Sunday, November 17, 2013

Building a good foundation...

So, good news! Things are moving at our property - most notably dirt! However - bad news - it seems like the weather is not on our side.
When we scheduled a time to do the footer,  it poured down rain all day - delaying the digging for a couple of days. The next week, the crew was able to dig the footer, but the next day, the forecast was SNOW FLURRIES! Really, Virginia weather? You pick the year we build a house to have an early winter? Thanks a lot!
That being said, after a couple of delays, the footer in finally in place. Chris stopped by the property on Friday and assured me the cement has been poured! Hooray! Who knew I'd be so thrilled about a hole in the ground filled with cement? It's the little things in life, I suppose.

The footer of the house before the cement was poured.
This is the first real construction milestone of our house building process, but it couldn't happen until we put down the batter boards first.
FIL, Chris, and Adam (one of FIL's employees who was very sweet to help us during his weekend) went out to the property one Saturday to do this. I was unable to attend because I had an appointment, but after talking to Chris about what the process entailed, I'm sorry I missed the bulk of it.
Essentially, the batter boards are put down as a guide the footer crew to use to know where the house needs to sit. The process is done with wooden boards and string - a lot of string. Oh, there is one more very important ingredient - great geometry skills.
Now, it should be said, I hate geometry. It was the only math I didn't enjoy in high school, and it was the only math in which I didn't do well. My disdain for geometry only increased while I studied for the GRE. My study guides had piles and piles of geometry in them, much to my chagrin. I recall saying to my mother, "Why are they testing us on this? It's not like you ever use geometry in real life." To which my mother said (and this will make perfect sense if you've met my mother), "Actually, Em, geometry is probably the most commonly used math in every day life - just think about the work Mr. Collins does."
And as usual, my mother's words haunt me by not only coming true (she is always right) but doing so in exactly the way she cited in her example. Darn you, geometry! You win this one!
So, FIL worked tirelessly during the morning hours by tapping into the amazing math skills in his head and measuring and remeasuring to lay out every corner of our future home perfectly.

FIL, right, and Adam walk through the area where our house will sit eventually (taken from the right corner of the future house - look closely to see the intersection of a white string and a pink string in the bottom left).
As FIL measured, Chris and Adam hammered wooden boards into the ground in various locations (based on FIL's measurements, obviously), and then, they hammered nails into those boards. From there, they took string from one set of boards and strung it to another set to line up with each side of the house.  And of course, between all that, there was more measuring, some surveying, and even more measuring.
When I made it to the property after my appointment, there was a jungle of white and pink string all over the property. To an untrained eye, it looked random, but to FIL, it was methodical and harmonious. It was awesome to see him work out all of it in his head and get all those measurements perfectly aligned. He knows exactly what it's supposed to look like (not to mention he can picture the final product in his mind better than any of us), and while we stood around waiting for the word to do something, his wheels were turning to make sure it was perfect. 
The final result still didn't make much sense to me, even after an elaborate explanation from FIL, but it made the house even more real for me. For the first time, we could see where our house would sit, and we got a feel for its size and shape. It was pretty exciting.

Chris holds a yard stick while FIL surveys the grade of the land to ensure the foundation is level.
Days after, FIL, Adam, and Chris finished the batter boards, the foundation crew came to do the footer. We are fortunate the crew doing our footer is working another job on our street, so they are never far away. Neither Chris nor I were present for the digging or the pouring of the footer, but FIL was there to oversee the work. This was one of those times I really appreciated having a family member overseeing the work. It's comforting to know we have someone on our side (so to speak) there to witness the construction. Thank goodness - everything seemed to go just fine.

The view of the construction from the right corner of the house.
Next up is the block work - the actual foundation. It should start this week and be done in a couple of days. Fingers crossed for good weather! I will be sure to update you here. Until then, thank goodness for geometry and FILs who are much better at it than I am!


Thursday, October 24, 2013


Ladies and gentlemen: The trees are down! That’s right – they’re gone, no more, deceased, done. I’ve never been quite so excited about trees being destroyed as I was when I drove past the cleared property for the first time.
In the span of a day and a half, the tree crew came in and turned a heavily wooded piece of land into a clear space on which to build our dream home.

View of the front right corner of future home.

The land clearing didn’t go completely to plan. We were hoping to keep a good amount of trees in the front yard, but many of the ones we wanted to keep were in the way of the construction vehicles and would be in the way the whole time we built – the tree crew figured this out the hard way while trying to navigate gingerly around our keeper trees. 
Secondly, there were concerns about the health of some of the trees. When paired with close proximity to our future home, unhealthy trees just have to go.

View of the front of our future home.
When Chris and I first visited the property after the trees came down, I admittedly was a little disappointed because I felt too many trees had come down. It doesn't look bad, but it definitely didn’t look the way I had envisioned.
It’s strange; originally, I was concerned about too many trees being taken down because when we walked the property to identify the trees we wanted to keep, I was avid about taking out any trees that were close to the house (I’m not trying to have a big ole tree crash through my newly built house during a hurricane).
But after all that, I still didn’t imagine the land would look like it had a lack of coverage once all the trees were taken down. We called father-in-law (FIL) to ask him about the trees. He told us about the two points I mentioned above, but when they didn’t comfort me, he said he’d come out to walk it with us and explain the plan (for the millionth time) to help us see what he sees when he looks at a clear piece of land.
A couple of Saturdays ago, FIL took Chris and I to the property and we walked it with measuring tape to figure out where everything would be placed.

Chris with his dad, standing on the future spot of our driveway.
Because there are more trees gone than expected, we agreed to move the house over 30 feet in order to give us more breathing room next to our neighbors.
But other than that, we saw the light when FIL walked the land with us. He forced us to use our imaginations, and we realized the numbers of trees taken down was a blessing and was for the best.
Our house will be better protected from having anything fall on it, but it also means it will be more exposed to the sun. This might sound like it could be a negative, but it means our house will dry sufficiently after rains (no moldy siding) and we’ll have a great amount of natural light (and warmth) coming into our home.
Additionally, we still have plenty of trees behind what will become our backyard, so we will still have nice shade (when we need it).

View of the side of our future home and what will become the backyard.
At first, I thought we would regret how many trees came down, but with a little help and imagination, I think a misstep turned out for the best.
But the best part about the trees coming down is that it was the first step in the construction. Unfortunately, it happened right before our area experienced a week of nothing but rain and clouds.
For the past week and some change, we’ve been waiting for the (exceptionally saturated) ground to dry enough to complete the next step – getting dirt down - so we can move forward with digging the footer. FIL assured me this is always the hardest (and most arduous) part of construction.
So, we are back to waiting, but now, it’s for the weather, not the county. I’m not sure which is better, but neither seems to have a sense of urgency or cares that we are on a schedule. Hmm, I’m still thinking weather is more reasonable. 


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Digging a hole...

There has not been much actual movement on the house building front for the past couple of weeks. We have encountered the ultimate adversary for home building - the government. Insert the dramatic, menacing music here.
We have found out (the hard way it would seem) that York County is quite difficult when it comes to home building. My father-in-law (FIL) has built houses in Virginia Beach, Portsmouth, Norfolk, and Suffolk, and he said he's never encountered the hoops through which York County is having him jump.
We are moving closer to actual construction every day, but there has been little things to get done here and there that I never thought would matter. For example, a tree inspection has to come to the property to approve the trees we want to take down. I have to ask - what is he inspecting?
I'm figuring he is looking to ensure runoff isn't affected, but it seems so strange that they wouldn't require this before we bought the land. It makes me nervous that he might find an endangered tree in the middle of the property, and we'll have to build our house around it. Now, that's green living!
Although we are experiencing some set-backs, everything is moving forward, so we're ready when construction begins. The tree, foundation, and framing guys are already lined up. We just need the construction to start.
We did get a little bit of action on the property (an unofficial groundbreaking) last week when Chris, FIL, and I had to dig a ditch for a drainage pipe at the front of the property.
When we arrived at the property (after FIL), I expected to see a big piece of machinery there to help dig this 24-foot-wide, 16-inch-deep ditch, but to my chagrin, there was just my poor FIL, a spade, and a grubbing mattock.
When we got out of the truck, we realized FIL had arrived much earlier than we planned, and he had been digging (and making a ton of progress) for quite a long time.
I asked him if there was some kind of machine we could use to dig it, and he told me, "Sure, it's right here - it's called the Collins." He smiled and handed Chris and I shovels.

Chris getting his hands dirty!

FIL had broken up most of the ditch before we arrived, and he lamented that the ground was tough clay. We got to work cleaning out monstrous mounds of clay from the ditch with our shovels.
Just to note, for the past couple of months, I have been working out my hands, wrists, and arms to ensure I wouldn't be useless in the construction, but I think I need to work a little harder.
I definitely felt out of my element doing manual labor. I don't think it's a secret that I'm not very handy, but I underestimated how much power it takes to heave dirt out of a hole.
So, I pulled up my big girl pants and got to work. After we cleared the ditch, we put the drainage pipe in it, just to realize it needed to be deeper.
And we got back in there and cleared it out more. Eventually, we (meaning my expert FIL) were content with the depth and pushed the pipe into the ditch.

The finished product!

It only took a couple of hours, but it felt great to finally get something done on the land. Also, while it seems like such a small piece of the monumental task in front of us, this is the ditch that will sit underneath our driveway.
I thought as we finished our job how amazing it is to think every time I drive onto my property I can remember I helped dig that ditch. I have not had many opportunities in life to make something for myself, but after our work on the property, I realized it is an awesome feeling.
It solidified the feeling in me that building our first home is a great decision. We are going to live in something that we designed and help create. It's a feeling that so few people have, and I'm thrilled I get to be one of them.

I promise we were working hard - this was just a tiny break.

Thursday, August 29, 2013


I know, I know, I know. It's been months since my last post - please forgive me, but there wasn't much to write about. The land was hosed up, but now, we are back on track! Hooray!

It finally happened – we closed on a piece of land. No, it wasn’t the piece of land we originally picked out – the status of that land is still in limbo – but it seems it’s really true what they say about things happening for a reason because we got a better piece of land.
I haven't written much about the struggle with the original piece on here, mostly because I was so unsure of what was really going on, but for the past four months, we have been stuck in no man's land with that land. Lots of waiting, lots of unknowns, lots of worrying - the usual.
But last week, we finally closed on a piece of land, and we can start the official home building process! 
Chris and my father-in-law (FIL) walk the land where our house will sit (eventually).
When Chris told me, I continued to verify what he had said for an hour or so afterward because it just doesn’t feel real. Because of the lengthy waiting process we had with the original piece of land.
It was February when we agreed to build instead of buy, and we found a piece of land a couple of days later. We thought we would have a house built by the end of August, but then, things got tangled up. For the past six months, we’ve been up and down and all around with the original piece of land in the Grafton area of York County.
When we put a bid on the land in early March, the sellers quickly accepted – we thought we’d be digging the footer any day, but soon, the problems began.
Problems finding the original title… then problems finding heirs to the land and getting them to sign off. Days went by, and we wouldn’t hear anything. Then before we knew it, it was July.
We were told not to worry, but that wasn’t easy. Our lease was marked to end August 31, and it was fast approaching. 
Fortunately, we are blessed to have family in the area, and my parents, who live in Newport News, offered their home to us until ours is built. But still, I was always nervous we would leave on condo in Suffolk and move into my parents’ house without the promise of land.
My father-in-law (as you remember is building our house) wasn't worried for most of the waiting period, but in the middle of July, he told us we needed to find a new piece of land.
We looked all over the Peninsula and even up in Williamsburg, but we did not fall in love with anything. And to tell the truth, one of those pieces was the one on which we closed and will build our home.
Originally, we looked at a different piece on the same road (there are a few lots for sale... all different sizes), and I remember saying I didn't love it - giving it a 6 out of 10. Chris on the other hand liked it quite a bit, but being the wonderful man he is, he told me we wouldn't bid on it if I didn't love it.
But a few days after the original visit, I drove to the lot with my mother, and it was like I was looking at it with different eyes.
Maybe the first time I was hungry or nauseated... or just grumpy. Whatever it was, it passed because I fell hard for the lot. (It helped that I figured out the neighborhood backs up to a usable service entrance to Newport News Park, where I can run and walk Ariel).
So, I returned home, and admitted my oversight and fickleness to Chris, and we decided to go for it. Unfortunately, that process also wasn't easy. 
The original piece we wanted was too high in price, so we looked at a second one. 
That one was too oddly shaped, so onto a third.
This one was just right - right size (1 acre), right price (the same as the other piece we were looking to buy), right location (the northern part of York County - great schools, close proximity to Yorktown Beach, Newport News, the Route 17 shopping corridor, and the highway). Very Goldilocks, I know!
So, we put a bid in and waited some more. 
As we waited, we packed up our condo in Suffolk, and we planned our move to Newport News - still uncertain about where we would build. Still uncertain about how long our stuff would need to be stored. (God bless my parents for taking us in without a firm end date)

This is Ariel's idea of "helping" us move.
But then, to paraphrase Jiminy Cricket, like a bolt out of the blue, fate stepped in to see us through. I suppose the Blue Fairy was on our side because the day before we moved out of our condo, we received word the land was ours.
We are thrilled with the plot! The drive from this lot is is a little farther to work for me (and a little closer for Chris) than the other piece, but it’s a nicer location – quieter, friendlier, more private. It’s on a small road that dead-ends about a half mile from where our house will be built, and the neighborhood around it is very private and removed from traffic.
So, now, we are moving forward with as much steam as we can. This week, the trees will start coming down (the incredible abundance of trees on this land is a small downfall, but we think it’s worth it), and in just a few weeks, we should be starting the footer.

Chris and my FIL measuring the land.
We couldn't be more thrilled to be starting the house finally. I’ve already starting taking pictures (which aren’t very eventful so far), and I will be sure to update as much as possible on the progress. 


Saturday, April 27, 2013

Problematic Plan B

We received very little news on the property in York County this week, but the piece we did get is good. FIL said the folks selling the land seem more motivated to get the problems fixed and the deal settled. When I posted last, he seemed to believe we needed to kiss the land good-bye (bye, bye - woo, see ya!), but when we met with him today, he was much more optimistic we could still land this land!

Regardless of the slightly positive change in the tide, FIL, hubby, and I went on a little trip to walk the Plan B property in Williamsburg today. Before discussing our experience walking the land, I have to share a quick side-bar about the Williamsburg property.

Begin side-bar:
Since we made the decision to buy a house (even before building was an option), we have wanted to end up in York County. I discussed this in the previous post, but to summarize, I wanted to settle in York County for its central location to both Chris and my work places and the stellar schools.

When we decided to build, we immediately found the piece of land in York County, and I was thrilled. But unfortunately, that excitement made the bad news about the land even harder to take. I told myself we would find something else in York County, but once we saw approximately five pieces and HATED them all, I tried to let go of York County and decided Williamsburg was just as nice. It helped that we found such a beautiful piece of land in the Plan B property.

Once we found our Plan B last weekend, we were anxious to find out more details and check out the actual property lines. So, I looked up the city of Williamsburg's assessment site. I happily typed in the address and wanted. The site quickly retorted: No searches match your criteria. I tried one more time but no dice. Hmmm...

Then, an epiphany: Of course, it isn't listed on the Williamsburg website, but the Williamsburg proper is so small; most of the land up there is actually in James City County.
Note for non-Virginians: Cities in Virginia are not contained within counties; we have cities and counties, but they are independent of each other. To make it even more confusing, we decided to name one of our counties: James City County.

Then, I tried James City County assessment website, but my search came up empty again. I was perplexed - the land couldn't be a city of its own. I panned out on the James City County map and followed a familiar road to where I knew the land was located. Then, I zoomed in.

The land wasn't listed on the Williamsburg or James City County sites because it's in York County! Just barely in York County, with the back of the property sitting on the border of Williamsburg. I have lived in this area for 10 years ago, but I can honestly say I had no idea York County was so expansive. Both properties are in York, but it would probably take 30 minutes to get from one to the other. So, I guess either piece we end up with, we'd be York Countians.

End side-bar.

As for the land walk this morning... it unfortunately did not go well. Husband and I saw the land last weekend, but of course, we have never built a house, and we aren't sure what's good land and what isn't. We knew the property was sloped in areas, but we hoped there was enough level land to build.

This morning, FIL walked up, down, and all around the plot. He measured and estimated. He did lots of math. Then, he laid it on us: We could build here, but we wouldn't have a useable backyard because the land is too sloped to do anything with it. We would have a small front yard and a beautiful deck but no backyard of which to speak.

I thought, "Well then, we're done with this land." There's no way we can't have a useable backyard. Ariel is a 67-pound, certifiably insane mutt, and she needs a yard. Furthermore, once we have kids, I'm sure they would like a yard. And where would a vegetable garden go?!

FIL and Chris continued to discuss it for a few minutes - FIL showed what tricks we could use to get the most out of the front, but it wasn't going to work. I finally spoke up - "I don't want this land if we can't have a backyard." And Chris nodded, "I was thinking the same thing."

So, that's it. The Williamsburg land is out of the running. And I am so thankful we have clear non-negotiables because it made letting go of a beautiful, well-priced piece of land so easy. We have our eye on other Plan B properties, but nothing that struck us the way the Williamsburg piece did. Our hope is that the York County piece (well, the first York County piece) will work out. It is still the most ideal piece for us (especially because it will have a huge yard).

We will just have to keep our fingers crossed. Will you cross yours too (please)?

Positoovely yours,

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Setbacks, New Starts, and Plan B

I've just started this blog, and I'm already behind. I'm sorry about that, but I'm telling you I have a great excuse... if there is such a thing.

Originally, I planned on doing an update twice a week and gradually increase my updates as time went on and allowed. At the time, I already had my second post topic in mind - I was going to introduce you to our land. I had taken some quick shots of the property from different angles and even some of Ariel (our dog who we love like a child) trouncing and bouncing around it. Oh, what the heck, I'll post the picture anyway! Here she is:
"I can't wait to have a yard of my own!"
However, before my fingers could hit the keys, I wanted to make sure we had closed on the land, and after some investigation, I learned we hadn't. I decided to delay my post until we closed. But after a couple of weeks, that day still hasn't come. So now, I sit (virtually) before you with a new topic in mind - our first setback.

Start the back story:
When Chris's dad, Willie, who is a general contractor, mentioned building us a house back in February (oh, where has the time gone?), I originally didn't want to do it. I was set against it for a lot of reasons, but the biggest reason was I didn't want to go through the process of finding a parcel of land. Not to mention, we live in Hampton Roads, an incredibly developed megalopolis, that doesn't have a lot of land to offer. I didn't think we'd be able to find something affordable in a city we liked.

However, Willie quickly proved me wrong when he quickly found a 1.1-acre plot in York County.
I was shocked - it was a large piece of land (more than enough for Princess Ariel to enjoy) in York County, which has some of the best schools in Hampton Roads, for an affordable price. Sure, it had some downsides: less-than-desirable neighboring houses and some brush that needed to be cleared. But in the grand scheme of things, I couldn't think of finding a nicer piece of land in our price range. After some soul-searching, dozens of debates with the husband, and several intensive interviews with every one of my parents, I finally sided with Chris, who had been in favor of building since the first suggestion of it. The land in York County was a big motivation for me, but last week, we found out we might need to say goodbye to that land.

Now to the story you've been waiting for:
For the past three weeks, I knew we were hitting some roadblocks in the closing process, but we aren't leading the effort. We made an agreement with the father-in-law (FIL) that he would purchase the land using his equity and build the house, and once completed, he would sell us the house - just as if we were purchasing any other house. The big difference would be we were going to make all the decisions about the building.
So, FIL has been working to close on this land since we made the decision to build at the beginning of March. It's now mid-April, and still, the closing looms because the seller is dragging his feet (weird, right?!). He previously said he thought things would work out, but last week, he had a disheartening conversation with Chris. The seller of the property is being uncooperative, and FIL can't seem to motivate him to get this deal taken care of faster. If we had all the time in the world, it might be OK. But we don't have that kind of time - we're aiming to have this thing built by September - November, at the latest. So, FIL made this suggestion to us: look for a plan B.

After a day of pouting (I didn't want to start the process over again), we did just that. My always-diligent hubby managed to find several other pieces of land scattered across Hampton Roads - some were in our current neck of the woods of Suffolk, some in York County, others in Smithfield (home of the ham), and a couple in Williamsburg.

We looked at the York County properties first. We had decided on York County originally, and we thought it would be best to move forward with that plan still. But the land out there was either smaller, pricier, and/or sketchier than the 1.1-acre lot we wanted.

On Saturday, we drove to Williamsburg, with my mommy in the back seat, to see the land out there. Most of it, we found out, was in a gated community, called Fords Colony, that we couldn't enter (not fancy enough, I suppose). But we did see two pieces that seemed appealing. Both were smaller than the York County land but not by much - not to mention, they were both cheaper and in nicer neighborhoods.

The first one we saw was lovely and in a wooded neighborhood with quiet streets and friendly folks living next door. However, it was on a severe slope. We could have probably make it work, but it would cost us. So we decided it was a no-go.

The second was a little more mysterious. It was listed as for sale on the website, but there wasn't a sign out, yet. This made it difficult to figure out where the property lines were. The land was either on a slope like the other piece, or it included a nice flat section, perfect for house building.
Fortunately,  when we looked at the property lines online, we found out it was the latter.

On Sunday, we looked at Suffolk and Smithfield, but we were still smitten with the Williamsburg land - no matter what we saw. Williamsburg schools are well-respected like York County's, and there is something incredibly beautiful and charming about the area (I'm sure you know what I mean if you'd been there). Also, we would be very close to the interstate. I would have a longer drive to work (to downtown Newport News), but I was starting to think it would be worth it.

When I approached Chris, we knew at once we were on the same page. If the York County land fell through, we wanted this property. We informed FIL, and we should know by the end of the week what will happen.

Either way, I think we'll end up with a great piece of land on which to build our home. I haven't decided which piece is my favorite, so for the time being, I'll just be happy to close on either.

Side note: I'm going to keep my promise for sure this time to update twice a week from now on.

Positoovely yours,

Monday, April 1, 2013


Welcome to my blog! I have been considering starting a blog for a while, but I just haven't pulled the trigger. But now, I have the perfect reason to start blogging - my sanity! Anyone who has known me for more than five minutes could probably tell you writing is my passion. I have been journaling and exploring different genres of writing since I was young, and it has always been relaxing to me. 

So, writing seemed like it would have to take a front seat again in my life when my hubby, Chris, and I decided to build a house this year. Building a house will be an awesome venture, and I am very excited about the prospect of building something uniquely our own.

However, I would be lying if I didn't admit I am bit neurotic and anxious about such rigorous decision-making that will have such a lasting impact on our lives, so I realize I might need a little something special to clear my head in all the madness (and to avoid making my husband nuts in the process). Short of a prescription for Paxil, this fits the bill perfectly.

My hope is that this blog can be an entertaining spot for you to keep up with our house-building antics and a soothing place for me to collect my thoughts. And with any luck, it'll be fun for everyone.

Therefore, welcome to my madness. I hope you like gingers who just might snap.