Valuations Update

So, I got an email this morning telling me that the Appraisal District had a counter-offer for my appraisal. It’s over three grand less than the original – so, not as much as I had asked, but a small victory over the government.

I accepted it so I don’t have to go meet the three old men that own the tax calculations and appraisals in person.

I consider this a victory for the little guy. I’d like to thank my Dad for telling me his protest story or I never would have tried it.

On the other hand, I live in one of the lower-value houses in the cul-de-sac. My neighbors may look down on me now. I’ll get over it.

Protest works. We should protest more.

Valuations

An interesting annual chore for a homeowner is reviewing the appraisal district’s valuation of your home. You would like a home to be worth a lot of money, so if you wanted to sell, you could turn a profit, buy a new house or retire to the Caribbean. However, you would like the appraisal district to think your house is worthless, since your taxes depend on their valuation.

In Dallas, the Dallas Central Appraisal District sends out letters every year, telling you how much they think your house is worth. They do this by pulling a number out of their ass when you purchase a home and then adding .001% below the maximum amount they can to your appraisal each year.

The State actually caps the amount your appraisal can rise over a period of time, but there are very good mathematicians at the appraisal district.

You can protest the appraisal, which basically means you have to tell the government your house is worth less than they think. Since they usually think it is worth less than the market does, this seems counter-productive, but it is worth the effort, since it may lower your taxes. For golfers or dieters, it will be easy, since you’re already used to giving a number much lower than reality.

My Dad actually went to the Appraisal District’s office one year to file a protest, and he is convinced they dropped their valuation just as a reward for his actually having found the office. Apparently, it was in the back of a fairly abandoned-looking strip mall in Garland, which is interesting since his house was in Dallas.

I was considering doing that, but it turns out it’s much easier now – you can file a protest online. This sounds easy, and it is, but there is a twist. You fill in the first page, choose a protest reason (“You said my house is worth too much!”) and click Next.

Then, comes the fun part. You get to upload your documentation. Since my documentation was my having said “Good Freakin’ Lord! They raise my taxes every year!”, I was stuck.

So, I pulled the valuations from all the houses on my street, threw out the higher valuations since they didn’t help my case, built a spreadsheet and showed my house is worth more than the median value on the street. Maybe it is, I say it isn’t. Mainly because that’s the only argument I can make. Plus, it’s in an Excel spreadsheet, so it must be true.

If you actually go through the pain of building a spreadsheet and uploading it to their website, the next page says you may be eligible for a settlement – how much do you think the house is worth?

Now, the first thought is to say the house is worth $15, but that’s not going to fly. So, since my Dad  had said he thought they knocked ten grand off his valuation just because he managed to find their office, I took eight grand off mine just because I managed to create a spreadsheet..

We’ll see what happens.

Better than new

Our kitchen is being remodeled. Remodel is from an ancient French word that means “probable insanity”.  We are using Ikea. Ikea is from a Swedish word that means “probable insanity.”

A kitchen remodel is the perfect project to prove the adage that the first 90% of the project takes 90% of the time, and the last 10% of the project takes the other 90% of the time.

All the names have been changed to protect the innocent. Since there are no innocents in a remodeling project, none of the names were changed.

Why do women swoon so over their kitchens? They have spent most of the past few millenia finding other things to do, specifically so they would no longer be spending time in the kitchen.

Here’s an interesting side-effect of completely removing a room from the house even for a short time – all of the house is affected, and not in a good way. Crap that was in the kitchen pretty much filled the spare room, which used to be where my grandson took his naps when he was over. So, last visit, he was driven around the block for a while to sleep. You can’t get to the bathroom off the kitchen any more, and the toilet is gone, anyway, since the floor is being redone (another side effect).  The dogs can’t be loose because the contractors tend to leave doors open, so they’re spending a lot of quality crate time (yes, they’re annoyed). You can’t use the garage because the driveway is blocked with a dumpster. I’m making coffee in the guest bathroom. The only advantage was that for a while, the refrigerator and a (new) microwave were in the family room, which made beer and snacks more accessible while watching TV.

On the bright side, I’m actually looking forward to the hour-long commute to the office every morning because it means I’m leaving the construction zone.

This project started because our kitchen floor was buckling. So, there was a leak somewhere. However, after the leak was fixed, there was still a ripple in the floor. Male solution: Fix the floor. Female solution: Fix the floor and while you’re at it, replace vinyl flooring with tiles, put in new cabinets, replace the counter-top, paint the walls a different color, and because it’s adjoining, maybe replace the carpet in the dining room. Oh, and maybe paint the hallway. The only thing that stopped the kitchen remodeling from progressing through the whole house (and an entire retirement account) was a hailstorm. Now, we need a new roof which is limiting the kitchen budget. Sometimes, an act of God is actually a good thing. Thank you for the hail, God.

Spousal Unit: “Don’t you love this tile? It reminds me of my Mom’s kitchen in her home long ago.” Me: “That looks like the tile in my grade school cafeteria.” So, who wins? I will now be having supper in my grade school cafeteria. This reminds me, I have to get the Spousal Unit a hairnet. Actually, considering it will be food I didn’t order prepared by a cranky Italian lady, it will be supper in my grade school cafeteria. All I need now are some spitwads. And detention.

Any time a woman finds something that reminds her of “long ago”, it will be in a section of the store called “retro”. Retro is from an Indonesian word meaning “grossly over-priced.”

Spousal Unit: “Should the walls be red or black?” This is an unwinnable situation, unless one really prefers red or black (Me? Notsomuch.) So, I don’t care. However, you cannot say you don’t care in a project of this magnitude – not because you know your opinion is going to be ignored anyway, but because then it looks like you don’t care. (Think about that for a moment.) However, I really don’t care – I just want Bubba, Joe-Bob and their tools out of my house and their monster truck and mini-dumpster out of my driveway. I don’t really care what color the walls are. The only time I’m in the kitchen is to make coffee, and that means I’m asleep, so my eyes are closed. Just put the coffee pot back in the same place it was before the remodel and nobody gets hurt.

We first priced a couple of professional remodeling services. Spousal Unit’s estimate: $15,000. My estimate: $30,000. Actual estimate: $37,000. I can’t give that much blood in a year, so it was off to Ikea. (Spousal Unit’s estimate: $10,000. My estimate: $25,000. Still open. Let’s just say hers was low.)

Ikea is a Scandinavian firm that produces functional furniture. Saying furniture is “functional” is like saying a girl has a good personality.

Ikea is inexpensive, mainly because they don’t produce products, they produce kits. You get a flat box of parts and an instruction sheet, whether you’re buying a kitchen cabinet or a child’s set of toy blocks. Actually, I’m not sure the kitchen cabinets aren’t made from the child’s set of toy blocks. Many of their products are just assemblies of smaller products, so the instructions are “get two of these boxes, and one of those boxes. Assemble as shown on diagram.”

I am not a handyman. I cannot use tools. So, the mechanically inept hire someone to do the job for them. Ikea has suggestions for companies to assist you. Well, a company. If you pay them a slight extra charge, they will act as a general contractor.

In the USA, a general contractor manages a project and assigns specific tasks to other contractors. I know this, because I spent a week on jury duty when a general contractor was the defendant in a lawsuit. In Scandinavia or Ethiopia or wherever Ikea is located, a general contractor apparently only does the odd jobs that nobody else does. They also listen patiently to the woman of the house railing about the ineptitude of the other contractors. You get to actually do project management yourself, therefore saving money. This is why their general contractor service is relatively cheap – he doesn’t actually do anything to manage the project. I suppose I should be grateful we didn’t get a general contractor kit in a flat box with an odd Scandinavian name on the side. I would still be assembling him.

Our cabinet installer is a company named Traemand. They specialize in cabinet installations – their website says so. Unfortunately, they are installing European style cabinets in a US kitchen, which apparently is hard (their website says so). I assume this means they use metric measurements, since their first floor plan had one cabinet blocking half a doorway. This measurement (ironically) was done by a subcontractor who was actually working for the same company that is our general contractor. So, why not just have the general contractor do everything? Ikea split the jobs up, so it is not allowed. What happens if you just buy all the boxes of parts and hire someone else to assemble them? It’s not warranted. This makes no sense to me, but I’m not Swedish.

After the cabinet into the doorway design was corrected (strangely, we didn’t want a doorway blocked), the second set of measurements didn’t seem to match the actual kitchen measurements. So, we finally had the general contractor re-measure. He must have used an American tape measure, because this time, the plan actually made some sense and fit the kitchen.

It occurred to me that there is an old adage “Measure twice, cut once.” I guess nobody told Traemand that “measure twice” implied getting the same number both times.

Of course, the actual installation didn’t allow the existing refrigerator to fit under an installed cabinet. After the installers “made” it fit by lowering the feet on the refrigerator, the cabinet doors above the refrigerator won’t open. Apparently, this is a strange model of refrigerator that has hinges on the doors and they are on the top. Who knew? So, we’re waiting for a new cabinet to be delivered. Yes, Traemand, the cabinet technically fits. However, it’s useless if it doesn’t open, so it needs to be fixed. Finally, they installed the existing double oven at Munchkin-level, so the lower oven will be at the proper height when the Spousal Unit has her scoliosis kick in. In the meantime, if the lower oven is used where it is, the dogs are going to learn the hard way not to sniff things, and grandchildren will learn “don’t touch” on their own. Other than that, it’s perfect. Oh, except we need a new kitchen table because the new cabinet takes up more space than the one it replaced, so the table won’t fit. Well, the table will fit, but people can’t actually sit around it.

An aside on the double oven – many women lust after a double oven. Women love their double ovens. They use them one day a year on Thanksgiving and the rest of the time, they just lovingly gaze at them while re-heating leftovers in the microwave or toaster oven, because using the oven heats the entire kitchen. You know, a guy gets a lot of grief for wanting a 70″ TV to watch the Super Bowl, but at least you can watch other shows on it during the year. How often do you really need two ovens? Sheesh.

So, Traemand may be installers, but they are certainly not designers or measurers. Actually, I will be happy to say that they are installers if the cabinets are all still on the walls in a week or so.

Dear Ikea, it is staggering to me that any company could certify another company to do product installations when their employees can’t use a tape measure successfully. I would have thought that would have been question one on the installation certification test, or at least in the first five, after “What’s a cabinet?” or “Which end of the screwdriver do you hold?” I may be mechanically inept, but I know how to measure how tall something is. 

So, we have a general contractor that’s not managing the project, an installer that can’t measure, and a different company for each piece of the rest of the puzzle, all assembling items purchased from random companies throughout the Metroplex. How can this not go smoothly?

Needless to say, the Spousal Unit is approaching a level of cranky not seen since I managed to miss her birthday, our anniversary and Valentine’s Day all with the same business trip. (They’re all within two weeks, so it really wasn’t that difficult. Come to think of it, I was gone less time on that trip than this kitchen project has taken.)

Also, it is taking so freaking long to get the project done, that we’re pretty much used to eating out every night. So, I’m not sure the new kitchen will get that much use, although I’ve been promised it will. (The male version of this is a riding mower sitting in the garage while the neighbor’s kid is doing the lawn.)

A lesson to anyone wanting to outsource a room remodel – get a general contractor and a designer. Write a much larger check than Ikea requests. Pick cabinets out of their catalog. Don’t special-order anything. Go to France for a month.

I heard a loud crash as I was writing this. Luckily, it was one of my grandson’s toys falling off the table in the family room. So, all cabinets are still attached to the walls. So far. I hope it doesn’t turn out that they only hold European-style dishes, pots and pans.

Annual Maintenance

It’s interesting that every time a maintenance person arrives to work on any of our major appliances, they disapprove of the way the appliance was previously serviced or installed. Many times, they violently disapprove. It’s a constant. It is even going to happen if the repairmen are from the same firm. I have not had someone criticize his own work, but it is only a matter of time.

Now, I’ve been in software for almost 30 years, and I’ve worked with some idiots, but I don’t think I’ve ever asked a customer, “Hmm. Who wrote this crap?” At least, not out loud.

Our annual HVAC inspection was this afternoon. We get a free inspection once a year as part of a maintenance contract.

You would think since the inspection is free, it would be a five-minute, cursory glance, followed by “Everything’s looking good!” and a quick exit. This surprisingly tends to not be the case.

We get very thorough inspections. This is good, except there always seem to be semi-major problems, which is bad. I suppose finding the problem is better than not finding it, but it’s a bit distressing there were any problems to find. This year, there was condensation leaking in the heater and there was a long tear in the plenum.

Now, it is possible the plenum tore itself sometime between last inspection and now. Perhaps a disgruntled employee did it, although this is unlikely since we have no employees.

My guess? Last year, when the filter for the whole house air filtration system was being replaced, somebody pushed it just a wee bit too hard.

As for the leak, the repairman said the clamp was in the wrong place on one of the pipes. I’m pretty sure the clamp was moved during last year’s inspection, as well.

There are always two constant questions in an inspection – “When did you get this unit? We don’t sell these any more, we have OtherBrand which are much higher quality and last longer.” and “Who was here last year? We have really top-notch people, but, uh, you know, some can make mistakes.”

[Edit: It occurred to me that if repairmen were all Southern ladies, they would be saying “Bless her heart.” A lot.]

So, the company sold me inferior equipment and is supporting it with amateurs. I feel better now. What exactly are your credentials?

I’m just glad to know this time, it’s fixed for sure.

Until next year’s inspection.