Home exterior nearing completion

My in-works rental house is nearing completion. The home has a new front door, and the formerly ugly stone entrance now blends in with the rest of the house after being replaced with hardiboard siding.

The punch list is getting shorter and shorter. A "For Rent" sign will go up within the next couple of weeks.


Dividends are my friend - update

Note: This is an update to my first note on this subject back in January.

If you were so trusting as to misinterpret my advice to buy dividend stocks and instead followed this amateur and actually purchased NovaStar Financial (NFI) back on January 13, you'd be a happy camper as the stock is up 14% since then. The stock should also throw off at least $5.60 in dividends this year (an 18% yield based upon the closing price on 1/13/06).

Of course you would have had to resist the temptation to dump the stock when it took its roller coaster ride from $30.36 down to $25.70 on February 15.

In my last note, I alluded to an issue of stock price manipulation and shorting (a practice where someone sells the stock without actually owning it). Shorting is legal as long as the entity selling the stock is able to find someone else's stock they can temporarily borrow. In the case of NovaStar and several other stocks, including Overstock.com and Krispy Kreme, however, there is proof that not everyone shorting the stock is actually able to find stock to borrow. When this happens it's called naked shorting, and it's against the law. Kudos to Forbes for giving some press to this subject. Perhaps this article will generate some interest from regulators who are not doing their job (companies should not be on the SHO list for months or years at a time).



As someone with ADHD, sometimes I feel like my brain is like a sieve. So after reading this story, how I wish I could have just half of the memory recall she seems to possess.


Where will you sleep on March 31?

The poverty statistics in America are embarrassing: 35.9 million of our brothers and sisters live in poverty, 3.5 million of our brothers and sisters are homeless, and 1.3 million of these homeless are children.

On March 31 in cities and towns across the nation, people will choose to spend the night outside in solidarity with those who don't have a choice. Check out ToTheStreets.org to see if there is a coordinated sleep out near you.

Many Christians believe that social activism is an activity which functions apart from their faith, but I would argue that Matthew 25:31-46 shows that Jesus taught otherwise.


Is the new Afghan government that much better than the Taliban?

I'm not so sure after reading this story about a Muslim who converted to Christianity 16 years ago and is now being tried for rejecting Islam, a crime punishable by death.


You want democracy? I'll show you democracy

Perhaps Rich Mullins said it best:

I think the big problem is that as Christians, we forgot that our identity is wrapped up in Christ. And for a long time we bought into the illusion that the will of the masses would be more generous and more benevolent than the will of one dictator. But democracy isn't necessarily bad politics; it's just bad math. A thousand corrupt minds are just as evil as one corrupt mind.
One can argue which governments this statement applies to, but inarguably, Palestine must be on this list.

On February 24, the world learned what can happen when the will of the masses have a real voice in government through a democratic election. The Palestinian people elected Hamas, a terrorist organization, to run their government. And today Hamas announced its leadership--mostly hardline radical islamists.

Aside from their support of terrorism, Hamas also refuses to recognize Israel.

Could the same situation happen in Iraq? Perhaps, if Iraq can ever form a government long enough to give the people an opportunity to vote for elected officials.


More fiscal irresponsibility

I dislike debt... especially unsecured debt. For those who have gone through Crown Financial Ministry's training, you'll recall that God isn't a fan of debt. Deuteronomy 15:6 and Proverbs 22:7 offer insight into God's thoughts on debt and what happens to those who fall into debt. It still dumbfounds me that Christians put a political party ahead of their faith and neglect to stand up against an ideology that is making our country, once the land of the free, now home of the fiscally enslaved.

Last Thursday the Senate passed a bill which raises the nation's debt limit to nearly $9 trillion, or $30,000 for every person (man, woman, child) in America. Just this afternoon, our president signed this bill into law. See what happens when one party controls two (some would argue three) branches of government?


An abomination to God if I ever saw one

While the Christian community is better known for beating their drum against homosexuality and abortion, I'm left dumbfounded by the lack of outrage and downright indifference by the Christian community at the abomination known as Abu Ghraib.

I find it appalling, and it makes me question the very public faith of our leaders when grunts alone have been the scapegoats in this massive human rights violation. Where is the accountability? Where is the leadership? Where is the outrage Christ himself exhibited when faced with something that was an affront to God?

And for those believing this is anything less than an indictable human rights scandal, they need look no farther than Salon.com's compilation of 279 photographs and 19 videos.

Water damage: part two

The water problems on the back of the house were major, but those on the front were fortunately pretty minor. Regrettably, they existed nonetheless. When the stone siding was installed, the bottom wasn't flashed, so water was able to get in underneath the stone and caused some damage to the sill plate. Fortunately, the sill plate had not yet rotted, so it didn't need to be replaced.

Flashing needs to be installed where the wall intersects the deck, and two options existed: 1) remove the lower stone on the wall, install flashing, and re-install the stone -or- 2) remove all of the stone, flash the bottom of the wall, and install hardiboard siding. I chose option #2 because it was cheaper, hardiboard is more water resistant than stone and mortar, removing the stone gives me an opportunity to better insulate this exterior wall, and the stone gave the house a dated look.

Yesterday was spent taking down much of the stone siding.


My idea of heaven

I recently had someone ask if I thought that heaven really was paved with streets of gold? My response was no. I think that Revelation is full of great imagery but not a literal description of what heaven will be like.

So when I was pressed to come up with an explanation or idea for what heaven will be like, I thought about this picture.

To others, heaven might be the Starbucks Coffee Break going on today where, "Customers are invited to visit Starbucks coffee houses between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. for a complimentary tall (12-ounce) Starbucks brewed coffee."


Online world meets offline world

One of the unexpected benefits of blogging is being introduced to new people. I "met" Brad Nix through my Zillow post, and we're going to have lunch on Wednesday.

Those fitting the offline world meets online world category are: Chasing the Fluency god, It was a dark and stormy night, and Spencer's blog.


Flooring done!

While not reflected in this photo, the flooring installation is complete. The punch list is down to less than 50 items!


Google officially takes over the world

Well, not quite, but they're working on it.

I was doing some research on tools for managing pictures and video and learned that Google has tools for both--Picasa for photos and Google Video for videos, though I don't want to share my videos with the world. And in fact, they have tools for a lot of needs.

If you've never used Google Earth, you're missing out on a really cool tool.

Of course Blogger, which I'm using to create this blog, is another tool from Google.

And if you're not a fan of PayPal, Google Purchases will be launching within the next few days.

How about an email account with over 2.5 gigabytes of storage? Gmail is Google's answer.

If you'd like a whole slew of Google tools along with Norton Antivirus and a six-month virus update subscription for free, they too are available.

The amazing thing about Google is that while all of these tools are free, they make $1.44 million per employee, double that of their competitors.


Real Estate Investing - Buy Low

The key to any investment, real estate or otherwise, is to buy low (and I would also argue that this same principle should be applied to the purchase of your primary dwelling, whether you consider it an investment or not). With real estate, there are innumerable ways of doing this, but few are easy. My philosophy is to find properties that no one else wants, such as those with mold in the basement, a cracked foundation, a roof that is caving in, or other serious structural problem. Not interested in such a home? Good! These flaws scare away many potential buyers and investors, resulting in much less demand which gives me more leverage to negotiate a favorable price.

When I'm evaluating a property, I get a good look inside the home. I look for cracks in the drywall between the wall and ceiling, water stains on the ceiling and on walls, tiny black spots on drywall, signs of rot on the eaves & facia, and cracks in the flooring/foundation. As I identify problems, I note them and begin a mental tally of what each item will cost to repair. Estimate high. If you're not sure how much something will cost, make friends with a contractor and take them with you to view a potential investment.

With the house I'm currently working on, I made an offer immediately after seeing the property. I knew the fair market value (FMV) of the home if it were in "normal" condition. How? I know the market. I've researched and studied my micro-market and know the selling price of nearby homes. Online sites such as HomeRadar and the Atlanta-specific AJC homefinder provide a list of somewhat-recent home sales. Two great sites that show comps on a map are ShackPrices (only for Seattle) and HomePriceMaps. One site that may some day provide the ultimate solution is Zillow.com, which can give you a "Zestimate", but today it's only available in certain markets as the site is in "beta" now (so be patient!). And remember that a Zestimate is just a start--the key to knowing the fair market value of a home is to know the details of the comparable recent sales used to derive the Zestimate. If their data is bad, your Zestimate is wrong. Finally, if you're unable to determine recent sales in a market, it's time to make friends with a local realtor and take them out for lunch. Realtors have access to a database of recent home sales through their local MLS. When you do finally determine the FMV, be conservative.

At this point, you now have two numbers:

  1. Fair Market Value (FMV) of the improved home
  2. Repair cost (now abbreviated as RC)
I need to calculate yet another number before determining my offer price, and I call it the PITA factor. PITA is my acronym for Pain In The Ass. If the house only needs new carpet and a coat of paint, my PITA factor is a low $ amount. If I need to tear down and haul away 1/3 of the house, gut it, and install a new roof, the PITA factor is high. It's different for each house and each investor, but it's real, and I include it in my calculations.

Lastly, there has to be some profit (which actually results in equity) in the deal, or it's not worth your time. And if you've errored in calculating any of the other three numbers, you're going to eat into your profit. Again, this number is different with every investor, but if there is less than $20k profit in the deal, I don't pursue it.

Finally it's time to calculate the offer price. I derive this by using the following formula:
FMV - RC - PITA - Profit = Offer price

So if the Fair Market Value = $195k, the repair costs are $20k, the PITA factor is $5k, and the desired profit is $20k, the formula to determine an offer price would look like this:
195,000 - 20,000 - 5,000 - 20,000 = $150,000

One last point: this calculation helps determine what you're willing to offer. This should go without saying, but if the house is listed for $140k, don't be a fool and offer $150k.

Likewise, if the home is listed for sale at $150k, I wouldn't immediately submit an offer with a seller's asking price. If the house has been on the market longer than a couple of weeks, I'd make a low-ball offer, knowing the seller is already cognizant of the fact they're selling a defective house and are probably afraid no one is interested. If the house is newly listed, I'd probably make an offer around $140k, as there may be something I didn't factor into the repair costs. And regardless of what is on the Seller's Disclosure Statement, once the house has closed, it's yours--problems and all.


Long live the IBM PCjr

Perhaps it's because my family didn't have much money growing up. Maybe it's a function of being ADHD. It very well may have no cause, and I could just be a packrat... but I really might need that [fill in the blank] some day! For whatever reason, I sometimes have difficulty letting go of physical possessions that have outlived their usefulness and now clutter up my life. Much of this clutter falls into the category of computer parts and dinosaur computers.

My very first "real" computer was a TI99/4A. It came out in 1979. I was 10. I still have it. Fortunately, it is small and I have a big attic.

Our family moved from Reading, Ohio to Bedford, Texas in the fall of 1984. The following summer, my parents bought me an IBM PCjr. The PCjr was awesome, and DOS 2.1 was infinitely more reliable than Windows (you pick a version). This computer lasted me through my sophomore year of college as a reliable word processor, expensive calculator, video game console (Touchdown Football is one of the top 5 video games I've ever played), and terminal emulator for dialing into the local FidoNet or my university's mainframe. And if I've never said it, "Thanks, Mom & Dad!". I wouldn't have developed an interest in computers had my parents not encouraged and invested in me, and this is something I'll carry on to my daughters.

This all brings us to today. There are three boxes in my home office that I've needed to go through for at least six months. I finally took the time to go through two of them tonight, and one of them held my old PCjr with a spare motherboard, second floppy drive, and some other random parts. I'm nostalgic, but I'm no fool. This computer is a boat anchor and needs to go, but I'd like to see it live another life if at all possible. I'm going to send a note to Mike Brutman and offer it to him if I can't find anyone else interested in this piece of modern history. Any takers?


Auction on March 23 in Rancho Dominguez, CA

Where do you go to bid on a $3,500 French lampshade, two $40,000 Bijar rugs, and a $12,000 erte statue that was once owned by a Vietnam war flying ace and former United States Congressman?

Unfortunately, the answer is: a Treasury Department auction.

As a self-proclaimed born-again Christian, former representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham is yet another example of why the Christian "right" is simply wrong, only this time it was proven in court. Former congressman Cunningham (R-San Diego) is a blight on America, regardless of his past heroism. In fact, he was brazen enough to have a "bribe menu" and pocketed more than $2.4 million by selling out his country. What will probably result in a life sentence for the 64 year old with a history of prostate cancer, Cunningham was sentenced last Friday to 8 years and 4 months in prison.

Sadly, he leaves a son, two daughters, and a wife of 32 years to wonder why?

Interested in Super Bowl tickets?

Super Bowl XLI will be played February 4, 2007 in Miami, FL, and unless you're well-connected or are swimming in money, the only way to get tickets is through a random drawing held by the NFL.

I always forget to do it, but not this year--I've got my letter ready to mail out.

In case you're interested, here's how to get in on the random drawing:

Entries for the random drawing are accepted between Feb. 1 and June 1 of the year preceding the game in question. All entries must include name, address, phone number and email address. You will be notified by mail in October or November if your name is drawn, making you eligible to purchase two (2) Super Bowl tickets to the next Super Bowl. All ticket requests must be sent via certified or registered mail. Requests should be mailed to:

Super Bowl Random Drawing
P.O. Box 49140
Strongsville, OH 44149-0140

Please note that only one request per address is accepted. All duplicate requests will be disregarded.


Being a good dad: trying to get it right

Last night I had my first opportunity of the week to sit down and talk to my boss. Both the company I work for as well as my boss are based in San Francisco, so I only have one-on-one face-to-face opportunities 2 or 3 times a year. After a week of business updates, strategy sessions, and sales training, our conversation turned towards non-work topics.

She's in her first year of marriage and working through many of the same work/life issues that I've already faced. One of the comments that amused/surprised her was my statement that I'm a better Dad than I am a husband. Being a good husband is hard. I'm ESTJ while my wife is INFJ, so the source of any conflict in our marriage revolves around communication (she's a feeler while I'm more transactional). I've gotten much better at knowing how to communicate so that she hears what I'm trying to say, but I'm still trying to get it right. My wife also sees my warts, weaknesses, and failures. She knows I'm human.

Fortunately my daughters see me as this larger than life person. My two year old believes that, in my boss' words, I've hung the moon. I strive to be a good Dad, while if I'm honest, I'm sometimes lazy in my role as husband. I know that as they grow up, my daughters will see me as being more and more human, but I don't believe I have a more important job than being the best Dad I can possibly be.

I work in the travel business, and my job responsibilities require me to travel a lot. I don't like being away from my family, but I accept overnight travel as one of the few negatives of my job. When I'm on the road, however, I never want my daughters to believe that they're ever out of my thoughts. And a tradition or habit I incorporated into my business travels ever since my toddler was born is to write postcards letting them know that they are on my mind and how very much I miss them. It's such a small thing, but I think it's something they'll appreciate once they're older. Regardless, it gives me a sense of connection.


Every Hotel Tells a Story

Marketing slogans are great, but ones that are easily mocked are a real risk to any company's brand. Kimpton Hotels' tag line is, "Every hotel tells a story."

After spending three nights at their Sir Francis Drake hotel in Union Square I recognize that this hotel really does have a story to tell, and it's not a good one. Despite a very comfortable bed, if a guest finds themselves unfortunate enough to have a room facing Powell Street, there exists little chance of getting a good night's sleep. The street and construction noise are guaranteed to awaken even the heaviest of sleepers.

While I haven't left my heart in San Francisco on this trip, I will definitely leave any chance of a good night's sleep.