steve had requested notification, which he did not receive, and only found out when he went to check the trouble ticket online Wednesday, only to find it was closed.

That evening, we took over a load of stuff. We plugged in the phone in the house.


We went outside to the NID, and plugged the phone in.


Whatever Verizon did, they did NOT fix it. And they certainly did not test at the NID; the only tracks in the snow are mine.

We're shopping for heating oil prices; we're shopping for garbage pickup; we're shopping for internet services; we're shopping for tractors. And we've reserved a truck for Saturday--on SUNDAY, we hope to be living there!

Thursday dawned, and Steven opened a new ticket with Verizon. "My service request has NOT been repaired, and phone service is NOT working. Your technician did NOT test at the NID, as there are NO tracks in the snow. My service has NOT worked since it was 'installed', you took 12 days to 'fix' it, and you want 2 MORE?"

Thursday evening, Steven widened the path through the snow to move stuff OUT of his condominium; Friday evening, he widened the path through the snow to move stuff IN to the house at Honey Hill. Verizon, in a rare burst of action, actually FIXED the phone on Thursday evening!

Our first call was a telemarketer.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The History of Honey Hill Farm, Part 5

Steve called the attorneys who were to preside over the auction to inform them that their information was in error. They HUNG UP on him.

He faxed it to our realtor, who contacted the title company. Then he tried the commute BACK to Honey Hill. There, he moved a box of videos BACK to the old house. It was going to be a LOOOONNNNNNGGGGG weekend.

Friday, it SNOWED.

Saturday, it SNOWED.

By the time it was over, we had added 20" to our 16" base.

Sunday, we began to dig out, wondering if our homestead was still standing under the weight of 36 inches of snow. Monday, the world was closed, but Tuesday, Steve managed to get to work, and drove by the house on the way home. He picked up more mail--ad flyers, confirmation from Verizon of the start of service, and ANOTHER foreclosure notice--AND notice of a certified letter from the same attorney being held at the Post Office.

He parked his car at Tom's house, and trudged up the driveway. The snow was up to his knees, and his feet WEREN'T on the ground. There was a treetop fallen across the driveway. But everything was standing, and the heat was on. The phone didn't work.

He trudged back out.

Wednesday, it SNOWED. Another 12".

We dug, and dug, and dug, and dug. And that was just at the old house! On Thursday, we were able to drive down to the farm, but we couldn't get in. There was a 5' berm of ice and snow across our driveway and along the road. With some melt, some compaction, and lots of blowing, we have at least 3.5' of snow on our drive. We were given a price estimate of $400 to plow in.

And our mailbox was no longer standing. The horizontal support had broken a spot weld, twisted one of the bolts, and was of no use. We'll need a stronger support, larger bolts, and a hacksaw and cordless drill to repair it.

Not to mention the fallen tree, which we can't get to until we plow--but we can't plow while the tree is across the driveway!

We also met our OTHER neighbor, Mary D., whose family used to own the property we bought. And we met another neighbor from down the road a bit, Jay A., who was plowing Miss Mary's drive.

Everyone takes care of Miss Mary.

So here we are: a house we can't get to, a broken mailbox, foreclosure proceedings against Adam and Susanna underway even though WE own the house, and who knows how much more oil is in the tank before the heat goes off AGAIN, and the pipes freeze?

This was a bad month to buy a house.

The History of Honey Hill Farm, Part 4

We loaded the car on Saturday morning, and drove back to the farm--but we couldn't get up the driveway! We nearly slid off, in fact. We didn't unload, but we DID check the house. The heat was still running.

It snowed all day. It snowed into the night.

Sunday morning, church was cancelled. But the roads were better than Saturday. Sunday was sunny and bright and COLD.

We looked on Craigslist to find someone to plow our 1/4-mile driveway. He agreed to meet us there at 10AM. We had about 16" of snow.

We drove back to the farm. I cleared the concrete footer on the edge of the road so we had a place to park, and then I started putting up our mailbox. It was 18F and about 10MPH breeze.

He never showed. He even claimed he had been there, waiting for us, for 1/2 hour. In the end, our new neighbor, Tom, plowed the drive for us.

We moved stuff in. The water had stopped flowing, but it turned out it was the clogged water filter, not frozen pipes. We put the filter into BYPASS, and water flowed.

Then the oil ran out again.

While Debbie puttered around the farm, Steven ran off to buy more kerosene. But when he returned, the oil truck came up the driveway behind him.

On Monday, Debbie spent most of the day at the farm, so she was there when the phone guy arrived. He fiddled around, plugged in his test unit, and said, "Yup. You've got service." But Debbie didn't have a phone cord to plug in her phone.

That night, we loaded up another carload, then stopped by the local home hardware store, Lowe's, for STUFF: water filters, smoke detectors, phone cords. But we were too tired to drive to the farm.

Tuesday morning, Steve drove to the farm and unloaded the car. Driving in, he spotted a fox dodging across the driveway, which means we'll have to guard our chickens well. Then he tried the commute to work. When Debbie came by, she reported that the phones didn't seem to work.

Wednesday, Debbie made Steve dinner at the farm. But he had to pick up a working phone from the old house first.

We replaced water filters, humidifier pads, furnace filters...

The phone line was DEAD, both inside the house, and outside at the Verizon NID. So we reported it to Verizon on Thursday, 4 February. Their expected repair date:

22 February 2010.

That day, our realtor informed us that the banks had finally signed off on the title, and it was OURS! We would not have to go through settlement again, and there was much rejoicing.

Meanwhile, we had received our first piece of mail:


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The History of Honey Hill Farm, Part 3

Steve and Debbie drove to the farm for walkthrough, found the key, let themselves in, and found that while the thermostat was set on 55F, the house was currently 30F! AAAAAAGGGGGGHHHHH! Pipes!

We turned on all the electrical, heat-generating devices in the house--oven, dryer, lights--and started trying to find out WHY there was no heat. In short: the oil tank was effectively dry.

We called around, and the earliest anyone could deliver oil was Southern Maryland Oil on Sunday. SMO got the job. But the helpful person on the other end suggested we could substitute 10-20 gallons of kerosene as a stopgap measure.

Leaving the dryer running and the water trickling, we left for settlement. We had pushed the house temperature to 47F.

On the way to settlement, our realtor finally received the HUD figures and emailed us the amounts for which we needed certified checks:

* $14,000
* $5,000


* $993 ?!?!

The day of settlement, and we're being told we need almost another $1,000!

We stopped at an inconvenient Wachovia, and got the certified checks. Good thing Steve's job paid us a day early--they are replacing their accounting software, and wanted to close out January. Then we rushed to the settlement office, ONLY 1.5 hours LATE.

And $2,000 SHORT. The number was $21,993, not $19,993.

The Home Warranty got moved OUT of the contract, and the realtors agreed to drop their commissions to make up the difference. We sign, for hours, only to be told at the last minute that the second lienholder has NOT given written assurance that paying them will stop the foreclosure and release the lien!

This has progressed from comedy to incompetence. This should have been set in STONE before settlement!

We executed a "Pre-Settlement Occupancy Agreement" with Adam and Susanna, the sellers, to "rent" the property from them if the settlement is not completed by February 1, for $1.00/day.

We rushed back to the farm, buying fuel cans and kerosene on the way. We poured it into the oil tank, and the furnace fired up--WHOOOSH! We had heat! We went home to pack.

That night, it snowed.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The History of Honey Hill Farm, Part 2

Chrissy kept us informed about what was happening. We were still in the running--we had a good offer and others were dropping out. Then the selling agent "discovered" that there was a 2nd lien on the house. Still, not really OUR problem...

We were so sure things were working out, we got married on October 3 and went on our "honeymoon", a driving trip to Minnesota and other points. Debbie met Steve's parents, and visited many of the scenes of his life. We were sure things would be moving when we got back on October 18.


The sellers accepted our contract October 30, nearly TWO MONTHS after we made it. Surely things would go smoothly from here!


The selling bank's assessor came back with his property valuation. "They can't get a loan for $350K on that property," he said. "It's only worth $300K."

Anxious to make the deal go through, the sellers DROPPED THE PRICE TO $300,000. Shaking our heads in confusion and disbelief, we rewrote our offer for $300,000, which was accepted November 13. We were going to close on December 30.

Everything was fine now, right?

The first lienholder offered the second $3,000 against an $88,000 mortgage. The second said, "No. We want $22,000, minimum." So the first sent the second an offer that went like this: "We'll give you $3,000 from the loan, and the BUYER will give you another $19,000." The second lienholder agreed.

We said, "We'll do WHAT? We're tapped out with the down payment and closing costs!"

And the seller's realtor replied, "Well, just ask your family for some money!"

We responded, "NO. We made our offer; you accepted it. Make it work, or YOU will be in breach of contract."

So they couldn't sell it to us for MORE than $300K; they couldn't sell it to us for LESS than $300K; and they couldn't sell it to us FOR $300K!

On December 28, we extended the settlement date to January 22.

The sellers delivered a promissory note for $14,000 for the second lien. The HUD figures were jiggered and tweaked. Everything was set.


The lienholders sent notice that foreclosure would begin February 1.

On January 20, we extended the settlement date to January 29. Our final walkthrough was scheduled for January 28.

After a hectic day at work, being forced to work late on the ONE day he needed to leave on time, Steve rushed home to pick up Debbie. She met him at the door and said, "Slow down. We're not going anywhere."

The lockbox on the house was missing. There was no key. We couldn't do walkthrough.

Chrissy called the selling agent, who said he had hidden the key under a brick by the front stairs. We rescheduled walkthrough for morning of the 29th.

That was one of the coldest nights of the winter.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The History of Honey Hill Farm, Part 1

The story of Honey Hill Farm begins on Christmas Day, 2008. On that day, Debbie wrote an email to a complete stranger named Steven, and they started corresponding. By April, they were in love; by June, engaged and shopping for a house.

Good grief, did we look at houses! Debbie worked in Baltimore, MD and lived in Halethorpe, MD; Steve worked in Falls Church, VA, and lived in Crofton, MD. So we started with two circles on a map, each one about 30 miles in radius, centered on our jobs. We started looking for houses everywhere that the circles overlapped. We called this area "The Football".

We knew, going in, that we wanted to have some land. We weren't entirely sure how MUCH land, but we started at 1/2 acre and went up. We needed 3 bedrooms and 2 baths. We had to watch our budget, so we had an upper limit on our price. And experience taught us that houses built before 1960 were usually too short for Steve. In fact, our realtor, Chrissy, frequently previewed houses for us, and had a piece of PVC pipe 6-and-a-half feet tall with a tennis-ball "head" she called "Stick-Steve". It let her see which houses had doorways and stairwells that were too short.

After placing offers on 4 houses, and losing all 4, we began to worry. We had looked at nearly every house that approached our standards inside the Football, and it was worrisome. In short, the Football was BEAUTIFULLY defined on the map by where the kind of house we wanted, WASN'T. We had to expand the Football to 40 miles.

In early September, then, Steve was searching for new listings on We HIGHLY recommend Frankly--it gives the BEST view into the MLS database in the MD-VA area of any realty website. It's a little cryptic to use, but it has POWER that other sites don't.

There it was--5 bed, 3 bath, built in 1998, 6.31 acres, $289,000 (!), a short sale with a single bank. There was a house, a barn with a paddock, a chicken coop, and 5 acres in agriculture. Steve sent the link to Debbie, and said, "We have to see this. Now." We went that night, without our realtor.

And fell in love.

We called Chrissy and said, "We want this one. Get us in to see the interior tomorrow, please."

Wood and tile floors. Jacuzzi tub in the master bath. Huge kitchen (by our standards). Wrap-around deck. A FOOT of insulation in the attic. Double-hung, double-pane windows with vinyl frames. Oil heat, A/C, electric water and cooking. Fireplace.

We wrote a contract that night, and offered EVERYTHING we had: $350,000, with no contingencies.

Then, we waited.