Life Lesson: Don’t Close On A House In December

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Good news: I found a house, put in an offer, and had it accepted.
Bad news: It took 2 months longer than expected to go to closing.

You may be asking yourself why this is bad news. I had 2 extra months to save up for the house and get my finances in order. How could this possibly be a bad thing? One word: Taxes. Allow me to explain.

Because I did not have quite enough money saved up to put down the full 3.5% of the purchase price for an FHA mortgage, as well as pay closing costs, I decided to pull some money out of one of my retirement accounts. What was the harm? I thought. I’ll have them take out a bit extra to cover the taxes, and all will be well. I might have to pay a bit extra come April 15th, but that’s hardly reason to panic. Besides, I’ll get some deduction for my first month’s mortgage interest, closing costs, PMI, and the like. It seemed like a great idea at the time.

Then, of course, reality set in, and it set in hard. Despite all my careful planning, and assurances from the bank that they could have the mortgage fully approved in sixty days, a few days before my scheduled closing I received word that there was going to be a delay because HUD (Housing and Urban Development) had decided to audit my loan. Not audit me, but the bank’s loan process. Seems they do this to about 10% of all FHA-backed loans since 2008. This made everyone at the bank turn into panicky little squirrels, running around desperately clawing for any and all information they could possibly request from me, up to and including not one, not two, but THREE appraisals for the house I wanted to buy (I only had to pay for the first one).

This caused the sale of the house to be delayed until after December 31st. In fact, it was delayed all the way until Valentine’s Day. But none of the delay past the end of December actually mattered, because up until then I could have put the money I took from my retirement account back in and wouldn’t have had to pay ANY additional tax, since the contribution would have completely offset the withdrawal. I might have had to pay a few fees to the company I have the account with, but tax-wise I would have been fine.

However, the bank decided that they weren’t going to send my loan package off to HUD to be audited until they felt they had all their ducks in a row, which of course required the aforementioned 3 appraisals and a good bit of back-and-forth between the bank’s underwriters and the appraisers they used. The worst part was that they couldn’t give me an accurate date for when they would actually have the loan approved. This mean that I had to continually re-schedule the closing date. Six times. Yes, you read that right. Six times I had to move the closing date.

The first time it happened, in December, we (my real estate agent and I) didn’t even receive any communication from the bank until the mortgage commitment date had come and gone. Then he called the bank and found out what happened. This continued through January and part of February, before the bank FINALLY informed us that the loan had been sent to HUD.

Or so we thought.

As it turns out, the loan had only been AUTHORIZED to be sent. It wasn’t actually sent for another week after that. This meant another delay to the closing date (this was #6). At this point in the process, the seller we were working with (who had been remarkably patient, largely because they had 2 other properties in similar situations) started to get upset. Neither their agent nor mine had EVER heard of a situation where 3 appraisals were asked for by the bank, and both made this known. Fortunately, once HUD had the loan package it was approved within 5 business days and we got the closing scheduled for Valentines Day. I signed a bunch of paperwork, wrote a check for just about $7,000, and took the keys to my new house.

Fast forward to last week, through just shy of two months’ worth of moving stuff, hauling furniture, and installing appliances. I sit down to do my taxes. Pulling together all of my paperwork, and dealing with my change in jobs (and increase in salary, for which I’m very thankful), my eyeballs bugged out of my skull when I realized how much money I would owe the federal government. I was going to have to pay, and pay dearly, for taking money out of a retirement account early.

Before I panicked too much, I did some quick math. Fortunately, I already had more than 90% of my tax liability covered, so there wouldn’t be any underpayment fees. At this point, I made a very tough decision: I filled out the paperwork to file for an extension on my taxes. I’m going to take the extra couple months to make sure I’ve covered all my bases as far as deductions, credits, etc. are concerned, as well as save up the money I need to pay the balance of my taxes. I’m also going to have to pay interest on the tax that I haven’t paid up until now, but if my math is right, that’s going to max out somewhere around $50 by the time I have to file in October (and I hope to file well before then!).

The lesson here is that if you’re going to be doing anything that can have an impact on your taxes when you buy your house, and by that I mean anything other than buying the house itself, put off your closing until after the start of the new tax year if at all possible. That way, if your closing is delayed, you won’t take the tax hit nearly as bad, since the deductions from your house and mortgage will help offset. Of course, the better plan is to just have enough cash saved up so that you don’t have to do anything that will affect your taxes. I’m going to remember that for next time.

All that said, I’m still glad I bought my house. It’s been a wonderful experience these last two months, and having a place that I can truly call my own is something I wouldn’t want to give up. Now I just need to get my workshop finished, brew some beer, build more furniture, and…

Well, you get the idea.

Skål!

 

 

Postscript and disclaimer: I’m not a tax professional. None of this is tax advice or legal advice. Don’t take it as such. Financial professionals are highly trained people, and well-worth taking the time and spending the money on if you’re going to make a big purchase like a house. My financial adviser warned me about taking money out early, and he was right. So make sure you get competent advice! (This means not getting your advice from an angry engineer on the internet, mmkay?)

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Thoughts on Armistice Day

“In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard among the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders Fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from falling hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders Fields.”

Lt. Col. John McCrae, 1915

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Late Summer- The Need to Write Again

Well. Three months without an update isn’t too bad, is it?

Wait. Yes it is.

It’s been a really busy summer here in Delaware. I’ve been all over the country and all over the world, as a matter of fact. In the last two months I’ve been to almost a dozen different states and a foreign country, not to mention I’ve picked up a few new hobbies and found at least a dozen more houses I didn’t want to buy (and one that I did, but that didn’t work out).  With all that going on, my writing and blogging have taken an unfortunate back seat to the rest of my life.

You see, the funny thing about the need to write is that it sneaks up on you. So every so often I find myself in a funk. I feel grumpy, twitchy, and in a general sense of malaise. Then I remember that it’s been nearly a month since I did any serious writing and everything clicks into place. So I sit down at my desk and type, or lay down on my bed with pen and paper and write longhand. It doesn’t matter what, I just need to write. A paragraph, a page, a whole story. It’s a strange sensation, writing. You dig deep into your psyche and let what needs to come out come out. Everything I write has a small piece of my soul in it. So just remember that, when you read what I’ve stuck up here. You’re getting a peek into the inner workings of my head.

Feel free to run screaming in terror. Just remember to shut the door on the way back out.

All that pretentious B.S. aside, writing is something that’s intensely cathartic for me. I use my stories, poetry, and even these blog posts to talk about things that are very important to me, whether it’s about religion, politics, music, or my own issues that need to be let go.

There’s been a lot of that going on in my life recently. House hunting has taken more time than I expected, and it’s been a lot more stressful than I’d hoped. Work is enjoyable, but it’s also high-stress because of all the projects I’m working on and how high-priority some of them are. My health is always a concern, of course, and the fact that I’ve gained weight* again is certainly irritating, but that’s at least moving in somewhat of the right direction.

On the positive side, I’m working with a new non-profit organization, which is highly enjoyable and very rewarding (if somewhat time-consuming). I’ve started getting more into woodworking, which is in itself deeply satisfying because I actually have physical things that I can say I made. There’s a lot of pride that comes from actually having stuff, and nice stuff at that, that you yourself crafted. I’ve got some beer brewing (which will be ready soon!) and more to brew next month (PUMPKIN TIME!).

The thing that’s mildly aggravating about all of this is that, while I COULD be writing about it, I haven’t been. I’ve been spending my time doing other things, like all those things I just talked about. I have a full and fulfilling life, which takes up a lot of my time. But something I’ve learned about myself is that I have to actually take time and collect my thoughts now and again, or I start to get a lot of things in my head that really don’t need to be there. Doubts, fears, and anxiety tend to build up in large quantities. It’s not fun. So here I am, talking a little bit about that and letting some of the pressure out. It’s a thing that needs to happen more often, and that I resolve to do.

So I’m asking you, imaginary readers, to help me out a bit. Hold me to the fire. If I don’t write for a week or two, remind me of this post. Remind me when I said that I need to write for my own sake, and the sake of people who I interact with on a daily basis. Because really, no one wants to deal with someone who’s grumpy all the time, and I don’t want to be that guy.

Anyway, that’s all from me for now. More later (maybe tomorrow, maybe next week, but no later than next week, I promise!).

Until then, may your yeast always be happy.

Skål!

*I’m not bitching about 2-3 lbs here; I’m 20 lbs heavier than I was 4 months ago and haven’t really changed my eating habits, which is SUPER annoying. Must. Run. More.
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Hell yeah, it’s Friday!

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This has been a trying week. I spent a good bit of time looking for a car, and think that I’ve found one. I’m working on finalizing some of the arrangements for a second tour of the house that I want to buy, which should happen early next week. And I’m working on getting a few major things done for a couple of my projects at work. All in all, there’s been a lot to do.

But it’s Friday. I survived another week. I think that merits a feeling of accomplishment. Now I get to spend my weekend doing some fun stuff. Swimming, some woodworking, a bit of wargaming, and maybe even some brewing, if I can manage it. It’s been waaaay too long since I brewed anything. I’m getting antsy.

Well, I think that’s all for today. You have yourselves a great weekend, dear readers. I’ll catch ya on the flip side.

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House Hunt Round 1: Not Everything is Terrible (But Neither is Everything Great)

Yesterday I took some time to rant a bit about the house-hunting process, and to warn anyone out there who’s looking to make sure you take everything you see with a grain of salt. With that said, I also have to say that it’s nowhere near as terrible as it sounded yesterday.

The second house that we went to see was quite a bit nicer than the first. It was well-kept, had a nice yard with a small garden patch and well-manicured lawn, and was in a nice neighborhood. It was also a cape, which made my girlfriend very happy. She likes capes a lot for some reason. I lived in one for a couple years, so I don’t mind the style at all, which is why we went to look at it. After the travesty of the first house we stopped at, this one was very encouraging, at least from the outside. The inside, however, left some things to be desired. Not because of the condition, but because of the layout.

The house was built in the 1940’s. The front door opened immediately into the living room (which did have a fireplace, to its credit), with the stairs going up immediately in front. This led back to the eat-in kitchen (no dining room), as well as a hallway going to the two first floor bedrooms and first floor full bath. Upstairs, the two bedrooms were absolutely massive, going the full width of the house, with a full bath in between.

Thus far through the tour, I had been somewhat ambivalent about the house. It certainly was in nice shape, but the layout was a bit dated, there wasn’t much room to entertain guests, and the whole downstairs felt kind of small.

Then there was the basement.

I like basements. They make me happy. I have no problem disappearing into the basement of a house for five or six hours at a stretch to work on a project at my workbench, play board games around a dimly-lit table, or just sit back with a few friends and toss back some pints. But I like to be able to do all that without worrying if I’m going to hit my head when I stand up. This basement would not have allowed for that. While it did cover the whole of the footprint of the house, it was barely 6’6″ (2 m). I’m 6’3″ (1.9 m). I would have been constantly hunched over, trying not to hit my head. I actually *did* hit my head once on some low-hanging pipes while we were looking around the basement. That pretty much sealed the deal that we were not going to consider this house any further.

All things considered, it was a nice enough house, just not one that I could see myself living in and enjoying. I wasn’t discouraged, though. There were still other houses to see, and plenty of time to see them. I’ll tell you a bit about the next round tomorrow, including the house that I hope (very much so) to make my own.

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House Hunting Horrors: “Minor TLC” Is A Relative Appraisal

Ladies and gentlemen, I want to put forward a motion to all the real estate agents of the world. There is such a thing as “minor TLC,” sure. I can believe that. It includes things like interior paint or trim, maybe some new drywall in a couple of places. It might also include needing new carpets or hardwood floors that need refinishing. I might even accept some exterior work being needed. Paint chips and fades, decks need occasional refinishing, patios and driveways crack. Any of these things, assuming it’s something that one can do oneself in a weekend or two, I would accept as “minor TLC.” Even a combination of several of these might still count as “minor TLC,” if the sum total is still a manageable amount of labor.

HOWEVER!

A major roof leak is NOT “minor TLC.”

All the upstairs interior doors needing to be replaced, along with major upstairs electrical work, is NOT “minor TLC.”

The ENTIRE deck needing to be sandblasted and refinished, and possibly most of the structure replaced, is NOT “minor TLC.”

And that was just the first house I went to look at.

Now, in fairness, this was a house that I had found, and not one my realtor found for me. He’s been very good at finding places to look at, and always has some very insightful observations about whichever house we’re looking at. After that first house, it’s been mostly uphill.

I think I’ll have to leave the story of what’s happened since to another post. Just thinking about that first house has got me all tweaked out. Or maybe that’s the coffee. Who knows.

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Oh, man…It’s like I’m a grown-up or something…

Today is a big day. Today is Serious Business. Today is my first big step into the world of being an adult in quite awhile. Y’know, since I got a college degree, got a grown-up job as an engineer, and moved out of my parents’ house.

Today…I’m going house-hunting.

What this actually means is that I’m going to be driving around New Castle County with my girlfriend and my realtor touring 3 different houses that both my realtor and I have picked out. Maybe I’ll put in an offer on one of them, maybe I won’t. The point is, at some point in the very near future, I’m going to own my own house.

Let’s stop and think about that.

That’s a big step. That’s huge. It’s actually kind of scary when you think about it. I won’t have a landlord to call when something goes wrong. It’ll be up to me to either fix it, replace it, or deal with whatever’s broken however I can. I’ll have to shell out my own money to do that, not let someone else take care of it.

On the other hand, I’m going to be able to paint it however I please. I can build bookshelves into the walls. I can put up wainscot, molding, and whatever other sort of outlandish decorations I please.

I can walk around naked at two in the afternoon and not worry about offending my roommates.

All of these things, and more, are what I have to look forward to. It’s a mix of good and bad, but mostly good, I hope. It’s going to be an adventure, that’s for certain. I’ll be taking a lot of notes, and a lot of pictures, to help in the decision. I might even put some up here.

Well, time to get ready. Here we go.

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I think I may have a problem…

Field Notes notebooks...so many notebooks...

Oh, gods, they’re multiplying!

Friends, I think it’s safe to say I may have gone a little bit overboard since last we spoke. All of those notebooks in that picture? Yeah…I own them. And in the case of the orange (Expedition) one, I bought three packs of them. They’re too cool not to buy all of those!

Okay, let me back up and explain. Field Notes (http://www.fieldnotesbrand.com) is a small, independent manufacturing company with their distribution offices in Chicago. They make notebooks. Not big, massive ones that you can write a whole novel in. No. These are small, 48-page, pocket-sized notebooks, perfect for your jeans pocket or shirt pocket (or lab coat!). They all have a little ruler on the inside back cover, for added convenience. They’re also well-made, with high-quality paper that (so far) takes ink really, really well.

I hear you saying to yourself, “But Josh, I could go to Generic Office Supply Store down the road and get something similar for a lot less than the three bucks a notebook that you’re paying! You’re a cheapskate! WHY YOU PAY SO MUCH?!?!”

I’ll tell you why: Because I’m an obsessive nerd.

Seriously. That’s why. Every so often (about 5-6 times a year) they put out a limited edition variant (the standard is a rough brown cover with black ink) that usually sells out within a month or so. Some of them last longer than others, like the US Crops edition or the myriad “County Fair” covers. My personal favorite so far? The “Expedition.” Bright, neon orange on the front and inside cover, black on the back, with a map of Antarctica ghost-printed on the outer cover. The neatest part? It’s not actually made of paper. It’s plastic. Specifically, it’s extruded polyethylene. This means that you can drop it in water and all that little notebook will do is laugh. It will mock that water like it’s nothing. Rain? Sleet? Hail? Seawater? Most chemicals? This notebook scorns them all. For me, as a chemical engineer who spends a lot of time in the lab at work, that’s amazing. It’s also amazing for going on hikes and writing stuff down. Doesn’t matter what the weather is, my notes will be fine.

There, you see? I just spent a whole paragraph talking about why a notebook is awesome. I’m a huge nerd. But it’s ok, because I write about stuff with my nerdiness to help you fine people find awesome things to use. That’s cool, right?

Right?

Damn right.

In all seriousness, though, I have no problem paying a few bucks more for something that’s going to last longer and serve me better than a cheaper alternative. This goes for all tools, from my woodturning equipment to my notebooks and pens.

Speaking of pens…In my last order, I got a nifty little Field Notes click pen. This is awesome. My only complaint is that it’s a right-handed pen, and I’m a southpaw. So Field Notes, if you happen to read this, do the 10% of the population that’s actually in their right minds a favor and make a few left-handed pens and notebooks! We lefties dig the hell outta that sort of thing. 🙂

PS: You can tell if a pen/pencil is for left-handed folks if the writing is right-side up when you hold it in your left hand. If it’s upside-down, you’ve got a boring old right-hander’s pen.

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Pumpkins and comics and beer, oh my!

It’s been an exciting week and a half here in Delaware. Last weekend (the 9th) I had the supreme pleasure of brewing ten gallons of one of my favorite recipes, Vlad the Impairer. This past weekend (the 15th) I had the also supreme pleasure of going down to Bethesda, MD to the Small Press Expo to see my good friend Amanda and spend far too much money on some excellent indie comics.

First: BEER!

The pumpkin beer for this year is looking quite spectacular. The actual brewing went with nary a hitch, save for a single boil-over. I was very lucky to have the help of some very good friends of mine, which always makes the brewing easier. It also makes the drinking easier, seeing as there’s people to share the booze with! We were able to get ten gallons of Vlad brewed up and into carboys before midnight, and I pitched the yeast the next morning. I’m expecting this beer to be about on par with last year, right around 10% ABV and deliciously sweet.

Right now it’s in primary fermentation. I’m going to be letting it sit until the first weekend of October, then racking it to secondary and adding the spices (no mace this year!), maple syrup, and brown sugar. Then it’ll sit in secondary for another 2-3 weeks before I blend the two batches together (to make them taste identical) and put them in kegs. Then it’s a week in the kegs under pressure to carbonate before putting them in the cold box under my bar. Then, the night of our Halloween party, we serve them.

Excitement doesn’t even BEGIN to describe how I’m feeling about this right now. 😀

Second: COMICS!

This past weekend was Small Press Expo. This is an independent publishing and comics convention that happens the second weekend of September in Bethesday, MD. My good friend Amanda comes down from Maine every year to promote her comic and take comissions for artwork (she’s wicked awesome at drawing D&D characters. Just sayin’). I also was pretty psyched to see a few more of my favorite comics authors there: Jon Rosenberg of Goats/Scenes From a Multiverse, Aaron Diaz of Dresden Codak, and Jaime Noguchi of Yellow Peril.

I also noticed as I was wandering past the Topatoco booth that Jeph Jacques of Questionable Content was there signing books. Now, I’ll be perfectly honest, I’d never read any of QC before. I have a bunch of friends who do, and my girlfriend has been attempting to get me to read it for longer than we’ve been dating (long story, don’t ask). Seeing that he was there, I figured it’d be a good idea to get her a signed copy of the first book.

So I did.

But that’s not the interesting part. I mean, don’t get me wrong, Jeph was a cool dude and was perfectly happy to sign the book and put a drawing of Pintsize (a tiny, misanthropic, and psychotic robot character from the comic) on the title page for my girlfriend. That was awesome of him, and Katie’s squee when I showed her the book later that night was probably audible from space. The interesting part was the next evening while we were hanging out. Katie was doing her schoolwork and I was just chilling out with her when I decided to start reading the book myself. See, I’m the sort of person where if I have a book in my hands and some spare time I find it ridiculously hard to not read it. It doesn’t matter what the book is, I’ll read most things.

I finished the book in two hours. 300 comics. I then proceeded to read the next 1900+ comics in the archives on line in 3 days. I actually just finished it today. I may or may not have been up until 3AM last night reading Questionable Content, and may or may not have been reading it at work when I should have been getting some technical documentation done (if my boss is reading this, or anyone else from where I work, don’t worry. I got all of my deliverables for today completed, so ha!).

This comic is fucking amazing. I could not stop laughing the entire time I was reading it. Even the emotionally heavy parts (and trust me, there are a LOT of those. Jeph is really good at writing the drama) only stopped me from laughing for a brief few minutes. I actually cared about the characters. There are no one-dimensional characters and they’re all very believable. I’m not going to spoil any of the story here. I suggest you all go and start reading it from the beginning. It’s awesome, and well-worth the time.

Anyway, I’ve blathered enough about comics and beer. It’s getting late here on the East Coast, and I was up waaaay too late last night. I’m going to go get some sleep. See you all on the flip side, and, as always, happy brewing!

Skål!

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There’s a crispness in the morning air today.

It’s that time of year again.

The leaves have started to turn ever-so-slightly brown, the geese are beginning to muster for their annual flight south, and the second corn crop is about ready to be hauled in.

Most importantly, the pumpkin harvest is about to begin.

I just went to the brew store last night on my way home from work and dropped $120 on ingredients to make two batches of my pumpkin spice ale. I still need to acquire some pumpkin pureé and make sure I have all the spices, but this weekend shall be filled with beer making. I’m going to be making a few changes this year to the recipe, however.

First, I’m going to have some help brewing (Yes, I know this isn’t really a change per se. Quiet, you). A friend of mine has expressed interest in learning to brew, and my cousin who lives in the area will be helping as well. With any luck this will enable us to get two batches made in the time it normally takes me to do one by myself.

Second, I’m going to be changing the recipe up a bit. Nothing major, like changing the malt bill or hop schedule, just a slight change to the spices I put in the secondary fermenter. After a few of my friends complained about the amount of mace I had put into it last year, I’m going to eliminate that particular spice entirely. There’s only a tiny amount of it anyways, but I know a few people who are sensitive to it. So sensitive, in fact, that it apparently ruined their Halloween experiences at my house. Since, I’d rather not have my beer making people throw up in the backyard, this is an easy change to make.

Third, I’m using a combination of both British and American hops. This was done out of necessity, as the brew store only had 3 ounces of American Goldings hops. So I’m adding in an ounce of UK East Kent Goldings. However, to prevent there from being too much difference between the two batches, I’m going to do something I’ve never done before, something that will improve the quality of the beer overall.

I’m going to blend the two batches after they ferment.

I know, right? Crazy talk. But it’s something that big craft brewers do all the time. It improves batch-to-batch consistency, helps to smooth out imperfections in the beer (most of the time, anyways) and generally gives you a better product. Heck, some beers out there are blends by design. Newcastle Brown Ale (a delicious beer) is actually a blend of two completely different beers: A dark, aged, brown ale, and a younger pale ale. This is something that will improve my beer and enhance the enjoyment I get from it, and that’s really what brewing your own beer is all about, after all. You want to make something delicious that you and your friends can enjoy.

I’m going to be posting about how the brew day itself actually went next week, as well as keeping you all up to date on how the fermentation progresses over the next month and half until Halloween. I’ll be putting a few pictures up on Twitter (@tworavensbrew) of the brewing process, as well as of the batch during fermentation. I’ll put up another post sometime in early October when it gets moved to secondary, and again when the blending and kegging happens, just before Halloween. I have two other beers I need to brew up for the fall season (or maybe a beer and another batch of cider…mmmm…cider…), so there will be a flurry of posts in the next few weeks! Hooray, posts!  Hooray, beer!

 With that, I bid you all a good day, and happy brewing.

Skål!

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