Time waits for noone

Okay, it’s been a while.  If a blog is meant to regular, then this isn’t one, because it’s irregular.  Never mind.

In the interim, we have engaged an architect, and he has produced some wonderful plans and drawings for us.  Even if we’d sold the place, I would have been happy to have had that experience.  But as it turns out, the Swiss Buyer isn’t going to go ahead, so looks like it’s us after all.

“Swiss Buyer?” you ask.

Well, after the initial novelty had worn off, we’d decided that the financially rational thing to do was have a bob each way – i.e., list the place for sale while at the same time continuing with our own plans for it.  So we chose a price at which we felt like we’d be happy either way, and did just that.  Took a fascinating collection of people through it.  Some were taken aback when they discovered just how decrepit it was, till I changed the wording on the ad so it read “not currently habitable”.  The enquirers could be loosely categorised into two groups:  dreamers who wanted to do it, but didn’t have enough cash, and investors who weren’t interested in spending the money.  But in the end, we did have an enquiry from someone who appeared to see the underlying majesty of the place, and also have presumably enough dosh to make it happen.  Only problem was he was currently in Switzerland. 

We swapped emails, and I put up a whole lot of Picasa photos to show what it was like; he had his son and a builder friend come to have look; and then was at last in town this last weekend and could be shown through.  He took photos.  He revisited the place on Sunday.  But ultimately, I think the reality of having to manage the work from the other side of the world, plus the financial reality of it, was sufficient to make he and his wife decide not to pursue it.  I can’t say I blame them at all.

‘Course, that means, I think, that we’re now past the point where we’d sell it, and into the phase where it’s ours, and we’re doing it, and we’d better get used to the idea.  Commitment, commitment!

Speaking of commitment, back to that pesky thesis.  No, it’s still not finished.  Yes, I know I said I needed to finish it.  Fine, fine, see, I’m going back to it now, you can stop nagging me!


Historical examples.

On the way back from showing a couple through the house today I spotted three examples of buildings which may once have had similar backs to our original front, and 57, 59 and 61 in the same street.  You can’t tell from the street side, as the pretty part of the building is at the back facing downhill – presumably these are some of those buildings the council meant that don’t have their primary elevation on the street side of the building.

Anyway, I’ll contact archives and see what they can tell me.

Oh sure, insurance.

So, we’re back from our enormously long holiday, and today is settlement day, and I’m just a wee bit stressed.

On the weekend, we realised we hadn’t yet arranged insurance.  Last-minute-lil-R-US.  A bit stressful, but probably doable, since even though it was a public holiday here, it’s not in Auckland.  So I phoned the bank, and they said, yes, they could insure the property, but they’d need a valuation for insurance purposes to do so.

Eep #1.  Would it be possible to get a valuation in just one day?  I phoned Valuation Consultants (VC) next morning at 8am, expecting to leave a message, but got a Bill, who took down all the details, and said yes they’d do it.  I was very relieved.  Enjoy that relief, yesterday morning’s self, it won’t last.

Phoned VC a bit later in the morning to see if I could get a time-frame.  Yes, the Bill who’d be doing it thought he probably could get it done before the end of the day.  Excellent, except I’d left the bank’s fax number at home.  Never mind.  Call them back.  Emma in insurance unavailable, but here’s the fax number.

Phoned VC again to let them know the fax number for when the valuation was ready.  All good still.

At 3.30pm Bill phoned to say he’d completed the valuation and it’d been faxed through.  Hooray for Bill Smith and VC.  Phoned Emma to make sure all was good, but couldn’t get through, left message for her to call.

At 4.20, Emma phoned.  No, she hadn’t got the valuation – because the numpty I’d spoken to earlier in the day had given me an extremely out of date fax number.  Cusswords!  Phone VC again, they said they’d refax it straight away.

Phoned lending to see if it was all set (I knew Emma was leaving at 4.30).  Left message.  They phoned back at 6.10pm.  No, the insurance approval hadn’t been put through yet.  Too late to do anything more that day.

Settlement day morning.  I forget who I phoned in what order, but I have spoken to the bank more times than I’d like, the solicitor at least once, somebody in insurance (Emma’s away) at least once.  The person I was talking to yesterday in lending (Ben, who’s doing Julie’s work for her while she’s away) isn’t there, so now I’ve got Belinda, who is a bit behind in the whole situation and manages to make matters infinitely worse by telling me (say what?) that Lending Services don’t talk to customers (so who the hell have I been talking to for the last two days?), and then deciding that not only are we still to provide evidence of insurance for the new property, but that our insurance evidence for our current property is out of date and also needs to be updated.  I breathe through my nose.  I phone our insurance company.  Nice chap there faxes it while I’m on the phone, and says he’ll call Belinda just to make sure it’s gone through.  I think I will too, because what’s another phone call in all this mess?

Meanwhile, Belinda’s phoning VC to get them to refax the valuation, since, as Emma’s not there, the copy I sent her email is of no use, and the one VC has clearly got lost somewhere up the Devil’s bum along with my calm.

Oh, but there was one good thing yesterday.  I made an appointment for us to meet John Mills next week, to see if we can afford him for the project.

Oh, the responsibility!

Had the most awful sleep, if you can call it that.  I put a giant lump in my stomach last night by looking at the overhead view of the section, comparing it with my foot-measured assessment that the house was about 7m wide, and the title document which said the section was 53.5 links wide and 281.81 links long, and 1589 perches/401m2, and it just didn’t add up.  I got it into my head that someone had measured something wrong, and the section was actually only 9m wide, which meant it was only 30m long (based on the proportions of the overhead view) and that it was therefore only 280m2, which meant we were royally shmucked (as in, made shmucks of).  Couldn’t sleep (the red wine and chocolate probably didn’t help there, but anyway).  Got up at 5.47am and turned on Google Earth.  Measured the section.  It was 11m x +/-36m, just as it should be.  Then I realised I’d read the length upside down, and it was in fact 181.87m wide (it was only at this point I figured out they were “links”  – the unit of measurement had escaped me up till then), and it was all fine.  So that was a waste of a night that could have been a perfectly adequate sleep if I hadn’t wrung myself out.  Google is my friend.

Have had an email forwarded from somone who missed out on the tender, an architect who’d crawled over over it taking extensive measurements and so forth for the purpose of restoration (he’s a member of the Historic Places Trust) – and did we want to buy the drawings etc that he’d put together from them.  Probably hoping to pay for the flight to Wellington (from Tauranga) that he took to do it.  Fair enough.  So, he’s going to send a copy of what he put together for his son’s house, so we have an idea of the sort of thing he’s offering, and he’ll figure out a price.  We’ll see if we think it’s worth it.

But all that is a bit ahead of myself.  Yesterday I headed home at lunchtime, the brochure from the council on “Your Character Home” had arrived.  And yes indeed, they are pretty pernickity about what you are and aren’t expected to do.  I also went to the archives to see what they had – very little, as it turns out, but they’d established that it was built in the early 1890s (so at least 10 years older than what we’d thought) at the same time as numbers 28 and 32, by, or for, William Adams, who was basically a property developer.  Unfortunately the original plans weren’t there.

The house is a very interesting shape though, particularly since it would appear to be original, except perhaps for the solid verandah balustrades, which as far as I can tell weren’t the thing at the time.  I’ve Street-viewed a bunch of Wellington’s older streets, and none of the houses have the same shape as our one.  I would think that it had been changed at some point, but it’s got the Italianate arched windows on the top floor, so I doubt there’ve been alterations – it’s intriguing.  At the same time, I have horrible visions of the Historic Places Trust slapping a preservation order on it, given its original condition. 

In the meantime, I’ll work on the assumption that we can look to the other Wright St houses further up the street for inspiration.  It would have been nice to repeat the X balustrade from 28, but we couldn’t do that on the top floor, or the children would climb it and throw themselves off.  Really needs to be dowelling or timber strips, either of which would be period I think, based on Jeremy Salmond’s Old New Zealand Houses, and the aforementioned Wright St houses.

Also went to the council and got the original plan supplied for the Production Village in behind.  Could be better, could be worse.  It does look like he intends to excavate at the back of our section, but not clear.  If he does, we’ll have to be careful of any effect on the stability of the back north face – though I guess if it starts falling down it’ll be up to him to fix rather than us, which wouldn’t be all bad.  Though I’d rather see terraces there than a big giant retaining wall.

Still don’t quite see how the section CAN be 11m wide, but I guess we’ll figure that out.  Even if a metre of it’s at the top of the retaining wall, at least it’s still there!

Oh, and while at the council I also got the drainage plan.  Such excitement!

The negotiations begin.

First:  the agents phoned, wanting early release of the deposit – normally it sits in their trust account for 10 working days first, but 10 working days from today will be bang in the middle of holiday season, and even though the lawyers said they’d be back, they might not be, so did we mind signing off on it to be released now so that it would happen?  I said yes.  It’s to the Public Trust, so there’s a little bit of piece of mind there.

Archives rang.  They can’t find/don’t have the original floor plans for the house, but do have something from the 1930s extension next door, so that’ll be worth a look anyway.  That’s Rachel.  9123101.

Then I had a call from I forget her name in the heritage section of the council, and had the truly awesome experience of trying out TTY text relay for the first time.  It’s a bit unusual – the delays between talking, and having to remember what was said while you reply.  Could get used to it though, and I think just a wonderful example of what humans are capable of thinking of if they put their minds to it.  So, she’s going to send me a brochure on “Your Heritage House” or something similar, and recommended that we talk to them earlier in the design process rather than later, to save ourselves grief later…

As anticipated, it’s entirely our own business what we do to the inside of the house, but they do prefer the frontage to be preserved: if it is altered, we have to consider how it will relate to other houses and the streetscape and so forth.  They also like the basic shape of the building to remain unchanged, which I’d also anticipated. 

So now I’m terribly keen on the idea of three floors: I’m assuming it’s currently got the 3.1m ceilings common to the era (like our current house) – possibly even higher.  So we drop the first floor ceiling down to 2.7m (which my parents have for their living room, so I know I’m comfortable with it), that makes the second floor 0.4m lower than its current height.  Means there’ll be a step up to the front balcony, but I can live with that.  Steps are nice to sit on anyway.  Then we drop the ceiling on the second floor to 2.4m, which makes the attic ceiling 0.7+0.4=1.1m lower than its current height, so should in the middle part at least give enough clearance for a decent sized room or two on the third level.

There’d have to be a bit of architectural jiggery pokery at the front, as the current upper-story windows will be higher than the planned ceiling level on the second floor: my solution is to have the ceiling higher on that second level for the first metre or so back from the front wall – the third floor wouldn’t have good height in that space anyway – to leave the windows intact.  Though the ceiling would need to be lowered a little in that section, because otherwise the front room(s) would have most of their height at 2.4m but that section at 3.5, which I doubt would work aesthetically, quite apart from the fact all the heat would hide up there.

So.  I’m happy with my third floor (I think there’s even potential for a little cut-in west-facing balcony at the back, if I can stand the thought of my children on a balcony 5.7m or so off the ground, and a membrane deck covering – it would be free draining, so should be fine).  And I’m pretty confident that the second floor can be arranged to my satisfaction with four bedrooms, a bathroom, and a walk-in wardrobe and ensuite for the main front bedroom.  The part that’s got me stumped is the ground floor.

The space is, I think, 7m x 12m = 84m2.  In that space I _need_ to have the stairs, the kitchen, a laundry space, and the main living area(s).  I _want_ the kitchen to be a good size, and the laundry to be close to the back, and to have a downstairs toilet.  I’d also really like a space that at some later date, if necessary, could be made a wet-area shower – though I guess if the stairs between first and second floors provide for a future wheelchair lift that may not be necessary. 

 It would also be very good to manage an “in-between” space like we have in the back porch in our current house: it provides a storage space for scooters and outdoor toys.  I guess it would be possible to have it outside instead, but it is handy where it is.

And I’d rather not build further out at the back if I can avoid it: I like garden.  Apart from a garden shed of course – the garages are great, but being at street level they won’t be much help for storing garden tools and lawn mower and other things I don’t want to have to lug up the steps every time I want to potter about in the garden.

Oh, and for my own reference for later, since for now it’s on one of my endless loose pieces of paper on my desk:  Senior Planning Manager at the council is (“code of course, since anyone could read this”) Comet the Wise, ph. 914 9443.  If I want to know what was planned for the site behind, I need to ask the council to see service request# 254205, scan 28/9/17.

Other things I’ve decided today would be preferred:  Cleanaire ventilation (i.e. real HRV, not pretend HRV).  Unit dimensions for the MB600-95 are 560x620x430.  Also, double glazing.  It’s possible to get low-e glass with double glazing if we think it’s necessary.  Concrete slab floor with in-floor heating, probably hot water even though I’m suspicious of the potential for leaks.  Rocwool insulation would appear to be both expensive and unnecessary: Batts are fine.  We’ll want a space for a gas bottle for the kitchen; could it be stored and piped from the garage?  Or would that be dangerous when the car starts?

No lawn in whatever landscaping we plan for the front ‘cos it’d be too much of a hassle negotiating a mower round it. 

Mobility points: handrails both sides of the stairs; wide doorways; provide for future installation of wheelchair lift for stairs (as already mentioned) both inside and outside; provide for future wet-area shower.

I’d like bamboo floors on the upper levels.  If the existing floorboards are still good we could re-use them, but I think I’d rather sell them and have the bamboo because it’s a lighter colour.

If there’s a skylight in the top room it should be a pivoting window so the outside can be cleaned from inside.  Weatherproofing could be a challenge though.

Built-in vacuum cleaner?  Would it work with 3 floors?  If so, I can see the attraction, specially since it would mean not having to lug a cleaner up and down.

Think those are all the notes for today: oh, stairs, for reference: ideal tread depth is probably about 28.75cm; ideal riser height is about 185cm.  Stairs take up a lot of room.

An unexpected acquisition

We have bought another house.  This has been a surprise to everyone, including us.  My office mate said “I didn’t know you were looking”.  I said “nor did we!”.

A lesson indeed to all hardened real-estate voyeurs (what the agents call tyre-kickers…): be careful what you tender, you might win.

So, I have been telling people that we accidentally bought another house – as in, went to an Open Home for fun (hey, I said I was a voyeur), took a tender document out of curiousity, accidentally wrote a number on it, accidentally signed it, and accidentally dropped it in the tender box on the morning in question.

Of course, as with a number of other offers we’ve made, we thought the accidental number was ludicrously low – one of those offers where the agent would open the envelope, look at the price, laugh in derision and fling the papers over their shoulder in the direction of the rubbish bin.  Still, I do like to know one way or t’other, and the day after the tender when I hadn’t heard anything the night before, I phoned the agent.  No, she said, it was being sold by the Public Trust, and they’d be looking at the offers that afternoon.

Back in uncertainty mode, waiting for the phone to ring…

In the evening, still haven’t heard anything, phone the agent, say “can I assume from the fact we haven’t heard that we were out of luck?”  She said, “well, it’s not official, so I can’t say for certain, but you might be pleasantly surprised.” (Shocked giggle-faw from me.)..

So, various other to-ing and fro-ing, and by Friday, to our increasing trepidation, we find that it’s all but a done deal:  just needs to go to the legal department in Lower Hutt, because they NEVER sign ANY contract without the lawyers looking at it first, but basically 99% sold.  Yikes!

I was stressing seriously.  That’s a much larger morgage than I’m used to thinking about, what with owning two houses at once.  “What have we done?!” I asked.  But Husband was said “don’t worry – once The Youngest starts school, he said, we won’t have to pay the nanny, and that’ll cover the mortgage difference. ” and I was reassured.  Husband is good like that.

We went round to see the house again on Saturday – just from the outside, since we don’t officially own it, but it’s empty, so noone’s likely to mind.  Husband looked at me in terror and said “What have we done?!”  I said “don’t worry! We knew we were going to rebuild it from the front back anyway.”  I hope I reassured him as much as he’d reassured me.

In case you couldn’t tell from the previous paragraph, the place is a dive.  A deceseased estate, derelict, a former den of drug-addicts.

Such learning opportunities.  We said to The Oldest “Come see this, darling, and if you ever find one, it’s very dangerous, and don’t touch it, but come and get Mummy or Daddy at once.  It’s called a syringe.  Have you heard of drugs?  Like “heroin”, or “marijuana”? “No.” Well, they’re very bad for you, and if you see one of these with a needle on the end (no needle on this one, fortunately) and it pricks you it could have bad blood on it and make you very sick and die.”

“Oh, okay.  Can I climb this tree?”…

On Sunday, my Mum rang.  She said she’d walked past, and “it’s even more yummy than I remember it.”  Husband said “if your mother likes it, we know we’re in trouble.”

That’ll do for today.  Must get on with the previous project, which isn’t technically finished yet, and really should be before I embark on this one.

Met the nice Young Doctors next door, who were very happy it’d been bought by a family, not a developer.


Short update.

The council Archives office rang.  They can’t find the original plans, just the 1955 garage plan, and the 1963 repiling details.  I suggested if they couldn’t find ours, they try finding the plans for next door, since they were probably they same.  They’ll get back to me tomorrow.


Further updates…

So yup, Public Trust have signed off, so as of 21 January 2009 it’ll be ours.  I texted Husband to let him know.  His reply was “Aaaah!”  But it’s alright, really.  I think.  I have sent an email to an Academic Architect, to see if he’s interested.  I rang Building Consents at the council.  They didn’t know much about the over-the-back development, only that something new had been sent in in the last month.  They said building consents were taking about 20 working days, which is not so bad, but that it was best to get resource consent first – you can apply for both at the same time, but if you do, and you don’t get the resource consent, the building consent’s no use anyway.

Didn’t get to talk to the Consents person.  She was a Senior Planning Manager, so likely to be Busy.

Also wrote to the chair of “Friends of Wright St” to ask to be put on the list for meetings.  And left a message with a heritage person asking for any general brochures etc.  I noticed that if you have to apply for resource consent because of heritage rules, you can apply to have the fee waived.  So that’ll be worth a crack.

Now, back to the thesis.  Really.