Dream Realized!

My new homefront: plenty of room to watch bluebirds.


After nine months of carrying the big load – multi-tasking and watching the gestation process of birthing a brand new home – I am now sitting at the breakfast bar in my kitchen, writing my final blog.

I moved in last week and I am enjoying the final weeks of summer living in the Northern Neck of Virginia.

On the first morning in my new home, I walked outside with a cup of coffee. I could smell the salt water and then I saw, right there on the front lawn, the tiny bluebird of happiness.  I knew I was home.

While I am a little proud of myself, I DID NOT do it all by myself. I had guidance from the following people:  Matthew and Ellery, Andrew and Mona, Debby and Paul, Bill and Kitty, Debby and Paul, Larry and Jan, Ellis and Linda, Lloyd and Jennifer, Andy and quite a few others.  My family and close friends have come through listening to my progress every step of the way, and offering suggestions.  I love you all for helping my dream happen. Thank you.

This process has been a BIG learning experience.  For anyone attempting to build a new home, stick-built or modular, I have a few lessons learned.

1. Dream First and Dream Big:  There are many home building options so try to go for all the things you WANT. Manage your “wants” and your “needs” with your budget.  Know what you will NOT compromise on. I wanted a garage, but because my home in did not sell, the garage will go on later.  I got what I needed/wanted now and it’s only downhill from here on out.

2. Location, location, location.  I know several people who purchased retirement property, paid it off and they don’t want to build there now – and in this market they can’t sell. This is a huge financial investment and WHERE to move was the most exhaustive, frustrating thinking I’ve ever done.  It took me about three agonizing years to decide, and it was time well spent.  My conditions were: a place where I can make a NEW life, near water, near friends and a community, near the water and beachy environment.  My list of locations may seem silly, but I considered the whole world:  a villa in Tuscany (ok, you saw the movie too.); a condo on the Amalfi Coast in Italy; the Pennsylvania mountains, the Rocky Mountains, Southern California, Maine, Florida, New Mexico.  Eventually I calculated those things that are really important to me:  family, friends, culture, independence, longevity. It takes time to mentally turn down a Tuscan villa for the Northern Neck of Virginia, but I did not settle, I dove into my new location with conviction and audacity.

3. Get advice. Talk to a financial planner. Talk to your accountant. Talk to builders. Talk to anyone who will listen. Search the Internet for similar adventures. And then KEEP YOUR OWN COUNSEL. Every decision is yours and if you get in trouble, they will not bail you out. Try to figure out how much you can build without ruining your retirement savings. My new mortgage will be a 1/3 of my big home in Frederick and it’s perfect a my retirement income.

4. Count your money. With all the research I have done over the past year, you CAN build something you are pleased with. There are many options.  You need to marry your financials with your desires. In this economy you must consider the worst possible scenario and all the “what ifs”.  What if I run out of money? What if the land has zoning issues, or water issues, or won’t perk, or others.  Play the “what if” game with every big decision you make.  My big “what if” was “what if my home doesn’t sell?”  Can I manage two mortgages?  The answer was yes, if I don’t add the garage at time of construction.  I accepted that and when my Frederick home sells, I will add the garage and a screened in porch.  But I am now in my new home and I can breathe…financially.

5. Take care choosing a builder. Because I interviewed many builders, saw many home styles and asked for recommendations from friends, I am delighted with my final product and my builder: Lloyd Dilday of Chesapeake Homes, in Lively, Va. EVERY DETAIL was completed, every cost was managed and I was advised every step of the way. Friends seeing my new home are amazed of the handiwork, the cleanliness and the quality.  Because my builder has been in business for 40 years and because his reputation in this community really matters to him; I have a home where a checklist of unfinished items is not necessary.  I have built two homes and this is a first for me.

6. Coordinate, plan, write lists, and count your money over and over again. When you have a plan, WORK THE PLAN.  Interview several banks for construction loans; talk to local officials about zoning laws, water availability, sewer, cable, electricity etc.   If you have a good local builder, most of this will be included in your building cost and it’s a great time saver. But you will have to know about this stuff anyway.

7. You can always purchase a home instead of building new. I considered this and could not afford it, nor could I find what I wanted. Building was actually less costly than purchasing someone else’s trouble, so I built. I purchased and paid for the land before I built, in that way the land was considered a partial down payment on construction.If I purchased a home already constructed, I could not have qualified.

8. Plan the process to sell your existing home. Don’t wait. The market is not what it used to be. (But it’s coming back.) Clean, stage, and mend obvious issues in your home.  And then plant a statue of St. Joseph in your front yard.  (I was advised to do this but my home is still on the market.)  I know it will sell, and I’m not going to worry. Pass along this link to anyone who’s interested in buying a lovely home in a great neighborhood in Frederick, Md.

9. Embrace life. This journey was a backbone-building experience and an adventure in so many ways.  I learned a lot about construction, patience, people and finances.  Now I am here and it’s wonderful.

10. Don’t Give Up. The details, the finances, the pressure, the timetables, the personalities of so many people could have affected my progress, but I kept on.

And now  every morning as I bicycle to the beach, I realize that I made my own dream come true.

Home close to the “rivah” as they say in the Northern Neck. The river is the Potomac.


Foyer archway to living room with sunroom in rear. The house has three bedrooms, a very large kitchen and dining room, and two baths.

View of sunroom in back of house. Lots of windows.


New Home Delivered. Amazingly Hoisted in Place.

Dilday Construction/Chesapeake Homes had a crew of 11 there in the morning of July 10 to start the process of putting the homes in place. Here are the photos of the process.  Yay!

The three sections arrived, were attached, roof assembled and locked in one day. In 5  weeks, house will be completed and I will get the keys.  Stay tuned for photos in the interior.

The front of the home is lifted and set next to the back half. This was a slow and very efficient process. Both pieces butted up directly, no gap.

Here the sun room is being hoisted up over the main house to be placed on the foundation in the rear.

Rear of house, roof is being hoisted up.

Front of home as porch construction starts.

The Home Stretch

Well, more like the seventh inning stretch. After all these months, I can see an end to the construction phase. Since this is a modular home, the prep work is the most time consuming. And because I am close to the water, wetlands mitigation took an extra month of engineering, repositioning the house, and money. But that is all over and done.


Foundation and crawl space

The lot is cleared, the foundation is complete, and the stone driveway is done. All the issues have been resolved. I carved my initials into the concrete foundation to mark the occasion. It was a most solemn moment.


The builder said the house will arrive on two trucks ready for inspection by the bank, and me. Then on Tuesday a crane will carefully lift each half onto the foundation. I guess then the two halves will be screwed together somehow.  In about 6 weeks I get the keys.

My little 1,650 sq. ft. home will arrive complete with interior walls, windows, siding, flooring, bathrooms, and kitchen cabinets. The front porch and the sunroom will be stick built and the electricity connections, the plumbing connections and the bathroom tile will be added.

I’m going out to buy some good Champaign and snacks and we’ll pop the wine after both halves are set on the foundation.
Stay tuned.

Quick Construction Update

Dilday Construction has poured the foundation footprint.  The block foundation will be started this week.

Concrete footers surround the house and go through the center.

As it turns out the spot where the house was sited by the wetlands engineers, needs to be elevated with a higher foundation, so I will have more crawl space under the house and more storage space.  It also means I will have to add a brick facade at some point.

The house should be delivered the week of June 25.  Stay tuned for photos.

My friend sent me this photo of the houses on Cypress Court from the water. My house is not on the water, but I do have a view of the water from my front porch.

View of Cypress Court homes

View of Cypress Court homes

And We Have Liftoff

Lot 60 Cleared and Ready for Foundation

Lot 60 Ready for the foundation. See the wooden pegs where the house will be.

The construction is finally underway. The tall trees in the center of Lot #60 on Cypress Court have been chopped down, the stumps bulldozed and the wood taken to a lumber yard for recycling. Around the perimeter, the tall trees still stand and the ground is rough graded.

After all these months I see visible progress. The contractor brought all sorts of heavy equipment to my lot. I can see exactly where the house will sit, where the living room is, the front porch, the back sunroom, the patio.

Two tall trees were accidentally left too close to the home, but the builder came back and removed them. Final grading will not take place until the foundation hole is dug out, and the septic field is built in the front of the house.

As I paced off the perimeter, I imagined myself sitting in the sunroom, serving wine and appetizers to neighbors, or picking crabs on the patio with the kids. New memories will be made and I will settle into a different kind of environment far from urban sprawl, hectic commuter traffic, and a frantic lifestyle.

With new construction I thought the neighbors needed to be filled in. I bet they were abuzz, wondering who is coming to their quiet street. I resolved that question last weekend. I spent several hours walking around the court, meeting almost everyone and I was delighted. One neighbor offered to help mow my lawn; another to take me out on their boat, and another to let me bring the grandchildren to their pier to fish and catch crabs.

I can see my dream is within reach. I AM ACTUALLY BUILDING A HOUSE. This is not a feeling I’ve had before and it’s empowering.

When the foundation is built, the house will be delivered and a big crane will lift the house onto its permanent spot. What will the real house be like? How will it feel?

It’s the mystery feeling I’ve waited for. It’s a good feeling.

Want to Live in the Last Century?

This slow housing market is slowing down my dreams.  I’m concerned about the sale of my home in historic Frederick, Md. that has been on the market now for 6 weeks and hardly a nibble.  So, let’s test the power of social media. Please share this blog, post it on your Facebook page, or Twitter, or Google+. 

Living in Frederick, Maryland
I live on Elm Street – a short street only two blocks long – where the homes are a mix of single family and townhomes, or duplexes.  Built in the 1913, my home is a bit older than most and Elm Street has kept that old-fashioned neighborly feeling.

* We easily walk to downtown restaurants, shopping and antique stores. Elm Street has been given a walking score of 99 out of 100 at A Walker’s Paradise. 

* Baker Park and Culler Lake offer recreation, festivals and summer evening band shell entertainment. You can either watch the Fourth of July fireworks from my front porch, or walk a few blocks to share in the party at Baker Park. No hassles with the traffic ever.

* There’s a high rate of porch sitting and informal parties on Elm Street. and neighbors mow each other’s lawns just because they have a little extra time.

* To learn more about Frederick, visit these websites: The Official Tourism Website of Frederick County MD, City of Frederick, Frederick.com, Frederick County Office of Economic Development, and Frederick MD online.

The house:

Built in 1913, this house has great bones.  It was built with the care of a builder who took pride in a solid foundation of carpentry and individuality.  And while my home has been completely renovated, it still has those age-old trademarks of excellence.  High ceilings, wood floors, a light airy feeling, large rooms throughout the house, and built in cabinets throughout for extra storage.  To be honest, I put too much money into this house. I will never get it back, which is a bitter pill I am learning to swallow. I had it appraised last January at $450,000 and the sales price is now $369,000.

I have renovated with these additions: 

  1. Remodeled kitchen: new cabinets with granite countertops
  2. New solid hardwood flooring: Oak on first floor, Brazilian cherry on second floor, carpeted third-floor suite
  3. New front entry: custom Victorian styling
  4. New custom front and back doors with custom storm doors
  5. New specialty-wood deck (ipe) wrap-around porch. This walnut colored Ipe decking is 3x harder than Oak.
  6. Highest quality custom cherry bookcases in living room – by Frederick cabinetmaker Gary Crum
  7. New oak stairway and railings in living room
  8. Bright sunroom with 10 windows; large radiator for winter warmth
  9. Vinyl tilt windows throughout.
  10.  Custom radiator covers – by frederick cabinetmaker Gary Crum
  11.  Original built-in storage cabinets in living room, dining room, kitchen and master suite
  12. New second floor bathroom with custom cabinets.
  13. Large carpeted master bedroom suite with walk in closet, new bathroom
  14. Full size unfinished basement with work bench, built-in storage cabinets, laundry room with recently purchased Maytag washer and dryer.
  15. Corner lot 
  16. New roof in 2011
  17. Backyard brick patio, fenced backyard covered front & side porch
  18. Custom masonry wall and garden

I have loved Frederick, and Elm Street even more.  I want to pass on this home to someone who understands my beautiful gem.  See the MLS listing.  Tell me what you think?

Or call  Tim O’Boyle
Office phone: (301) 662-0155
Toll free phone: (800) 727-7653
Email: timob@machomes.com

And please share this link: http://wp.me/p1SVZt-cj

Incoming Issues, Outgoing Money

Sometimes the stars align in unpredictable patterns and good planning goes to hell.  I thought I had this building- a-house-process all laid out. But now the spread sheet I had in my mind has line items that I never counted on and columns that don’t add up.  Over the past few weeks juggling the building process and getting my Frederick home ready for sale has made me feel as if I am trying to contain a bowl full of ants.

It’s not the builder’s fault. The surveyor found that I had some wetlands issues at the back of my property which meant I needed a new site plan that would move the house over 10 feet to ensure the small pond next to my lot will be undamaged by the construction.  Also, I will need to plant extra shrubs around the property line, in my already treed lot. Then the driveway needed to be moved over a little. 

Then the appraisal on the house did not reach the actual price of the house — the upgrades I have in the house do not count to increase the value — only my cost.  But I want the upgrades: additional cabinets, laundry room sink and cabinets, sunroom with extra windows and tile in the showers. And I need three kinds of insurance: builder’s risk insurance, homeowner’s insurance and title insurance.   I didn’t know that.  The bank needed me to increase my investment by $10,000 and so I have had to manipulate my finances. 

And selling my Frederick, Md. home has had its challenges. After going through an exhaustive interview process with realtors, I have selected Tim O’Boyle with MacIntosh Realtors and he  is working hard with the presentation of my home.  After a frantic three-week scramble to repaint the interior rooms, declutter the house of books, boxes, memorbilia and old furniture in the basement, and have the master bathroom redone, I feel great about the house. 

Check it out.   My home is almost 100 years old, and very large with four bedrooms and has been completely restored.  Home.  It will be hard to part with and leave this great neighborhood, but time moves on. 

The building process down in the Northern Neck begins now.  First the land will be cleared, the foundation dug and built, the driveway and turnaround added.  My modular home will be ordered and after only 3 weeks in the factory – delivered.   The sunroom is stickbuilt.  The garage will have to go in later.  I want this house built so I can enjoy summer with my family.

There have been surprises along the way, but I believe things are rolling along now.  I am confident in my choice of Tim O’Boyle as my realtor and Dilday Construction.  Let’s hope for good weather, steady building processes and a buyer for my Frederick home.

Summer is coming.

Compromises Accepted. Decision Made.

My process may have been a long and winding road, through dreams and wishes and high expectations, but dreams have a way of  smacking into reality.  What was I thinking?  I do not need a five bedroom home. 

This realization came on the heels of acknowledging that:

  • Importing a home from Canada was just ridiculous.  Not environmentally sound, no matter how beautiful. And the cost turned out to be far out of my league.
  • Five bedrooms — I am not running a boarding house.  I do want visitors but how many people do I want to cook and clean for on long weekends?  And you do get visitors when you have access to crabbing, beach walking and boating.
  • The upkeep on a cedar home is very high. When I am retired do I want a home with high maintenance?
  • The cost of a five bedroom home turned into a nightmare. Who do I think I am, Oprah?

The  decision to select a good builder was difficult because I had narrowed down the list to two excellent, experienced builders with great references. Final decision:  Chesapeake Homes and Lloyd Dilday builder.

Dilday has been building homes for 40 years. He knows my community, the local planning and zoning regulations, the idiosyncracies of building on sand and, of course, how to build a home. I feel he is competent, trustworthy with the organization behind him to GET ME IN THE HOUSE BY JUNE.

The bank is going to give me a mortgage, I have the estimate, the contract, blueprints are being finalized and I can afford the SUNROOM. 

My house is called the Waterview – a three-bedroom ranch home with 1,565 square feet of happiness. A large kitchen, an expansive living/dining room/kitchen all meshed together. 

I’m through with the hard decisions, I think.  It’s a major relief.  Now on to the construction. 


Next time I will post the plans.

Finding My Chi in the Northern Neck

I wish I learned earlier in life that hasty, emotional decisions can be disastrous.

Like the time I was interviewing a prisoner in the Roxbury Correctional Institute in Hagerstown for a newspaper story and decided on a whim to adopt this big doe-eyed mixed retriever. He was definitely a stray who was hungry and mangy, and very friendly. The humane thing to do, I reasoned, was to adopt this stray. We didn’t have a dog then and the kids needed one to grow up with. 

So I put that overgrown mass of tangled hair and slobber into the back seat of my car and less then five minutes later “Tramp the Prison Dog” had chewed a hole in the armrest of the backseat, thrown up and attempted to lick the hair off the back of my neck. 

The ancients in China believed in feng shui and that your effect on your surroundings has to be balanced and harmonious. Feng literally means “wind” and shui means “water.” Just as fresh air and clean water nourish our bodies, harmony gives us good chi.

A dog in search of good chi.

Tramp did not bring good chi to our household. That overgrown reckless, feckless, lump of a dog lasted only three months with us where his fate was to be “adopted out” to a neighbor’s farm. Tramp needed to find that place where the ebb and flow of his own energy would be nourished in a new environment. So, I feng shui-ed that dog out of my life.

Now I am trying to feng shui my new life in the Northern Neck, where there’s more water and fresh clean air, and a slower pace. My chi will thrive, at least that’s the plan.

This month I am in serious negotiations with builders and mortgage lenders. The final three builders are expert, trusted and capable.  At least that’s my research.  So now I will see what the difference is as they estimate the cost of building the home I have decided upon.

For the next few weeks it will be that competitive, frenetic, Washington D.C. spirit against that slow talking, good-old-boy business caginess.

The road to fresh chi can certainly be stressful. (Maybe I need a dog to help me calm down.)

The Long and Winding Road

I spent 4 days in Virginia interviewing builders. I put hundreds of miles on the car wandering around the countryside, fighting with my GPS and wondering if I can’t trust her, who can I trust?

If you are in unfamiliar territory, winding for miles around poorly marked single lane roads looking for a sign of life, you expect your GPS to give you some comfort.  But my GPS, if she told me once she told me a dozen times “make the next legal U-turn in half a mile.”  After a while I thought I heard a hint of sarcasm in her voice: “make the NEXT legal U-turn in HALF A MILE.”   I never thought I could get so annoyed at the word “recalculating.”

Sarcasm aside, I eventually found my destinations.

Chesapeake  Homes in Lively, Va.. GREAT homes, great builder with a 40-year reputation. This is a local company that comes highly recommended and I could see why. The homes are modular, but customized as the buyer prefers.  I met with the owner and he is working up a price for exactly what I want.  I am hopeful because I would prefer to use a local builder.

I also visited America’s Home Place is based in Fredericksburg – not modular but a custom home builder of size and they too have a long reputation, since 1972. Their homes are well built; they say they can put a home up in about 4 months and the  standards that are included are a notch above the “standard.” This is a money saver right off the bat.

Then my GPS took me to a little town west of Charlottesville, Virginia, where Nelson Homes had four modulars to view. My emails with them showed they had promise, but when I got there, I was extremely disappointed.  The model homes were very old and dirty, the entry steps were rickety, the interior decorating looked like it came from Walmart and one of the bedrooms even looked like someone had been using it as their bedroom.  I got out of there as fast as I could.

Foremost Homes is also a favorite. I visited their factory several weeks ago and this Pennsylvania firm has an impressive modular factory and a staff that appears committed to excellence and reputation. 

So, am I ready to make a commitment?  Not quite yet.  At least I have found three good options and as I pursue negotiations I feel confident I will eventually contract with a builder who can handle my needs.

Besides, I’m not up for scouring the country with my GPS. She has been displaying a passive aggressive attitude lately.  And I have enough on my mind without her constant criticism.

One can only take so much grief from their GPS.

© 2011-2012 – Carolyn Barranca. All Rights Reserved.

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