Be rested and free of stress

A few days ago I was out of sorts. When I’m in the company of relatives and friends, ones who have known me a long time, my being out of sorts on an off-day, one that usually results from more than bad hair, my relatives and true friends often shrug off my mood. They file my behavior and words away to something unmentionable, or else ask me about it when the planets and my cells align.

But when I have an out-of-sorts day with no relatives or friends around, I need to stay at home. I highly suggest that if one of those days occurs after you move to your new town that you do so too. If I’m meeting someone new when I’m in a mood and if the situation is socially inescapable and if that person soon irritates the hell out of me or treats me in a way unsuitable to what I’m accustomed, I kick myself and wish I had paid attention to my instincts and never stepped over my threshold to the garage, for invariably I worsen the situation.

That afternoon of my bad mood morning, I heard Dr. Phil say that when he meets a new person, he makes sure that by the time the meeting is over that person knows what Dr. Phil is all about. I assume his background, his expertise, his no-nonsense approach. For me, as an older woman who has not practiced cultivating a public persona over the years–for one thing before I turned 50 or so, I didn’t know I should–spewing out such information would have been antithetical to how I was raised. In fact, born and raised as a Midwestern farm girl, I and most other women my age were taught to keep our mouths shut, and defer to a male. Furthermore, my list of accomplishments are not on the tip of my tongue, and I find it inauthentic to stand in front of a mirror or some other such reflective device and practice manipulating the conversation so that who I am comes across unequivocally. Besides I might misstep and reveal that Sioux Falls’ South Minnesota Avenue holds more memories than the view from the curve at the top of the hill or I might utter forcefully to the person standing in front of me that she should not assume I’m a dotty old woman who has lost her bearings.

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In black and white

If you’ve made a decision to move to that small town, subscribe to the local or regional newspaper. Hopefully there is an online edition as well. Both the print and online are necessary, for the online edition is usually one-day late and contains only significant articles, but the online edition can be searched while the print edition you can read and analyze at your leisure.

Read the editorials, the letters to the editor, the classifieds, the help-wanted ads, not because you’re searching for a position but because you want to know what company is hiring and what companies and executives also wield power in the community. Especially read carefully any notices regarding public meetings, for once you settle in your new hamlet, you should attend a few city commission meetings, at least until you understand the tentacles of power and how information becomes public.

Once in this small town to which I had recently moved, I inadvertently became caught in an internecine political dispute. As I was walking east towards the pet store on main street, two men who had jaywalked across the busy main street crossed in front of me heading for the local diner right west of the pet store. Of course my little dog was panting in front of me for he knew the drill–pet store, play with the owner’s dog, bark at the six-toed cat, and pee, if I don’t catch him first. Both men entered the restaurant, but one suit scooted back out and asked me if I would go in the restaurant and mutter something that suggested I wasn’t too pleased about the fact that the other suit who was waiting for him voted against the dog park. Of course, I was compliant, basically out of curiosity, knowing full well that neither one of them, the suit urging me to cross the diner’s threshold and the suit furtively waiting would remember me at all–I was a woman after all, an older woman at that, and a woman with a dog, of whom there are many. I did as I was told.  Later I found out that the vote in favor of the dog park was passed that afternoon.

That summer and for a couple of years after, I took my little pooch to the dog park, and he and I sat there all alone.  It was clear down on the south side of town, and there was no shade in the park.  In other words, the owners would boil while their dog panted beside them, for most of the time there were no other dogs.  Once in a while, I would walk my dog around, long enough for him to do his duty and for me to pick up poop.  But in the last few years, I never ventured down to the park.

Yesterday, I walked on the bike path in Sioux Falls south of the three or more dog parks alone in that area that the City of Sioux Falls installed years ago–Numerous dogs, numerous owners, shade trees, water fountains for dogs.  There is also another dog park on the other end of town.  Years ago my youngest son and I took his dog down there, and there were just two areas, fenced off with flimsy enough fencing to keep dogs in. Today, the areas are somewhat different: the fencing is quite new, studier, and higher, and there are more benches, and almost all are located in the shade. Further, there is water in each area.  The focus of those dog parks is on the owners; the dogs, secondary.  The lesson to be learned is that if you want something to be used by dogs, you must make it appealing to their owners.

I don’t remember what those guys look like, except that they wore suits in summer, a sure sign of business, political types.  But if I had been aware that there were to be a vote regarding the park, I certainly would have put in my two cents.  The key is, if I were aware.  I didn’t realize until after the measure passed and the particulars were being implemented that I cared.

Small newspapers sometimes carry information regarding ordinances before they are passed, and ordinances can make one’s life a living hell or passable.

 

Shelf Life

The term “Shelf Life” usually refers to the longevity of a product or service. A news item today is that Sony is bringing back a denser version of the magnetic tape–148GB per inch. A fact that makes me wonder if my old magnetic tape is recyclable, but I doubt it. (I did throw most of my cassette tapes away.)

We are all aware that the minute new technology emerges on the market, our old technology devalues, sometimes all the way to penny stock. But I argue that more than old technology should be dumped in order to keep our own bodies and minds, and our spiritual self, in peak condition.

So far I am surviving a week-long move, one in which four days after closing on my new house, I now have Internet, although the boxes in the garage prevent me from parking my car, and it’s a double garage.

Encumbrances, be what they may, lead to stress; and negative stress leads to human body meltdown, reduced shelf life.

My older sister will be having another rummage sale soon–she’s 81–another rummage sale in which everything that’s on shelves, propped against walls, in boxes under tables, hanging from the garage, will be free to her children. Two of my children have almost everything they want, although yesterday I came across an antique Jack Daniels flask that had been in my silverware chest, and gave that flask to my youngest son for installing curtain rods and a shower curtain rod.  I have had the flask for almost 40 years and have never put whiskey of any sort in that flask.  He might, but more than likely he will keep it for another 40 years before he hands it off to a child for helping him.

520 miles from here, a week and more ago, when I was packing, there were so many items I thought I wanted at my new home.  I packed them in durable liquor boxes–the best kind of free boxes– and paid four strong men to load those boxes into a U Haul. Even though four men were on the job, I paid for three men at $140/hr. for that was the contract. However, one of those original three men moved a snail’s pace, so I suppose I received my money worth.

Then I drove through winds that would topple RVs and rain that didn’t sheet, drove with exhaustion and achy muscles–no cruise.  I slept on a sofa the first night.  During the evening of the second day and the next morning, my sons and two others, whom I paid $100 for actual time, moved those goods that I wanted into my new home.

But I swear that out of every four boxes, there is one box of items that I should have tossed in the trash or donated to charities, for now I find them albatrossian, which means that they are weighing down my shoulders, and my life, until I toss them in the garbage here or give them away.

So my advice to all, discard all that you must and all that you think you might possibly want in addition to the items that you haven’t touched in a year, etc., before you move; and once you arrive at your new place, do so again.  Better yet, never buy them at all. Your life will become richer and your heart and mind lighter.

By the way, a new study by the Max Planck Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences and the Technische Universität Dresden determined that stress is contagious.  You might have even transported it along with you in the detritus that you failed to toss.

Crumbs, a gingerbread cottage, and a wolf

If on the surface (preliminary investigation via Internet, word of mouth, etc.) the area or the small town to which you’re moving seems to be stagnating and if you’re not sure that within the next three years, your new employment position in a different community will have proven to be the right decision for you and/or your family, in spite of employment recruitment strategies, do not buy.  By all means, rent.

Renting means landlords and landladies, noisy neighbors if in an apartment building, needed repairs in less-than-desirable locations, stairs and/or most-of-the-time inoperable elevators; but renting also means that you will  have time to scope out the community for desirable locations, determine which persons run what and how, etc.  It also means that you can pack up and leave if the position is not what it’s all cracked up to be.

Sometimes if the housing market is wobbly–more houses than buyers and more apartments than tenants–landlords will rent month to month. By all means try to secure the shortest lease possible if the housing market if soft.  The longer the lease, the more financially draining will renting be if one does want to get out of Dodge.

Usually most rental situations require a deposit equal to the first month’s rent.  And I will say, sadly, that most landlords look at that deposit as a cash cow; in other words, landlords will use any possible excuse to charge for every little light bulb and nail hole, even if you leave the apartment or house cleaner and in better repair than the day that you hauled in your modest possessions.

I once rented a house in a small town in northern Nebraska.  Before I moved out, I hired a local cleaning lady that I had used before to clean the home spotless.  She began before my van pulled out and was to continue through the next day if needed.  I wanted her to scrub kitchen walls, wash floors, etc.  No sooner was I chugging down the road–yes, I drove the U-Haul–my former landlady called me and told me that she was going to keep the $400 deposit.  I told her that I had hired a cleaning lady and the house should be clean by the end of the next day, long before my lease would expire. And I told her, and it was true, that I once held a real estate license and that if she kept any of my deposit, I would report her to the Nebraska Real Estate Commission.  Then I called the cleaning lady to make sure that she was going to finish. She said she left for a little while to get some lunch and the landlady must have come in then. I received all my deposit back; in fact shorter than the maximum time Nebraska Real Estate law mandates.

One must not rent the first thing that appeals. Perhaps the fireplace in the unit that promises warm cozy winters smokes to high heaven when you light it for the first time.  The stool flushes like a dream without toilet paper; but once used, clogs up and spreads feces all over the linoleum and your best nighty that you just slipped off. Wind whistles through the cracks in the sill. The furnace barely heats. The landlord never answers his phone, but charges a hefty fine when you have to bang on his door because you locked yourself out.

Go to the bar, have coffee in a neighborhood cafe, talk to waitresses, the little old lady in the next booth, the drunk at the bar–yes, stay long enough for people’s tongues to loosen. It is true as a relative says, more business is done in a bar than  anywhere else.

Then check the tax rolls on the City Assessor’s site. Determine what corporation or partnership or individual owns what buildings, and then see what else they own. Ask more questions about that corporation, partnership, individual.  Knock on doors and talk to tenants. Yes, do evaluate any complaints you hear logically, but don’t ignore them.  Knowing what situation that one might become locked into is insurance. Be a Polonius, who in Shakespeare’s Hamlet cautions his son, Laertes:

Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.

 

In one’s own nest

If you are attempting to determine what your hard-earned money can purchase, start with real estate in your own area. Let’s pretend that you live in Des Moines, Iowa’s capitol. Start by looking in the classifieds of the local paper, The Des Moines Register. If you know addresses of the homes advertised for sale, you can either shake your head as to the owner’s or realtor’s impertinent of it all or wonder what is wrong with the house for the selling price to be so low.

Search for those homes within a certain price range, which should be no more than 2 1/2 times your gross annual income.  You can include both your wife’s or partner’s income in this calculation.  If both of you combined earn $50,000 a year, you could purchase up to $125,000.  However, you will be living for nothing but a house.  Another way to calculate what you can afford is that your total house payment, PITI, which stands for Principle, Interest, Taxes, and Insurance, should be 1/4 to 1/3 of your gross monthly income, with your total combined debt not more than 40% of your monthly income.  Be careful when purchasing that $40,000 pickup, the latest fishing boat, a Harley, for those payments are taken into consideration.

Back to the classifieds on The Des Moines Register.  I searched on April 7, 2014, for single family homes from $70 to $125,000, and 31 pages with 20 homes on a page resulted, for a total of 620 homes in that price range.  We could make a number of assumptions alone on those figures; but just a couple: either a depressed economy exists yet from 2008, the housing market is highly volatile, or the community is extremely large. If we look at the homes listed on the Argus Leader site: there are 7 pages with 20 homes per page, for a total of 140 homes in the price range of $70,000-$125,000.  Des Moines is said to have a little over 200,000 people while Sioux Falls has 160,000 people. Could we say that Sioux Falls has a vibrant economy while Des Moines doesn’t?  Maybe, but we really can’t be sure, for there are so many other variables–vibrant economy but a housing glut, shift in demographics, etc.  But one should always attempt to buy low and sell high, and if Des Moines is in your future, nice market prices.

To compare, I eliminated the price restrictions for Sioux Falls, and 43 pages of 20 homes per page resulted.  I did the same for Des Moines, and 122 pages of 20 homes per page resulted: 860 homes for Sioux Falls and 2440 homes for Des Moines. Let’s do the same for Denver, which has a population of 634,000: 221 pages with 20 homes per page. Atlanta, Georgia, population 444,000: 333 pages of 20 homes per page. Belen, New Mexico, population 7300: 22 pages, 20 homes per page; Accident, Maryland, population 320: 3 pages, 20 homes per page.

  • Accident, Maryland: (320): 3 pages, 30 homes per page
  • Belen, New Mexico (7300): 22 pages, 20 homes per page
  • Sioux Falls, South Dakota (160,000): 43 pages, 20 homes per page
  • Des Moines, Iowa (200,000): 122 pages, 20 homes per page
  • Atlanta, Georgia (444,000): 333 pages, 20 homes per page
  • Denver, Colorado (634,000): 221 pages, 20 homes per page

The next step is to take down a few addresses within your price range and drive by those homes to determine basic location and price.  But before you go, check the details, the square footage, the year in which the house was built, the number of garages, the taxes, the photos, the amenities described by the realtor.  However, depending upon the realtor, don’t be misled by photos. Some realtors with certain camera adjustments can make what should be sold as an outhouse look like a French bidet while some realtors take ordinary, haphazard pictures, but are still good realtors, capable of evaluating a home for you and helping you determine the quality of a home and whether or not that home is one of many that might be right for you. By the way, did you know that French bidets are fast becoming the creme de la creme of bathroom must-haves?

If wishes were horses, then . . . .

Even when not looking for a house, one should keep abreast of the real estate markets in various regions.  One can only make a decision if one has facts, not figments of imagination or speculative constructs.

Of course there are certain types of people who probably should always rent:

  • those who think they know everything about everything and won’t listen to the advice of a realtor and a banker,
  • those who have difficulty paying something on time,
  • those who might find taking care of a home–cutting laws, seeding, trimming bushes, shoveling snow, cleaning gutters, painting, etc.–a real time-waster,
  • those who become overwhelmed at the complexity of home ownership and bury their heads in the sand,
  • those who can’t save money if their lives depended upon it,
  • those who prefer to move rather than to deal tactfully with next door neighbors,
  • etc.

As far as the tact comment, of course, I wish all jerks and slobs–next door neighbors who throw beer cans on lawns, even if just on their own lawns, or who have hellish parties with guests that slam doors in the middle of the night–not live by me.  But as the old saying goes, if wishes were horses, then all beggars would ride.

Start with an honest self-assessment, but first check your credit score. Anything less than 680 might indicate that you have some issues.  But you do need to know what your credit scores are and you do need to know the scores from all three bureaus, for each of them will rank you: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.  Moreover you need to know what is listed on those sites–judgments, late payments, false statements.  By the way, the hardest to deal with are false statements.  Those take perseverance and patience in addition to documentation.  There are numerous sites out there that offer free credit reports; but as the commercial says, do not pay for one.  A simple way to find out your credit score is to obtain a turn-down letter for a loan.  In that letter will be a number and/or an address that you can contact to obtain a few credit report.  If you don’t have an inkling where to go, consult a local reputable personal banker. For goodness sake don’t tell the banker everything but don’t lie. You want to establish a viable working relationship, not find a psychologist.  Listen and take notes.

As far as purchasing a home, for a conventional, FHA, or VA loan, you need to have been in the same line of work for at least 2 1/2 years and you must have no late payments within the last two years or more.  Before I attempt to answer any questions that you might have regarding the differences between all types of home loans, let’s first take a look at what home ownership entails and how to become a smart buyer and owner.

Take a self-assessment.  Do you have wanderlust?  Do you plan on divorcing?  Do you plan on marrying? If you have children, do you like them and want the best for them?  Can you save money, money enough for the down-payment and money enough for those yearly repairs without having to refinance your home every five years or so, which I argue should never occur unless in certain significant circumstances? Would you take care of your little patch of heaven or would you contribute to the decline of the neighborhood? Are you a realist; in other words, do you make decisions based on facts, not on emotions?

 

 

To Buy or Not to Buy, That Is the Question

Finding housing in a small town could be a harrowing experience.  If one moves to a small town or to any community of any size for the sake of employment, a decision as to buy or not to buy, rent in other words, must be quickly made.  Hopefully before a potential employee accepts a position, he or she has investigated the community in order to determine if it is a fit, if the community (small town or city or hamlet) provides perks or at least a tolerable existence for a period of time.

If one is self-employed or retiring, or if earning an income is not a factor at all, one can lollygag on a beach while making a decision.  For the rest of us, most relocations demand quick decisions.

Sometimes the employer has a relocation service, which should consist of “experts” who know the area, understand the new employee’s situation and present options. The company’s consultant might even live in the area. Sometimes a company even provides housing.  But there are various degrees of experts and various levels of micro-services offered to the new employee.  There might just be a packet that helps one become acquainted, a list of realtors and rental agencies, or during the interview process, a member of the firm takes the potential employee on a tour of the area. However, most of the time, the task of finding a place to live depends upon the employee.  And if one is bringing along a family, that burden brings with it immense responsibilities.  It’s not easy uprooting a wife or husband or a partner for the sake of a new position that offers promise and financial rewards; it’s more unsettling when children are involved. Children can become traumatized as a result of a move. Even if the family is a stable unit in which each adult loves and respects the other and their children, and each cares for the well being of all, all family members change as a result of a move.  But it should not be an emotional crapshoot.

Ideally, because of the numerous unknown factors, effects that the new town or job will have on the children and on the spouse or partner, if any; the rosy job picture that sometimes too soon wilts; the area that at first appears comforting and welcoming with benefits immeasurable but later transmogrifies into the village of the damned, one should rent. However, I have known some who rent and find oneself in the early stages of a booming housing market that ultimately prices well-cared for homes in decent areas right out of their market.  So my first advice, which should be a lifetime area of study, is to understand real estate markets.

But if one has not the time to, or has never previously purchased a home, the next best thing is to view objectively the houses for sale on the MLS (Multiple Listing Service), sites such as Realtor.com, Zillow, etc., and the houses listed for sale in the local paper’s classifieds.

Always, however, keep in mind that mistakes will be made; some of which can be rectified and some can’t. Hopefully the mistakes are minor ones and hopefully neither you or your partner are perfectionists and idealists.