MY DIY HOUSE-BUILDING ADVENTURE: After All That Work On The Loan, We Just Broke Up With Our Bank

Instead, we secured almost all the funds we will need with credit cards, and started digging. I hope that’s not a metaphor.
Publish date:
June 17, 2014
house, construction adventures

I’ve always advocated for following your instincts; for listening to that itchy feeling you get when something’s just not right. A long time ago, when I was at a music festival with my friend Jess, two older couples took a shine to us. We were awkward riff-raff who had hitchhiked 400 miles to get there, with nothing but a shiv, $40, a little dome tent and some bad hair extensions to our names. We were sitting by the river when they approached, just a little too friendly -- and offered us some rum punch. We were very much underage and feeling the festival vibe, so we gladly accepted. After chatting with them a bit, I noticed a few things: A) they weren’t drinking at all, and B) they were starting to get pushy about their ‘camp’.

“You guys would TOTALLY love it. It’s like, right up your alley.” one of the women kept saying, without offering any details of why we would be so into a bunch of tents in the woods. She was gorgeous; they all looked to be about 30-something, REI model-types -- and kept complimenting us. They DID give us free booze, so my foolish teenage brain felt indebted.

When I stood up, I felt weird. Not a rum-buzz weird, but the forest kind of slid and swirled a bit, and our new friends’ banter sounded far off and not like words. I noticed Jess’s eyes were very dilated, but I tried to play it cool. What was in that rum punch garbage?!

We followed them through waist-high ferns into the woods for awhile until we came upon their camp: a big tent and some dirty laundry festively strung up between the trees, punctuated with a few sad tiki torches. One of the boyfriends started saying we were so pretty, and awkwardly massaged my shoulders. The other one zipped off his pants and said we should all hang out in their tent.

I looked at Jess, and without a word, we both bolted into the woods. I remember not knowing which way the festival was, just hoping to get away from these people. I heard them shouting behind us, but we kept running.

It’s just one of the many times that making a last-second decision to bail unceremoniously has proven to be a good thing: I walked out of a required remedial chemistry class, and wrote my own degree program. I quit my marriage and a few go-nowhere jobs -- all for the better.

Today, we quit our bank.

Our loan officer had misinformed us more than a few times; but then she misquoted closing costs by 50%, and fudged the cash-in-hand date by about six weeks. She also forgot to mention about $2000 in fees. The paperwork is in, the loan has been approved, but any progress seems to be inexplicably mired in bureaucratic bank bullshit. We’d saved a considerable amount, and the time came to either start construction with it, or hand it to the bank as a down payment for the loan -- that we would definitely 4-8 weeks.

It’s not that I hate waiting, it’s that our summer here in Alaska is short. The clock started ticking months ago, and working outside in negative temperatures is not so fun. So we secured almost all the funds we will need with credit cards, and started digging. I hope that’s not a metaphor.

It’s a relief not to be working at the mercy of someone else’s timeline, and I feel a little stupid that we didn’t take advantage of our good credit before: Instead of paying around $5,000 for a loan (interest, fees, title research, plan assessments), we’re getting all kinds of cash back and miles. Instead of the 14% APR the bank was offering us for a 15-month loan, credit card companies happily gave us 0%. In the end, we’ll roll the debt we accrue into our mortgage, but without paying all the associated fees of a construction loan.

But that’s just details. I got to drive an excavator. And dig giant holes.

I still can’t believe that a rental agency will deliver a 10,000 pound machine to your construction site, and just let you have at it. How do they trust me not to drive this puppy to Mexico?! Probably the most impressive part of renting this sweet piece of machinery? I was not talked down to, asked stupid sexist questions, or anything even close when I rented it over the phone.

I know a few women that work in construction, and each one of them has nothing but tales of rampant sexism. Most home improvement stores are rife with a culture of, “Are you sure that’s what you need, honey?” and “I hope you have a husband to help you with this!” I’ve been told to just hire a handyman when I was getting drywall a few years ago.

Needless to say, even though it shouldn’t be a thing, I was delighted that I wasn’t scrutinized for rental heavy equipment while female.

We’re digging the septic trench, and some giant holes for a water tank, fuel tank and septic tank. Then we’ll attach an auger and bore holes for the footings. It’s hard to imagine that this should wrap up the dirty work in the next few days -- and then we can actually start building! Since we’re not working with the bank anymore, I can focus my attention to tangible things that will move this project forward.

I’m used to doing so much by hand that being able to scrape bucketfuls of dirt out of the earth and move them around is simply thrilling. Scott and I only fought a little bit over who would get to run the excavator. I always underestimate how long and arduous site prep can be -- when I’ve done it by hand, it took weeks. Even though we are moving right along on budget and timeline, it still sucks to miss out on Alaskan institutions like getting our salmon for the year, or making flower jellies.

But sacrificing a summer for a home seems like the deal of a lifetime, so I’m not going to snivel too much.