Appraisal, Part Two

Well after going back and fore several times with the owner of the house, we have all agreed on the final terms and signed the required contracts to purchase. All of the paperwork will be delivered to the mortgage company on Monday or Tuesday, at which time the FHA appraisal will be ordered. It already seems like we have come very far in this process, but we are acutely aware that had the last appraisal been done correctly we would already have been in our new home for almost a month now.

So we are back into waiting mode, hoping that everything goes well. If it does, we will close on our new home the end of July, just a little over 4 weeks from now. If it doesn’t, we will either close the end of August with a different mortgage company (non-FHA), or will be stuck in our rented duplex until the spring. We don’t even want to think about that right now. So we will just wait and see what happens, and try not to get our hopes up just yet. I did instruct the mortgage company that I absolutely will not pay for an appraisal done by Lynette Richter.

Though we are trying to keep emotion out of this right now, we did hit Menards this afternoon and looked at ceiling fans, cabinet hardware, pre-hung door frames, paint, and other stuff we will hopefully need to purchase very soon. Keeping our fingers crossed….

Counter the Counter and Aerobatics Part 4

As expected, the lady that owns the home we made the offer on has countered our offer. It seems we are not that far apart, but we did submit a counter to her counter. I guess this can go on forever 🙂 One of the things she requested was some information about our family. Seems she is careful about who she sells the house too, and this is something that I actually like and welcome. I wrote her a nice letter to introduce her to our family, and also extended an invitation for her to visit the home once we get settled in. I realize that she has many memories here, and would welcome her visit if she cares to come back from time to time to visit those memories. I also enjoy talking to older people, so that would be fun.

We should find out this evening if she is planning to accept our counter offer, and are of course hoping that she does. I am not looking forward to the appraisal, since this is what killed the last deal, but I know it has to be done.

I did fly my 4th aerobatic lesson yesterday over my lunch break. Mike and I did 4 or 5 aileron rolls to warm up, followed by 4 loops, and 2 spins. Mike was right, I am building up a tolerance quickly to aerobatics, I did not even feel slightly sick following these maneuvers. I flew the plane quite well and Mike was very happy with my performance. I almost messed up one of the loops by letting the back pressure on the yoke go a bit early, which almost resulted in a tail slide, but I was able to correct that.

I had not done a spin since the late 80’s, so I told Mike I wanted to spin it, and without any coaching from him. I wanted to see if I still remembered how to get out of a spin. I did, too well. The first spin I let loose of the yoke too early and broke the spin before we completed 1/4 turn. That was bad, so I went for another. This time I let the spin fully develop and we completed 1 rotation before I broke it, only about 15 degrees off from my chosen heading. Not bad.

We had a very fun flight and these maneuvers are not scaring me at all any longer, they are just plain fun. Possibly the lack of fear is also making my stomach handle the flights a bit better as well. Now don’t think for a second that my lack of fear means lack of respect or complacency, far from it. I am just feeling more and more comfortable flying like this, which makes it even more enjoyable.

My approach was high and my landing long, the only thing I guess I can ding myself on yesterday. But the landing was soft and good. I told Mike that it reminds me of my instrument training. You work so hard in a short period of time that you are mentally, and somewhat physically, tired when it comes time to land. This was my first bad approach in a while, so maybe it was just a fluke. I will hold myself to my normal tolerances next time. Mike is a stickler for good approaches and landings, he literally wrote books on the subject, so I do appreciate his input in correcting any bad habits I have picked up over the years.

Making Another Offer

As expected, the first home we looked at yesterday was our favorite, so we have decided to make an offer on it. Our Realtor was going to write it up yesterday and will bring it over later today for us to sign. The sellers will then have until Tuesday to accept or counter the offer, and we expect a counter.

We looked at two other houses as well. The house on Martin Street we ruled out because it did not have air conditioning, and would need a lot of updating and other work. It did have an excellent hot tub room, but that could not make up for the other many shortcomings.

A rebuilt home on the corner of Church and Brewery was very cool. It had a ton of woodwork and, at least to me, felt like a very large cabin style home. I loved the house since I am always partial to a lot of woodwork, but the location is terrible. It almost touches the house next door and has a horrible yard. In addition, when they rebuilt the home, they kept the original stone basement and added a crawl-space under the new addition. This means the basement is like a dungeon and has no usable area at all.

As for the home we are making an offer on. It does need some updating because it is owned by an older lady that has lived there since the house was built in 1992. There is some wallpaper that must come down, but not too much. We will have some substantial painting to do, both interior and on the rear sundeck, but the deck is a major selling point, very nice. The carpet is in good condition and the kitchen will only require removal of a hideous stove exhaust system and updated hardware for the cabinets. All walls are basic white and without crown molding, so a few dollars and a few weekends of work will totally overhaul the upstairs and make it very nice. I would also replace all of the overhead light fixtures with ceiling fans in all bedrooms, something I have a ton of experience doing.

The basement is about 1/3 finished, which is perfect for me. The part that is finished was done very well and creates a large family and game room, with a 1/2 bathroom. When I walked into the unfinished section is when I fell in love with the house.

There is probably 800-900 square feet that is studded in and insulated already, all exterior walls. An additional 150 or so square feet is provided as a cold storage room, with built in shelves. In the main basement there are beefy hand-made shelves along an entire wall, and a great space to build in. I will be able to add a workshop and office for me, as well as another play/family area. Another bedroom, or one shared with my office, would also be quite easy to build.

Having the exterior walls studded and insulated will save me a lot of money when I finish the basement, which would be right after the closing (at least my office). I haven’t yet drawn up my plans for how to finish it, but just guessing I would need about 75 2×4″, 20-30 sheets of drywall, 3-4 interior doors, electrical wire and outlets, tape and mud, trim, paint and misc. hardware. Carpet will likely be the most expensive single item, so will probably wait just a little while.

Even though I am just dreaming at this point, we are hopeful that we will have an accepted offer and a closing date set by the end of this week. Then we will sweat yet another appraisal. I have already told the mortgage companies that I will not pay for an appraisal done by Landsafe and/or Lynette Richter, because they totally suck. See the previous home offer for more information on Landsafe and Lynette Richter.

More House Shopping

After a couple of months off from house shopping, we are back at it this morning. I was able to get us pre-approved for a new mortgage, possibly two, this week. The best one may be through Jules Stewart at iFreedom Direct, but it also looks like our local State Bank of Cross Plains may have a good one too.

The problem is there are not many homes we like for sale in Cross Plains right now, and we are limiting our search to the village, or at least the township, so that the kids will not have to change schools. Did I mention that we love Cross Plains? 🙂 There is one home that seems nice and we are going to look at it this morning. It is on Thinnes Street, just a couple of blocks from my ex-wife (our only nearby babysitter), which of course means my daughters.

We are looking at homes considerably less expensive than before, about $50-60k less in fact. I am hoping that the lower priced homes will have an easier time appraising, and if not, that the owners, who are typically older, may be able to make up any shortcomings in a low appraisal. The home this morning is on the market for $234,500, and has been on the market a little over a month.

There are 3 other possibilities as well, but this home is our favorite so we are going to look at it first. Our lease has expired, but the landlords are allowing us to stay here month-to-month. But that is only until the end of August, so we either have to buy a home by then, or sign a new lease that will take us into at least spring of 2009, something we are trying hard to avoid.

Officially Addicted

I was warned, by my aerobatic flight instructor Mike Love, that once I started learning aerobatics I would be addicted. I am. I had my third aerobatic lesson today, and added the barrel roll to my fledgling aerobatic arsenal of aileron rolls and loops. I pretty much have aileron rolls down to a science, and they are the most fun for me to perform. I still get a bit sick each time I go out for a lesson, but it is getting less and less each time.

The last two lessons I took Dramamine, which may have helped just a little bit. But from my SCUBA diving experience I know that TripTone works well for me, as I also get sea sick quite easily. I could not find it locally, but Walgreens ordered me two boxes today, so I will have them for my lesson next week.

Nobody in my family wants to know when I am flying aerobatics, so I tell them after I am done. I am looking forward to being able to practice solo in the near future, but will have to purchase my own parachute. Legally, a parachute is not required when doing aerobatics solo, but I sure like the peace of mind it provides, even if a somewhat false sense of security. The rental units are “seat” type parachutes, which means there is about 2″ of padding on your butt. This is just enough that my long legs cannot comfortably fit under the instrument panel, making the use of the brakes on the ground quite difficult. Mike handles this for my comfort, but I am looking for a used emergency parachute that is of the backpack variety, without the part that goes under your butt. Mike won’t be there to handle the brakes for me when I am solo!

I am also discovering a newly re-found love of the Cessna 152. It is small and uncomfortable for someone my size (6’5″), but it sure is fun! I usually fly 172’s, which are fun and easy, but the 152 is a wonderful little airplane. Especially the Aerobat, pictured above. It has minimal instruments and no gyro’s, very different from the planes I normally fly, which are decked out for full IFR flight. Getting in and out of the 152 is a challenge, especially with the parachute, but it sure is a blast to fly. I had almost forgotten how great these little airplanes are!

So when I win that lottery, I will of course still purchase a twin-engine Beech Baron, but I will also pick up a Cessna 152 Aerobat. These ugly old birds just put a smile on your face so fast I just won’t be able to resist having one in my hanger.

Windows Vista Sucks Less

I have been very critical over the last couple of years of Microsoft Windows Vista. It took them 5 years to get XP really ironed out into a nice operating system, just to kill it with Vista. My first several experiences with Vista lasted a few weeks each, before reformatting my hard drive and reinstalling XP in disgust. Vista was slow, everything was in a different place, and finding stuff even for an experienced computer user was frustrating. Video drivers were bad, printer drivers impossible to find, and most of my software, even from Microsoft, either did not work on Vista or had some other “issues”. I short, Vista was a piece of shit.

When I started working for last September, Vista was thrust upon me. At least during my working hours (which is most of the time) I used Vista Business on a decked out MacBook Pro. I appreciate the irony in the fact that the best notebook computer to run Vista is a Mac, and to my surprise, Vista runs pretty darn good on it! Not as fast as XP, but it was prettier and usable. Had this been my personal computer, I would have installed XP, but since I had to use Vista, well, I had to use Vista.

I’m not sure at what point I really started liking Vista, but I did. Several months ago, just for giggles, I installed Vista Ultimate on my home server. I wanted to test out Windows Media Center as a possible replacement for Beyond TV, software I use like a TiVO to record television shows on the computer and then send them to my TV to be watched later.

I drank the Kool-Aid, I was hooked. Media Center totally and completely rocks! Within a week I had configured my entire home network around the Vista “server” machine, bought an XBox 360 to act as a Media Center Extender (and a damn good Grand Theft Auto 4 and Rock Band engine), and finally bought my first LCD HDTV, a 40″ Toshiba Regza to connect to the XBox via a HDMI cable. Everything is working great, something I will blog about later. The entire setup is quite impressive really, though a bit on the complicated side for my non-geek family members.

So what prompted my complete 180 on Vista? Hardware, lots and lots of expensive, cutting edge computer hardware. When Vista came out, the hardware to run it on was just making its way to market. My personal computer was a 3.0gz Pentium 4 with Hyper-Threading, 2GB of RAM, ATI 9200 video card, and several IDE hard drives. XP ran great on this setup. Vista ran “ok”, but nothing to write home about, in fact, I had to upgrade the video card to an ATI X700 to make Vista usable at all.

With some changes, this computer is now my home Vista “server”. The CPU is the same, but the memory was upgraded to 3GB (I could add one more gig if I want to), the slow IDE hard drives are now used for hosting the operating system and backup purposes only, a 320GB Seagate SATA drive holds my important data, and another 500GB Seagate SATA drive is used for the television shows that are recorded by Media Center and the Windows swap file. Since this is a “server” I turn off all the “rouge and lipstick”, read Aero, and disabled all services (a bunch) that I don’t use. Configuring Vista is still a bitch, there are tweaks and settings hidden everywhere, but a careful and slow audit of everything in the GUI allows me to run Vista on this machine quite well, as a server. I don’t think I would want to actually sit in front of it and use it, but as a server it is performing great.

Now if you think this server is just for Media Center, you would be waaaaaaay wrong. This computer does Media Center, runs the WebGuide software that allows access to Media Center from a web browser, hosts my Subversion version control server for my source code, for automated software builds and integration testing, contains all of our family’s important files, performs backups, and here’s the kicker… It runs Yep, this machine also hosts a VMWare Server installation of Windows Server 2003 that runs Internet Information Server 6.0, SQL Server 2005, our eMail server, and SPAM filtering software. This old Pentium 4 is REALLY earning its keep!

The average CPU load runs about 2-40%, and will occasionally hit 80-90% when a lot is going on, and memory usage runs about 65% on average. One trick to this is my use of Hauppage PVR-150 video capture cards for the Media Center. These cards do all of the video capture encoding on their hardware, and do not tax the CPU for these tasks. If they did not, this setup would not be possible.

Well Missy just got home, and for the first time in MONTHS, we are going to have a date without kids. That new Adam Sandler (Zohan) movie BETTER BE GOOD! 🙂

Flying to Appleton

Today Missy, Halle, Haley and I flew Cessna 172 N75706 from Middleton to Appleton, Wisconsin. Last week I bought an older Lowrance AirMap 300 handheld GPS (to use as a backup) off eBay and wanted to test it out. The flight was originally going to happen yesterday, but it was very windy so I moved the flight to today, and that was a good decision.

I had not done a cross-country flight in a while, so I sort of obsessed over the planning the last few days, checking and double-checking all of my calculations and notes. Normally I am not this meticulous (anal), but considering almost my entire family was in this plane (only Delaney was missing) I wanted to make sure everything went perfect, even though the entire flight was less than 100 miles each way. My biggest concern was not busting any controlled airspace in Madison, Oshkosh and Appleton.

Doing something that I have not done since my private pilot check-ride in 1989, but something I should always do, I filed VFR (Visual Flight Rules) flight plans with the FAA. This is optional for VFR flights, but is a free insurance policy. Basically if you don’t show up at your destination within 30 minutes of when you say you will be there, the FAA starts looking for you. It’s a good idea to file, and only takes a couple of minutes.

I got up a little earlier in the morning and took my first weather observation, I looked out the window of my bedroom. Finding the skies critically clear with calm winds, I logged onto the AOPA Flight Planner and recalled my previously planned route, which took us from Middleton to Madison to Oshkosh to Appleton. I requested weather information, which showed forecast surface winds out of the west at 5-15 knots and winds aloft at 6000′ out of the northwest at 22 knots, indicating we would have a crosswind on both legs of the flight, slowing us down a little in both directions. Winds at 3000′ were lighter, but I did not want to fly that low, I had filed for 5500′. I left for the airport a little after 9AM, Missy would bring the kids about 10:30 or so.

I hung out at the airport just talking to Rich Morey for a while and watching the other planes practice in the calm morning air. An old Pietenpol open-cockpit plane was taxiing out on the grass runway when I pulled in and I watched him take off. That would be fun! I was quietly trying to persuade Rich to sell the 152 Aerobat and buy a Super Decathlon. He is trying to sell one of the 172’s to buy a Super Cub, which would be great, but I told him I thought the best thing would be to sell a 172 and the Aerobat, then buy the Super Decathlon. He would get a great aerobatic plane and a tail-dragger all in the same plane. I doubt he will do it, but I could see the gears turning in his head 🙂

A little after 10AM, the girl that was practicing in my plane landed and I asked the lineman to top off the fuel, taking much more than we actually needed. We could have flown to and from Appleton about 3 times with that much fuel, but it’s one of those things that I would rather have in the wings than on the ground. I did a thorough preflight inspection and got the plane set up for our flight, which included borrowing 3 extra headsets from Rich for the family. I mounted my new GPS and called up the flight plan on it. I found the previous pilots digital camera on the floor and took it back to Rich to return to her. About 10:45 the girls showed up, everything was looking good.

I pulled the girls into the pilot lounge for a last minute briefing. We covered my rules of no talking below 1000′ and to always listen when air traffic control says “Cessna 706…” and shut up immediately, don’t even finish your sentence. And the second to last rule, when my hand goes up, the mouth goes shut. The final rule of course is to have fun and enjoy the flight. We climbed in the plane and took off about 15 minutes late, about 11:15AM.

Initially climbing west, away from Madison’s airspace and towards Cross Plains, I opened my flight plan with Green Bay Flight Service and showed the girls Cross Plains. I contacted Madison Approach Control before climbing through their airspace up to 5500′. We had a great view of Madison, Lake Mendota and the Madison airport, which we flew directly over. As we were flying over, a RegionalJet was taking off directly below us, that was cool to watch. The air traffic controllers were pretty busy this morning, but there was no traffic near us, and after crossing Madison we turned directly on course, V341 to Oshkosh.

About 35 northeast of Madison, air traffic control told us to contact Milwaukee Approach control on 127.0. This caught me by surprise, I was expecting Chicago Center on 133.3. I asked the controller to repeat that was for us, and she said yes, Milwaukee would take us from here. So I called up Milwaukee and they provided VFR flight following until we were a few miles north of Oshkosh, and only about 13 south of Appleton. I didn’t know their RADAR reached that far, but apparently it does!

The flight was perfect, the air was calm and there were no advisories for other aircraft that came our way, the skies were nearly empty. Quite a surprise to me considering how good the flying conditions were. The only advisories were about parachute jumpers near Fond Du Lac and Fort Atkinson, a long way from us. We started our decent about 5 miles north of Oshkosh, with 13 miles to go.

I contacted Appleton tower and told them we were 13 miles south and had the runway in sight. He told me to expect runway 21 and winds were calm, so I planned to keep flying my present course, go past the airport, and then turn around and land on runway 21. About a mile or less from the airport and still at 2500′ the controller asked me if I could land on runway 29. It was quite literally right in front of me, just a 90 degree left turn, but I was high. I should have said no, but I said yes, chopped the power and dropped the flaps.

I could not get the speed down quick enough and was doing about 75 knots (65 is perfect) over the numbers, meaning the flare would be long, and it was. It took a long time to bleed off the extra airspeed. The gentle “porpoising” of the plane to kill airspeed did not bother me, but I was not thinking about Missy. She did not like it at all, so I will keep that in mind next time, and either turn down an approach like that, or make the final approach longer. A stable approach not only makes for good landings, but makes your non-pilot passengers feel better. The landing itself was fine, but the winds were not calm as the controller stated, they were shifty, from all directions, about 5 knots. On landing they were from the left.

I was in the middle of telling the controller I was going to taxi to MaxAir and did not know where it was when I saw it, right next to the airline terminal, which was right next to our plane. He told me to make a “half-turn on taxiway Bravo”, and voila, we were there. Taxiing in, MaxAir had a lineman providing directions and wheel chocks. Very professional, and much appreciated. We could see Paul, Heidi, Natalie, Will and Joel waving to us through the window at MaxAir. I parked the plane and shut it down, telling the lineman we did not need fuel, just needed to borrow some tarmac space for a while.

We were greeted by the entire Heuring family, and they told us that another plane had landed just before us. Thinking it was us, they gave them the same welcome! 🙂 After a short break, I climbed back in the plane with Paul, Will, and Joel for a scenic flight around Appleton. All the other girls left with Heidi to go to their home. Will and Joel had never flown before, in any plane, so this was really a first for them. I told the controller our intentions and we taxied back to runway 29 for takeoff.

We had a real nice scenic fl

ight. After taking off we headed east about 10 miles at 2500′ (1600′ above the ground) which took us over the city of Appleton. We turned south towards Lake Winnebago, and then west towards the airport while skirting the very northern edge of the lake. The visibility was literally 80 miles or more, terrific, and only a couple of small bumps along the way. We landed back on runway 29 and headed for their home. The boys loved it, they talked about the flight the rest of the day.

Paul grilled brats and hot dogs while Heidi worked on the side dishes in the kitchen. We had a real nice visit and a great lunch. The kids played in the backyard and we finally got to meet the nearly-famous dogs, they were real cool. I hung out with Paul on the back porch while he was grilling, noticing the cumulus clouds that were now starting to form in the otherwise blue skies. This is a warning to pilots, so I kept and eye on the sky the rest of the afternoon.

I knew we were not going to make our 3PM departure, so I called Flight Service on the phone and pushed it back to 3:30 and also got an update on weather conditions in Madison. 4500′ scattered cumulus, light winds out of the west, good flying reported, pretty much exactly what the weather in Appleton was. We finished our (late) lunch and headed back to the airport to come home.

I warned everyone we would likely encounter light turbulence until we were about 1/2 way to Madison. I was half-right, we did encounter light turbulence, but it did not end until our wheels hit the runway in Middleton 🙂 The route home was the reverse of the arrival, and was uneventful.

Well there was one small event, Haley’s lunch paid us a return visit. This was only her 2nd flight in a small plane, and apparently the hot dog and Kool-Aid she had for lunch’s first airplane ride. She said she was going to throw up and I told them to look for Sick Sacks in the panel behind my seat. There were none. Damn, I knew I should have included that in my preflight check! Missy had a cheap WalMart jacket that had to take one for the team. So Bug emptied her stomach and then to everyone’s relief, fell asleep. Poor Halle had to deal with the vomit jacket the rest of the trip, but she pulled through for us!

The landing at home was good, and everyone was glad that leg of the flight was over, including me. We all had a great time. A wonderful flight up to Appleton, a great scenic flight with the boys, a perfect Wisconsin lunch, and terrific people to spend the afternoon with. The return flight could have been better if we had some calmer air, but it was safe, and we all made it back just a little tired but happy after having such a nice day.

The old $65 eBay purchased Lowrance AirMap 300 GPS also worked flawlessly and was a joy to use. It is simple and provides just the right amount of information. I cannot for the life of me figure out why they make panel mount GPS’s so damn complicated, and they do. The way I see it, I am a pilot and computer programmer, and if I cannot figure out the panel mount GPS then they have designed it wrong. This plane has a multi-thousand dollar Garmin 530 mounted in the instrument panel. I used it for the communications (radio) and VOR tracking, but did not touch the GPS navigation part of it. Too many dials, buttons, screens, settings, etc. I need to look outside the plane (or at the other instruments), not at this screen for 5 minutes trying to get it to do something. The $65, 8 year old, handheld GPS worked flawlessly.