November 23, 2005

Tankless Water Heaters via Microwave

When my water heater inevitably breaks, I'll likely be replacing it with a tankless model. There's a been quite a bit of discussion about the technology installation costs, savings in energy expenses, and required permits and construction.

But today I came across some interesting news. Apparently a company named Pulsar Advanced Technologies has developed a microwave tankless hot water device:

Pulsar Advanced Technologies has announced will next week launch its lead product, the Vulcanus MK4, a water heater USING microwave technology to heat water on demand.

Interesting. I haven't found any photos of the device but it sounds like it's similar in size to the other tankless hot water supplies I've heard about.

Powered by electricity and unaffected by the volatile gas markets, the Vulcanus MK4 can heat water from 35 degrees Fahrenheit to 140 degrees Fahrenheit in seconds and can source multiple applications at once: showers, dishwasher, sink usages and more. The Vulcanus MK4 is the size of a stereo speaker with a sleek modern look, making it ideal for condos and apartments, while powerful enough to serve the needs of any size family.

I wonder how it'll compare in power consumption and performance to the more traditional tankless models?

Posted by jzawodn at 01:01 PM

August 06, 2005

Silicon Valley Real Estate is Crazy

Townhouse For Sale Near Me About a year and a half ago, I announced:

I got the house!

as part of the series of articles I wrote about my house hunting experience in Silicon Valley.

I recently noticed that 3 units are up for sale in my townhouse neighborhood. One is the single story end unit that's at the south end of my building. On my way back from the mailbox this morning, I grabbed the sell sheet from the sign in the lawn and ran the numbers.

Desirable single story end unit in Lincoln Village close to shopping, schools, and commute. Very open floorplan with generous use of windows and high ceilings. Enjoy the benefits of the newer furnace and air conditioning! The washer, dryer, and refrigerator will remain. Oversize two car garage with room for workshop!

Townhouse For Sale Near Me The townhouse is a single story, two bedroom unit of roughly 1,250 square feet. Mine is 36% larger than that. They're asking $585,000. That's about 20% more than the bank paid for my place. To put this on level ground, here are the numbers as dollars per square foot:

  • My place: $285.30/sq foot
  • The one for sale: $468.00/sq foot

If my math is right, that's about a 60% price difference from a square footage point of view.

Have prices really gone up that much in the last 1.5 years? It's hard to say until it sells. If there's an open house, I'll likely walk thru to see what condition it's in. If mine is similar, that means it has been appreciating at a rate just higher than 3% per month (60% over 18 months).

Perhaps Dan's repeated warnings about the housing bubble are more justified than I had previously thought?

Update: They were having an open house, so I dropped by to see the place and chat with the agents. It seems that the kitchen is quite similar to mine, meaning that it's all original (30 years old) equipment with no upgrades. Similar newish paint, carpet, and other stuff elsewhere. They say that if I sold mine, I could expect something in the $650,000 ballpark. That's just nuts.

Posted by jzawodn at 03:18 PM

February 20, 2005

Using a 20 Pound Propane Tank with the Weber Baby Q Grill

Last summer I wrote about how I was loving my new Weber Baby Q Grill:

This little grill is great. It took all of 5 minutes to unpack and assemble. I can use standard propane cylinders on it (much like I would for a small torch) and the lighting mechanism has worked flawlessly so far. Temperature control is straightforward. The only thing I might add is a decent grill thermometer, but so far I'm getting along quite well without.

It turns out that I haven't found the need for a thermometer yet.

The only thing that has bugged me since then is having to use those little propane tanks on it. I've probably gone through 10 of them since then and you can't refil them. That means you're wasting metal that nobody seems to want to recycle. And, of course, it seems to always run out while you're cooking something.

So I went looking for a hose that'd allow me to use the more normal 20 pound tank that you might see on a full-size grill. It turns out that Weber sells one. Weber part #41455 is the hose you need. The hose is available on for $20.

Thanks to Mom & Dad, I got said hose and a tank for giftmas. Now I just need to find a place that'll fill it up for me.

Posted by jzawodn at 10:38 PM

February 03, 2005

Leak Update

In the last several days of chaos, I've been slow to post here. So let's start with the thing everyone has been asking me about: the leak!

As I suggested last week in my Day #7 report, Robert dropped by the next day. By the time I got home that evening, I had a working shower!

The "guest" bathroom was fully functional. There was much happiness!

Because he was pressed for time, we agreed that I'd have Robert come back in a few weeks to finish up a few things, including the master bathroom shower.

It just so happens that I recently bought the camera I've wanted since the day it came out: the Canon EOS Digital Rebel. A co-worker was selling one at a great price, so I finally jumped. The pictures below are two of the first four pics I've shot with it so far. I hope they serve to illustrate how much collateral damage was done to my living room wall. :-(

Close Shot of Hole in Living Room Wall Complete View of Hole in Living Room Wall

But, hey... at least I can shower!

Posted by jzawodn at 12:38 AM

January 26, 2005

The Leak, Day #7: Still Showering with a Hose


Robert hadn't called or arrived by 5pm, so I called AC Plumbing to see what was up. Michelle told me he'd be by tonight. He had one thing to fix in Monterey and then he'd be back my way. No problem, I thought. If he's running late, he's running late.

Then she called me back at about 5:45pm to let me know he hadn't made it to Monterey yet because a job in Los Altos ran behind. His new plan was to finish up in Monterey and then hit my place first thing in the morning.

That was my cue to get the 90 foot garden hose back out and take a shower.

The moral of this story: I should have just gone to work after my oil change and waited for Robert to call. I may have gotten more done that way.

Posted by jzawodn at 09:14 PM

The Leak, Day #6

Yesterday is the day everything was supposed to be done. And it was... sort of.

I had told Robert that I'd be home late (BASA meeting) and asked him to call me if anything came up. I was a bit surprised when he called me at 9:45pm and said things were not going well.

It turns out that all the new plumbing was in and working. However, when they went to test the showers, both clogged up. There was so much sediment in the lines that both of them locked up hard. So they spent some time fighting with the showers but had to give up when it got late.

So the work was "done" but I still had no shower. :-(

On the plus side, I finally have hot water back at all the faucets and don't have to keep turning it on and off at the tank.

Michelle called me this morning to say that Robert would be able to come back out this afternoon to tackle the shower problems. Yay!

I just hope he doesn't need to get into the wall behind either of the showers. Having to replace tile would suck.

More later...

Posted by jzawodn at 09:02 AM

January 24, 2005

The Leak, Days 4 and 5: Exploratory Cutting and New Pipes

It's funny. More than half the folks I ran into in the hallways at work today asked, "how's the plumbing?" or something to that effect. I guess that means I'm getting behind on my updates. :-)

Day #4

The guys came back on Saturday to do the exploratory cutting that would help them figure out where the existing pipes are and where to route the new ones.

Without going into a lot of detail, let's just say that by 2pm on Saturday I had a large (18 inch wide and 5 feet tall) hole in my living room wall and a matching one in the kitchen.

There were also smaller holes in ceiling of the kitchen and laundry room.

Day #5

The plumbers took Sunday off, so day #5 is actually today (Monday). I don't know how long they were here, but when I got home I found that they had run new copper pipes in the first floor bathroom, kitchen, and laundry room. It looks like they got about half of all the new pipe in place.

That means tomorrow should be the big day. I believe they plan to get a bit more pipe in place, turn off the water, and then cut over to the new system. It'll be a long day, but I have a BASA meeting after work so I'm not going to notice.

I can't wait to take a shower without the aid of a garden hose!

Of course, the next step is to bring in a contractor who can patch up the damage they've done. I'll likely take that opportunity to get a few other things done around here that have been on my list:

  • install ceiling fans in two of the bedrooms
  • install new towel racks (the current ones were done but a real idiot)
  • install the new screen in the computer room window

But I'm just taking it one step at a time.

Posted by jzawodn at 11:09 PM

January 21, 2005

The Leak, Day #3: Leak Found, Pictures, Showering with a 90 Foot Hose, and other Fun Tidbits

Well, I managed to wake up at the crack of 6am so that I'd be semi-coherent when Robert and Victor (the leak finder) came by at 7am. They were right on time, too.

Leak Discovery

They pulled a big hose into the house and hooked it up to the hot water line. The idea was to blow air through the system and listen for leaks. Victor used what I can only describe as a plumber's stethoscope. It's like a normal stethoscope except that instead of a little metallic disc on the end, it actually has two long rubber tubes with larger discs on their ends. He puts them on the floor and listens to pinpoint the leak.

I should have taken a picture, but well... it was early.Anyway, the good news is that he found the problem. The bad news is that there are multiple leaks, which means the galvanized pipe is likely shot. Rather than jackhammer into the floor and patch them up, the real solution appears to be re-plumbing the house to bypass the degrading galvanized crap.

That's about $4,500 worth of work, I'm told. I confirmed this with a friend who has recently been through a similar job.

After finding the leaks, Victor pulled out a new device to map out where the pipes are. It's like one of those wands they use to detect guns in your pocket at the airport--only much bigger. He puts a couple of electrodes on the pipes and then uses the wand to pinpoint their location. He put blue tape on the floor to note where the pipes and junctions are.

If nothing else, I'm getting a good plumbing education in the process.

I told Robert that I'd like to get started ASAP. He said they'd checkt he schedule and call me shortly.

Total cost for the leak location work: $275.

The Good News

Michelle (from AC Plumbing) called me a few hours later and said, I kid you not, "Hi, this is Michelle from AC Plumbing. We're ready to rock on your plumbing work tomorrow." Apparently they're arriving at 7am to being "exploratory cutting." Robert explained this while he was here. He needs to get into the walls at several places to get a more precise idea of where to put the new pipes. Once they've done that, they can get started on the real work of putting the pipes in place.

The Insurance Company

A claims representative called me this afternoon (I was expecting a visit). Based on all the advice from everyone yesterday, I explained to her that this was a misunderstanding. I wasn't trying to open a claim--I merely wanted to get some questions answered. So she killed the claim paperwork and answered my questions.

The insurance company is officially off the hook now.

The Temporary Solution

Around noon I had a brainstorm. Or maybe just a light drizzle. See, I was thinking about the water heater.

And then I remembered the valve near the bottom of the tank.

And I realized that it's the same size as those you'd hook up a garden hose to.

So I thought about how much hose I'd need to get hot water up to the nearest shower. I figured 75 feet ought to do it. So I ran off to Orchard Supply Hardware (it's only 2 miles away) and bought a 90 foot hose and nozzle to go with it.

I then attached the hose to the tank.

And ran it upstairs into the bathroom.

And into the bathtub.

There were two remaining issues:

  1. Getting the water pressure right
  2. Getting the temperature right

Hooking directly up to the tank, I knew there'd be no trouble getting water upstairs. There are no leaks before the tank, so that was easy. But I didn't want to turn the water on too hard. Having the water actually hurt in the shower would suck. So it took about 5 minutes of trial and error: try a setting, run upstairs to see, run back down to adjust, repeat.

The temperature would be more tricky. It's like solving math problems about the space shuttle's fuel tank. The longer the engines burn, the lighter the craft gets and the less fuel you need.

I had to turn the temperature down a bit on the tank and let out some hot water out. My theory was that the cold water that'd flow in to replace the hot would bring the overall temperature down enough that I wouldn't burn myself. And, if I didn't use too much water showering, I should be able to do the job without running out of warm water.


I actually got a decent shower out of the deal. Yeay!

Hose: $26.
Nozzle: $9
A non-cold shower: Priceless!


The only problem was that the seal between the hose and the spout wasn't 100% closed. So there was a bunch of water on the floor around the water heater. I used an old blanket to soak most of that up. I consider it a small price to pay for a semi-warm shower.

Posted by jzawodn at 04:00 PM

January 20, 2005

The Leak, Day #2

What a fun day this has been.

This morning I turned on the hot water and raced upstairs to take a shower. There was no hot water pressure in my bathroom shower, so I tried the guest bathroom. It was better than nothing, so I used it. But the water went from lukewarm to cold in about 3 minutes.

Then I called First American Home Buyers Protection (FAHBP from here on out) to explain the problem and get help. I spoke with Mary. She called me back and said someone could have a look in a few days. I explained the problem in more detail and she said, "oh, so this is an emergency!" and found someone more quickly.

Before long, Robert from AC Plumbing called. I described the problem symptoms and he said "you've got a slab leak." That means the there's a problem in the pipes that run through the cement slab upon which my house sits. I asked him what's involved in repairing such a problem and he began to speak of jackhammers!

Meanwhile, I decided to call back FAHBP and ask how much of this they cover. The answer: $1000. Good to know.

Realizing that, I called my insurance agent to find out what my home owner's policy covers. If this was a sudden accidental problem, as opposed to a long-standing leak, I'm covered. That's good... I hope.

They suggested that I re-confirm with my Home Owner's Association (HOA) that they're not liable for any of this. I was pretty sure that'd be the case, but I called anyway. And I was right.

Robert came by around 12:30p and I gave him the tour. He did a bit of experimentation and became further convinced of the exact problem. He said that since I can't find a hot spot on the floor, we need to bring in someone with fancy electronic equipment to listen for leaks.

It was clear to me that Robert has been in this business a long time and he knew way more than the guy who came out last night.

We went to find the water meter while he made a phone call or two. It turns out that his guy was available later today but FAHBP wanted to get a second opinion.


Meanwhile, we found the water meter (buried out behind the garage in a little box) and confirmed that it ran like mad when I re-enabled the hot water. But more interestingly, it also ran (more slowly, of course) when the hot water was off. That means there's a cold water leak somewhere as well.

"Fantastic," I thought in a sarcastic tone. Two leaks.

Anyway, he left and I called FAHBP to find out who would be giving me my second opinion. I spoke with Joanna (sp?) who had some wrong information. (Uh oh. That's never a good sign.) She thought that two companies had already seen the problem and that it had been referred to a third (Sub-Dynamic something or other) to come out and find the leak.

I corrected her and asked for the contact info at the sub-dynmaic place. She gave me their number and re-confirmed that FAHBP had already faxed them the appropriated details.

So I called that company to find out about setting up a visit ASAP and found the following:

  • they had no faxed documents (yet?)
  • they were completely booked for the next two weeks


I asked her to make sure to tell that to FAHBP when (if?) my paperwork arrived. I hung up and called FAHBP back. This time I spoke with Janice. I explained the situation to her. She was surprised and concerned, and said she'd send my info to the dispatch department. They'd contact someone else locally who could get here sooner and that technician (not FAHBP) would call me.

I asked, but apparently FAHBP can't be bothered to call me when they've found a new company to handle my problem. So I'm at the mercy of their speed and how busy the next place is.

I asked when would be a good time to call back if I hadn't heard anything. "Noon tomorrow, I'd guess." That's all well and good, but I have no hot water until then. I reminded her that AC Plumbing already had someone they could get out here, but she said they didn't think AC could do that kind of work.

After I hung up, I thought about it for a bit while eating a late lunch and decided to call AC back myself. I talked with Robert and he verified that his guy (Victor) could be out at 5pm tonight with the fancy leak-finding gear.

"What's that cost?" I asked. $275.

So they're both coming back out at 5pm to locate the leak. If need be, I'll fight with FAHBP about this crap later. As far as my insurance agent is concerned, I should get it fixed and then deal with them. If FAHBP doesn't get that this matters, that's their problem. I'll find another way to point that out to them.

Keeping track of this shit is a full-time job all of the sudden. Isn't FAHBP supposed to be doing this?

Posted by jzawodn at 02:19 PM

August 30, 2004

PG&E Strikes Again

Well, they're back. I shot the picture at the right a few minutes ago. With no warning, PG&E shut off power to do some repair work from last night's outage.

Here's the thing. They know that I was one of the affected folks yesterday because I called twice requesting information. Why the hell didn't they call me this morning to warn me? I'd have moved my car out of my garage (the one with the electrically operated door) and onto the street before taking a shower.

Instead, all the lights died as I was getting out of the shower. The good news is that I should be able to work for a while on battery power (again). This outage is supposedly going to be 2 hours at the most. I know this not because they bothered to tell anyone, but because a neighbor shouted out the window and one of the guys yelled back "two hours at the most."

Earth to utility companies. Talk to your customers. If you know an outage is coming, tell us.

Update: The power gods are unhappy with me. It's been 2.5 hours now. The truck is still there. My little 400VA APC UPS is running out of juice and beeping at me. So I plugged it into my 500VA APC, except that it had been unplugged from the wall for a few months now. Doh!

It's a race against the clock. Luckily I'm powering small devices. But still, I think I may invest in a larger UPS soon.

Update #2: Murphy sucks. The power came back on-line just 20 minutes after the UPSes gave out. But it was just in time for lunch, so it's not all bad...

Posted by jzawodn at 09:15 AM

August 29, 2004

Power Outage

Well, the power is out. It has been for about an hour now. One of my neighbors stopped over to introduce himself (he works at IBM) and to see if I was also without power. Apparently this happens fairly often in this neighborhood. I guess the previous home owners didn't want to mention that little tidbit.

The good news is that this is not like last time I lost power. My power bill is paid automatically now.

Oh, well, I called the power company minutes after it happened to report the problem. Then, about an hour later, I realized that if I moved one UPS, I could probably power my DSL modem, hub, and Wifi access point for a while. So I'm able to get on-line via my Powerbook and that UPS.

Kick ass!

I wonder how long it'll last. Will PG&E fix the power before my UPS runs out? Will I have to pull the second UPS too?

Oh, the suspense...

Update: Well, the little UPS has lasted 2.5 hours now, powering the DSL modem and stuff. There's a PG&E truck in the street, so presumably they've found the bug.

Man, I should have eaten earlier. I'm hungry but have resisted opening the refrigerator for fear of letting any of the cold out.

The Powerbook is down to 52 minutes of battery left. Let's see if they get the juice back on before it dies.

Update #2: The power came back on at roughly 10pm and the truck drove away. About 15 seconds after the power was back, my cell phone rang. It was the callback from PG&E letting me know that I should have power. Damn, that's quick.

Update #3 It looks like they're gonna pay me. Nice!

Posted by jzawodn at 06:51 PM

August 28, 2004

Well, the air conditioner works...

During my home inspection they tested the air conditioner by turning it on for about 10 seconds and then shutting it off. The inspectors explained that they can't do much more than that in "cold" weather. So I've always been wondering if it actually worked.

Today I found out. It was 90 degrees upstairs when I decided to shut the windows and kick on the air conditioner, set at 72 degrees. I'm happy to report that the place is cooling down nicely.

Yeay for the little things in life. I was honestly worried that I'd have to add this to the list of random things that don't quite work right around here.

Posted by jzawodn at 04:23 PM

July 06, 2004

Real Estate Investment Resources?

As the result of an on-going discussion among some friends, I'm looking for some good real estate investment resources (residential, not commercial). Namely, I'd like to find any or all of the following:

  • Books
  • Magazines
  • Web sites
  • A local REI (Real Estate Investment) club
  • Someone local who's been at it a while
  • Bloggers who have written or still to write about it

Nothing may come of this, but I've gone past the "idle curiosity" phase and am moving into the "gather information" phase.

Any leads?

Does anyone reading this happen to dabble in the real estate market and want to chat or exchange a bit of e-mail? Anyone local? I'd gladly buy you dinner in exchange for a bit of your experience.

Some initial web searches and rummaging around have uncovered an assload (technical term) of sites that seem to have been designed to sleazy SEO companies in a not so futile effort to abuse PageRank. Needless to say, they are not helpful.

Posted by jzawodn at 10:47 PM

June 19, 2004

Weber Baby Q Grill

One of the things I've wanted ever since I moved into the new place is a decent gas grill--something that's not cheap and breakable but also not so large that it doesn't make sense for a single guy and his cats.

A few weeks ago, while visiting the local Orchard Supply Hardware (something I've been doing frequently), I browsed their selection of grills and found the perfect solution: The Weber Baby Q Gas Grill.

This little grill is great. It took all of 5 minutes to unpack and assemble. I can use standard propane cylinders on it (much like I would for a small torch) and the lighting mechanism has worked flawlessly so far. Temperature control is straightforward. The only thing I might add is a decent grill thermometer, but so far I'm getting along quite well without.

I acquired and used the grill for the first time while my parents were visiting. (It was a housewarming gift from them.) Since then I've used it four times (chicken, beef/steak, and kebabs (twice)) and definitely see it getting a lot more use this summer. I can't wait to attempt salmon and possibly swordfish.

If you're looking for a decent sized but still portable grill that's rugged and inexpensive, look no more. This is it.

See Also:

Posted by jzawodn at 10:33 AM

March 20, 2004

Mortgage Protection Plans

In the roughly two weeks since I moved in, I've received no less than six "offers" from various companies who wish to ensure that the substantial investment I've made in the California real estate (my house) doesn't vanish.

To that end, they propose that I given them a bit of money so that they can help in case something goes wrong.


Well, my dear financial trolls, I have news for you. There's a very good reason I put more than 25% down on the place at closing time. I didn't want to have to deal with paying a couple hundred bucks every month in mortgage insurance, otherwise known as "throwing money down the drain."

I can do far more good with that extra cash by putting it toward the loan or investing it in something relatively safe.

I had forgotten how much physical mail you get as the result of moving into a newly purchase home. It really is quite insane.

[This is part of a series of posts on the home buying process I'm going I went thru. To see the full set, visit the house category archives.]

Posted by jzawodn at 08:25 PM

February 27, 2004

Pam Blackman, Realtor

[This is part of a series of posts on the home buying process I'm going thru. To see the full set, visit the house category archives.]

Now that I officially own the house (well, the bank owns it, but they're gonna let me live there), I wanted to put out a recommendation for the realtor that helped me through the home buying experience. She always had good advice and was patient with me. And she was always one step ahead of me in making sure the right paperwork got to all the right people.

If you're in the South Bay and looking for a house, give Pam a call. Or visit her web site: While she mainly deals with the Los Altos, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, and Cupertino area, she had no trouble with me running all over Campbell and San Jose too.

Posted by jzawodn at 03:38 PM

February 26, 2004

I'm a home owner again...

[This is part of a series of posts on the home buying process I'm going thru. To see the full set, visit the house category archives.]

I just got the call from my realtor. The keys, garage door openers, home, and the debt are all mine!


Next up: Refrigerator delivery, carpet install, testing the phone/DSL service, and moving day.

Posted by jzawodn at 04:56 PM

First American Title Incompetence

[This is part of a series of posts on the home buying process I'm going thru. To see the full set, visit the house category archives.]

On Tuesday we finished up nearly all the paperwork necessary for be to become the owner of the new place. That involved, among other things, going to an office of First American Title to sign about a billion documents, most of which contained redundant information.

When I got there, I began looking over the paperwork. The first thing I noticed is that their one page estimate of how much money I'd owe for closing did not match the estimate I had previously seen. This one was about $4,000 more. That's a problem because I already had a cashier's check (got it that morning) made out for what I believed to be the proper amount.

After hunting thru the other paperwork I figured out the bug. It was a stupid typo. Someone had transposed a few numbers when copying them off a Washington Mutual document. They seemed to think I had paid over $4,500 for a home appraisal (it was really $250). I brought this to the attention of the First American person who was there to work with me. She was surprised by this and set about calling to figure out what to do. Shortly after, my realtor arrived and I told her what happened. She explained that the copy I had seen earlier via e-mail was the corrected one. She had spotted this error and got it corrected earlier in the day before I ever knew. But the brain-trust at First American didn't bother to up the updated version in my packet.

With that solved, I signed the necessary documents. For each one, the rocket scientist from First American would tell me the name of each document and point to where I had to sign (it was usually obvious). After about 5 of these I realized that all the documents were titled. She was simply reading to me.

Yesterday (Wednesday) I got a phone call from Washington Mutual at roughly 3:00pm. The geniuses at First American had managed to screw up some of the paperwork. They even forgot to ask me for a required document. I had the document with me (lots of documents, in fact) but didn't realize they'd need it. So I had to drop everything, drive home, fetch it, come back to work, and fax it to WaMu before 5:00pm. Why? Because someone at First American didn't do their job.

I scanned thru the documents last night and saw it quite plainly. One of the bank documents had a list of required supporting documentation. I guess the folks at First American didn't bother to actually read the docs completely.

Now, you might argue that I should have seen it. And you'd be right. However, this is their job. They do this every day. They should know where to look and should be double-checking the guy who does this sort of thing every 7-8 years (me).

Next time I buy a house, I'll be sure to use a different title company. They certainly didn't earn all those "nickel and dime the shit out of customers" fees that I had to pay. $40 to take my damned finger print? Come on...

Posted by jzawodn at 10:26 AM

February 20, 2004

Will the Refrigerator Fit?

[This is part of a series of posts on the home buying process I'm going thru. To see the full set, visit the house category archives.]

As noted yesterday, I've been shopping a bit for something to keep my food cold. I took my lunch break today and headed over to Sears to look around. They have a way, way, way better selection than Fry's. I've narrowed down the choices a bit but am not sure about dimensions. Is the open space in my kitchen wide enough for a 32.5 inch wide unit? Or maybe only a 29.5 inch wide unit?

I don't know. I forgot to measure last time I was there. I can either guess or do it for real on Tuesday when the carpet people come to measure.

But I'm impatient. So I went looking thru the pictures I took on inspection day and found a useful one on page four.

However, I didn't know how big that space is. If I knew how large the floor pattern was, I could use that. But I don't. Then it dawned on me: the power outlet. Those are the same size nearly everywhere. So I loaded the picture up in The Gimp and began playing. Before long, I had a cropped version with outlets side-by-side so that I could count them up.

My measuring here tells me that they are 2.75 inches wide. Since I can fit 13 of them across the back wall with a bit of room to spare, it's at least 36 inches wide. However, there's a bit of curving where the floor meets the wall, so I'll subtract 1.5 inches on each side for that. I'm then left with 33 inches. That means a 32.5 inch unit may fit, but a 29.5 inch unit certainly will.

Excellent. I don't have my heart set on anything that wide, so there's probably no need to go measuring in person. I can probably order up something soon and then double-check the measurements on Tuesday just in case I'm way off.

Posted by jzawodn at 05:58 PM

February 19, 2004

Carpet and Refrigerator Shopping

[This is part of a series of posts on the home buying process I'm going thru. To see the full set, visit the house category archives.]

Well things are progressing on the house. Closing will be sometime next week. In the meantime, I've been slowly getting my stuff together for the upcoming move.


First off, I took advantage of the day off on Monday to go carpet shopping. I had no idea what carpeting a house might cost and what the options are, so that was bit of an eye-opener. The carpet I'm looking at (with installation) is just over $4 per square foot. Plus there's this flat $75 delivery charge. And they need to come to the house to measure and figure out how much of a challenge the stairs will be. That puts the ballpark cost around $5,000 - $6,000 if my math is right.

The hardest part, of course, is picking out the color I want. It's hard to decide, partly because it's difficult to imagine the whole floor covered in it.

After sufficient time, I managed to narrow down the options and bring home several samples so I could stare at them in a futile attempt to decide. Since I got nowhere on that front, I asked a few friends and then enlisted the help of my cats to choose. After all, they're gonna spend way more time on it than I am.

The good news is that they like the carpet! The bad news is that they seem to have absolutely no color preference at all.


On the way home today I stopped off at Fry's (it really is on the way) to check out their selection of refrigerators. Walking in, the only thing I knew is that I didn't want a side-by-side unit. It turns out that that limited my choices quite a bit. They seem to be rather popular.

After opening every non-side-by-side unit in the store, I found that I had narrowed it down to three models. Why? They all have the freezer in the bottom (which is fine), but some have a drawer there while others have a door. It seems that I hate the drawer models and really want a door.

I only spent about 7 minutes looking. I'll need to measure the space in the kitchen to figure out what sort of dimensions I'm working with. Then I'll check out a couple other stores. I'm sure there are places with a better selection than Fry's.

Anyone got a local appliance store recommendation, where "local" is Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, Mountain View, or San Jose?

That's all for now. Next up is more paperwork, including me getting a big ass check form the bank to make the down payment on the place. Oh, I also need to call movers and utility companies tomorrow. Know if any local movers I should avoid?

Posted by jzawodn at 10:05 PM

February 12, 2004

House Inspections Update

[This is part of a series of posts on the home buying process I'm going thru. To see the full set, visit the house category archives.]

I've been lazy (well, busy) when it comes to updating the house stuff. A few days ago the sellers came back and said they weren't thrilled with some of the Section One findings in the termite inspection report.

The way our contract works, Section One items are things that the seller must correct before I buy the house. If they don't, I can walk away and take my deposit with me. They're basically things like ensuring that all systems are working, there are no plumbing leaks, and so on. This happens to include termites, termite damage, and water/fungus damage.

So they brought in their own inspector today. My realtor and I met them at the house and their inspector double-checked everything listed on the report that our inspector had provided. The good news is that they pretty much agree (it seems--we'll get the formal report tomorrow) on all the Section One items.

As a side effect of this, we've pushed the closing date back a bit to give them time to get the required work done. I've also been in touch with my insurance agency to setup coverage for all the stuff that the Home Owner's Association (HOA) doesn't cover.

It was good to meet the sellers face to face today. It game me a chance to ask some questions and for them to point out stuff that I might not know otherwise.

That's all for now. Soon I'll need to find movers, pick new carpet, and transfer all the utilities. (Not necessarily in that order.)

Posted by jzawodn at 09:55 PM

February 02, 2004

Home Inspection Day

[This is part of a series of posts on the home buying process I'm going thru. To see the full set, visit the house category archives.]

Today was the big day: Inspections. The day when I get to find out about all the stuff that's broken, the termite damage, and random other stuff to knock me back to the reality of buying a unit that's as old as I am.

Being as it was my first time in the house with a lot of time on my hands, I took the opportunity to snap about 90 pictures. Some are to show folks who ask "what's it look like?" while others are there to remind me of the trouble spots the inspectors pointed out.

So now that you're back from viewing all the pictures and wondering what the heck everything is (since I've been too busy to add captions -- give me a day or two), you're probably wondering how everything went. Well, at least one or two of you are.

Termite Inspection

To make a long story short (I hope), Silicon Valley (or the Santa Clara Valley) has a major termite problem. This whole area used to be orchards, and there's an abundance of little wood-eating critters in the ground. The termite inspection is a big deal for any home buyer. And, in this case, it's also a big deal for the seller.


Because the contract stipulates the any termite problems have to be handled by the seller--unless they're covered by the HOA. In Sunnyvale and Mountain View, the sellers typically have inspections done when putting the property on the market. Potential bidders can then obtain a "disclosure packet" that contains all the necessary inspection reports and such.

In San Jose, however, it's common to wait until a winning big has been chosen and let the buyer pay for the inspections (yippie).

Anyway, Jeff from Able Exterminators found a fair amount of termite damage that will need to be handled. A bit in the front exterior, but most of the problems are in the back (south-facing side) and the detached garage. The wood and lattice overhang above the back patio (see this page) is actually connected to the exterior of the house (see this page), and that's made for some interesting problems it seems. If I get an electronic copy of the report, I'll post a link to it.

At $50 (there was a special running), the inspection was a steal. But I suspect they're gonna make up for it in follow-up work. I should have the full report in 48 hours. We'll see how the sellers respond.

House Inspection

The house inspectors were way high-tech. Cori and Richard from Gillespie Home Inspections arrived, sporting fancy tablet PCs running Windows XP and with some sort of wireless network that I didn't get a chance to check out. The divided up the work and went about the business of poking, prodding, and crawling all over.

As I was writing this, my realtor send me a copy of their report (in PDF no less, but for some reason, I have to read it on Windows--my Linux Acrobat claims it is encrypted). Cool. The bottom line is that they did find some problems, but nothing earth-shattering or deal-breaking. Just like Jeff, when they were done, they walked me thru their findings to make sure I knew what they had found. They seemed to be quite thorough and worth the $350 paid.

Next step(s): Reviewing inspection reports, awaiting Home Owners' Association documents, and contacting my insurance company.

Posted by jzawodn at 11:15 PM

January 28, 2004

I got the house!

[This is part of a series of posts on the home buying process I'm going thru. To see the full set, visit the house category archives.]

I haven't posted on this topic for a few days, 'cause I've been very busy. So here's the slightly shorter version...


This past Sunday, my realtor and I met to go look at places. The first place we saw was in Campbell. The townhouse was listed at about $465k which I quickly realized was over priced. It had been on the market a long time and many, many folks had looked at it (as evidenced by the stack of other realtor's cards in the kitchen). I'd have been glad to buy it at a 10-15% discount and put some of that "saved" money into upgrades for the kitchen.

On the way of that place, my realtor accidentally left her little realtor access device (an electronic thingy that opens the key box) inside. So we were done for the day. Rather than waste it, I drove off to the southern tip of San Jose, near 101 and 85 to scope out another place I wanted to see. While there, I checked out the area quite a bit. It was far from work but very nice. We planned to meet again on Monday morning.


We met Monday morning at the place in southern San Jose. This is a very new development (about 5 years old) and the place was very, very nice and less expensive. The only problem was that it had 2 bedrooms rather than 3. I really wanted 3. However, another unit 20 feet away was also for sale but not yet in MLS, so we checked it out too. It was a 3 bed, 2 bath unit listed at roughly $465k. The floor plan wasn't quite as good but I really liked it.

With that in mind, we headed back north into San Jose to visit two others. The first was we saw was the least expensive place on the list. At just under $400k, it was reasonably sized but old. It hadn't been upgraded at all in a long time and it was in an older neighborhood. The monthly HOA fees were unknown. I wasn't too impressed with it.

The final place we looked at was on Roy Ave in the Willow Glen area of San Jose. It was nearly 1700 square feet and listed at $485k. And it was already vacant--the owners had moved out last week. That place was quite spacious. It had a very large living room with a good size dining room and kitchen. The kitchen wasn't really new but wasn't exceptionally old either. I really liked the back patio (where I discovered the air conditioner) and detached garage. There's extra overhead and side storage in the garage. Upstairs, the master bedroom is quite large and the other two aren't bad either. I quickly decided that I wanted to put an offer on the unit.

The Offer

I met my realtor yesterday morning (Tuesday) to put the offer together. Having done it once before, it went a lot faster. We sent the offer in at 2pm with a "we need an answer by 6pm" clause. The sellers contacted us at 5pm to say they were waiting for a few others and needed to wait until 8pm. We agreed to let it go longer. But then they tried to push us back until this morning. That pissed off me and my realtor, so she made that clear to them. We had sent in a good solid offer and they knew it.

Well, my realtor called me at 7:30am today (yawn!) to let me know that she had a late voice mail last night from the sellers. I got the place!


Sorry, I have no pictures to post at this time, but that will change in a few weeks. I'll likely be replacing the carpet before I move in, since what's there know is quite ugly (to me). And I may have some repainting done too.

Next up: more documents, inspections, and other fun. Stay tuned for more (if you care).

Posted by jzawodn at 08:08 AM

January 20, 2004

The Price of Being Single

[This is part of a series of posts on the home buying process I'm going thru. To see the full set, visit the house category archives.]

The wait is over. I just got the call. I had the better offer but still did not get the townhouse.


I'm not a family.

Yes, that's their reason.


Pardon my french, but why the fuck didn't they put that on the damned listing instead of letting me waste hours today seeing the place (twice), comparing with two other places, and then doing that mountain of paperwork to assemble an offer (the higher offer, I might add) to meet their deadline?


It's a good thing I'm not gay. Or black. Or ... both.

This really pisses me off. There was a filter there all along, but I wasn't told about it until far too late in the process. I hope the new residents of 39 Starlite Court in Mountain View enjoy their place.


The search continues... But first, I need a drink or two.

Posted by jzawodn at 09:40 PM

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

[This is part of a series of posts on the home buying process I'm going thru. To see the full set, visit the house category archives.]

I put an offer on a townhouse today. I've supposed to hear back by 9pm, but my realtor just e-mailed me to say she hasn't heard anything yet.


I'll say know more when I know more. Needless to say, it's been a completely insane day. The housing market in the Bay Area is heating up, that's for sure.

Posted by jzawodn at 09:12 PM

January 19, 2004

Tax Advisor Meeting

[This is part of a series of posts on the home buying process I'm going thru. To see the full set, visit the house category archives.]

This morning I met with my new tax advisor to discuss things related to home buying and stock option related taxes. I brought the previously mentioned spreadsheet with me to get a sanity check on my thinking.

Ken suggested a minor adjustment to the "tax benefit" calculation, namely pegging it at 33%, but said it was pretty accurate otherwise. (Thanks, Nelson.) So it looks like things are on track from his point of view. It was very helpful to get his validation of my approach to handling my money.

Next up: checking out a townhouse tomorrow morning.

Posted by jzawodn at 09:25 PM

Square Feet

[This is part of a series of posts on the home buying process I'm going thru. To see the full set, visit the house category archives.]

After the place I saw the other day, I got to wondering how big my apartment really is. The place I saw was in the 1,500 square feet ballpark and just didn't feel very big. It seemed that I had quite a bit more room in my old 1,400 square foot house back in Ohio. I suspect a lot of that has to do with the floor plan. I wasn't very fond of what I saw. There seemed to be a lot of wasted space--at least from my ideas of where the space should be used. It was carved into too many smaller rooms.

So I busted out the tape measure. My apartment is 24 feet by 34 feet, or 816 square feet. And, except for wanting a bit more storage (in the form of a garage) it's basically big enough for me and the cats. I really had thought it was bigger than that, so now I'm starting to wonder if I shouldn't adjust my strategy a bit. Rather than looking for a 3 bedroom place where none of the rooms are quite large enough, perhaps I'd be better off looking at 2 bedroom places that are about 200 square feet smaller. In doing so, it seems that I'd be able to save quite a bit of cash--especially if I go a bit farther away.

One example is here.


Decisions, decisions...

Posted by jzawodn at 12:15 AM

January 17, 2004

House Hunting, Weekend #1

[This is part of a series of posts on the home buying process I'm going thru. To see the full set, visit the house category archives.]

This is is a copy of the note I just sent to my realtor.

I headed out on Saturday to check out a few Mountain View neighborhoods where some townhouses are listed. It just so happens that the first one of them had an open house, so I got a chance to check it out.


  MLS #371981
  1551 LILAC LN

This one had the open house going on, so I poked around. I liked the location a lot. The area didn't feel crowded at all and there was a fair amount of extra street parking for visitors. There were a few things I didn't really like about the place. First, the living room was quite small. I'd have loved to take some of the dining room space and use it to enlarge the living room. Also, I'm not a fan of hardwood floors. I hadn't really thought about that before, but I'd end up just putting in carpet anyway.


  MLS #372109

This one faces Middlefield road but is a fair distance from the road. From the outside it's hard to say much. But the parking and garage area felt cramped compared to the area on Lilac Lane. It's virtually the same price and square feet as the other one, so I'd like to have a look inside. I think that'll help quite a bit in setting my expectations and having a good basis for comparison.

Posted by jzawodn at 07:13 PM

January 16, 2004

First Realtor Meeting

[This is part of a series of posts on the home buying process I'm going thru. To see the full set, visit the house category archives.]

I headed over to Los Altos on Tuesday morning to meet my realtor for the first time. What I expected to be a 40 minute "get to know each other" meeting ended up being 2 hours and 15 minutes of productivity.

We started with the basics of home buying in California and Santa Clara County specifically. It's quite a bit different than, say, Ohio. The disclosure requirements for sellers are much higher here. Sellers bear a lot more of the expense here, but that varies on a county by county basis. If I were to move up the peninsula into San Mateo County, the tables are turned.

Very funky.

We talked a bit about the overall costs. One thing I've been trying to get a feel for is how much cash will out of my virtual pocket to cover all the miscellaneous fees, taxes, and other crap that comes along with acquiring a home and the loan to pay for it. She estimated about $5,000 - $6,000 in my price range.

Good to know.

After all that, we talked a bit more about what I wanted and how high I was willing to go on price. In the days leading up to our meeting, I'd been working with slightly modified version of Nelson's handy spreadsheet to gauge how much I want to spend. I'm using the post-tax-benefit monthly cost as my guide. I don't want to go too far over $2,000 per month.

Using that as a rough guide, that means I can go as a high as a $575,000 purchase price.

So what does half a million dollars (it sounds like a lot when I say it that way) buy in Mountain View or Sunnyvale?

To answer that question, we hopped on the computer and played with various searches against the MLS database. We spent a lot of time doing this, selecting properties, and discussing the good and bad points of each--based solely on the data in the listing. That was very helpful, because I got to learn about how proximity to major highways affects price (it gets a bit lower if you're near enough to hear or see the traffic) and how the various school districts affect home resale value. There's an interesting west to east decrease as you move from Los Altos to Mountain View, Cupertino, Sunnyvale, and so on. The school districts (in general) seem to go from very attractive to less attractive as you follow that progression.

Anyway, using searches in the $400,000 - $575,000 range, I learned that my dreams of a 3 bed, 2 bath condo or townhouse with at least 1,300 square feet and a 2 car attached garage is realistic.

I also brought home a ton of paperwork to look: info about my realtor, her company, typical expenses, tax schedules, sample home sale contracts, and so on. I have much to read.

Next up: My Thursday visit with the loan guy.

Posted by jzawodn at 08:14 AM

January 12, 2004

Fellow Yahoo Employees and Investors...

[This is part of a series of posts on the home buying process I'm going thru. To see the full set, visit the house category archives.]

You can thank me this time.

You see, about 9 months ago, one of my co-workers used to joke that it was his fault every time there was a significant jump in our stock price.


Because he was buying a house and selling stock to help with that process. This probably happened two or three times. It got to the point that when I saw a spike in the price, I'd IM him and ask "Did you sell this morning?"

I thought it was funny in a "I hope that never happens to me" sort of way.

Well, it would appear the tables are turned now.

Remember, Murphy is always watching. Always.

Posted by jzawodn at 03:19 PM