Monday, June 14, 2010

Monday: the Day We Sell the House

 Greta and I hop on the train in Essex Junction at 9am sharp, and enjoy a leisurely 11 hr train ride to New Jersey. Erik is in Thetford, VT, about 20 minutes from our house, and finishes returns to the house to finish some last minute straightening up.  The closing is scheduled for 11am. I’ve already signed Power of Attorney papers—oh yeah—did that on Friday along with the other important errands.

Around 9:30am, I get a phone call from Rowan, our realtor, saying that the money wire hasn’t gone through, and they want to delay the closing until 1pm. Erik has a 6 hr drive to make to NJ, and now needs to make a detour into Queens, in order to pick me up in Trenton by 8pm.

About an hour later, Erik calls me with the following news items
·      The closing has been postponed until 1pm, but that’s ok
·      Uncle Tom, in Princeton, will pick me and Greta up in Trenton
·      He needs the extra time because the ammonia filled ziploc bag we were using to clean the stove-top thingies leaked on our butcher block table, and so the table top needed some sanding and possibly refinishing
·      The upstairs toilet had a leaky pipe, which leaked into the downstairs bathroom ceiling, requiring the ceiling to be opened up, and the toilet attended to by a plumber!
·      He would be meeting me in at the WRJ train station in 20 minutes with a car seat so Greta could safely ride with Uncle Tom.
·      He needed the extra time to pack, since we had so much crap to bring to Queens and then to MN, that fitting it all into the Subaru was going to require some very creative packing.

In the end, the closing goes down without a hitch, although our buyer is very nervous about the toilet leaking. Our realtor deposits our check, which essentially bounces a few days later, because the issuing bank required both mine and Erik’s signatures, and only had Erik’s. It is being mailed to us—to our PO Box in Wilder—meaning it will then get forwarded to us in Minnesota, but we have yet to see it.

Erik makes it through Queens and to the warehouse, drops off our multitude of treasures, and continues on to New Jersey. But not until he crosses the George Washington Bridge into NJ, misses the exit off the bridge, decides the best option is to cross back into NYC to take the bridge out of the city a second time, this time knowing when and where the exit is. Turns out, it is free to leave NYC on the GWB, but it costs you $8 to return back into the city.

He arrives in Princeton around 11:30pm, where Greta and I landed in a hotel room about 2 hrs earlier. Tika is relieved to be reunited with her whole family, as are we.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Morning After: the internet saves the day

 The night of the move, I slept so poorly. I tossed and turned, worrying about all the stuff left behind and how this was all going to it into a 2 bedroom house with no storage, uncomfortable on the rock-hard guest bed, Tika pacing nervously around the bedroom, and then Greta woke at about 1am, and was awake—tearful and clingy—for nearly 2 hrs.

We brought her to daycare for one last day that Friday morning, nearly breaking my heart on the way imploring, “I want to go hooooome, Mama. I want go to hooome!” Tika was still rather anxious and clingy herself, and we brought her along with us to the house.  Our goal was this: it’s Friday—we have one day to clean this house with no child underfoot. We want to be in Burlington by the evening to spend Saturday and Sunday with friends, because by Monday at 10am, we will be closing on the house.

Erik jumped into the cleaning and organizing of the leftovers, and I ran a few last minute errands around the Upper Valley. You know, important stuff like depositing $1.63 in pennies into our bank account, and getting that $3 dividend from selling Greta’s baby bathtub on consignment. And about $25 of consignment money from the Pink Alligator. That was actually worth it.

Back at the house, I take in all that was left behind by our Professional International Movers in their rush to get the hell out of Vermont:  two large, framed posters, all our laundry supplies, a large solid butcher block cutting board, our tea kettle—sitting on the stovetop, my Cookie Monster cookie jar, 4 nested ceramic bowls, the entire contents of our spice rack, numerous cooking/baking supplies, curtains in the kitchen (OK, not so obvious), our shower curtain, my yoga mat in my handknit yoga bag, formal dresses hanging in a dry-cleaning bag behind a door, and several jars of jams and local maple syrup (very important to us “Vermonters”). Basically—LOTS of stuff that was important to us!  I was so furious. That is not to mention the mess that the movers left behind—empty rolls of packing tape and packing paper and packing materials—stuff that our contract said would be cleaned up when they left.

And then there’s the stuff that we made split-second, last minute decisions NOT to move, and now had to find homes for: namely a double mattress/box spring set, and a small kitchen table/desk, and numerous yard tools.

We post the mattress on Craig’s List (it’s worked so well thus far) stating it was rarely used (from our guest room), great condition, must pick up TODAY and was Best Offer. By the afternoon, a woman from Portsmouth (2 hrs away) takes it for $75, along with an additional $20 for the table, which she didn’t even know she needed.

Our day is looking up.

Earlier in the day, Erik and I were looking at the piles of garbage cans and bags that were going to require us driving to the dump (we do not have city garbage service in Wilder), using up at least 30 minutes our of our precious cleaning time. But, as we take in that sight, I spot a privately owned dump truck pull into our neighbor’s driveway across the street to pick up his garbage. Hmmmmm. Erik runs across the street, asks the man if he’d mind making a few bucks off of our garbage, and $6 later, we’re free of our pile and with 30 extra minutes on our hands.  

Again: our day is looking up.

As Erik posted our mattress to Craig’s List, he quickly browses the Norwegian website for all homes for rent or sale. He discovers that a beautiful 4-bedroom house (for rent) that we had considered but decided was too expensive had dropped its rent into our price range. Or at least into our price range of what the 2-bedroom rental plus a storage facility that we were realizing we would need would cost us.  We decide on the spot that we need to back out of our other rental agreement (verbal only, no papers signed, no monies exchanged) and rent this house. Erik immediately does a Skype phone call to Thorstein, the owner, and within 10 minutes, we have agreed to rent his home, available August 1.  Our day is sooooo looking up.

In our final coup, as Erik and I discussed how to best handle our complaint and concerns with our moving coordinator, Joy (do I take a bitchy angry approach, or a sugary sweet approach, and who places the call?), Joy herself calls us! Taking me a bit off guard, I’m able to just lay it all out very honestly—our disappointment in how the job ended, the rush at their “end of the day”, the numerous items that were left behind, and the lack of any walk-through for us to agree that “yes, in fact, you have everything”. 

Joy was very apologetic, and also disappointed in her “favorite crew”. She pledged to only charge us half of the extra cubic footage (which ehhh, I’m still not sure if that’s entirely fair)—although this is something that she put out there even before she heard what happened as the crew left. But we also agreed that Erik would drive the remaining items bound for Norway down to their warehouse in the Bronx, NY on his way to Princeton NJ on Monday, and they would be included in our shipment at no extra charge. 

Again, our day is looking way way up.

I’ll stop there, for Friday. We get the house within an hour or two of being clean, rescue Greta from daycare at 5pm sharp, and hit the road for Burlington (Tika being left behind at The Ranch, aka doggie daycare, for the weekend). We have a relaxing weekend with Scott, Artemis and 18 month-old Antigone, and I decide that Greta and I will stay an additional night and instead catch the train from Burlington on Monday morning at 9am, instead of driving back to the Upper Valley Sunday night, only to catch an 11am train in White River. 

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Wednesday: The Day Before the Movers Come

Since we had hired professional movers to not only move us, but also to pack us, very little was required of us in terms of packing ahead of time. However, we were warned by friends who have “been moved” to be very aware of what’s packed—because everything will be packed, including your packed bag for vacation, or your car keys for your car, or the dirty Kleenex  in your garbage can. We took every picture off the wall, placed them in one location, emptied drawers of stuff, gathered breakables in one location, gave away contents of our refrigerator, did loads of laundry, emptied the attic of junk, taking many trips to Listen, our local Salvation Army, moved several piles of stuff into the basement, which we dubbed “the  sanctuary” because anything in the basement was off-limits to the movers, and would be brought to Minnesota. We packed our bags for the next 6-8 weeks, and I did what seemed like a very important task—refilling every somewhat empty spice container with the bulk spices from the co-op.

The great stress of the day occurred when Joy, our moving coordinator from the moving company, called around 1pm to remind us about paying the bill tomorrow. Oh yeah, that minor detail. Crap. Honestly, that was kind of something we had forgotten about: That minor $12,000 bill. The move was going to be paid for by Erik’s company, NINA, but I wasn’t part of those discussions, and it seemed that the payment was likely going to come in the for of reimbursement. I was informed that we could pay via personal check, bank wire, money order/transfer, but not credit card.

Well, this might require some major shuffling, and a quick call to ING (our online banking) informed me that if I set up a checking account with them—right then and there—and applied for the money order before 2pm, then they could have the money to the movers by the next day. This was at 1:40pm. I had 20 minutes. And that would only be half the money we needed, the other half being in other accounts.

I am freaking out.  In walks Erik, fresh from his last moments in the woodshop finishing up a very last minute project. Not a good combination.

Cooler heads prevail, phone calls are placed, and we are loaned the money from a generous family member, who will be reimbursed by NINA, of course. Maybe in the form of plane tickets to Norway, totaling $12,000, but still paid back nonetheless. Only kidding.

Minor crisis adverted, but I am still irked that we weren’t reminded a little sooner than 18 hours before the movers come just how much money they are expecting in their hands. I’m also remembering reading something, somewhere about tipping the movers—how much is customary, etc. I remind myself to look this up. Care to guess? $6-8/hr per mover! The movers call that afternoon, and tell me they expect 4-6 guys to come, to arrive between 8 and 10am and to pack for “a full day”. “What does this mean exactly?” I ask. The response was, “If we arrive around 9, probably until 6 or 7”. That’s a long day, and a big tip.  I continue to remind myself, “it’s just money, it’s just money”.

            I add, “go to the bank for cash” to my Thursday To-Do list.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Great Honda Civic Hybrid Escapade

While the selling of our Civic Hybrid initially brought great relief in last our week in Vermont, you will eventually see how it eventually played a big role in the craziness of the move.

16 months ago, we bought a 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid for $11,000. It was a nice little tan car, getting about 45MPG, with tinted windows that we found especially helpful when driving with a young tot in the back seat. We bought it rather impulsively, when Erik’s 1993 Accord died a deserved death with 250+K miles on it. We thought “we like Hondas, we are environmentalists, we will buy a hybrid”. A quick search on Craig’s List found one for sale in Burlington, and off we went.

16 months later, we need to unload two cars as we head to Norway. Norway has incredible import taxes on cars: 105% of the value of the car. Neither one of our cars, the hybrid, nor our 1999 Subaru Forester are worth that. We’ll buy a new (ish) one in Norway. Additionally, we have a large (ish) dog: 80lbs of Weimaraner/Lab muscle who requires special space in our vehicle. The Honda won’t cut it, and the Subaru is too old.

 So, we’ll sell the Honda, and drive the Subaru to Minnesota for our month long stateside furlough, with the dog riding shotgun (the rest of the car filled with possessions that will be filling my in-laws last remaining corner in the basement).

As I said, 16 months later, in May 2010, our 2003 Hybrid is now worth $8500, or so says the Blue Book. We think we have two potential buyers—one Dartmouth med student, who backs out when she finds out on an Internet search that 2003 Honda Hybrids have transmission problems. We haven’t had any transmission problems, so we aren’t too worried.  In preparation for our second potential buyer—one of Erik’s fellow ecology grad students—we take the Honda to the dealer to run a 40-point inspection to prove it is a solid car. The report comes back with it passing 39 points, but the 40th is that it needs the start up clutch re-burnished. Our second buyer looks through our records (something we haven’t exactly had time to do) and points out that this procedure was actually done back in August, 2009. 

A quick call to Honda tells us that if you’ve already reburnished the clutch once, that the next step is to actually . . . replace the transmission. And a new transmission will cost us  . . . . $4900. Keep in mind our car is worth only $8500.

Our second buyer backs out, not to our surprise. We are beginning to freak out—with our movers arriving in approximately a week—and consider the possibilities of parking our Lemon in our friend’s driveways, having them sell it, donating it to charity, or perhaps staging a major accident. Has anyone ever prayed that their car just get totaled?

Instead, on a Saturday morning we list it on Craig’s List for $3500—5K off our original asking price—and clearly state that the car “needs transmission work”, with every intent that we will explain the necessary work over the phone once the potential buyer has been intrigued enough to call.  Within 30 minutes of placing the online ad, Leon, a Russian from Albany NY (3 hrs away) calls me, begging me not to sell it to anyone else. His other car was totaled, he needs a car for work, he has cash, he will come that DAY and buy it. We get at least 3 other phone calls with the HOUR, and several emails, and Leon calls at least a half-dozen times to confirm that we have not sold it, and are holding it for him.  I am VERY clear with Leon that this car will eventually need $5000 worth of work done to it, but yes, the car does seem to run just fine now.

 While I was not privy to the actual interaction or transaction between Erik and Leon the Russian, a quick peak out the window as I put Greta down to bed at 7:30pm confirms most of what Erik and our friend Chad reported. Leon and his Russian-only speaking friend arrive, resplendent in very Eastern Bloc style dress, converse quickly in Russian, turn the car on, lift the hood, but do not test drive it. They give Erik $3500 in cash (Erik checks each bill for a watermark secretly in the house before handing over the title), and they sign a Bill of Sale provided by the Vermont DMV website, including a mileage statement.  A bit of foreshadowing: Leon elects not to sign the title when we give it to him, stating he might have his wife sign it instead. Doesn’t seem like a big deal to us, but whatever . . . . We wonder out loud what kind of shady deal this car is going to be a part of in the future, but for now it’s sold, and we have bigger things to worry about and at least $3500 in our pocket.