looking for a few good ideas

  amongst the irregular verbiage

House Negotiations in Vegas

We arranged to follow Alexa and Ken to the airport for our quick trip to Vegas. Unfortunately we had made our plans too late to book Karma into Cat's cradle, so we were going to have to leave him at home. We put out 5 bowls of different kinds of food, and got a special watering dish with a reservoir so that we wouldn't go thirsty, and left lots of little screwed up balls of paper all over the house so he wouldn't get bored. Despite our preparations, we felt bad leaving him in the house by himself.

After being collected at Vegas airport by Stan, and getting settled, we made some plans to go out the next day and check out some alternative housing developments.

First stop in the morning is a development from builders called DR Horton. They are a development in the far north west, basically out in the desert, same as Greystone's Spring Mountain Ranch, only in a different empty section of desert.

This development - called Paradise Falls, I think, for no apparent reason I could tell - had a nice layout of streets maybe 200 houses, half of them built already, with a block of about four lots that would be ready to move into around May. We checked out the model houses - pretty nice, actually, although the kitchen, although open and light, felt a little like an apartment. We spent some time with the site manager, discussing the options and getting a feel for how things would work. Then we went out and looked at the four appropriate lots. There was one that backs on to the block wall northern border of the development. There's a main road behind it. This has good and bad points. Good because there would be no ongoing construction behind us, bad because, well, it'd be a main road over the back. And the traffic, while now non-existent, will only get busier with time. On the way out the door, the manager handed us a disclosure statement, that indicated the position of the development with respect to the Las Vegas beltway project. (This is a ring of freeways around the city designed to handle the tremendous increase in traffic that the region is projected to experience. Did I say projected? Traffic on the main freeway through the city is already pretty bad.) Only part of the freeway system is currently built and operating.

The disclosure leaflet shows the section of beltway projected to be completed in 2003 as being about half a mile north of the main road on the back of the development, superimposed on a road called Centennial Parkway.

Geographically speaking we were quite close to the very first Greystone development we looked at back in August - Bradley Ranch. We decided to drop in and check them out. They are further North than the DR Horton development.

On the way there, we passed Centennial Parkway - a grand name for a dusty strip of rutted track - and determined that, in actual fact, it was more like quarter of a mile away from the north side of the DR Horton development. Handy access to the freeway is good, but that's a little too close! Nothing like finally enjoying peace and quiet when the rest of the development is completed, only to find a massive public works project starting up over the back fence. Even closer was a tight knot of powerlines meeting at a substation. Hmmm. Paradise Falls was not looking so attractive.

Bradley Ranch was an empty space with a mobile office trailer when we saw it last time. Even though they had the plan we wanted, we never went back there as we couldn't see what the houses would actually look like, and anyway, at that time Spring Mountain Ranch was in a more advanced state... Now the models at Bradley Ranch were completed, with one street well under construction, in fact a couple of families had even moved in that week!

One nice thing about it is that it is laid out as a series of cul-de-sacs. Nice from a reduced traffic point of view.

Of course, the first question is, what lots are coming available in the May time-frame? Well, one left actually, at the end of a cul-de-sac called - wait for it - Rottweiller Court! Argh. They are all dog names. We joked about this months ago, saying how glad we were that Spring Mountain at least had respectable names like Bandit's Bluff... ok, well, relatively respectable.

The second question is, what about structured wiring? Well, we actually got to speak with the Site Manager this time. He said, "Yeah, I've done some network wiring, in fact I've just done some in a house on another development, kind of like an experiment, to see how it's done...". Fabulous. Not. Still, better than the non-response we'd got to date from the other crew at Spring Mountain.

We walk around the single remaining lot in the building phase that had the timing that suited us, and talked things over. Were we being stupid to think about changing our plans? Should we stick it out with our existing Spring Mountain arrangement? Living at the end of a cul-de-sac was good. Keeping our preferred house plan was good. Having a wider property was good. Having less back yard was not so good, but we could live with that. We could make the contract conditional on getting an acceptable quote for putting in the network wiring...

To cut a long story sh, er, less long, we decided that we wanted to keep the house plan we had selected, but switch from Spring Mountain to the Bradley Ranch development. By the end of the day, we had almost become used to the idea of living on Rottweiller Ct. It wasn't that bad, really.

We made sure that the whole deal was contingent on the following: We had reduced our original detailed custom request from 13 or so items down to just one: that of being able to have Cat5 network wiring installed in the walls prior to the drywall going up so that we could have some kind of structured wiring system for our LAN and telephone system. The builder had to determine a cost estimate for that custom feature, and we had to agree to it, or the contract was void.

Over the next couple of days we got our lot deposit transferred; signed a whole bunch of documents; selected house colour scheme and options; drove out to DuPont to get our flooring upgrades transferred to the new address... On the whole, we were feeling pretty good about the progress we were making.

We were preparing our last dinner with Stan and Jeanne before flying back to San Francisco the next morning, when we rang the site office to ask a simple question about what department was responsible for sewage, when the site manager - a dingbat if ever there was one - said, "Oh, so glad you called - listen, we made a mistake: we can't build the plan you want on the site you selected."

Arrgh! We couldn't believe it. At this point we were basically offered an alternative: They would apply for a variance on the allowable building envelope so that they could build our selected plan anyway, or we could move our contract to a different lot that already had our selected plan - with most of the options we specified - already under construction.

Side effect 1: Our move in date would be pushed up by two months, to end-of-March rather than end-of-May;

Side effect 2: The colour and facade of the house had already been selected and set in stone, so our selections would not be able to be transferred;

Side effect 3: We would not be living on Rottweiller Ct. We would be living on St Bernard Ct.

We thought about this, and then left them with orders to wait until the variance was either approved or denied, and to switch to the other site if it was denied.

We knew which subcontractor would be doing the electrical wiring in the house, so we called them up independently and got a quote for installing Cat5 drops into selected rooms in a (theoretical) exisiting house. This was to get some kind of reality check on the builder quote when it came through. If it cost $X to install the wiring in the house with exisiting completed walls up and finished, then surely the cost for the builder to get the same contractor to do this at the framing stage would be less, right? That's how we figured it.

We left Las Vegas preparing for New Year's celebration that evening, and flew home to San Rafael to see how the cat had managed to survive 5 days alone in the house by himself.

It turned out that he had managed quite well. His dirt boxes definitely needed emptying though!