Most of us went to a Christmas service this morning. Joanna stayed home because she was feeling tired and nauseated. (Now that she has a job at Tim’s office, she’s been catching the bus at 7:00 AM.) We had three types of lasagna for lunch–meat, vegetarian, and vegan. So finally around 2 PM, we got around to taking our Christmas pictures and opening presents.
Because our Lumix camera is in need of replacement, Tim took a number of pictures using his cell phone. Thus the quality is much reduced. Fortunately Justin took a few of our “official” Christmas photos. Here’s the whole family.
Because we hope to move into a new house in a week or so (we’re currently in escrow), we didn’t put up our Christmas tree and decorations. Instead, we only put up our little tree without any decorations. The number of presents was much reduced this year. Tim and Jeri didn’t have the time (or funds) to buy stocking stuffers and little gifts of the kids. Earlier this fall (prior to house hunting), they bought a Disneyland pass for everyone. (Grandma Pau’s Christmas money went to cover part of this expense.) In other words, Tim and Jeri got everyone one BIG present instead of various smaller items.
Here are Sarah, Joanna, Josiah (in back), Elizabeth (aka Lizzie), and Jeri.
Here’s Josiah with a Christmas stocking made by Lizzie.
Josiah received a “dream” present from Jason…a Star Wars light saber. Josiah has always enjoyed sword fighting and then, this year, he became a Star Wars fan after we watched the three original movies. (Jason bought himself a light saber so that Josiah could duel.)
Here are the four boys. From left to right, Jason, Josiah, Jeffrey, and Justin.
Some more pictures.
Later in the afternoon, most of us watched another version of the movie “Scrooge.” This time it was the 1970 musical version featuring Albert Finney. On Christmas eve, we stayed up late and watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” with James Stewart and Donna Reed.
We started our house search by attending a class and then seeing six homes. You can read about it here.
The final open house on our list for the weekend was on Sunday afternoon (Nov. 23rd, 2014). So on that Sunday as we returned from church, we saw an “Open House” sign at the entrance to our development. We didn’t think much about it. We figured that it was undoubtedly a house that would be too small for our family. But since we were already planning to see an open house in Fountain Valley that afternoon, why not stop and take a look.
So we ate lunch and did a few things at home including search the Internet for more houses. Tim also tried to find more information about the new open house but couldn’t. Finally around 2:30 PM, a few of us figured that we should head out since the one open house ended at 4:30 PM.
Tim, Jeri, Nicole, and Elizabeth first drove to the open house in our neighborhood. It wasn’t far–just over a quarter mile away. When we pulled up to it, we were immediately excited because we saw that it was the exact same model as the house that we are currently living in.
We were even more excited when we saw that the house had a better layout than ours. Namely it didn’t have the two wet bars that our current house has. In place of the downstairs wet bar is a much more useful storage closet. Also it didn’t have the upstairs fireplace which we never used. Plus the house had far better upgrades to the floors, kitchen, and bathrooms. It seemed like we found the house of our dreams! Perfect location and size and layout. Although the backyard isn’t very attractive, we’ll save on our water and electric bills since we won’t have a swimming pool.
After visiting this house, we went on to see the “scheduled” open house on Garfield Avenue. Besides being only 3,000 square feet, that house made our noses run. So we knew that that one wouldn’t work.
So Sunday evening, Tim shot off an e-mail to Marc our realtor asking about the house on Santa Carlotta. He later replied and confirmed Tim’s findings that the house was priced to sell quickly. Tim also e-mailed Monte and asked if we could get financing for the house. Monte said that that wouldn’t be a problem.
Marc began work on assembling an offer. On Monday, Tim asked Marc about what we should offer. Tim mentioned Monte’s suggestion of asking for the seller to pay the non-recurring closing costs. Marc recommended that we not do that but to instead ask for full price plus $1K. That way, we would come out on top if someone else offers full price.
From our RedFin house-buying class, we learned that a personalized cover letter with photo can often sway a seller. So during his bus ride home, Tim worked on the text for our cover letter. That evening, Tim e-mailed the photo and text to Marc. Marc got the docs together late Monday evening. Then early Tuesday morning, Jeri and Tim electronically signed the offer. Marc submitted it to the selling realtor later on Tuesday.
When Marc spoke with the realtor later in the day, she said remembered us and that another agent contacted her to let her know that they would be submitting an offer as well. That evening, we prayed about this and asked for the Lord’s will to be done. Jeri was glad that there was another offer so that God would be able to close the door if this wasn’t His will for us. We had a peace leaving it in His hands. He’s promised to provide for all of our needs…so why worry?
Wednesday afternoon, Marc called Tim on his cell phone at work. He told us the good news that our offer had been accepted. The sellers had actually received a total of three offers. Ours was the first one the seller received; the second was for full price but had a stronger down payment; the third was for $5K below the asking price. Marc said that the seller was sold by our cover letter and photo. The seller was glad to see the house go to a large family.
Marc said that the seller could have countered by asking each potential buyer to submit their best offer. This would have turned it into a bidding war. We are glad that they countered our offer will only a minor change that the house would be sold “as-is.”
So our house hunting ended less than two weeks from when we started! Pretty amazing. A friend at Tim’s work said that she and her husband looked for two years (not necessarily non-stop) before they found the right place.
Except for the period from 2001 to 2005 when we owned a home in Rock Island, Illinois (thanks to our parents), our family has always been renting. The house that we have rented the longest is our current house in Fountain Valley…nearly five years. Just this month, thanks to the encouragement of a couple other people, we thought that maybe we should explore the possibility of buying a house.
Here’s a picture from Google Maps of our former Rock Island home.
The first thing that we did was contact a friend in San Jose who works in the mortgage business. We filled out an application and sent him a bunch of paperwork. He assured us that Tim’s good job and our excellent credit would get us financing.
The second thing that we did was attend a RedFin home-buying class in Irvine. So on Thursday, Nov. 13th, 2014, Jeri stopped by Tim’s office and picked him up after work. After eating at Native Foods (their favorite vegan restaurant), they went to the class in Irvine. They were encouraged by the RedFin philosophy and standards. Thanks to the Internet, the house hunt began.
Because Tim works in Irvine (as a senior software engineer for a large company), we wanted to stay close to Irvine. In addition Jason is working full-time as a graphic designer in Huntington Beach and Nicole is working part-time in Fountain Valley. So staying in Fountain Valley would be ideal.
However because there were very few homes currently on the market that are large enough for our family (five+ bedrooms and at least 3,000 square feet), we expanded our search area to include areas such as Tustin and Orange. Our hunt for the right house didn’t seem promising–each house that we saw had some major reason that made it unworkable for us. Those areas would have lengthened Tim’s commute by a little and Jason’s and Nicole’s commutes by a lot.
The day following the RedFin class, we contacted our realtor (Marc) and asked to see three houses. Turns out that we could see two of them Sunday afternoon. After seeing them in person, neither home seemed to be workable for our family.
We saw this one in Orange and it had some nice features (like a pool and nice downstairs bedrooms). But we wouldn’t really fit.
We were hopeful about this one in Santa Ana…the price was attractive. But our dining room table would have extended into the already small living room. Plus the pool had been removed.
Here’s Jeri looking over the area where the pool formerly was.
During the next week, we kept searching for a house on the Internet. Although prices were more affordable in Corona or farther south in Orange County, we didn’t want to sacrifice quality of life for a bigger house.
We saw that four large homes were having open houses on the next Saturday (11/22). The ones that were 3,000 square feet or smaller just didn’t have enough room for our entire family. In a lot of cases, the dining room was too small for our 10-foot dining room table.
This one in Huntington Beach was definitely too small…about 2,750 square feet and only four bedrooms.
We thought that maybe this one in North Tustin could work. Although it was only four bedrooms and 2,800 square feet, we thought that all five girls into the huge master bedroom upstairs. The house looked very nice plus it had a pool. But after we thought it through, we realized that there really wasn’t enough space.
Next we looked at another home in North Tustin. It was HUGE (3,700 sq. ft. when counting the basement) and would be great for entertaining. However it had only “four” bedrooms…which was really only three because the “Jack and Jill” bedrooms were open together.
We finished the day looking at this one in Orange. Great yard and pool but the location and size (under 3,000 square feet) wouldn’t work.
So through the first 10 days, we saw six houses with none looking promising. There was one more open house scheduled for the next day (Sunday). The house hunting concludes.
Tonight was the concert debut for Victoria and Jeffrey. They joined Sarah and Joanna in the Orange Coast College Choir to sing “Hallelujah” from The Mount Of Olives. They sang accompanied by the OCC Symphony Orchestra. The concert also featured two other Beethoven pieces: his Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, popularly known as “The Emperor Concerto, and his Egmont Overture.
Jeffrey is in the back row, third from the left. Joanna is two rows in front of Jeffrey; the microphone is partially covering her head. Victoria and Sarah are immediately to the right of Joanna.
Here’s Jeffrey wearing his new tuxedo (required for male choir members) and Jason wearing his new suit (which he bought in order to usher in the Stevens’s weddings).
On Friday, September 26th, 2014, Tim, Jeri, Jeffrey, Lizzie, and Josiah spent the day at the L.A. Country Fair. Although this month has seen a lot of unseasonably HOT for Southern California, we were able to get nearly ideal weather. Tim took the day off from work. By registering in advance, school groups (including home schoolers) can attend the LA County Fair for free. We had to register and select a weekday a few months back.
Our first stop (after dropping off our lunch at the lunch storage area) was to the DIY Design Studio. A lot of very nice crafts were displayed. We saw some nice crocheted works, photography, baked goods, etc. Lizzie was able to make herself a necklace.
Then we headed back to the picnic area and ate the lunch that we brought from home. Because Josiah really wanted to see the trains, we headed there next.
Next we headed to the 2:00 PM showing of the Sinbad High Dive Show. The divers were very talented and entertaining. They concluded with a diver jumping from the highest platform.
Next up in the Pirates Adventure area was a group called Street Drum Corps. They had some non-typical drums and played very well together. It was fun to watch and listen to them.
While Tim, Jeffrey, and Josiah decided to stay for the Pirates of the Sky show, Lizzie wanted to go back to the DIY Design Studio. So Jeri headed out with her. They stopped at a Chinese display.
Using stencils, Lizzie made a cute fan.
The Pirates of the Sky had some nice acts. Here’s a picture as the leader stacked six chairs and stood on top.
I took a selfie with Josiah.
Jeri and Lizzie found a cool hair piece. So they bought it as an Christmas gift. It comes with one-year warranty. Here’s the sales guy doing Lizzie’s hair.
We all headed to the Big Top Theatre for the Chinese Circus of Beijing. We thought the show was at 4:00 PM. So we got there half an hour early and got seats in the second row of the center section. The show, like every year, was amazing. We bought their DVD so we could show the rest of the family.
Afterwards we headed to the Hall of Heroes display. Here they had exhibits both of real-life heros as well as superheros. Here’s Jeffrey standing in front of the car used in the movie Back to the Future.
At 6:00 PM, we headed to Knight School. Josiah has always enjoyed sword fighting at home…he sometimes has a hard time finding willing partners. At this school, he learned the On Guard stance, how to advance and retreat, how to duck and jump, and how to block. They ended with all of the students being knighted.
Next up was the Archery School right next door. The students got to shoot arrows with rubber suction cups. The instructor would occasionally shoot a real arrow.
Next we headed back to the Pirates Adventure area for the 7:00 PM show called the Shipwreck Pirates Show. We figured that it was some type of pirate show. It turned out to be a “magic” pirates show. And a good one indeed. They did a number of acts where they “cut” through fingers and arms. The final act used a guillotine to cut off someone’s head. We saw them stick his head into the guillotine, secure it, drop the blade, and then we saw his head fall off. Not sure how they did that one. After the show, we got a picture with Captain Jack Sparrow.
Although we didn’t want to pay extra to walk through the Luminasia area, we could view part of it from outside.
They also had a nice animal exhibit with a wide variety of animals: zebras, frogs, alligators, porcupines, snakes, cockroaches, monkeys, and more. Josiah got to feed a camel (for a dollar).
On our way out of the fairgrounds, we stopped to see an exhibit highlighting changes following World War II. Then we got an order of fries (for about $5) and sat down and enjoyed them. Plus we had enjoyed snacks that we had brought along with us. We drove back to Fountain Valley and stopped at Del Taco to pickup some food. We made it home around 10:00 PM…not quite 12 hours since we had left.
Saturday was clean up and packup day. Those of us still there had to take care of the linens, dishes, counters, etc. We got packed up by 11 AM…which was our official check out time. Tim checked his e-mail and the owner told us that we stay longer since he wasn’t coming until late afternoon. Too late. We were already packed up. Plus we were anxious to get home.
Everyone was very tired. Although Tim was exhausted, he managed to drive the entire way home. Nicole had a coupon (and a hankering) for Papa Murphy’s pizza. So we stopped in Fullerton to pickup two pizzas for supper.
Friday was a day that a carload was going to be heading home. So in the late morning, all of us drove to the Merced River (which was barely flowing). We hung out for a while playing in the water, hiking around, skipping rocks, spotting wildlife.
Tim set up for a group photo.
Here’s the photo.
We came home and had lunch. We got a final group photo in the living room of the vacation house.
Jeri, Jason, Victoria, and Lizzie packed up and headed home. They left around 4 PM. Because they hit LA around 11 PM, they had to take a construction detour on Interstate 405. So they didn’t get home until around midnight.
Josiah waving goodbye.
We enjoyed the hot tub once last time and watched the stars. We didn’t see as many shooting stars as we did the previous night.