Thursday, June 10, 2004

Details, Details, Details

Although I had thought it would seem like forever, closing time was rapidly approaching for our new home. I needed to take care of innumerable little details, like house insurance, utility hook-ups, and furniture (since we'd be living in two places at once for a while, our Celebration digs would have to be furnished pretty much from scratch).

The phone was the first detail I was able to take care of, thanks to the wonderful world of cell phones. It seemed silly to have a land line, especially when we'd be traveling back and forth between two states. So I simply got a cell phone with a 407 area code and a Kissimmee exchange, and our phone number was established before our house was even completed. Next was a mailing address; a post office box did the trick. Now we were Florida "residents," at least in spirit, able to receive telephone calls and mail. Unfortunately, in reality we still had a couple of months to wait for a roof over our head.

In Florida, natural gas is not a necessity as it is in colder climates, although a few homes have it. Ours was 100 percent electric, so that was one less worry. But of course we'd need water, and we ended up getting a land line phone for DSL internet access. Once we got the phone installed and working, it took me a long time to learn the phone number since I never called it or gave it out to anyone. I think I would have had a heart attack if it ever rang once we moved in!

The biggest challenge of all was finding a place that would write us a homeowners insurance policy. Apparently, the possibility of hurricanes makes insurers quite gun shy, even as far inland as Celebration. Couple that with the fact that we were new to Florida and would be commuting for a while before we were permanent, 100 percent of the time residents, and no one wanted to touch us.

The clock was ticking down to the closing date, and I really began to think that we weren't going to find insurance. I have no idea what would have happened, and thankfully I didn't have to find out. After calling dozens of agencies and posting frantic queries on the internet, I found an agency (ironically, located right in Celebration) that was able to get us a decent policy with a decent company at a decent price.

Our other challenge was the logistics of setting up a long distance closing. With all our visits to our house while it was being built, we had run out of vacation days again. We actually had one left, but we were saving it for the walk through, which had to be done on a weekday. We had thought about hiring a building inspector, but in all visits, the workmanship looked pretty decent so we decided we'd be safe doing it ourselves. There are a lot of construction horror stories that come out of Celebration, but oddly enough, most of them concern the higher priced builders and the expensive homes, not the modest little bungalows.

Just like the walk through, a closing on a Saturday is too much of a fantasy even for the home of Mickey Mouse and Fantasy Land, so we arranged to do it all via mail and phone. But the trick is, you don't really know the exact amount of funds that will be required at closing until something like 10 seconds beforehand. Then the money has to be wired over so the transaction can proceed.

I was getting a little nervous about making sure that everything was perfectly coordinated. But I was having some fun, too, as my husband and I were using our weekend visits to hunt for furniture for our new home. Since the model had been an exact duplicate, we knew the measurements and had a pretty good idea of what the rooms would look like. There were a few minor differences. For example, in the model, the front room was open, whereas it would have French doors in our home. The model had wood cabinets, but ours would be white. And the model featured garish wallpaper that would surely have awakened the dead if you'd brought a swatch to the cemetery, but our walls would be white just like the woodwork.

One day while we were poking around the model, a pair of woman waltzed in. They were apparently Celebration residents, and I don't know if they lived in estate homes or what, but they looked around the little triplex in utter disdain. One sniffed to the other, "I can't believe this is a house! I just can't imagine how someone could live in such a tiny place." I bit my tongue, comforted in the knowledge that Miss Snooty would probably drown next time it rained anyway because surely the Florida downpour would overwhelm her upturned nose. To this day, I still joke that we are the triplex trailer trash of Celebration (and I'm sure Miss Snooty would agree 100 percent).

In our travels, we had learned the location of the Florida Mall and the countless furniture stores leading up to it. That would take care of the main furniture for the kitchen, family room, and master bedroom. We also found the addresses of some futon stores located quite a bit farther away. We knew it would be worth the journey because we wanted a large selection. We planned on putting a futon in the front room and second bedroom to accommodate the house guests that almost instantly descend on every new Florida resident. We figured we could get everything ordered; in stock items could be held until closing, and we wouldn't be in a big hurry for things that had to be ordered from the factory, since furniture is notoriously slow. Many years ago, I worked for a furniture store, and "6 to 8 weeks" really translates to "You'll be lucky if you see it three months from now."

Our home was looking more and more "real," although we could no longer go inside it because it was complete enough to require the door to be locked. It was interesting to see how the outside facade evolved. We were told that it was originally going to be a Colonial style, but that it was switched to Craftsman for some reason. I'm glad, as the Colonials don't have a front porch, just stairs, which would mean I couldn't have the porch swing I'd always dreamed of. Then we were told that it would be gray with blue trim, but it ended up being beige with green doors. Then...oops!! Turns out the doors were supposed to be blue, not green, so they were abruptly repainted. Personally, I kind of liked the green, but it was probably some color-combination violation of the Celebration Pattern Book.

I ordered our window treatments in advance; I am very obsessive-compulsive about certain things, and temporary blinds drive me crazy. Thankfully, we found a blinds company that worked with our builder a lot, so they would be able to come in and do the measurements before we closed.

In order to decide the exact type of blinds we wanted, we drove around to other triplexes, checked them out, and took photos. I think I freaked some of their residents out. One lady watched me from her doorway, but she never actually came out to ask what I was up to. Maybe she thought I was some crazed tourist. I'm sure I looked like one in my rental camera, fanny pack firmly cinched around my waist and camera in hand. But seeing various window treatments in homes just like ours was a big help. We were able to get pictures that approximated almost exactly what I was envisioning.

As the closing date approached, it looked like the house would be ready just in the nick of time. There would have to be a final inspection in addition to the walk-through, and the timeframe was tight. We set up the walk-through, and hubby had a great idea. He decided to tape it so we'd never have to wonder, "What the heck did they say this valve does?" Now, it was just a matter of days...the video camera was charged and we were ready to get our first glimpse of our new home in its final state of glory.

Next time...Smile, you're on Candid Camera!

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