Category Archives: Local Seattle

“Take it or Leave it” – Joys of Home Ownership

I’ll preface this post by saying, yes, I agree, I’ll call the “waaaaambulance”.  There are people really suffering right now with this housing crisis, so by contrast, our problems are quite insignificant.

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I have railed in the past about how the real estate market is another bubble and how I wouldn’t make the same mistake I made in 2007 when I bought a house at the last peak of the real estate craze… well obviously I’m full of shit. We bought the worst house in the best neighborhood of Seattle in August 2016. This is the house in the neighborhood that is currently being torn down at a breakneck pace and replaced with a beautiful/modern/million dollar box. It’s small and beat up, but we love it.

When we bought it we didn’t have much leverage. To say it was a seller’s market is a massive understatement (we put 7 offers in before this and lost every single one). Sure the foundation was sloping 8 inches in the front; and in the words of our inspector, it had “the oldest working furnace” he had ever seen (in 40 years of doing business), but the sellers basically said, “take it or leave it” and we took it. They on the other hand took a 160% return in less than 4 years of owning it.

Recently we’ve been doing things to make it either nicer (adding an external dwelling) or routine maintenance that comes with an old house (backed up drains from years of buildup). In both cases we’ve been dealing with a ton of “take it or leave it”. There isn’t an opportunity to “leave it: when it comes to plumbing issues, so I’ll start there.

Fina called a bunch of plumbers and all of them are so busy that they either a) wouldn’t  commit to coming and giving a quote or b) wanted a ton of money just to come out and give us a quote. It was unpleasant to say the least. So she went on the Nextdoor app to see if there were any recommendations from neighbors or amateur plumbers looking to help us out.

Jim’s wife contacted us letting us know that he was a recently retired plumber, doing a little daylighting and he’d like to help us.

Everything started out fine. Jim came and checked out our place and was able to figure out that we were totally screwed, but fine, he could help us. This was after quite a bit of time spent by me trying to plunge the sink-in-question, and I was not about to try any more DIY. Fina is home on maternity leave so she had been dealing with him and there was something a bit off – so she asked that he call me.

“Jim hereereree. The plumber.”

“Hi Jim”

“So, I fsjdlkfsdklfj took a looook. Loooook it’s real bad. It’s gonna be $680. Take it or leave it.”

“Uh, hi Jim. Nice to meet you. Can you explain a bit more about what  you found out.”

“Oh, sure kaj;fjsdfkljsdaklfjsd (incoherent mumbling – sound of a juke box in the background)…. and the pipe is completely backed up. And you gotta lot of problems. So it’s gone be a LOT more than $700.”

“Wait, Jim, you just said it was going to be $680.”

“Fine, I’ll do it for $675. Whaddaya want to do (more incohherent mumbling)?”

I had been out of town on business the week prior and our bathroom sink had been out of commission for over 2 weeks, so I said: “Jim, do you mind coming by so I can meet you in person and you can show me what you plan to do?”

“sdjaflksdjfaklsdjflasdjklfajsdlf (which I took as an affirmation”

Jim and his wife, Sonja showed up reeking of cigarettes and only mildly less incoherent than he had appeared on the phone. For most people, that would have been when conversations ended, but I was feeling desperate and hired him anyway.

Fast forward 3 days, he appears to have done great work and everything is fixed. Sure, he may have left the job site both days by noon to go get drunk, but he fixed it for the price we agreed to, and after a couple of days feeling like I’ve made a huge mistake and endangered my family, it seems resolved. Not pleasant, but resolved.

Next, I’ll tell you about the time we tried to build a sleep shed/guest house, hired a “fixer” to get us the variance so we can keep it when we eventually tear down our house like everyone else, and it ended up costing 3 x as much and taking 5 x as long as our “fixer” said. We are still dealing with it, so those numbers are just preliminary estimates and will probably take waaaay longer. Again, I realize this is some first world problems.

Can I Get a Witness? We are in Another Real Estate Bubble

I’ll tell you what NOT to do when you are thinking about buying your first/next house; DO NOT read The Big Short. “Who reads a book after the phenomenal movie comes out?” may be your first question, and look, I get it and completely agree, books are for nerds, but my wife and I are seriously considering buying our first house together.

We even recently made an offer on a house we were very excited about that we saw as not a starter home, but a place that we could live forever. It was a fixer (though mostly cosmetic) in a very desirable neighborhood of Seattle, had great bones, and a lot of space to grow into. Sure that house sold for close to 25% more than asking and had 15 offers, but we were pretty disappointed when we didn’t get it. They are not making more land (as they say), but how can we not be repeating some of the same stuff that happened less than a decade ago.

Continue reading

Is it Getting Hot in Here? Seattle’s Overcrowding Sandwich Metaphor

Seattle is the fastest growing major metropolitan area in the US and we are all feeling the heat from it. Or maybe that’s heat emanating from this global climate change? Regardless of causation, soon Seattle will basically be Houston, and I for one don’t like it.

The population explosion is undeniable — or so says some reputable sources like recent census data and the guy that was complaining about all the recent traffic congestion that was standing next to you having a conversation with no one while you waited in line at Jimmy Johns. I don’t eat Jimmy Johns per se, in fact I think Jimmy Johns is a microcosm of everything that’s wrong with America and is a great illustration of why everyone should leave Seattle.

It’s so uniform and sterile, like the high-rise condo complexes that are exploding on South Lake Union, Ballard, and Interbay — and you know exactly what kind of perfectly-manicured-genetically-modified sandwich is coming out of the assembly line of smiling-sandwich-assembling-faceless-bots that are asking you if you want extra cheese for just $1 more – NO I WOULD NOT LIKE EXTRA CHEESE.

This may look like an innocuous sandwich, but I got it the day this place went out of business... I generally avoid going-out-of-business food

This may look like an innocuous sandwich, but I got it the day this small “Mom n’ Pop” place went out of business. As a rule, I generally avoid going-out-of-business food, but I also believe that this sandwich represents what was once right with the world. Yes it made me sick because this was the last of their inventory, but I took one for the American dream.

Give me an old-fashioned $5-footlong from Subway with brown lettuce and green tomatoes any day of the week or an instantly disintegrating meatball marinara sub from TOGOs that I can eat with a spoon in front of the TV. These were sandwiches that you could drive to without being stuck in gridlock, be treated terribly by staff while no one else was waiting with you, and then shame-eat in the comfort of your own desk or dark living room while Die-Hard 3 was playing in the background. You didn’t have to worry about all these other people coming in and demanding higher quality ingredients and timeliness. He’d get to making your sandwich as soon as he was done with his text, k!? Stop being so pushy!

All of the transplants migrating to Seattle for that great tech job are jump-starting the course of sandwich innovation and ruining all of our lives in the process. Don’t get me started on the concept of innovation. There is good evidence that innovation in fact hurts our economy and well-being. The argument being that making things cheaper/faster/easier leads to more consumption.

Let’s all collectively agree to take a deep breath and not worry about the fact that our sandwiches are sloppily made with terrible ingredients. Let’s get back to the simpler times where everyone was getting a  no-interest/no-income mortgage that allowed them to live out their American Dream of moving to the ‘burbs to live in a 4,000 square foot McMansion. They can all work from home making up to millions of dollars per day in their spare time as well. That should cut down on all of this traffic congestion and get us back to the day when a modular condo wasn’t created every 3 seconds!

 

 

Commitment Bias is Building Another Real Estate Bubble, Which is Cool.

Take it from someone who has terrible timing, but is pretty good at learning from his mistakes — the real estate market is in another bubble. Prices are back up, with recent reports that some Seattle locations are actually selling for above their pre-bubble/2007 highs.

Yet… wages are more stagnant than ever.

I bought a house in June 2007, which turned out to be the absolute pinnacle of the market. We were trying to live the American Dream to own a home. It seemed brilliant (though not that original) to get in on a starter home, build some quick equity, and then sell it in 5-7 years for a tidy profit. That’s what everyone was doing, and as you know, if everyone is doing it, you should too, stupid.

mcmansion-d0ug&r0byn

Something to keep in mind when evaluating features of a new home; the more cars you can fit in the garage, the better human being you are. In 2007 you could have gotten pre-approval on the loan for this, even without proof of income! Photo: d0ug&r0byn

Buy high and sell low – that’s my motto. Continue reading

Desperation is a Dish Best Smelled Cold: Job-hunting in the New World

Yes, this is a sensationalistic headline and I realize some will read this with a bit of Schadenfreude (truthfully I probably would have just a month ago), but that’s totally fine, thanks for reading.

I spent this morning at the Seattle area Workforce Center at a mandatory evaluation of my job hunt process. This is a necessary step for those of us collecting unemployment benefits here in the state of Washington and the 2nd time I’ve been required to go.

ponytail-svenstorm

Rule of thumb: avoid a male ponytail at all costs, unless you can fully commit like this guy. Photo: Svenstorm

This time, because of a scheduling snafu, they had me meet with job placement specialists and other job-seekers in a group setting, as opposed to the 1-on-1 they usually do. It was me and two guys that were 55+.

This was totally fine with me as I ended up actually getting a job lead out of it from one of my job-seeking-comrades, and my initial expectation for how helpful the 1-on-1 endeavor would be was very, very low.

The older appearing of the 2 men struck me as someone that had at one time or another probably had some sort of ponytail. Immediately I was judging this person because of a hair accessory he may or may not have ever actually worn – simply because he looked like the hippy teacher on Freaks and Geeks (sans ponytail). I thought about the myriad of hiring managers who must’ve seen that show and what their initial impression must be. What’s wrong with me?[1] He was a really nice guy that I hope finds a job soon — and I realize I’m a bad person for having these irrational thoughts.

When we were asked by our job-finderers if any of us had attended any of their career events, “phantom ponytail” mentioned that he’d been to the one for “mature people”. Could you imagine ever having to go through this after 50? That’s gotta be one of the toughest things you can do and I really respect those that have lost a job at an older age that can pick themselves up quickly, and aggressively look for work.

The two men that were in my group were anything but lazy leeches sucking off the government teet, as some recent politicians have said of those that utilize unemployment benefits. Neither wanted to be on unemployment. They appeared to be diligently and feverishly looking for work, but just not having much luck.

The other older job-seeker previously held a career in high-finance, doing institutional investments on Wall St, and has been out of work for 6 years since moving here for family reasons. Obviously I don’t know everything that’s gone into his situation, but I can tell he’s scaled back his ambition considerably and has still had no luck on the job front. I don’t think he actually gets benefits now after that long – he was simply at this thing to try and land a job.

I can attest that “having your position eliminated” doesn’t give much more ego consolation than just being “laid off” and one of the hardest parts of this is asking for help. Perhaps its the nature of what I do professionally that I feel it necessary to put up a bit of a front regarding this and haven’t just reached out to my entire network and said, “Hey, the startup I was working for didn’t work out – have you heard about any opportunities you think I’m a good fit for?”

… so, one could say this is my backhanded attempt at that.

Thanks,

James


[1] Though there is no denying that a male ponytail is a sign of serious character flaw or delusion (especially when there is no hair on the top of the head, only flying off the back).

Oops, I did it again… Chipotle

3 Irrefutable facts:

  1. We are all creatures of habit…
  2. Habits are hard to break….
  3. Burritos are the best comfort food on earth as well as the most perfectly engineered super-fast-food (as long as the tortilla and foil hold).

Up until recently, they were the province of those who lived in states within relatively close-enough proximity to Mexico. Not anymore. Damn you Chipotle.

I railed against a horrible ailment that stricken’s us all when I used to work in The Mission (San Francisco) — the failure of many of us to expand what I succinctly and elegantly coined, our TADSTFWFL. 

I’ve seriously been at a new job downtown (Seattle) for less than 3 weeks and I’ve been to Chipotle 3 times. Seriously 3 of 12 days – 1/4 of all lunch’s for you math nerds, with the others filled with some pretty awful Chinese, leftovers or a company party.

McDonald’s used to own Chipotle I thought? Then they were super green for recycling all the used paper towels into the bowls they put their delicious “burrito without the bun” or whatever they call it into. They are publicly traded and I should definitely buy their non-consumable stock, because the line to buy the stuff is horrendously long.

Anyway(s)

Whaaaaaaaaaaaat? Down 14.5% – this is Kung-Foolery’s, “karate-chop-stock-of-the-week”! Buy it now. It’s packed!

that Repurposed Here…

Stretching the boundary of Comfort.

It is a little known fact that 54% of all statistics are made up on the spot.  A more well established statistic is this:  The Average Distance Someone Travels From Work For Lunch (TADSTFWFL) = 1.189564450 sq. blocks.  For someone downtown this means eating the same sandwich over and over again from the same 5 or 6 places.  For someone who works in SOMA it means eating out of the same dumpsters time and again. 

Considering Ovahere.com is situated in the beautiful and historic Mission, I would surmise that I ate around 548 burritos from within a 1 block area of our office last year alone.  I love these burritos, and they love me, there’s no denying that.  They are undoubtedly delicious and fulfilling in the moment, with their guacamole, black beans, salsa verde, rice, carne asada/carnitas/pollo, crema y cilantro (and of course love), but each one is bordering on the surgeon generals recommended daily caloric intake and 4 times the recommended fat intake.  That coupled with the Popeye’s that is within 10 feet from the entrance to our building leads me to the conclusion that I should be morbidly obese any day now.  Popeye’s is actually nominally better for me, because at least the portion sizes are only recommended for 3 people.  Despite what G.W. says, the future is not big and bright; it’s almost bed-ridden. 

For the sake of simplification we will refer to the 1.189564450 sq. block area that the average American worker walks to get lunch as their “Area of Comfort” or AC for short (not to be confused with OJ’s number one homeboy).  That being said I go on a mission (pun intended) to walk outside my AC about once every 3 weeks, or about as often as I used to go to the gym when I was still tricking myself into paying them every month.  I tell you it is remarkable what you will find if you just walk a little beyond the border of your AC — quite remarkable.  I’ll give you an example:  I was making my bi-monthly conscientious effort to move beyond the AC and what did I stumble upon?  That’s right, you guessed it, Pizza!  Yes in between Mission and Valencia on 21st St. there is a great little hole in the wall with tasty slices.  If I had never bothered to look beyond my AC, it would have remained hidden. 

On another such venture I walked even farther down Mission and found a gem called Pete’s Barbeque.  This is a 50’s style diner that serves up roast beef sliced thick right in front of you on homemade bread and tender ribs slathered in tangy sauce.  The place looks like it hasn’t been remodeled since it was opened, but considering the block of Mission it’s on, it appears relatively clean.  I have one might call an “addictive personality”, especially when referring to fine cuts of bloody red meat.  Needless to say I got stuck in a little bit of a rut with Pete’s and it was incorporated into my AC, which definitely wasn’t the point of my exercise.  Only when I was affected by a bout of dysentery (unfortunately caused by the lack of hygiene at Pete’s) did I take a break.  Everyone in our office had been turned on to the beauty of the Pete’s roast beef sandwich, but we all suffered the same way after eating that beautiful sandwich. 

What is the point to this breakdown of conventions you may ask?  It’s that we all get too accustomed to things being a certain way, we get fat and happy, but it’s a façade.  To truly be happy you must go beyond your limits, find that pizza or tasty-yet-dysentery-causing sandwich, and you will have truly found satisfaction.  It’s out there people, just go that extra block.

Everyone needs a little human touch… or do they?

I’m a bit of a touchy feely kinda guy, and I’m the first to admit, probably a bit of a over-hugger (although I NEVER hug someone after meeting them for the first time unless they go-in first). I know this used to humiliate my ex, who was never shy in her disdain of my “hugginess”.  Sure, we’d be at some work function of hers and I’d run into one of her co-workers that I liked and would quickly bat away their outstretched “handshake” hand and go directly into a deep, meaningful hug. I learned the hard way that sometimes even resting my head (which was probably over a foot above the hugees head) onto their shoulder rubs some “uptights” the wrong way – unless they’d had 7 scotches. So the lesson I learned was to wait until they’d had 7 scotches before saying, hello! Continue reading

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