Monday, June 14, 2004

Smile, You're on Candid Camera!

Finally, in the end of the muggy month of August, our house had risen completely from the barren, sandy field and was ready for the final walk-through. We'd sacrified our last precious vacation day to come to Florida for the occasion. Thank goodness for Priceline; as usual, I bid on a Disney World area hotel and ended up in the Downtown Disney area for somewhere in the $65 range.

As our house was being built, we'd become intimately familiar with the Hyatt, the Hilton, and the Wyndham. We liked all three, as they were all within walking distance of Downtown Disney. Even though we had a car, sometimes it was nice to just take a stroll and have a soda at Ghirdelli's or squash soup at Wolfgang Puck's.

Because the house was now completed and locked, we could not go in and "visit" any longer. That had been the case on our last couple of trips, so on those occasions we poked around and looked in the windows like a couple of burglars, trying to get a glimpse of what the paint, carpeting, and tile looked like. One of the biggest thrills for me was when the electricity was hooked up and I discovered that the doorbell was functional. It seems totally silly now, but I got the biggest kick out of pressing the button and hearing the "ding dong." Good thing nobody ever answered or I would have had a heart attack!

By an odd coincidence, I had been sharing my experiences with our next-door neighbor to be. I met her on a Celebration discussion website, and I could tell by one of her postings that she was going to be in the same triplex. Turns out she had purchased the middle unit, which shares a wall with us. It was fun to have someone else to share the excitement and long wait via email. The internet is an amazing thing...what are the odds that I would run into my future neighbor online? The neighbor who purchased the other end unit remained a mystery, although the builder did tell us that she was a cruise director. That was of great interest to my husband and I, as we are absolute cruise fanatics.

We arrived early for the walk-through, and so did the builder's representative. He was the person who had overseen the construction of our home, so he was very knowledgeable. Normally, if you are in the area, he walks through the house with you at various points throughout the process. Unfortunately, since we were making our purchase long distance, we didn't have the opportunity to do that. But on our weekend visits, we had been satisfied with what we saw of the construction and craftsmanship. We had considered hiring a building inspector, but eventually we made the decision to take our chances.

We had read the many contruction horror stories about the early days of Celebration, but I suspected that 1) they were probably somewhat exaggerated; and 2) even if they weren't, surely things had improved in almost a decade. Our builder, Cambridge, had not even been involved in the initial villages, and they had a lot of experience building in Florida. I knew that was a plus; some of the biggest problems I'd read about occurred with the townhomes built by a company based in Oakbrook, Illinois, that had absolutely no experience dealing with the special needs of Florida's climate.

Our real estate agents had also come for moral support. They had been visiting our home site and sending along occasional photos, and now we had finally reached the big day. I still found it hard to believe that we had come so close to buying a condo, and now I was going to have my nice little house and yard, with the bonus of a porch that was just itching to have a swing hung on it.

My husband had brought his video camera to record all of the relevant details. I knew that we'd be getting a lot of information tossed at us in a short amount of time, and there would be no way to remember it all. Taping the walk-through seemed to be the best way to preserve it. That way, when we needed to know something important, like where the water shut-off or some electrical circuit is located, all we'd have to do is pop in the tape and fast forward.

I was a little concerned, as hubby had forgotten to charge the battery before our wedding, which means we have all of about five minutes of our nuptials on tape. Apparently he had learned from his mistake, as this time around he had charged the battery and brought a spare.

Our home is relatively small (a little under 1500 square feet), so I was amazed at the amount of detail involved. There were lots of Florida-specific things to keep in mind, such as pouring Simple Green through the pipe by the air conditioner to prevent mold and other icky things from building up. Instead of a traditional furnace, we had something called a "heat pump (I'm still not sure how it works, but it definitely kept us toasty on the cold nights that winter). There were fail safes in case the hot water tank, which was upstairs in the closet, overflowed, and strange safety systems involved with the outlets and fuses. Our home also had some peculiarities; for some obscure reason, it was considered a commercial building under the building code, so the standards were somewhat different than the ones for a "regular" single family home.

Our appliances were like something out of the Jetsons, particularly the flat top electric range. The last new home we purchased was nearly ten years before, and apparently household appliances have come a long way since then. The refrigerator was the one item that took the most getting used to, as the freezer was on the bottom instead of at the top. I was also pleased that it had an automatic ice maker, although I soon learned that's a necessity in Florida.

That's about all I can remember without referring back to the videotape. Good thing we recorded it all! There were a few minor things to add to the punch list for fixing. Most were typical, like a non-functioning electrical outlet, but the most unusual was a mismatched cabinet door in the kitchen. The incorrect door was so close to the others that you really had to look hard to spot the difference. But once you did, it was obvious (squared corners on the inlay instead of rounded).

Once the walk-through was over, I could feel my sense of excitement building to an almost intolerable level. The wait hadn't seemed so bad when we were 1500 miles away, and even when we had visited, seeing a building under construction wasn't so tantilizing. Now, seeing it in perfect, pristine, ready-to-move-in condition had brought the reality home. It was the home of our dreams, and it was almost ours! It was so hard to go back to a hotel room when that gorgeous home was sitting there empty.

Worse yet, once we did the closing by mail, we wouldn't actually get to spend our first night in the house until a couple of weeks later. Since our vacation days had run out, we were waiting until Labor Day weekend to return. That way, we'd at least be able to have an extra day to relax. A weekend goes by much too fast, but we'd have Monday too. We knew it would be rustic, since the furniture wasn't coming for a while, but what the would be OURS.

Little did we know that furniture was going to be a whole new experience, opening the door to a special hell that we never knew existed.

Next time...the Real Celebration, followed by Furniture Hell

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