Tuesday, July 27, 2010

AN EXTENDED VACATION

Our six weeks in Pensacola are almost at an end. I can't believe I won't be able to see the Blue Angels on a weekly basis!  :(  The Pensacola area has lots of stuff going on - we've been attending the weekly (free!) concerts in Seville Square on Thursdays,



the Bands on the Beach concerts on Pensacola Beach on Tuesdays,



and the concerts each weekend at the Portofino Boardwalk. There's just so much going on around here, lots of it free! We visited the lighthouse at NAS Pensacola as well as the Naval Air Museum, also located at NAS Pensacola.

The Naval Air Museum is amazing - something for everyone. If you only have a passing interest in aviation there are plenty of displays and interactive activities, and if you're interested in learning more there are many videos playing throughout the museum, as well as the guided tours. The tours are led by volunteers, who obviously have a love of aviation, and the guide we had was an aviator himself and had been flying since the 1940s. He was so knowledgeable and his personal recollections about so many of the planes made our tour really fascinating.



There's also an IMAX theater at NAS Pensacola with three different movies playing throughout the day. When the Blue Angels practice (usually on Tuesday and Wednesday) the museum is much more crowded, but the bonus is that after the Wednesday practices the Blue Angel pilots come to the museum to sign autographs, pose for pictures and answer questions.

We drove to Perdido Key one day and didn't think it was as nice as Pensacola - and it's much further away from.....anything. If you're a beach bum and want to laze away the days by the pool or on the beach I guess that really doesn't matter, but if you want a variety of things to see and do Pensacola seems to have it all. If I were planning another vacation to the Pensacola area one of the first places I'd look is the BLUE ANGELS WEBSITE, just to make sure they'll be here at the same time!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

FAMILIAR SIGHTS

We've been pleasantly surprised with our re-entry into the United States. Of course there have been a few surprises along the way, like seeing fields of poppies in bloom while driving to North Carolina, or attending free weekly concerts that remind us of the many sagre we used to attend in Umbria. Yesterday I 'chatted' with the mayor of San Venanzo after she saw that I was on Facebook at the same time she was.

We bravely tried the gelato here in Pensacola, but honestly, if you're going to freeze it as hard as ice cream, why even bother to call it gelato? I've been SHOCKED at the price of produce at the local farmer's market - THREE tomatoes for $5 - seriously???? Once again, my statement that the food would be what I miss the most about Italy has proven to be true. I guess there's no point in looking for a porchetta truck, is there???

According to my countdown clock we have 57 days until we leave for Italy. I guess this transition isn't quite as easy as I had imagined.....

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A HOME AWAY FROM HOME

Some of you might know that we're in Pensacola Florida right now, house/dog sitting for friends - while they're in Italy! We're having a great time, especially seeing the Blue Angels practicing and performing numerous time, but still I'm anxious to get back to Louisville so I can unpack and organize our new home!

When we first accepted our friend's offer we had no ideas that we would find a house so fast!!! It seemed to take FOREVER to close - lots more hoops to jump through, even when you have a great credit score and a substantial down payment. Much like Italy, and much to our surprise, we had to show where the money for our down payment came from! Luckily someone else had recently sold a house in Israel and they were allowed to use exactly the same documents we wanted to use - our compromesso - which listed our names, the name of our buyer, the address of the house in Italy and the agreed upon price. We could then show that the large transfer of money into our account was from the sale, not a loan or money borrowed for the down payment.

The fact that our new home was a condo meant an extra few days while the bankers checked out stuff relating to our condo - the type of blanket insurance and financial standing of the community- and this part took forever! As luck would have it our condo association was changing management companies and the documents the bank needed to see were being transferred from one system to the other - grrrrr. Wait, wait, wait. Finally we closed at the end of May! Hurrah! I could now call my swarm of workers - the plumber, electrician, flooring guy, painter, drywall man and all the delivery people for the washer, dryer, stove, frig, and water softener. Oh and then I could order the couch and love seat and arrange for their delivery. And buy new light fixtures to replace the outdated ones in the kitchen and dining room.

The day after we left for Florida the painter put the finishing touches on and it was DONE! Yes, the replacement windows will be installed in August, but that change will be less obvious. The new granite counter top in the kitchen should make a HUGE difference, but I can't have it installed until the first week in August = aaaauuuggghhhhh!

I'm trying very hard to enjoy my stay in Florida, but I'd really rather be back in Louisville turning our house into our home.

Monday, July 12, 2010

HOME SWEET HOME!

It's still a work in progress, but we're almost ready to move in! the new countertop and the new windows will be installed in August, then all I have to do is find a place for everything!

Friday, July 09, 2010

HOUSEHUNTING HOT AND HEAVY

Our first day of house-hunting went well.  We were able to check out in person places that we'd only seen online - big difference!  Even if all the individual rooms look nice it still makes a big difference how they're arranged.  Every time I looked at houses online I wished for the floor plans!  We were of course familiar with all the different areas and neighborhoods, and had decided we wanted to be in Louisville's east end.  Without having jobs to go to everyday, we didn't really need to be close to any particular location, but even narrowing our choice down to the east end left lots of room for choice. 

Condo_KIT_2153We looked at 9 patio homes and one single family home that was interesting and unique.  Four of the patio homes were in the same subdivision, so we were hoping for a chance to see some variety.  Most of the units we saw were very similar.  Some had new carpet, others had replaced the carpet with laminate flooring.  Each kitchen was very different, yet similar.  The differences were in the wall opposite the main workspace.  One unit had the washer, dryer and water heater in an enclosed area on one wall of the kitchen.  Another unit had nothing at all on this wall.  Yet another unit had a large pantry unit on this wall and the last unit had the entire wall lined with cabinets and counter space. (that's it in the photo above)  The units without the washer/dryer in the kitchen had them conveniently located just outside the kitchen door in the attached garage, just like we'd had in our previous condo.  None of the kitchens had been updated, but all had potential.  They were small, but I thought I could manage.  This community, much like the place we'd lived in before we moved to Italy is about 18-20 years old, and many of the original owners are still here.  I think within the next five years or so there will be a big turnover and lots of updating. 

Once we'd seen all ten homes we talked about the pros and cons of each location and each unit.  If we fell in love with a particular location/subdivision, we knew we could wait for the perfect unit to come on the market.  Based on our internet searches we each had a favorite, and it was interesting to see how the reality compared to the photos. 

Eventually we decided that we liked one of the units we'd seen in the subdivision where we'd seen four units.  We liked the location of the unit itself as well as the laminate floors throughout.  There was very little to do to the unit other than paint, which was a relief.  We decided to make an offer. 

Unfortunately there was already an offer in on the unit we wanted, so we had to re-think our plans.  We decided that we'd bid on another unit, also in a great (private) location, but that needed a lot of updating.  The good news was that this unit was priced $10,000 below the first, allowing us to pay for the renovations and make it our own. 

After returning to the condo for a second visit, a neighbor told us that new roofs were in the future and that each condo would be charged a special assessment to cover the costs.  The amount for a condo the size of the one(s) we were looking at was around $5000.  Ouch!  That fact certainly made us stop and reconsider!

Eventually we did make an offer on the condo after the owners agreed to put $5000 in escrow for the roof.  If the assessment is over $5000 we'll have to pay the difference, but at least the majority of the costs will be taken care of.  Reaching this agreement before the end of April also meant that we would qualify for the $8000 tax credit!  We knew we'd need to paint, and this unit would also need a gas line run for the stove.  We decided that we liked the look of the laminate floors and that we would just re-do the entire first floor.  Yes, hardwood would have been nicer, but the budget demanded some compromises - besides, we have oriental carpets that we want to use.

A home inspection revealed no major problems, but we did find out that two of the windows needed to be replaced.  Because the windows were original (meaning 18-20 years old) with aluminum frames, and because we could ALSO take advantage of the energy rebate program, we decided to replace all the windows as well.  Our real estate agent had a person to recommend, and having someone you can trust with a project this large is a must. 

The condo we bought (call it a patio home if you want) is 1 ½ stories with an attached 2 car garage.  Although there is no basement there is a pull-down stairway in the garage as well as attic storage accessible from the upstairs bedroom.  The ground floor consists of a small, ceramic-tiled entry, a living room with a vaulted ceiling and gas fireplace and an adjoining dining room.  The kitchen was smaller than what we had in Italy but I'm confident it'll work just fine.  The hall bath has a walk-in shower rather than a tub, which I'm sure Art will love.  The master bedroom has a walk-in closet and a full bath with a tub.  The smaller bedroom downstairs will function as an office/den, and also has a large closet.  Upstairs is one large bedroom, complete with it's own walk-in closet and full bath, perfect for guests! 

The outside of the condo has a nice sized patio in front, and backs up to an open space and a tree line that separates us from the subdivision on the next street.  Our new neighbor and I already have plans to transform the area by the tree line into a shade garden with hostas and flowers.  It's a very private location, not 'overlooked' as the Brits would say, and everyone we've met so far has been very welcoming.  They all seem to love this area and this community and we feel confident that we'll love it here too.  As soon as all those renovations are finished......

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

BUYING? RENTING? WHAT? WHERE?

Once we'd sold our house in Italy we wondered what we'd do next.  By the time we sold the house we had decided to move back to the states.  Then we had to decide where - and in the end decided that Louisville wasn't such a bad choice.  First of all, the cost of living is relatively low.  Certainly lower than a bigger city like Chicago or New York, yet we still have the opera, the orchestra, Actor's Theater, as well as many galleries and great restaurants.  At least in Louisville we wouldn't have to learn our way around, or scout out the best place to buy this or that.

We discovered, much to our surprise, if we bought a house before the end of April we would qualify for the $8000 first-time homebuyers credit!  We began searching the Louisville MLS site and contacted a former neighbor who's a real estate agent, and who knows a LOT about condos/patio homes, which is what we wanted - probably.  The idea of a single family home was still a possibility - we were trying to keep an open mind.

We let our agent know our likes and dislikes, our "must haves" (like a gas line so I could have a gas stove, and at least 2 bedrooms and 2 full baths), our "would LIKE to haves" (gas fireplace, a mini-backyard instead of just a patio), and our absolute 'no-no's";  all electric kitchens, bi and tri-levels, and anything that cost move than $200,000.  Actually the $200,000 was Art's budget, while I was hoping to stay around $150,000 but was willing to spend up to $175,000 if the place was perfect in every way. 

The good news for the Louisville real estate market is that it's never experienced the extremes in pricing like other markets.  Louisville never experienced the over-inflated prices nor the sudden and drastic declines that inevitably follow.  This meant that for us, it really wasn't as much of a buyer's market as we might have found in a different city, but we could still find a nice place at a fair price, and with luck we might even find a bargain.

We were due to arrive back in Louisville on April 14th, a Wednesday.  Art had dental work schedule for Thursday morning, meaning that we began our house-hunting on Friday the 16th.  We'd sent our real estate agent the links to properties and areas that we liked so she'd set up TEN viewings for us, some of the specific properties we'd seen online, and others that were similiar.  Our plan was to search as hard as we could for a house, using our realtor, looking at for-sale-by-owners and hoping we'd find something before the end of the month.  If we didn't find something by the end of April we'd just sit back and wait for the perfect place to come along, whenever that might happen. 

Not knowing if we'd have a place to live, we agreed to house/dog sit for our friends in Pensacola while they went to Italy for six weeks.  If we hadn't found a place this would mean that we wouldn't have to take advantage of my sister's incredible generosity and could get out of her hair for six weeks.  We could rent an apartment for 3 or 6 or 9 months once we returned from Florida, by which time we reasoned our stuff would have arrived from Italy.

Although the idea of getting a check for $8000 was pretty tempting, I knew that we wouldn't buy the wrong place just to get that rebate.  We both wanted someplace that we'd enjoy, someplace that we could make our home.

Monday, July 05, 2010

RE-ENTRY

In April of this year we moved back to Louisville after living in Italy for 6 1/2 years.  Lots of expats, expats-to-be and assorted others have asked us about our re-entry to the United States.  I think this experience, just like our intial move to Italy, has to be unique for every person.  Some, who spent a lifetime dreaming of a life in Italy might have been devastated by having to return to the states.  Others, probably those who moved to Italy because of an outside force, like a job or following a spouse, might not have embraced the Italian way of life and might have been dancing in the streets upon their return to the U.S. 

Us?  As usual we fall somewhere in between those two extremes - sad to leave Italy and many of it's unique offerings, yet excited to return to the U.S. (where our dollar just might do better) and begin our next adventure.  Remember, for us the dream wasn't Italy itself, but the chance to follow a crazy idea just because we could - and just because we wanted to!  Really, that's the coolest part of all - just deciding one day "Hey, let's move to Italy!" and then DOING IT!!!  What crazy idea are YOU trying to resist?  And why????