17 May 2011

Game Over

As foreshadowed in the last post on this blog, around five months ago now, settlement on the townhouse occurred on 24 December 2010, in pretty much the last possible timeslot that it could for 2010. We picked up the keys that afternoon and had a celebratory beer in the empty lounge room. Then, it was all hands on deck with Christmas preparations and a couple of days dedicated to food and the company of excellent people before flying out for Perth.

It was a jam packed, stressful couple of days, but it was great.

I haven’t posted on this blog since, and despite all the other things that I wrote about on here, it really seems that the house was central to the sustainability of this blog.

I still want to keep sharing my head with the internet, but home ownership feels like a new phase in my life, so I’m going to do it over at a new blog – the bleeps, the sweeps and the creeps (http://machinethatgoesping.blogspot.com/).

Join me!

I leave you with a rather excellent video from BoingBoing - an montage of old school video game deaths set to an 8 bit version of 'Mad World' (originally by Tears for Fears - this one is for you Dougy).

PS: I can't leave  sign off a blog post entitled 'game over' without a clip of Aliens - this is also dedicated to my man Doug.

22 December 2010

Possibly one of the most stressful weeks of my life

This is the first time in weeks I've had time in front of the computer to do something that's not work or house related. The title above refers to the confluence of the final stages of the house purchase, trying to organise Christmas, and a particularly difficult few days at work. Thankfully through a combination of sheer bloody mindedness, Dana's organisational prowess and some good teamwork around the office, it looks like things will come together for settlement tomorrow afternoon, or Friday morning at the latest and that we will meet a significant milestone at work.

In my previous posts about the arcane and entirely opaqe process involved in settlement, I indicated that I found it all quite confusing. Unfortunately, it seems to have proved quite confusing for the veteran players involved whose job it is supposed to be to make these things happen on a regular basis. As a first time homebuyer, it's been a truely signifcant challenge trying to get all these things together when we don't even know what they are and what has to be done, but if there's one thing to learn from it all, it's that you can't really rely on anyone else to make any of it happen. I hate being one of those people who has to push all the time for things to happen and harass people - after all, for the most part they're just doing their job - but that is what you must be in this process.

It's also one of the few times in my life where I've found it to be a real challenge to work through things calmly, where my emotional response has been so strong that I've had to really work to keep it under control and remain rational. Some aspects of it all still make me seethe a little bit just thinking about it, but as long as settlement occurs properly tomorrow or the day after, I think I'll be able to let go of it all. Plus I'll be off work for a couple of weeks, removing another annoyance, and it will be Christmas and I'm going to get to be around some of the people I love most in the world. This can only be a good thing.

I actually feel quite serene and positive about the whole thing at the moment. Things have quietened down at work, there is a beautiful view out of my window (see the picture below) the weather is finally better and I'm really enjoying Tame Impala's "Innerspeaker" album. The album really reminds me of the Beatles for some reason, and is excellent.

There's also been some really excellent things happening recently, in addition to all the annoying house stuff. We went to Melbourne for Dana's work Christmas party, which was super excellent, and also managed to catch some old friends while we were there and get all of our Christmas shopping done. I had a collection of excellent work Christmas parties as well (Team, Group and Department), one of which had some really excellent food.

Life is good. As soon as this house stuff is sorted, it will be super freaking excellent.

PS: OK, so this is going to sound super corny, but on re-reading this I feel I should add that one of the reasons that life is good is the Dana. This week would have been impossible without her, and I would probably not be getting keys to a house any time soon without her. Dana - you make things awesome.

07 December 2010

Stop motion light play

I've been meaning to re-post these for the last couple of weeks - they're a pair of cool stop motion light animations I saw on Gizmodo (which they of course posted on from somewhere else). Click on through to the Vimeo pages for the full artist's information.

01 December 2010

If you haven't got anything good to say...

...then at least try not to get too ranty.

As people around me who ask me about this sort of things, I'm getting a little bit tense about the house situation, which is why there haven't been any updates about it for weeks now. This afternoon, I've got a bit of time to burn before netball, and I think I'm just about comfortable enough to write about it.

Since my last progress update in early November, pretty much nothing has happened. The house is still ready to move into. No more of the driveway needed to be replaced. It took another couple of weeks after that for all the requisite paper work to be re-submitted to the ACTPLA, the ACT planning authority, and we were advised about two and a half weeks ago that it should take ACTPLA two weeks to re-approve, and then it goes to the titles offices for registration. That's where things fell over last time.

If all goes well with the titles office, it should take approximately a week to be registered. Which brings us up to the end of this week, although I'm estimating that it will more likely be next week. The registration of the title, as I think I may have mentioned earlier in my eternal harpings about the build, is basically when everything is done, and it signals that there are 14 days until the end of the contract, in which there is a flurry of activity from all sorts of lawyers and banks and things and they get a big cheque and week get some keys. I don't pretend to understand the things that happen in that process - I thought the whole 14 day process was settlement, but apparently it's actually a point in time, before which a series of papers are signed and exchanged and important meetings happen with gathering intensity, culminating in the ecstatic moment where the house is actually ours. That's how I understand it at the moment, although I admit there may be some artistic licence in the whole thing.

Licences, that reminds me. Our lawyer/conveyancer (I'm pretty sure the lady who is doing it is not a lawyer, even though we signed up for one at a law firm - fat lot of good it did us) finally got around to getting the terms of the licence agreement (to re-hash, that's the rental type agreement between us and the developer that would enable us to move in before settlement) and while it looked good in terms of the 'rent' they would charge, there were some pretty suspect penalty clauses in it. Specifically, we'd be liable for a massive jump in rent, to the tune over about $800, if there was any delay in settlement after the 14 day period when the title is registered. Normally this would actually not be too much of a worry - we're pretty sure we'll get all our ducks lined up in that time, but it's getting awfully close to Christmas, where the requisite lawyers and bankers will not be around to participate in the orgy of papers, declarations, deeds, insurance waivers and bank cheques. It would also apply in addition to the penalty clauses already in the contract of sale, which are not insubstantial in their own right.

In short, it's a bit of a risk that we're not keen to take, despite the possibility of moving in early.

With the timetable as it is, if we're lucky, the best case scenario is that we move into the place the weekend before Christmas. The next best is that we take some time mid week, and move in the days before Christmas. The next best is that we settle on like 23/24 dec and move in after Christmas, when we get back from Perth. The worst option is that settlement falls after everyone buggers off and we pay penalty fees until every one's lawyers et al get back from their Christmas break, although the agent has promised they will argue that the penalty fees should be waived for that period if this occurs. Much as I appreciate that sentiment, I don't know how much success they would have in that scenario - the developer hasn't often listened to them so far. The last option, and while it's not hugely attractive, it's better than the worst, is that there is some delay with registration of the title, and settlement doesn't occur until after Christmas some time.

So that's where we're at. For the most part at the moment, we're trying to manage our expectations and make sure everything is lined up so that we can move quickly if we have to. The waiting game is frustrating, but we're getting pretty good at it these days - I'm thinking of developing some sort of zen philosophy based on it all.

I also realise this blog is becoming mighty boring without any nice pictures about the progress of the house or what we're doing, and also because I haven't even had time to post other odds and ends on here because of work. I'll try and rectify that at some stage in the future, but probably not right now. Instead, I will just let you know that the netball season is in full swing again, and we've had some real crackers in the past couple of weeks. One of the finest moments a few weeks ago involved the opposition goal shooter having a bit of a tanty and storming off to cry in the gents after pretty much every pass to him was blocked by myself in goal keeper, or our goal defence. His salty tears tasted of victory that night....

04 November 2010

Silly Jokes

Delays, delays, delays

The closer we get to the end of this whole house process, the more emotionally involved in it I get. When we were six months away from completion, a three month delay was easy to be philosophical about, but when there’s supposed to be only a week or two to go, a three week delay feels like a major blow.

Similarly, each small bit of progress or good news at this end of things elates me, which in turn makes it really hard not to get my hopes up. It’s a bit circular really.

As you might have guessed from this preamble, we’ve had news of another delay with the unit. Last time I wrote about it, we were expecting to hear back any day that title had been registered, flagging the beginning of the 14 day settlement period. Instead, we heard that the ACT Govt assessor didn’t think the driveway was wide enough (despite it being the width approved in the development application) due to a recent legislative change. Unfortunately, the assessor couldn’t tell them how wide it needed to be. In addition, because the driveway is concrete, it can’t easily be widened like bitumen, and has to be ripped up and replaced.

We didn’t get too much more information than that. For example, we don’t know the scope of the changes needed to the driveway. Is it just the part that joins the road, or does the whole length of the internal access road need replacing? We’ve forwarded a series of similar questions on to the agent, but I’m not totally hopeful that we’ll get a comprehensive response. I don’t necessarily blame her for this, I don’t think she gets much information from the developer and I don’t imagine the information that she does get is always that accurate or useful. Plus there’s a third party in this that has proven useless in the past – the ACT Govt.

I like to think I’m usually quite even minded about bureaucracies, what with working in one, but this one really is a waste of space. The combination of excessive and often silly, counterproductive regulation and an inflated self importance has stung us a couple of times already in this build and I fully expect to experience more of it once we are fully fledged home owners.

For example, the washing line that went mysteriously missing. Apparently it had to be taken down or screened because it was visible from the road, which was unsightly. The reason you could see it from the road? Because we’re not allowed to put a full fence along that edge of the property (chain link or hedge only), as they ‘separate homes from the rest of the community’. Never mind that the hedges will grow to obscure it, or that we’ll be growing plants through the chain link that will also shield it!

There is also regulation that mandates that all new houses must have either a washing line or a dryer. Since the line had to be taken down, the developer has installed a dryer in the unit. This rule means that our house becomes massively less energy efficient, which is directly contrary to the ACT Govt’s environmental policy goals. It seems to be a fairly regular occurrence that the tension between competing policy priorities has been ignored completely, with little, or sometimes just misplaced effort to fix them. As someone who works in a policy area, this sort of heavy ineffective regulation makes me cringe!

My self-diagnosis for a lot of these problems comes from the very nature of the ACT Govt, which sits as a hybrid of an oversize local council and an under resourced state government.

I acknowledge that all of this may be unfair to the ACT Govt, and as a first time home builder, I should accept there will always be some issues, and this is the same with authorities everywhere. However, I can only speak to my experiences, and they really do seem to be a cut below the rest.

It’s a good thing that there are some decent perks to living in Canberra that are unaffected by the planning authorities.

Despite the tirade above and my general level of grumpiness about the whole thing, there is also some positive news. We had a nice gent from a landscaping place to measure up our courtyard for a deck this morning, and they’ve already replaced part of the driveway. I don’t know if they need to replace any more – it didn’t look like there had been any work done to rip up any other parts of it at least. If not, then we might actually be able to move to settlement fairly soon (fingers crossed). This small piece of progress was actually enough to cheer me up quite a bit! I’m hoping that we get some more positive news in the next week. Fingers crossed.

Edit: I just realised how whingey that all is. To bring the mood up a bit, here's a video of a guy moonwalking with a shopping trolley:

24 October 2010

House update - pics of the garden and fencing

As noted earlier in the week, we're in a bit of a holding pattern at the moment, waiting for the registration of the title. Since we've pretty much planned the interior of the house to death (and we can't really get in there to get started), Dana and I have been turning our attention to the garden and courtyard. This has led me to get out the grid paper again, and start plotting things out. This hasn't really got us too far - as it stands, we've only really agreed on two or three things. It also doesn't help that we don't know the first thing about gardening.

The first is that we want to put a deck in the courtyard. Pictured below, the courtyard is approximately a 6m x 6m square, if you count the space all the way out to the fence line. The recess into the building itself is about 6m on the longest side and 3.5m and 4m on the short sides. This means the deck we're thinking of wold be about 6m x 3m, with a step or two down to the garden (depending on how deep it will be. 

It looks a bit scrappy in there at the moment, with the builders droppings and Canberra's clay-tastic soil, but it will look great once there's a deck in there. The deck will be flush with the top of the bricks at the sliding door - this is the floor height inside the house. Now we just have to get someone to build it for us. If anyone knows someone who can do that sort of thing, don't keep it a secret! I'm getting the feeling that it will be a real challenge to get someone to do this, and will take us ages. 

The next thing that we've agreed on, is that we'll put in a crushed gravel (or is it called deconstructed granite??) pathway in from the gate at the side of the house, through the courtyard and into the little backyard. I think I'll probably end up doing this myself, as it doesn't look super complicated, from what I've seen online. I'm finding the idea of improving the soil to the right level and trying to choose plants a far more daunting task.

Here's two views of where the crushed gravel pathway will be, the first from the gate where it will originate, looking through the courtyard, along the side of the house and out to the backyard, and the other looking up to the gate and the courtyard from the backyard. To give some context, the deck will be to the right in the first pictures, and there will probably be a garden bed of some sort along the fence line at the left. My preference is that the pathway will meander from side to side a bit, swerving away form the wall to avoid the tap, and then coming back in with a small paved area under the clothes line. Speaking of the line, I've just noticed from looking at these pictures that it's gone walkabout. That's a bit concerning, it was there last time we visited the site. I wonder if it's been flogged, or has been removed for some reason. Must look into that.

Anyway, in the last portion of the garden, the backyard (or rather the 3.6m x 8m ish rectangle between the house and the road) is still a bit undecided. Dana wants to put some raised garden beds in there for veggies, and I guess the path will terminate somewhere in it. The picture below shows the backyard, and you can see the baby hedge that was planted a couple of weeks back. This area will have pretty much full sunlight (I think), so I don't know how well the veggies will actually do here. 

What you can also see in the above picture, which was new just today, are the early stages of the chain link fence that is going in behind the hedge. I was actually pretty happy to see this, because I had thought it wasn't going to be put in - we had originally only seen it as part of the landscaping plan, and it wasn't on the final approved landscape plan. It also means that the garden isn't quite so exposed to the the pathway and the road, which you can see next to it. 

Here you can see one of the holes dug for a fence post (Dad, I dug a hole), and the fence next door, which is a little further along. According to the latest update from the real estate agent, the fence isn't actually supposed to go in until after the registration of the title, as it's not actually an approved structure. It doesn't actually need an approval from my understanding, but if it was in already, then it could delay the registration of the title. The sharper readers may have spotted a slight anomaly here - if we don't have registration of the title, and the fences isn't supposed to be in until after the registration of the title, then why is the fence going in? I do not have an answer for this, although Occam's Razor, as advocated by many sci fi movies (e.g. Contact, which I finished watching about an hour ago), dictates that the most obvious answer is probably correct. I'd say the most obvious solution is that there is a breakdown in communication some where between the ACT Govt, the developer/builder, the real estate agent, and us. This is not uncommon. 

Anyway, this has got far more lengthy and wordy than I had intended, so I'll leave you with a picture of the tree at the front door of our house, which is part of the communal landscaped area.