Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Holiday Success

Boy am I glad Christmas is over. That sounds terrible - like I didn't enjoy it. But I did, I had a blast.

I'm just glad things have calmed down after a very busy month of getting-house-keys-installing-appliances-moving-and-then-apartment-cleaning-and-more-moving-and-then-sudden-flight-for-the-funeral-and-then-unpacking-and-then-holiday-preparations-and-then-...

Note to self: if moving, don't do it around major holidays. Life happens, other stuff comes up, and it turns out you don't have as much time as you thought you did.

splorp! and I did well with our hosting duties. And we enjoyed having everyone over. It's just that we did a mad rush to unpack stuff before everyone came over to see the new place, and I am soooo tired of unpacking boxes. So yeah, I'm glad Christmas is over so I can be a slob again (kidding mom!).

We had lots of fun visiting with everyone who came to our home. Cooking the meals is something I enjoy, so that is never a problem. I have a sure-thing recipe for beef roast for which I always receive rave reviews.

And my family is great about pitching in to bring something for the meal, so I never actually have to do the whole dinner on my own. For example: my aunt brought mashed potatoes and rolls, my parents brought the green bean casserole and the deviled eggs. My dad loaded the dishwasher after the meal. So it's never a hassle to do the cooking. Mostly I prep the roast and then stick it in the oven and go back to socializing.

This was a tough year financially for a lot of people, and my family agreed to a low-key holiday. splorp! and I developed some photos of ourselves to put in holiday cards for the family with which we were not exchanging actual gifts. For each other we got things that would be more than just "I want" gifts, we got more useful things. I received a bluetooth earpiece (for my now-longer commute) and I gave him a battery powered screwdriver (for all the household stuff he's going to be doing now that we're homeowners).

For our other family gathering the day after Christmas, early in the morning I put spaghetti sauce in a slow-cooker with some garlic and italian sausage and let it cook all day. And then I just boiled up some spaghetti right at dinner time. My cousin's family brought a giant pie for dessert, so throw some garlic bread in the broiler and it's an easy meal that everyone enjoys. (Though the garlic bread was something else - I've never actually done it myself, and the first loaf cooked up much faster than I expected, so it almost caught fire. Lots of smoke and blackened pieces. Good thing I had more bread.)

So, like I said, a holiday success. I think we'll probably do it again next year. But without the moving to a new house part.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Home for the Holidays

I am happy to report that splorp! and I are completely done with the old apartment. No more cleaning, no more moving. We turned in the keys a bit early, and now we just wait for the refund of our security deposit, which should be coming any time now.

We didn't get the whole amount back - we allowed them to take money out of the deposit for cleaning because due to some unforeseen circumstances we didn't finish cleaning the apartment the way we wanted to. Oh well, it's a small price to pay to have a load off our minds.

Our unforeseen circumstances involved (in chronological order) first, the purchase of a new vacuum (the old one died while I was in the act of cleaning the apartment) and second a trip to see splorp!'s family due to the passing of his grandmother.

We had a whirlwind trip for the funeral. Though the occasion was very sad, it was nice to see the whole family pull together for the services and family gathering afterward.

Now we are home and gearing up for hosting my immediate family for the Christmas holiday on Friday, and a larger family gathering on Saturday.

We are grateful that my dad hung Christmas lights on the house before we moved in. I think with everything that has been going on lately we would not have been able to get around to it this year if he had not taken it upon himself to surprise us (and it was a pleasant surprise!).

I forget what day splorp! pulled the tree* and decoration boxes out of our garage (how cool is it to say "out of our garage" now instead of "out of the storage unit"). We got the tree put up and decorated in a fairly short amount of time. Then splorp! discovered our new fireplace mantel had holes in it already, so he used the existing holes to hang some stockings. I put up some fake green garland stuff that looks like pine and wrapped it with some red ribbons. Everything looks very festive.

So, decorations seem to be done, gifts are (mostly) wrapped, and we're pretty well set. I just need to do some last minute cleaning and some last minute grocery shopping, and we will be ready for our first party (well, parties). What a nice feeling to be almost done ahead of schedule.

We are looking forward to lots of food on Friday (day of Christmas) and then somewhat less food but a lot more people on Saturday as my extended family come to visit and check out the new house.

*Note: Yes, we have a fake tree we put up every year. Hey, I know there are some purists out there who think it's not "right" or something to celebrate using a fake tree, but there are a couple of reasons we use it:
  1. It was free, courtesy of my aunt who was downsizing her "stuff". Free and re-usable means we don't have to buy what is essentially an $80 dead tree year after year

  2. I have allergies that are greatly disturbed by fragrances, dust, and pollen (and all of that is included with the lovely pine tree), so a fake tree makes the holidays much more enjoyable for me

  3. We're not chopping down a live tree every year, which means that tree is still alive and is giving back to the environment and

  4. It's also eco-friendly to be re-using something we didn't have to buy. Not purchasing something new means there's no packaging waste year after year, there's no fuel costs incurred shipping a dead tree to southern California, and finally, see #3 again. It's an important point.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Moving is Over!

We are now completely moved in. Though we have been living in the new house for a week, today we brought the last of the stuff from the apartment to the new house.

And by "last of the stuff" I mean Raymond and I dug up my avocado tree from the apartment garden and stuck it in the back of my car. It's now sitting in a pot on the patio, hoping it makes it in the ground soon. And hopefully I'll get to it this weekend, otherwise I'm thinking it's not going to make it.

There is still some cleaning left to do at the apartment before we turn in our keys. Unfortunately the old vacuum bit the dust before I finished over there. Yeah, burning rubber belt? not a pleasant smell!

Good riddance though. That stupid thing has had problems ever since we bought it used from my sister a couple years ago after she no longer needed it. Plus I was ready to get away from the bagless style vacuum. That's not a good design for anyone with allergies - you have to dump the gunk into the trash and tap the sides of the plastic bin to make all the stuff come out of the filter. And when you do that a cloud of dirt and dust blows up at your face and into your nose and all over your hair. You needed a shower after a simple cleaning job.

Enough was enough, and I wasn't going to repair it when it wasn't working for us, so we bought a very nice upright with a microfilter bag and a HEPA filter. I'm very happy with it so far, and I'll give it a good workout this coming Saturday as I clean the rest of the apartment.

Another bonus is that our washer and dryer got delivered and installed today, so I think we're pretty well set on appliances now. And I no longer have to save my Quarters to do laundry! Yea!

A couple of pictures of the "before". No "after" pictures yet.

Front Of Our House

Big Kitchen!

We're Home!

Monday, November 30, 2009

More House Stuff Done

So yesterday was day two of moving, and splorp! and I got going fairly early with two car loads of boxes.

His job was to install the curtains, while mine was to clean the bathrooms, caulk the hall bathtub, and then vacuum carpets and run the carpet cleaning machine over them.

splorp! had some difficulty with the curtains, never having hung them before yesterday. We bought blackout curtains, and they turned out very nice. Plus they do a LOT to block out the light and heat, making the bedroom much more comfortable.

The cleaning of the bathrooms went quickly. I think the house was professionally cleaned before it went on the market, but still, that was several months ago (back in late June), so there was dust and minor grime in the sinks and on the floor. And anyway, who knows how many people went through the house and what was on their shoes and what they may have tracked in from outside in that amount of time.

A small bit of excitement and swearing when I went to dump the mop water in a toilet. I was trying to tip the water out of the bucket and still hold the scrub brush and wash rag in the bucket, when all of a sudden the rag went right by my hand and into the toilet ... where it proceeded to go right down the drain with the rest of the water like it was regular toilet tissue!

splorp! came over to investigate why I was using such colorful language, and when I explained the rag went right down he asks if I can feel it at all. Nope. Cannot reach anything. Test flush on the liquid setting (small amount of water). Not backing up. Heavier flush, with the other setting (more water). Still not backing up. So, it's gone. It may come back to us later in the form of slow draining and a call to the plumber. We'll be watching that closely for quite a while.

After the excitement of the washrag episode I proceeded to caulking. I know the basics of how to do it, but have never actually done it. It's now done, but let's just say it was much messier than I expected, and now I want to buy one of those Pro Caulk thingys before I have to do it again (which may be sooner than I like, because I need to caulk the seam where the kitchen counter meets the backsplash).

On to vacuuming, which was not exciting. Then the carpet cleaning. The cleaner looks like a giant vacuum, but with more domed areas, and lots of plastic. Sort of like this thing I stuck in here to the right.

Anyway, my Aunt bought the cleaner thing a while ago, used it once, then hasn't touched it for a year. She said it worked well, cleaned great, and here's the instruction book, have fun.

I could not get the stupid thing to work! No matter what I did, the water would never reach the spinning brushes. The floor remained dry, if somewhat brushed.

I read the instructions carefully, read them again, took it apart at the water well and cleaning solution reservoir, put it back together, had splorp! read the directions and try it, and the stupid thing still just would. not. work.

We gave up and called it a day.

Today splorp! and Dad made two trips moving stuff to the house, and apparently after the first trip Dad just turned on the power switch and it worked perfectly. Perfectly! Like he had the magic touch or something.

I hate it when that happens. Makes me feel like a moron, but splorp! assures me it was just one of those things that happen. Promised Dad did nothing differently than we did, but somehow this time he got water to come out properly.


So splorp! cleaned the carpet in the main room, which is the main thing I wanted to tackle, and my bonus is that he did the cleaning, and I didn't have to.

For the next several days I will be packing boxes at night and packing splorp's car so he can drop off a load after work each day. He works only 2 miles from the house, while I am closer to 20 miles away, so we'll limit our moving to what he can do in the trunk of his car.

Until Saturday, which is the big move day.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

It's a start!

Today we loaded up my Honda Fit (lurve the Fit!) with boxes of books and misc crap stuff and husband splorp! and my dad loaded Dad's Tahoe with tools, and off we went to the new house.

I arrived first and discovered I have no clue how to back a car into a garage. Missed taking out the tool bench by about 2 inches (not kidding, really about 2 inches).

We unloaded my car, most of Dad's truck, took some measurements, and then all three of us piled into the front bench seat of the Tahoe and were off to Home Depot, where we proceeded to buy new locks and doorknobs, a water heater and 2 dual flush toilets. We all sat in the front because we took all the seats out of the back, so we could fit all those giant boxes into the truck.

Eleven hundred dollars later we were back at the house where the boys spent a very productive day installing the water heater and drip pan (yea! hot water!), locks, and 2 toilets. Somewhere in the middle of the day there was a second trip to Home Depot (I did not go along for that one) because they needed to buy new supply lines and wax rings for the toilets.

Let me just take a moment to say: When you go to install a toilet, DO NOT GROUT THE TOILET IN PLACE. Seriously. We went to take out one of the old toilets and discovered that instead of caulking around the base of the toilet where it meets the tile (like normal people) some owner somewhere along the line grouted it. To the floor. With black grout to match the grout lines on the tile floor.

My small part of the toilet installation involved a hammer and a screwdriver, and very carefully chiseling off the stupid grout lines from the surface of the lovely tile. Fortunately our new toilets have larger bases than the old toilets, and cover the remaining grout. You'd never know it was there.

All in all it was a very productive day. Now splorp! and I need to figure out how to dispose of 2 (grody) old toilets and a dead water heater. I think our best bet is to call the garbage people and arrange a pick up. My parents tell me you can usually get one free pickup of oversize or odd items in a year, and then other pickups are charged. Sounds like a good deal to me.

Worse comes to worse we'll put an ad out on the "free scrap metal" and smash the porcelain up and dispose of it in the trash.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Furnishing Plans

Two days from now we will have signed all our paperwork, and will hopefully get the keys later that day or the next day. Our appointment is 9 am Monday, so if all goes well we could move in over Thanksgiving.

We're not going to, but we could. There's still the little matter of needing a water heater before we move in, and toilets.

We're looking at these dual-flush low-flow toilets. A friend of ours recommended it. Apparently he installed one in his new house, and he says it passes the flush test with flying colors.

I like the fact they're dual-flush toilets. If you're not familiar with dual flush toilets it's a cool bit of technology helping us use less water (and, hello! Southern California has droughts all the freaking time). Basically it saves water in two ways: first, using the low-flow toilet technology it uses a combination of the traditional gravity-fed flush plus a motor to help the flush be more powerful with less water. Secondly, a dual-flush has two settings: a half-flush for when you just go number one, and a full flush for when you go number two.

But ultimately I'm leaving the purchasing of the water heater and the toilets to my dad and husband splorp! I'll offer input on the washer and dryer, but we'll probably go with a basic high efficiency top-loader washer and a gas dryer.

The front-loading washers just aren't for me. I think it's cool that they use less water and are more gentle on your clothes than a traditional washer's agitator, but I don't like the rubber "ring" gasket that seals the doors. They smell horrible, and the washers are prone to growing mold or algae or something around the rings, which in turn increases the smells. Ick.

We had a front-loader washer in our last apartment, and it was always smelling musty. I finally discovered I had to leave the washer door open so it could air out when not in use. That certainly is an easy solution, but in our new house the washer and dryer will be in the garage. I'm not leaving the washer and dryer open, what with all the dust and leaves that come in under garage doors. Plus, we're planning on parking in the garage. There will be car exhaust and junk in the air.

Well, if they boys are handling the appliances, I'm in charge of getting drapes for our bedroom. This is actually a very important thing, because our bedroom doesn't have a simple window, it has a sliding door that takes up one whole wall. There actually isn't a window at all, just the door.

So the curtains have to be black-out curtains, because otherwise we're going to have a lot of light in the bedroom. They have to be "insulating" type of curtains, because the door is the old single pane style, which will let in a lot of cold or heat, depending on the weather. Mostly heat (remember? Southern California). And the door faces the setting sun, so it will be really, really hot in the bedroom unless the insulating curtains work to cut the heat.

We have air conditioning and all, but let's be eco-friendly about this and just buy some curtains that have multiple uses and cut our heating/cooling bills.

The problem with buying curtains is that I've never done it before now. I went out to a couple of stores today, and learned that the hanging pole and brackets can pretty much be bought as a set. And I learned that the longer poles have more than the two end brackets (they have 3 or 4 brackets total), which is a load off my mind because I kept picturing he curtains sagging in the middle, what with the pole having to stretch 94" to cover the sliding door.

Also? I can't find curtains that I like.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Signing Soon!

We are expected to sign loan docs on Monday! Woo-hoo!

Since we have a date, today I gave our 30-day notice at our apartment complex. Boy, parting with that amount of money was not fun, but at least it is over. Our days of having someone walking tromping over our heads are nearly over! I'm so excited there is an end date in sight.

We expect to have our new house keys shortly after signing, maybe a day, hopefully right away. We are working with a direct lender, so that means we don't have to go through and around extra layers of middle management.

The first thing we do is probably re-key the house. It has been vacant for a long time, but we have no idea how many house keys the sellers handed out during their years there. Plus we know they rented (or attempted to rent) the house for a while, and there's no telling how many keys those people handed out.

After that we will have to quickly install a new water heater. The one currently in place is showing its age and was difficult to light during the inspection. That's ok, it's a good opportunity to get it set up correctly with a drip pan (there isn't one right now, and the wooden heater stand shows water damage) and drain line (the current one is not attached to the wall properly, and has sagged, creating a non-slope so water can't drain properly). We'll also insulate the water heater to maximize efficiency, and strap it for earthquake safety.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


We got the termite report back yesterday.

Since we're in Southern California, it's pretty much a given there's going to be some termite activity. The questions are: how much damage, is it structural, and how expensive to fix?

There's not a whole lot of termite damage, and no it's not structural. It's actually mostly in the siding, and in the areas around windows. There is some fungus type of wood rot, which is also expected when you have no flashing on the edge of a roof, or faux beams that stick out beyond the roof lines. Also, when you have plants that have been creeping up and over and around and between boards because the house is vacant and no one hired a gardener.

What is nice is the areas the termite people identified are no different than the areas the house inspector listed in his report, so we feel pretty confident no one is trying to scam us.

Now the termite people will go in and do removal and repair of the affected areas, and probably tent the house. After that they will sign off and our loan should be OK to close.

The only difficulty will be painting the repaired spots - I have no idea when the house was last painted, but I'm going to guess a long time ago. And while there is leftover paint in the garage, the only thing I saw for sure was interior paint.

So, splorp! and I may have to consider painting the exterior of the house relatively soon. Ick.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Looking up!

It looks like we may be able to close on the house and move in before Thanksgiving! WOW, that is super fast!

Considering we just heard on Friday October 30th that the sellers' bank is OK-ing the short sale, it will make it right about 3 weeks to close. Our mortgage broker ROCKS!

Today was our inspection. The good news is that all the HVAC is in good shape. The bad news is the electrical is aluminum wiring. My dad (our resident expert on all things construction and electrical) wants us to upgrade the electrical panel to 200 amps (from 100) and consider the costs of the wiring (as in, SOON). I think he considers it a major fire hazard, so yeah, we'll probably do something about it in the near future.

The water heater is so old they couldn't get it lit at first due to the amount of rust. When they did get it lit they almost immediately turned it off. So that needs replaced (not a big deal).

The roof needs some patching. It is about 7 years old, so that is not too bad. We're around half its life expectancy right now. Add some flashing to exposed wood and pipe areas, and we're pretty good. A bit expensive, but good.

Oh, and the toilets need to be replaced. Yeah, they're 40 years old and original to the house. The surprising thing is that they were in good condition until recently - like when the water was shut off for months while it was on the market. But somehow I'm not ready to reach my hand in there and clean the thick brown grime that was in them. Plus the whole breathing in of the fumes, since you do have to get up close to clean. Just thinking about it makes me shudder. Yeesh!

All in all, a pretty good prognosis. You expect houses to have some problems, and these are all manageable. Since they're also within our budget at this time, we'll go ahead and take care of them soon. Well, in the case of the water heater, even before we move in. I happen to like hot showers, don't you?

I think the plan will be to file taxes next year ASAP, and then use the homebuyer's tax credit/rebate thingy ($8,000!) to replace the single pane windows with dual panes. We may even do it earlier and (gasp!) put it on a credit card and pay it off when the tax refunds come in.

Other than deferred maintenance stuff, the house is in good shape. The house was painted just before they put it on the market, and the carpets just need a good steam clean. The landscape is shot, since there has been no water for a while, but that's ok. I'm going to take advantage of the general deadness of the lawn and add some low-water or drought-tolerant planter beds. Also, in the garage I found some extra tiles for the floors and tile counter tops, so yea! If anything gets broken we have replacements.

Yea, I am excited!

Friday, October 30, 2009


Oh, we are so excited! We got word today that our offer on a house has been accepted! And like actually accepted by the bank so it's for reals this time!

It's a short sale, so we've been in limbo since the beginning of July. Yup, it's taken over 3 months from the time the sellers said we were the highest and best offer to the time the sellers' bank said OK, you can have the house.

Now we have to go get a mortgage, so it's still another month or so before we close and get to call it ours.

Anyone out there who is considering a short sale better be prepared and have patience.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

House Hunting, and Being Out-Bid

Dog sitting went very well. Livy's dad will have me back in the future, which is always a nice thing to hear.

House hunting is not going well at all.

We saw a house we liked pretty well, and made an offer on it. It was a fair offer for the condition of the house. Not extravagant, not low-balled. An actual fair offer. Then we had to wait a full 3 days while they considered it, then they counter-offered for too much money but gave us only 24 hours to reply, we countered for more money but the middle of the two numbers, they took a full 3 days to consider it ... and ended up accepting a bid that came in at the last minute that was $25k over what we offered.

The irksome part is the seller is obligated to TELL us when they receive another offer, and they did not. Now, they're not obligated to tell us the value of the new offer, but they are obligated to inform us there is another offer on the table so we can decide if we want to increase our offer. They didn't bother.

Shady real estate people like this annoy the crap out of me. Why would I want to deal with you, if you're going to behave like this? In an industry that is built on personal reputation and repeat business, what a reputation you are building for yourself.

It's not as if we're trying to "steal" someone's house from them - we're perfectly willing to make a fair offer, but we're going to take into account the items that are wrong with the house - like the water stain on the ceiling (which may indicate mold or worse in the attic), the place next to the garage where from the ground to 3 feet up the stucco is primer grey, like it has been repaired but not painted (maybe someone backed into it with a car?) - we won't be able to match that paint color, so the house will need to be repainted. The garage door that is manual (no electrical opener), the broken window at the front of the house, the rest of the old windows that need to be replaced, the half-working sprinklers, and the carpet that needs to be replaced. Yeah, that kind of stuff. The stuff we would have to spend money on before we moved in.

Frustrating does not begin to cover it. We are probably 2 months into house hunting. We see 5 plus houses most weekends. And then we get out-bid, over and over.

We recognize that we are in a difficult price point - where there is a lot of competition from first time buyers (like ourselves). Houses often have multiple offers on their second day, and the houses sitting on the market have something really wrong with them - like earthquake damage (cracked foundation? no thank you!). A lot of them are REOs or Short Sales. And there are a lot of potential buyers.

Still, I asked my mom how many houses she saw before she found the one where they live now, and she said, "Oh, I don't think I saw 10."

We saw 10 in our first two weekends. And it feels like it will never end.

Wish us luck.

Friday, May 22, 2009

House Hunting to House Sitting

I am house sitting for about a week, for a very nice man with a lovely dog who is essentially his "fur baby."

Olivia, (aka Livy) is a sweet, sweet girl about 9 years old, and just full of love. She is also well-trained, which is truly a wonderful thing for a house sitter.

So many times when I house sit the dogs are just kind of "there" in the household. Someone feeds them sure, but they have little to no training, and they are terrors - which the family never seems to understand. "Oh, they're sweet, except this one doesn't like men." (No history of abuse, so why aren't you training him out of that instead of the exasperated sigh you're currently giving him while he barks and carries on?) Or, my favorite: "He's mostly potty-trained." (Come on lady, he's not a puppy, he's at least 4 years old. Get with the program - if he's not potty trained at that age it's only because you are too lazy!)

But Livy is a real joy. She has a schedule, sure, and she wants to go outside to potty as soon as I walk in, but that's the whole point of potty training, isn't it? She's so well behaved I can actually go on a walk with her, and she heels! And sits! Like she's supposed to! She also lays down on command, and is very responsive to your words, like "Go get your toy" or "Get that frizz" (Frisbee). No tricks, though I am trying to teach her to shake hands. Not going too well.

splorp! usually stays at home while I'm off house sitting. We do have a bird to take care of, after all, and some of the places I house sit just do not have comfortable beds (one in particular is a rock). But he will come and visit me tonight, and we will go out house hunting with our Realtor, and then he will take me out to dinner.

Normally I would cook, but (and this is a first in my many years of house sitting) this man has NO pots and pans in the house.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Thoughts on Being Denied

It sucks to be denied. Though our offer was "not accepted" rather than "denied" as I wrote, it doesn't soften the blow.

splorp! and I tried hard not to get too excited about the house we liked. We knew it would be a big blow to get our hopes up, and then have them taken away from us, so we made an effort to not talk about, "we could do this, we cold do that, wouldn't it be great to do ..." This turned out to be a good mindset, because in the end, we didn't get the house.

We have heard so many stories about people who put in offers on homes, only to get "not accepted" (aka "denied") time and time again. It seems like if you read any of the real estate sections on the major news sites you will read about people who placed offers on 6 different homes before finally being accepted for the one they now live in. And we personally work with people who have made offers in the local market, only to be "not accepted," or to withdraw their offer because the selling bank was taking too long to respond.

Too, we know the process of offer and escrow is not likely to be a quick process, even if our offer is accepted somewhere. Our Realtor told us 30 day escrows are unlikely, and sometimes 45 is pushing it, too. The banks are just so busy with all the houses under contract it's taking them longer and longer to process properties.

In fact, one of splorp!'s co-workers experienced a 3 month delay on their close of escrow - not because of anything he did, but because the house they wanted was found to have mold problems during the inspection. They petitioned the selling bank for either a repair before closing or money for them to do the repair themselves, and ended up receiving a $6,000 credit toward closing costs from the selling bank, so they could afford to do the mold remediation before moving in. This was probably a smart move on that bank's part, because now they would have been forced to disclose to a new potential buyer that "yes, we know the house has mold, and no, we're not intending to do anything about it." Giving up $6,000 was less expensive for them in the long run.

In spite of being bummed about losing the house we liked, we went and saw a newly listed property last night. Something just seems "off" about this one. The stupid part is this house has almost the exact same floor plan as a house we already saw and liked (but turned down due to a cracked foundation). I'm having trouble pinning down what seems strange about this house. All I can come up with is the master bedroom is much smaller than we would like, the neighborhood is a bit more run down, it has a bad asphalt driveway (which could be an expensive fix to pour a new concrete one), it's very close to a busy street (but we can't hear any road noise anywhere on the property or in the house), and the house was very, very cluttered, which made it hard to see the potential life we could have in this house.

The owner of the house was present, and she was very nice, answering all sorts of questions about repairs done, or not done, and apologies about the clutter as she and her soon-to-be-ex-husband are trying to find a rental while their house is being sold as a short sale.

Side note: I will have to remember something this house had which I have never seen before: a drive-thru garage. The 2-car garage had the standard 2-car garage door (and it was new) on the front as normal, but on the back, there was a 1-car garage door (also new) that led out to the back yard. I guess it would be perfect for a boat or small trailer, or a mechanic, or something. At the very least it's ideal for getting the lawn mower to the back yard (not that the house had any back lawn to speak of - it was all dead).

So, splorp! and I have not ruled this house out, but my mom probably said it best when she said, "It sounds like you're trying to talk yourself into liking this house."

What makes decision making hard is we know we are comparing it (unfairly) against the nicer, larger house we just lost out on, and it just doesn't match up.

Monday, May 18, 2009


... And our offer was declined.

Goes to show how screwed up the housing market is in So. Cal.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


And today splorp! and I signed all the paperwork to make an offer on a house.

Wish us luck!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

House Hunt Thoughts

I mentioned those pay-option ARM loans, and our guess that we're going to see a larger number of foreclosures soon. I glossed over how truly evil these loans are.

What happens with these pay-option ARM loans is you get a set of payments you can choose to make.
  1. You can choose to pay the full amount of Principal, Interest, Tax, and Insurance (PITI - like if you had a traditional 30 year loan). [Most money out of pocket each month.]
  2. You can choose to pay the Interest-only payment (where you're only paying interest on the loan, not paying down the principal balance you owe). [Lesser amount of money out of pocket each month.]
  3. Or you could choose to pay an optional, even lower amount, which is what made these loans special. This amount was significantly less than either of the two other payment choices. What the Broker glossed over, as they were selling you the loan, is the amount of principal and interest you didn't pay was added back onto the loan as principal. [Least out of money out of pocket each month.]

Guess which one most people chose to pay?

All is merry until the loan reaches a certain point: usually where they have added $10,000 onto the principal amount of their loan. Then the payment terms change, and the homeowner no longer has choices about what to pay, they MUST pay the full PITI amount. Suddenly they have to pay an amount that doubles or triples their current payment. How many families do you know who live comfortably, but paycheck to paycheck? Doubling the mortgage payment can throw a real bender into the budget.

You may be thinking that this is a scenario that is uncommon. Just so you know, in our local Southern California area (and Las Vegas, Arizona, New York, Florida, and many other places where real estate was booming) prices and loan amounts are such that the homeowner enjoys a reduced payment for only a few months before they have unknowingly added $10,000 to their loan balance. Then they can't refinance without paying $20,000 or more in prepayment penalties.

Applicants were frequently "sub-prime" candidates, meaning they have credit scores which would not secure them the best rates on a traditional mortgage. Frequently these applicants' credit scores were pulled down by debt: tens of thousands of dollars of debt on their credit cards, car loans, and more.

Add to the mix inflated property values, Brokers encouraging the subprime loan applicants to "take advantage of the increased value of your home, take out a larger loan so you can pay off the debt on your credit cards," and loose lending standards, and you have a financial mess resulting in thousands of naive people choosing these pay-option ARM loans, choosing the lowest payment, quicly adding the $10,000 to their principal balance, and having their payment soon double or triple. They can never quite catch up with the drastically increased payments, and end up losing their home.

It was a nasty cycle, but one that was profitable for loan officers and brokers for many years.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Patience in the House Hunt

Why exactly do we have to be patient in our search for a home? We're waiting for a bunch more foreclosed homes to hit the market in our price range, and we're pretty confident they'll come soon. Stay with me here.

It's an unfortunate truth that the real estate market doesn't function solely on the number of houses available and sold. Ultimately it doesn't matter that a higher number of houses were sold last month than the month before. But the market also relies on the ability of homeowners to pay their mortgage.

Here's the thing: until unemployment numbers consistently go down we're not out of this recession, and people will continue to lose their houses.

Yes, fewer people were laid off last month, but overall there were still jobs lost, and the number of people unemployed still went up. Which means average people are still losing jobs, cutting expenses, can't afford to buy luxuries, and (surprise) can't afford to pay their mortgages, ultimately resulting in foreclosure.

A month ago (or so) the major news sites were exploding with the information about the number of foreclosure filings increasing dramatically "all of a sudden." Well, duh, remember back during the holidays, there was big news about a 3-month moritorium on foreclosures by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? Well, the 3-months is over. Foreclosure filings are picking up again, and the number will continue to rise for a while yet.

Here's an insider's scoop. I mentioned once before that splorp! worked for a big mortgage lender. The company was a major part of the predatory lending problem, and they were bought up by a big bank not long ago, so just recently dropped the mortgage company's name completely. I'm sure you can figure it out. For over a year he was a loan servicer, and his job was to answer peoples' questions about their loans, take payments over the phone, and solve problems.

Anyway, while he was doing this, he noticed a pattern: a whole bunch (tens of thousands) of these pay-option ARM mortgages (aka reverse amortization loans) were scheduled to re-set in April 2009, (where the interest rate will go up from its advertised low, low 1% rate to the average market rate) AND they featured pre-payment penalties that make it costly to re-finance before that.

Gee, April came and went, and we didn't hear about a massive number of re-financed mortgages (some, but not a lot). What we did hear about was a large increase in the number of NOD (Notice of Default) filings - this is usually the first letter from the bank to the homeowner stating their payment is late, and they have 90 days to catch up.

The clock is officially ticking. Three months from now, we'll see if our prediction comes true.

Monday, May 11, 2009


As I said (oh, months ago), splorp! and I signed our new lease.

Then we started house hunting.

Hmm, maybe we went about that backwards. Maybe we should have started the house hunting before deciding if we were staying or leaving.

We did a lot of deep thinking about what kind of home we want to buy: Single family detached, 3+ bedrooms, 2 baths, with at least a small yard (we would like to get a dog), no pool, low or no HOA fees, a slab foundation, and an attached garage. In theory we would find a home exactly in between our places of work, but really we're hoping to settle for something that will shorten splorp!'s commute without making mine completely ridiculous.

Not a lot of success to report so far. We did find a house we liked, with a good listing price. It had a smaller square footage than we expected to like, but it made up for somewhat small bedrooms with a layout that was very open, and a kitchen that was very nice.

So, we brilliantly thought, before we put an offer on it, we'll take my parents to see it. Hey, they're local, they've owned a home, they've done home repairs, they know what to look for, right? Dad was the only one available, so he and splorp! took a trip.

Turns out tapping into my dad's experience was an excellent decision, as he saw a number of things we never would have seen. Between the visibly cracked and slumping slab foundation in the garage (probably damage left over from the 1994 Northridge earthquake), the electrical wiring that was not updated (still two-prong, with no grounded outlets, though it had what were probably "faked" grounded outlets in the kitchen remodel), the 60 amp electrical panel (my parents' 4-bedroom uses 160 amps), and the water and mold damage where the bathroom wall butted up to the kitchen wall (and the resulting 10 feet of soggy wall), we decided to pass.

Right now we are waiting for more to come on the market. We have been on tours with our Realtor, and been to a couple open houses on our own, and we have come to the realization that we have more or less tapped everything in our price range in our market right now. Our realtor is being very good, though a little pushy on the "can you stretch to $xxx" over what we told her was our final budget (no, no, and NO). We're realizing we just have to be patient.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Lease Signing

Well, we went and did it. We signed our lease again.

It's good that it's settled. It's bad that we had to do it again. But what can you do? The happy part about it was they went over the terms of the lease, and what it would cost if we broke the lease. It turns out they would allow us to apply our security deposit to our lease-breaking penalty. Also, they calculate the deposit differently than we thought, and it's in our favor.

When we moved in we took advantage of some sort of special, which they advertised as "no security deposit" for people with good credit. Except we have Harley the bird (and a giant bird cage), so we needed a separate security deposit for him. So instead of coming up with a $1000 security deposit plus a $500 pet deposit, they only required the pet deposit. I guess it's a no-human-security-deposit promo? Enh, whatever.

Here's where it gets interesting. All this time, splorp! and I were thinking that if we moved out we would get only the pet deposit back. Because, hello! no actual security deposit put down due to the special offer! But in the management company's twisted math, they figure that our security deposit was actually paid, but we got $1000 off the first month's rent. Um, ok. So it turns out we have a $1000 security deposit with them after all, for a total of $1500 with the pet deposit.

It was weird to hear them re-define the terms after the fact, but it will work out in our favor if we break our lease. I didn't ask, but I assume the pet deposit can be applied to the lease-breaking penalty, too. So if we have to move out, we won't actually have to pay them extra, we just won't get money back. Or if they won't let us apply the pet deposit directly we will owe them $430, but get back $500 after they determine we didn't let the dinky little bird chew through walls or something. Which, you want to give me extra money? Ok! Honestly, I can handle that.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Petty and Hateful

I know this post will come off as being petty and hateful, but I have to say, when a company lays you off you expect them to rein in the extravagant spending in an effort to be more in the black and less in the red, right? Because that would sort-of-but-not-quite justify the fact that they made a mistake, and are back on track now.

That has not been my experience. Why? Because the company that laid me off in September announced a contest to their sales force. The prize? A cruise to the Bahamas, including airfare.

I will say, yes, I understand that the company is a multi-level marketing company, and they play by different rules than a traditional corporation. Yes, I understand that their sales force is not made up of employees, but of independent business owners. And yes, I understand that it's not like the sales force gets annual performance reviews or can get fired if they don't sell enough product. Yes, the company needs to offer incentives to get the sales force "fired up" and productive.

But (with my inside experience) I also know that this company has never managed to offer an incentive or annual event that has broken even, much less made them money. They have ALWAYS lost money on these things.

In theory, and the way other multi-level marketing companies do it (at a profit), the company calculates how much the cruise will cost per person, then take into account the profit margin on each product sold, and they know how much product a single member of the sales force has to move in order to pay their own way on board the boat. Then the general wishful thinking is that the sales force wants the cruise so badly they do everything they can to sell enough product to win that cruise, thereby exceeding those goals. Plus there is an expectation that not everyone who tries to make the goal will accomplish it, but will have generated more sales than they would otherwise have done in the same period of time. Thus the incentive has worked, and has gained the company money over and above what the actual incentive winners have brought in. Not to mention the good press about the company awarding cruises to top-achievers. And the winners themselves bragging to everyone and anyone about how they won a cruise, and bringing in more money in sales, ad nauseum.


Except I know the president of this company. His thinking has less to do with stopping the hemorrhaging of money out of the company and becoming profitable, and more to do with being able to take his girlfriend and his two teenage daughters on a vacation, and then writing it off as a "business expense" paid for by they company on the backs of the sales force. Because of course the president has to attend and lead sales strategy meetings, and glad-hand and network, and in general act like a slimy car salesman. Of course he has to go on the cruise. And if he's going, he can't deprive his girls of the chance to attend either, so the company has to pay for them too. And anyway, it's cheaper to have double or triple occupancy than to pay the single rate ... etc, etc, blah, blah, I'm going to do what I want anyway, typical screw-the-company-I'm-the-president bull$hit.

I will admit stupidity is not limited to the executive level; the president is not the only one who does not know how to run an event at a profit. The last event I staffed was in March of last year, and during the debriefing session it came out that the T-shirts sold at the event were sold at a loss. Apparently the person in charge of that aspect based the sale price of the shirts on how much it cost to produce the shirts, and didn't add in how much it cost to ship the shirts to us so we could sell them. Thus the company lost something like fifty cents per shirt.

Stupid stuff like that, repeated over sixteen years in business, maybe you would think it's time to hire new staff, or replace the dumba$$ in charge?

No, this company, or at least the president (who owns the company outright), likes to send good money chasing after bad. Anyway, the President just takes a loss on his personal income taxes for the company while enjoying "executive perks" like a Mercedes sedan, an iPhone, and a Macbook he charges to the company because he uses them occasionally for company business.

Crap like this, in a small business that employs (currently) 14 people? It's no wonder large corporations ran our economy into the ground if our small businesses act this way and get away with it.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


Husband splorp! and I are renters. We don't want to be. We want to own our own home with our own free-standing walls, and space between us and the neighbors.

  1. We want to not hear the lead-foot upstairs thumping around at 11:30 at night while we're drifting off.
  2. We want to not hear people on the other side of that wall blow-drying their hair.
  3. We want to not have the water in the shower suddenly become freezing cold or boiling hot when the neighbor flushes a toilet or turns on their own shower.
  4. And most of all we want to not smell the cigarette smoke from our upstairs neighbor, and we want to escape their tendency to flick the butts in our garden area (so gross).

We have been in our current apartment for a year and four months, roughly. We just got a notice that the apartment complex wants us to sign a new one year lease at the same rate, or if we want to go month-to-month we can pay $140 more each month.

I am happy our rent has not increased this time. For the last several years we have watched rent increase dramatically in our area, and it has not been fun. When we moved into our current unit it was because our last apartment's rent had become so astronomical: over $1,600 for a two bed, two bath, with under a thousand square feet. At that point we decided to downgrade to where we are now and pay less, with the thought that as rent continued to increase we could stay here for quite a while and ride out rent increases.

The plan has worked reasonably well. We have been saving for a down payment on a house, and we have accrued quite a tidy sum in a bit less than a year, even with me being laid off last year. Still, it is not enough for us to go out and begin the process of home ownership. Close, but not yet.

So the question becomes, do we sign the 12 month lease knowing that if we buy a home in the next year we would pay one month's rent as a penalty for breaking the lease? Or do we pay the higher month-to-month rate, and stretch our budget to its max to afford a place of our own?

Ultimately our decision came down to simple math, and economics. We looked at what type of house we could get (and the condition it would be in) in the areas we wanted to live, and would we be happy. Short answer: no.

The economics: Housing prices have not dropped to where we want them (wish them?) to be. We went out to see what our money could get us, and even at the max of our current budget we would be looking at an old house with its original kitchen appliances (from the 1960s), tiny bedrooms, small square footage, no upgrades to the windows, bare landscaping, and situated next to a busy street where the road noise would keep me up all night.

The math: Our current rent is $1,430 per month. The month-to-month rate is $1,570. If we take the 12 month lease and then break it early we pay an extra month's rent in penalties (not to mention cleaning deposit, etc). If we pay month to month, it's an increase of $140 each month. So if we go month-to-month, after 10 months we will have paid an extra $1,400, or almost another month's rent at the lease rate.

Ick, that's a lot of extra money going out and doing nothing for us. So we determined that since our current savings is not enough to buy a house we would enjoy at a price we can afford, we're going to sign the lease and increase our savings so we can meet our down payment goal in the next year.


If taxes don't kill us.

We're still keeping our options open, so if housing prices in our area suddenly drop to meet our needs we have agreed that we can bite the bullet and pay the penalty to break our lease.

More math: if we break the lease at seven months and then pay the penalty, for a total of 8 months worth of rent ($1,430 x 8 = $11,440) we will actually come out paying less than what we would have paid month-to-month and stayed 8 months ($1,570 x 8 = $12,560).

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


So one of my latest projects at work is to write a press release for a product we developed and co-branded with a really cool site that is for the urban and urbane bachelor.

Sent off a draft to my boss, and she sends it back with the request to "make it racier" to appeal more to the young male crowd.

I have no idea how.

All my marketing experience screams at me to write in clean, wholesome, and discreet terms, and not risk the company developing a frat boy party-hardy image.

Also? I'm married to a guy who is so nice he always puts the seat down. I have no brothers, no burping, noisy cousins, not even any male friends who have warped my sense of humor therefore allowing me to write for the male mind.

No frickin' clue. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Three Months

I have finally figured out why companies generally give you 90 days to settle in. It takes that long to figure out what you're supposed to be doing.

Today is the three month mark for me at my new job, and I think everything has gone fairly well. There were the days I had to miss because of funeral services for grandpa, but I don't think anybody is holding that against me. Heck, half the office has been out multiple days for being sick - a day and a half for a funeral didn't faze them.

Other than funeral things I haven't missed any days of work even though splorp! was trying to give me a nasty cold a couple of weeks ago. He actually missed several days himself, and went to the doctor (gasp!), so you know it was serious. But I spent the night on the couch for about two weeks so he could toss and turn as much as he wanted, and also not infect me with the coughing he was doing at all hours. It wasn't terribly effective as far as sleep went - I woke up every night at 3:30 AM, and even made a 4 AM drugstore run for cough syrup and cold meds for him once - but I didn't come down with anything more than a mild cough, so I'll consider the lack of good sleep a fair trade for not actually being sick.

Having reached my 90 day mark at work I'm feeling a little more confident about the near future. Not that 90 days means I'm guaranteed a position any more than any one else in this economy, but I think they like me pretty well. Heck, I know they appreciate my ability to pound out the HTML. Just being able to read and edit the code on the spot means I have saved them hours and hours of work. Ta-da, done! It's nice to feel useful.

What's new to me is that my new boss doesn't micromanage. She also works from home some mornings, and leaves early and works from home some evenings. So I'm on my own a lot, which I always thought I wanted. But the lack of oversight means I find myself feeling nervous that I'm going to make a mistake, and suffering little fluttery feelings in my stomach.

I think I'll get used to it. They do have guidelines and "how-tos" so I can work the store's back end software on my own. And it is a pretty cool feeling that they trust me to make decisions. Want to increase sales by writing a post on the company blog? Cool, knock yourself out. Go review a product and put it on sale. Here's your guidelines: "Don't drop below the company's cost." Ok, um, I can do that.

The 90 days did seem to go by quickly and I guess that's a good thing. I'm trying to think positive and hoping it continues to go well.

Friday, January 30, 2009


Forgive me internets, it has been two months since I have posted.

I meant to be posting regularly. I was settling in at my new job, doing postings at work, and things were going well (still are, actually).

And then ... and then my Grandpa passed away.

GrandpaIt's not exactly like it was a surprise. Grandpa was 83, and for the last several years has been becoming more and more frail.

It's just that he was the last of my grandparents, and he was my favorite.

Don't give me the "not supposed to have favorites, love them all the same" line. It just doesn't work that way.

Grandpa was my favorite because he didn't require me to talk to him all the time. We were perfectly content being in the same general area without speaking. I could play around in his work room as he built his radio-controlled airplaine, and it wouldn't bother him. He actually let me help him assemble some parts, and not in the keep-watching-her-like-a-hawk-so-she-doesn't-screw-up kind of way.

He had a giant vegetable garden, but he always made sure to plant borders of flowers too. My Grandma wanted to feed the birds, and he bought the seed and didn't make a fuss when the birds scratched a muddy hole in his lush green lawn. He tried to teach me to do the breaststroke, but I only wanted to float on my back so we did the backstroke.

When I was going to be starting my first job after college, Grandpa was the one who gave me advice that I did not appreciate at the time, but which I know now to be excellent: "I know you tend to be emotional, but don't let them see that. If you're frustrated or upset you need to excuse yourself to go to the restroom."

For many, many years we all thought Grandpa was going to be the first to pass away. He was in a horrible car accident before my memory begins, and was retired from that day forward. He had pneumonia or bronchitis, and was hacking up a lung. He had double bypass heart surgery. Twice.

Meanwhile my other grandparents had only minor brushes with illnesses or hospitals. And yet, Grandpa outlived them all.

In the last few years this very independent man had to sell the only house he ever owned. The house he and my Grandma bought in the mid 1950s. The same house he spent many hours drawing plans for, designing, and building a giant back room and bedroom to make the house fit their growing family. The house my dad talks about having to run home from school in the middle of the day because it began raining and he needed to cover the construction area. The same house that saw one Aunt's wedding in the backyard. The same house where my Grandma passed away under hospice care just 4 years ago in their bedroom.

He moved in with my parents, which was not an easy or peaceful thing to do. We're very opinionated, my family.

He was in pain for much of his last years from arthritis and old age. He was becoming more frail overall, had trouble remembering minor things, and had difficulty standing. He repeatedly fell, and each fall meant he didn't recover quite as well.

Dad was his primary care giver, but eventually we convinced Dad that he could call us for help, so I spent several weekends taking care of Grandpa. He was always embarrassed to need my help getting up, going to the bathroom, getting cleaned up, and getting in bed. He tired quickly, but I knew it did him good to see a different face because he had less trouble remembering things when he was seeing a new face.

Eventually Grandpa needed full time help, and he began living in a nursing home in their skilled nursing wing. He rallied for several weeks. Doing physical therapy helped as he became more alert and stronger - even able to move his wheelchair with his legs, something he couldn't do prior to his stay.

Unfortunately it was a short respite, and he became ill and passed away quite peacefully with my parents at his side.

And so the holidays this year were a bit different for my family. Both Thanksgiving and Christmas were the first years without any of the Grandparents. It is a strange sensation, to know none of them are there anymore.

I know that Grandpa would not want me to dwell on unhappy thoughts too long. And he is in a literal sense not suffering any more. And he enjoyed a good book as much as I do. He would want me to continue to write about things that give me joy.

So my brief note about my absence has become a long tribute to a wonderful man. Sorry about that. Sorry, too, that you didn't get to meet my Grandpa.