Thursday, July 30, 2009

Digging in the Dirt

More fun with dirt! Jim the Amazing Backhoe Guy was back on the lot today, clearing out the top soil from the building pad, and piling it at the side of the lot. Jim is an artist with that tractor of his!

We're now down to clay, and ready to start serious excavations and drilling the piers... except that my loan hasn't closed yet, and today I discovered that it may not close for another two weeks or more. So once again we're in a holding pattern - no more work on the lot until the loan funds.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Day To Remember

Today, July 28th 2009, exactly 13 months since my mum passed away, I handed over checks totaling $17,000 to the City of Pacifica and in return, I finally received my building permits. Not a bargain by any means, but a very exciting development and now, providing my loan closes in the next day or two, I can actually start to build The Minnie House!

Not wishing to let the grass grow underneath my feet (literally!), I met with Jim the Backhoe Guy today and he spent three hours hacking out the stumps and removing the lovely luscious top soil, which we will be storing on site and using later to backfill.

As soon as the contract with the construction company is signed and the loan funds, the big guys will come in and excavate, and begin to drill the piers and build the foundations. I can't wait!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Remembering Mum

I don't know if these will last through the long, hot, foggy summer months, but today I planted a Strawberry and a Gooseberry Geranium Pelargonium to commemorate one year since my mum Mina passed away at the age of 83... or 84... or most likely 85. Somewhere around there, since her date of birth seemed to always keep moving around between 1924 and 1926. I miss my mum, and this house will (one day!) be my monument to her.

Next week I'm flying off to the Philippines for my summer vacation. When I get back to San Francisco in mid-July, I very much hope that I will be able to pick up my permits and begin excavation, foundations and, finally, construction. I've already arranged to start with clearing out all of the stumps with a backhoe service on July 16th.

In the meantime, here are some photos I took from the lot last night. Lovely!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

No Comment

Guess what? Eleven more comments from the city - and that's just from the building department. Ugh. Got them on Friday, and now I'm trying to get everyone to help respond to them in a timely fashion. I don't think any of the comments represent major problems, but even if I get all of the responses together this week, it's still looking doubtful that I'll even get the permits before I leave for my vacation in the Philippines on July 3rd.

On a more positive note, after another long week of fun in the sun at the lot, the entire site is looking cleaner and cleaner. Today I had help from Steven, Queenie, Bill, Michael and Kofi, and with so many hands we got loads done. There's not actually that much more we can do now without equipment, so I think the next step will be to get a backhoe to get rid of all of the massive stumps and root systems that remain.

The IKEA kitchen and appliances are scheduled to arrive next Saturday afternoon. With any luck there will be enough room to store everything in my basement. Fingers crossed...

Meanwhile, in the photo below you can see the ramp to the front door in the foreground, and the driveway in the background.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

"Just build the frickin' thing already!"

Of course, it didn't happen last Monday, but on Friday I was - finally! - able to resubmit my building permit application, after providing answers to all 45 building department comment questions, and four further questions from engineering. The process took four weeks, which was three weeks longer than I had hoped, but as they say back east, whaddya gonna do, huh? Fuggedabouddit.

In the meantime, much progress has been made on clearing the lot: cutting down shrubs, weeding, pulling up wild grass by the roots, and generally preparing the site for eventual excavation - you can see the current state of the building pad area in the photo (the two stakes at the top right show where the front door will be). I love working there, especially on beautiful days like last Sunday, and the neighbors always come over for a chat, which is a wonderful new experience for me. I'm a Londoner, and have never really been close with neighbors anywhere I've lived, either back home or here in San Francisco (where I've been living since 1992).

I'm also talking to general contractors to nail down budget proposals, and feel a lot of pressure to keep the process moving. If I can get someone under contract in the next two weeks or so, maybe some day soon I'll actually be able to break ground and follow my niece Madeleine's advice and "Just build the frickin' thing already!"

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The King of Swamp Castle

Yes, I finally closed escrow yesterday, so now I'm the proud owner of huge... tracts of land on a picturesque hillside in the seaside town of Pacifica. Well, maybe not huge tracts exactly, more like seven thousand six hundred and fifty square feet of land, but still... it's another small step along the road to my Holy Grail.

And it's not the only small step - on Monday I expect to finally resubmit my amended plans to the City of Pacifica. Give them another two weeks or so for final review, and then with any luck I will be in possession of a building permit for my Minnie House...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Song Remains The Same

Another week gone by, and I'm still waiting to resubmit my permit application to the city. I nearly have all of the amended sheets and all of the responses to the city's comments, but honestly, with two architects, one of whom is in Missouri, and two structural engineers, one of whom is in Indiana, not to mention a geotechnical engineer in Burlingame and a civil engineer in San Francisco, it's just like herding cats. Perhaps I'll be ready to re-file on Monday, if I can avoid getting scratched by any of the cats.

And in other news, I'm still trying to get quotes/budgets from general contractors, and get an acceptable quote for the foundations. I'm much closer to moving ahead on both fronts, but I still don't have anyone or anything under contract. The foundation quotes range from $93k to over $150k, and I have to choose between shotcrete, cast in place and Insulated Concrete Forms (ICFs). Right now I'm leaning heavily towards the latter, which seems like the best combination of price/performance, and since the forms are insulated you save time and money later on as well.

Yesterday I signed all of the paperwork for the lot and wired the balance to the title company, so some time in the next two days I should officially close escrow and become the new owner of the beautiful little piece of land in Pacifica where I will build my dream house! That's some progress right there!

I have also been working hard at the lot, cutting back shrubbery, clearing the building area, and pulling up weeds and stinging nettles galore. Keeps me busy, and makes me feel like I'm getting somewhere. I even found a rose bush on the site last weekend that I hadn't noticed before...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Creepy crawly

Moving along, very slowly, like a creepy crawly. Still getting quotes for the foundations, and at last I may actually have a couple of options. I think in the end I'll have to choose between cast in place from one contractor, CMU above the basement slab from another, and sprayed shotcrete from a third. Hard to figure out what to do, especially without a GC to help.

I'm working on that, though, and would like to have a GC in place within the next week or so.

Also still assembling the amended plans for resubmission to the city. I wanted to resubmit this week, but t doesn't look like I'll get everything together in time, so perhaps next Tuesday?

And while everything else is constantly shifting forward in time, the same can be said for closing escrow, which was due to happen tomorrow, but is now awaiting a legal document from the seller, who lives in Colorado and is quite technologically challenged - no cell phone, no fax machine. Whaaa? It's 2009!!!

So everything is manana, manana, manana. Trying not to get frustrated, just keep moving the ball down field the hard way, a few yards at time, without turning it over! Every now and then it would be nice to just air one out towards the end zone, if you know what I mean. And I think you do.

While all this is going on, I managed to get a great Craigslist deal on a couple of new Panasonic bathroom fans ($100.00 for the pair!), and I'm also spending many hours at the lot cutting down branches and shrubs, pulling up roots, and generally clearing the site. I can't believe how gorgeous it is almost every time I go down there! Roll on the day this is all finished and I can move to my new neighborhood!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Here's a lovely new movie to play with: this one has my own art work and photos on the walls, and the actual view, or something close to it, from the living room and bedroom. It also show the cypress tree through the side windows in the living room, and West Ham on the TV!

I'm a little closer to something, although I'm not sure what, exactly. I'm in discussion with several concrete contractors about foundations (that I can actually pay for!), and with several GCs about handling the whole project. I'm also close to closing escrow for the land but that is dependent upon getting the OK from the city to build the house.

I spoke to the city yesterday, and although they are not finished with my application yet - they still need to get comments from the engineering dept - they did agree to fax me the comments so far. And there are a lot of them, around 45, so I'll need to get together with all of the relevant parties (engineer and architects) to so that we can resubmit. Then it should only take another week or two to get the permits.

And then I can start... IF I have a contractor in place, and IF I have an acceptable bid for the foundations.

In the meantime, I actually bought my kitchen yesterday, because IKEA has a 20% sale on kitchens, and it ends this weekend. So I bought and paid for all of the kitchen cabinets and appliances. The cabinets are per Rocio's spec, high-gloss white Abstrakt panels on white Akurum cabinets. For those of you keeping score at home, the appliances consist of the Energisk B18 fridge/freezer, the Eldig cooktop, the Nutid dishwasher, and the Hovskar single lever kitchen faucet . If anyone wants to know why IKEA, well - $5K for the lot, including shipping. That's why!

Friday, May 1, 2009


Well now. Here's a very cool 3D walk through of The Minnie House, which I made using Live Interior 3D Pro for the Mac. Most of the furniture is mine, but I can't quite figure out how to import my own art work.

Now, if I can just find a way to actually build it...

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Loan (Ar)Ranger Rides Again!

Hi Ho Silver! Looks like we're back in the saddle, with finance on the way. I've been working with a new lender, and funds should be available to start construction in a few weeks.

I expect to hear back from the City of Pacifica either this week or next, with comments about our application, and after we resubmit it should only take one or two more weeks before we get the permits. If the loan funds in the same time frame, I hope that we can break ground on June 1st.

In the meantime, I've been cleaning up the site, which includes digging up loads of stinging nettles - fun!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Baby Steps...

Finally received the remaining stamped plans from the office of Rocio Romero today - finally! at last! - and that completed everything I need for the building permit application. So as of 9.45am this morning, I have now applied for my permits! I expect to receive comments in 3/4 weeks, and permits a week or two after we respond to the comments.

Of course, I still don't have money to build the house. After Bank of Marin bailed on me (having worked on the loan for seven months!), I spoke to Chris, a former Kickboxing student of mine who is a senior mortgage officer at Chase. Since they are now my bank after their acquisition of Washington Mutual, I thought I might have an inside track on a loan. Yesterday, Chris called me with good news and bad news. The good news is, I have been pre-approved for a construction to permanent loan. Wohoo. The bad news is, the entire construction loan department was closed down, and everyone in it laid off, yesterday morning. D'oh. He might have a mortgage broker that I can work with, but that guy just left for Hawaii...

Spoke to Ed the Contractor yesterday, and he also had bad news. He now has a quote for the foundations from the guy he usually works with. Well, we've allocated $45,000 in the budget (this is to include site clearing, excavation and grading, foundation/basement, retaining walls, driveway and other flatwork, etc). But the quote was $77,000! Ouch! That hurts!

And in other news, Rocio Romero gave birth to twins last week. From the little I know, everyone's doing well.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Happy Colors!

Last week I bought this beautiful, happy painting from local artist Emily Dysinger. One day it will hang in the kitchen of the Minnie House.

A Hiccup

Well, rather more than a hiccup, actually. Yesterday, I finally heard from the Bank of Marin (with whom I have been working since last September) that my construction loan application had been rejected. Their major fear is that, as I am self employed, I may not be able to get a mortgage at the end of the construction process. Unfortunately, nothing I do or so will convince them otherwise, despite my stellar credit rating and despite the fact that I am financing 50% of the entire project myself. Crap.

So as far as financing is concerned, I'm right back where I started, at square one. Now I'm working with a loan consultant at Chase (which is both my business and personal bank) who used to be one of my Kickboxing students. Not sure if that will help, but I'm sure it can't hurt.

I still intend to push ahead with the building permit application. I was hoping to submit the application this morning, but I still haven't received my stamped construction plans from Rocio Romero. In fact, I got a strange phone call from my project manager early yesterday morning, informing me that he couldn't FedEx the plans to me until I had paid all of the associated fees, including the engineers fees. That's more than a little odd and unpleasant, considering that THEY HAVEN'T EVEN BILLED ME YET! Oh well, this is just one more obstacle for me to overcome.

No worries. It's a beautiful sunny spring day in San Francisco, and I have faith that everything will work out OK.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Status Update

We're almost ready to submit our application for the building permit. I was hoping to that next Thursday would be the big day, but we won't have the grading plan by then. If we need that in order to submit, we'll have to wait a few more days. Still, we now have the site plan, the structural calcs, the structural and foundation plans, the soils report, the topographic survey, the letter from PG&E, the permit application form and a big fat check to the City of Pacifica. I don't have my hands on the Title 24 report yet, but we should get that in a couple of days. So we're THIS close!

The rear of the house has changed a little (again!) since my last update. Current thinking is that we'll have one 10' wide x 7' high slider, and one 10' wide x 7' high fixed window, which means we can do all of the basement in concrete, with a 3.5" x 3.5" steel post between the two windows. There won't be any windows for the garage, but maybe I'll upgrade to the Clopay Avante garage door, which will have cool looking opaque windows.

I splashed out this week on a Fagor stainless steel oven that had been on display in a kitchen showroom that is going out of business (a bargain at $450!), and on an LG combo washer/dryer (the same one that I currently have at home - it works great!) from Craigslist. I'm looking for bargains every day, and there are plenty to be had at the moment.

One big obstacle to this entire project is, you know, the funding! I have been talking to the bank for several months, but as of this moment I still don't have approval for my construction loan. I'm running on faith alone, figuring that I'll plunge ahead with the permit process, and then if the bank says no I'll just have to spend more time looking around for someone else to lend me $350,000! I'm thinking that may take a while, though...

Oh, I am also buying a painting for the house. It's a lovely colorful abstract, painted by a local artist named Emily Dysinger. I think it will look stunning on the kitchen wall.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Spring Has Sprung!

Another beautiful Sunday in Pacifica, and there's plenty of color on my lot. This is going to be such a gorgeous place to live!

Random Notes

The picture above is something like how I want the house to look... white walls, as per Rocio's design, and a chocolate-y hardwood floor (at the moment it's a toss-up between Ty Pennington Sambuca Bamboo from, or Yanchi Ebony Stained Strand Bamboo from The latter is slightly nicer, but it's also more expensive).

In other news:

1. Received my letter from PG&E, granting us permission to build underneath their easement. Thanks, PG&E!

2. Met with Randy the Engineer and Ed the GC, and I think we have agreed to ditch the Simpson hangers and go with a regular floor system, with the joists sitting on the foundation wall.

3. It now looks like the rear basement wall will be wood above and below the windows and the patio door, and we'll run the 3.5" x 3.5" steel posts all the way down back of the house. We'll have to delete them from the LV kit, and get them made locally. The advantages of doing this are twofold: first, we get the exact same gap between the windows downstairs as we do upstairs, which will look good; and secondly, it leaves open the possibility of knocking out the wood and replacing the windows with patio doors some time in the future.

4. The rear deck will be cantilevered out using steel beams. I like the sound of that, although we'll have to get them galvanized or somehow treated so that they don't rust.

5. Hope to be able to file for the building permit next Tuesday, March 17th.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Amazing Late Breaking News!

I received an email this evening from our man at PG&E, and he said, and I quote, "Our electric department is alright with the encroachment into the easement as long as CPUC, California Public Utility Commission clearance requirements are maintained." Looks like we're almost there!!! More news soon!!!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Bits and Pieces

Yeah, here are the latest bits and pieces...

1. Still no news from PG&E - and in other news, Glen Miller is still missing (OK, if you're too young to know what that means, look it up on Wikipedia!).

2. However, we've decided that, if PG&E says no, we're going to proceed with an application to the Pacifica Planning Dept for a variance to the rear setback. This will cost at least $4000.00 and take around three months, but after talking to them we're comfortable that we at least have a chance of getting the variance. And if at the end of the day the Planning Commission says no, we can at least move ahead on Plan B knowing that we did everything we could to get the preferred site plan.

3. No need to wait, then -we're going to move ahead and try to get our plans to the Building Dept in the next couple of weeks. They told us they'll do the plan check on our preferred site plan even without permission from PG&E, and will issue comments. They just won't issue the building permits without a letter from PG&E.

4. Ed's plan is to pre-mix the concrete for the basement using a pigment from Davis Colors, which sounds like a good idea. I'm considering either a darkish grey, or perhaps grey with a little green in it, as in the rendition below.

5. Thinking seriously about having another sliding door for the basement, opening onto a deck, along with three other transom windows. Waiting for a quote from 1st Windows for that.

6. Still looking for a roofing system, although Ed got a quote from Standard Roofing for just over $6K for an EPDM roof. I need a little information about that - does it include everything, such as insulation boards? If it does, we could be in business! Haven't heard back from Armstrong Roofing about the sprayed foam roof. Some people just don't seem to want my business. Very strange.

7. For the A/V system, I'm going with an Onkyo TX-SR806 receiver, which I just bought from Amazon (got a good deal on an open box), and in-wall and in-ceiling speakers from The Speaker Company. They are very cheap, but supposedly very good, and they have a 30 day money back guarantee with return shipping paid, so I'll set them up at home and see if they sound good. The distributed audio will be taken care of by the Sonos Multi-Room Music System, which I have in my apartment and at work - it's absolutely awesome.

8. Ed's looking at the cost of Rocio's sub-floor system, which includes load of Simpson Hangers. Ed can't figure out why she designed it with everything hanging off the foundations, and wants to redesign it to eliminate the hangers - which will probably save us thousands of dollars. More on this later...

9. So far, it looks like water and sewage will be relatively easy, which is a big relief. Not cheap, but fairly easy (for example, the Water Dept charges a $2100.00 deposit towards installation, and a $5441.00 'Transmission and Storage Fee' for the hookup!). The fire hydrant is on our side of the street so we won't have to dig trenches across the road, and the sewer line is at the bottom of the lot, down the hill, giving us a straight shot right into the lateral line. All good. The wild card, again, is PG&E. If we can just hook up to the overhead lines for electric we'll be in good shape, but if they make us go underground... well... not so good!

10. Playlist: it's all U2, No Line On The Horizon. Takes a while to get into it, but then it starts to sound really good.

11. Over and out...

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Architect Sketch

A bad week as far as my relationship with my architect is concerned. Let's just say that we don't see eye to eye on best billing practices, nor on customer service. Contact between us will be kept to a minimum, which is a shame, but I have a budget to take care of, a belief that a client should be respected, and a limited tolerance for arrogance.

As far as the build is concerned: I still haven't heard anything from PG&E, despite an email and a phone call. I'm also still trying to select a structural engineer. A local guy quoted $11,000 for all the structural, which is frankly way beyond my budget; so I'm waiting to hear back from Pyramid1 in Indiana, who are the engineers of record on my LV Home. My hope is that they can wet stamp their calcs, and also provide the foundation plan, for a reasonable sum. It turns out that I also need to find a civil engineer to do a grading plan, which was news to me. Presumably that's part of the cost of building on a hillside in the Bay Area!

Ben the Architect is moving along nicely with the basement and garage plans, and the deck plan, and he also has to draw up plans for retaining walls.

So we're a little behind schedule, but not too much.

Today was another spectacular Northern California Sunday, with temperatures in the 70s (uh oh, we're going to pay for this one day...!). I was lucky enough to meet lots of my future neighbors, and we all ate delicious food under beautiful clear blue skies. Thanks, neighbors!

For today's photo, I got a brand new view of my lot, from the tree house at the very top of neighbor Randy's Cypress tree, just north of my lovely little spot. I also discovered that on a clear day, not only will I be able to see all the way past Bolinas to Point Reyes from the house - I'll also be able to see Mount Tam!!!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Last weekend Ed built this platform, the top of which approximates where the floor will eventually be. The south west corner of the house will most likely be two feet above grade (street level), and the north east corner will be eight or nine feet below grade. The basement ceiling height will be eight feet, and the garage door, which will be located under the kitchen, will be seven feet high x twelve feet wide. The driveway is a bit of a problem, as it's not supposed to slope more that 16ยบ, but I think it will work out OK.

Still no word yet from PG&E, but I'm hopeful that they'll let us do what we want - not that my optimism is based on anything other than, well, optimism. Only about 6% of the square footage is under the power line and the easement, so what the hell? As you can see from the site plan, the house angles dramatically, facing NNW, towards the ocean view. Anything less would be a shame, don't you think? After all, it's all about the view, isn't it?

After talking to a structural surveyor, the $400,000 budget's not looking too good. I have a $5000.00 line item for engineering, but the quote's going to be over $12k, so that's looking hopelessly naive. Something's got to give!

Next steps to keep thing puppy moving: get the OK from PG&E to build on our preferred spot; complete the designs for the basement/garage, stairs and deck; send those plans to the engineer; get the wet-stamped structural/foundation plans and reports; get the California Title 24 energy calcs; get a grading plan. Then we can think about taking everything to the City of Pacifica, and starting our permit application process. Can we do all of that in two weeks? Sounds a little doubtful, eh? Still, onwards and upwards.

This week's playlist:
Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion
Bruce Springsteen - Working on a Dream
Grizzly Bear - Yellow House

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Where Am I?

Time for an update, I think.

• I'm waiting to hear back from PG&E about the easement. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they won't object to us building with a small part of the house sitting under the overhead power lines.

• I flew to LA on Tuesday just to look at Jeld-Wen Premium Aluminum sliding patio doors. A little crazy, perhaps, but apparently they hardly sell any of them here in the Bay Area, and I don't want to spend $18,500 without at least seeing what I'm buying. So I like what I saw, and I don't think I can do any better for the money. I'll be going with the 9 foot high sliders with LowE 366 glass for the back of the house, with no transoms, and Jeld-Wen Windowmaster 500 windows all around.

• Looks like the kitchen will be the IKEA Akurum cabinets with the white gloss finish, as per Rocio's design. At $4500.00 for the complete kitchen, there's really no contest. If money was no object I'd go with an Ernesto Meda kitchen. Maybe next time... I think I've also decided to eliminate the small wall in the kitchen. I'll just go with an open kitchen with an island. Here's a 3D version of the kitchen:

I was always planning to get a black electric ceramic cooktop for the island, but then I saw stainless steel gas cooktop that architect Renzo Piano designed for the Smeg, and I think I have to have it (incredibly, it's actually cheaper than the cooktop I had been planning to buy...):

For the countertops, it's going to be Slate black Paperstone from EcoHome Improvement in Emeryville, for around $4000 including fabrication and installation. It's niiiice, I like. And even though it's black, it's very green.

• I've been trying to find fixtures and fittings for the bathroom, and at the moment I'm leaning heavily towards a Philippe Starck designed freestanding bath, vanity, sink, and mirror cabinet from Duravit. All immensely white and sexy, in the je ne sais quoi manner of French designers. Merci moi.

• We're quite a bit closer to lodging our building permit application. A student of mine who is an architect is working on the garage and basement plan, the site plan, and the deck plan. Once he's done we have a structural engineer who can do the foundation plan and the calculations, and then I think we'll be good to go. Once we file, it should take about 6 weeks to get the building permits, if everything goes to plan.

• Tomorrow - Sunday - I'm meeting Ed the Contractor and Ben the Architect at the lot. Ed's going to build a platform that will approximate the elevation of the living room, and I'll be able to pretend I'm standing in my house looking at the view. If the weather's as good as it has been lately, the resulting photo should be pretty spectacular. As in pretty, and spectacular.

So, you know, that's where I am. Here's one more 3D rendition to be going on with: