Electronic License Plates. My beloved home state of Maryland is launching a program to test “electronic license plates.” I have no earthy idea why bits of stamped tin that have been good enough and dirt cheap to make for more than a century needs to be made electronic – and more expensive, and trackable, and more prone to being damaged and needing replaced. It can’t possibly be as a means to make some state service less expensive or the process to receive it less onerous because God knows that’s not how we do things in here in Maryland.
Sleeping separately. Over the last ten years you can count on maybe all your toes and fingers how many nights I haven’t slept in the midst of dogs – some in the bed, some in crates, some loose on the floor, but always close enough to hear every snore and snort. With Maggie’s second accident in as many nights, though, I banished both dogs to the laundry room and their crates in wee small hours of the morning. They didn’t like it. I didn’t like it. I’m fairly sure the cat was fine with the arrangement, though. At least for the time being, this will have to be the new order of things. The alternative is planning to scrub the bedroom floor every night between 2 and 5 AM, which feels like a complete nonstarter for any number of reasons. Since we don’t have a definitive diagnosis yet there’s no way of telling if this is the short term fix or the long. In either case, it’s annoying and displeases me greatly.
Landlording. I bought a condo back in about 2001, fresh into my first professional job and figuring I’d be there for the long haul. Two years later, I was pulling up stakes for greener pastures and I’ve been renting the place out ever since. I’ve never been at risk of retiring off the rents received – once the property manager and inevitable repairs are paid for, it’s a break even proposition most of the time. I got a call this week that my property manager was winding down his business and I think that means it’s probably time for me to settle up, take back a little bit of equity, and finally let the condo go. There’s no one thing that’s really getting me out of the landlording business, but the steady drumbeat of needing to find new tenants, make repairs, replace appliances, and now the prospect of needing to learn to work with the quirks of a completely different management company are all combining to tell me it’s time to accept that the capital gains tax isn’t going to get any lower and move on.
As I was sitting here on a dark and rainy Friday morning seething quietly after cutting a check for a $1825 special assessment from my condo’s governing HOA, I realized it’s been a few days since I posted anything. What can I say, rage, it seems, beings out my inner soul as a writer – or maybe it’s just the catharsis I need after getting gang banged by a homeowners association board who must have been holding on to a shit ton of proxies when they voted.
I’m always curious about those who see rental income as a surefire pathway to wealth. Maybe it is under certain circumstances – if you’re local and can do many of the repairs yourself, if you paid cash and aren’t using at least a portion of the rent to make the note, or if you aren’t governed by an HOA that’s at least as good at spending other people’s money as the United States Congress. I’ve been renting out this condo since 2003 and I’ll admit that there have been a few good years – those years when nothing breaks and there’s no damage to be repaired. Those years are the rarity. Far more often it’s a break even proposition where you’re lucky to be about $500 into either the black or red by year’s end. Then, of course, there are those years where you end up pouring your own cash into the place hand over fist. No one talks about those years when they tell you what a great idea it is having a rental property.
At least the bastards got the bills out in time to use the whole damned mess as a 2018 deduction instead of having to wait an additional year to recoup a few pennies on the dollar. When your “bright slide” is consoling yourself that you have something to help offset the decreased federal deductibility of state and local taxes, you’ve really got to rethink the whole plan from start to finish.
This dark and rainy Friday is going to largely be about resisting the temptation to drive down there and nail a for sale sign to the door and being done with the whole bleeding mess.
All other annoyances this week have been superseded by this one:
Waiting for the last minute.
I understand selling a house is a complicated business. It’s not a mission to Mars or anything, but it’s complicated enough. At the same time it happens millions of times every year from one corner of the country to the other, so it’s not exactly like we’re trying to figure out how to do it for the first time. There’s no creative financing involved. There are no issues with the title. There is really not anything remarkable about this transaction in any way… except that putting together the final HUD-1, the document that lays out the dollars and cents of the transaction, is apparently the hardest thing to do in the world. Ever. I started writing this post 19 hours before closing and they still can’t seem to tell me exactly how big a bag of cash I need to bring to the table to get the deal done. I started asking for this document a week in advance specifically because I am going to review and understand where every penny is going. I’d hoped I would be able to do that on my own time, but if I have to sit in a room with the lawyer, the seller, and both our agents wasting half a day of their time tomorrow going over every item line by line until I’m satisfied it’s correct and my questions are answered, I guess we can do it that way too.
Note: In the interest of fair and balanced blogging I should tell you that I received the paperwork about 30 seconds after finishing the above paragraph. I’ve opted to let it stand alone because I still find it pretty damned annoying.
Usually writing is my pressure release valve. Tonight it’s feeling a bit too much like real work to be particularly enjoyable. I’ve got plenty of ideas – and even a “by request” still in the queue, but the fact is I just don’t feel like stringing together a little slice of life story this evening. It’s not so much that I’m physically tired as it is my brain just feeling a bit pooped. With eight days (assuming everything goes to plan) between now and closing, the volume and velocity of things that need done are picking up dramatically.
Then I remember that the pace only increases after closing – with the first round of household goods making the move the following day and then the vast majority of my gear making the three mile trip two days after that. I’m doing my level best to stage everything to make it all happen as seamlessly as possible… the down side of that being it all requires a pretty precise level of attention to detail to make sure all the gears mesh. They way everything is set as of this evening the plan gives me seven days to tear down, move, reset, and establish some semblance of order at the new place before jumping back into my version of a normal routine. Of course it it happens to be raining on any one of those days the whole schedule gets shot to hell and the process gets to start over from scratch. No pressure.
For now I’m going to throw down another few cups of coffee and push back the whole pooped feeling and get a few more things checked off the list tonight. At least when I hit the sheets tonight I’ll feel like I’ve earned it.
The last week or so I’ve been working pretty closely with my mortgage underwriter. The volume of paperwork involved in this transaction is impressive… and that’s saying someone who’s spent most of his adult life as a professional bureaucrat. Late Friday afternoon I got a very apologetic email asking for updated bank statements. It seems my state and federal tax refunds dropped into my account and set off all kind of mortgage lender bells and sirens warning about unexpectedly large deposits. Within minutes I sorted out what they needed and punted everything back to them so they’d have it on Monday morning.
A few minutes later I got a very kind message calling me a “dream borrower to work with,” presumably because I actually keep reasonably good records and can access them on demand. That sort of surprised me. I had always assumed that most people would be able to dive into their files and find whatever bit of paperwork they needed. Getting a mortgage lined up can be an exercise in frustration – and can feel like you’ve sent every bit of required documentation a few dozen times. Having the paperwork you need on hand shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone.
All that being said, I have to think if you’re asking someone to lend you a few hundred thousand dollars or more, actually having your shit together and not causing them a bunch of headache is probably a good idea, no? Or maybe I’m just not approaching this endeavor with the requisite amount of douchebaggery entitled attitude. All things being equal, until we reach the closing table I’m going to err on the side of being as helpful to these people as humanly possible. It’s one of those happy convergences of self interest and the right thing to do.
1. LinkedIn: The World’s Largest Professional Network. Meh. I’ve had an account on LinkedIn for longer than I can remember. I have no idea why. I’ve never used it. I’m not interested in networking. I don’t like it online any better than I like it in person. But still, 347 times a week I get spammed by the one social media site that I’ve found utterly useless for my purposes. It doesn’t take much effort to hit the delete button, but there’s just a certain pain-in-the-ass factor at play here. All things being equal, the chances of my ever looking for a job “on the outside” are somewhere between slim and none… and processional accomplishments on the inside don’t exactly translate well to that world anyway. Unless someone can give me a good reason not to pull the plug, my LinkedIn account is heading to the trash the next time I do some digital housekeeping.
2. Survey. When you’re buying a house in Maryland you’re only required to have a location drawing rather than a full blown property survey. The drawing showed the location of the house and any other “improvements” against an overlay that more or less corresponds to the size and shape of your lot. It’s a minimum degree of assurance for the lender that the house is where it’s supposed to be. Surveys require people to go out with tools and physically locate and mark the defined corners of the property. It’s the way to definitively know what you’re about to buy… so yes, when I say I want a survey instead of a drawing, I know what I’m asking for. I know it’s more expensive. I know it’s not required by the state or by the lender. It is, however, required by me, the guy who’s on the hook for paying the bills.
3. Full weeks. Due to the combination of snow and taking the occasional half day to deal with house-related stuff, this is the first full week I’ve worked in a long while. It’s more exhausting than I remembered. It’s probably a bad sign that I’m excited by the idea of moving not so much because it’s a new and awesome place to live, but because dragging boxes three miles down the road and spending a week unpacking them means that for a week I really only to have one job. It’s sad that’s what passes for relaxing these days.
This morning I got to experience the real value of working with a real estate agent. It’s not so much that they are board certified professionals who spend every day facilitating technical sales with dozens of moving parts and a propensity to run into trouble at every step of the process. What makes the realtor so valuable than any of that, however, is they allow the buyers and sellers to stay at arms length through almost the entire transaction. For most people real estate is the single largest purchase they’ll ever personally experience. Throw in the emotional dimension of a place called “home” and the whole thing is fraught with issues.
I’m bringing this up because I went by my house-in-waiting this morning to get some measurements, look at a bit of furniture the sellers are interested in being rid of, and to make sure the truck actually fits into the garage (Yeah, that’s actually a thing with a large truck and a standard size garage). Unlike the other showings and the inspection the seller was there. So was his son. So was his daughter-in-law. They all seem like nice enough people – the son and his wife apparently live a couple of streets over so we’re even quasi-neighbors. Despite that, I’m still the guy who chiseled them down to a rock bottom price and then presented a longish, but reasonable, list of repair requests on a house, their home, that the seller and his departed wife designed for themselves from the basement up. But there we all were standing in their living room (that in about three weeks will be my living room) making small talk while I made snap decisions about their furniture and then wandered from room to room with a tape measure and clipboard figuring out where my own furniture will fit. The whole experience was just awkward.
It needed to be done, but the whole thing just felt so very odd… and I’m pretty sure I’ve come to the preemptive decision that I will never even consider a sale “by owner.” I have enough weird in my life without adding that to the mix. For this one small thing, the realtor is worth every penny of their commission.