Coffee heat rising

Real Estate, Money, and Style

So the handsome young Mega-Church Audio Engineer, who apparently earns a fairly decent living if the cars he and his wife drive are any indication, has put his house on the market. This two-child couple are classic urban upwardly mobile folk, the sort who buy in an aging neighborhood like ours and, bless’em, handsomely fix up decrepit houses that they perceive a) as better built than the present ticky-tack and b) quaintly Mid-Century Modern.

The house they bought was a crumbling rental right behind the house SDXB  used to live in.

The original owners, a reclusive pair who had lived there for at least a couple of decades, were thought to be mother and son. Whatever they were, they were quiet but strange: good old-fashioned slobs. They let the place run down year after year after year.

Way. Way. Waaaaaayyyy down.

Eventually they sold the place to the Perp, a guy who turned our neighborhood into his personal rental empire by converting every home he could grab from elderly original owners, who had no idea they were giving away their property for a fraction of its real value. The Perp did a little do-it-yourself fix-up, filled in the nonfunctional swimming pool, and rented it to some serious sh!theads. The last of his tenants was a guy who abused his children so violently that the neighbors across the street sold their home to get away from the sound of the screaming. They announced — to the Perp himself as well as everyone else — that the abuse was upsetting their own children so much they could no longer live there.

SDXB was up on his roof doing some shingle repairs, when he glanced down into the guy’s backyard and noticed the sh!thead had penned two young puppies in a cage out in the glaring 100-degree sun. He reported this to the Perp, who lived next door to him at the time. SDXB announced that if he saw this again he was going to call the SPCA.

But he didn’t have to: when the neighbor across the street made his announcement that he was moving because of the child abuse, the Perp (to his credit) (I guess) told his charming tenant that if he heard one more word of any such shenanigans, he was going to report them to Child Protective Services. By dawn the following morning, tenant, wife, and bruised children were gone, disappeared into the shimmering mirages of the Cadillac desert.

Shortly thereafter, Perp sold the house to a couple who took up residence there like normal people. The wife was a kind of DIY decorator who liked to do fix-up, and they did improve the place considerably. Not enough to where it looked like a normal house, but better. Much better. Amazingly, they excavated the pool. But they never so much as touched the decrepit, feral front yard.

They divorced. The wife got custody of the house. She turned it into a rental again and moved to California. Not surprisingly, the deterioration resumed.

What a wreck it was! And it’s right at the entry into our neighborhood, so anyone who was coming to look at a house for sale in our area saw, first thing out of the box, this slum property. Needless to say, our property values did not soar into the stratosphere.

Finally, along comes the present young couple. They get the house, and the first thing they do is shovel out the gawdawful landscaping. They, as it develops, are no-nonsense gentrifiers. After several years of painting and clean-up and pool renovation and interior restoration — much of it on a DIY or barn-raising basis, the house looks pretty darned nice.

Nice, but not gaudy.

Just a few days ago, they put the house on the market. They want $429,500 for it!!!

What are they smoking?

Some Biblical weed, apparently: last August they listed it for $399,500; about two weeks later they dropped the price by 20 grand, and then they took it off the market in October.

Not, when you come down to it, the antics of someone in his right mind.

Zillow thinks my house is worth about $317,000. His is the same model as mine; he’s persuaded Zillow that it’s worth $367,241…possibly by overstating the square footage. He’s claiming it’s 167 square feet larger than mine, suggesting he’s probably counting the garage in the livable space…which is illegal. Oh well.

I imagine this spate of grandiosity is inspired by the Amazing Starburst of the fix-up around the corner.

This vintage (real!) Mid-Century Modern babe was bought by professional fix-and-flippers after the ancient old guy who lived there finally passed away. It’s huge: 5 bedrooms, and the original owners converted the garage into a gigantic TV room, thereby manufacturing 2861 square feet in which to raise their several children.

The kids grew up. The wife died. The Old Guy lived out his life in the house, deaf as a stone, with his two miniature schnauzers. They had bushy gray mustaches. He had a bushy gray mustache. Pretty adorable bunch.

The speculators ran amok in upgrading the place. It looks like they put in top-quality stuff, and the style is Late Urban Loft. It’s quite a production…

It’s a little hard-edged for my taste. They painted all the woodwork, throughout, black. But you have to allow: it’s just the thing for a young couple, straight or gay. And young couples, straight or gay, are exactly the future residents we old-timers in the ‘hood covet.

Okay, so hang onto your hat: They want $624,950 for the thing.

HOLY shee-ut! We have arrived in Richistan!

After contemplating these phenomena, I came home and looked around the Funny Farm.

Could this $317,000 shack really be worth something over 400 grand? Hmmm…

Not much has been done to it since I moved in, about 13 years ago. Compared to the Richerati Moderne around the corner, it’s beginning to look a little shabby. Needs new paint, inside and out. Its handsome cabinetry and black appliances (and its oven that dies if you dare to turn on the broiler) are…well…getting a bit dated.

But it occurs to me that with minimal painting on the inside — minimal as in even I could do it myself — the place could be made to look a lot more up-to-date.

Fortunately, my friend Elaine, who chose the paint colors for this place, had a real flair for style. The color scheme was well ahead of its time. Those fancy new houses are painted in shades of gray and pale beige. So, interestingly, is the Funny Farm. The difference is, the living room is a sort of swamp green — well, that’s what we called it. It has an accent wall in swamp blue — a kind of deep aquamarine, sort of dusky blue-green. The hallway and adjacent accent wall in the dining room is this crazy Mexican orange, something I came up with and have loved a lot, but that I do recognize is pretty idiosyncratic.

If I were to paint the swamp blue wall in the living room that soft color of green (one of these houses has a wall in a very similar color) and then paint the hallway and dining-room accent wall the very lovely ivory white (almost beige but not quite) that inhabits the dining room, the family room, and the kitchen, that would bring the interior color scheme right up to date.

There’s not a thing I can do about the kitchen and bathroom cabinets and countertops. It might not cost that much to replace the counters with granite, but new cabinetry would run upwards of $15,000 or $20,000, which I surely couldn’t afford. Probably couldn’t afford updated countertops, either.

The exterior needs a whole new paint job, and that is going to cost $4,000 or more. The paint around the slab has crumbled away — it needs to be scraped off and the cracks sealed, a certifiable bitch of a job. I’ve really liked the colors and would probably just repaint in the same shades, except for the chimney. But all of the paint has faded, and so everything, walls, trim, chimney, you name it, would have to be repainted.

Interior painting I can manage myself. Exterior: not a chance.

But four hundred thousand dollah? Seriously? That’s almost twice as much as I paid for the place.

The neighbors and I think we’re looking at another housing bubble. These prices are completely out of proportion to what the houses are: 1960s and 70s tract homes elbow-to-elbow with not one but two dangerous slums.

But one could argue that we’re looking at gentrification of yet another close-in middle-class neighborhood, movin’ on up…and turbocharged by the ultra-stylish, über-urban light-rail line. For all its impracticality and all the unlikelihood that any of them are going to use it on a regular basis, the hipsters romanticize that light-rail to a high pitch.

The historic Encanto district, where the ex- and I lived after we married, gentrified just like this shortly after we moved there, and it has never un-gentrified. The house we paid $33,000 for is on the  market, as we scribble, for $824,900.

So…anything’s possible. I guess.

We’re in the Money…

For the moment…

This morning the Dow was at 19,000! When it goes wacko like this, my fund will make 30 grand in a month. Woot!

Unfortunately, it’s likely as not to lose 32 grand the following month…but let’s not think about that.

Ha ha!! In amongst the stupid chatter to this YouTube video is One (count it: 1) truly inspired comment:

Sonic Ryan 1992
What it feels like to be a post-graduate who finally got a good paying job.

What I’d  like to do is tell my guy to SELL NOW! Convert about half our holdings to cash; then invest the remainder aggressively for another month or two (maybe six, at the outside), then shift that to the money market.

My son has dragged his feet on refinancing the downtown house. It frosts his cookies to have to pony up more cash to principal, and an extra layer of frosting is applied by the prospect of having to pay mortgage insurance (we don’t, on the current instrument). But I  believe the house’s value will soon rise enough to give us well over 20% equity (it’s probably that high now): the housing market is exploding, his neighborhood (as I prematurely predicted) is gentrifying, and as demand rises, so will prices.

So I’ve sicced a friend who’s a mortgage broker on him, hoping that this time around he’ll kick into gear and get that thing refinanced. The problem is, it has a 30/15 loan on it. In 2020 — just  four years, about the time I expect the Trump economy will tank — we’ll be forced to refinance or to sell. We took out that loan, which had exceptionally favorable terms at the time, because he planned to stay in Phoenix just long enough to get back on his feet after being laid off at the tail end of the Silicon Valley bust, save some money, and then go back to San Francisco. It hasn’t worked out that way. Inertia set in, and he seems to be happy enough to stay where he is.

For the time being.

At any rate, it’s hard to believe that in just four years, he will have been in that house for 15 years. Tempus fidgets, eh?

Not real thrilled, myself, about being over the barrel now to get that place refinanced. Rates are already rising, and they’re expected to head straight for the stratosphere. I expect by 2020, we’ll be lucky to get an 8% loan.

When I bought my first house here in the ‘hood, that’s exactly how I felt: very lucky to land an 8.25% loan. Everybody cooed about what a great deal it was. I only owed $80,000 on the house, and the payments were over half my take-home pay. Imagine the payment on a $180,000 loan at 8% or 9%? We are gonna see a WHOLE lot of people who simply can’t afford to buy real estate at all. Ever. And a lot who will go belly-up. Again.

Interesting times, hm?

How are you planning to deal with all this…interest?

Grass may be greener, but is it cheaper?

Met my neighbor Sally in the alley this morning. She’d been slamming around trimming shrubs and cleaning up the yard. Drenched in sweat, she said she’d about had enough of the house maintenance care, and she’s fed up with the guy next door to her who’s letting his house, which he inherited from his parents, go to pot.

She said she’s thinking of putting her place on the market and downsizing. This brought to mind a remark I saw a little earlier this very morning by Duchesse, commenting on a post at Frugal Scholar, who asked, “Have you replaced a money-sucking product recently?” Said Duchesse:

But actually, it was downsizing our living space, so much less maintenance and far lower utilities bills.

Well, as you know off and on I think of moving someplace less workful and maybe less burdensome financially. Inspired by Sally’s thought that she would consider one of those loft-like apartments they’re still trying to unload downtown (now at outrageously reduced prices), I called my Realtor friend, who sent along a few listings.

Some friends moved into a two-bedroom at One East Lexington. It’s a nice shiny new(ish) high-rise, and some of the apartments have awesome views. I could imagine myself living there. Further downtown is a much prettier, midrise development on Portland. The apartment has a gas stove (infinitely preferred!), the property has green areas to walk the little dog, it’s right across the road from the lightrail, and it’s in the center of what alleges to be the arts district. It’s not the greatest part of town, but it would be reasonably safe to walk around down there in the daytime. That’s a place I definitely could picture myself and Cassie living in.

Another possibility is an aging enclave with a dozen freestanding homes not far from here, in a more solidly middle- to upper-class part of North Central. It has an HOA that covers the (lush!) landscaping, the pool, the water, and the garbage, so you don’t have to deal with the yardwork and pool care. Though it’s right up the road from my ex’s $650,000 rancher, the price is much closer to right. But you do have to cope with the usual house maintenance stuff: roof, paint, and the like.

Would it really be cheaper to live in a smaller but newer unit in a rabbit warren? One that while it has no pool also would have no beloved orange, lime, and lemon trees and no real place to sit outside and take the morning air? And how would this place compare with the nearby house in an HOA, which would relieve me of yard and pool work but still have the things I really enjoy about my home?

Well, interestingly, smaller is definitely not cheaper, at least not in Phoenix if you want to stay in your present socioeconomic class. Check it out:

How amazing is that? As much as it seems to me that this four-bedroom house on a quarter-acre of land with a big, deep pool and a forest of trees is costing, apparently it costs a lot less than a two-bedroom fake “loft” in a renovated high-rise or a new building in a sketchy neighborhood.

Two things are pushing the One Lexington and the more desirable Portland Place condos so high: taxes and HOA fees.

Now, the HOA fee does cover the roof: repairs and replacement. And it covers the water and garbage pickup and exterior maintenance.

Since reroofing this house costs about $8,000, that’s not inconsiderable. Thanks to last year’s act of God, though, it shouldn’t have to be done for another 20 years, by which time I’ll be in the old-folkerie. Another big cost that will come due in the next ten or fifteen years is replastering the pool: about $10,000. If I started saving for that now, you could add about $83 a month to my monthly costs. That still would be several hundred dollars cheaper than living in a stylish two-bedroom apartment.

The enclave on Third Place has a much, much lower HOA bill. Taxes are lower, too. So from month to month it probably would cost about $100 a month less to live there, give or take some. But it has a flat roof, which requires expensive maintenance every four or five years; it’s aging; it may have black iron plumbing; and the exterior paint and plaster have to be maintained.

Given the hassle and expense entailed in moving, is it really worth the grief to decamp to a comparable house in a roughly similar neighborhood just to get 19 blocks from the blight to the west of me? Does one really want to go from a roomy house with  shade trees, a pool, three exterior sitting areas, and lots of elbow space to a hutch in a people warren? Hm. One wonders.

For the $300 or so in added expenses, I could stay in my present home and hire a pool service.

Free at last…to work some more

A vast haystack of deferred work around the house has piled up while I’ve been struggling to get out from under the mountain of paid work. (And though grades are now posted, I still have paying work to do for two clients, but today I’m playing hooky for a few hours.)

Last night I managed to shovel off and clean the biggest counter in the kitchen. The stove and counters and cabinetry around it remain to be done, but at least the main annoyance was dealt with by 10:00 p.m. Sharpened the knives, which had dulled so much they could only mash the food apart. Repaired the knife sharpener first. Realized the next kitchen purchase will have to be a new knife sharpener. The one I have is a Chef’s Choice Multi-Edge Diamond Hone Knife Sharpener, and since it’s lasted about 10 years, I guess I’ll probably get a new one—they’re cheap enough, assuming the new model survives as long. Did all of the ironing that had stacked up atop the rocking chair in the TV room: 12 pairs of jeans, two pairs of shorts, a linen jacket, and three shirts. Fell into bed at midnight.


At five this morning it was off to do battle with the cat’s claw vines, which have decided to cover the pool equipment beneath an exuberant mound of jungle vegetation. First, though I had to replace the plastic panels that shelter the equipment to some degree from the sun and from the depredations of another jungle vine, the big cape honeysuckle that hides the ugly pump and filter from view in the backyard. This contraption, which was secured to the wrought-iron fencing with plastic tie gadgets, had broken loose in the winter storms. It’s now wired firmly in place—that should hold it for at least another couple of years.

It’s a big job to put that thing up by oneself. It really takes two people.

Onward. By 8:00 a.m. the vine that ate Philadelphia was hacked away from around the equipment and pulled down off the palm tree. Its incursions across the CoolDeck and into the water were beaten back. Satan & Prosperpine’s strange little bell-bedangled poolside decoration was freed from the mass of plant matter that had enveloped it, as were a couple of decorative boulders that had almost disappeared beneath the greenery. Raked up bushels of fallen leaves and twigs from beneath the vinery. Trimmed the powdery-mildew-infested rose by the pool and cut back the blue plumbago that wishes to push the rose into the next world. Picked up the fallen lemons, dodging angry ant myrmidons in the process. Put out some stale ant bait for the ladies; made note to buy fresh stuff. Hauled a gigantic mountain of trash out; put my neck out lifting it into the shoulder-high garbage bin. Cooked a steak, its freezer bag dated 11/3/09,  for breakfast.

As soon as I get up off my duff here, I’ve got to get back out there and treat the roses with powdery mildew meds. This winter’s El Niño rains brought forth a burst of joyful rose exuberance, but the almost daily leaf-soaking also brought forth more powdery mildew than I’ve ever seen. Even the David Austin roses, which allegedly resist this annoying disease, are covered with it. From there it will be on to…

do the bookkeeping
clean the stove, counters, and cabinetry
pick up the house
clean the floors
clean the bathrooms
water the plants inside and out
get back to work on the client’s arcane tables
get back to reading page proofs for the other client
test and adjust the pool water.

A house is an ongoing project, that’s for sure. I believe it was George Bernard Shaw who remarked that home is a girl’s prison and a woman’s workhouse. LOL! I think of it as a black hole into which to pour money and labor.

That notwithstanding, I love my house. It’s so pretty, inside and out. Satan and Proserpine did a few nice things to it—the new kitchen cabinets, the out-of-code mantelpiece in matching pine, the tilework in the kitchen, dining room, living room, and hall, the travertine shower, the nifty deck off the dining room. Then I did a lot more stuff to it. The skylights in the kitchen, family room, and master bath really  make the place, IMHO. So does the tiling Mike the Bosnian Tile Genius put into the rest of the house, and the remake of the kitchen counters he accomplished. The relandscaping job added the glorious fruit trees (on which I’ve largely subsisted all spring), the spectacular emerald paloverde, the beautiful desert willow, the climbing roses around the deck, the attractive front courtyard…to say nothing of xeriscape that doesn’t need to have treated city water poured on it.

PF bloggers like to ruminate now and again about the cost-effectiveness of upgrades and renovations. Very little about fix-up is cost-effective. Unless you manage to buy a house for next to nothing, it’s unwise to imagine you’re fixing up a place so you can sell it for a profit. Obviously, you should keep up its maintenance and replace things that break or wear out. But really: renovation is for the pleasure of the present occupants, not for future buyers to pay for.

I don’t expect ever to recover the money I’ve put into this house when (or if) I sell it. When I bought the place, I bought it intending to live here until they carry me off to the nursing home or the mortuary. So the money I spent on the house went to make it a pleasant place to live.

It worked. Now, so do I. Work, I mean.

Time to get out and treat those roses! Bye…

Walking Away from a Mortgage: Is it immoral?

Late last year, University of Arizona law professor Brent White stirred up some controversy by observing that underwater homeowners should feel no guilt about walking away from properties whose value has fallen way below the amount owed on them. Pointing out that the very lenders who cooked up questionable residential mortgages feel no compunction about walking away from underwater commercial properties, White pointed out that buying a residential property is no less a business transaction than buying a commercial one, and that mixing emotion and “morality” into the transaction has saddled homeowners with a disproportionate burden for the current real estate fiasco.

Cutting one’s losses when a property is no longer worth what you’re paying for it is called “strategic default.” Despite the clear fact that a real estate transaction is a real estate transaction, many people can’t get past the idea that individuals, as opposed to corporations, have some moral obligation to stick with a bad business deal. Others argue that what’s good for the corporate goose is good for the individual gander. Just check out some of the comments here and here and here.

The story’s not quite as simple as it seems on the surface. Depending on what state you live in, you may or may not be able to hand a property back to the bank without consequence. In some states, lenders can come after an owner who walks or does a short sale for the difference between the house’s selling price and the amount of the loan. Your credit rating, of course, will be trashed for several years to come. And if Soggy Bottom is not your primary residence, you’ll owe taxes on the amount you defaulted on.

IMHO, White has got something. If you’re stuck with a bad loan for your primary residence and you live in a state where a lender can’t sue you for a deficiency judgment (such as Arizona), it may be financially irresponsible NOT to walk. And there’s no reason to feel guilty or morally incompetent when the mess results from no fault of your own.

M’hijito and I copurchased a small house in mid-town Phoenix’s established, mostly middle-class north central corridor at a time when we believed the real estate collapse was nearing bottom. Our agent, a very smart older man with an MBA and many years of experience in business and real estate, thought the same thing. We estimated the house’s value would drop about $4,000 to $6,000, level out for a year or two, and then begin to rise at about 3% to 6% p.a., the historic rate of increase in that area before the bubble.

Neighbors were furious with our seller for unloading the house at what they thought was a rapaciously low price.

How wrong could we all have been?

The house is now worth (if you believe Zillow) $75,000 less than we paid for it and $51,000 less than we owe.

We planned to hold the house for five to ten years, with M’hijito living in it most of the time or renting it should he take a job in another city or marry and need a larger home. After no more than a decade, at which time I planned to retire, we expected to collect a small profit or at least break even, split whatever equity we recovered, and go on our respective ways.

Now M’hijito feels stuck in the house. Because we can’t even begin to sell the house for what we owe on it, he can’t move to another city in search of a better job (workers are famously underpaid in Arizona) or go out of state to pursue an MBA at a decent school. Having lost my job and seen my retirement savings plummet $180,000 when the Bush economy crashed, I’m in a different financial position (indeed) than I was when we bought the place.

Fortunately, we did have enough sense to get a loan through our credit union. Unlike the banks of recent infamy, the credit union has been willing to negotiate. But they resist even contemplating a cut in principal, which is what needs to happen.

In response to my layoff from ASU, the credit union arranged to prorate our payments over 40 years (instead of 30) and to cut our interest rate to 4 percent. This dropped the mortgage payments into a more affordable range—and to something close to what we could theoretically get in rent.

The deal is good for only a year, however. After that, the credit union will consider renewing it for another year or will give us the option to refinance.

Although of course I’m pleased to see our payments reduced to something almost within reason, I’m still unhappy with the underlying predicament: the house’s value has dropped so drastically that we may never recover our investment in it, and so money paid toward the loan amounts to money down the drain. In an optimistic scenario, it will be another ten years before the house’s value rises to what we owe on the mortgage—to say nothing of the healthy down payment we put down at the outset. And please: don’t even ask what it costs to renovate a 1950 cottage!

For the time being, M’hijito likes the house and is comfortable there. He rents one of the rooms to bring in cash to cover maintenance and repairs. And with the mortgage adjustment, the roof over his head is costing him no more than he would pay for a rental. But the point is, we’re both losing money on the property.

We did everything we could to make a responsible decision: purchasing a house that was certainly no McMansion, selecting a centrally located neighborhood ripe for gentrification and close to the much-ballyhooed lightrail line, buying within our means, avoiding shady mortgage instruments, and selecting a lender that was unlikely to rip us off. And we’re still behind the 8-ball.

A corporation’s board of directors would be remiss not to default under those circumstances. So…should a homeowner be held to a different standard? If so, why?

Image: Tennessee house, ca. 1933-36. Tennessee Valley Authority. Public Domain.

Odd$ and End$

First crack out of the box this morning, it was off to the credit union at the (relatively) nearby West campus, there to hand-deliver 15 pages of paperwork.

Well over a month ago, M’Hijito and I had asked to negotiate a loan modification of the downtown house’s mortgage. They asked for evidence of every deep breath we’d taken within the prior 30 days, which after much thrashing around we scraped together into a big digital pile and e-mailed to them.

Well, this mound of debris reached the loan lady one day after the credit union outsourced its loan management. So now, instead of the six-day turnaround on a decision we had been promised, we were told there would be a one-week “blackout” on all information coming from this outfit, and that after that…they had no idea what would happen.

Weeks went by: nothing.

So I called Loan Lady the day before yesterday and asked her voicemail if I was correct in assuming that silence means “no deal,” since we would need to figure out how to pay the mortgage or decide whether we should take a walk, given last month’s munificent earned income of $161.

Within hours, comes a call from Higher-Up Loan Lady, who says that the credit union is “taking some loans back in-house,” among them ours, and would we please send the entire mound over again, only add written proof that I actually was canned and update several other documents, now gone stale. Translation: “we lost your documents.”

Of course, the fuck-you-very-much announcement on ASU letterhead was not in digital form. The new printer/scanner refused to scan it. So that made it impossible to e-mail the new pile of junk, which took a good half-day in the collecting and updating. The new printer/scanner doesn’t have a FAX, and even the old printer/scanner/FAX machine would not talk to Cox’s modem and so would not have sent a FAX anyway. She suggested I either mail it (about $2.00 worth of postage) or take it to the credit union and get them to FAX it.

I chose the latter. This ensured that someone there actually saw to it that the documents went through, and they gave me the printout of confirmation showing the stuff reached Higher-Up Loan Lady. The cost of the gas to drive over there—about $2.53—was probably as much as or more than the cost of postage, but at least it ensured that the pile of paper didn’t disappear again.

Despite the annoying waste of time and gasoline, this junket did allow me to take advantage of a serendipitous occurrence of the Money Happens phenomenon.

A few weeks ago, a client gave me a $25 gift card to Fry’s grocery stores, a nice little under-the-table lagniappe. I never shop at Fry’s, because the two stores in my general vicinity are located in pretty threatening neighborhoods. After the manager of the restaurant in the Fry’s shopping center at 19th and Glendale was murdered by thieves, I quit going there. On the way to ASU West, though, I passed a store in a working-class neighborhood that looked pretty safe, and so decided to spend the money there.

Not bad. For $20 I nabbed milk and eggs with which to make some excellent biscuits for breakfast, a small stoneware bowl of the sort I’ve been needing for a while, a bag of chunk hardwood charcoal, and some produce. The pork, much needed for Cassie, was ten cents a pound higher than Safeway’s, so I passed on that. But I did find a pair of kitchen tongs with handles, not those chopsticks on a spring that are currently popular. Real tongs have have turned into a hard-to-to-find item, as I discovered when my ancient pair wore out.

Yesterday I had a meeting that took place after I finished teaching in the middle of the afternoon. Because I couldn’t afford to have lunch out even if there were something available on the campus that I’d want to eat, by the time I stumbled in the door I was dead starved. It was evening by the time I’d fed myself and the dog taken the dog for the required doggy-walk and added more acid to the pool. Then I had to wrestle with the mountain of paperwork (above). After that was ready to go, I

was sooo tired I sat down to relax by working on a pencil drawing I started yesterday. The next time I lifted my head, it was quarter to eight and I was an hour late to choir practice.

Started to climb into the car to race down to the Cult Headquarters, but with the garage door open and the engine on, I realized I  just couldn’t do it. So went back in the house and missed practice. Now I’ll be in the doghouse again. Oh well.

My beleaguered former RA, who lives just a few blocks from me, was burgled last Sunday. They stole all her jewelry—most of it sentimental gifts from her mother with little monetary value—and her husband’s laptop. {sigh} This neighborhood is under siege from the cockroaches who inhabit the tenements across 19th Avenue. Burglaries are as common as falling leaves around here. I’m almost inclined to go back up to the pound and see if that fake “bloodhound” is still there. Whatever he was, he was no bloodhound. Neither did he appear to have any pit bull in him. But he was big enough to mean business, or at least to look like he might.

I don’t know. I can’t afford another dog. Just feeding me and little 25-pound Cassie is a challenge. On the other hand, I can’t afford to be burglarized, either.

Speaking of the neighborhood, when I got home late yesterday afternoon a carpet cleaning crew was over at Biker Boob and Bobbie McGee’s house, overseen by a hulking bruiser of a man swaggering around in a wife-beater. Turns out said bruiser was a great big, charming gay guy who is a Realtor. He strolled over to introduce himself and say Boob and Bobbie are history and he’s putting the house on the market. He’s asking $239,000, substantially less per square foot than the $285,000 our local Real Estate Empress is trying to get for the same model two blocks to the north and west. He said the place is in pretty bad shape and needs a lot of fix-up.

Not surprising.

As sweet as Queer John was, at one point he had five men living in there with him. (QJ was the original renter, an affable little guy but pretty nuts.) After QJ was chased down in a dramatic pursuit through the neighborhood and hauled off by a team of five cruisersful of cops, he was replaced by Biker Boob and his lady, Bobbie McGee, a raunchy cowgirl given to dumping car trunkloads full of mystery garbage in the big trash bin behind my house and Sally’s. We figured if whatever she was stuffing in there (neither of us cared to tear open the bags to see what it was) couldn’t go into the bin behind her house, it probably wasn’t supposed to go into the city garbage bins at all.

According to Zillow, $239,900 is what the present owner, who lives in upstate New York, paid for that house in 2004. He must figure the market has recovered enough to unload an ill-advised investment. Let’s hope he’s right!

While fooling with the Excel files yesterday by way of cranking the new reports the CU wanted, I made an interesting little discovery.

In January, I only spent $1,698. Multiply that by 12 and you get an estimated 2010 expenditure of $20,376. Optimistic, to be sure—summer power bills will raise that by about $200 a month, adding approximately $800 to the projected total: $21,176.

But if you include the tiny drawdown I’m taking from ASU’s 403(b) plan so as to qualify for the state’s sick leave payment (the net is only $385 a month), you come up with this net income:

“Pension” net: $385 x 12 = $4,620
Social Security net: $1,000 x 12 = $12,000
Net teaching income: $14,400 – 25% = $10,800

$4,620 + $12,000 + $10,800 = $27,420, projected net income

$27,420 – $21,176 = $6,244 positive cash flow for 2010

That’s a far cry from the $1,400 year-end balance I estimated by manually adding up all my projected costs, month by month, and subtracting them, month by month, from projected income (and, during the summer, nonincome).

So far I haven’t been able to account for the difference. I think I’ve included all predictable costs. The $1,698 January expenditure includes the $314 I had to cough up for COBRA, significantly more than either COBRA or Medicare will cost after this. The only thing I can imagine is that my month-by-month estimates of what the community college will pay must be wrong. But they couldn’t possibly be wrong by $4800…that doesn’t make sense.

Time will tell. If the shorthand calculation turns out to be correct, maybe I won’t have to teach three-and-three!