2016 February 20: Transformative

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Class is over. Boy, that was rough- waiting in line in Vegas to get off the plane, then another line to get on the shuttle, another one to get on the bus that takes you to the rental car place, where you get to wait in a line to get your rental car, and finally, a line to leave the parking lot in your car. How I love to travel….:) (my wife says if you put a smiley face on your stuff, then people know you’re friendly).

The class was amazing, fast paced, and chock full of advice from Ellsworth and Steve, who have both built many homes using Skip’s method. Topics were how to save money on the build, where to get logs, how to get tools, what to say to the permit office, to the logger, to the cement truck driver, the forest ranger supervisor. There was a workbook that I filled with notes in the margin.

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But, in the end, I didn’t learn much about construction that I didn’t know. The Skip method is stupid simple. What I did learn is that it’s possible to build a home in less than two years, and do it without a mortgage, and without specialized construction knowledge. I learned a pioneering philosophy of can-do that our ancestors likely had. This isn’t a class on how to build a log home as much as it is a class on becoming self reliant and independent.

Which is kind of funny. I mean, they have a class about being independent from the government, the bank, and just about everything else on the planet.  And they hold it in Sin City- the best example on earth of where dependence and slavery rules- being a slave to money, passion, power, vices- it’s all there. Pretty ironic, huh?

I can’t figure out one thing, though: why aren’t more people interested in this lifestyle? Why are people willing to slave away for 30 years to pay off a mortgage, when they could be free of that bondage for a little extra effort up front?

The reaction from my family was polite and supportive: “Oh, that’s nice”.
“But- look at this piece of debt-free log-home-building-gold I found!”
“That’s nice.  Good for you guys.”
“No, it’s a ‘get-out-of-mortgage-jail-free card’, and it’s good for the next 30 years.”

I do have to add that my sister’s husband did ask a ton of questions. And he has a telehandler – the most talked about piece of equipment in the entire class…

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I guess it’s just that I’ve been researching various log home building methods for the last 10-15 years. I settled on the Skip method about 10 years ago, and have been learning about it since then. The beauty is getting a crazy awesome log home, and doing it mortgage-free.

The bottom line: it’s not how much you make that makes you rich: it’s how much you spend. That is the beauty of doing it debt free. I dunno- I’m just really excited about it, I guess.

Now, about that land with the fruit trees and a creek…. Where is it?

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2016 February 12: Flying towards the future, or….?

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Las Vegas is about an hour away at this point. I left home at 3:30 this morning to catch a flight in Nashville on Southwest.

Spent a lot of time talking to Julie, and discussing this class tomorrow. We haven’t been apart like this for a long time, and she is really stressed out about me being gone. Seems like we haven’t had the life we thought we would- we’ve both been divorced, got kids that don’t always give us joy, I haven’t been able to make enough money to get us very far ahead, and when I do get more money, somehow Uncle Sam seems to get a hold of the extra. And we’ve tried. So after a very heartfelt prayer from Julie for my safe return, I went to bed last night.

The info from the class and all the members I’ve talked to indicate that, indeed, 2 days is all they need to teach us everything we need to know to build a log home. The closer I get to the class, the more doubts I’m having. But, I’ve also seen testimonials from class members who didn’t know anything about construction, who now have photos and stories of very nice homes. And I’ve spent years researching other methods, and this is the best method I’ve seen. The class is also the cheapest, and it’s coupled with info on doing it debt free.

It’s quite a claim. Build a home with cash on hand by yourself with mostly hand tools- and out of trees that you harvest yourself, and without a license, do site preparation, plumbing, foundation, electrical, HVAC, finishing, etc. And probably make all your own lumber, your own flooring, maybe even doors and cabinets with your own sawmill, your own forms for the footings, etc. And do all of this to code. Yeah, it’s a pretty big deal. We imagine ourselves saying to people that see the finished product, “yeah, we built this,” and they’ll say, “oh, who was your builder?”, and we’ll say, “we were.”

So we’re going to hang our hopes for a change in our situation on the outcome of this class. I’m hoping that the info and materials are going to be so inspiring that it will carry us through to a finished product.

2016 February 09: Land sale fell through

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At this point, it doesn’t look like we’ll get this one. The pickings are pretty slim, because we’re too picky: >1 acre, county schools, but still within 20 minutes of my job in town, <$24,000 with septic, or <$20,000 without septic, flat, non-flooded, and owner financing. A few of those requirements could budge, but not by much.

He was asking $28k, we offered $24k, he countered with $26k…..and then we got cold feet (and we don’t know why, but we are going to go with it): the payments would be about $242/month for 10 years at 6% interest.  We both want payments under $200, so the maximum price is about $19.5k. And it was at least 30 minutes from my job. And church. But it was so flat, I guess I talked her into it. Which was wrong of me.

I usually push for what I want. I was really angry at first when Julie went against this land- we’d made a good offer, the seller had actually negotiated, and was willing to do some owner financing at a really good interest rate, the property was nice and flat (something we have not ever seen in a property this size at this price).  I soon got over my anger because when I thought long and hard about my major financial decisions over my lifetime- I got the house I wanted in Utah, the cabin I wanted in Idaho, the car I wanted in Alabama. Some of those worked out in our favor (the cabin), but others didn’t (the house in Utah sold for the same price we paid for it 10 years later- even though we spent $20k remodeling it). And my ex hated the house, and Julie sort-of hates the car- not really “hates”, but it’s not what she would have picked. I thought it would be very reliable, and it has 200K miles on it, but I’ve replaced the head gasket twice, so it’s not that great.  It seems like I’m always getting what I want- and I push for it- often straining relationships along the way. But today I finally managed not to do that anymore- I want my relationship with my wife to be the thing I push for, not some dumb old beautiful flat piece of land that is nearly crazy perfect with geese and pine trees and…..sniff! Sometimes doing the right thing is hard for me.

Two years ago, I was the final candidate for a job in Rupert, Idaho, and we were looking for property. Julie felt like the land we were going to get had fruit trees and a creek, and mountains to the east of it.  I had practically been promised the job- I was the only candidate with long haul (fiber optic) experience, test & troubleshoot experience, IT and video experience for a job with a rural phone company. They flew me out to do a final face to face interview. At the very last minute, after they had basically closed the position to interviews – almost literally, some guy walked in off the street with just a little more IT experience, and he got the job, and the idea of fruit trees and a creek and mountains dried up.

Now, about a month ago- we had just found out that another property we were looking at for $23k was going to actually cost that much plus about $60k more to improve it to the point we could build on it. It was quite a spectacular answer to a prayer about whether we should buy it or not (the answer was NOT to buy it, of course!). Anyway, I’m driving back from that property about a month ago, and I hear/feel this voice telling me, “Don’t worry, I have a property ready for you with fruit trees and the creek and the mountains- the stuff Julie wanted.”  That’s been the measuring stick since that time- sort of.  We’ve looked at a lot of property that doesn’t have those features, and then when we found this really flat one that we just (most likely) lost today, we kind of ignored the details about the fruit trees, the creek and the mountains, because this property has none of the above. But Julie had a horrible night of worrying about paying for it, and how far away it was, and of course we prayed about it, and slept on it (well, we tried to sleep- I slept better than her, but not very well) before making a decision. But, she felt just as bad about it this morning as she did last night, so she asked me to cancel the appointment with the realtor. I still felt ok about it- not great, but ok. Actually, I didn’t feel positive or negative- until she said, “Did you hear the voice telling you it was the property we’re supposed to buy?”  I had to say no. And that was it.

The Realtor said he didn’t know how we found it- it was unlisted when we called him. But now it’s almost spring (although you can’t tell with the snow we got today), so he says he’s going to re-list it. “Well, good,” I thought, trying to look on the bright side, “That means other realtors are going to re-list their properties.” And then my next thought was, “…and the prices will all go up because it’s spring.”  It’s possible that we’ll be stuck in the house we’re in a year longer than we thought.  Which is scary- the economy is crashing, I’m hearing rumors of “negative interest rates” at banks, Bloomberg is pushing for the demonization of cash, while I sit on piles of cash (ok, not piles, but more than I’ve had for a long time). A lot of things are waiting for us to have a piece of land- can’t buy a chainsaw- where would I put the trees if I cut any? Or a tractor, or a sawmill, or tools, or anything else- it all depends on getting a piece of land.

Everything is now on hold until I go to the class in 4 days. I’m tired of looking for land at this point. I need a break. I’m just going to have to wait. If there’s property out there for us, I haven’t been able to find it on my own, so I’m thinking that it’s going to have to jump out and punch me in the face. I’m thinking when we do find the right one, the stars will align, we’ll love it, and it will be so perfect, we’ll wonder how we ever looked at anything else. And it will probably have fruit trees and a creek.

2016 January 31: Looking at more land

We are just too picky. We want a mostly flat piece of land, bigger than one acre, within 30 minutes drive time of my job, but outside the city (so we can have animals), and under $30,000, or, if no septic system, under $24,000.

We’ve looked at land with one-half acre of flat land, and 5+ acres of cliffs; another one where it was the bottom of the road for all water runoff (complete with a sinkhole full of couches, fence parts, and a broken down riding lawnmower thrown in for fun), land where no neighbors could agree on who actually owned the road they put in, much less where the property lines were. There was another one – almost 7 acres- cliff-side, and the city just passed an ordinance stating that they would no longer supply water to any new houses being built on that road. Ok. And then there is the flooded land. Lots of flooded land.

There was one that said something like “$24,000, 2.4 acres, 3 bed/2 ba home”. We went to check it out. We drove up a dirt road off the small highway, passing a couple of houses on the way, and thinking, “This is great- off the main road, 5 minutes to Walmart and the richest part of town.”  We saw a sign, but there was nowhere to turn around, so we pulled into a driveway to call the Realtor. Meanwhile, a lady got in her car and drove up behind us. Then she got out and starts talking to my wife: “Who are you? What are you doing here? Why you parked here?” My wife starts explaining we’re looking at the property for sale. Then the lady says, “yeah, my family owns all of this- we’re the ones selling it. And there’s no house for sale- just the land.” (But the sign says 3 bed….). She continues, “We have to be careful because there’s been a lot of break-ins and a lot of stuff has been stolen in this area.”  Bells, red flags. “Thank you for your time, Ma’am.” Start car. back out of driveway. Leave.

This one was perfect- if I worked in Tennessee- it’s about 45 minutes from downtown Huntsville. The house is not usable, and would have to be torn down. Same with the barn. and probably the driveway. And the neighbors looked so poor- trailers with dogs on chains, and lots of junk in the yard- front and back. But very picturesque. And four acres with a creek on the south side. Just too far away.

We looked at two to

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day- one not so promising, the other- pretty promising.

First, the not-so-promising, and I’ll start with the positives: Awesome privacy. Quite a few pine trees. It slopes, but not too bad. One side has a creek on it. And the bad- very narrow- not much room to put a house on except in the wide area at the bottom. Lots of scrubby little trees, brambles, piles of last year’s manure from the neighbor’s horses. Some weird little 6×6 shed with 5 keep out signs next door.  The neighbor’s horses standing in hackle-deep mud in a too-small pen with an electric fence to help keep them from greener pastures. And there was some old guy in a power wheelchair that came out to the edge of his sidewalk and looked at me while I was talking to the realtor on the phone while looking at the property. Down near the wide part, we fought our way through brambles, crossed the stream, and walked up somebody’s 1-mile long gravel driveway after getting lost. The sum of the parts? Creepy. Julie swore she could hear dueling banjos from the movie “Deliverance”- You can’t even see their house on the map -even all the way zoomed in. Perfect place to make meth. Maybe “awesome privacy” isn’t actually a selling feature. Maybe we should tone our search back to “okay privacy”, or just “privacy”.

On to Property #2 for the day: Out in a tiny town south of here. It’s about 10 minutes from the TN river, and 5 minutes from the Flint River).  There were 3 properties on this road for sale: 4 acres, 6 acres, and 3.5 acres. The 4 acres must have sold because the sign is gone. Can’t afford the 6 acres (at $55,000), so that leaves the 3.5 acres (at $28,000). That price is a little steep, but I talked to the realtor who says that the owner would do some financing with 20% down. Saves on bank fees. It’s also within city limits, so we can hook up to city sewer (saves us about $2k-5k for a septic system). The land is flat. Very, very flat. There was some standing water on some of maple_rd-acresthe low parts of it today, but I’m hoping that can be drained with an improved ditch and perforated pipe. Pine trees are great, but too short for construction use (although they might be okay for lumber). However, there is a forest of them bordering the property. Doesn’t look to be in a flood zone- all the other houses are on the ground, and there’s no creek nearby. There’s a sort-of swamp or very wet area way back behind the property, but it’s probably because of all the historic rain we’ve had in the last few weeks- the trees surrounding the “swamp” are not swamp trees- they are hardwoods and pines. The downside? 30 minute drive to church and other places, and the neighborhood mini-Walmart was shut down this week, so now there’s only a Piggly-Wiggly (which isn’t a bad thing), and I thought there was a Winn-Dixie further into town.  The nearest Walmart is about 15 minutes up the road.  It’s such a beautiful piece of property, though- the area is one that we’ve lived in before when we rented. It’d be a shame to miss out and not find another one like it. But if we buy this one, we can’t just buy another one later- we get one shot at this.

Overall, the second property is the best one we’ve seen, so with the class coming up in two weeks, tax return on it’s way (and it’s a big one this year), it looks like something might be about to happen….

Sawmills

We’re going to need a sawmill. Pricing out the cost of lumber for the flooring and the interior of the roof shows me that the lumber alone would cost about $11,000 by itself. If I can get a sawmill for $3-4,000, that saves me about $7,000. Plus, if I get the logs for free or nearly free, it’s quite an investment. Besides, what man out there does not want a sawmill? Even if you don’t know anything about carpentry or woodwork (or, like me, have never even used a sawmill before), having a sawmill just sitting in your garage says, “A man lives here.”  On the other hand, sawmills can quickly get expensive. It’s common to see an advertisement on Craigslist for a $42,000 sawmill, so let’s not go crazy here. I narrowed it down to three:

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Woodland Mills HM126

The Woodland Mills HM126 has a 9.5 HP engine, can cut a 26″x10′ log, plus longer logs as well. $2,800 is a pretty good deal.

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Timbery M100

For the same price, the Timbery M100 is another good looking portable sawmill with the same basic features.

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Burg Sawmill

And then there’s this one: 36″ capacity for $3700. Made by some company called Burg Sawmills out in Oregon or somewhere 16 HP Honda engine, and two 10′ sections of track.

I like certain things about each of them, so I’ll have to narrow it down.

Some of the logistical problems:

Portability: so, I get this sawmill, haul it down to the property, set it up (which could take a while because it’s heavy – maybe 1,000 lbs, and it has to be absolutely level to use), start sawing wood, and then at the end of each day, pack it back up so it doesn’t get stolen? Or do I build a shed to keep it in temporarily? Maybe I get a trailer to put it on (more expense)?

Timing: Looks like it takes about a year to get usable lumber out of logs because of the drying time – something like 9 months. Since I’ll be using some of the lumber I saw for the roof, getting my first board cut using the sawmill kind of sets up the timeline for when I’ll be able to use that board 9 months later.

I’ll also need a tractor to load the logs on the rail (and then what do I do with the tractor when not in use?), but that’s a post for another day…

 

Update (4/27/17):

I ended up buying an HudSon Oscar 121 mill from a LHBA member up in TN. I’ve made a few cuts on a scrap 400 lb+ maple log someone left in their front yard. You can see a photo of the sawmill here.

Walk towards the Light

A little crazy this week. We made an offer on the land, and they wouldn’t budge on the price. The other realtor was claiming that there is a septic system on the property. Wha??? It wasn’t disclosed on the MLS info. I called the county health department, but since there are no utilities, and never have been, there is no address. She gave me the address of the property on that road (there are only 4) that had a septic system installed recently. I ended up having to drive out there to verify. This is a big deal. Our payments on the loan would be nearly $200/month, which doesn’t leave much left over for the cost of building. We wanted payments down in the $120/month range. On the way there, I’m praying to God, “Ok, if we are supposed to buy this property, let it all work out. But if not, please let it be something big, because I think I’m spiritually hard of hearing.” I pulled onto the property and took some pictures of what I thought might be some kind of septic system piping. Then I try to find the neighbor again. But this time, the neighbor wasn’t home.

Last time I was out there, I remembered the neighbor telling me that the mother of the guy who was selling the property lived just through the trees, so I decided to walk over there and ask her about it.

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Got more than I bargained for.  I walked through the trees, ended up walking through a sod farm, then back into the trees, and came out in someone’s backyard. I heard voices from a shed covered completely with a blue tarp, so I said, “hello!”

A guy comes out- it’s him! M.C., the guy accused of murdering his wife. He looks kinda scary and shifty, but proceeds to talk my ear off for an hour. He’s my age. He didn’t kill her, he says- someone else did, and he knows who- it’s the guy that accused him. But the police granted the other guy immunity to talk, so now he can’t be charged. The more we talk, the more comfortable I get- M.C.’s daughter and her friend come out of the shed and say ‘hi’. He’s been married 8 times- 2 of those to the same woman. M.C.’s parents live in the home, but he smokes, they’re about to die and are on oxygen (thus the tarp covered shed in the backyard), he has 3 or 4 houses that he owns- Chatanooga, Florida, California? etc, about 10 pieces of property around the area. He gave his daughter 3 acres for her 18th birthday. The guy isn’t poor. So he’s talking about the property- he bought it to be close to his parents before they die. He’s actually making payments on it to another guy who sold it as a buildable lot. While he was in jail accused of murder, he missed a payment, so the owner is trying to foreclose. But the lot itself is not actually buildable- failed Perc test twice due to high water table- just 18″ below ground. He’s already spent $20,000 on improvements. Cost to bring in fill dirt to build up the elevation to allow a septic system? $38,000. Cost to bring in utilities? $12,000 for power, $8,000 water, so they have a court date next week. M.C.’s attorney thinks it’s an open and shut case.

Do we need to go on, or is this a spectacular answer to a prayer? “…But if not, please let it be something big, because I think I’m spiritually hard of hearing….”

‘Can you hear me now?’

‘Yes, God. I heard you. Thank you for using a megaphone. ‘

Keep looking.

Found some land:

We found some land. We’ve been looking seriously for about 3 months. We’ve both changed our minds several times. I wanted 5 acres or more, Julie wanted 0.5 acres or more, but thought 5 acres was too big. We started off looking for houses, but with all the problems we’ve seen with the ones we liked (mold, location, high power lines going over the yard, and of course, the ones that are way out of our price range), Julie finally messaged me one day:

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So, the journey began. I had been studying the “how” of building a log home ever since I bought my first big piece of land in Idaho- about 15 years ago. We talked about doing it here, but it just didn’t seem possible. Then, this message.

The pursuit of land. Requirements were: close to Huntsville, more than 0.5 acres, hopefully with water, power, sewer or septic, and under $25,000. It was harder than it looked- we found bowl shaped property, rocky hillsides, brambles, swamps- but nothing we just loved. Then I found a piece of land with a house on it- 2 acres and a house for $27,000. Was the house burned down? We went to look. Nope. House was fine, with someone living there, apparently. The area was great- close to Hampton Cove, good schools, walking trails, a Walmart within 5 minutes. Then a lady pulled up next to us- “whatch’yall doin’ here?”  Seems there had been a lot of theft in the area, and she was checking us out. RED FLAG!  Also, the Realtor said the house wasn’t for sale, it was the 2 acres behind it (but the listing says….!) Darn. We went up the road a little further and found our current pick. Complete with  a slightly nosy neighbor, but no thefts. Surrounded by trees, driveway already built, good schools, still 5 minutes from Walmart (maybe 6, now, but still). Google map image:

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It’s the cleared out area, plus about 20 feet into the trees on all sides.