Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Everything looked good for an on-time delivery; printing house Lulu.com got the book printed and handed off to FedEx early on the 23rd, and FedEx then claimed a "by 10:30am" delivery on the 24th. The package only had to go from Rochester, NY, to my house outside of Washington, D.C. (something a bit under 400 miles), after all.
Monday, December 29, 2008
As you can see in the photo above, there's little doubt where I went to college. I chose to paint the office walls in Home Depot's Collegiate Collection "VT Maroon" for an authentic look (more on that in the earlier blog entry, "Mothers, Don't Let Your Daughters Grow Up to Be Princesses"), and Linens 'N Things' going-out-of-business sale offered up these two orange curtains. That VT football field rug came from Kohl's, I believe, via my parents. The VT football endtable is a gift from my aunt Marian, like the Tiffany lamp.
Of course, my two diplomas were among the first things to be hung on the wall. I'd really like to add another or two (I do need to finish my M.A. in English; a M.S. in Computer Science or a M.F.A. in Creative Writing would be nice, too)--but I'd have to move things around a bit to make space!
My office is a bit of a "Where's Waldo" exercise in picking out all the Hokie-themed memorabilia. This shot of the side wall shows a Tiffany VT lamp my aunt gave me a few years ago, along with my custom-made VT shoes (from the now-defunct Customatix), a Hokie bird beanie baby, a photo of Hokies Matt, John, and Zina from the '06 UNC game, and--if you look really closely--the "Dr. Who" Hokie scarf Beth crocheted for me several years ago (yes, it's approximately thirteen feet of orange and maroon warmth). As the library isn't finished yet, I've got many of my birding references as well as some of my signed and vintage hardbacks and favorite paperbacks set up in the office bookshelves for now.
Aunt Marian has given me several VT football-themed plates as well; I don't yet have a place set aside to hang them, though once the library is set up, I may put them atop my office bookcases.
Sunday, December 28, 2008
To make a long story short, Beth works for the Institute for Connecting Science Research to the Classroom, a group currently housed at Virginia Tech which works to connect the work of real research scientists to K-12 school science teachers. Earlier this year, defense contractor Northrop-Grumman expressed interest in becoming the sole source of funding for the ICSRC's "One Mission" program. Despite assuring the ICSRC that "nothing had changed" and that they still intended to fund the program as late as this fall, Northrop-Grumman decided at their December meeting not to do so "at this time." With that sudden loss of funding, the Institute will for all intents and purposes cease to exist, costing Beth her job.
Monday, December 22, 2008
Beth and I came up with what we thought was a pretty good idea to help address these stress-inducing holiday problems a couple of years ago: celebrate on the Winter Solstice. That leaves us Christmas itself to spread out, round-robin, amongst the family we want to visit.
Too, for the pair of us atheists, it helps divorce our own celebrations from a Christian holiday. Not that we object at all to "Merry Christmas" or decorating our "Christmas tree," mind you (we're not soliders in the religious right's preceived "War on Christmas" at all, and we both absolutely love Christmas time!)--but we would like to have people realize our celebrations aren't so much for the birth of the central figure in their mythology but rather to enjoy the spirit of giving and of family and companionship that this time of year brings.
(To go off on a brief tangent, if the average Christian were honest with himself, he'd realize that "Christmas" as practiced by 99.99% of Americans is an absolutely secular holiday with but a passing nod to the birth of Jesus--who, if he existed at all, almost certainly wasn't born anywhere near December 25th, the date chosen by the Church to try winning over converts who observed the Roman Saturnalia or various other "pagan" celebrations set around the time of the Winter Solstice. Charlie Brown's decades-old lament about the commercialization of Christmas should be truer for Christian observants today than ever!)
Anyway, though we've talked up that notion before, we've yet to actually incorporate it into our holiday planning. As was the case the past two years, a major gift to several family members is going to be my bird book, which highlights the best of my bird photography for the past year. Let me tell you something: putting that book together is NOT easy! I thought I'd made good progress this year well ahead of schedule, as I had done a good two-thirds of the layouts by September, leaving room for the inevitable photos I'd get on several fall business trips to the west coast. Alas, despite several late nights and a day taken off work, I still got the book off to the publishers about two hours past the cutoff for Christmas delivery (though there's still the chance they'll ship today, I guess). And there are gifts I've still to make for others: artwork to be done, cards to be designed, and photos to be presented.
Perhaps if we really set the Solstice as our deadline to celebrate, we'd not be running right up to Christmas. Next year?
Friday, December 12, 2008
Chance decided he'd "help" as he so often does: by climbing atop (or, as in the photo above, into!) the carpet as we were removing it. Crazy Chance!
We had to remove the carpet in stages; between cutting the strips (itself a difficult task which wore out my hands and several utility knife blades), pulling them up, and using an industrial-strength floor scraper to help pry up the carpet and padding and remove any particularly-stubborn patches of glue, it was back-breaking work. As a reward to ourselves (and a break from the carpet removal!), we started on the installation of the new floor before we'd even finished taking up the carpet.
We're almost done with the basement flooring; above, you can see the last bits of exposed vapor barrier along with a bit of the OSB subfloor. We've finished now up to the last strip, a 3" or so border down the edge of the wall; once that's done and I fill in some gaps along the base of the wall with foam sealant to keep out bugs and moisture, it will be time to put in the new baseboard.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Although I'm happily straight (and married!), I did take today off from work. I'd toyed with the idea of doing so in support of equality and rights for all people when I first heard of the event, and given the amount of work Chateau Papillon still needs, the 2008 bird photologue which is still to be completed (and needs to be at the printer's in time for Christmas gifts!), and a Friday deadline for a Bird Watcher's Digest submission, I decided that indeed, today would be a great day to stay home from work.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
A consultation with the paint desk at Lowe's on how best to prime the walls and ceiling for repainting led to some "Maximum Color Hiding" primer plus a can of flat white ceiling paint; Home Depot provided the wall paints in a Virginia Tech maroon and a grey primer to go beneath it.
Let me tell you: priming walls is no fun at all. I put an entire gallon of that "maximum hiding" primer onto the small room's walls (my office is approximately 10' x 10') in two full coats and some additional touch-up, and you could STILL see the fuchsia shining through. Likewise, the ceiling was even less pleasant and took two coats of primer as well, leaving a hint of lavender showing, too.
The ceiling then took two more coats (four total!), this time of flat white ceiling paint. I think I removed all traces of purple, but it's tough to be sure. At any rate, nearly two gallons of white paint later, and the room was ready to get its new colors. Beth painted a coat of grey base to go beneath the Hokie maroon (recommended by Home Depot to help the maroon show up properly), then I followed that up with two full coats and some spot work in maroon paint.
Though the above photo shows the maroon paint in various stages of drying--and thus appearing fairly streaky and purple to boot--the end result does look good, and once I have the baseboard in place and the furniture arranged, I'll post a photo of the finished product. After painting, I put down a layer of bamboo flooring (full tongue-and-groove boards--no laminates!) and have cut, but not fully installed, baseboard; shoe moulding is going to be one more required touch to fully conceal the floor's edges. And, of course, I hung orange curtains...
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
My grandmother's house had one of those vents next to its range, too, if that gives you a better idea as to the age of the fixture--and from the amount of grime on the vent fan itself, this one could have certainly been an original to the house circa 1964.
First, I had to pry off the faceplate; I then was able to unplug the fan itself and pull it from the duct. I considered routing the range hood's vent out the same hole (the hood currently vents into the kitchen--less than ideal--but direct venting the hood outside would require knocking another hole in the exterior wall), but the ductwork necessary was going to be problematic (two tight 90-degree elbows which would likely become grease and gunk traps).
So, I cut a piece of cardboard to the size of the existing duct and caulked it into place, blocking off the end of the duct from further drafts. After that, I filled the rest of the duct with fiberglass insulation, caulked around any gaps, and put a heat shield in place to cover the now-filled hole through the wall (no need to redo the drywall when it's behind a piece of metal!)
As for those new discoveries? Well, don't order a gas range online. I've read and re-read the specs as presented on the Sam's Club Web site, and nowhere does it say that the range is 31" wide at its widest point (the failing which led to my having to notch the wall); to be fair, GE's own specs don't list the 31" dimension, either, unless you dig pretty deeply. But also nowhere on the site does it say the range has a broiler drawer and not a standard waist-high broiler! In effect, there's only the lower gas burner in the oven, with none at the top, and the drawer underneath the oven holds a broiler rack. Problem is, large things (like turkeys) cannot be broiled in the drawer--only stuff like toast, steaks, and fish fillets, and broiling involves bending over to floor-level; any decent chef knows the mise en place for a good kitchen minimizes awkward movements and actions for tasks done frequently (like broiling).
I'll have to live with the limitations of a broiler drawer for now, because I'm not about to buy another new range (nor can I afford one at present). I think I could have spent $100 more and gotten a range better meeting my expectations--problem was, the Web site presented it as having a smaller oven (probably so--to account for the additional waist-high broilers). I guess when we tackle some major kitchen renovations--such as expanding the kitchen itself when we build a sunroom for the birds and extend the kitchen over it (and add a sunny little breakfast nook), we'll replace with a couple of in-wall ovens and a cooktop on an island; 'til then, we're stuck with this range.
I tried doing a lot of Web research in picking out the right model for our budget and feature requirements, but never could find the exact model numbers anywhere to make sure everything lined up (and, to be fair, GE has several dozen models nearly identical and within a few hundred of each other in price, making things even more difficult). Shame on me for not doing more research, and shame on Sam's Club for such poor description of their items on their Web site.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
First things first: we got estimates and hired plumbers to come out and run a gas line to the kitchen; the existing gas line entered on the opposite end of the house, where it fed the furnace and water heater. At least the drop ceiling in half the basement made it relatively simple to route the extension line, though it still involved multiple visits from the plumber, a Washington Gas subcontractor to re-do the meter and regulators, and the Fairfax County gas inspector.
Of course, I had to run a new electric line for the gas range, too. The electric range had a 220 volt range outlet in place; the gas range needed only basic 120 volt line service. The home's breaker box was full, of course, but removing the big 50-amp, double-pole breaker for the old range gave me plenty of room to add a 15-amp circuit for the new gas appliance. (Fortunately, I've worked informally as an electrician before, spending summers in high school working for my uncle's construction business--that saved us quite an expense!)
The biggest problem, though, became the range itself. The existing electric range abutted a wall--and bubbled paint testified to the poor choice of location that had been; our home inspector recommended a heat shield for safety (and with a gas range's high heat output, a doubly-necessary precaution!) So I put on order a metal plate that would cover the wall next to the range and thought no more of it--and after some measurements, ordered the gas range itself.
I'd ordered a fairly basic GE gas range, one with a "power" burner and another "precise simmer" burner but little else fancy (we'd after all just spent several hundred thousand dollars on the home plus thousands more in our initial renovations). Its dimensional specifications matched the electric range we'd be replacing, so once the gas line was in place, we'd be set, right?
What GE didn't mention in their specs was that the range's console was actually 31 inches wide, even though the oven and range top were but the specified 30 inches. In the recommended installation with at least two inches of space on either side of the range (remember the need for a heat shield due to the wall being so close?), that extra inch wouldn't be a problem... but in our tight quarters, it became a show-stopper. The only viable solution was to cut into the wall itself!
I planned to cut out the drywall alongside the range, replacing it with the metal heat shield I'd ordered. That would buy me at least a half an inch, which would not only let me get the range into place but would also be better from a safety standpoint as well, moving the wall surface back just that little bit more from the range.
As you can see in the photo above, I first cut (using a utility knife) the outline of the new heat shield, then used a drywall saw to slice away the wall itself. I even got a hammer involved--I realized once I'd cut the outline, there was no reason to wear myself out sawing through the drywall when I could just break it up into chunks and trim away the last bit of paper backing.
That got the space opened up; I then had to add some framing to support the new heat shield. Initially, I ran full 2x4's between the existing wall studs, but then I realized I only needed to put anchor blocks at the corners (notice the one to the upper left--necessitated by the routing of the light switch wires), which I attached via drywall screws to the remaining drywall. I then ran some J-bead along the exposed edges of the drywall, applied several coats of drywall compound, and sanded them flush to the wall.
The finishing touches included another coat of grey primer and two coats of VT Maroon paint; the heat shield then screwed to the supports I'd added, followed by a trim layer of shoe moulding mitered to sit inside the opening and reinforce the J-bead edges.
The range was still a tight fit, but not because of the console any longer. My work notching the wall and putting in place the heat shielding took care of that perfectly. A second heat shield went in behind the range; I will probably frame it in shoe moulding later to make it consistent with the side wall (and yes, we do plan to replace the microwave with a black unit to match the range later as well).
What a saga! Well, what's life without a bit of spice to it?
Monday, November 10, 2008
Sunday, November 9, 2008
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Friday, October 17, 2008
Monday, October 6, 2008
Sunday, October 5, 2008
Dealing with a short sale is like that systematic black box; we've got the inputs (our offer) and the outputs (eventual acceptance / rejection of said offer), but no way to tell what's going on inside. And that's incredibly frustrating.
Worse, because the inner workings are hidden, it's impossible to even tell what the effect changes in the inputs might have. Property values are falling--does that mean the bank will be more likely to accept our offer, knowing our FHA financing is only good if the property appraises for what we offered? Should we exercise our short sale contingency and issue 72 hour notice of withdrawl--will that have any effect? What about factors well beyond our control, like the $700b Bush bailout package--will the asset managers who have to sign off on the deal wait and see what they can get from Uncle's teats, or will they move quickly to unload this property and deal with the devil they know?
We've asked whether the sellers are still current on their mortgage, something the listing agent has repeatedly refused to disclose (perhaps rightfully--though at some point, a default on their part will be a matter of public record). Even if he were willing to speak on that point, though, it's really just another input to the black box, one for which we have no real notion as to the impact on the output. On one hand, if the sellers are current, the bank will clearly be loathe to make a quick decision--so long as the cash is flowing in, they have less incentive to deal, after all. But on the other hand, being current could be good in that their mortgage may be classed as less distressed than so many others, and thus less likely to be quickly sold (via bundled securities) to Uncle Sam, something that would likely be an effective death sentence for our chances of buying the home.
Friday, October 3, 2008
The recent financial crisis in the United States and the subsequent bailout plan proposed by the Bush administration--where the US Treasury Department would buy up troubled, often "toxic," mortgage-based assets from banks and investors to help ease the logjam in the credit markets--was something I initially viewed as disastrous for our chances of buying the home we wanted. Banks were rubbing their palms together in anticipation of Uncle Sam buying up their distressed assets and securities at far above market prices (which had fallen so severely to as nearly be inestimable), meaning, I suspected, the banks would suspend their short sale deals in the hopes of getting more from the taxpayer's teat than from any other buyers.
However, as the public and then Congress balked at simply plunking down a trillion taxpayer dollars on a blank check, I personally thought the banks would rush to make the deals they could and deal with losses they could put to paper, and not the vague possibilities of a better (or now likely worse) deal from the government.
Indeed, the listing agent felt so confident in making the deal work for our home purchase that he guaranteed our agent a steak dinner should he fail to deliver by this past Wednesday. (Note that was not exactly his first promise; neither I nor Beth felt particularly confident in the agent's bravado, as he'd previously promised a deal "by the end of the week" and then at the end of that very week complained our agent was harassing him.)
Of course, Wednesday came and went with no deal, and when our agent got hold of the listing agent on Thursday, the listing agent expressed the belief that now the bank was hesitant to sign on anything while uncertain about the bailout plan.
That brings us full-circle; two weeks ago when the Bush administration first came forward with their plan, I despaired that the Treasury Department had sunk our chances of buying, yet over the next weeks grew more confident the terms would be so poor for the financial institutions that we'd end up with a deal soon. Now, the listing agent himself has stated those same fears.
At this point, even if a deal passes today in the US House of Representatives, the impact will be unclear, and if the bank is truly waiting on the bailout, it could be several weeks before the terms of the bailout are known. And if (this is a big "if") the government purchases the security backed by our seller's mortgage, it's a whole new ballgame; no one knows how long it will take the government to establish any notions of how to handle the sales of individual homes, if at all.
So... we may be screwed, on a very personal level, by George W. Bush and his administration, the last in a long line of disastrous mismanagements by our "first MBA President."
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Like most Americans, I grew up in a Christian household, and like most children, I never questioned the things I was taught in church--much like I'd never questioned the existence of Santa Claus, either. Adults tell you something is true, and you tend to believe it, particularly when everyone tells you the same story. All those authority figures can't be wrong, can they?
To make a long story short, by the time I'd reached my own adult years, I'd already begun to question the tenets of a belief system I'd been told was true all my life. What about other religions? Who decides which is "right," and why? What about people who never are exposed to the "right" religion--are they damned for their innocently-ignorant beliefs?
But what really pushed me off the edge of the cliff of theism and into that wild, scary realm of disbelief was my own strong foundation in science and reason. The whole flood mythology of the Bible's Old Testament simply cannot be reconciled with any notion of science, history, or reason; likewise, the biblical creation account contradicts science when taken as anything but allegory. Oh, I'd gone through the phase of creating my own epicycles, rationalizing six-day special creation and biblical chronology of a "young earth" which somehow meshed with the billions-of-years of age the Earth and broader universe clearly possessed, but dismissed those rationalizations before my teenage years had even passed.
To answer Ms. Christiana's question, I can even identify the exact moment I took that big, bold step over the theism cliff: February 24, 2002 (ironically, a Sunday), at the "Evolution vs. Creationism Debate" hosted by the Campus Bible Fellowship and Freethinkers at Virginia Tech. By then, I'd become an agnostic, but the exposure to the sheer intellectual dishonesty and self-deceit of the creationist speaker--and, in turn, the broader creationist movement--make up the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.
The creationist speaker, Dr. Randy Guliuzza from the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), based his entire side of the debate around erecting a strawman of "evolution" which he then attacked, coupled with the false dichotomy of saying, "If you are wrong, then I am right." He didn't produce a single piece of evidence for his position (creationism), and when I called him on that during the question & answer phase, asking him point-blank to produce some evidence to support his argument, he simply responded that all he had to do was debunk evolution to prove creation (if you don't see the false dichotomy of that notion, I'm not sure I can help you).
Though Dr. Guliuzza couldn't replicate "Dr. Dino" Kent Hovind's infamous 300 creationist lies, his arguments did suffer from nearly 50 major problems in such a short debate, which I took down during the debate. He only had a couple of hours, so I guess he does deserve some credit for making that many mistakes, deceptions, misrepresentations, and outright lies during the debate (the numbers below come from the order he presented them in, as I listed them during the debate).
Some of his real laughers included defending creationism's validity by presenting public opinion polls (#1); claiming scientists have no "data" or "details" to support evolution (#2) because articles published in Discover and Popular Science lack them, as do books in the popular press (#3); that scientists condenscendingly think "you" are stupid (#5); appeals to authority ("Some scientists believe in creationism, so it must be true!" and "I have an M.D., so what I say about biology is true!") (#13 & #15); that evolution isn't "useful" (#12); and so on.
His strawman of evolution--a common tactic of creationists--included such ridiculous notions that evolution is "too broad" (#6) whilst simultaneously demanding it explain cosmogenesis (#23) and other aspects of physics, not biology, as well as areas of biology not remotely related to evolution, like abiogenesis (#22); and the insulting notion that "scientists say humans come from worms," (#27) and that "scientists have to use computer animations showing one animal turning into another" (#4 & #26). This is the same tactic Dr. Dino (who currently resides in federal prison, I might add...) uses in his "$200,000 challenge" whereby he claims he'll give anyone who can "prove" evolution a big sum of cash--yet they have to "prove" something not even remotely identifiable as evolutionary theory. Of course the audience (and even scientists) would agree his strawman "evolution" is no good... the problem is, it simply isn't evolution.
The whole notion of debates as "proof" of one's theory also irks me; creationists are good at winning debates with laypeople audiences, who quite honestly aren't capable of making a proper evaluation of the science behind evolution, and who may be easily swayed by the strawmen and ad hominem attacks of creationist arguments. "Show us the data!" the creationists cry; despite the fact mountains of such data exist in the academic literature or even a decent biology textbook, they claim victory when the scientist at the debate doesn't display table after table of mind-numbing data, even when refusing to produce any evidence in support of creationism itself (remember that false dichotomy I mentioned?)
Dr. Guliuzza went on to make several demonstrably false scientific statements as well; ever wonder why creationists spend so much time picking at evolution instead of layout out evidence for their own theory? It's because they can't do science, and what science they try to do is quite poor. For example, he claimed an evolutionary change resulting in a loss of functionality or information contradicts evolutionary theory (#28)--another straw in that big man-shaped bale of hay. He made the oft-repeated claim that "all mutations are bad" (#40); that bacterial antibiotic resistance doesn't exist (#35), that HIV has not and is not changing as a virus (#41), and several other real whoppers which simply are wrong in all factual regards.
Finally, creationists often accuse evolutionary theory of failings which in any sense actually apply more to creationism than evolution, and if to be taken as points against a theory, must condemn their own position! If evolution is "too broad" to be an acceptable theory (#6, an accusation demonstrably incorrect to begin with), what of the notion that "Goddidit" to explain everything, from cosmogenesis to abiogenesis to evolution and beyond? If evolution has "no predictive value" (#14, and again, demonstrably incorrect), what of the Bible and creationism?
Creationists claim scientists "force" data into "unnatural" configurations to support evolution (again, provably wrong, and #10 on Dr. Guliuzza's list of lies)--what, then, of all the epicycles invented by creationists to try to fit observable science to a "theory" broadly and wholly contradicted and disproven by said science? I suggest the interested reader check out the topics of "flood geology," "hydrological sorting," and the "vapor canopy," and get back to me on who exactly is forcing data into unnatural configurations--and afterwards, take a look at the ridiculous notions of variable speed-of-light ("tired" light is responsible for redshift, so says that "theory"), incredibly variable rates of radioactive decay only stable in the past few years (to explain away radioisotope dating, among other things), and mutation and speciation rates far in excess of anything evolution demands to account for all the biological diversity we see today having arisen a few thousand years ago from Noah and his rinky-dink Ark.
Looking back on my notes from that 2002 debate, I found this gem:
Finally, as I have indicated before and likely will again, isn’t it hypocritical for creationists to accuse someone else of using “just-so” stories (like, maybe, “God did it!”) to explain their position? Forgive me if I am wrong, but my exposure to creationism has left me with the feeling that the whole platform is based on one great big just-so story called the Bible.
Using that as segue back to my original topic of how that particular debate drove me away from theism one and for all, that day's events are what really opened my eyes to the particular sort of dishonesty (intentional or through ignorance; it doesn't matter) and refusal to partake in any meaningful discussion or rational argumentation about either science or religion that makes up not just creationism (and its "lipstick on a pig / monkey in a tuxedo" cousin, (un)intelligent design), but on a broader level religion as a whole. Religious beliefs are just that: beliefs. They cannot be supported factually, yet many of the claims of religion run counter to observable, factual science. When you scrape away all the fluff, all that's left is a warm fuzzy notion of "god," and to me, that's simply not enough to justify a belief in the face of all other rationality.
Monday, September 29, 2008
For those of you who haven't visited my sadly out-of-date home page, let me fill you in on a small fact: I am a huge college football fan. My wife's reaction when I turned on the first game of the season a few weeks back was telling: "Great, football season already?" She knew I'd be glued to the drama of game after game for the next several months.
This past weekend, I traveled to Lincoln, Nebraska, to watch my Virginia Tech Hokies take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers. This was a game I'd looked forward to ever since it made the schedule, a quality out of conference contest at one of the toughest venues in college football. Even busy with our house hunt and trying to save money left and right, I knew this was a game I had to attend; how often do you get to see your team play Nebraska in Lincoln if you're not from the Big 12?
True, Nebraska may lack the luster of its championship years of the past, but we're still taking about a team that rarely loses at home to out-of-conference foes--prior to playing Tech, Nebraska had only lost at home at night four times ever, to the likes of USC and top-10 Washington and Texas teams. Championship contenders or not, Nebraska plays hard at home, and few (myself included) expected a Tech win--I was simply hoping for a good game.
Let me stop for a moment and point out that the Nebraska fans are by far and away the classiest group of people I've ever encountered. Perhaps my trips to Morgantown, WV, home of the flaming couch-burners, and the countless beers and f-bombs tossed my way by their fans (as well as moonings and curse-laden tirades by their fans on the road in Blacksburg!) has colored my expectations for football fans. But nonetheless, all day long we had Nebraska fans thanking us for coming to the game, mentioning how impressed they were by the number of Tech fans who'd made the trip, wishing us well and expressing the hopes for a good game, etc. During the contest, we didn't have drunk Nebraska students screaming obscenities at us or the refs. And afterwards, we were congratulated by many an unhappy fan in red and black. Heck, when I arrived at my hotel after the game, a Nebraska fan asked me what I thought of their hospitality, asked if I'd been mistreated at all, etc., to which I was honestly able to say: "No, you guys are the best fans I've ever met, and I really hope we can return the favor when you come to see us next year in the 'burg."
I won't go into detail about the game, but needless to say, it was exciting and fun to watch, particularly since Tech came out on the winning end when the final whistle sounded. I may have been bleary-eyed when headed to the airport the next morning in Omaha (where I received an op-up to first class due to the plane being so full--didn't even have to spend an upgrade certificate!), but in the end, it was a great trip and well worth the time.
If you're a fan of college football and have a chance to travel to Lincoln, I really encourage you to avail yourself of the opportunity. You won't regret it, regardless of the outcome of the game.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
A couple of weeks back, we found out that the bank has mostly agreed to our offer, but were negotiating with the mortgage insurance company. Now, I'd thought given what we knew about this home and its mortgage situation (having done courthouse research on that very topic) that there likely wasn't mortgage insurance involved; the owners were sub-prime borrowers, after all, and refinanced their 80-20 mortgages (both of them ARMs) into a single adjustable-rate mortgage a couple of years ago. Apparently, they financed at 100% (or more), and even though the bank in question (California's failed OwnIt Mortgage) wasn't known for asking for mortgage insurance because it so quickly sold every loan it originated, the owners ended up with PMI.
That throws a bit of a monkey-wrench into a short sale. Why? Well, if the bank were to foreclose, they'd collect on the mortgage insurance policy, which typically insures up to 17% of the loan's original principal. That could mean that the bank might get a better deal by foreclosing than they'd get with a short sale.
Depending on the policy, the mortgage insurer may have to cover a portion of the bank's loss even in the case of a short sale, not just for a foreclosure (this is a pretty common situation from what I understand). Thus, the mortgage insurer has to okay the terms of the short sale, too. And that's where we stand at present.
Now, to me the negotiations should be simple. The bank says to the mortgage insurer, "Look, we're going to either do this short sale or foreclose. You're paying one way or the other." I would assume the only point of negotiation from the insurer should be how much they're willing to pay; in other words, "Hey, bank, you're taking a smaller loss with this sale; how about we pay a proportionally smaller claim, too?" (Aside from this, the insurer can go after the owners and ask them to sign a promissory note for the insurer's loss in paying the bank's claim, or otherwise hold the owner financially responsible in some way--though a good bankruptcy attorney will deal with that unsecured promissory note in short order...)
So I don't get why we're still waiting, two weeks and counting, from when we learned the insurer was involved in negotiations. The math is simple; by my calculations, the bank is approximately $30,000 better-off taking our short sale offer than foreclosing--a figure which grows every day, mind you, as the uncertainties of the housing market drag down the value further; Zillow estimates for the value of the home have already fallen $4,000 in the time we've been waiting on a decision.
Worse for the bank is the fact that the sale has to satisfy the FHA; the FHA isn't going to approve our loan if they're paying more than the property is worth. And every day the bank delays lowers the chances the FHA will be able to approve the upper end of our offer. With falling prices, the bank not only increases the loss they'll face at foreclosure but increases the chance our offer will no longer be available to them.
But we're in "bank-time" now, a strange quick of quantum mechanics and special relativity which twists what should be a decision of hours and minutes into weeks and days. I dealt with "bank-time" in the sale of my townhome, where Wachovia spent days on end on an "emergency rush" loan twiddling their thumbs and not getting the appraisal scheduled, so I'm no stranger to the concept, unfortunately.
I'm not going to even go into what the troubles at insurer AIG along with the uncertain prospects of the Bush and Paulson bank welfare act ($700b - $1t of taxpayer money on a blank check--pay no attention to that man behind the curtain; look at the monkey!) might mean in terms of delaying our home purchase. I can only hope the bank (and its insurer) haven't said, "Hmm, let's suspend short sale approvals for the time being to see what we might get from Uncle's teat." They'd be fools to take the certain numbers of our offer and trade them for the uncertainties of some government bailout.
Of course, there's also the risk now that the joys of the collateralized debt obligation (CDO) world and their mortgage-backed securities will result in the sale, as part of a large group, of the loan to another bank altogether, meaning we'd get to start over.