January 22, 2023

The Grand Retirement Home:

This post first started as a Sleepy Christmas Morning post, and then morphed into a Happy New Years post, and then migrated to a retirement house post. Sorry, time and temperament have not lended themselves to blogging here of late. Mea culpa….

At last discussion, we were still in a grand state of indecision. Early in the New Year, after exploring a lot of options, both in and out of the Northern Virginia area, Melanie and I realized the only place we kept coming back to was Williamsburg, VA. We had made initial contact with a local realtor and made the leap to actually looking at houses to buy.

So, literally on January 2nd, the search began. It was slow initially as most folks aren’t interesting in selling their home in the dead of winter. But it was a learning experience for us. We learned that our primary goal was to be in Ford’s Colony. It’s a beautiful and sprawling community that consumes a sizeable chunk of Williamsburg. I’m not a huge fan of HOA’s, but in this case we think the positives far outweigh the negatives.

Houses in our price range tended to sell pretty quickly, which seems to be the norm for desirable properties lately, so typically we couldn’t make a list of houses to see until mid-week before heading down on Fridays to have a lookie see.

We went about our merry way for several months, driving down a couple of times a month. In early May we had another list of houses to see. Our normal routine was to leave Fairfax around 7 and drive down, stopping at a local Chick Filet if we were early. On this day, everything went to plan so we were sitting in a booth talking about the days viewings.

A few minutes before we were scheduled to leave, the “Director of Operations”, who had been sitting in the booth next to us got up and came over and introduced himself. He apologized for interrupting our conversation and listening in, but went on to say how he and his family had moved to the area some 20 years ago and were very happy there. We chit-chatted for a few minutes. When we got up to depart, he made a comment that he and his wife were thinking about building a house, and when they did they would get a builder by the name of Larry Walk to build it for them.

The first house we went to look at was on Princeville in Ford’s Colony. Driving up, the initial impression was very positive:

Meeting the realtor there, we entered the house and it was spectacular.

The remainder of the space was equally impressive. The house was recently built, only 4 years old. Virtually everything on the wish list was there. About the only negative was the owners kept two large dogs in the house, and they had done a bit of damage to the house, but honestly it was only cosmetic.

As we were ready to leave, I asked the realtor to see if she could find out who built the house. She called the seller’s realtor, and the answer was “Larry Walk”. H’mmm.

So we convened at Another Broken Egg for lunch and crafted out our plans for a bid on the house. Our proposal included a $15k escalation clause on the proposal. We got home to Fairfax that evening and to be honest, we had redecorated and reconfigured the house in our minds by Sunday’s evening. And then we got the phone call telling us we had been outbid. To be kind we were crestfallen. Absolutely gutted.

It took us a couple of weeks to get our heads back up and restart the search. Once we got over the loss, we jumped back in the hunt. In doing some searches for houses to see, I had not turned off property listing on this particular day. Scrolling through the listing, at the very bottom was the following:

121 Mahogany Run
Williamsburg, VA

Premier local builder, Larry Walk, will build your dream home on this prime lot in Ford’s Colony.

Needless to say I about jumped off the chair. I called the realtor and had her set up an appointment to meet with Larry the next Saturday. This house, or something like it was what we were looking for.

The anticipation leading up to our visit was almost unbearable. The week drug on far longer than most.

Finally Saturday came, and we literally jumped into the car and headed out. We met Larry in the parking lot at the local realty office. Introductions aside, we headed to the first visit. The house we toured was just about finished with the framing. I’ve been in construction most of my life, and walking around I realized that this was the most beautiful framing I had ever seen. Those of you who have been around construction are saying “framing isn’t supposed to be pretty”. I know, but this was absolutely gorgeous. Everything was straight, lined up, nicely cut, etc, etc. Absolutely gorgeous. I mentioned this to Larry and he answered that they took pride in their work. Obviously.

The next house we looked at was nearly finished electrical and plumbing rough in. This one was much the same. The wiring was neat, tidy and oh so obsessive compulsive. The plumbing equally so. Absolutely beautiful. It might seem to be a nonsensical thing, but if a contractor puts the kinds of effort into the parts of the house that the buyer normally doesn’t see, then honestly you don’t have to worry about them taking shortcuts during the remainder of the construction process.

The final house we saw was nearly complete with just the appliances left to be finished. It was beautiful as well:

The finish quality of the house was amazing. I mentioned that to Larry, and he remarked that’s it’s much easier to do nice trim if the framing is right. Before we departed, we told Larry we were good to go, lets build a house. His final question before we left was “what kind of house do you want”? “One just like this” we answered. Excellent, he answered and he departed.

The ride home was amazing. Absolutely amazing. But, the next challenge was finding a lot to build on.

We spent the following Sunday identifying about 10 lots to look at and sent the list to Larry and our realtor.

We met Larry the following Friday and his first words were that only a couple of the lots we had identified were really suitable for the house we wanted to build. So we drove around looking at the lots. Only two of them were flat enough to suit the house we wanted to build. One was close, but would have added about $15k to the total price for “remediation” suitable. There were two other flat lots. Both were at the top of our price range, and both were uncomfortably close to commercial entities for our liking.

At the end of the final lot on the list Larry mentions that he has another prospect in a newer section of Fords Colony. A subdivision of the subdivision if you will, it was called EaglesCliff (yes all one word). The downside EaglesCliff is the building requirements were even more restrictive than the remainder of Ford’s Colony, adding about $40k to the price of the build. The upside was the lot was very inexpensive (about half the price of everything else we looked at) and thus the price differential was a wash.

We entered EaglesCliff and drove back to the lot, and within 30 seconds after getting out of the car, I told him that this was it. This is what greeted us:

It’s a smallish lot at 1/4 acre, but Larry assured us the house we wanted would fit on the lot. We shook hands, and Melanie and I departed Williamsburg.

Getting home, we contacted the realtor regarding the lot. She advised us that the lot had been for sale for over a year, to go in aggressively with our offer. We went in at $10k under list, they countered at $8k under list and we accepted. We submitted all the appropriate paperwork and went out for a celebratory dinner.

Our closing on the lot was scheduled and Larry ordered a lot and ground survey to confirm everything was copasetic. The day before our scheduled closing, Larry calls me and tells me the house we want won’t fit on the lot. This lot has a 15′ set aside on the North side making the buildable area 60′ wide, not the 65′ the house requires. Larry tells me he will investigate a waiver. We push the closing back a couple of days, but mid next week the realtor poked us saying we either needed to close or waive off as the sellers were getting antsy. Calling Larry again, he tells me his efforts at obtaining a waiver have thus far been unsuccessful. He tells me go ahead with the closing, we will figure it out. So, we do.

Over the course of the next couple of weeks, it becomes clear that no waiver is oncoming. It was/is a fairly unpleasant experience as all the HOA documents indicate that waivers can be given in these types of scenarios. Well, waivers can be given, but won’t be, I suppose. After a final bit of rather unpleasant correspondence with the HOA, Larry tells me that we need to start thinking about a new arrangement to suit the lot dimensions.

Melanie and I talk about it a bit, and decided rather than play pitch and catch with the designer with the layout, we will recraft the layout and then send it to Larry for his thoughts. We took the 5′ out of the main living area, but stretched the living room back toward the rear. The major change was to move one of the bedrooms upstairs adjacent to the FROG (Family Room Over Garage). The utility room was moved into the space left from the bedroom, albeit reduced in size. The other major change we made was moving the sun room to the rear of the Master bedroom vice attached to the rear of the 2nd bedroom. All the manipulation aside the new footprint was within 10 square feet of the original.

We sent this to Larry, and a couple of weeks later a draft set of plans emerged. We went back and forth a couple of times over minor details, but finally got the plans suitable for submission to the engineer and framing material supplier. At the same time, Larry submitted the plans to the Ford’s Colony ARC for approval. Their first comment was the house was 8″ too wide (the plans had not accommodated for the thickness of the brick). Amazingly, they sent him a notarized waiver for the width without him asking for it. He had to make some concessions on the appearance of the garage dormer façade by adding a window, but the approval was granted and off we went.

The engineers’ report came in, comments recorded on the drawings and the whole kit and caboodle was submitted to the county for approval. A couple of weeks elapsed and requests to Larry for status info went unanswered. Finally Larry responds that Ford’s Colony rescinded the plan approval due to complaints from the neighbors in the houses which will be adjacent to ours. He had to give more concessions on the garage dormer in the way of bricking it versus the Hardi Plank that we had originally called out.

In the midst of all this, we get an e-mail from the material supplier that there was nothing supporting the stairs into the FROG. There was silence for a week or so, and he poked us again, with Larry asking me if I could work the issue out with the engineer. I had laid the whole house out in SolidWorks, so it was easy to work out alternative arrangements. I tweaked the layout, lowering the floor to the garage making necessary space for headroom and garage, and sent drawings to the engineer and detailer. The engineer and I got on the phone one afternoon, and worked out all the foibles to everyone’s satisfaction. We did have to reconfigure the upstairs bath, but when all was settled, the final layout is very good.

After all this to-ing and fro-ing, the permit was finally received on November 14th, some 4 months after we closed on the lot. Meeting with Larry shortly thereafter, his comment was it would be 10 months before construction would be done. Yikes. Oh well. Every time we meet with him, he comments that we are getting a “custom built house” which I guess is his way of telling us that it will take time.

So the process officially commenced. The lot was cleared, with only one little sad tree remaining. The house covers most of the lot, and the two other trees that could have been used were in extremely bad condition and most likely need to come down in the near future. Larry had come to an agreement with Ford’s Colony to remove two trees behind the lot so they could manage the run off in the common ground between our lot and the rear most neighbor.

Some dirt was brought in, the trenches dug, footings poured and the blocking done. This is what greeted us on 30 December:

Construction “officially” started on January 3rd with the framing. We got a blurry cell phone shot as a teaser after the decking started going on:

And then a couple of days later, this shot of the outside walls:

Larry called and suggested an on site meeting once the bottom floor was up, to confirm everything was going according to plan. So Melanie and I drove down on Martin Luther King day and this is what greeted us when we drove up:

Wowsers! The bottom floor was mostly complete. Here’s more:

From the other corner with the neighbor close on the side. The one we are pretty certain that created the ruckus about the siding.

The rear façade, missing the patio.

From the kitchen looking into the breakfast area and dining room.

From the corner of the living room looking toward the kitchen.

We walked around and looked at everything and highlighted a couple of issues that either didn’t conform to the drawing (which was not the most current……) or wasn’t on the drawing.

All this was discussed with Josh the builder and Paul, the frame and we went on our way. On the way out we stopped by The Cabinet Company of Virginia and met with Kirsten, the cabinet designer. We have had a lot of changes in things since June, so it was important for a final run through before the cabinets get ordered.

Melanie and I have been selecting the plumbing, electrical, appliance and other features for the house since fall of last year. We’re dealing with a distributor who I won’t name as I don’t want to give them any name recognition whatsoever as they have been horrible dealing with. Very, very end user hostile. It’s painfully apparent they do not consider us to be their customer in all our dealings with them. To be honest we have already come within a day of firing them. Who knows what the future brings with these clowns.

What’s needed in the short term is electrical, network and plumbing layout to give to the electrician and plumber. I had been vacillating about whether to do a smart house or not. Melanie had asked if it was possible to get music broadcast at various places in the house. Doing some spelunking around the web to see what might be a good way to do this, I stumbled across Home Assistant. Digging around the site a bit, virtually everything needed is already there. Simply amazing. So, I’m all in now, complete smart home.

The real challenge of this is the logistics of the details. Rather than having to go back and forth and work with the electrician, I’m going to get the house wired to be able to be smart, and then just complete the system once we move in. There will be a plethora of Cat5/6 all running into a space under the stairs for access. Other low voltage stuff (speaker wire, HDMI for the TV, etc, etc) will be part of this package. I’ll see if I can work a deal with the electrician where he runs all the cable, and I’ll terminate it once we move in. That way, I know what I have.

Also needed is a layout of the lighting, switches and outlets throughout the entire house. None of this gets called out on the plans. Larry said this normally is done in a walk through with the electrician, but we’re creating a binder with all the rooms describing the locations and functions, etc. for the high and low voltage wiring. This is as much for my benefit as theirs. This way we won’t forget anything.

Well, that’s about where we are. I’ve got another week scheduled in lovely Greensboro, NC next week, and then we are going down on Friday to have a look see.

All very exciting!


written by Chris - Posted in News