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.

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.

Stockpiled…

Thanks to Amazon, my Kindle is now happily stocked with what could well be months of reading material – ranging from the Battle of Jutland to the reign of Richard III to fiction of a decidedly pulp variety. It makes me happier than it probably should.

I’ll admit that I was a holdout during the formative years of the e-reader, but I’ve come to appreciate it all the more as time goes by. While I miss the more frequent binge visits to the book store, there’s something deeply satisfying about having the preponderance of whatever you may want to read available at the stroke of a few keys.

I suppose I have to grudgingly admit that the pre-Cyber Monday sales from Amazon where good for something after all. I’ve heard it said that you can’t buy happiness, but as long as you can buy books, I’m not at all sure that’s true.

Starting at $500,000…

I’ve had several distinct experiences as a homebuyer. I’ve had the experience of buying into a brand new subdivision with streets still unpaved, a hundred lots still for sale, and the mixture of fear and curiosity in wondering if and when the project would ever be finished… and what kind of wackadoodle neighbors I’d end up with. More recently I bought into an established neighborhood whose tight restrictions and price of admission helped cut down on the wackadoodle, outwardly at least. Here in exurbia we seem to keep our crazy more inside the walls than up on blocks in the front yard.

Having been thoroughly scorched by the bursting bubble of 2008/9, two of my biggest priorities were finding an established neighborhood that would still be sought after when it came time to sell (as opposed to one that was still under construction, and suffering though several iterations of developer-gone-bankrupt) and driving down my offer price low enough to hopefully not lose my ass again. I won’t claim to have timed the market, but I feel good about how closely I was able to meet those goals.

I feel even better about it now that I’ve seen a sign going up just across the hill from my little cul-de-sac. It’s well out of my eye line, separated by a stream and a couple thousand yards of trees, but I heartily welcome any developer in the next neighborhood over who wants to list “3 to 10 Acre Estate Lots Starting at $500,000” in their promotional material. It’s good for property values and mercifully keeps that tract free from higher density projects. Since it’s the last stretch of land available for development in my immediate area, I was ecstatic to see it being chunked out in such big portions. Elitist? Yeah, maybe, but like it or not a house is as much an investment as it is a home and I’m in favor of just about anything that will help drive the value up – despite what it will inevitably do to my next property tax bill.

With the rest of the immediately surrounding land being state managed or otherwise being entangled by woodland protective covenants and restrictions, barring an unforeseen calamity prices only have one way to go… though given my decidedly mixed track record with real estate I could be absolutely and completely off the mark.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Pay at the pump. Look, I did the B-school thing. I get the business model you’re using. I know that the average convenience store doesn’t make jack squat from selling gasoline… you make your money when people come in and buy a slurpee or a hotdog or a case of beer. If I’m paying at the pump, though, that’s probably because I don’t want to come in to the damned store. Can you knock it off with playing twenty questions before letting me buy a little gas? No, I don’t want a car wash. Why they actual eff do you need to know what my zip code is? I don’t care one way or another if you print a recipe… except when I say yes and then your little printer-in-the-pump is out of paper or ink or isn’t working for whatever reason. I just want to swipe my card, fill up the tank, and move on. I don’t come in and ask your employees their home address, what exactly goes in the chicken salad or if they can just put my beer in a paper sack instead of plastic. Please can we just complete our transaction and go our separate ways? I’d be willing to pay a few cents more a gallon just for that small mercy.

2. Working late. It’s hard to believe I ever sought out jobs where 12 hour days were the standard. Now I’m older, wiser, and my overtime rate isn’t worth a damn. I admit it, I’m a jealous guard of my personal time, but the other side of that coin is that I do my level best not to drag my personal life into the office. It doesn’t matter to me if its five minutes, fifty, or five hours. It’s not about the money. Time, once spent, is irrecoverable – money, by contrast, flies off the presses all day every day. What’s even more noxious is the assumption that I can just stick around as if there’s not another thing in the world to do. If you’re going to burn up my time, I’d appreciate at least an acknowledgement that it’s an inconvenience that’s been noted. Don’t worry, though, I’ll make sure the scales balance, but it will be balanced at the time of my choosing, regardless of what’s convenient for anyone else.

3. Palmyra. One of the greatest archeological treasures in the world has fallen to lunatic Islamic forces in Syria. It’s gotten some coverage. It will get a little more when the looting and destruction start in ernest. It’s the kind of place that’s worth defending, but mostly the world with shrug and wring its collective hands when millennia of history are smashed, bulldozed, or sold off onto the black market. I don’t have much use for radicals of any stripe, but for the ones who destroy history just for the joy of seeing it burn, slow death is too good for their ilk.

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.