The end of an error…

Having gotten the final call from my realtor a few minutes ago I can state for the record that as of 5PM EDT today I am no longer a property owner in Memphis, Tennessee. I send the new owners good tidings and best wishes and hope that they have better luck with the place than I did over the last four years… but I’m super glad they didn’t call from the closing table wondering what I was going to do about a dripping gutter on the patio roof. Honest to God after the concessions I gave those two already I would have torpedoed the deal at closing just as a matter of principle. I’m glad that between their relator, mine, and the closing attorney they were able to talk them out of that particular course of action.

What I can tell you tonight with certainty is if there’s anything harder than selling a house long distance, it’s probably being an absentee landlord. Like grad school, though, I suppose it’s only a lot of work if you actually do it. God knows I did the work… an entirely new driveway, rerun sewer pipe from the house to the street, every painted surface inside and out redone, tile, backsplashes, tripled the size of the patio and roofed over the whole thing, and more work on the interior than I want to mention or even think about at this point. It’s all their egg to suck now.

Although I’m not quite out of the landlord business, the one that kept me awake at night is now a thing of the past. Let it stay there, ending the longest running and most expensive error of my life to date. Consider that lesson well learned.

Another helpful tip from Uncle Jeff…

I’m sure there are harder things than closing on a house sale from 900 miles away, but just now, in the middle of it, I’d be hard pressed to think of what those harder things might be. Everything that needs signed hurtles across the country via FedEx overnight, questions always take three days to answer, and you’re never entirely sure if what people say they’re doing is what’s getting done. It’s infuriating. It’s like trying to do business by telegram. Sure, it works in theory, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

At this point, I’m utterly convinced I would have ended this process a more sane human being if I had shackled a briefcase full of money to by wrist, flown to Memphis, dumped it on the closing table, signed my name in blood, and then flown back to Maryland for a good night’s sleep. I’m not kidding. Not even a little bit.

I’m beyond caring about costs. I just want this master class in asshattery to be over and done with. So there’s tonight’s helpful tip from your kindly Uncle Jeff – if you’re planning on engaging in any cross-continental real estate transactions, don’t. Just don’t. Take a day and a bucket full of cash and go handle things yourself. By the time it’s over maybe you’ll emerge with at least some of your sanity left.

Light, gas, and water…

With the potential future sale of Casa de Jeff de Cordova, one of the myriad of pain in the ass things to do is transfer the light, gas, and water service back into my name. That should be easy enough to settle with a phone call to the intrepid people at Memphis, Light Gas, and Water except of course that nothing that needs doing is ever actually easy.

mlgwlogo_aIt seems that the bill from the last month I lived in Memphis was never actually paid and has been sitting in their delinquent account file for the last 3+ years just waiting on the moment I would call to make it right. We’ll forget for a moment that I never actually received a bill for this amount and that as far as I can tell, no effort was made to send it to my forwarding address. I’ll take the burden of responsibility for that. Fine.

Now, these many years later, here I am attempting to make good on my public debt. In speaking to the customer service agent, I’m told that the only way to pay a bill in the delinquent file is to present myself at the offices of Memphis, Light Gas, and Water to genuflect and hand unto them cash, a money order, or a cashiers check for the princely sum of $110.87. No payment by phone. No payment online. Only hand delivery at the office will do with no possibility of exception for those who may now live 850 miles away from that charmed city on the banks of Old Muddy.

I’m trying to get myself right with these guys. All I want to do is give them money. You’d think they might make it easier on a guy than forcing him into a convoluted process that involves overnighting a cashiers check to a realtor he’s never met in person and hoping that she’s able to do the leg work on his behalf. The alternative is a one day round trip flight to Memphis wherein I will spend $1000 in order to pay a $100 debt.

Even sitting here in the comfort of my own rental kitchen, I can’t manage to avoid the utter asshattery of what is clearly demonstrating itself to be one of the world’s foremost bureaucratic organizations. And God knows as a cog in Uncle’s great machine I’m in a position to recognize both asshattery and bureaucracy when I see it.

Landlording ain’t for wimps…

Everyone assumes that when you have rental property you’re making money. That hasn’t exactly been my overall experience, but I accept that it’s the general perception of how things work. Most of the time, the cash flow from the condo in St. Mary’s offsets the giant sucking sound that is the negative cash flow coming out of Memphis. Between the two, I come fairly close to breaking even more months than I don’t. Of course then we have the occasional singularity in which both the condo and the house are sitting vacant at the same time.

That moment you realize it’s about to happen is probably one of the few times in life you’re ever going to seriously consider becoming an arsonist as a valid career option. When you go from happily paying rent and breaking even on everything else to sucking wind on rent plus two mortgages, let’s just say that all the fantastic financial management lessons you’ve learned from Suze Ormond or Dave Ramsey go right the hell out the window. The only thing that matters at that point is how fast you can bring cash in the front door and how fast you can shovel it out the back. It’s not so much a case of planning as it is an exercise in crisis management and triage.

Fortunately, the two leases almost never expire at the same time, but when they do you’d better believe that you’re about to get a serious lesson in why landlording ain’t for wimps.

And then there was December…

money_pitWell, we’re moving right along through the 2006 archive. Today’s posts are from the pivotal period of early December 2006, when I was in the process of buying my money pit… er… I mean house in Memphis. I have to confess that there’s not a lot of drama there, but for at least one of us it’s interesting seeing where things were six years ago around this time and compare them with where we stand now. Whoever said “the more things change, the more they stay the same” was really on to something, there. If you’d have told me what drama the intervening six years would bring, I’d have never believed you. There never seems to be an end to the drama, but if nothing else, I’ve had the good fortune t live in interesting times… Or maybe I’ve just inflicted interesting times on myself. Either way. It’s been a trip.

Click over to the archives to start checking out that month that was, six years ago in 2006.

Saucer…

The list of things about Memphis that I’ll miss isn’t all that long, but the Flying Saucer is somewhere near the top of it. I haven’t been in as much after my perennial drinking buddies took off for greener pastures, but walking in even rarely as i do, it’s like I’ve been here every weekend. Same corner booth, same smartass servers, same schoolgirl skirts. Good stuff. It’s as close to a “third place” as I’ve found in Memphis. And to Ashley and the rest of the beer goddesses, all I can say is thanks for the good times and for keeping the suds cold. If you’re ever looking to trade barbecue for steamed crab, look me up.

Higher ground…

With the Mississippi on the way up, I wouldn’t say we’re necessarily abandoning our position in West Tennessee, but we are making preparations for a tactical retrograde to positions on higher ground. If flooding along the Mississippi and its tributaries gets somewhere in the vicinity of the worst case scenario, my office will be at least partially underwater, roads and bridges leading to the base will be impassable, and there’s some disagreement about whether entire swaths of the county could see their power turned off for 1-2 weeks. That last part begs the question, who in their right mind builds the main electrical distribution panel for a city on the wrong side of the levee? Yes, I’m looking at you MLGW.

Looking at the FEMA flood maps, I can’t foresee any circumstances where the house would be in any direct danger from flooding, aside from the possibility of stormdrain and sewer backup – there’s a happy thought. The biggest risk for me seems to be the possibility of multiple days with no electricity. In the grand scheme of bad things than can happen, I know that being without power isn’t even close to the worst of it. However, if you’re a dedicated technophile, being without the juice even for a few hours can be cause for developing nervous tics. A week or more? That’s enough to fill your heart with dread.

Being forewarned, as they say, is being forearmed and plans are being put in place that would give me the opportunity to pull up stakes temporarily until something approaching a civilized level of public services have been restored. Assuming that the word is going to come down making this a reality the real questions then becomes – When and for how long? If it looks like a situation that will last more than a few days, the logical answer is to pack up the truck and head east. Sure, I could get a hotel alot closer, but the thought of spending an indeterminate amount of time in a hotel room with two 80 pound dogs doesn’t seem ideal. Then again, leaving the house undefended in a city like Memphis, with no electricity (and therefore no alarm), and hoping it hasn’t been looted and pillaged while I’ve been away doesn’t sound appealing either. For some reason, I don’t think the fine citizens of Memphis would respond to natural disaster any better than those of New Orleans did.

I plan to stay in place as long as I have two things: electricity and an open escape route to the east. When either one of those things seem to be in danger of going away, then I’ll be in the wind and headed for high ground.

Now I’m scared…

Tornado warnings don’t really bother me. A county-wide state of emergency ain’t no thing. The waters can fall from the skys and winds tear at the roof. Power can even fail – as long as it’s not too long – and I’m not moved much. But this afternoon, I was stopped cold and realized the desperateness of the situation. Old Man River is on the march – perhaps to challenge the high water mark set in the 30s. A once in a century flood tide along the length of America’s great inland waterway. The father of waters is rolling on to the Gulf… and for the first time in their history, the casinos are closing. Casinos. Are. Closing.

Now casinos exist for one and only one reason – to make money hand over fist. In good weather and bad, they’re as constant as the $20 bills feeding their slots. And now, one by one they are closing, laying on sandbags, and hoping to ride out the high water. If casinos are scared enough to stop making money, surely what hope is there for mere mortals? Then again, I live 15 miles from the river on high ground, but that seems less dramatic.

Tracker…

There’s been alot of press this week about the iPhone “tracker” file. Sure, if you didn’t know about it, you might be tempted to think of it in terms of an invasion of privacy. But since it’s right there in the Terms of Service, I’m not sure what the fuss is about. If you’re spending alot of time in places where you’d rather not be seen, I’ve got bad news for you… there are already cameras everywhere and your cute mid-twentieth century notion of “privacy” is quaint. How much of your information have you willing posted on Flickr, WordPress, or Facebook? More than you’d think… and generally done with a time and location stamp built right there into the electrons.

Sure, you can keep some things private if you try hard enough. Stop using social media, or really just stop using the internet all together. Hand over your GPS and your cell phone. Cut up your credit cards and your ATM card – although you’ll find it hard to withdraw money from the bank without showing up at a branch and getting yourself on film. Stop going to public places – Big Brother loves watching crowds at places like airports, city centers, and shopping malls. Turn off your TV and maybe even your car with the fancy OnStar system.

The internet is alight with people decrying companies that are trying to “steal” our private information… but they’re not trying to steal anything. We sold it to them bit by bit. We did it for convenience. And maybe some of us did it without even knowing. That’s the price we pay for living in our brave new world. If you think we can roll it back now, you’re deluded – always-on, technology that’s fully integrated into our lives has seen to that. The best any of us can do is embrace the public nature of our private lives, learn the new rules, and make sure that we are the best advocate for our online selves.

Cletus…

God love her, the representative of the management company hired as a caretaker for the homeowner’s association must have the patience of a saint. There was one couple at the meeting last night who I’m pretty sure were enjoying their first “big city” experience after coming fresh off the farm. Neither the budget, or the attached explanation of expenses, nor the further explanation of the manager, or the helpful comments made by the other owners seemed to sink in past the first or second layer of brain cells.

The only reason they were there is to figure out where their $120 a year HOA fee went and why the management company was hassling them about the length of their lawn. The nice lady went to incredible lengths to explain that she was only able to enforce the rules put in place by the previous builder and written into the HOA covenants and restrictions and once a new board was elected, they would be responsible for modifying and enforcing the rules.

The concept of maintenance of common areas seemed to present a real analytical challenge for this bunch. Apparently somewhere in the world $170 a month to cut, trim, and treat grass, salt side streets and alleys, and do general upkeep is considered excessive. If $10 a month in fees is going to get your goat, try living somewhere where the condo fees are north of $500 a month. Then we’ll tiptoe into a conversation of unreasonable fees.

My point is this: I don’t want to do it. You don’t want to do it. The guy down the street doesn’t want to do it either. So let’s just agree to put a board in place, let them make the executive decisions, and continue to pay the nice lady a few hundred bucks a month to handle the detail stuff like sicking the lawyer on people whose paint is peeling or who park derelict truck on the street. Otherwise slack-jawed yokels like you and the missus will run this place into the ground.

Sigh.