Category Archives: Project: House

And The Walls Came Down

A while back I mentioned that the builder was going to have to remove some of the drywall because it had started growing mold, from being exposed to the weather for so long. Turns out, the problems were more than mold. The drywall had absorbed a ton of water and was turning into mush.

So, he blew his horn.
And the walls came down.


They stood there laughing
They're not laughing anymore
The walls came down

And now we're waiting for new drywall people to show up and redo it all.

On the plus side, with the drywall gone, the inspector had a chance to inspect the insulation. And, he said it was some of the best insulation work he'd ever seen! Win!

And, except for the sides of the garage, which is being redone, the siding on the house is finally finished. It's the first visible external sign of progress in eight months!

Crawlspace is sealed and mold free. All the stuff that previously failed code has been fixed. Cabinets are ordered. Septic and gas tanks are going in soon.

The garage floor raising is progressing, too. There's a faint red line near the top of the white band, in the pic below. The garage is going to be filled with gravel up to that line. The initial foundation is nearly covered, which means there's almost 2' of gravel in there already. Four feet or so to go. There are 10 truckloads of gravel sitting in the driveway right now, waiting to be pushed into the garage. There will be more than 100 truckloads of gravel in there, when it's all done.

They've reinforced the walls with concrete and rebar. They're backfilling dirt around the outside. There are multiple layers of waterproofing of different kinds all around the garage wall. The white stuff is two continuous layers of plastic sheeting, 10x thicker than the engineer recommended. There are underground drains everywhere. The engineer told the builder he could only think of one other builder in the state who would be willing to try this garage raising project. And the builder says he'll never try anything like it again.

That's a little coil of Cat-6 dangling there in the middle of the pic. There's an unfinished space above the garage and I asked the electrician to run a line up there so we'll have it when/if we ever finish the room. Planning!

The builder is the most detail-oriented, perfectionist person I've ever known. He's also very much wants us to be involved in the process, so that nothing will be a surprise to us. So he calls us almost every night to keep us updated.



Hey, see the two pairs of windows in the middle, there? And the one on the left side?

Turns out, those aren't up to code. They're not wide enough to meet the fire exit standards. Sweet!

$2500 to purchase windows that do meet code. Plus labor, of course.

If only the first builder had known anything about esoteric things like building codes...

Up And Down

Here is the front of the garage.

They've started work on raising the floor level. First step: raise the masonry! See on the left side, how the blocks only come up about 2' above the ground. Now see the pillar in the center, which has been detached from the garage framing (see the gap at its top) and extended to about 6' above the ground. The wall on the right, which you can't see here, has been extended. They're going to do something similar with the other walls, then bring in several dozen tons of gravel and fill dirt to raise the ground up to the new level.

And here is the core of a giant oak tree we had cut down from in front of the house. It's close to 3' across. It was a beautiful old tree, but it was leaning over the house. We never understood why the first builder left it there when he initially cleared the lot. And now that it's down and we can see the rot in it, I'm doubly glad we took it out. A tree that big with that much rot in it was going to fall, soon - right through the middle of the house.

Met all our new neighbors at a Super Bowl party last night. They seem nice, and include an equine surgeon, a retired musician who is building a recording studio in his back yard, a bunch of people retired from IBM and a couple of triathletes. Yipe.

Movin On Up

Tomorrow we move into our temporary apartment. It's a small, one-bedroom place, literally less than 1/4 the size of the house we're moving out of. So, we have a kilo-foot3 of stuff in a Pod. Plus two (!) storage units.

We were supposed to move Saturday, but the big winter storm shut that plan down. Instead, I spent the weekend driving around on icy roads, trying to get stuff in storage, buy boxes, buy packing tape, buy more boxes, etc.. Only got stuck once!

New house is in progress, finally. They're lowering the humidity in the crawlspace and ripping out moldy drywall. We've picked out a floor (I think) and got a huge assist on cost from a friend who works for a big flooring manufacturer. We're going to spend some money to get the garage raised to the right level.

It's weird that I can't think of anything that's going terribly right now.


That there is now mold growing on the inside of the new house/3 is no surprise. But it still sucks. And, that the moisture in the crawlspace is so high that condensation is literally dripping off the joists and wires therein is no surprise. But it still sucks.

All I wanted for Christmas was for that big oak tree to fall through the middle of the house/3 and put us all out of our misery. But no.

Thanks for nothing, Santa.


Old builder is going through the bankruptcy process. As part of that, he had to have a "Creditors Meeting", last Friday. That's where people to whom he owes money get a chance to challenge his bankruptcy in front of the people who are in charge of approving it. If the creditors can make a good enough case against him, the people in charge (the "trustees") can deny bankruptcy protection.

From my limited experience with the justice system, the creditors meeting process reminded me of traffic court: a big room with a bunch of chairs, a panel of judges ("trustees" in this setting), a clerk and some lawyers. They hear cases from many different people during the session, and most of them are just formalities: claimant comes up front, gets sworn in (left hand on the Bible!), the trustees ask a few standard questions, all done. Sometimes one of the trustees would ask for clarification about this or that, but mostly not. Mostly it was a rubber stamp affair; each case over in a minute or less. Couples, elderly people, young people, etc.. Nobody had any creditors challenging them, so the first dozen cases flew by.

There were maybe 50 people in the room at the start. And cases were grouped by lawyer; so the lawyer could stand there while his/her clients came up one after another. That was the first hour.

The builder's case was different, and so they had moved it to the end of the list. Of all the people in the room, probably half of them were creditors there to challenge the builder's bankruptcy - all of them angry.

The trustees' questions in this case were much more involved. They wanted to know his business history, his experience, his process, etc.. Mostly, they wanted to know how he got into this trouble. The builder's explanation was basically that cash flow in the house building business waxes and wanes - the balance sheet for the construction of any one house is going to go back and forth from red to black over its lifetime, depending on when the work gets done and when the bank pays out money. Having multiple projects smooths this out a bit. His process was to put all of the incoming cash into a single account and pay the bills in order of urgency. So at any given time, the money coming in from project B is probably going to be paying for project A; and then when project C starts, it will pay for project B, and then they'll switch places and A will pay for C and B, etc.. But, for some unexplained reason, his debts got so big that incoming cash wasn't enough to keep him afloat. He became unable to pay sub-contractors, which stopped work on projects, which spooked the clients and their banks, who cut off incoming cash, which stopped him from paying other subs, who stopped working, etc.. And once that started, the business was doomed. Maybe project A and B were finished. But all of us with projects C - Z got screwed because he couldn't bring on any more suckers clients to pay for our projects.

This wasn't the first business bankruptcy case the trustees have handled, so they were skeptical of this explanation. They understand cash flow. They asked him multiple times how he could possibly get so far in debt in such a short time - he owes close to a million dollars, total. And the troubles appear to have started in the last couple of years. What happened that his debt got so much greater than income? He just repeated the 'cash flow' stuff. He never explained how he dug such a big hole that no amount of new business was going to be able to fill it.

After 20 minutes of trustees questions, they opened it up to the creditors. And, one by one, we got our chance at the microphone, using our allotted 5 minutes to ask questions of the builder.

After the first few creditors had spoken, the trustee cautioned us that asking "where did my money go?" was probably a waste of time since he was just going to say "it went into the business account and then was used to pay bills". So, when it got to me, instead of asking him "where's the $xx,xxx from check 1234?", I tried a different tack. I asked him if the skipped inspections and shitty construction work he did on our house was just a way to make it look like he was making progress so we would keep giving him cash, in order to keep the whole Ponzi scheme afloat. He said his work was good. I waved the inspection reports at him and said it wasn't, etc. for a while. And then I left. I was too angry to sit around and listen to him any longer. So, I didn't get to hear the end of the hearing.

People who did stay said the trustees remained skeptical and told us that there appeared to be grounds to deny his bankruptcy claim, if we want to jump through a few more hoops.

Thing is, there doesn't seem to be any money; we're not getting paid. The only result from denying him bankruptcy protection would be to cause him and his wife immense financial distress. I don't think this would help us in any way. The list of creditors is so long, dividing up his remaining assets would give us a very negligible amount of money.

This week, the bank has finally agreed to ignore the liens. But they are now refusing to pay out any more money from our loan until we've spent all of our own cash, first. We have the new builder's estimate to complete the house: $E, and we have the remainder of the bank's loan $L. The bank wants us to spend ($E - $L), before they'll give us $L. Thanks to family digging deep, we can probably scrape that much together. But it's going to be tough.

The Big House


Former builder was arrested this past week on a felony charge of writing worthless checks, with other charges pending.


These charges weren't, AFAIK, related to us; so this doesn't help up directly. But this could help us with our case against him - it certainly can't help his side of things. And, while this won't result in any money coming back to us since he obviously doesn't have any, seeing him suffer will be nice.

More Posts About Buildings And Liens

It's looking like our lawyer might have managed to talk three of the four subcontractors out of their liens. That's good. But, not enough. One lien is as good as four, when it comes to holding up the process. We're trying everything we can to get them to relent. But honestly, they have some leverage over us - it costs them nothing to sit and wait. But the longer we wait, the more likely the house/3 is to start falling into disrepair (no gutters, no real doors, 1/3 has no siding). And that will cost money to fix. More than it would cost to pay them off? Not yet. But maybe someday.

So, the house/3 is still sitting there.

And we have an apartment leased.

So, we have three different addresses! But only two are inhabitable; one is just a third of a house; and one is a one bedroom apartment 25 miles from the other two. There is much moving and storing in store.

Bleak House

Yesterday, I wrote and published the first optimistic house-related post that I'd published in a long time.

Generous relatives funded our up-front costs! We were ready to sign the contract with the new builder!

And then five minutes after I posted it, I got an email from Mrs that obliterated everything I had just written.

So, I deleted that post.

Our lawyer found stuff in that contract that he hated. So we have to wrestle over that. Not the end of the world, probably. But still. Delays! More delays! Every second that goes by, a million more mold spores sprout in the crawlspace (current est to fix the mold: $5400).

And then the bank said no, they weren't going to release any more money from the construction loan because of the liens the old builder's subs had put on the property (even though NC law says they aren't going to get any money from us, ever). And we're all like :


OK, how do you get rid of liens?

1. You could pay the subs for their work. But we've already paid for that work; we paid the builder for the work that he contracted them to do. Then the builder pocketed that money. The builder stole their money, not us. And we aren't going to pay twice for that work. I feel for the subs - they did work and didn't get paid by the person who hired them and didn't pay them. But that's not our fault.

2. You can wait 180 days. If the subs with the liens don't file suit in 180 days, the liens go away. Another 6 months? The house/3 is open to the elements - there's a front door but no latch. There's no back door, no garage door. The crawlspace is 7' tall, deep, dry and has no door. It's wide open to countless acres of forest. I fully expect to find a family of bears living in there next time I stop by.

3. You can get the people to drop their liens by asking nicely. Yeah right.

4. If they decide to file lawsuits, you fight the lawsuits. Lawyers on both sides make 5 figures. For some, that could be a justifiable expense. For others it won't be.

So, yesterday I thought we were making progress. Then I learned we were actually dead in the water and possibly sinking.

And the people who bought our current house want us out by end of next month. Apartment life ahead.

So, fuck this motherfucking everything.

Advice: do not, ever build a house. Do not, ever, hire a contractor to build anything. If you do not heed that advice, I urge you: do not trust that your bank will be on your side; do not trust that the bank will have a fucking clue about anything; do not trust your builder; inspect everything he does; do not release funds for anything in advance, no matter how much he pleads; only pay for completed work that you have inspected. Better yet, find an apartment, rent it, and never leave the closet.

The Poor House

New builder finished his forensics work on the new house. He says it's roughly 1/3 complete, with about 1/3 of the construction loan's worth of work done (which, coincidentally, just about totals the amount of the liens that the former subs have put on us). That's not awesome because there's only 1/3 of the construction loan left.

Also, he says the original builder grossly under-estimated the cost of the house, so we were on track to be stuck with a big bill at the end, no matter what. Also there are multiple outright code violations and a few questionable spots.

As it stands now, we simply don't have the funds to finish the house. Chopping it way back to the minimum possible to be called a livable house wouldn't be enough to get it into our budget (and then we'd have a really expensive but kindof crappy house). And the new builder is reluctant to start without a sizable down-payment, which we don't have.

We have no idea what we're going to do.

On the bright side, it's looking like the old builder may become the subject of a State Bureau of Investigation investigation. If he's convicted, there might be a chance we could declare our losses as theft or fraud. That could help with taxes, eventually.