Wood and Stone

A site to track our progress as we build our FirstDay Cottage Canadian house kit. Come on in, get a cup of coffee, set a spell and follow along on our journey or join in if you like. Check back for the weekly update (usually by Wednesday when things are going right) to see what we are currently up to!

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Permit to Construct... Sewage?

Time is ticking along and things keep moving... On the Saturday before last (11.19), we received our Rensco approved septic plan from the engineer, along with the permit to construct, good for 5 years. I hope we will be able to get this put in next summer (assuming we own the land by then) and inspected. I will need to start talking to my friend Charlie to see if he can give me an estimate of what it is going to cost.

The plan calls for 48" of borrowed fill on top of the 12 inches of usable soil we have. This is estimated at 900 cubic yards of fill we will need. Not knowing what fill is going to cost I will guess it is going to be fairly expensive. We had better start tightening the straps right now. In any case, we have an approved septic plan, so that is one more thing to check off the list. The well will have to be the first thing we do, since there is no sense doing anything with the septic until we know that is all set. I think we'll have to have the driveway done next in order to bring in the fill to the area for the septic.

Next year promises to be busy, if we can afford it all. I would like to have those three items set by this time next year so that we can hopefully build the garage during the summer of 2007 and be living on our land by then. That will make starting work on the main house the following year much simpler, since I will already be at the site when I am not at work. My father suggested using split face block for the bottom floor of the garage, and then we can build the apartment on top in whatever manner we decide. This seems like a good idea, since it is way more attractive than plain block, comes in lots of colors (meaning no need to paint) and is fairly cheap as well as being durable. I need to buckle down this winter and do some work on garage and house plans.

On the closing front, they have heard back from one neighbor, who indicated that they had placed the posted signs in order to deter hunters and trespassers on the property as it borders their property. They also indicated that they would be consulting their lawyer on the paperwork and possibly having a survey of their own done. Keeping in mind that this is 1 of 4 neighbors who need to respond, I suspect that this may take a while. I don't know if surveyors work in the winter, but even if they do and are not very busy, it will likely take at least a month (with the holidays coming up) for them to be able to sign the papers. I now expect that we may close by the end of January if things go good.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Closing Arguments

Today is November 18th, and we haven't closed on our piece of land yet. Most everything is in place, but we do not have title insurance yet.

When we decided to forgo having the well drilled or having the septic plans actually stamped by the board of health before closing, I had the lawyer start the title search. The abstract company completed this and faxed the information to 'certify' the survey to the surveyor. I followed up and received the certified survey (4 copies) a few days later and delivered a copy to the lawyer and another to the abstract company.

I hadn't mentioned this when I wrote about the survey earlier, but the surveyor had advised me after his first visit to the property that there were posted signs along the stone walls enclosing the NW and SW corners of the property and that they might cause some problems unless they were placed by the seller. The reason to believe they may not have been placed by the seller was that they are in the middle of the property, not along the lines. He also noted these signs on the survey, along with the stone walls. My agent checked into the signs with the seller's agent and was told the seller has no knowledge of signs within the property and had not placed any signs. Later, while checking the pins and tagging done by the surveyor, I ran into one of the neighbors. I asked her if she knew anything about the posted signs in the middle of the property, and she indicated that she thought one of the other neighbors may have put them up when some kids had taken to riding dirt bikes along the power lines in order to keep them off the property.

When I delivered the abstract company's copy, they looked it over and indicated that they weren't comfortable with the posted signs on the property, especially in conjunction with the walls as noted. I indicated what I had learned might have been the source, but without any documentation of that, they weren't interested in the explanation. The abstract company felt someone might be trying to keep us out of the property with signs and walls. I indicated to them that the stone walls were 100 years old if they were a day, but they have a business to run. The abstract company will not give us title insurance against adverse possession unless the seller gets written statements from all adjoining property owners that they are not trying to make any claim against the property. I can't blame them, and would rather have the proof in my hands too, especially given that it is up to the seller and his attorney to do.

The abstract company contacted my lawyer and the seller's lawyer indicating what was required. The seller's lawyer tried to get the seller's agent to go out and take the paperwork door to door to get it signed, though he said he couldn't as it is a legal matter. This went back and forth for at least 4 weeks. The lawyer though the agent was going to do it. The agent indicated he couldn't do it and that it was the lawyer's responsibility. Lather, rinse, repeat. Meanwhile, my agent contacted the town to get the names and mailing addresses of the neighbors and sent that info to the lawyer, but nothing happened. Finally, earlier this week, we came to the most recent edition of the blame game. The abstract company called the lawyer and dressed him down, explaining that it is his job to do this work, not the seller's agent. I guess they gave him the paperwork, all written up exactly as they need it and advised him to send it out immediately. They advised they will contact him next week to check on the progress.

Meanwhile, I have asked my agent to contact his agent and ask why I have had a checkbook in hand, waiting to write a check to him for over a month. I have waived items that I wish I had the time to complete in order to keep the seller from getting too antsy and bailing on the deal, but if I had been able to predict the problems, I could have taken the time to get all of this done before we close. Of course, hindsight is 20/20 and there is no way that would have been possible, but it still irks me that there is no well drilled. I just want the seller to be made aware that I haven't been holding this up and that I have in fact been waiting to close all this time and that we are waiting on him to provide some info. So hopefully all parties involved in this have buckled down and gotten serious, and we will close this deal before the New Year. That would be nice.

In other news, I did get the septic plan back from the engineer and submitted it to the county health department for approval, so I hope to get that approved before the closing. Unfortunately, it involves removing a portion of the NW stone wall. It is not the end of the world, since the stone walls are not finely crafted, more mounds of stone around the edges of pastures, but still, it will change the face of the property. I am still debating whether it would be best to move the entire stone wall back, or if I should just move the portion that is required to move and set it around the septic drainage bed. In any case, I hope to use much of the stone on the property (and there is plenty of it to go around) for a masonry heater.

Also, many thanks to Scott Davis for the use of a photo he took of a cordwood cabin near his own cabin in the UP of Michigan. He allowed me to gank the image, and with a bit of photoshop work and much help from Good-Tutorials, I was able to turn it into the seamless background tile you now see on this site. He graciously allowed me to use his image after I emailed him, and I will gladly do the same, but I do ask that if you want to use the tile, that you email me first. The other exciting thing that happened to me recently is that I received a very well kept copy of How to Build Log End Houses by Rob Roy (1977) from a member of the local FreeCycle group, which I am quote excited about.

A Happy Thanksgiving, and I will update next when we close on the property or when antigen else interesting happens.

Thursday, November 3, 2005

Catching up

So it has been over a week and I haven't managed to put anything new up. I won't apologize to you, gentle reader, since you don't want to hear my excuses (in fact, I suspect that you might even be a figment of my imagination, anyhow). Instead, I will hang my head in shame and promise to do better next time. We still have months of time to cover to get us up to date with where things stand today, so I had better get cracking.

One note before I start - This blog is intentionally vague in location of the property and names of individuals involved for a few reasons. First of all, I haven't asked anyone for their permission to use their name, and while the old saying goes that any press is good press, not everyone believes that. The second reason is that cordwood masonry (as you know or are about to find out), is outside of the mainstream of building practices, and I wouldn't want to ruin our chances of getting an approved building permit, so until we are legit I am going to be nonspecific as to where our property is.

As we rejoin our program already in progress, we made an offer to the seller when he had just 2 days left to accept or reject the other offer on the table. We held our breaths and waited. By August 1st, we received a message that he had decided to accept our offer. Now we needed to get a lawyer to check over everything in the contract during the grace period. Through the recommendation of some family friends, we found a very good lawyer, who has helped us to through the whole process.

Our preliminary contract required that we approve of a survey of the property. The lawyer recommended that we require that we get an approved septic plan and an approved well before we purchase the property. We followed her suggestion and the contract called for these to be completed by September 15th, 2005.

We had the survey done at our own expense, which took until the last week in August for the paper survey, and the corners and line flagging was not done until the week of 9/15/05. I really would have rather had the seller pay half of the cost of the survey, but we had dropped that from our original contract since we had to be competitive with the other offer. In all reality though, I don't see how someone can attempt to sell a piece of property when they can't tell you exactly where the corners and lines of the property are. There ought to be some sort of law... Anyway, the property turned out to be 9.3 acres, which was slightly more than it was listed as (an even 9), and it encompassed the main area we were thinking of building on, so we approved of it.

Now came the time to find an engineer for the septic design. We pursued an engineering firm in Williamstown, MA, based on the recommendation of a gentleman that our agent had told us about for excavation and land clearing. After talking to them, and getting their considerable estimate, we decided we needed to find someone cheaper. We found a local engineer through the surveyor. He seems to be the kind of guy who does his work for what he thinks it is worth, not the going market rate. He gave us a very reasonable estimate, apologizing that the other engineers in the area had recently put pressure on him to raise his rates to be in line with theirs. Let it suffice to say that he came in at close to HALF of what the first estimate was. He agreed to contact the county health department rep and arrange for the date of the soil tests.

In the meantime, Wendy gave birth to our son, Emmet Sean Kelly, on September 6th, 2005. I don't mean to trivialize his birth, as it absorbed us completely and is an incredible part of our life. That said, as it is not the point of this post, I will move on to more land related stuff.

On September 15th, I met everyone (the engineer, the excavator, and the health department rep for the area) out at the property for the soil tests. After digging a big hole with the excavator, and some smaller holes for perc testing, it was determined we would need to put in a raised system (the most expensive type of septic). This was no surprise and really the best I could have hoped for in the area we are in. So we parted ways, and the engineer told me he should have a plan to be submitted for approval in 3-4 weeks.

I stayed to examine the corner pins and line flagging that the surveyor had completed a few days before. I took 16 galvanized steel spikes with me, which I pounded into the ground 5 feet on either side of each pin, in a cross (or x) pattern. The reason for this (and I have to give my dad credit for this idea) is so that in the event that a pin goes missing, we could take a metal detector out to the area the pin was in, locate the 4 spikes and reset the pin fairly accurately. This came from the surveyor warning us that sometimes people get upset with where the survey says the property lines are and pull the pins out.

I also took some aluminum roofing nails and nailed them into both sides of flagged trees, through the flagging tape. I figure that this would help the tape stay up a bit longer, and also provide a marker of the flagged line when the tape comes down. To assist in this I got some orange paint and painted the heads of the nails to help. This will be OK until the tree grows over the nail heads, but by then I hope that I know the property lines better and that everyone agrees on what they are.

The Real Estate agent called a week later or so to find out how things are going. I guess the seller was asking his agent what was taking so long, so he asked her to check with us. I explained (as she was well aware) that we were moving as quickly as possible, but that these things take time. After discussing it with Wendy, we decided not to wait for the approved septic plan, since the engineer was confident that we would have no problem getting an approved design. We also decided that from talking to folks in the area and some well drillers that we would risk drilling the well next year, when we will have had time to put money away for it, instead of borrowing to do it. We have already borrowed some money from Wendy's mom and from my parent's to make this work since this property was a bit more than we had saved, and we didn't feel a pressing need to add to that in order to get a well drilled that we wouldn't need to use for at least another 6-8 months in any case.

So we are ready to close. Next time, why we haven't closed on the property yet, since we have been ready since the end of September.