What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Boxes. I’ve moved five times in the last 15 years and I always, always grossly underestimate the number of boxes it’s going to take to get the job done. Sure, the planned upcoming move clocks in at just three miles on the nose, but that doesn’t mean I want to spend three weeks shuffling crap back and forth 20 boxes at a time. This is the operative definition of wanting to work out a one-and-done situation. I’d settle for two or three, but the heavy lifting is going to get done in one shot. In the meantime I guess I’ll have to live with the every growing mountain of cardboard that’s slowly taking root in each room.

2. ISIS. I think I’ve made it clear that I harbor no love for ISIS and those who adhere to it. I guess you can chalk the fact that they’re currently busy grinding historic artifacts that have survived thousands of years into powder because they’re “heretical” and go against the teachings of Islam as just another reason. Since these artifacts were created a few thousand years before anyone bothered to come up with the tenets of the Islamic faith, I guess they’d pretty much have to be. If setting people on fire and cutting off heads wasn’t enough of an indicator that we’re dealing with savages, the fact that they want to ignore every part of the vast sweep of human history that doesn’t agree with their crackpot view of the world is a pretty good sign that they shouldn’t be allowed to exist in the modern world.

3. Legalization. If the people of the District of Columbia want to legalize, regulate, and tax, marijuana I say God bless. Yes, I know, it’s a federal district granted limited home rule by the Congress, but just for the sake of argument I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the US Congress has more important things to do than legislate whether John Q. Pothead is entitled to smoke up. As long as we’re a nation that likes its cigarettes, beer, whisky, and prescription meds (and we’re ok making enormous amounts of money taxing those things), I’m not buying the argument that mary jane is a gateway to anything more dangerous than a late night snack.

Posts on demand…

Since this blog has taken on the feeling of a full time discussion of the trials and tribulations of home buying, I’m going to fall back on an a tried and true method of ginning up some new ideas for those periods when my brain is churning through some house related issue about which you likely have little to no actual interest.

That’s right! For a limited time only I’m opening the request line and offering up my take on the topic or topics of your choice.

I won’t make an “I’ll answer everything” promise as there are still a few bits of life I don’t think belong on the internet, but for the most part the field is wide open to your ideas – so go ahead and leave a comment, send me a message on Facebook, a direct message on Twitter, email, text, of whatever method you prefer. I always like these little exercise because they get me outside whatever is going on in my head at any given moment. Hopefully that keeps things a little more interested for everyone out there, too.

So yeah, go ahead and help me help you, ok?

Sage advice…

While I was vacillating over my home buying related decisions over the phone, my mother chimed in with some sage advice this evening. She knows me well enough to get that I’m nervous and twitchy about jumping back into the adventure of home ownership after getting caught in the 2009 meltdown. I was griping and complaining about the bills and fees that were hitting long before we even sat down at the closing table. Being who she is, mom has never shied away from asking the blunt questions, like “can you afford this?”

In the back of my mind I knew the answer. I’ve spent months crunching numbers and coming up with precisely where I need to be for the accounts to balance. I responded reflexively by ticking off the expenses that will go up, those that will go down, rattling through estimated fees and expenses from memory, covering the details of my good faith estimate, the downpayment, closing costs, and my best guess of moving expenses.

That’s when she reminded me that most people approaching 40 who run out to buy a family homestead are doing it on two incomes while I’m clawing it out on my own. A few years ago I’d have probably taken that as a sideways commentary about my lack of marriage and production of grandchildren, but we seem to be over that particular hump. Instead I took it as a reminder that I’ve basically always been a one man show – and even when it seemed that I was walking a high wire I’ve generally had the facts and figures on my side. Not to mention luck. There’s always been a healthy dose of that following me around.

Moment of doubt averted. Carry on.

Thanks mom.


The last great negotiating feat of House Hunt 2015 appears to be at an end, with the seller agreeing to complete a list of minor and a few not so minor repair items prior to going to the closing table. As the hunting and gathering portion of this exercise draws to a close, I feel like I’ve extracted nearly every concession I could reasonably expect. As I mentioned to a friend this morning, if everything goes through closing as written I’ll be able to offset the loss from selling in Memphis and still have equity to spare in the new house. Home buying can be a significant emotional experience, but from start to finish I’ve been doing my best to think of this one as a business venture where the key motive is to capture every nickel of extra value I can lay my sticky little fingers on. There will be plenty of time to get emotionally attached once the paperwork is done.

With the meat of the negotiations wrapped up that leaves financing as the last hurdle to clear. I don’t anticipate any issues on that front, but I’m always a little nervous and jerky when someone starts poking around with years’ worth of tax returns, pay stubs, account statements, and a veritable laundry list of questions about what money came from which source. I know well enough from hard experience that it’s always the unanticipated issues that end up eating your lunch and that’s what’ll tend towards making for restless nights. Now that I’ve handed off every shred of documentation the mortgage company requested, I’m in hover mode until either they finish the job or they come back asking for more paperwork. I’m in a purely reactive holding pattern. Being a planner by both profession and temperament that leaves me hanging in a very uncomfortable spot. As much as I want to think I’ve accounted for the unexpected, I know very well that’s a happy fiction. After all, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

For now, closing is just a mark on the way a little more than a month away. We’re well down the homestretch, but it’s still a hell of lot of distance to cover between here and there.

Soft underbelly…

America is full of soft targets – Mall of America is an obvious choice simply by virtue of it’s size – but really any place where people congregate and are focused shopping, socializing, or anything other than paying attention to what’s going on around them fall into this category. For most of our lifetimes we’ve been safely sheltered from the world’s troubles by our dual moats, the Pacific and Atlantic, and by the simple fact of how unimaginably large a land mass we occupy. High speed travel and the internet are making those distances seem less significant – the unintended consequence being that it also makes us less secure.

I’ve often said that if I were going to plan an domestic attack on America all I’d need is a hundred really committed followers and the location of the busiest Starbucks in ten different states, the ten busiest banks in ten different cities, the ten best rated elementary schools in the ten most affluent zip codes in America. Are you seeing a theme yet? If my goal is to cause terror, why would I bother attacking military bases, government centers, or even utilities? Want to see society grind itself to a halt over a period of a month? Hit us where the people are – not at our grand events, but at the places we frequent day in and day out. Hit us where we collectively feel comfortable.

A reasonably well coordinated attack on our soft underbelly is one of the several nightmare scenarios that genuinely keeps me awake at night – and now ISIS has blatantly told us that they’ve been thinking about those kind of targets too.

We can’t harden every target. Even if we could, living in an even more intrusive surveillance state than we do now isn’t something I’d consider a worthy tradeoff. That means it’s basically up to us to mind our own little corner of the store. Pay attention to where you are and who’s around you. Do you know what to look for when something feels wrong? Can you pick a room apart for what or who looks out of place? Can you spot an average pickpocket working a crowded food court or spot the telltale “print” of a badly concealed handgun?

Yeah, neither can I… at least most of the time. That doesn’t mean I’m not looking every time I walk into a room. I might not live up to General Mattis’ rule for having a plan to kill everyone I meet, but you can be damned well sure I know where the closest exit is just in case I need to get away from them in a hurry. Trust me, you’d be surprised just how fast this fat man can move when he thinks his life depends on it. It might not be the stuff of heroes, but I have a very well developed sense of self preservation. I hope you do too.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Snap decisions. I remember the first time I bought a house – way back in 2001 – and it felt like a much more civilized process. Sure, there was an endless supply of paperwork to make the offer, go through the negotiating rounds, and square away financing, but it wasn’t clogging up my inbox every day demanding immediate attention. The agent or mortgage guy would call, I’d find some time to stop by their office, sign off on this or that, and then go on about by business. In this latest version of the game I’m feeling a little hammered by incoming rounds of email from inspectors, mortgage brokers, my agent, my bank, preliminary calls to insurance companies, and the call sheet from hell which lists all of the other services and utilities I’ll need to build new relationships with between now and (assumed) closing. I’m making a lot of snap decisions and I’m fairly sure I’m making good ones, but this could be awfully close to a full time job if a guy let it… and one of those at a time is more than enough.

2. Broken dream. I’ve always secretly thought Alaska might be a nice place to live. Lots of wide open space between me and the next guy. Plenty of food on the hoof. Not needing to learn a needing to learn a second language like I would if I washed up on an island in South America. However, consistent morning temperatures hovering between zero and five degrees have now officially led me to believe that I am singularly ill equipped to deal with sustained stretches of stupid cold weather. That dream is officially over.

3. The morning commute. I get it. You ended up in the left turn lane, but you really wanted to go straight. You know what you shouldn’t do? You shouldn’t just sit there in the left lane with your right blinker flashing in hopes that some kind soul will let you correct your mistake while the turn arrow cycles through its all-too-brief green phase and 300 yards of traffic backs up behind you. That’s especially true when your dinky toy car is too small to be seen around Big Red and people behind me think it’s just me sitting there like a jerk off holding up their day. Next time go ahead and turn left, pop a u-turn, and let the rest of us get along with our morning without paying the price for your asshattery and inability to manage basic driving skills. People like you are the only reason I’ve resisted the temptation to add a bull bar to my front bumper… because if I had it, I know I could’t resist the temptation to just nudge your dumbass out into traffic and be on my way. I’m just not caffeinated enough at 7AM to deal with that level of foolishness.


I spent most of the afternoon following the home inspector around, peppering him with questions, and generally making sure he wrote as many issues as I could come up with into his notes. It’s not that I’m trying to prove it to be a bad house, but anything I can get fixed now is less money that’ll have to come out of pocket later. After the beating I took selling Memphis, I’m afraid I don’t have much sympathy for a seller.

That’s one more major hurdle in the home buying process is complete. There were a few things that will likely end up on my “must fix” list, but for purposes of not playing my hand here on the publicly viewable internet, I’ll just say that most things were in working order and it wouldn’t take all that much to correct the deficiencies we found. The negotiation will come down to how much of that they want to do and if I’m willing to accept it if it’s not done. Hopefully we’ll all be able to keep going along with the knowledge that none of this is personal and at this stage it really is just business.

Subject to negotiating acceptable repairs, we’re basically down to final approval of the financing package. But for now, I’m just ready for bed. I’ve forgotten – or blocked out – just how exhausting this entire process is.

A coin flip decision…

Today is another one of our famous 4-hour delays. Personally I hate them. If you go in, the commute takes twice as long and you end up pissing away 4 hours at your desk because 2/3 of the people you need to get anything done decided to stay home. If you stay home, you end up burning off a full day of leave in order to take 4 hours off because of some archaic interpretation of OPM regulations governing time and attendance. It’s the very definition of a winter weather no-win scenario.

Looking out the kitchen window I can see a few trucks are starting to move on what passes for a “main” road in my part of the world. In Ceciltucky that mostly means it’s a road with a yellow line down the middle of it. To get from my place to an actual highway, though, involves a whole lot of little winding country roads that don’t usually see so much as first plow until the mains are cleared. Big Red is certainly sure footed enough to do it, but the real question is do I want to be bothered.

If I weren’t going to have to take part of the day off tomorrow the answer would be a resounding “no.” At least I know I’m not a complete slacker employee because I feel vaguely guilty about taking unscheduled time off even when I don’t have anything particularly pressing that someone else would have to deal while I sat home with my fuzzy slippers on. I’ve got an hour or so before I need to make the final go/no go decision. Right now it’s basically a coin flip decision.

The right one…

Knowing I wanted to be out of my current rental by the time this year’s lease expired, I started driving around the county and nosing through open houses a few months ago. I was even more or less settled on the areas and type of house I wanted to end up with. I wanted more than an acre, something mid-century, and well outside town limits. For the record, December and January are probably not a great time to be out poking around looking at houses – there just isn’t that much of a supply on the market and no sane person wants to move in the middle of winter. Even so there were some contenders, but nothing that screamed “buy me now.” I bided Woodholmmy time, assuming that more inventory would arrive on the market with warmer weather. I even toyed with the idea of buying a big lot and then building a small house to suit, before realizing that I house built to my own crackpot specs would be damned near impossible to sell to anyone else.

The funny thing is I thought I knew exactly what I wanted. I’d only been working with my realtor a week when she casually mentioned that I should look at a house down on Elk Neck. It was an eyebrow raiser. Sure the pictures looked nice enough, but the house barely ticked off half of the things on my list. It was one story, on slightly less than an acre, and (terror of terrors) ruled by the covenants and restrictions of a very active home owners association. In fact I almost passed on even looking at it for those reasons until curiosity got the better of me. A house in that neighborhood rarely stays on the market long – and this one had been on the market for almost eight months and $100,000 in price reductions. Honestly, I assumed it was a murder house, or infested with mold, or possibly built on some kind of ancient Indian burial ground.

After the first showing, we were both utterly confused by why this house was still on the market. It was only during my second pass through the master bathroom that it occurred to me – uh, why isn’t there a shower in here? So there it was. The reason the typical yuppie buyers in that neighborhood had been taking a pass on what was otherwise a tremendous home. I proclaimed the design choice “very weird,” and moved on.

Three hours later the seller’s agent called my realtor using phrases like “extremely motivated,” “willing to negotiate,” and “credit for bathroom renovation.”

That conversation let to three days of back and forth discussion, deep research on bathroom renovation costs, another showing, and by the end of the week an offer I was sure would test the depth of the seller’s motivation to be finished with the property and move on with his life. There was a counter offer, a counter counter offer, and finally agreement of nearly all the substantive terms I asked for. I’m still a little shocked they agreed to all the concessions written into the contract.

It wasn’t the house I started out looking for a few months ago, but assuming it passes through the gates of inspection and financing it’s the right one.


I don’t usually post on Fridays because they tend to be the black hole of blogging. No matter how interesting a post you have, no one is going to see it anyway so it’s generally better to hold it for the next week.

Today is one of those rare exceptions to the rule simply because this is the 5 year anniversary of my transition to WordPress and the introduction of jeffreytharp.com. Big milestone here. It’s the rare bird indeed that manages to hold my attention through 1,826 days, 37,628 views, and 500 comments.

Thanks to everyone who’s been around since the beginning. Welcome to those who are just joining us. I like to think I’m still getting warmed up and finding my stride in the digital world… so we’ll just have to see how thinks look in another five years.