So last week I told you about our days as residential real estate agents in California, but I still haven’t told you how that led to us start Spot On Images. Here’s the rest of the story.
When the Bubble Burst
We enjoyed the good old days in real estate, but they ended when the bubble burst. I’ll share a secret with you, I was sort of glad to be out of it. We made a lot of money, but I really didn’t like most of the tasks that went along with selling homes – with one exception, I loved creating those brochures and writing the descriptions for the MLS.
Bill loved real estate and he never understood why I didn’t. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that he did most of his work behind the scenes and I was the one out there showing houses and writing contracts. Bill loves it so much that even though our licences expired, he’s kept his fingers in it. We have rent houses and we’ve sold our own homes. While most folks can’t wait to hire an agent or they begrudgingly put the FSBO sign out in the yard, Bill is totally energized by the whole process. He’s taking pictures, creating a website for the home and guiding me through every step of the process with alacrity. OK, so I’ll go ahead and confess, I really do enjoy creating the brochures and writing the web content.
Real Estate is Back
So back to our real estate photographer friend who was leaving town. He was entirely too nice to take our money, when we offered to buy his business. Instead, he showed Bill the ropes and encouraged him to start his own business. For almost all of our marriage, even when we were selling real estate, Bill’s primary occupation has been investing, so I assumed his interest in real estate photography was just a bit of nostalgia. Boy, was I ever wrong!
While he’d never completely abandon his investing, he’s automated it to the point that he has time for his other passions. When the real estate photography bug bit him, he started buying camera equipment of all sorts. He spent his days getting a feel for his new toys and getting up to speed on all the latest technology. There was no question of his expertise. He’d started taking photography lessons in his twenties and it’s been one of his passions ever since. Most of the great travel photography on this blog comes from him. As far as his photographic abilities are concerned, he could have hung out his shingle the day he decided to do this, but that’s not how he does things. He dots his i’s and crosses his t’s.
As he exercised his photography muscle he also started working on me. He praised my marketing expertise and reminded me of all those people who said they bought my listings because of the words I had written. In the guise of sharing with me what he’d been learning in his research for his new business, he pointed out how important the internet and social media were to the success of real estate agents. He was being nice about it, but here’s the bottom line, I was about to be back in real estate, too.
So what did I think about getting back into a business I’d been happy to get out of. Come back next week and find out!
Well, all you cowpokes, cowgirls and cowkids, have I ever found a place for you. The last few months have been so busy over in the Metroplex, that the other side of the bridge preempted writing about this new town of mine. Why just last week I posted an article about Grapefest, a September event in Grapevine. With the onset of winter, things should settle down a bit (yeah, sure). If you want to liven up one of your evenings out here in the Lakeplex, instead of relaxing by the fire, may I suggest Southern Junction.
Is That Song Country or Western?
Though I live out here in a community of ranchers and farmers, I’m not exactly attuned to the rural lifestyle. I love having a pond in my backyard, but I’m awfully glad Rockwall is minutes away, especially since it gets more urbanesque every day. Why they opened up a Chico’s just the other day. Now if we could just get a Market Street, Central Market or Whole Foods!
Nowadays, my favorite country/western memory is attached to a holiday dinner where a discussion of music ended up in an argument about whether Marty Robbins was country or western. I know that some folks wouldn’t find that unusual, because all of their holiday dinners end up in an argument about something, but it was off-the-wall bizarre for my family. Though Aunt Tommie was a bit of a pistol, my dad and Aunt Edie were always the least likely of folks to argue about anything. Discovering they were passionate about the West Texas Town of El Paso was quite hysterical. (For the record, Biography.com calls him a country singer, but anyone with an album called “Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs” sounds pretty western to me.)
My Urban Cowboy
While country/western music has been part of the fabric of my life, the same cannot be said for my husband. I don’t think they had Hee Haw in Egypt and his idea of a C&W bar is Belle Starr or Billy Bob’s. For the uninformed, Belle Starr was a very trendy nightclub on Central Expressway during Dallas’ Urban Cowboy stage. I went to Belle Starr a couple of times, but was more likely to be found at the old Top Rail. Billy Bob’s is fun, but it’s a Disney version of a honky tonk, not the real thing.
Bill likes country music well enough to have a C&W station programmed onto the radio of his car. We occasionally attend the Mesquite Rodeo or the Fort Worth Stock Show. Many country hits are counted among his favorite music, but the accompanying culture is completely foreign to him. Southern Junction was a shock to his system.
How We Got There
If you’ve ever read my blog before, then you know about my best friend, Deb. In some ways we’re so much alike we’re almost redundant – and then there are the ways we are different. Deb is very into music and dancing, things I like also, but there is no way I’d invest as much time and money into ballroom dancing as she does. That love for ballroom dancing bleeds over into liking pretty much any kind of music and dance. She’s a university-trained opera singer, but if the gang from work is going someplace to dance, then she’s all over it. On occasion, I join in and sometimes even Bill comes along.
Back in the summer, Deb went to Southern Junction because the significant other of a girl she works with was playing there. He’s Kevin Freeman, fiddler for Matthew Middleton and Texas Drive. Deb invited me to join them because it is near to my new home, but it wasn’t a good day when she called. She’s been talking about going back ever since then.
So, on a recent Thursday night, Texas Drive was making a return visit to Southern Junction. I decided to check it out and Bill decided to join us. We had no idea what we were getting into, but I’ve already gone on for too long, so come back next week to find out how our “date” went.
Bill didn’t marry me for my cooking. The only food I cooked for him before we got married was my signature spaghetti, which was pretty awesome, but he should have realized there was a problem when he had to teach me to make coffee. During our first year of marriage we discovered the dishes I’d learned to make in my mother’s kitchen were not to Bill’s taste and his Egyptian dishes were out outside my skill set. We did not have compatible cuisines.
Confessions of a Yo-Yo Dieter
I was single for a long time. I’d grown up helping my mom out in the kitchen, but I’d never developed any food management skills of my own. I ate a lot of fast food, loved frozen chicken pot pies and could make a meal out of a bowl of rice.
From time to time my poor eating habits would catch up with me and I’d fall back on the Scarsdale Diet. It worked and the simple meals were easy to fix, but you were supposed to rotate the diet with “regular eating” and nothing about the way I ate was regular. Once the weight was gone, I’d just go back to my bad habits until it was Scarsdale time again.
Then I Got Married
Poor Bill has had quite a ride with me. Before I really got an opportunity to develop those menu planning/food preparation skills, Bill was already fed up with my efforts. Not only was he tired of my less than restaurant-quality offerings, he was thoroughly disgusted with the number of things that went bad in my refrigerator. We ate out, ate a lot of convenience foods and hobbled along for a few months until I had packed on the pounds again.
My best friend introduced me to a crazy 500-calorie-a-day medical diet and in desperation I joined. Bill nearly had a heart attack when he found out what I spent, but it was non-refundable. I saved most of my 500 calories for dinner time and we hobbled through meal time until I lost the weight – again. And of course, eventually I gained it all back.
At some point near the ten year mark, Bill had lived with me through several phases of my yo-yo dieting and I was back on the porky side. That’s when I discovered Jenny Craig – another diet that “worked.” I was always great at losing weight when I set my mind to it, but then I’d always gain it back. Bill liked that Jenny Craig worked, but he didn’t like the cost of meals he couldn’t even share with me. This yo-yo thing was beginning to wear on us.
And Then There Was South Beach
Over the years Bill and I did discover some dishes we could cook that both of us would like. We also ate out a lot, like everyone else this day and time. We weren’t eating healthy, however, and Bill’s doctor introduced him to the South Beach Diet, because he had all the symptoms the diet had been developed for. I wish I could tell you that I embraced this chance for us to eat together, but I was in the middle of my five year care-giving crisis and Bill was mostly on his own when it came to eating what the diet recommended. I’ll have to give him creds. He lost the weight and got all his numbers in the right place. He about drove me to distraction talking about how wonderful the diet was though – and not just to me, but to anyone who would listen, as well as a few folks who didn’t.
I Finally Gave In
Bill is by far the most persistent person I have ever known. Most of the time that’s a good thing, but from time to time, it’s not so good. I finally gave up and tried South Beach. He’d managed to be successful with it by embracing the rules and applying them to his eating, but I’m not so good with rules. I knew I’d have to do the diet differently or it would be a waste of my time.
One November day in 2013 became Day One of Phase One. I followed the diet religiously, faithfully producing every dish on the suggested menu. Some dishes were a success. Some were not. I certainly wasn’t a pro at managing the refrigerator and pantry, but when Bill wanted to complain about a head of lettuce in the trash or wilted asparagus in the crisper, I’d remind him that this diet was his idea. That seemed to do the trick.
I guess you’re not surprised that the diet worked. I lost the weight and I was doing pretty good at maintaining it until THE HOUSE. Those of you who follow my blog know the trauma we went through getting this Home in Heath built. My diet went out the window and yep, all those pounds came back.
I Came Back
You know what, though. I missed the Beach. I’d learned to love frittatas. I was craving all that spinach, tomatoes and salmon. I also missed the pals I’d made on the South Beach Diet Chat Groups. After Bill and I had been in the house for about six weeks, I pulled out my tattered copy of South Beach Diet and my notebook full of kitchen-tested SBD recipes.
This time things were different. Somewhere along the line those kitchen managing skills I hadn’t possessed in the past had somehow developed. I was becoming a champ in the kitchen. I used the SBD book to get me started, but long before Phase 2 was over, I was planning my own menus and modifying recipes to better suit our tastes or to utilize what we had in the pantry instead of making yet another trip to the store.
Our New Paradigm
Shhhhhhh! Don’t tell Bill, but I’ve gotten to the point that I’d just as soon cook at home as go out to eat. I like my cooking. He likes my cooking. I have fun trying new recipes. I enjoy planning meals. I even like grocery shopping.
Organizing the pantry, freezer and fridge is sort of like a game. I’m even discovering that when we go out for a meal, it throws a kink in my food planning. Not to mention the fact that more often than not, I like the way I cook things better than what I’m served.
I’m still working my way through the huge assortment of recipes South Beach Diet has online, because I want to keep the weight off this time, but I’m beginning to have an urge to crack open my recipe books. Even though I was never much of a cook, I liked picking up cookbooks when I traveled. I kept assuring myself that at some point in my life I would actually have time to cook. Then I inherited all of my mom’s cookbooks. My sister had no interest in them and I certainly wasn’t going to throw them away. I’d need several lifetimes to use all the recipes I have in my kitchen, so I guess it’s just about time to get started.
I never dreamed that I was as good of a cook as I’ve turned out to be. I still have my moments. I forget to preheat the oven, chop up my other vegetables with my onions when I’m supposed saute the onions separately, substitute crunched crackers when I run out of bread crumbs in the middle of a recipe and that sort of thing, but I’m learning that none of it is the end of the world. When in doubt, I just add some pepper and keep on cooking!
HEADING TO HEATH: HEADACHES AND HEART ATTACKS WHILE BUILDING IN HEATH
Though building the house in Heath is mostly a joyful experience, there have been hiccups. Ya gotta take the good with the bad. So here’s some of the bad.
I mentioned this a few weeks ago, but it really was bad news. The drought is effecting the moisture of the ground, deep below houses. There’s a chance that without the water induction treatment, somewhere down the road there might have been a problem with the foundation – but it was a slim chance that might occur long after we live there and the procedure is very expensive. It also adds zero to the actual value of the house. Every penny we spend down in the dirt where no one can see it, is money we can’t spend on making the house pretty.
Sometimes after the cables are tightened on a post tension foundation, a few of the cables will pop out of the concrete. It’s really no big deal. It means more work, but once it’s fixed it doesn’t compromise the foundation. Problem is, there was no one to tell us that after 5 PM on a Friday afternoon when we discovered them – and we got the pleasure of worrying about them all weekend long.
True to the contractor’s word, the trouble spots were jack-hammered out, the cables were re-engineered and then they set the forms for concrete to be poured. Second problem – the weather changed and waiting for the foundation to be fixed slowed down the process – by weeks!
THE FIREPLACE POSTION
The day the framer’s started, Bill met with the foreman and walked him through the entire house pointing out details like where in the laundry room the doggie door would be and how he wanted the fireplace to be positioned. So, of course, the doggie door went in at the wrong place and the fireplace wasn’t positioned correctly. The doogie door was a minuscule problem.
The fireplace was a bigger challenge. See, even though we’d told the general contractor about the problem, the subs were coming in installing the gas, the fire box and the pipe that went up the chimney. Eventually everything had to be pulled out, pulled down and re-installed. It didn’t cost anything except time, but when you’re building, time is money.
THE DUST CATCHER
I don’t know that they actually have a name, but that’s what I call that place inside that’s directly over the front porch. Most folks put fake ferns or antique trunks up there. Well, I don’t like them, so I told the architect we didn’t want one. What I didn’t realize was that by not having the dust catcher the beautiful window with the princess balcony on it would not only be a faux balcony, it would also be a faux window.
As soon as the sheathing went up we realized that the great view of the fourth fairway which we’d been enjoying during the framing would go away. It’s the sort of thing that you really can’t “see” on an architectural drawing, but we couldn’t live with it.
THE NOOK WINDOWS
So when you enter the house, one of the first things you see is a view of the pond through the breakfast nook windows – or not. Maybe you’ll just fixate on rails in the middle of the windows and not see anything else. That’s what Bill saw the day the windows were installed. Like the dust catcher, it was one of those things you don’t anticipate as you pore over your plans, but the view is what sold us on the lot. So – the pocketbook takes another hit.
So that’s a few of the headaches and heart attacks we’ve suferred since we’ve been building. Now you know why we go everyday to check on things. Come back next week and see some of the things we’ve picked out for the house.
Last week I gave you an overview of the progress we’d made on the house. Most of the progress we’ve made has to do with things going up. but we’ve been just as happy with some of the things which have come down.
CLEARING THE LOT
Here’s a news flash! Builders and clients have different priorities. Here’s how our lot looked when we found it. It was spring and things were beginning to turn green around our pond. In our contract for the land, our developer promised the lot would be cleaned in the next two weeks. It didn’t happen that way.
Our hope had been to figure out if there were any decent trees in the mess and based on that, which angles had the best view when the trash trees and foliage were gone. When the trees didn’t come down, then we had to climb through the brush and try to figure it out for ourselves. That’s when we found out the pond had a bad dose of chiggers. That’s an asset we’d have been happy to forego.
After the lot had gotten it’s water treatment, they showed up to clear the land around the pond. I envisioned a crew with chainsaws and bulldozers. What we got were a couple of guys with axes and hand saws. Still, the lot did get cleared and we were able to finally ascertain exactly what we’d be seeing through the windows.
THE LONE OAK
As an aside, I’ve got to tell you about our oak. Among all the trash trees an oak struggled for life. We decided to see if it would thrive after the brush was moved away.
The oak looked pretty pitiful and once the balcony for my office was added, it also blocked the view. You can see its shadow in the after picture.
Bill and I continued to debate whether we were actually going to keep it. Eventually, we decided it was both too sick and too much in the way to stay. I thought that was the end of it for now. We’d just wait until we were tackling the landscape to get rid of the pitiful thing.
Au contrare! The next time we went to the lot, Bill had his chainsaw with him. It’s an electric chainsaw unworthy of even a bit part in a horror movie, but it was a chainsaw. He’d researched cutting down trees and was ready to do battle. Thankfully, one of the guys on the plumbing crew was a little more familiar with the process than Bill and he came out to help. Bye bye tree.
So far, so good! But not everything has been easy. Next week I’ll let you in on some of the headaches and heart attacks.
OK, so I abandoned you way back in September. I’d found a rental house and the builders were just about to start on our dream home. Let me catch you up.
GETTING THE PERMITS
When we built a house in Pismo Beach, California, Bill decided to be our own general contractor. Being a smart guy, he was thrilled to delegate that job to someone else for this house. He’s still very involved, but now he can share the headaches.
In Pismo Beach, we got to know the guys in the planning office very well and made some guest appearances at the Planning Commission Meetings. Whittle and Johnson, the building arm of Whittle Development, took care of the permit process for us in Heath. Part of that process was a soils test and to our dismay, that test reminded us Texas is going through a drought. Lucky us, we needed more moisture in our lot. Cha-ching!
So, we had to hire someone to come bore holes and add water. Then someone else had to come and test the soil again. Then you repeat the process until the lot has the right amount of moisture. The water induction equipment was on the lot for about a week and it made a HUGE mess. I nearly lost a sandal to the gooey result of their work. Eventually, the permit gods were happy and work started on the foundation.
ENGINEERING THE FOUNDATION
Once the lot was ready, they started digging the foundation and the plumber did whatever it is that plumbers do. Our foundation is a post tension foundation. Instead of just pouring a slab on top of the ground, they dig a series of trenches, leaving large columns of dirt standing. The columns are covered in thick plastic and then bound together with cables.
The day the concrete trucks came, was nearly my last. I was driving to the lot and as we rounded the corner on our new street Bill started yelling. I thought I was about to plow into one of the bazillion pick-up trucks driven by the construction workers. He just wanted me to look at the concrete pouring equipment.
Okay, so it was pretty cool. The great big boom up in the air, but geez, did he have to scare me so bad?
Once the foundation was poured, the framers went to work and that’s when it really started to feel like we were going to have a house in Heath. Those guys were fast. They started one day and by the next day they were framing the second story and before we knew it the roofers were showing up.
Roofing didn’t take very long either and while they roofed the sheathing went up giving shape to the house. Since then things have seemed to slow down. Things are happening, for sure, but it doesn’t look very different. The plumbers, electricians and HVAC guys have been at it like crazy, but it’s hard to get excited about that sort of thing. Last week they delivered the drywall. I think we’re going to have a house.
Come back next week and I’ll tell you what was coming down as the house was going up.
The search had become serious. It was no longer a whim. We were going to move, but where?
The Day the Heavens Opened
This was no casual, Sunday-afternoon romp. I had the list of available lots and we attacked it with fervor. Bill photographed the advantages and disadvantages of every property. On a cul de sac of empty lots and new construction our miracle arrived: Rob Whittle, the developer of Buffalo Creek.
Checking on the progress of his project, Rob just happened along at exactly the right time. Bill walked one of the lots to see behind the foliage. I stood by our car, wondering if I should change shoes. When Rob started the conversation, Bill and I didn’t realize we were talking to the guy who put Heath on the map. We just knew he had a bunch of lots for sale – but the guys at The Oaks had a bunch of lots too, so the jury was still out.
Rob is a great salesman and we noticed, because up to this point we’d been pretty disappointed by the quality of other salespeople. We wanted to do business with this guy even before we had any idea we could. Bill explained our real estate conundrum. Then Rob quoted a very different number for construction costs than we’d been working with. The heavens opened up and the angels began to sing.
Still the lots we’d seen so far weren’t exactly what Bill thought he wanted. Rob jumped in his pickup and said, “Follow me,” and like the magi guided by the star to Bethlehem, we found our way with a little nudge from the divine.
Too This, Too That, Just Right
Rob took us to Falcons View Pass, but the first lot’s view was limited. We walked across the street and that was better, but Rob knew he hadn’t nailed it yet. The next lot he showed us wasn’t listed anywhere. It didn’t have a sign on it, either. That’s because it wasn’t for sale. Rob planned to build a spec home on the lot and already had the plans drawn. In fact, the plans were going to the engineers for the foundation to be approved – first thing the next morning – but they never made it. Though it took several days to solidify our decision and get it into a contract, the bottom line is we bought the lot.
The Perfect Porridge
Remember our original criteria: some kind of remarkable view out back, a strong HOA, less traffic and a home to match our “working out of the house” lifestyle. Seventeen Falcon’s View Pass surpassed each and every one of those. Bill wanted a golf course view and I preferred water. We got both. Not just the view of the home across a fairway, but slap dab on the third hole and the cart path is on the other side. And not just a peek of water hazard, but a huge pond out our back door and we own a third of it.
The HOA at Buffalo Creek is mandatory and it’s serious about keeping the community gorgeous. They get in your business and we’re glad they do. There’s a few intersections over in Rockwall that occasionally have traffic, but we live in Heath. Granted, I’ll have to go to Rockwall even if all I want is a loaf of bread, but Rockwall traffic is nothing compared to Preston Road’s constant barrage of vehicles. And a house to fit our lifestyle? I’ll have to get back with you on that one – we’re still designing it.
Come back next week and I’ll tell you how we’re doing.