House Rendering

A Rendering of the House Design

This is going to be a catchup blog… Since there hasn’t been a note for almost a year!   We started with house designs with Forrest Linebarger at VOX Design, and our green home design started to take shape over the summer of 2008.  It became obvious that a design tailored to what we really wanted and needed would be much better than an adapted design because then we could build a smaller house that had everything that we wanted, and nothing that wasn’t important to us.  We were looking at starting in the Fall of 2008, but the signs of the weakening financial market were everywhere, and by our planned start time, the world was in full-fledged financial meltdown…  we ended up deferring for a while, and regrouping, trying to decide whether it was crazy to do this, and we should just put everything on hold, or whether we should figure out how we were going to scrape together the rest of the money and move forward… after a few false starts and lots of delays, we finally decided to move forward in late March of 2009, and deconstruction of the old house started in April 2009.  The next few blog entries are all “background”.

Paul had to go on a business trip to Houston last week, over the two possible days for us to sign all of our purchase documents. So he went in to the title company on Monday and signed a power of attorney form so that Catherine could sign for both of us.

Catherine signed all the documents on Wednesday — her hands were aching since in about 300 places, she had to sign her name, then sign it again in Paul’s spot, then write “for Paul Mohr, as his attorney in fact”. We’re even now, as back when we bought 346 Windingwood Ct., Paul had to do the same thing for Catherine.

Anyway, everything went off reasonably smoothly (as these things go), and we recorded on Friday, so 301 Monroe is now officially ours.

We met with Randy Potter at Vox designs again and are probably going to begin the home design process with them in the next few weeks.

After extensive research with the people in City Hall, we figured that at worst we’d  end up having to run new sewer and water lines to the cottage, but that we weren’t going to be able to tell ahead of time whether this would be required (no one in the building department or public works was willing to give us a final answer in writing). Proper sewer hookups for the cottage were one of our explicit contingencies, but we decided that we weren’t going to let the deal fall apart for that reason so I just sent an e-mail to our agent informing her that we are willing to remove all of our contingencies and buy the property.

Of course, if we waited a while and the housing market got even worse, perhaps we’d get a better deal, but you can’t predict the future. So we’re going with what we’ve got.

Mountain View City Hall

Catherine has been spending quite a bit of time in the building pictured, trying to figure out whether we will be able to replace the main house at 301 Monroe with a new one, while keeping the cottage. This is really the last major contingency relating to the property, and if we get answers that we can live with on this, we’ll go through with everything and close escrow.

There are numerous issues with the cottage, including the fact that it is piggy-backed onto the main house sewer and water connections, which is (we think) no longer kosher. We’re concerned that if we rebuild the main house we’ll be forced to change the back house, too. One possibility is that we might be able to trench new connections to the main sewer and water. If so, we’re going to try to get the sellers to agree to lower the purchase price by the amount it will cost to do that, since proper sewer and water hookups for the cottage were one of our explicit contingencies.

Also, the back house is too wide for the lot according to the current zoning regulations. When we asked the planning department what we’d have to do with the cottage if we rebuilt the main house, they responded with something like, “You will have to bulldoze this cottage.” Catherine had done her homework, however, and was able to introduce them to various documents from the 1980s that indicated that the city accepted the structure then, which softened their position. After she managed to get the planning department to give it the thumbs up, she worked on the building department. Eventually, they also agreed that it was okay, so now the only department remaining is the public works department.

We’ve got our fingers crossed.

Catherine and I spoke with Randy Potter from Vox Design in Mountain View today about custom home designs. He made some pretty compelling pitches about the way in which they go about designing custom homes. They work closely with project managers, contractors, and craftsmen that do finish work to (according to his pitch) ensure that the final design is as good as it can be. They focus on “green design”; ensuring that the home is designed to make the best possible use of natural light and tries to take the greatest advantage of natural heating and cooling to reduce energy consumption.

It was a good meeting, except for the sticker shock that came at the end, where he told us that building houses in Mountain View costs quite a bit more than any of the calculations we had done. We’re still reeling from that and will be discussing what it means (smaller house) as we figure out what to do next.

A possible house design for the site

Things move fast. We’re arranging for our loan, and are also starting the planning process for the house. We are planning on staying in our current townhouse during the planning an building; there are tenants living in the main house on the property as well as in the little guest house in the back, and our goal will be to keep them there as long as we can prior to construction to keep some income to offset the extra mortgage expenses.

We’re trying not to get too fixated on a particular house plan, but we both like the one pictured above, and although we’ll be investigating other options, we may end up building something similar to that. At a minimum, it will be done in mirror-image (porch on right instead of left) to better match the property layout.

After we finished remodeling the bathroom in our current townhouse, Paul had managed to get Catherine to promise that she would refrain from any more remodeling for at least two years. Catherine promised Paul that he could “lock her in a closet” to stop her if it became necessary…

But what if we built a house….?  Technically that isn’t remodeling the townhouse, and true to her word, there are no new plans to remodel the townhouse. Instead, Catherine argued that it would be a good idea to look for a property on which we could build. We wanted to find a house that was either in need of serious renovation, or in need of being razed to the ground and rebuilt. We agreed that we were in no rush, and that the search for a great opportunity would probably take a year or two…

This was where Paul made his mistake. When Catherine focuses on a problem, it doesn’t take a year or two for her to solve it.

So here we are. We have come to an agreement with the sellers on price and contingencies for buying 301 Monroe Drive.