Taking care of #2…

There are whole books written about the “joy of home ownership.” Depending on the day you ask me, I’ll probably question whether the person talking about that has actually ever owned a home. The joy of having a roof over your head is surely tempered by the random bullshit of air conditioner repairs, flooded basements, trees falling, clogged drains, and the myriad other everyday problems that come along with owning a house. More than once I’ve thought wistfully about the ease of apartment living. File a work order with the office and things got fixed – eventually – although the “eventually” added its own degree of aggravation.

Today’s adventure in home ownership is the semi-regular pumping of the septic tank. It’s a necessity, of course, but there’s something disheartening about paying good money to haul your own feces out of a hole in the back yard. Then again, it may be best not to spend much time pondering on the fact that there is, in fact, a hole filled with feces in your back yard to begin with. Probably something that’s not worth dwelling on until it’s absolutely necessary.

Whether you’ve running your own waste disposal site or you’re on town water and sewer, you end up paying for the ability to poop indoors one way or another. If you’re lucky the basic maintenance won’t lead to needing to throw even more money literally down the sewer. The number of basic home maintenance projects I’ve undertaken that haven’t resulted in sprawling mission creep you can probably count on one hand.

I’ll be the first to admit that indoor plumbing is one of the most undercelebrated features of the modern world, but making sure it all stays in working order feels like the polar opposite of the joy of home ownership. 

Today in history…

I had planned for today to be one of those most rare of occurrences where I make two blog posts on the same day. First and foremost, it’s Thursday and regardless of what else Thursday might be it’s a time for What Annoys Jeff this Week. If you came here tonight hoping for your daily does of what three things annoyed the hell out of me this week, sadly you can’t read them because WordPress completely overwrote that post a few minutes ago.

However, all is not lost because in addition to the weekly spectacular that is WAJTW, this particular Thursday is also important for many other reasons.

First and foremost on June 1, 1495 Scotch whisky appears in the Exchequer (tax) rolls of Scotland for the very first time. If that doesn’t make it a red letter date worthy of celebration, I don’t know what does, really.

On June 1, 2011 I made the 879 mile drive from Memphis to Maryland for the last and final time. That was a big deal.

On June 1, 2015 I discovered that the basement of the new house I’d so eagerly purchased leaked like submarine with a screen door in anything harder than a drizzle – triggering ten thousand dollars in unplanned back yard renovation work to correct and landing my plan for fancy new master bathroom on the indefinite hold pile.

More important than any of those past events, perhaps, is that June 1, 2017 marks exactly 18 years until I’m eligible to retire and begin my life as a proper hermit on some far off mountaintop hideaway.

Oh, yeah, and as many of you have sussed out through various means, it’s also my birthday, so I guess there’s that. I appreciate all the kind words and texts and emails and calls. You guys are just the best.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Junkies. A 17 year old addict stabbed a woman in the neck at one the county’s fine retail establishments Tuesday morning. By Tuesday night local social media pages were filled with calls to pity the poor addict. Far fewer mentioned his victim. Addiction may well be a disease but at some point little Johnny Eightball made a decision to give it a try. All the “he was raised rights” and “he is usually such a nice young mans” in the world doesn’t change the fact that his original sin was a decision not an immaculate victimhood. If Jeff were king for a day the prescription for what ails twatwaffles like young Johnny Eightball wouldn’t be zen meditation, three hots and a cot, or sympathetic understanding that’s for goddamned sure.

2. LED bulbs that “pause” before lighting up. As the 64 watt can lights in the kitchen burn out, I’m replacing them with comparable LED bulbs. Other than the living room reading lamp, these are probably the bulbs in the house that get the most daily use because I like excessive light when fiddling around in the kitchen. Mostly it’s been a happy transition to LED… except for this last one. Where all the other bulbs exactly replicate the feel of “old fashioned” filament bulbs, this latest one has a noticeable, and increasingly annoying “waiting period” before it comes on after I flip the switch. Yes, I know, it’s a minor first world problem, but seeing that I live in the first world, that’s to be expected… so now I’ll go off to Lowe’s and buy another $12 bulb in the hopes that I just got a bum the last time around.

3. Deceiving looks. There’s a tree still lying across the sidewalk and partially into the road just a few dozen yards from my driveway. To anyone driving past it would look for all intents and purposes as if I were the irresponsible homeowner who was leaving it lay there. Of course being the anal retentive jerk I am, I had a full survey done when I bought Fortress Jeff and know exactly where my responsibilities begin and end. The tree in question is without a doubt something that is squarely within the bailiwick of my neighbor to the northeast. Looks are deceiving… and just now the deception is making me look like an asshat.

The drip…

I spent some time this morning, like I do on most pre-dawn Sunday mornings sitting at my desk, reading over the wires, paying a few bills, and drinking coffee before getting the day started in earnest. Somewhere, about 14 feet above my head one of the skylights is dripping. I know this because the mortgage statement I happened to have sitting in front of me suddenly had three distinct water marks appear on it. It was precisely three and now I’ve been sitting here for 30 minutes waiting on the next one to fall. But it hasn’t. Which means I’m going to end up doing exactly the kind of thing I didn’t want to do this weekend… break out the ladder and go searching for of a one-off leak in the damned skylight. This is how it suddenly turns into Sunday night and I’m left wondering where the weekend went. All because of three damned little drops of water and wanting to stop them from turning into a flood.

1000% over budget…

The first tool I bought on my own, as opposed to scavenging away from one of the parental workbenches, was a 12 volt DeWalt power drill. For most of its life it stayed in the back corner of a closet, or later on a garage shelf. I needed it about once a month and as long as I gave it some time on the charger it fired off and did its thing admirably… or it did until this weekend when the last of its batteries finally gave up the ghost.

Now I don’t think these 17+ year old batteries owe me anything at all, but the timing couldn’t be more inconvenient. There’s a three-day weekend coming and here on the homestead that almost always means taking on some project that I can’t jam into a regularly scheduled weekend. The one I’m looking at for this weekend is definitely going to need more than a black and yellow paperweight.

The problem with power tools, as I’m finding in my research, is that half the cost seems to be in the batteries. While I could buy a pair of replacement batteries, by the time I get them here, I’m into it for half the price of buying two more powerful modern batteries, a charger, and and a new drill. Like so much of the other stuff that comes into this house, it turns out power tools are just another disposable commodity – more cost effective to replace than repair. Plus, since it use to run off the same set of batteries, I get to replace a circular saw too.

Somehow by the time it’s over, my $50 project for the garage is going to end up running about 1000% over budget. There’s got to be a lesson in there somewhere, right?

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Getting moist. It finally feels like I have a good handle on the major issues that led to the basement here at Fortress Jeff regularly taking on water both over and through the side. After a good day and night of hard rain those problems may not be completely resolved, but have diminished to the point where I’m not obsessing and losing sleep over them. Now that I’ve got the water directed away from the path of least resistance, of course, it has wasted no time seeking out the path of next least resistance. In this case that path seems to be the joint between the poured concrete floor and the cinder block basement walls. In a few spots it’s not exactly a puddle, but it’s definitely darkening due to the presence of water. It’s getting moist. As much as some of you hate that word, I hate the actual issue that much and more. I get the distinct impression that the basement is going to be the ongoing bane of my existence for the duration of our stay.

2. Celebrity opinion. Celebrities are entertaining, almost by definition. In some cases they’re even pleasant to look at. However, being eye candy doesn’t qualify one to have an opinion any more informed than the rest of us. That’s why I’m always vaguely perplexed when anyone points to the celebrity-of-the-day and makes life decisions based on their opinion. I look to my celebrities for their entertainment value. That’s their skill set. Some of them are whip smart of course, but that’s not generally my first consideration when deciding to follow them on Twitter.

3. Voicemail. Looking at my phone I currently have 17 voice mail messages that I haven’t listened to. I don’t intend to listen to them. I know why those callers called and I responded with the appropriate information in a timely manner. Why in 2016 do people insist on leaving voicemail? I see your number. I’ll call you back as soon as I’m free, willing, and able to do so… but you could have saved us all a lot of time if you had just sent me a text or email in the first place. Those I get to right away.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Lawn boats. Every morning I drive past three houses that are literally falling down around their occupants. At least I assume they’re occupied because I occasionally see people coming and going. At each of these three houses there are boats on trailers, boats on blocks, and boats shoved back into the bushes. These are obviously not new boats, but I’d estimate conservatively that each one of these homes has at least $100,000 in boats sitting around it. Now that pesky logical part of my brain is just dying to know the thought process for someone who would let their home fall to pieces hanging on to a personal fleet larger than some third world dictators. While I’d never tell anyone how to spend their money, it seems to me that at some point selling off a boat or two and patching the hole in your roof with something other than a tarp would be a good idea. But what the hell do I know about anything?

2. Help desks. Why do we call them that? It’s certainly not a case of a name that follows a function. Given the sad state of customer service in general I suppose that shouldn’t be a surprise. I’m probably just a fool for expecting things to work the way they’re supposed to – or maybe I’m even more the fool for expecting anything at all. But in all seriousness, if the standard is going to be a help desk that is essentially unwilling or unable to provide any help why not just throw them over the side. If the official policy of the organization is to cripple individual computers to the point where the user can’t make even basic fixes to settings it strikes me that the help desk should be able to fix the occasional problem that crops up instead of an 800-number designed to give the illusion that something, someday might happen.

3. Foreign flagged “protestors”. When you show up at a political rally waving a foreign flag and then violently attack people who peaceably attended that rally, you are not a protestor. You’re a criminal whose opinion is unworthy of further consideration. In fact once you’ve decided that marching under the flag of a foreign county and dispensing violence in the street sounds like a good idea, the only two things I can consider you are either a) a domestic terrorist or b) an agent of foreign power intent on disrupting the lawful electoral process. In either case, you have proven yourself unworthy of any consideration beyond how to disperse and apprehend you and your fellow travelers.

Thoughts on being a slum lord…

Sometimes I think the slum lords get it right. They buy the buildings cheap, pack in the tenants, collect as much rent as possible, and let the building fall apart until its time to abandon it and move on. Landlording is easy if you don’t bother to reinvest in the property. Sink not draining? Tough. Water heater acting “funny”? Who cares. Driveway collapsing? So what. By the time someone gets around to making them fix it, the building will be too far gone to save anyway and they’ll be on to the next deal. Yeah, sometimes I think the ones who just let the place fall in on itself have the right idea. Buying the property is the easy part. It’s the maintenance that’s going to kill you in the long run.

Some day, almost anyone who’s ever owned a home ponders the thought of being a landlord. Someone else is paying you to live in your place. Sounds like a license to make money, right? Well, let me disabuse anyone out there thinking about doing it of that notion. A rental property is pretty much a black hole into which you’re going to throw a never-ending stream of money. It’s like having a boat without the perk of, you know, actually having a boat. It’s going to start with an easy sounding $500 repair to the driveway, which will morph into needing to remove half of the driveway, which then becomes digging up the a trench across driveway and replacing a section of sewer pipe, and ultimately becomes a project remove the entire driveway, trenching deep enough to meet code (since the original builder didn’t bother with that), replace the entire sewer line from the house to the street, and then lay down an entirely new driveway over the freshly fixed and sparkling new swear line. By the time it’s done, your $500 “it’ll only take a few days” repair job will turn into a month long $7000 fiasco involving two city inspections, several pieces of heavy equipment, and a squad of bonded and insured union tradesmen. And you’ll get the joy of watching it all happen from 1000 miles away and hoping that someone down there actually has half an effing clue what’s going on.

So yeah, when you’re seized by the idea of being a landlord, save yourself the time and trouble and just go to the bank, take out a couple of thousand dollars, and set it on fire right there in the parking lot. You’ll have just as much to show for your troubles.

The rites of spring…

It’s the time of year again. The neighborhood is full of whirring lawnmowers (except the house behind mine of course), the plants are blooming, and everyone seems more or less ready to get on with the warm weather. Being completely anal retentive, I’ve been planning for this moment for the last two months. The lawn equipment has had its oil changed, blades sharpened, and a supply of premium fuel laid on. Spring isn’t so much about enjoying nature as bringing it to heel after it’s months long free for all during the cold season.

Since it’s been nice enough to live with the windows open in the evening, I haven’t started fiddling with bringing the air conditioners back to life… that was until I started to “un-winterize” the a/c unit the cools the entire downstairs. When I wrapped things up for the winter, I was pretty confident that I had killed off the mold that had been growing inside the unit. Sadly, I was wrong. This wasn’t a new fight, of course. I had waged holy war on this mold almost since the day I moved in, kicked on the air, and wondered “what’s that God-awful smell?” But I thought I had finally struck on the right combination of vinegar, bleach, and random HVAC cleaning supplies from Home Depot to set things right. As I mentioned before, yeah, I was most definitely wrong.

To help set the stage, you need to know that this is the single biggest window-mounted air conditioner that I have every personally seen. It’s so large that it’s actually permanently bolted and caulked into the window. Sure, technically it’s a window unit, but it’s basically like having a central air condenser bolted directly to the window. Seriously. It’s big. If I had to bet, I’d guess it’s 300 pounds easy. And that’s really where the problem starts.

You see, every website on earth tells you that to properly clean mold out of a window air conditioner, the first thing to do is take the unit out of the window and remove the metal housing so you can access the interior spaces where the nastiness is building up. Since this beast is bolted to the house, something tells me these particular directions are not going to apply. Even if I could do any of that without demolishing the window itself, there’s not a chance that I could pull it off as a one man job, which brings us to my point… It’s time for yet another awkward conversation with the landlord about appliances and the need for regular preventative maintenance.

I foresee our talk going something like this:

Me: The air conditioner in the living room is full of mold.

Landlord: Did you clean it?

Me: *rolls eyes* Of course. The mold is inside the housing. It needs to be disassembled and cleaned properly.

Landlord: You can’t do that?

Me: No.

Landlord: That’s going to be expensive.

Me: Probably, but less expensive than me buying a new air conditioner for the living room and deducting it from next month’s rent.

Landlord: %$#*

Me: *smirk*

That conversation should be taking place any time now. It happens less and less often these days, but it’s one of those friendly reminders that living in someone else’s house still sucks.

Two ways to do things…

I got a call Friday afternoon from my own property manager. It seems the crack in the kitchen window had finally gotten to the point of needing to be replaced. If I hadn’t been thinking months ago about the house becoming a rental property, I would have fixed it already. The up side of being a landlord is that alot of projects that were a normal expense when you were living in the house magically become a business expense (and therefore deductible) when you have a tenant.

You didn’t really need to know that little bit of administrative minutia except it was my way of saying that there’s a right way and a wrong way to be a landlord/property manager. The right way is to adress issues as they come up and do it as expeditiously as possible. It helps build the tenant-owner relationship and maybe buys you some good will when the lease is up and they have to decide between renewing and moving on. The wrong way would have been to make the tenant call half a dozen times, not show up when I said I would, or otherwise ignore the problems. Doing things that way tends to breed an attitude where the tenant doesn’t give a damn what happens to the property.

I guess there are two schools of thought when it comes to owning rental property. For some, it’s an income stream and nothing more. For others, it’s a long term investment that builds more value when it’s well maintained. Both ways of thinking are probably valid to some degree, but only one of them is right.