Sales envy…

In the last six months I’ve watched as about 30% of the neighborhood hung out a for sale sign. Each time the home in question was sold in a matter of days – and if internet records can be believed, commanded sales prices that no one would have dreamed of two years ago. Two more just on my far exurban road have “coming soon” signs that went up last weekend.

I’ve seen enough of these boom and bust real estate cycles to know that seller’s markets don’t last forever. Then again, neither do buyer’s markets. Even knowing that, I have to confess to just a touch of jealousy at those cashing out and moving up or on.

By the same token, I’m spectacularly happy that I’m not trying to find a house to buy in the current market. Too many people chasing too few good options. I don’t have the patience for a bidding war or the tolerance for assuming all risks by waiving every contingency.

Part of me would dearly love to put up a for sale sign of my own and unlock the COVID equity built up over the last 18 months. The real trouble is, the house I really want hasn’t been built yet – because I’m still toying around with floor plans and design ideas to somehow hide the contents of a neighborhood library in a traditionally styled house.

I’d very much like my next move to be my last move. With seven of them under my belt since August 2000, I feel like I’ve had my share of packing and unpacking in town to town, up and down the dial already. Changing houses now would be, at best, a change of scenery. Since the scenery I’ve got is pretty damned good, though, it’s not an idea swimming with motivational appeal.

So, yeah, I have a little bit of sales envy, but no intention of doing anything about it for the time being. Barring untimely death or global economic collapse following the Great Mask Wars of the early 21st century, there will be time enough to cash out and have everything put together just so.

Good idea, bad timing…

I don’t suspect it’s a surprise that along with the rest of the real estate market, sales of vacation homes have been red hot over the last year. I mean with travel severely curtailed and many vacation destinations closed, having a dedicated vacation property feels like it would be a good idea, even if not exactly a good value. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t periodically trolled real estate sites looking at properties from beachfront to high desert during the plague year(s).

I like the overall idea of having a vacation property, but in the details is where the dream starts to break down. I mean I don’t like cleaning the house I have now. I do it regularly, but I begrudge every hour spent on the task. A house hours away that also needs to be cleaned and maintained feels like it would sap a lot of the restful and restorative effects of having it in the first place. Plus, once upon a time I carried three separate mortgages. In the last two years I’ve gotten very comfortable having worked that down to just having one note to service. Doubling the number of monthly mortgage payments along with all the other ancillary bills like electricity and internet, also feels distinctly non-relaxing.

Despite occasionally looking, I’ve more or less decided against the idea of vacation property for the foreseeable future. I could say it’s a money thing and leave it at that. Everyone would likely understand that logic, but that’s not the biggest hurdle in my mind. It’s the sheer painful logistics of quick trips that makes the idea a likely hard pass for me. There’s finding trusted agents to tend a cat and tortoise while I’m away. Then there’s loading the dogs and their half-truckload of basic maintenance equipment, getting them settled into a different place, and shortly thereafter reloading everything to drive back home. I don’t travel light and consequently, neither do the dogs. Maybe that’s some kind of moral failing, but it’s reality.

As much as I’d like to blow out of work on a random Friday afternoon and lay my head down somewhere in proximity to beaches or mountains, organizing all the moving parts sounds like perfect agony – and feels like something that would suck up every ounce of joy I managed to find in having a second establishment. It’s something to consider, perhaps, when I’ve finished whoring out my brain for 40 hours of each week and there are big buckets of free time, but here and now, the time just isn’t right.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Lip reading. Until everyone started wearing masks, I had no idea how much lip reading I do. Short conversations are ok – checking out with groceries or picking up a carryout order – but anything longer, and certainly conversations that involve any level of detail, are just harder when I can’t see someone’s mouth moving. I find myself asking for repeats way more often than would seem to be necessary… and yet here we are. I suppose it’s good practice for when the years of loud radio playing and Jeep noise catch up to me in earnest.

2. CNN. God love them, CNN seems to take a special delight in painting surging home prices as the worst thing ever. Sorry. What? I’m supposed to be upset that I’m building fantastic amounts of equity while simultaneously having a place to live? If nothing else, home ownership through this moment is an excellent hedge against the creeping inflation that CNN also likes to wring their hands over. Yep, it’s hard to be a buyer right now. In other markets at other times, it was hard to be a seller. Trying to pretend the real estate market can or should be static is a bad take for an alleged source of financial news.

3. Waiting. I’m just about a week shy of kicking off Summer Vacation Part I. It’s not decamping for the islands for a week or anything, but it is the first stretch of uninterrupted days off I’ll have had since the new year started. Five months into 2021 and it’s safe to say I’m ready for the break… beyond ready. Eager is probably a better description. Perhaps you could even say I’m giddy with anticipation of 11 days without email, Teams, ringing phones, door buzzers, meetings, or network problems. That’s the issue, really. Slogging through another week when my head is desperately fleeing into vacation mode is going to be exhausting. 

Pity the poor designer…

At long last, after excavating the back yard, taking down a bunch of trees, replacing the furnace, and taking on innumerable other small tasks here at Fortress Jeff, I’m finally ready to start the wheels in motion to renovate the master bathroom.

It feels strange saying that. Six years ago, I almost took a pass on this place because the bathroom was so underwhelming. If I remember correctly, I had the place written into my house-hunting notes as “revenge of the tub” because it was the second house I looked at that was otherwise very nice, but had only a giant damned bathtub in the master bathroom.

I don’t have anything against enormous bathtubs in theory. In practice, though, they’re not my thing. I had a massive jetted tub in my house in Memphis and I filled it a grand total of one time in the three years I lived there. The only thing I’ve used the one in this bathroom for is for bathing dogs – and it wasn’t particularly useful for that. As far as the way I live is concerned, a giant tub is the quintessential waste of space – and represents money better spent on heated floors and, perhaps, a monstrous shower.

“But,” some will say, “A freakishly large bathtub will improve your resale value.” Maybe that’s true, but I’m the poor dumb bastard that will be living here for the next 15 years. Putting the room together to suit my reality makes far more sense than trying to project what some notional person a decade and a half from now might want to see. 

For now, I’m gathering up the list of contractors I’ll ask for proposals and putting together a list of what I’d like to get out of this project. I feel like I have a solid grip on the big bits, but as I troll around online it seems inevitable that the fit and finish will give me no end to trouble. I almost feel bad for whatever poor designer I ends up working with me to sort out the details.

That trouble notwithstanding, I’ll be extraordinarily pleased to finally be able to take a shower every morning without schlepping down the hall. 

Interrupting your regularly scheduled post for breaking news…

On Thursdays this space is almost exclusively reserved for What Annoys Jeff this Week. It’s been that way for years. This Thursday, though, I’m making an exception to policy. It’s not that the number of things that annoys me has been any less than usual this week. They’ve simply been overwhelmed by the deep and profound sense of relief I’m feeling at getting confirmation from my realtor this afternoon that I’m no longer a condo owner.

I wasn’t sure exactly what I’d feel when it was all finished. For all my snark and sarcasm, I’m a surprisingly sentimental guy when it comes down to it. I thought maybe there’d be some wistful regret at firmly closing off that last tangible connection to the version of me who existed back when the millennium was new. There’s none of that, though. The feeling really is just one of unbridled relief. It’s not what I expected, but it’s welcome.

I wish I could tell you there were exciting plans for the shekels that found their way into my pocket this afternoon. Paying off the Jeep and a few other bills, putting something back for a rainy day, and investing a bit for my long term financial health don’t make for particularly interesting reading. Maybe I should tell you I’m heading to Vegas for a four-day binge on craps, booze, hookers, and blow. If nothing else it would be suitably fine grist for the rumor mill.

Alas, whatever’s left over is all earmarked as the first tranche of funding for a long delayed bathroom renovation. It will be nice to start actually planning that one instead of continuing to just add items to the list of things I hate about the current master bath.

I promise by this time next week we’ll be back with all the annoyance that’s fit to print… and probably some that should have never been set out on paper. For now I’m just going to bask in the glow of having one giant item knocked completely off my list of things to do.

Doing my bit…

As of a few minutes ago I’ve probably taken my last official action as a property owner in St. Mary’s County in scenic southern Maryland. I’ve added my John Hancock to a few pieces of paper and in about 48 hours they’ll be countersigned and magically turn into a big bag of cash… or, well, whatever the electronic equivilent to a big bag of cash is, anyway.

I really expected signing it all over would leave me feeling some kind of way, but what I seem to be feeling most is a sense of relief… that I’ll never have to worry about finding another tenant, or that someone is going to tear the place up, or that I’ll get a random phone call in the middle of the afternoon that the furnace or air conditioning compressor needs to be replaced. I made some damned good memories in that little condo during the short time I lived there, but its life as an income stream (or suck depending on the year) lasted far longer than did my time really living with it. I’m mostly left feeling that it was an investment that served its purpose and it’s time to cash out.

Maybe the sick dog has just used up all the feels I’ve had allocated for the week before we got to the real estate transaction portion of shit to do. Anyway, I’ve done my bit. All that’s left now is for the seller to do his. And then we can all feel well satisfied and get on with whatever is next.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The difference 30 minutes makes. Leaving the office on time gets me out and away minutes ahead of the big rush of traffic trying to squeeze out a couple of undersized gates and onto the also undersized surrounding highways. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that I’ve put some thought and analysis into minimizing the amount of time I spend fiddling around in traffic.  You see, the difference in leaving 30 minutes later in the afternoon translates into getting home a full hour later than I usually would… so it’s not so much an issue of minding staying in harness for an extra 30 minutes, but the fact that that 30 minutes really costs me a full hour. Anything that slices that deeply into my evening is bound to top the list of things that annoy me.

2. When I tried to warn you. If I come to you four or five times over a period of a few weeks trying to give you a heads up that something is coming along that will bite you in the ass if you ignore it, there’s a fair bet that’s exactly what’s going to happen. I’ve been at this a while now. I don’t cry wolf and I don’t ask for top cover very often. When I do, it’s probably something you should have on your radar. Otherwise, 20 hours before the thing happens you’re going to end up getting hit with a fast moving shit sandwich, wonder how the hell it came out of nowhere, and then get all angsty and aggravated that something that could have been easy turned into a smoking hot mess. I know being the guy who says “I told you so,” isn’t the best look, but I did tell you so. Sadly, I have very little control over what anyone chooses to do with that information even when they have been forewarned.

3. Failure to close. I should have been closing the sale of my condo today… but thanks to various banks, lawyers, and the state of Maryland, I’m not doing that. Instead I’m carrying the place into another month – making another mortgage payment, paying the insurance, and paying the utility bills. Plus, after three and a half weeks of planning, I’m just finding out that the damned home owners association that I’ve been paying into for almost 20 years hasn’t spit back the two page form they’re supposed to fill out so now I’m leaving never returned phone messages for them trying to determine what their dysfunction is. Buying a house is the single most stressful thing I’ve ever done… but don’t kid yourself, selling one is almost if not just as much of a pain in the ass.

A trip to the archives…

I’m old enough to remember when documents of any importance came on paper – often in multiple color coded carbon copies. For someone who has converted nearly wholesale to digital record keeping, I have an alarmingly large archive of old paper copies – old bills of sale, mortgage originations, and thousands of other 8×10 inch bits of paper that were required to build a life before everything came to us via electrons.

I recently had to take a deep dive into the furthest recesses of the paper archives – searching for something I know I’d need a copy of when the happy day comes and I go to closing on my southern Maryland condo. Yes, I know, cart before the horse and all, but I like having my ducks well-ordered.

Knowing how much has changed over the last almost twenty years, I assumed I was in for a bit of leg work – and possibly a pleading phone call to the condo association asking for a copy of the neighborhood covenants and restrictions. I mean what are the chances 22 year old Jeff held on to the copy he was given in the early spring of 2001?

Turns out I’m every bit as anal retentive as people think I am. After five moves and two decades, the old 1980’s vintage neon orange binder was tucked in between the original mortgage and the property management agreement, right where I left it back when the millennium was still shiny and new.

I was tempted to see what other oddities lurked in the depths of my filing system, but it wasn’t the moment to find myself sitting ankle deep in twenty year old paperwork. For the time being I’ll just be glad I found what I was looking for on the first attempt… but I think I’m going to add “digitize and shred” the deepest layer of the archive onto my list of things to do.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

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.

A dark and rainy Friday…

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.