Where are all the renters?

We are about 30 days from moving and we don’t yet have a renter.

That makes me very, very nervous.

But how does one really advertise for a renter today?  I’m loathe to pay 10% of the rent to a realtor.  Craigslist is great, but there are over 1500 rental listings per day in our county!  Fifteen HUNDRED!

Does anyone read the classifieds anymore, or would  that $81 five-day listing be a complete waste of money?

We’ve put up a sign, but we are in a gated  community, so the only people who will see that are other residents, guests and service persons.

I live in a community that allows dogs up to 40 lbs, when most communities limit the weight to twenty.  That would be a great selling point, except that the only insurance I can find specifically excludes animal liability, meaning if that dog bit someone I’d be liable and have no coverage.  So, no dogs.

I wasn’t going to allow cats, either.  Not so much for the liability issue, but because I am horrifyingly allergic to the cute little critters and we may have to move back in after two years.    I decided tonight to allow cats, since a good friend advised me that I could get the carpets cleaned and I should be fine.

Nervous.  Soooooo nervous.

What about you?  Wouldn’t you like to relocate here to sunny Florida?  I can get you a great deal on a terrific place!!!

It’s not time to panic yet.  Not near time.

But there may come a time when I’ll take cats, dogs, snakes, or ferrets, as long as they have first, last and security.

To List the House or Not List the House, That is the Question

We were sooooooooo close.

We were so close to listing the house.

We’d decided against a realtor and for a listing service, which would give us a realtor-quality listing that would stay up until we sold the house.

We’d started packing and put items in storage to make the rooms feel bigger.

We’d taken the photos of clean and de-cluttered rooms.

We’d snuck onto realtor.com looking at houses in Georgia.

We’ve even come up with a list of Twenty Things to Do Before We Buy a House.

We were one day away from listing the house when the floor – a.k.a. the economy, fell out from under us.

Banks aren’t lending money. Credit card companies are reducing credit limits, affecting credit scores for even those with excellent credit histories.

Car dealerships are closing because no one is spending money to buy cars, and banks won’t give car loans to those few who do.

Now we’re unsure what to do. If we find someone willing to buy our house they probably won’t be able to get a loan, at least until banks start lending money again.

And if we do sell the house Husband has to find a job in Georgia before we buy a new place. After all, no lender is going to give us a mortgage with no income. And in this economy advertising agencies are laying people off, not doing much in the way of hiring…

On the other hand, no one’s going to even want to buy our house if they don’t know it’s for sale. I’m also thinking that sitting on the market for awhile will not have the same stigma it has had in the past. Almost all houses are languishing, aren’t they?

So, what’s the smart decision? Do we list the house and take those risks? Do we put it on the market even though no one is buying and we’re uncertain about the future of everything?

Or do we wait, for our home value to decrease more, staying in a place we don’t want to be, and wait for things to get better while we sit here uncertain about the future of everything?

Stay tuned.

The $50,000 Escape

If you were given $50,000USD (tax free) today, what would you spend it on? That’s the question on Hank’s (from My Investing Blog) mind. So here’s my answer:

What would I do with $50,000?

I’d do something totally irresponsible. Something that completely goes against my sensible, logical, frugal financial persona.

I’d take my family and move to Georgia. Even though my house here isn’t sold. Even though Husband doesn’t have a job. Even though we wouldn’t be able to buy a house and would have to rent.

Not that it would be a complete waste of money. We’d get a chance to feel out the area and decide where we really want to live, which could save us from making the mistake by buying the wrong house in haste. It would give Husband time to find a job that he really wanted, versus any job as quickly as possible to start bringing money in.

And my frugal ways would still be in force. I’d still buy generic and clip coupons and do all of the other things that allow us to stretch our money as far as it will go.

Yes, that’s definitely what I’d do.  I’d hope Husband would find a job and our house would sell long before the money ran out, but a nice big cushion always makes  me breathe easy.

Now I just need to find the person willing to give me that money. Anyone………?

Husband Had a Date With Another Woman, And I’m Worried

But not about the date.

Tonight Husband had a date. Her name is J, and she was just laid off from the company where Husband works. She’s a nice girl, and Husband is very concerned about her (going through a divorce with two young kids) and the company he works for.

Husband’s company has laid off about a third of its workforce in the past eight months. That would be surprising, but not when we’re in the middle of a real estate slowdown of epic proportions and you happen to be an advertising agency whose specialty is real estate. Management is swimming upstream in floaties trying to secure new, more diverse accounts, and throwing off baggage left and right, including baggage they need to keep afloat.

So, I’m worried about the viability of this company.

I’m worried because Husband makes 25% more working for this agency, who is well aware of his special qualifications, than he would be for a new company not used to paying his current salary to someone in his position.

I’m worried because Husband has Diabetes and Son has asthma and we’ll be paying thousands a month in COBRA until he gets past his probation period with any new company.

I’m worried because we want to move but can’t sell our house.

I’m worried that he’ll get a job in another state and we’ll be separated until the house sells.

I’m worried that he’ll have to take a job at too-low pay doing something that will leave him unfulfilled and frustrated.

I’m worried he won’t find a job at all.

I’m worried that I’ll have to go back to work.

I’m worried about depleting our very comforting and healthy savings balance.

What I’m not worried about is Husband spending time with another woman.

What I know is that we’ll make the best of whatever comes our way, even as I’m worrying.

Twenty Things to Do Before We Buy a House

I’ve spent lots of time thinking about selling our home here and moving to another state. The market is worse here than almost anywhere else in the country (we also boast having the highest foreclosure rate – don’t be jealous!), so it doesn’t look like it’s happening anytime too soon.

Still, it’s good to have a plan, and I have plenty of time to come up with one.

When Husband and I are finally ready to start looking for a house in our new home state there are a few things we will be sure to do, some of which we didn’t do in out first home buying process.

Before We Start Looking

These are things we will do before we actually go see any houses.

1. Familiarize ourselves with the area. We are still debating on whether or not to rent for at least six months first. I know it’s a good idea, but the thought of moving and doing it all again six months or a year later is so unsavory. On the other hand, it would give us time to really know the area, and not have to rely on the recommendations of friends and family whose preferences may not be the same as ours.

2. Know our credit score. We’ll be making sure our credit reports are accurate. We’re not planning on getting pre-approvals, as we don’t want anyone pulling our credit (and thus lowering our credit score) until we’ve chosen a lender. By knowing our score and income, and given our complete lack of debt at that point (our only debt is the mortgage on our house here), we can get a good idea of what interest rate we will realistically qualify for, and what kind of mortgages are available to us.

3. Know how much house we want to buy. We are huge proponents of living below our means, and just because a lender is willing to lend us $300,000 doesn’t mean that’s how much we want to borrow. Our goal is to take the equity (falling every day) we have in our current house and try to keep our mortgage payments about the same as they are now. Our mortgage is currently 12% of Husband’s income, but we know we’ll be taking a pretty big salary cut when we move. We’d like to keep the mortgage at 25% of his income or less. We won’t know our exact numbers until we sell this house and Husband gets a new job.

4. Compile a list of requirements. Our list is broken down into Must Have, Preferred and Wishes. We Must Have at least 3 bedrooms, but a 4th is Preferred. A Den or other Bonus room is one of our Wishes. So is having a laundry room on the second floor. You get the idea.

5. Hire a buyers agent. This is one of the most important things we’ll do this time that we didn’t do last time. There are seller’s agents, buyer’s agents and dual agents (represent both sellers and buyers). When buying a home I’m going to have a buyer’s agent. A buyer’s agent is ethically required to do what’s in our best interest in the real estate transaction. They represent us and only us, and cannot be in collusion with the seller and/or his or her agent. We won’t be afraid to sign a non-exclusive contract, but we’ll be sure to read and understand it first. An experienced buyer’s agent is going to understand the market, know where the bargains are and know how to whittle 1000 possible listings down to the five to ten that most meet our requirements. They won’t try to push their own listings on us; no trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. That will save us tons of time, tons of money, and tons of stress.

6. Do our own research. We’ll look on the internet for information about the neighborhood, schools, crime. Sites like Homefair are chock full of useful information. We’ll also check the property appraisers website to get an idea of property taxes in the area we’re looking. Some areas (like the one in which we live) give homestead exemptions and longevity discounts that can make the current owner’s taxes artificially low, so we’ll want to make sure we’re getting an accurate picture of the taxes we’ll have to pay.

7. Get insurance quotes. They won’t be accurate, but if we can get an agent to give us an idea of the rates for the area we’re considering and the types of policies we’ll need (i.e. is it a special flood hazard area, necessitating flood insurance?) we can use the information as a factor in our decision.

Items to Bring When Looking At Houses

1. A Scorecard. We’ll use our Required/Preferred/Wish lists to make a scorecard for each house to help us keep track of the houses we’ve seen and for comparison purposes later.

2. A digital camera, an extra data card and extra batteries. We’ll take pictures of the neighborhood, the outside, views from the front and back doors, interior features we like, interior features we don’t like.

3. A cell phone charger. We can use this small electrical appliance to test electrical outlets. Oh, yes.

4. A tape measure. Will our furniture fit? How much wall space is there? How big of a refrigerator can I buy for the space? All good things to know.

5. Bottled Water. I don’t want to waste time having to stop for drinks.

6. Hand Sanitizer. I’m allergic to cats. And if a house looks dirty I’ll definitely want to use some. Blech.

Before We Put An Offer In

We hope to narrow it down to three houses, depending on the market and what’s going on with it. In some cases we may do these things after we put in the offer, but only if we have sufficient “outs” built into the contract.

1. Visit the neighborhood at different times of day. A neighborhood that seems quiet at 11am might transform into a noisy, motorcycle club and roving-teen-filled mecca at night. We’ll check out the neighborhood at random times of day -and week – to make sure it fits with our preferences. Another thing we’ll do is look for all of the ways to access the neighborhood so we can see the surrounding areas and any potential problem areas.

2. Talk to our prospective neighbors. We’ll go up and knock on the door. It’s not a time to be shy. These people will be living next to us for many years to come, and if they open the door and clouds of marijuana pour out we may want to reconsider our choice. You may not. Different strokes. We’ll ask about crime, difficult neighbors, renters, worrisome animals (a friend lives next door to a menagerie of very stinky, more-comfortable-on-a-farm-than-in-a-subdivision-type animals). What do they like best about the neighborhood? Worst?

3. Do more of our own research. We’ll check out the property appraiser’s website to get information about taxes and home sale prices. We can find out how many times the house has changed hands and how much was paid, and lots of other useful information that’s all available for free. Knowing how much someone paid for a home can be extremely useful when negotiating price.

4. Check with the city to see if there are any pending land use changes. A good friend bought a large home on a very nice piece of land, only to have a huge chunk taken away under eminent domain for a sewage system. The pending plan would have been useful to know before buying, methinks. The forty acres of woods behind our dream home could wind up being razed to make way for a WalMart. Zone changes happen, but we at least can protect ourselves as much as possible.

5. Check to make sure any renovations have received the proper permits and inspections. I know several people who were fined and/or had to rip out renovations, wiring and plumbing that were done without proper permits and were not up to code. If the homeowner can’t provide proof we’ll contact the city. If not permits were obtained that will affect our offer.

6. Check to see if there is a Homeowners Association. If there are, what are the fees? What services are provided for the fees? We’ll get a copy of the community rules, and decide if we can live with them. Is participation compulsory? My sister’s community has several homeowners refusing to pay their share, and the last treasurer embezzled funds. Oy.

7. Bring in the expert. Before I bought my current house I brought my stepmother (the most critical person I know) and my best friend (the most observant person I know) to get their opinions. It was my first house and I was nervous about taking such a big step. Next time we’ll bring a friend who is a building contractor to see the house, just to get an opinion on the construction and any issues we might have that way.

I hope there’s time to do all of these things. The market and other factors will dictate if we’ll get to each step, but I hope we do. Once the offer is accepted and we have a deal we’ll of course have lots more to do, which will be the subject of another post.

The Forgotten Foreclosure Victims: Pets

I’ve talked before about how the sub-prime mortgage crisis, and how it’s resultant foreclosures affect all of us in my article Foreclosure Affects New Buyers, Old Buyers and You.

It occurred to me today that there are other victims that many haven’t yet thought about.

When people are forced to foreclose on their homes they can pretty much forget about getting another mortgage. That will force most of these people, these families, into the rental market. This is, of course, going to be terrific for the rental market, which suffered along as everyone with decent credit (and, obviously, many who didn’t) rushed to borrow 110% of their home’s value with zero money down on a 3-year Adjustable Rate Mortgage, and left many complexes with higher vacancy rates than ever before. Their time has come…

But. Most rental properties don’t allow pets. Whether they’re a large conglomerate of apartment complexes or a single unit condominium owner the reasons are mostly the same: fear of damage, fear of being sued, not enough space, etc. You can find properties that will accept pets, but they usually only allow the the lives-in-a-fishbowl or poops-in-a-box variety. Finding one that will accept dogs is not nearly as easy. Along with three-or-more bedroom units they’re likely the first to be snapped up. That leaves dogs, quite literally, out in the cold.

So what is a homeowner on the brink of financial collapse, about to be homeless, homeless, to do when faced with the prospect of choosing between no home for their family or having a home but leaving their pet behind?

Now in addition to the emotional turmoil of leaving their homes, their neighborhoods and their financial security behind, people are choosing to leave their pets behind, too. I certainly would not want to be the mother who, in the face of her own heartbreak, has to tell her children that their beloved mutt – the one that they fell asleep cuddled up with as babies, the one that accepted the pokes and tail pulls when they were toddlers, the one that waits by the door every day for them to come home from school – has to be given away because they just can’t bring them to their new home. I’d never get over it.

And the poor pets. They don’t understand. All they know is they’re not with the ones who love them. They have fear and uncertainty, and they miss their families. If they’re lucky they find a new home with new people to love. If not…I just don’t want to think about it.

I just couldn’t do it. I honestly think we’d move wherever we needed to before we’d let our dear dog go. She’s one of us…

I also don’t want to think about the others. The people who don’t take care of their dogs, at the very least making sure they are taken to a shelter. I read a story today about someone who just left their dog behind. Alone in the house they abandoned. No food or water.

How could they do that? How could they? I think that person deserves whatever they get and more. People (and I use that term loosely) that would do that should be shot. They should lose all of their teeth. They should develop open sores all over their bodies so that they are as ugly on the outside as they are on the inside. Then they should die a slow, agonizing death that takes many years, so they they get a taste of what waits for them in the afterlife.

And there’s nothing we can do about it, either.

If you are thinking about adding a pet to your life, please make sure you’re prepared to take care of it for the long haul. And please don’t spend thousands on a puppy mill puppy – go to the Humane Society and save a life.

Please.

You Don’t Have To Be Gullible To Be a Victim of a Check Scam

There are lots of news items and articles about Identity Theft, and for good reason. It’s the fastest growing crime in the US, and the more technological breakthroughs there are the more ways there are to steal your identity.

Scary.

Identity theft isn’t the only thing to be wary of. Thousands of people have become victims of Check Scams, and the numbers are growing every day.

Back when I was dealing with InfectionsRUs, I got to watch a bit of Judge Judy and the People’s Court. I was surprised at the number of people who were being sued because they got a friend to cash a check for them, and when the check bounced (it was counterfeit) they didn’t reimburse the friend. As I was sitting there, coughing up lungs all over the place, I couldn’t help thinking that all of the litigants were idiots. Come on! Who is that gullible?

Well, today I got a warning from my bank about it, and I realized the problem is more far-reaching than I thought. Some of the scammers are so clever you don’t need to be all that gullible.

Who are the victims?

  • Ebay, Craigslist and other online sellers. Someone overpays us for an item “by mistake”, then asks us to wire-transfer them back the extra money. Then we find out the check was counterfeit – and we’re out the item AND the money.

I was selling a large ticket item on Craigslist and got contacted by more than one person trying to scam me. I actually set up a meet with one guy before he balked at my cash only requirement, which clued me into the scam he was trying to pull.

  • They tell us they want to buy or rent our home. They give us a check that’s too much, then ask us to go ahead and cash it and wire them the difference.

This almost happened to a friend of mine who was doing seasonal rentals on a property she owned. She e-mailed me the info and asked what I thought. I agreed with her – a scam. She didn’t fall for it, thank goodness.

  • We get notification that we won a lottery or sweepstakes. They tell us to deposit the check, but then ask us to wire them some money to cover taxes or fees or whatever else their crooked brains can come up with.

This one, to me, should have red flag written all over it. Unless you’re a professional sweepstakes and lottery enterer, you’s KNOW you didn’t win any lottery.

  • We sign up with a work-at-home company, and they send us a check or money order to deposit and ask us to help “process payments”. We’re told to keep a percentage of the money and wire-transfer them the rest.

This one is a reach for me, too. But I can see how it could happen.

  • Someone we meet in a chatroom or on a message board asks for a favor: deposit their check and wire them the money. Or they claim to be in love with me and want to come be with me – can I please cash this check?

It took me over two years of near daily communication to be willing to meet in person someone I’d met online, so there’s no way I’d have gotten into any large financial deals with them, wonderful as they may be. I’ve built friendships with people that over time turned out to be friends-not-so-much, but at least I didn’t fall for this scam.

How does it happen?

The basic premise is the same even if the details differ. Someone sends us a check or money order. They ask us to deposit it into our account and then wire them the money. They sweeten the deal by telling us to keep part of it for our trouble.

The Result Is The Same

The check or money order turns out to be counterfeit. It gets returned to our bank unpaid and the full amount will get deducted from our account. We’re responsible, because we are responsible for every check or money order we deposit to our account.

Why Did the Bank Allow You to Withdraw the Money?

Excellent question, which my bank was kind enough to answer. Federal law requires banks to make funds we deposit available within 1 to 5 business days. Just because we can withdraw cash from our account shortly after making a deposit doesn’t mean the deposited items are valid. According to my bank it can be WEEKS before a check or money order is discovered to be counterfeit and returned to our bank. By them the scammers are long gone, and we’re left holding the bag. The empty bag.

Weeks? Weeks! I wonder how many Ebay sellers have gotten checks for merchandise, even made out for the correct amount, thought they cleared and then had them bounce weeks later. Egad!

Why Didn’t the Bank Know the Check Was Bad?

Well, according to my bank their job is simply to process our financial documents. The employees may not be able to determine if a check is valid. That makes sense, really. How is our local teller supposed to know that a check written on an account thousands of miles away was written on a valid account, and signed by the rightful account owner? It’s just logistically impossible.

So, the buck starts, and stops, with me. And you.

How Do We Avoid These Scams?

From Looks Too Good To Be True: An interesting point about fraud is that it is a crime in which you decide on whether to participate. Hanging up the phone or not responding to shady mailings or emails makes it difficult for the scammer to commit fraud. But con artists are very persuasive, using all types of excuses, explanations, and offers to lead you — and your money — away from common sense.

Well, that’s makes sense. We educate ourselves. And we choose not to participate. Ever.

Counting Chickens and Eggs and Christmas Bonuses

Husband works for an advertising agency that specializes in real estate. Not surprisingly, business is bad. With all of the foreclosures in our market and everywhere, no one can afford the million dollar homes that are this agency’s specialty.

Business is reeeeeeeally bad.

So bad that they have laid off about 25% of their workforce, and are scrambling to increase their presence in other industries (something Husband and I have many times discussed is oh, about five years overdue). Really not a great idea to put all one’s eggs in one basket, is it?

Christmas Bonus time comes around. Because Husband is very good at what he does, is very reliable and has an excellent work ethic, his bonuses have always been…commensurate with his contribution. Last year spectacularly so.

As a result, when I was pondering the viability of buying Husband the new Apple MacPro computer he wanted as his Christmas gift, I factored in the probability of a nice bonus again this year. I shrewdly did not expect it to be as abundant as last year, but in my consideration hoped for it to be even half. Even if it wasn’t, I reasoned, we do have the money in savings, and he will get more freelance projects to replace what we use within a few months.

When Husband told me in mid-December that bonuses weren’t going to be paid until the mid-January pay period, I wasn’t upset at all. In fact, it is better for our tax bottom line in 2007 to defer that income until 2008. Rock on.

I went ahead and bought the new computer, and all is right with the world.

Then, today, Husband calls and tells me he got his bonus. It is 1/10th of what it was last year.

I was completely flabbergasted. There must be a mistake! No? The injustice!!!!

Then I was embarrassed. Given the state of the company, we’re lucky he got a bonus at all. Many people don’t.

Given the state of the company, we’re lucky he has a job at all.

Mea culpa.

No more counting my chickens before they hatch, even if I leverage them.

My First Meme – Five Classes to Fix My Life

I was tagged for a meme (what the heck is a meme anyway?) by my friend over at Remodeling This Life, and I’ve been remiss in not responding until now. We’re supposed to list 5 classes we’d like to take that we think would fix our life, plus another one we’d like to take with tagger, Ms. RTL.

Ms. RTL has a very active list, and I’m…not. I’d love to take Marathon Training 101 with her, but I’d have to lose a bit of weight, and have 2 herniated disks in my neck and 1 bulging disk in my back miraculously heal. I used to run in another life, though, and enjoyed everything about it, except for the actual running. I would love to take that Photography class with Ms. RTL and PaidTwice, though…

Well, since those don’t apply I think I’ll have to choose Stucco, Fence, House Renovations, etc… 101. Not that my husband will ever let me near his tools, but hey, I could always buy some of my own. RTL & I could have some real fun in that class.

Okay, here’s some classes I’d take.

Understanding the Stock Market 101 – I know nothing. I have never wanted to know anything. I still don’t want to know anything. But I think I should know something.

How to Start Liking Foods That Are Good for You and How to Make You Think That Everything You Love to Eat (But Is Not Good For You) Tastes Like Brussel Sprouts 101 – I think this one would help me lose some weight, and keep it off.

How to Get Others To Clean Your House and Pay You For The Privilege 101 – I think that would be a really popular class. I hope there’s an opening.

How to Get Top Dollar For Your House in a Horrible Real Estate Market 101 – I’m hoping they have cocktail hours with those crazy cats over at How to Pay More For a Townhouse Than It’s Worth 101.

Sewing Refresher 101 – My husband got me the sewing machine I wanted two years ago – and I still haven’t opened it. I need a refresher course on sewing. And I need someone to show me how to set up the machine. But most of all I need a house with space to use it.

And now my five lucky tagees:

In The Hole at It’s About Time I Woke Up
Learningwoman at Learningwoman’s Weblog
Scienceesl at So Beyond Broke
Kate at One More Thing
meonlybetter at Me, Only Better

Sorry if you’ve already been tagged – let me know and I ‘ll remove you.

%d bloggers like this: