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.