Archive for the ‘Personal Finance’ Category

I’m adding a new category to my blog to plan and describe some of weekend projects around my house. I’ve been feeling guilty for not hiking or sailing as much lately. When I sat down to think about it I decided that it was a combination of the big running goal, preparing for the Marine Corps Marathon, and all the weekend projects needed to get settled into our new home. Even the running has dropped off lately with my injured calf, so that took the guilt up a notch. But I’m not spending a bunch of time on the couch… I’m getting things done around the house. When you first move in to a new house the number of things on your Honey Do list can be overwhelming. Unpack, organize, donate, fill new spaces, yard, garage, and the list goes on and on. After a few months the surge of immediate to-dos have been taken care of and it’s time for some projects that should be more fun, or at least pretty rewarding. This is the third home I’ve owned and some of the things that sounded like fun before, like landscaping aren’t as appealing anymore. Maintaining and improving the landscape once it’s in will be fun but things like trenching for sprinklers, laying a patio, and other hardscape projects can be done by a contractor this time!

My first “fun” project was coating my garage floor with epoxy. It turned out great, but there were definitely some lessons learned. This will be my first post in the new category.

Rustoleum Epoxy Garage Coat Applied

Next on our weekend project list was painting. The biggest challenge here is picking colors that work for the space, and since our house has a fairly open floor plan, the colors have to work together. We had a good idea of the color we wanted in the guest bathroom, so this was the first one to tackle. In this picture the tape was still up and I hadn’t painted the shower area, but the color was exactly what we wanted in this bathroom.

Painting the Guest Bathroom

Future projects include a shelf for shoes in the master bedroom closet, a built-in entertainment center in the family room, adding the speakers for the pre-wired surround sound in the family room, and putting a wine cellar in the large walk-in space behind our garage. I can think of others, but want to keep the list manageable to be sure I still have time to travel, hike, paddle, sail, work-out, and prepare for the Marine Corps Marathon. However, weekend projects around the house are a rewarding part of a full life, so I will add info about mine to this blog.

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Snorkeling Hanauma Bay

When people and businesses do me wrong to a level that they have ensured that I will never go there again, I put them on my list. It’s not forever, because I won’t live forever, but it’s for as long as I live or as long as they do. There are just too many choices in the world to ever go near these people or companies again. The people list is short and has no meaning for the blog, so I will keep that one private.

For businesses the list is not that long either and I hope it doesn’t get longer as it takes a pretty bad experience to “make the list”.

Midas. I have no trust in auto repair companies that give their mechanics commissions for pushing work and parts. That leads to bad advice, unnecessary repairs, and even criminal behavior. My experience… I went in to the local Midas to have brake work done on my family car in Hawaii. I was a Marine Staff Sergeant with 4 kids, on a tight budget. I needed to keep the car working, but did not need to be cheated. They recommended replacing some of the brake parts and I agreed to that work, it caused the repair to be much more expensive that I originally expected. Based on the final outcome and my loss of trust in this mechanic, I believe some of that work was unnecessary. After they completed the brake work and the care passed the driving test, they called me to pick it up. When I got there the car it was on a lift and the mechanic wanted to show me something. There was a small hole in the front wheel drive boot, barely visible, and there was some more visible splatter of the grease on the cowling around the tire. The problem I had with what he was showing me was there were only about a dozen or so very fresh splatters of grease on the cowling. It was obvious that the only splattering happened when the mechanic put a small hole in the boot and did the test drive. I’ll never know if it was accidental or intentional. I told the mechanic what I thought and that I was not going to pay for the work, but that they could fix the obviously new damage. They refused to fix it for free. The next day I got under the car and noticed that the entire boot was split open. I replaced it myself and have never, and will never go to Midas again. I also ask repair shops if they pay their mechanics a commission on parts and will not use any shop that does.

Minolta. I had a terrific Minolta SLR camera with auto-focus, the X-700. It took fantastic family pictures for years. When we got orders to Hawaii in 1989 I knew I would be snorkeling and would want a good underwater camera. I looked at several options before we left Minnesota, and got a Minolta 35MM camera (Minolta Weathermatic Dual 35 DL AF 35mm Waterproof Underwater Camera which is still available used on E-Bay) that was rated for up to 5 meters of water depth. I figured this was fine as I would only be snorkeling. I used it soon after getting to Hawaii at Hunauma Bay. I loaded the batteries and the film before I left home. I made sure it was closed tightly. The camera failed with a “flash failure” after the first time I took the camera into the water. The next week I took the camera to an Authorized Minolta repair shop. They said that the flash needed to be replaced and that it was not covered by the warranty. I asked how that could be. They said they put it in a chamber and sprayed a mist at it and it did not leak, so it was not covered. I asked if they had put it under 5 meters of water as the camera documentation claimed it was fine to that depth. Then they blamed the camera failure on human error. I had to have done something wrong, got sand in the gasket, or something. To make a long story short, they would not budge and said they had to follow the manufacturers guidelines. I wrote to Minolta and the reply was not good. I put Minolta on my list, but they went out of business before before I bought another camera. I have noticed an increasing number of digital cameras making claims to be OK underwater lately. Not going to take that chance again. I no longer believe these claims and won’t spend a bunch of money on these cameras. I use disposable cameras underwater and the pictures turn out good enough. Here’s a picture of me holding my daughter with the camera over my shoulder… not sure about that expression, more grimace than smile… maybe I knew what was coming.

Hanauma Bay

There are a few more, but they are more obscure and not such horror stories. I had a tune up place in North Carolina smear grease and pepper bugs onto my air filter to get an extra $20 out of me. I drove out of there with no air filter and never went back. I also bad mouthed the place as much as you could before Yelp (1985)! And there are a couple places that I won’t buy blue jeans from anymore – Burlington Coat Factory and Old Navy. Every pair of jeans I’ve bought from there has torn out in the seat… right below the pocket seam. I do (very jokingly) warn my wife not to hurt her hand on my “rock hard” rear (when she gives me a pat) but come on, jeans were designed for hard working dudes to do heavy work in. When did stores start selling wimpy jeans?

As I said, my list isn’t really all that long. Have any horror stories? Anyone I should add to my list based on your experiences?

Update 12/31/2013: This post gives an example of how a company can get added to My List: Designed to Fail?

In the normal course of events, everyone gets a pretty steady stream of junk mail, but when you have a life event”… marriage, new child, or a new home, there are public records that give bottom dwelling mud suckers who are looking for any information that will make their scam seem official an “in”. I don’t consider this mail harmless junk mail. I consider it “scam mail”. If you read the scam mail carefully, they tell you that, “they are not associated with your lender”, although they put your lenders name right above your mailing address so you can see it in the envelope window. They also state that “they have no affiliation with any federal, state or local entity”, but they try to appear official by including a “reference file number” and having an official sounding name like Title Recording Service. Actually in the case of the Title Recording Service they actually wrapped their scam mail in my official title recording document and folded it so the “And when recorded mail document to:” address, including a reference to my title company, showed in the window of their envelope. This one was pretty effective, I actually put it with my escrow documents for a few days. When I opened it and saw the scam to charge me 49 dollars to fill out and mail to me a Request for Declaration of Homestead form that I could then file, I decided I should do a blog post. The big problems with their offer: I could download and fill out the form myself if I wanted to for free, and the protection this declaration provides is automatic, so the form is not necessary! This type of scam mail should be grounds for jail time. I don’t care how many truths are on the paperwork, the lies are there too and the letter is designed to mislead at least a certain percentage of the people who get it. This company is charging those people money for nothing!

Mortgage Life Insurance offers are flooding in. They all have my mortgage company name on the letter, usually in a way that it shows in their envelope address window. They usually start with a header of “Attention: Notice to Homeowner” “**Urgent Response Needed**”, they have the loan amount, the county name, and way at the bottom, in the fine print, they state they are not affiliated with any lender. This type of scam mail is a little different. They are offering a service, or in this case an insurance, but an expensive one with many better alternatives, unless you just can’t get any other life insurance. But it is still scam mail based on the misleading presentation designed to imply affiliation, and what looks like more than one lie (misleading statement) in the body of most of the letters. I’m certain that if they promise to “Return All Premiums” there is a huge catch, it is a very rare thing, and they also charge big “fees” beyond the “premium” charge. For research I considered calling to find out what the offer really is, but I skipped it because I hate high pressure sales pitches, and I’m sure that anyone who actually contacts them is in for boiler room tactics!

I will be happy when we get back to the normal level of junk mail, until then I will have to get better about figuring out what is real and what is a scam mail. I don’t want to throw away that first mortgage statement!

Update: Feb 5th 2013. There are a couple cases where you may actually want to file a declaration of homestead. Not usually right after buying a home though, which is when you are most likely to receive letters offering the service (which you can do for free). It appears that if you own several homes and want to chose one to protect, or plan to voluntarily sell your home, and of course are in financial difficulty, you may want to actually declare your homestead. See this link form more info: Regulation of Homestead Filing Services: Legal Guide H-1

Standup Paddle Boarding on Mission Bay in San Diego
A couple of years ago I wrote a post on Local Living Email Deals when there seemed to be a new competitor starting up in the niche every month. I signed up for GoldStar, Restaurant.com, Groupon, Living Social, Yelp Deals, Google Offers, Travel Zoo Local Deals, and Facebook Deals. Amazon started sending me the deals even though I didn’t sign up for them. A few companies in the original post have pulled out of the market (Yelp and Facebook), and one company, voucher resellor Lifesta, folded. I started getting “Deals for the Cure” about the same time as Facebook Deals went away, again without really signing up for it.

I was in the market for a deal, and I guess so were a lot of other people as the number of people receiving these emails swelled. Then the buyout offers, and public offerings came along. The “paper value” of some of these companies swelled to match the number of emails they were sending out. I have to admit that I actually still look at these offer emails, but I’m growing very tired of it. If you throw in the offer emails from all the online companies that I have bought something from and never bothered to “opt out” of their email deals… companies like TigerDirect, CompUSA (actually the same company as TigerDirect and the email will go away soon), Overstock, Newegg, Amazon (the fact that I had bought anything from them automatically put my name in the local email deal bag too), and the list could go on and on. Every travel site I ever booked a plane ticket, hotel, or rental car on… resulted in another email deal and these guys rarely send me an email offering anything less than an “amazing” deal. Want an email receipt in Macy’s or another department store… here comes another daily sale email! This stuff isn’t SPAM, I invited all these people to email me I’m sure as part of the terms of service of my purchases.

To be honest I have gotten some good deals by looking at these emails, I mean I am positive that I would have never done Standup Paddle Boarding if it was not $11 for an all day board rental! However, the other 99.999% of these emails don’t benefit me. One of the other benefits in the beginning for me was inspiration to try new things and places, but the repetition has made my inbox a place of monotony not inspiration.

The emails have also become a distraction and are in the way of me noticing useful information in my inbox. The deluge of emails has even changed my email habits. I used to keep all my emails, not most, all! I have emails from the early 90’s on backups around here somewhere. At some point about a year ago I decided to start clearing out my inbox. I search for these deal email senders first and deleted all the deal emails. That got me started… then I cleared out other junk, things I will never look at again. Now I’m delete happy every day. It is a rare email that escapes the chopping block! If in doubt about ever looking at the email again, it is gone! I’ve become delete happy!

I’m ready for the next phase. I’m ready to start opting out of these emails. I’ll start with the emails from companies that usually get deleted based on title alone. Online companies that I once bought something from can quit sending me deal emails and I’ll still be able to find a great deal online when I need something. I mean how many Black Fridays are there really! Get deal/sale emails from enough companies and I bet there are 52 of them. There are a few that I just won’t want to stop. Of course, once I prune the daily jungle of email traffic down to a “formal garden” I’ll be less likely to delete the ones I really want to see in a daily machete swinging email deletion frenzy. I’m eager to get started, where are those “opt out now” pruning shears…

Seaport Village March 2012
A little over a year ago we were curious about a local living email deal for FillASeatSD.com (Fill a Seat San Diego). They were just getting started, and we were willing to try it out for the reasonable fee being charged. So we went into it with a hopeful attitude, and just in case, not too much money sunk into it. I checked the site daily for months, but it went from not much available at first, which was somewhat understandable, to a large number of offerings, they were almost all the same type of event – Comedy. If you love comedy shows, get a membership to FillASeatSanDiego.com. If not, then save your money and your time. I’m writing this in November 2012, if you see a review written after this that appears to be honest and positive, then maybe they have been more successful at getting other types of shows. Of course reviews of any kind are hard to come by as they cancel your membership without refund if you write a review they don’t like. I don’t have to worry about that as I don’t plan to ever get another membership regardless of any future reviews.

I don’t have any complaints about the process of selecting seats, and had no problems with getting in to the show for the one comedy show we decided to see. We enjoyed it, but never made the time to do another and never saw a different type of show with available tickets. It was a very disappointing experience logging in and seeing the same type of shows almost exclusively. There were a few other types of shows listed. Since I checked the site very frequently I can say that there were not many of those tickets available relative to the number of members as they were always “Sold Out” before I even saw them. I’m not saying I know this, but I do suspect that these events were “ringers”, as they were more frequent before new daily local living email deals were published offering bargain membership prices to the site. If the company simply bought 2-4 tickets to these “ringer” type events they would be able to list them as past events, but they would be “Sold Out” immediately. There is no information on the number of seats filled for past events, and I don’t expect them to provide that information publicly as the event managers would probably not want that information provided. So all there is to go on is personal experience. Based on my personal experience: Don’t buy a membership to FillASeatSD.com unless you totally love comedy shows and will go to several of them a year.

Anyone have a different opinion based on their experience? Feel to share it with a comment. Please do not discuss the actual shows or venues, but feel free to agree with or dispute my opinion based on your experience.

Note: Scroll down to see the comments (including one from FillASeat).

Real Estate San Diego County
I’m a firm believer that a free and open market with minimal regulation will eventually work to correct itself. However, there are some times and some situations that just scream out to be regulated. I believe that we are in one of those situations now. With the high number of homes that are upside down in value, the foreclosure and short sale market make up a high percentage of the home sales in some markets. San Diego is one of those markets, so this post is based on personal experience and discussions with others who have been looking in this market.

There is a very big problem with the short sale market, it is not driven by a seller seeking the best price, it is driven by a realtor seeking the highest commission. In a normal Real Estate transaction, the seller is a key component of the sale. The seller want the best price, and and if multiple full price offers are received, the seller will try to select the best most secure offer. In a short sale the buyer is uninterested in the price, beyond making sure the bank will accept the offer. The buyer will frequently just turn the whole process over to their realtor. I believe that is where the process starts to break down. Once the selling realtor has that much power in the deal, there is a potential for corruption.

I’m not talking about fraud or widespread cases where the bank gets less money than they could, although a dishonest selling realtor could try to make that happen. In fact I’ve seen articles on “flopping”, where the seller and selling realtor conspire with a buyer to minimize the short sale price so they can flip the house and make a larger profit on the second sale. That is not the issue I see. I believe the banks have enough control, if they exercise it, to get a fair price. In our market, most short sale houses are getting multiple offers over the asking price and even multiple offers over the final appraised value. The banks are not suffering from unfair sales prices in these cases, they are usually getting paid for the full appraised value. The banks have put some controls on the process to protect themselves. They generally frown on or don’t allow sales where the realtor directly works both ends of the sale. They also set a minimum price that is fair based on at least a rudimentary self appraisal process.

My concern if for the fairness of the process to the buyers and buying realtors who have signed qualified buyers. Although banks don’t usually allow a single realtor to do both ends of the sale, they generally do allow realtors from the same office to work both the sale and purchase ends of the sale. I believe this gives realtors the ability to manipulate the situation so that they or at least their office get commission on both sides of the sale. I don’t believe they feel they are hurting anyone as the seller gets what they want, the bank is not suffering, and the eventual buyer is satisfied. However, I believe this hurts the buyer who is working with a realtor not in their office, and who feels loyal to their realtor. If you are unwilling to dump your realtor, your chances of getting the house are near zero! There was no open discussion of this in any deal that I was involved with, but I do know of people who were involved in deals like this. In cases where the buyer dumps their realtor, or never even engages with a realtor to avoid being locked out of these deals, the realtors who lose the ability to get a commission for bringing a qualified buyer with a strong offer.

My biggest issue with the current short sale market in my area is that it feels “slimy”. I called it that to one of the people I know who was able to purchase a short sale home. Then I felt my comment may have been offensive, so I said, “Well, maybe that is going to far…”. His response was that the whole process absolutely felt slimy. Although there were two realtors involved, the selling realtor was absolutely getting both commissions. The other realtor was only involved to get past the banks rules. If you are unwilling to dump your realtor, in our case she was a personal friend, then the process is also FRUSTRATING! I was getting to the point that I was planning to tell the selling realtor that the details of our offer would also be sent to the bank if our offer was not accepted. I’m not sure the banks would be set up to deal with this type of information, and they may not care as long as they are getting a price that matches the final appraised value.

Instead of banging our heads against the “short sale” wall for several more months, we finally decided to buy new construction. Very refreshing! You put your deposit down, and the house is yours. There are very few new homes being built in our area, so we were lucky to find a new house that met almost all of our criteria. We are now patiently waiting for the construction to be completed for that house. Much less frustrating than our experience with the short sale house market.

Although I don’t believe there will be new regulations to “protect the buyers” in the short sale process, if fraud is occurring in the form of “flopping” and other schemes, I hope the law makers also take buyers into consideration if they decide to regulate to protect the banks. The current short sale process gives the selling realtor too much power over the process. I’m not sure how that could be fixed. In some markets, even for some homes in our market, buyers are not as plentiful as they were for the homes we were interested in, so I don’t think you could eliminate sales where the buyer and seller both work with realtors from the same company. If you could, this would be the easiest way to fix the issue. So I think more transparency, or even requiring open bidding would definitely be steps in the right direction. Giving the bank more power in the transaction could also be helpful, they have a stronger interest in the sale than the homeowner. This is a temporary situation brought about by the real estate meltdown. It will eventually work itself out. Until then, good luck to anyone buying property in areas with a high percentage of short sale inventory.

We bought a house! Oops… getting way ahead of myself and that is not what this post is going to be about. It is about our brief July-October 2012 house hunting experience and what we learned about the state of the housing market in San Diego, CA during that brief slice of time. We were actually looking at houses for months before this with the help of a terrific Realtor – Jeanne Heidmiller, but we got serious about our search in July, right after getting married near Big Sur. We had both owned homes in the past and so we had the lessons learned from those experiences. We also had very specific ideas about what we wanted in a home.

Our initial want list:

  • Single Story (preferred), or at least one bedroom on the main floor.
    • Reason: We never want to move again, eventually we’ll tired of stairs and if we are lucky too old to go up and down them all the time!
  • An open floorplan
    • Reason: We don’t like wasted space and want to feel connected with the others in the house.
  • 1800-2200 SQ-FT, but we would go smaller if the floorplan was very open and optimal (no wasted space)
    • Reason: It will eventually be just the two of us with occasional guests.
  • A small but usable yard.
    • Reason: We have both dealt with large yards before and we are over that!
  • Views! – Very highly preferred.
    • Reason: I’ve always wanted to live on a hill and have views. Our current rental was selected because of the awesome views and now we are spoiled.
  • A reasonable commute – preferred 20 miles or less.
    • Reason: Life is short!
  • Not just an ordinary house/neighborhood – some WOW factor!
    • Reason: We will live there a long time.
  • A price/loan that we can pay off in 15 years (or a little more).
    • Reason: We are not spring chickens and we want to retire right here in San Diego.

Despite our previous home buying experience, we had no idea what was really going on in the San Diego housing market when we started our search. We had been looking at a very good website for months SDLookup.com to track the homes in neighborhoods we knew that we liked. We had also been looking around for new neighborhoods of interest to expand our search area in order to have the highest number of homes to choose from. There were a few things that were not obvious by looking on the SDLookup site. We significantly over estimated inventory of good homes, had unrealistic expectations about home prices, and did not realize the number of buyers that we would be competing with.

Our perception of the available home inventory was based on our online search, but there were a couple of things we were not aware of that caused us to overestimate the availability of homes. First I was unaware of what the status of “Contingency” meant on the SDLookup site. I knew that in general it meant that there were terms to the sale that were not straight forward, and in most cases I assumed that it involved short sales. What I was really missing here was that these homes were not really still on the market. Contingency, in all most all cases meant that the homeowner had accepted an offer and the sale or short-sale process was ongoing. Looking on SDLookup I thought there were a lot of good homes available in our price range. Once we learned that the contingency listings were not available, we realized that the inventory was much tighter than we originally thought. We still had quite a few choices that were in the Active status though and so we set out on our search. Once we started visiting homes that looked interesting on the site we found that many of the homes that looked good online were actually not great homes. There were way too many homes we visited with “high expectations” only to be let down by the reality of the home. Online pictures can be very misleading! Pictures can also leave out things, like the “dungeon” downstairs. This meant that the true inventory of good homes was even smaller than we thought. The final reality check came when we decided to put an offer on a great home. We were very excited, a spectacular home listed below our maximum budget. What we didn’t realize is that many of the really good home listing in the current market were intentionally being priced low to attract multiple offers driving the price of the accepted offer well above the asking price. When all of these factors were combined, it turned out that the reality of the housing market was that only about 1 “good house” a month was really “in our price range”, and actually still available. Also every one of these homes would only be available for a day or two before receiving multiple offers.

When we started looking we assumed that we were entering a buyers market. The inventory appeared to be significant and priced attractively, and we were not expecting strong competition for a given home. We were wrong, we were entering a stealthy sellers market. However, it is more complicated than that. All of the homes we made offers on were short sales. The actual seller was not going to make a dime on the sale, regardless of the amount of buyer interest in their home. Many of these sellers owe 20-30% more money for the homes than the current market price. It is easy to think that all of the interest would drive prices up quickly. However, this is not happening. It is not happening because you can’t get loans for more than the current appraised value of the home. So regardless of the interest, in fact regardless of the offer amount, homes are selling for appraised value, which so far has been well below the amount offered by the “winning” bidder. I plan to write a post specifically about the current short sale market and the serious issues involved in trying to buy a short sale property so I’ll just cut to the chase here. The short sale market is at best random about who is selected as the winning bidder, and at worst it is a shady market, with only under the table deals deciding the outcome of the bidding process. For the last short sale property we made an offer on, we offered nearly 20% over the asking price, which was most likely at least 5% over the likely appraised value (based on comparable sales). We lost to “a higher offer”. I consider this a random selection of the best offer (at best) because the final price paid will likely be less than our offer. In fact it is likely that they received multiple offers that will ultimately be higher than the final sales price because the appraisals are holding down prices.

Early on we decided that we favored newer construction. In addition to liking homes with open floor plans, we would like to have a house that requires minimal maintenance. We continued to look at older homes, and even considered making offers on a couple of these homes, but ultimately we only made offers on homes that were built within the last 8 years. In the areas we want to live, this limited our choices even more. Most of the homes are 40-100 years old. Although we love homes with character, there were issues (weirdness or at least choices we would not have made) for every one of the older properties we looked at. There was only one new home development in the area that we were interested in living. We visited this development often. The combination of floor plan and lots available just did not work out for us. However, as we realized the futility of the current resale market, we looked even harder. By luck only, a home with a great lot dropped out of escrow. Unfortunately it was a floor plan that we had little to no interest in after looking at the model. We wanted a single level home and this model was 3 stories! I was very surprised that my wife even wanted to take another look. All I can say is the lot made all the difference. Because of the terrific lot, there were views from nearly every room and from the backyard. At this point in our search, the other terrific thing about this home was that we would not be competing in a random (at best) offer process. All we had to do is put in a deposit and the house would be ours.

So now I can talk about it. We bought a house! But how does it compare to our original want list? We found that we did change on some of what we were looking for and compromised on some of the other items. But overall we stuck to much of our original want list.

  • Single Story (preferred), or at least one bedroom on the main floor.
    • Our new house: 3 story single family detached home. Garage only on first level. But it does have a bedroom on the second floor/main living area.
  • An open floorplan
    • Our new house: Not as open as some we looked at, but the main area – family room, dining room, kitchen, and morning room (breakfast area) are all open to each other.
  • 1800-2200 SQ-FT, but we would go smaller if the floorplan was very open and optimal (no wasted space)
    • Our new house: 2500+ Square feet. We did not find houses with the combination of optimal layout, great location, and no other negatives, this house is more than we need, but had too many positives to ignore.
  • A small but usable yard.
    • Our new house: Yes, it has a small but useable yard. We are actually very pleased to not have a larger yard. We plan to make the yard feel more like an additional and very open couple of rooms than a yard.
  • Views! – Very highly preferred.
    • Our new house: Yes, from nearly every room, and from the backyard.
  • A reasonable commute – preferred 20 miles or less.
    • Our new house: Yes. It will be a very reasonable commute for both of us. We did not compromise on this despite the choices being more plentiful as we moved to areas that had a longer commute.
  • Not just an ordinary house/neighborhood – some WOW factor!
    • Our new house: Yes. We were and are WOW’d.
  • A price/loan that we could pay off in 15 years (or a little more).
    • Our new house: Our price point slowly crept up to about 20% higher than our original plan. However, this house was significantly lower priced than the last short sale we put an offer on, and we will be able to pay this off within 15 years or slightly more.

We got much of what we wanted, but did compromise in some areas. We also were surprised at how our price range increased; however, the interest rates declined by nearly 25% from the time we initially set our price range, so the payment was not significantly higher. We were also surprised by the complexity of the market and the difficulty finding a house we were interested in putting an offer on and the randomness (at best) of the short sale offer selection process. If you are looking for a house in San Diego and facing this market… the best of luck to you!

Update 10/28/2012: Wanted to add some pictures… so I’m adding pictures of the views from our current rental, which we love and a couple of views from the home we’re buying.

We love the natural slope behind our home, it is a long way to anything below our house. A park is the nearest thing and it is a long ways down and away from the house. We find it amazing some weekend mornings when we can hear folks playing in the park. At times they sound like they are two feet from our back fence. Sound is a weird thing.

Panoramic View at current rental home

Panoramic View at current rental home

The colors on the slope behind the current rental are spectacular. I particularly like this picture that I took one foggy morning.

Foggy day

Foggy day picture of our view

The other great thing about our current view is that it faces almost directly west. We see sunsets almost all year long. The one thing we learned at this house is just how much the point of the sunset moves throughout the year. In February it was quite a ways to the left (south), and in June it moved so far right (north) that the sun was setting out of our line of sight.

Sunset beyond our little valley

Sunset beyond our little valley

View of the sunset over Mount Soledad

View of the sunset over Mount Soledad

Did I say we really love the view from our current rental! Too bad the house is a little too small (and not for sale). As we looked for a house to buy we knew it would be hard to give up this view. Luckily we found a house with awesome views from both sides. We can see the sunrise in the morning from our Morning Room and three bedrooms and the sunset from our master bedroom and family room.

Sunrise from the Morning Room

Sunrise from the Morning Room

Sunset from the family room deck

Sunset from the family room deck

Although we will miss our little valley, and the new neighborhood will not be as peaceful, it has several awesome views we didn’t have before and it is a much nicer home.

View of downtown from our MB

View of downtown from our MB

View from our backyard
I have been blessed with good health for most of my life, but occasionally I get sick and I hate it.  I really hate to just sit around. I don’t have the patience to rest, recuperate, and wait for my health to return.  I want to walk, hike, exercise, go to the beach, etc.  Sitting around or sleeping is especially hard when the weather is terrific as it was this past Memorial Day weekend (2011).

(Note: I started a draft post last year, but started to feel better before I finished it. Unfortunately I have another round of motivation for the topic.)

DC Mall run course April 5 2012I put this post on the shelf because I started feeling better and wanted to get back out there. In May 2011 when I wrote the first paragraph I had just returned from Kauai, and this time… April 2012, I’m just returning from Washington DC. I’m seeing a pattern, spring and travel. Both times I got a head cold which is far from the worst thing that can happen with your health. These short illnesses take us out of our plan for a week or two but don’t have a long-term impact. Last year I missed a few hikes that would have been nice in preparation for an August hike to Half Dome. This time I’ve just started training for a half marathon in August. I ran 15 miles last week, two 5 mile runs in DC and one around Lake Murray here in San Diego. I may not be able to run at all this week.

View from the couchWhat I have to do, if I don’t want this cold to drag out for weeks, is to take care of myself. Rest, take it easy, eat well, and take the vitamin C my wonderful girlfriend has been offering. While I probably shouldn’t hike, run, sail, paddle, or bike until I’m feeling better, I can plan to do those things. I can do research for inspiration. Read other blogs and write in mine. Talk to family and friends about what they are planning and what I’m planning. Catch up on some of my work and personal ToDo list. I should definitely rework my financial plan. I’m getting closer to some of my financial goals and need to tweak the plan, so I’m ready in the next 9-18 months to take advantage of what may be, finally, the bottom of the real estate price decline in San Diego.

We still have some things to unpack and some boxes to sort through. I have 3 or 4 books I want to read, and I need to dust off some of the things I learned in continuing education classes a couple of years ago before I sign up for my next college class this fall. Of course somewhere in there I need to find the patience to rest, recuperate, and wait for my health to return. Maybe I should just sit out in the backyard, have a glass of fresh squeezed OJ, and enjoy the sunset.

View of sunset from deck Mount Soledad on the right

Enjoying some good food with friends

I rarely, if ever, buy local email deals from Groupon, Living Social, or others for dining out. This isn’t because I don’t enjoy dining out, it is because I can get a very similar deal without committing my money in advance. With the local email deals, you usually pay half price, but you have to give them the money at the time you buy the deal, even though you may not use the deal for months. I much prefer the way Restaurant.com works. You buy a certificate for 10, 25, 50 dollars, or more off a meal, but only pay a few dollars up front. Don’t pay full price for the gift certificate, which is usually $10 for a $25 dollar gift certificate; there is always a discount code. You’ll have access to these discount codes if you sign up and are receiving the Restaurant.com emails. I rarely pay more than $2 for a $25 gift certificate. The catch is that you have to order more than the value of the gift certificate, usually a minimum of $35 for a $25 dollar gift certificate, and you have to pay 18% gratuity on the full bill. If you stick to the minimums the savings are better than Groupon, or the other daily meal deals. I rarely stick exactly to the minimums, but still love saving around $23 or more off my bill. There are frequently other restrictions for each restaurant for example they may not include alcohol, or they may not accept the gift certificates on the weekends, but every restaurant is different.

I’m not sure which cities Restaurant.com works for, but just type in your zip code and search to see if there are any participating restaurants in your area. I live in San Diego and as of today there are 36 restaurants within 5 miles of my zip code and 169 within 15 miles. Restaurant.com is a great way to find and try out new places. My favorite new places so far have been KNB wine Cellars in Del Cerro and Wine Cabana in Old Town San Diego.

When you make your reservations be sure to ask if they are still honoring the Restaurant.com gift certificates and let your server know when you order so you are sure to avoid a conflict with any restrictions. If a restaurant drops out of the program you will get a credit so you can trade your certificate for another one. It is very low risk to try this out. If you don’t know a restaurant I still recommend checking on Yelp to be sure it is a good place to try out. You are saving money, but some restaurants are not worth eating at, regardless of how much you save.

There are other ways to save when dining out besides restaurant.com that are also better the local email deals. These are generally not as widely available as Restaurant.com. I’ll work on a future post for San Diego locals. But there are new nationally available offerings cropping up so I may look at those too in a future post. If you know of a good way to save money dining out, let me know in a comment. I’d love to hear of other ways to be able to dine out without breaking the banks. Of course never forget the old faithful… happy hour. However, if Restaurant.com is available for your area I definitely recommend trying it out.

Mission Beach after a run February 2012The past few years we’ve had better summer days in January/February than in June-August in San Diego. The calendar summer months have been overcast and not that warm, but each winter we’ve had a week or two of really warm, sunny, clear days that have been the best summer weather of the year.

In 2011 we bought season tickets to the Green Flash concert series at the Birch Aquarium, hoping to see some terrific sunsets, and hear some great music. The music was awesome, but not one sunset! We’re hoping for better luck with the sunset and cloud cover for the Green Flash concerts in 2012. In the past few weeks there have been some great sunsets, terrific beach weather, and sunny warm days in San Diego. It is easy to think “Oh there will be plenty of summer days in a few months” and let the terrific weather go to waste, but I would recommend not letting one great day slip by without getting out for a day a the beach, some kayaking, a hike, a run, a day in the park or zoo, or even doing a project in the yard.

Another good reason to get out on a nice summer day in the winter is that San Diego will not be overrun by tourist. There will be bigger local crowds than usual in the winter, but you will have less traffic, smaller crowds, and better bargains. There have been some really good bargains for kayak and stand up paddle boards this winter on Groupon and other daily deal sites. But you have to wait for a good faux summer day to really enjoy these deals.

There are always excuses… mine this year is yet another move. This will be my 8th house in 6 years! However, I definitely plan to take advantage of some of this winter’s faux summer in San Diego. So put some Jack Johnson on, feel the sun on your face, and enjoy the summer weather regardless of what month it is.