Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Rich Man, Poor Man

There was a screw up at the closing of my house. The final numbers were wrong, so I was notified by the Title Company that I owed the buyers an additional $4K which I'd need to provide in the form of a cashier's check. According to my bank's website, the bank charges a $10 fee to issue a cashier's check, but when I went to the bank to get the cashier's check, I was told "Oh no, we won't charge you for that! There's no fee for you!" The reason for this is that for now, the proceeds of the sale of my house are in a savings account at the bank, and so they've increased the measly percentage of interest that I earn on my money and waved all sorts of fees that I previously had to pay when I had considerably less money in my accounts. I appreciate the temporary savings, but I can't help but think this policy, of charging all sorts of fees to the customers who can least afford them, is just cold and cruel. It's yet another way that America punishes people for being poor.

Thursday, June 08, 2017


So last month, I placed a bid on a place that I really loved. The couple who owned it had already bought another place in the western US, and they had a number of stringent conditions regarding the sale of their place here in Dallas: the closing had to take place in early June at the latest; they had to be able to then rent it for another couple of weeks while they moved out, yada yada yada. I thought the list price was too high and my agent, who is also a broker who normally does tax appraisals, agreed, so after researching the price per square foot for comparable homes in the neighborhood, I made an offer. It was slightly under the list price, but I could pay cash, and I had no problem agreeing to all of their other terms. I had to provide proof of my ability to pay cash, which I did, and in addition, the sellers wanted to know about me personally, because they didn't want to sell their home to a developer. My agent said there was one other offer, from a couple who had cash for the standard 20% down, but who would require financing for the rest of it. She predicted the house would not appraise for the list price (and she should know), in which case, in addition to the 20% down, the buyers would have to pay the difference in cash. She told me there was no way anyone could close in the desired short time frame if financing were required, so she was confident my bid would be accepted. Accordingly, we were both shocked when the sellers accepted the slightly higher offer which was dependent upon financing. The sellers suggested I put in a back up offer, which would require my depositing several thousand dollars into an escrow account, and that money would be tied up until their deal either closed or fell through. I said no thank you. I was disappointed, but I decided then and there that I'd wait until the market cools a bit before bidding on anything else.

This afternoon I got a call from my agent, who said she had received a call from the sellers' agent who said it appeared the buyers' financing had fallen through so they wanted to know if I was still interested in the place. Three weeks ago I very nearly bought the place, and if my bid had been accepted, I'm confident I'd have had no regrets, and yet this afternoon I told my agent I'd have to think about it. Getting turned down forced me to give a lot of thought to what I want, and for that matter to how much I'm willing to spend. I didn't have a big budget to begin with, but because I'm retired and have a fixed income, I've begun to think perhaps I should plan on spending even less and banking the difference for unanticipated big expenses, e.g., having to replace the AC or furnace. So I didn't jump at the second chance to buy this place. I came home and looked again at every photo of every room. The house is beautiful; there's no question of that, and the location is good, so it will certainly increase in value. And yet I hesitate. It's a traditional home, built in 1971. It's had a fire and has been remodeled, so the interior and exterior are like new, and yet there's a part of me that would love to move into something brand new. So I was trying to decide what to tell my agent when she texted me again. Apparently the buyers haven't officially backed out, and asking me if I'm still willing to buy it was simply a ploy, I'm not sure by whom, to apply leverage, I'm not sure for what. But I am thoroughly disgusted.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Gettin' Old...

Although I've done nothing in particular today, tonight my hands and particularly my fingers, are swollen and aching. The osteoarthritis causes this, and it's just a part of aging, but it is, literally and figuratively, a pain. *sigh*

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Blood in the Water

So here's how it works. This morning, I saw a new listing for a small, remodeled house a few blocks from Katharine's. Although it doesn't have everything I want, the remodel is well done, and I like it. List price is $250K, which seems a steal for this 1400 square foot remodeled home. But there's no Open House scheduled, and I'm pretty sure that low price is only listed to generate interest. Starting this afternoon, there will be a bidding war, and the house is likely to sell for up to 30% over list. The rub is that it probably won't appraise for that, in which case the buyers have to come up with the difference in cash, but in this market, it's likely they will.

This is not my idea of how to do business. I know I'm old fashioned, but it's so not my style to wheel and deal, to barter. Frankly, I find it offensive. In this market, that's a losing attitude, and I know that I won't find a place to buy in this market with that attitude. 

So for now, I'm out of it. In the interim, Kath has graciously allowed me to stay with her. I'm paying her rent, of course. I'll resume looking for a new place later this summer, when/if the market begins to return to normal.

Monday, May 15, 2017

House Hunting, or Why I Hate Real Estate

I've always viewed the place where I live as my home, never as an investment. And therein lies the problem, I suppose. So when a young mother from down the street approached me as I set out spring plants and asked if I was getting ready to sell my house, I admitted I was. When she said she and her husband were house hunting and would love to see it before I listed it, I agreed to let them do so. When they made an offer, albeit 10K under what I'd planned to list it for (which my agent had agreed was a fair price) I reluctantly accepted it, thinking it was the decent thing to do because despite the money I'd poured into it in the past year getting it ready to go on market, the house being 41 years old I knew there were still things they'd have to upgrade. But decency has nothing to do with real estate. It's all about the $$$$$$. To my dismay, as soon as I'd accepted their offer, their agent began cut-throat negotiating to try to get me to drop the price considerably lower. I agreed to a couple more concessions, then told my agent I was perfectly happy to walk away and start all over before I would go any lower on the price. The deal went forward and we closed on May 11, but it turns out in this market I would probably have gotten at least $25K more had I listed it, shown it, and ended up with half a dozen couples trying to outbid each other. What's done is done, but this error on my part may end up being an expensive one because in the past week I've submitted bids on several places, all of which have gone for considerably over list after a bidding war amongst potential buyers. I'm paying with cash, so there's no contingent financing involved. The last place, in addition to agreeing to pay 2K of seller's closing costs AND bidding over list AND agreeing to give them 2 days to move out after closing, etc., etc., etc., they still didn't accept my offer. Last night, looking at places online, I saw a small house that I found interesting. At 67, I don't want a house because I don't want to be responsible for all the maintenance, but I liked what they'd done with the interior, so from the website I clicked on a link to send it to myself. The computer auto-populated my agent's name in addition to mine, so it showed up in her inbox early this morning. She assumed I wanted to see it and tried to make an appointment, but by 8AM it was already GONE (i.e., under contract). So it was on less than 24 hours before it went under contract. In the meantime, I'm living on savings. I haven't yet filed for SS, because if I wait until September, when I turn 68, I'll get an additional 8% which, quite frankly, I need. I also haven't started drawing on my 401K, because I don't have a clue what I need to do. Does that sound stupid? Yes, I'm sure it does. If I pay $5,000 to a financial advisor, she'll walk me through all of this. $5,000 isn't a lot if you're working I guess, but my SS will only be about $18,000 per year so $5,000 is significant to me, so I haven't leapt at the opportunity. And the sad thing is, I'm in better shape, financially, than the majority of boomers, or so all the financial people tell me.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Dismantling the house

The kitchen is in absolute chaos. All the countertops are cluttered with the contents of the upper cabinets and there are stacks of moving boxes leaning against the lower cabinets. The big kitchen step stool stands in the middle of the room, a pair of scissors and a roll of packing tape on the top step. I move those to a bare space on a countertop, and drag the step stool over to the GE electric cooktop. I've never liked that cooktop. I guess it's great, as electric cooktops go, but I always wanted gas, so much so that a couple of light years ago I paid a plumber an enormous sum of money to run a separate gas line to the kitchen, where it's stubbed out under the counter, ready to be connected to a new, gas cooktop. But although I made many terrific changes and upgrades to this house, that's one of many projects that I never completed, because I ran out of time and money.

I climb up on the step stool and open the cupboard high above the cooktop. Because it's so hard to reach these high shelves, I always used them to store things that I didn't use often. I open the doors and look at what's there. On the top shelf, the surprisingly expensive stainless steel honey baked spiral ham rack. Stashed in a corner, a Williams-Sonoma Halloween pumpkin carving kit, never used. One brushed stainless whistling teapot, purchased during a time I worried about forgetting a silent teapot and starting a fire. Half a dozen packages of 4th of July sparklers that must be 15 years old and doubtful they have any sparkle left, but one never knows. On the bottom shelf, two beautiful enameled cast iron Martha Stewart pots. On the left, a burgundy colored oval 8 quart pot that I always used to prepare beef bourguignon at Christmas, and on the right, a rich orange, sort of butternut squash colored round 3 quart pot that I used more often, to make fondue or to heat Trader Joe's risotto with asparagus. Although they're affordable knock offs of the prohibitively expensive LeCreuset, both pots have served me so well that I've given a number of them to others as gifts. They're extremely heavy, so I carefully lift them down, one at a time. I place them on the floor, and gingerly lower myself to the floor beside them, so I can begin packing each of them for the move. I've already assembled a single small heavy box (that's an official category) for the 8 quart pot. I've used reinforced tape on all the bottom seams, and I've wadded up half a dozen big sheets of packing paper to form a sort of scrunchy bed beneath a thick layer of biodegradable packing peanuts. All I need to do is wrap the pot and lid in bubble wrap which I'll tape tightly before placing it in the box, where it will remain by itself, because it's so heavy, but as I sit on the floor thinking of how to best cut the bubble wrap to do that, it comes to me that I don't need to pack it after all. Because as I sit there I realize that at 67, with family scattered across the country, it's highly unlikely I'll use that pot to prepare that amount of beef bourguignon ever again. I could give it to one of the kids, but Alex is the only one likely to carry on the tradition of cooking beef bourguignon for Christmas, and she lives halfway across the country, and shipping her this heavy pot, which she might not even use, would cost more than buying a new one. So I rise slowly off the floor, my old knees sounding like a box of breakfast cereal. I bend over and pick up the pot and lug it to the wet bar, where I'm placing items for the estate sale. Ch-ch-ch-changes...

Friday, February 24, 2017

February bonfire

Several years ago (it seems like maybe in the past 10 years, which means it's probably more like 15) I bought a little metal chiminea from Crate and Barrel. I hauled it home and set it out in the backyard, and while Mike & Chris were still home, we had quite a few nice evenings sitting around it, enjoying an outdoor fire. After the guys moved out I used it less and less, but I maintained it, and always bought a small stack of firewood, including some pinyon, at the beginning of the season so I would have it "just in case".

Tonight I looked out in the backyard and realized the chiminea was filled with dry wood and kindling, all ready to provide a beautiful fire. Day temperatures have been in the high 80's for the past week, but today a cold front came through, and tonight the temperature is supposed to drop to the mid-30's, so I decided to take advantage of the cool snap to enjoy my chiminea for the last time at this house.

Within a few minutes of lighting the wood, the logs were blazing, spitting and popping like a wood fire always does: in addition to everything else, a pleasure for the ears. It was a clear night, with bright stars visible under the vast Texas sky, even in the city of Dallas. So I sat outside for an hour or so, enjoying my chiminea. I don't know where I'll be moving, but each day now it's as if I'm gathering pieces of a puzzle and putting them together to figure out what I enjoy and would like to have in the next place that I live. To my suprise, the chiminea turned out to be a puzzle piece. I hadn't thought about it at all, until I sat there and realized how much I love sitting outside with a fire. Realistically, I know it's unlikely that I'll find a place with everything that I love, so I'll have to pick and choose, but after tonight, the ability to have a chiminea (not necessary this particular chiminea) goes on the list as another feature I'd like to have.