Tuesday, May 20, 2008

One more before and after

Last summer


1:30 p.m. Day 2

Holy moses, these guys work fast.

View from the north

Wall up close

The concrete block for the retaining wall comes from an Omaha company, Watkins, which has a showroom with helpful staff and lists of contractors.

We're using the Vertica Pro straight edge, which is designed for big walls.

Each one of these suckers is a foot square and weighs 115 pounds.

I chose the standard gray because I thought it fit best in the neighborhood, where most retaining walls are old concrete or stacked limestone. Brown tones looked too suburban.

The bottom layer is sand for drainage. The black netting is geogrid, which helps stabilize the soil.

This underground drainage pipe leads out the rear of the wall, where a concrete flume drains to the alley. The downspouts on this side of the house also will drain underground.

Let's not lose sight of the goal here with all these details ...

This is how it's looking for passersby.

Dying to know more? See Watkins' instruction sheet on how to build a wall with Vertica Pro blocks.

End of Day 1

A major retaining wall project makes a bit of a mess.

Sand and gravel in the street

The neighbors are letting the contractors work from their empty lot to the north of the house. Well, it used to be empty.

Left side of lot, seen from front porch of flip
Sand on the left, garbage concrete on right

Center of lot

Stacks of block waiting installation

Right side of lot

Top view of wall on right, equipment in the background

It's 6:48 a.m. on Day 2.

I can tell from the diesel rumble that they're here already.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Noon Day 1

It's noon on Day 1 of the retaining wall project.

The early-morning backhoe was the fun part.

Now they are painstakingly scraping the dirt away from the foundation.

They've created a trench for the concrete blocks to sit in and are starting to fill it with gravel (for draining I presume).

This looks worth every penny I'm paying.

They've got two Bobcats, a backhoe, dump trucks taking out scrap and bringing in gravel ... with the rumble of heavy equipment around, it's like having my own Ax Men crew.

Uh, you don't watch Ax Men?

Wall comes tumbling down

The last project is under way.

Linhart Construction is replacing a 100-foot long timber retaining wall on the north side of the property.

About a decade ago, the wall was built wrong, with undersized timbers and no supportive "dead men," by a contractor who bailed halfway through the project.

The wall was bowing more than a foot in spots. The interior dirt eroded into sharp slopes. The house already leans a little to this side.
It will be replaced with a concrete block wall, 100 feet long and about 5 feet high, with a second-tier wall in the front.

The wall, topped by a classy PVC drainage system

I hired Linhart because the company does major construction all the time.

This was a small project in their book.

My initial contract called for the project to be delayed until after Oct. 1, 2007, when a tax was lifted on repair work. That saved $1,500. I shaved off another chunk by planning to re-seed the neighbor's lot myself.

That got it down to $15,500.

Then winter came early and hung around, followed by regular rainshowers this spring.
I sold the house with a stipulation that I would pay for and continue to oversee this project.

Linhart called last week to say they would start at 7 a.m. Monday and wrap up by Wednesday.

I could hear the chug of a truck coming around the corner at 7 almost on the dot.

A backhoe peeled apart the wall, making the timber look like matchsticks and crackle as they split.

By 7:30 a.m., the wall was gone.

Saturday, May 10, 2008


Closing on a house is a little anticlimactic for the seller.

You sign the paperwork a few days in advance, and someone eventually calls to tell you your check is ready.

In this case, the buyer had already moved in, so there was no official key handover.

However, it's thrilling to log onto my online mortgage account and see ...


MUD sent FINAL BILL last week.

It's not officially over, though.

The large retaining wall project is scheduled for next week. I am paying for and overseeing that project, as well as seeding the neighbor's lawn that will get torn up in the process.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The lending lie

I think lenders are automated to say, "Of course, we can close by then."

Last week, I had the buyer's lender walk through all the steps that needed to occur and the time frame for each.

We had just gotten word that the appraisal verified the house was worth the purchase price of $120,000.

The underwriters needed to approve the loan, which could take two or three days. The lender needed to order a reinspection, have the inspector look at the house and submit her paperwork. Then closing documents could be drafted, which would take two to three days. Then I needed to sign paperwork, then the buyers needed to sign.

This conversation was last Tuesday afternoon.

"So obviously we're not closing on Friday," I said.

"Of course, we could close by then."

They toss this around cavalierly, even though people's finances and living arrangements hang on their hollow words.

Now it's:

"We can close Tuesday."

"We can close Wednesday."

I'll believe it when I've got the check in my little mitts.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Disorganized people are exhausting

The title company handling the sale called Monday to have me come sign the paperwork.

She just learned the loan was closing Tuesday.

I said, that's funny, because we were supposed to close last week.

She still had the original date of May 15, which changed within a week of the purchase agreement.

The loan officer for the buyer was supposed to take care of these things but did not. And he works in the same office as the title company! Sigh.

My suggestion:

Don't rely on others to communicate key information.

Assume everyone else will screw up.

In each of my three real-estate transactions, some glitch came up because of poor communication.

Advocate for yourself. Nag.

I was better this time around but missed some opportunities. I had left a message for the title company several weeks ago but shrugged it off when my call wasn't returned.

In your flip notebook (you are carrying one with you, right?), keep a list of each person you talk to, what they say and the date of the conversation or message. Hold them accountable for what they say.

Hell, you should do this all the time if you ever want stuff done. The world is filled with irresponsible boobs.

Sunday, May 4, 2008


The loan officer for the buyer must set up the FHA appraisal/inspection, and the inspector needed to look over the work to verify it was done. The loan officer said he'd set it up for Monday.

I knew the inspector's schedule had been busy, and I had her e-mail address. I decided to drop her a line to tell her we'd be ready by 5 p.m. Saturday in case that helped her out and sped up the closing.

She was there at 5:15.

The buyer and her parents had walked to a neighborhood church for the evening service. I had finished the windows and had been cleaning paint goobers off the wood floors.

The inspector absolutely raved about the work.

I had been rushed, so I wasn't exactly pleased with my work, even though it got the job done.

"Gorgeous," she gushed, looking at a mundane window jamb.

The inspector signed off on everything.

No money would have to be put in escrow for repairs.


Then she surprised me.

She said I'd been the best thing about her last two weeks. Wha...?

"You have character and integrity. You don't find that very often."

Her eyes welled up. She thanked me and said she hoped to run into me again.

The church choir finally sang.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Anti-climactic move-in

The buyer moved in Thursday as a temporary renter until the house sale closes.

Every day the sale is delayed, she has to pay an extra interest charge, raising her closing costs.

The buyer offered to help with the FHA-required work, but the weekend when I did most of the work, the appraisal wasn't done so we didn't know if her loan amount would be approved to buy the house.

I didn't feel right putting her to work if she wouldn't get the house.

So I asked her to help by leaving the cleaning to her once she moved in.

I feel bad that the house is incomplete. Of course, I pictured this, church-choir "Ahhhhhh!" moment, presenting her charming, sparkling-clean new house to her.

Instead, she spent her first night on a horrendously windy, potentially snowy night with only half the windows in the house. (The church choir stood mute.)

I had taken the 20 main-floor windows to P&M Hardware a week ago while I painted.

Of course, the reglazer had to tell me how his sister used to work for the FHA and this shouldn't be part of the inspection, yada yada yada. Fighting them isn't going to close the house faster.

Total bill: $140. Worth every penny.

I finished reglazing the upstairs windows myself for speed's sake. Needless to say, my putty is not as smooth as the old man's at P&M.

DAP has an awesome new product that makes it easier-- window glazing compound in a tube like caulk. You used to have to take a wad of compound and roll it into a skinny cylinder shape. Now it just comes right out of the tube. Find it in the caulk area in the paint department at Menard's.

I reinstalled batches of windows Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with a helping hand from the buyer's dad. (Small windows you can usually do alone, but big ones are a little awkward.)

I did a little more paint touchup, and we were ready for re-inspection.