Mortgage Bound

sienna_frontWe never intended to settle into a new home when we began our house hunting adventures. After contacting John at Canning Dream Homes, I developed a rather short list of homes to tour. I can’t say they were overly impressive as the stock in Oakley was quite limited because of many ‘Pending’ offers. After our first purchase back in 2004, I would like to think we have learned a few things about the home buying process. which would not lead us down that same disastrous road we traveled when we purchased the first time. From the enter buying process to the interest free loan for the first 12 months to two bad refinances and a shitload of debt, it was amazing we survived as long as we did in our first house.

While the end result caused stress and frustration, we entered the home buying process in a much better position than in 2004. After touring 6 homes it became apparent, “our house” wasn’t “in the middle of the street” (Madness reset) or to be found in Oakley, based on what we wanted in a house. It was somewhat frustrating, as we were growing out of the renting experience and needed to reestablish ourselves in a place to call our own.

John was wonderful enough to take my wife out to a new housing development in Oakley called Emerson Ranch built by DeNova Homes. While I didn’t accompany them on the first trip to Emerson Ranch I stopped by after my wife raved about the model they were looking at. Of course, models being models are staged with great looking furnishings and have MANY upgrades added to the base home.

For a few days I felt we were rushing into a new home before seriously considering other options. Both options had good and bad associated with them. One night, while lying in bed I decided to look out towards Valley Springs and was shocked at what we could buy for $350,000 to $375,000. One of my main concerns was property size. I wanted a minimum of 3 acres, something I was not going to find in Oakley. Valley Springs was amazing. The prices fell within our range and many of the homes we looked at on met many of our requirements we were looking. I even found a 2500 sq. ft. home with 40 acres! Not only could I run ultras on my property, we could camp and fish in the Calaveras River, which ran through land!

Yet until the size strapped lots in Oakley, the commute and schools in Valley Springs became an issue. With a single high school and only a handful of elementary and junior high school, commuting our son to school would not be as simple as a 2 minute ride down to the corner to drop him off. Living in the foothills of the Sierras would also turn my 45 minute commute into a 2:15 commute. One way! So was buying out in Valley Spring realistic? Probably not, but I would make the sacrifice and commute if it allowed us a place to buy.

Back in Oakley, my wife and I were getting excited as we talked to our realtor, as well as Kelly and Wendy at DeNova Homes. The homes weren’t moving as fast as they had expected and there were some good upgrades and credits being offered to entice people into buying. After visiting the development a second time and walking through a few of the “Move-In Ready” homes, as well as the model, we decided to put down a soft deposit in order to hold the house. It was their only single story floor plan (Amber), which was a few hundred square feet smaller than the rental we are in. Even worse, the footprint of the slab, left very little room in the backyard to house some sort of kennel for my wife’s breeding hobby (Bengal cats).

After spending a few days reading the 3 inch binder full of fine print, rules, regulations and more stuff that I probably didn’t care about. A day later my wife, with John in tow were back at Emerson Ranch and I received a phone call about purchasing a bigger home, which was the next floor plan up, called the Sienna. This home made a bit more sense. It provided us with 4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, a California Room, something as a Californian since 1971 I had never heard of, as well as a fireplace in about 2300 square feet.

Not having walked the larger models I was taken back by the size of this home, it was rather well laid out, seemed to have a good flow and energy through out. The kitchen was amazing. I can’t believe the amount of storage space with dual pantries and about 30′ of counter space! I could have people in the kitchen and still be able to cook comfortably! This house was about $30,000 more, but broken down into mortgage terms that came out to about $210 a month. Then I remember the wise words of my friend Brian N, as well as our realtor, “happy wife, happy life.” I know she would love this home, as would I, so we moved our deposit to the larger floor plan and started the paperwork.

One of my requirements for a home was a 3-car garage and I missed the next floor plan up, the Emberglow had just that. I got very excited, especially since the price of this home was JUST another $10,000 (or $70/month on my mortgage). I drive out to Emerson Ranch and walked the floor plan. My main concern, the garage, which was actually a 2-car garage with a tandem garage extending one side. It worked for me, but the downstairs floor plan was terrible. The ‘Great Room’ wasn’t so great and seemed to run into the kitchen, which now included a nook. It just didn’t flow well and I knew it the moment I walked it. The master bathroom, which it offered more closet space, was smaller than the previous model, but the upstairs did have a loft, which overlooked the entry way. At over 2600 square feet, it was too much house, even though the garage was nice.

Now that paperwork has been started we are probably 4-6 weeks away from closing on our new home. Still very hard to believe we are going through the new home buying process. Unlike our previous home, where we were carrying quite a bit of debt, this time we are debt free, earn more money and the entire situation feels right.

Time To Buy?

aspenIt’s been a little over 3 years since Venus Jackson-Kennedy and Bank of America took our house and sold it at auction inside of 30 days after the foreclosure. It was amazing to see just how quickly things moved. Worse part, the house was sold at maybe 50% of what we purchased it at back in 2004. The lack of communication, the shady, underhand and behind closed door deals didn’t provide of much chance in keeping our home. It got to the point losing it would actually be a winning proposition, but now how it played out. If it were under our conditions, things would have been more beneficial, but looking back I chalk this up as a learning experience.

Many things have changed since that fateful day in November I found out we were losing our home. Needless to say, my wife was livid, as was I. All the communication with B of A and filling out of paperwork was for not, as I was continually told I “made too much money” in regards to refinancing or restructuring our loans. It didn’t help that was was underwater with two car payments and three credits, all of which carried balances at their limits. To say I have learned something is an understatement as I continue to work towards improving my credit score. It will still be another 4 years before the foreclosure is completely off my record.

Just this year I finally reapplied for two lines of credit; Victoria’s Secret and this past November for Amazon. Until this point, I decided to hold off on any credit cards, as if I didn’t have the money to buy something, I didn’t need it. I was surprised with VS approved me for a $500 limit. This was the first step to reestablish my credit. I also paid off my 2007 Ford Ranger, which put more money in our bank. In February my MIL was kind enough to co-sign so we could get out of our Hyundai Genesis Coupe and into a more family friendly Kia Optima. By her co-siging, the monthly payments dropped approximately $200 in monthly payments! Early in 2015 I applied for an Amazon card and was denied, this past November, I opened a small line of credit. Both of these will help me build a strong credit history moving forward.

With the help of my wife’s friend, we got in contact with a local lender and filed paperwork to see what we could pre-approve at for a new home loan. Until now, my wife and I had just talked about moving and hadn’t really moved on anything. We would look at Redfin and Realtor, but didn’t really consider anything a reality. I renewed our 2 year rental contract with Waypoint Homes in 2014 knowing it would cost me a month’s rent to get our of it.

I was excited to hear our pre-approval came through, higher than what I anticipated it would be at and this began the house hunting. Knowing now, what we didn’t know in 2004 we made of list of items we wanted our new home to have:

  • 2000 sq. feet
  • .25 acres or more
  • 3-4 bedrooms
  • 2+ bathrooms
  • big kitchen
  • built within the last 5-7 years
  • 3-car garage
  • ranch style (no second floor)

With some basic information gathered we started looking in Oakley for potential sites. Unfortunately, as my wife can attest to, we ran into MANY homes that looked to be a good fit, but they were ‘pending’ leaving up to continue to look. I expanded our search to Brentwood, but I found out their prices were usually about $100,000 higher than Oakley. So while I didn’t rule this area out, I was hoping something would be found.

Early in December I contacted a real estate agent, who is local to the area and surprisingly enough gives a portion of his commission to a school of our choice. Thought was awesome, he would donate some money to Vintage Parkway. I had also spoke to him a few years earlier, as he was walking the neighborhood handing flyers out, we spoke about about 30 minutes and explained my situation, the loss of our first house and being in a rental until we were ready to buy again. So we took him on as our agent….to date.

During our search and somewhat on a whim, I added Valley Springs to our search area. If you don’t know where Valley Springs is about 40 miles northeast of Stockton, as you near the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. This would have resulted in a commute of about 2:15 for me. ONE WAY! But I would have been more than willing to drive it. The best part of searching out here was to see just how far our money would go. I found one property that had a 2000 sq. foot home with 40 acres! Amazing! I could run, camp and fish in my backyard! After discussing our options, my wife and I decided we wanted to stay local in Oakley, but living in Valley Springs after Zachary is out of school would be possible.

With the realtor we went and toured about 6 or so homes. I can’t say I was too impressed with what Oakley had to offer. There was one that had distinct possibility, it was built as a split level with a crawlspace, something you don’t see in California often. The property had a nice large backyard, unfortunately it needed a new roof. Not an investment I wanted to get involved with in a new home. Just days after looking at this home it went pending. The other two homes we saw required A LOT of work, neither were “move in ready” and with what little time I had, I knew none of these homes would work for us.

On a recommendation by the realtor, we visited a new housing developments in Oakley called Emerson Ranch. Located about 2 miles away from our current home, this is a all new development that currently has two builders, but not many moving in. I can’t compare looking at a new, staged home and a previously lived in home. The model looked amazing, but that is the point in order to drive prospective buyers. I do believe my wife and I were both sucked in to the possibilities of owning a new home!

Unfortunately this new home was pricier than any other home we had looked at to date. The other drawback, the lot size, 52’x100′, pretty much you typical “postage stamp” lot, neighbors within spitting distance. I never have been fond of these sort of developments, but the house did offer some of the aspects we were looking for in a house. Can we overlook the areas in which the house is lacking, while spending a bit more than we anticipated? We will see.

The home, built be DeNova Homes, who’s reputation as “one of the Bay Area’s most respected builders traces back to the company’s commitment to quality and integrity.”Surely they must have a better reputation than KB Homes, who I refuse to buy from after all sorts of plumbing issues in the first house we purchased. We were both impressed by the styling of home, obviously taken to the next level by the interior design and staging, as well as countless “upgrades” in the models we visited.

Along with the realtor, we were able to visit two other similar floorplans that were in different stages of construction. The second home lacked some of the upgrades, most notably, the California Room (read covered patio) and the fireplace with built in cabinetry. So it would stand to reason this home was about $20,000 cheaper than the final home we looked at, which included the aforementioned upgrades.

We decided NOT to rush into the purchase of any home, new or otherwise but felt time wasn’t on our side as the developer was looking to “make a deal” with an incentive based purchase. After discussing between ourselves and realtor, we decided to put a deposit, to confirm a “soft hold” on the final model we walked through. We meet on Sunday and decide if we will move forward to pull our deposit and continue looking. Chances are if we pass this new home up, these new homes will only be priced higher, possibly out of what we are willing to pay to get our of rental and into “our” home.

There have been a few new home show up on my search list in Oakley, shared them with my wife, but after seeing a new home, it’s very hard to take two steps back and make the decision to purchase a pre-owned home. Not that there is anything wrong with that. I can only surmise that, if we had not visited Emerson Ranch, we will be a bit more excited about seeing these new listing pop up.

Run. Run Some More.

hurtsInteresting to see the running threads as the year was ending that read, “like my post and I will run 3 miles, comment on it, I will run 5 miles and share it, I will run 10 miles.” That is surely one way to get motivated and help ring in the new year and your goals you have set for running. After feet problems and a busy schedule today starting my training for my next running challenge.

Initially I wanted to compete in my first 100 mile race, but after the disappointment I felt logging my first DNF in October while running the Dick Collins Firetrails 50, I have reconsidered my skill and abilities at this point in my running. I plan on running two races the first part of 2016. The first race is the Relentless Razorback that will take place in early March. This will be the second time I have participated in this race. What makes this race amazing, Tracy Johnson, the organizer and race director. She is flat out AWESOME when it comes to supporting the event and all the runners. This will be my first 100k (62.5 miles) event over a 2-mile loop that only has a 90 foot elevation change. All things considered, I should be successful in this challenge, which will make this the longest race.

I never intend to win an event or even my age group. For me, at age 46, finishing is winning. This is the same way I approached the American River 50 last year and ended up crossing the finish line in 13:52:55. The race challenges your physically, yet you continue to find that strength deep inside to make it to the next aid station. This sort of endurance race can mentally break you demolish you. I felt this in my last 50 mile attempt as my lack of training and all the hills put me in a bad place and I was never able to recover and make up lost time.

The following month, April its back to Folsom and the 2016 American River 50! This year I plan on crossing the finish line with my running partner, Brian N. It was very difficult to go on after he dropped out of the race at mile 41 due to a swollen and twisted ankle he suffered around mile 20. Amazing to think he soldiered on for another 21 miles. Without him, I am not sure I would have crossed the finish line. Thankfully, things went my way that day and I was blessed with good friends and a finishing medal when I heard my name and time as I crossed the timing strip. It was an amazing race, one I look very forward to this year and improving on my time.

2016 Resolutions

2016 Calender on the red cubes

While 2016 is still about 11 hours away as I type, it was about time to get on T6F and freshen up to my resolutions for this coming year. This year has been a great, from a personal standpoint but as with many years, there were still some shortcomings that need to be addressed in order to make 2016 that much better. The theme for 2016 will be “positivity” as there is nothing I cannot do, at work, home or anywhere else I might find myself in the coming year. Yet, as my wife tells me, “actions speak louder than words” something I never forget. So let’s kick off 2016 with a brief review of 2015.

Looking back on where I have come over the past 12 months, nothing really stands out, many months seemingly run together and before I know, December has come and gone and we are staring at another new year. Last year I wanted to work on being a better man, as a husband and father. I hear many friends of mine comment on just how involved I am when it comes to Zach growing up. At times this year I felt it was too much to juggle and some of the commitments I made to him probably fell by the wayside, resulting in broken promises. Last October my wife and I turned a very important corner and looking at improving our life.

For Christmas last year I made put together a ‘date jar’ in order for my wife and I to spend more time together. The rigors of daily life, a full time job and my “honey do list” seem to have be pulled in many directions every day and spending quality time decreased. We would plan on watching television together on my Friday and inevitably I would fall fast asleep. So much for “quality” anything. So for 2016 I am setting aside time each week for my wife and I to spend together.

As for Zachary, now 10, these years seem to move by very rapidly. Just yesterday it seemed he was starting kindergarten and this year he will be entering junior high. We are very fortunate to have a great kid, a bit spoiled being the only child but it’s going to be more important this year to teach him to be more responsible when it comes to chores and saving money. These two go together, so we will see just how quickly he can grasp onto the connection between the two.

Our time spent together is divided between soccer, karate and scouting, all of which have provided new experiences this past year. He has really flourished in each of these activities, where “doing your best” is more important than winning. Scouting has provided him all new experiences with new friends and new challenges. We have enjoyed the father/son time camping and learning different aspects of life. Sensei Bright has taught modesty, courtesy, integrity, perseverance, courage and indomitable spirit through karate. Soccer (while run very poorly through Impact Soccer) has allowed me to learn team skills and provide him exercise than many kids miss these days because of electronic devices and gaming.

Personally my biggest accomplishment of the year was achieved when I crossed the finish line of the American River 50 Mile Endurance Challenge in 13:52:55. Never did I think I would EVER run 50 miles, but it was an amazing journey, not only physically but mentally. Without my great running partner, Brian N. I would have never accomplished this feat. This just reaffirmed that the lifestyle changes I have made over the course of 4 years have been beneficial to my active lifestyle.

Yet with all good things, I did have some setbacks. While I still follow and promote a plant based lifestyle, as seen at Protective Diet, I did let myself go at times and those choices hurt my overall progress. I have see my weight increase about 10 pounds, as I was not successful in getting a 50/50 plate with enough green veggies. I continue to work on making better choices when it comes to my fuel, while refining what I eat in order to keep out additives and improve my health.

While running and weight lifting were two activities that help promote my healthy lifestyle, I was frustrated during the start of 2015, not being able to do either because of ongoing shoulder issues. This year I have a bolder goal of running my first 100k (62.5 miles) in March, followed by another attempt at the AR50 in April. These will be the only two races I run this year. The weight lifting fell by the wayside because I literally turned our garage into a storage unit after getting fed up with at the price to pay for storage. Thankfully over the last few months I have reorganized and cleaned enough of the garage in order to allow me access to my power rack and look to get back into strength training

2016 looks to be starting off on the right foot, as we were pre-qualified to purchase a new home. It’s been 3 years since our home was foreclosed on and we were forced to move into a rental about half a mile away. While it hurt us initially, we have come out ahead as we look forward towards the new year. We are now debt free from the doldrums that are credit cards. We are making only one car payment and my wife has established herself as a respected breeder for Bengal cats (Spotted Envy Bengals if you are interested). We have saved money, which should help us get into a new house, which will still be somewhere in Oakley, even though I would love to move east towards the Sierra foothills (so it would be a 2 hour commute each way to work, it’s a sacrifice I would make).

So let me stand together with my beautiful wife and son and wave goodbye to 2015 and welcome the challenges and changes that 2016 will bring. We have gone through quite a bit the past few years and 2016 will be the best yet.

Webeloree 2015

11050092_10207584023509343_3212537886595806680_nLast weekend was a whirlwind, overnight camping trip to hills of El Cerrito and Camp Herms with Den 7 of Pack 1155 out of Brentwood. Our den was fortunate enough have all the boys except one join in the outdoor fun. It was a very long Saturday, after a late Friday night due to The6th Floor Haunt at Vintage Parkway Elementary and there was even some doubt cast upon our trip because our new Coleman tent had not arrived. Thankfully the tent arrived in the late afternoon, but I was putting together our equipment late into Friday night.

The den leader and I were provided some “questionable” information regarding just how early we should arrive at Camp Herms. Being someone who does not like to run late I had my son up and getting dresser about 4:30AM on Saturday morning. We were rolling out of Oakley before 5AM and the GPS reading just about an hour of travel time down Highway 4 to I-80 before arriving at El Cerrito.

We rolled up and there was no one to be seen. In fact the organizers weren’t even ready to receive scouts, as it wasn’t even 6AM yet. We helped move some tables up to the BB gun range that would be used for learning geology. Once that was complete, Zachary slept and I wasted time on my mobile device. As the daylight advance on Camp Herms, headlights started rolling up to the registration area. A few minutes later registration opened, we got our camp itinerary and were ushered to the parking area.

12065923_10207584024589370_4884238561046731419_nWe were fortunate to see some of the other scouts from our den and we all walked down to the lower field, which we would call home for the night, as scouts were escorted to different areas depending on which pack they were grouped into, we were considered ‘Badgers’ for the weekend. The boys were required to set up their own tent, easy for some, not so for others.Having never unrolled our tent, it wasn’t overly complicated but Zachary did require some help flexing the poles in order to pop the tent up. He did a fine job and as I looked around the camping ground many parents were involved in the setting up of tents.

About 45 minutes later, all the scouts and parents met topside, near the registration area for the raising of the flag and a bit of history from the leader in charge for the weekend. Each adventure was explained, as the boys (dens) were broke into groups and we were off to Earth Rocks (geology). Each adventure lasted about 1:20, with a 10 minute transition time. After we completed out second adventure, Into the Woods, we broke for lunch. This meal was brought by the scouts and not provided by Camp Herms. Zachary and I both had sandwiches, chips and granola bars that tied us over until dinner. We also made sure we stayed well hydrated, as I brought my daypack with 100 oz of water flavored with Nuun tablets.

After lunch, I’ll be honest, my butt was dragging and the late night prior was catching up to me. As we broke from lunch we said good bye to the Astro Wizard, who provided some entertaining scientific learning after lunch and we made our way to the Camper adventure. The boys were a bit pressed for time and were rushed through tying a bowline, but they did learn how to set up a campfire and we made our foil packs (Hobo Stew) to be cooked for dinner. The boys then learned about geocaching and located their first treasure.

As time expired we headed to the final adventure of the day, Aware and Care. It was all I could do to stay awake. The scouts learned sign language and people with disabilities and wrote Halloween cards for a seniors home. It seemed to be the longest part of the day, as the sun began to set on the rock quarry in which Camp Herms is located. At the conclusion of the adventure we all got back together near the fire ring and discussed what would happen for the rest of the evening. Half the groups would go on a hike around the rim of the camp, the other half would eat.

12109244_10207584024149359_1993759384600540099_nThankfully, our boys were in the right group and we go to eat. I have to admit, Hobo Stew was not sounding too appetizing. I made the vegetarian version, which was two scoops of chopped, red potatoes, two scoops of peas and carrots and two scoops of assorted veggies, a small topping of sliced, white onion and some Italian dressing. To be honest, this wasn’t sounding very tasty. All afternoon long, the days had discussed having a pizza delivered for dinner, as a residential area backed up the lower field, where we were camping. This idea, as well as finding a local bar fell by the wayside and we ate Hobo Stew.

While it didn’t sound good, it tasted wonderful! Guess that means I was hungry, as I covered my stew in hot sauce and red pepper flakes. Thankfully I had saved my second sandwich from lunch and was offered some roti from a fellow scouter’s dad. Dinner turned out to a time to relax and reflect on the day. But the way was far from over.

After dinner, we switched with the other group and it was time to go hike. Now with the sun completely over the horizon, we put in about a 2 mile hike, which was very informative and relaxing. Looking out at the lights over the bay area and exploring the landscape above the quarry and overlooking Wildcat Canyon. All the boys had a great time with the headlamps and flashlights carefully navigating their way on the trails during darkness.

All the scout reconvened at the camp fire for skits and songs to close out the evening. Led by the Boy Scouts, many of the dens provided entertainment around the campfire as a very active day was winding down and coming to a close. At the conclusion of the event, we headed back to the lower field. It took me about 20 minutes and I was tucked away in my tent falling asleep. I know Zachary stayed up and played with the other boys, as they were in and around the tents for the next 90 minutes or so. It was lights out at 10PM.

12191549_10207584023789350_8844476084064051627_nThe following morning came early, as the morning dew settled on the outside of the tent. It would be a short day, as a continental breakfast, duty to God and retiring the flag were the only activities on the agenda. We got dressed and made our way up the hill to the kitchen to get breakfast. After about 25 minutes, many of the parents started to move their cars down the hills, parking on the curbs next to the lower field to make it easier to leave the camp. Our entire den did not make the retiring of the flag, as Zachary and I were  in the truck on the way home by about 8AM.

All in all it was a very productive weekend! All our boys are well on their way to earning their Webelos badge, as well as their Arrow of Light. We planned out our den meeting and achievements through April, which will put the boys well ahead of schedule to earn their badges possibly even a Super Achiever award for completing all the electives. It was a long weekend, but worth the time. Zachary enjoyed hanging out with the boys from his den, hiking, camping, eating Hobo Stew, learning about rocks and knots, plants and trees and having a great time. All this without any electronic devices. Pretty damn amazing, the parents on the other hand…highly recommended to go to the Webeloree!