Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Post-Katrina Update

We evacuated New Orleans on Saturday to stay with our friends in Baton Rouge. We brought both cars, the pets, some essentials for the baby and a change of clothes for each of us. We didn't expect the storm to be as bad as it was so we didn't really bring much with us, but that is probably just as well as the important thing was to get out of the city quickly.

Baton Rouge got some wind and rain, but nothing like the storm you saw on the news. We lost power there Monday morning when the storm hit, and it hadn't come back on by Tuesday afternoon so we decided to move on to Houston. The lack of air conditioning (and TV) was getting to us. We're now staying with our friend David, in his dee-luxe apartment in the sky in downtown Houston. We're having a nice time here, it's sort of like an unexpected vacation. Houston's zoo and museums have offered free admission to New Orleans refugees so we can have fun playing tourist. Most importantly, it's cool inside.

We plan to stay here for a week or so until we have an idea of how long it will be before we can return to New Orleans. We will not go back until there is power and the public health concerns (snakes, chemicals, etc. in standing water) have been resolved. They might allow residents to go in sometime next week to survey the damage and grab whatever belongings we can. If it looks like we'll be several weeks to months before we can go back safely I will take the baby out to California and John will take the pets to Buffalo. We expect that John will be wanted back at work as soon as possible so he can help get the university's computer systems back online. That would be a good thing, since working equals income. If the university is able to get power, John could sleep in his office.

As of last week, we were living in an apartment in River Ridge, a suburb, while our house uptown was being renovated. We have stuff in storage in the basement of our old house, in a bedroom of the new house, in a storage lot on the west bank, and at the apartment. There's really no telling what might have survived. Uptown apparently had less flood damage than other parts of the city, so it's possible that both the old and the new house are more or less fine. We have no way of knowing what wind damage, trees falling, roof failure, etc. might have occurred. The house on Jefferson already had a hole in the roof and in one wall due to the renovations, so it was vulnerable. We just don't know how the houses survived and if any of our stuff in storage will be salvageable. Looting is evidently also a big problem so what the storm didn't wreck, the scavengers might have.

Our old house, the duplex, is rented to students. I think they'll continue paying rent for a while anyway. We haven't been able to find out if August payroll went through or not. I have no idea if he'll continue to get paid while the university is closed. Since I'm a consultant, there's no chance I'll get paid for any down time. At the moment, we're okay; we have some money in the bank and credit cards. The bigger concern is once we get back and need to start repairing any damage. The way hurricane insurance works, the deductible is a percentage of the home's value. For us, damages will have to be over $25,000 before we can even start to collect insurance. After that our premiums, which are already high, will probably go up a LOT.

I'm sure there will be some FEMA aid and low interest loans to help bridge the gap. Property values will most likely drop after this so if we decide we're through with New Orleans, it will still be a couple of years before we're able to sell without taking a loss. I am hopeful that this catastrophe will help to rebuild the New Orleans infrastructure which has been in terrible shape for years. Maybe we can come out of this stronger and better. It will take a while to get there though.

Watching the news reports is just surreal. I can't get over the idea that they mean us when they talk about REFUGEES and HOMELESS! I'm going with the assumption that it's really not that dire, we're just on vacation and we'll need to replace some broken windows when we get back, and I might get to buy some new furniture. When we finally get to move into Jefferson, I'm having the mother of all housewarming parties, and I'll register at Target for all the crap we need to replace.

Keep on praying for New Orleans. If you've never been there, it's a beautiful city full of gorgeous old homes and stunning centuries old oaks. I can't think of the United States without a New Orleans. Thanks everyone for your kind comments. Fortunately we're a lot better off than many people in the city.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Hurricane Watching and Waiting

We're settled in with our friends in Baton Rouge watching the news coverage about Hurricane Katrina. We are happy to be safe and comfortable, but can't quite put away the nasty idea that tonight we might lose both houses and everything we own.

I'll just check in here when I know more about what happens next. Mr. Nola and I are weighing our options for each possible outcome. If we find ourselves homeless, I'll probably take the baby out to stay with my parents in California. Mr. Nola's employer will probably have some emergency housing for staff necessary to get the place back up and running. If Chateau Danneel is badly damaged and our tenants can't return, we'll lose about half our monthly income. That will have an adverse affect on our ability to pay the assorted mortgages.

Mr. Nola says: "I've never been homeless before! This should be interesting."

I was telling him about people on the news who were planning to stay on their boats in the fishing community of Houma. His response - "They're gonna die." It's not joke. I can sympathize with those people because their boats are certainly their most valuable assets and probably their livelihood. On the other hand, they are seriously risking their lives, and in some cases their childrens' lives.

It is likely that a lot of people will lose their lives tonight, because they either couldn't or wouldn't evacuate.

God help us all.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Oy, another hurricane

Aaarrrrrggggghhhh. We're straight in the path of a potentially major hurricane. The guy on the weather channel just said we should use tomorrow to get out of town.

There was supposed to be a lot of activity this week at TOH, but I didn't see any evidence of it when I was over there yesterday. It's still all torn up, the stucco is off the north side of the house, and there's still a big hole in the roof. Perfect hurricane conditions. I swear when we're done with this project the next thing I'm doing is installing a generator and some storm shutters. I'm honestly less worried about the risk of storm damage than I am the hassle of evacuating.

Oh wait. Half of our stuff is stored in the basement at Chateau Danneel. And who knows where the POD company is keeping the other half. Flooding could be a major drag. Everyone use your mental powers to vibe the storm towards Alabama, okay?

Sunday, August 21, 2005

News in brief

I'm so relieved to be done moving out of Chateau Danneel that I've spent the last couple of days hanging around the apartment, lounging by the pool with Stella, and catching up on my HGTV. I'm currently addicted to the show Property Ladder on TLC, where some hapless fool buys a wreck of a house and tries to renovate it to sell for a profit. They always have a totally unrealistic budget and schedule, no skills or experience, and insist on spending their budget on things like marble tile instead of say, plumbing. The kicker is that somehow, they almost always succeed at turning a profit, despite their total ineptitude. The whole thing lends some credit to the warnings about a real estate bubble.

Most of the work at TOH has happened outside this week. They moved the air conditioner compressor into the back yard to get it out of the way, and poured the footing for the new wall. The stucco has been torn off the outside of the old wall, and the studs from the interior wall between the kitchen and breakfast room are gone. It still looks like a great dusty pile of disaster, but at least we're almost done with demolition and should start getting some actual construction soon. Boudreaux says it'll be six weeks, but I think that's like the "two weeks" running joke in The Money Pit.

I got a better look at the flooring, and we've got vinyl on subfloor on top of vinyl on subfloor, on top of planks running diagonally over the support beams. I think we'll go down to the planks and put in new wonderboard and porcelain tiles.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Leveling finished... sort of

Once the process of jacking up the house started, it went very quickly. We got the call the next day to come check it out and give the approval to fill in the gaps and close it up. It's very dramatic from the outside; there's about a six inch gash in the stucco running the length of the side of the house. The contractor jacked it up as much as he could before the house started showing signs of stress. (We cannaugh lift her much higher, cap'n, she's given everthin' she's got! RIP, Scotty) Inside, the change is more subtle, there are still some waves in the floor, but much better than it had been. The tilt is no longer the first thing you notice when you walk to the back of the house.

I was a little disappointed that it wasn't a miracle cure that would give us perfectly level floors. But, well, it's an old house. We just move on and call it character. Sadly, the guest bathroom was the sacrificial lamb for the leveling - the tile floors and tub surround are cracked pretty badly. I'm starting to fantacize about black and white mosaic floors like this:

More specifically, I'm wondering how hard it would be to do the floor myself. My DIY expertise so far is limited to painting and hanging wallpaper or window treatments. What do y'all think?

Movin' out

Progress or lack thereof at TOH has actually been less on our minds for the last two weeks while we've been moving out of Chateau Danneel and trying to get it ready for our new tenants. Moving sucks. Moving in August really sucks. Moving in August in New Orleans is a punishment fit for the guy who wrote Jar Jar Binks into Star Wars episode 1.

We've filled about 50,000 boxes. Some of them moved into the POD parked in our driveway, some of them went into the basement, and some to the apartment we're renting. What makes moving EXTRA fun is knowing we'll get to do it again in a couple of months.

In addition to the POD, we rented a U-Haul to move our junk out to the apartment. We also used it to move some furniture into storage at TOH, since the POD's full. The apartment is actually quite nice, in a bland corporate sort of way, and it has BIG closets. I could seriously get used to the closet space. We requested a one bedroom, but they only had a two bedroom unit available so we're getting it at the one bedroom rate. Luckily the nice lady in the office left the door to the second bedroom unlocked so we can stash boxes in there, as well as a computer desk. Stella's crib fits nicely in the closet of the master bedroom, so it's like her own little alcove.

In the week before our tenants moved in, we had the floors in two rooms refinished, painted one of the bedrooms, touched up paint everywhere, built a "message center" in the hallway, and finished up a lot of trim that we'd not bothered with for ourselves. There are pictures, but I have to find the cable to get them off my camera. I have to say, it looks damned good. With all of our junk out and the little details finished, it's a really nice place. It was in sorry shape when we bought it, and I'm proud of what we've done there.

The day the tenants arrived felt like sending my eldest child off to college. The unruly one, who defied all attempts at reformation and gave us many sleepless nights, but somehow turned into a really neat person nonetheless. We'd been there until 11:00 pm the night before, Stella sleeping on a mat on the floor, but the tenants were pleased with our work.

Fun with contractors

Ack, it's been a while since I've checked in. We've been in moving hell. I have tons to update though! Forgive the serial posts.
The last time I postedly, we were waiting for Lafitte the shoring man to get his guys back to work leveling the house. After a week long holdup, we finally hired our own plumber to disconnect the pipes under the house so the rest of the job could resume. It was about three hours of work on a Friday afternoon.

So Monday morning we get a call from Lafitte's site manager, Alan, who seems to think he's doing us an enormous favor by doing his job. Now, they've discovered a heating duct that needs to be disconnected, and we need to get someone else out to do it. Mr. Nola reminded him that we're replacing all the ductwork anyway, so it wouldn't matter if the crew damages it, they should just rip it out and move ahead. At most, disconnecting the duct would take about an hour.

At this point Alan replied that HIS guys don't do that, and he wouldn't want to WASTE THEIR TIME. It's kind of fun when Mr. Nola gets mad. He's normally so friendly that it comes as a surprise when he starts looking like Lou Ferigno and spewing expletives. He didn't actually cuss Alan out, he just reminded Alan that we'd already had a week of OUR time wasted and we were the ones writing the checks. Then he called Alan's boss.

Somehow, the duct got disconnected, and if the shoring crew were disgusted that we were misusing their skills, we didn't hear about it. The jacking of the house proceeded on Monday as planned.