Archive for March, 2011

Handing over the keys to my Townhouse

Apologies for my extended absence. I certainly didn’t intend to be away. Life just happened, it seems.

In the last month, the tenant in my rental property has moved out, I’ve sought out, and found a new tenant. Today, I’ll head up to the property to put a bit of a spit-polish on the place and hand over the keys to the new folks.

The good news is, the townhouse is rented. I’ve received first and last.

I’m actually not sure which stage of being a landlord makes me more nervous. It’s a toss up between the time that I know the property will be empty and I start seeking out a new tenant, and this stage, as I hand over the keys to a new person.

Yes, I’ve done my homework on them. Homework in this case usually means a credit check, verification of previous addresses and employment, verification of any outstanding accounts due or overdue accounts, and some references. Then there’s the all important “gut check”. Do I get a good vibe from the person?

Seems ironic to me that I have a rather good track record of renting the townhouse to single parents. This time my tenant is a Dad. He’s in his early 40s, professional, and seems to have a high octane career he’s held for some time. I’ve met his young daughter, and she’s delightful. Seeing him with his daughter helps tell me who he is, as a person. Even if I’m only observing them together for a short period of time.

The anxiety comes when I think ahead to May. Will I get the rent cheque on May 1? Will it clear? Usually until this happens, I do a little bit of finger crossing.

On the other hand, I’m going to enjoy today. I get a bit of pride when I have townhouse cleaning day. It really is a nice property. It’s been well cared for by me and (most) of my previous tenants. The reason my new tenant rented it is because it shows so well. He said “I’m surprised at how nice it is, I don’t have to do anything or worry about anything!” It’s true, it’s quite nice. If it were in Toronto I could live in it myself.

My townhouse is priced pretty much at the top of what the market will allow in this particular community. It means I get fewer calls than I would if it were less money, but I usually get more qualified tenants that way. I said usually, not always!

I’m also a bit shocked at the reason most of my tenants, qualified or not, are seeking out a place. Most of the calls come from people who are newly or recently separated. Often, they’re desperate to find a place fast, and they haven’t rented something in a long time. How the person shares their story with me gives me some insight to where they’re at, and let’s me know whether or not I want to do business with them.

One of my early calls came from a fellow who was just parting with his wife. He liked my townhouse because it was in his children’s school district. He was ticked off that he had to call me, ticked off that his lawyer was costing him a bundle, ticked off at his ex-wife…you get the idea. I didn’t want to be the next person on a long list of people that were born to make his life miserable.

My new tenant, however, has been separated for long enough that his head is in a good space, he’s found the sweet spot to relate to his ex-wife, and he’s doting on his children. He communicates clearly via email and on the phone, without ranting about how unfair life is.

Despite my task today as domestic engineer, I’ll enjoy it. Wish me luck with the new fella!

My Office hurts…literally.

Over the last little while, I’ve been experiencing some aches and pains beyond the usual complaints. I realized that these were particularly acute after I returned after my little vacation in February.

What was different? I went back to sitting at my desk all day.

That’s a picture of my desk. I adore my desk. It’s a totally old-school double pedestal desk. I’ve spent a lot of TLC on this desk painting it a warm white, to coordinate with my casual/cottage decorating style here at home. I’ve also distressed it lightly. Normally I don’t toot my own horn too loudly, but I really perfected my technique on this piece of furniture.

Add some nice rubbed bronze hardware, and a custom cut piece of polished glass for the top, and I have myself a Pottery Barn-esque desk. Charming, yes. Ergonomic? Absolutely not.

Sadly, I’ve realized that my desk is the wrong height for my laptop, and my adjustable (and crappy) office chair is as high as it will go. My wrists are at the wrong angle for my keyboard. The desk isn’t wide enough to put the computer monitor far enough away from my eyeballs. This, combined with the same crappy chair are causing wrist, neck, back and shoulder pain.

Since I spend a fair bit of time in my home office, it’s the place where I really do work all day, I realize that I need to invest in proper furniture designed for a computer to allow me to age at a normal rate, rather than at the rate I feel like I’ve been aging over the last short while.

The first thing I did was to call a local office furniture specialist. They said they were ergonomic specialists. Imagine my excitement! Well, they’re just really sales specialists. There was no ergonomic assessment. They did measure my space and propose a couple of desk solutions for me. The price of the two desk options wasn’t too astronomical, but add to that delivery (much more than usual because I have stairs…like nobody else in the world has stairs), installation and taxes. Suddenly, the options start to look a little out of line, particularly considering the aesthetic: particle board, cubicle inhabiting, uninspired design. Oh, and add another six-ish weeks for manufacture and delivery.

Speaking of particle board, I also took my hunt to IKEA. IKEA does have a solution that I quite like. However, the solution will come in just shy of $1000 without a chair. That price includes delivery, but I can conscript a kid for assembly. At least IKEA has an eye to some design aesthetic. Perhaps the office specialists weren’t counting on the home office business, and figured the usual cubicle hunk of wood is a one-size-fits-most solution?

After I chewed on the IKEA price tag for a while I realized that for that money I could have a real Pottery Barn desk. Guess who went to Pottery Barn? They have some nice options there, particularly this large Printer’s Writing desk, but I’m still not convinced that the IKEA solution wouldn’t be better.

I’m really torn. Pottery Barn will deliver in 4-6 weeks. My body isn’t crazy about that time line.

Yes, I’ve perused Craigslist. I see some of the components to the IKEA solution on Craigslist, but this means renting a truck, transporting assembled furniture, and then disassembling it to get it down my basement stairs. Insert huge hassle here. I know why people buy new from IKEA instead of second hand. Sometimes it’s just easier to bring home the flat box and assemble it on the spot. Plus, even if I went this route, I’d still have to pick up some other pieces at IKEA anyway. Why not turn multiple hassles into just one?

Meanwhile, the aches have escalated to the point where I have physiotherapy twice a week right now. I know I have to make a change. My old faithful desk is being offered up on Craigslist, along with my crappy office chair. Folks think they’re “cute”. Lots of inquiries so far. I trust by the weekend it will be sold. Then I’ll be totally deskless. Between the sale of my desk and a few other bits of furniture I was using to cobble together an office solution, I should come away with around $400 to put toward the new purchases.

I think the girls are hoping for the IKEA solution.  I’m seeing Pottery Barn, but wondering about my patience with the delivery time, and the issues around no cord strategy with a plain writer’s desk.

Since I still have Mom’s Costco card, perhaps I’ll take a closer look there on the weekend and make a decision. They do have an office chair that I find comfortable and reasonable at a sub-$100 price tag.

Too bad I’m not ready to retire quite yet. That’d solve everything.

New Eavestroughs in my future

I’ve known for some time that the eavestroughs on my house need a bit of TLC, if not ripping off and replacing. There’s also the issue of the varmit who lives above the master bedroom of the house. A wee black squirrel. I’ve seen him. He only comes out for water.

This week I managed to call a local contractor to give me a quote to replace the eaves on most of the house, as well as to add a downspout to the front (to reduce wear and tear on my two-year old roof) and a new downspout to my rainbarrel at the back of the house.

I was dreading this.

The contractor gave me an instant feel good vibe. He handed me his list of references before I had a chance to ask, complete with names, addresses, phone numbers and the type of job(s) he’s done for them. He’s also been in business for a bit more than 30 years. Nice track record.

As a single woman, I’m always worried that somebody like this will make me feel like a dufus or try and rake me over the fiscal coals. This guy did none of that. In fact, I told him I thought I needed new eaves and soffit and facia. He said I only needed new eaves, and perhaps a bigger repair job where Mr. Squirrel has created a doorway.

In my ongoing effort to simplify my life and be kinder to my psyche, I signed off on his quote. Nope, I didn’t get a second or a third quote. I had instant good feelings about this fellow.  I also opted to get the kind of eavestrough with the built in screen. There are 9 mature maple trees surrounding my back yard. Actually, there are absolutely none in my yard specifically, but don’t think for a minute that I escape the leaf downpour. I love being surrounded by trees, but that means more work in the fall. Strangely, I actually enjoy raking. I like the sound of the leaves rustling, I like the smell of the grass and the leaves, and I enjoy getting a bit of an upper body workout!

What I don’t enjoy is getting out an extension ladder and a green garbage bag and scraping the leaves out of my eavestrough. In fact, I’ve avoided it. Sometimes, an industrious fella may wander into the neighbourhood and offer to do it for $30, and I almost always accept. I haven’t seen that fella in a couple of years, however.

So, in a few weeks, I’ll have new eavestroughs, and be $1500 poorer. It’s not a very sexy place to put your money, but it’s necessary. I’m hopeful this fellow works out, I can see that we could have a great relationship over the years to come.

Line of Credit balance: $0…for now

No balloons, no cheerful rainbows or fuzzy unicorns. However, this morning my line of credit stands at a balance of $0. I’m happy about this, but I know this will last for the next 52 days only. After April 30, there will be a negative balance there again for a short while.

My AMEX is paid in full. That’s where I charged my new motorcycle.

Visa bill is due next week, it’ll be paid in full too, just like it always is.

The only outstanding (and massive) bill left to pay are my 2010 personal taxes. I have money set aside for this, but since I’ve used a portion of that money to pay for my motorcycle, I will come up a bit short when that cheque clears for the Canada Revenue Agency on April 30, 2011. The difference will be the new balance on my line of credit.

It seems so odd to see the balance in my online statement:  Credit available $27,000.000               Balance Due $0.       Nice. I’ve never seen that! There was a balance due the moment I had the credit available. After all, that’s why I had a credit line, right?

Once the dust settles after the taxes are paid, we’ll see what the damage is. Meanwhile, any surplus that may come my way in the next 52 days will most certainly go to my financial parking lot, to reduce the impact on the credit line come April 30.

When that balance is paid off at some point, then prepare yourself for rainbows and unicorns (and lots of wine at a dinner out). There will be a celebration!

Hey lady, want to sell your house?

This is a phrase I’ve heard a couple of times during my years of home ownership. Today was the third.

Back in the 80s, an acquaintance telephoned me at work and said “I drove by your house three times today, is it for sale?” While I didn’t know this woman very well at the time, I knew enough to understand if a chick drives by your house three times in one day, she’s got it bad. Since we weren’t star-crossed lovers, and she had no other reason to do a drive-by, I knew she was dead serious.

This woman didn’t know about the conversations that were happening in the house at that time. We were deciding whether or not to pour a bunch of money into the place to make it nicer, live with the ugly bits, or to sell it. To make a weird story short, I convinced my husband to take our infant daughter out for dinner that night, I did a “white tornado” job through the house and invited this acquaintance and her hubby over for some wine. They came in with a verbal offer that night. We had it wrapped up legally within about a week. Nope, the house wasn’t for sale, but it was indeed sold.

The second time this happend, that same husband and I had some serious conversations about the longevity of our marriage. The status of our marital home would eventually be considered as we went through this difficult time. Enter another woman. This time, a stranger. She was hunting for a home on my street and liked the look of ours from the curb. She came in for lemonade. I assured her the house was not for sale, but I would consider her interest and have the house appraised and get back to her with a number, and we could continue our conversation at that time. When I called her back with the number, she was no longer interested. Without a word of a lie, that same day a realtor knocked on the door declaring he had a buyer for our home. That realtor and I are still friends. He did sell the house, and then sold my husband and I two more homes across the street from each other about a block away.

Today when my home phone rang, I didn’t expect to hear a realtor say “hi my name is” and “I’m wondering if you’re interested in selling your home?”

Do I give off some karma when I’m having the homeowner blues? Do people know? I know this realtor by name only. He’s very active in higher end listings in my neighbourhood. I wouldn’t normally consider my house in line with the stuff I normally see his name on.

He said “you do live at this address, right?” and confirms my address. I assured him he had it correct. Then he starts with “have you ever considered a move, or listing your home in the near future?” For a moment, I had a couple of flashbacks. He added “normally I go door knocking, but it’s a bit cold today, I thought I’d give you a call.”

I let him know that I loved my house, and as difficult as it may be at times to balance the books with my mortgage, I’m committed to sticking it out until I either have my hips replaced and can’t get up the stairs anymore, or they put a tag on my toes and carry me out the front door. He said “you have a nice yard, don’t you?” and I said “I have the nicest yard in the city”. He went on to explain how my street was very desireable, and he even said it was his favourite street in the neighbourhood.

My street is a bit of a hidden jem. It’s actually a crescent. There are only about 40 houses on it, most of them semi-detached (like mine). Because it’s a crescent, there are a few houses, who enjoy being on the outside of the curve, who have a massive back yard. I don’t have the biggest yard, but all modesty aside, I think I do have the nicest. (It’s tied for second place for the second biggest, I think). I have absolutely no front yard to speak of.

The realtor said “I can’t get anybody to sell their house on your street”, and I responded with “I’m not surprised.” People who live here have lived here for a long time. There’s an older couple, in their late 70s down the street from me. She was born in that house. My neighbour moved once, but from one end of the street to the house attached to mine. We’re very close to the busy streets that one needs to get from A to B, but far enough away not to be bothered by the noise or traffic they generate. Folks can walk to a very desireable commercial district with anything you could ever want to find. They can also walk to the subway easily.

Despite my whining about the cost and the work involved with owning this house, at that moment it was clear to me that no, I didn’t want to sell my house. It was the first time somebody asked and I didn’t suggest a glass of wine or lemonade to discuss it further. His calling me tells me that my house does have value, and that value isn’t likely to take any big hits over time. Sure, if the market tanks entirely, this property value will go with it – but in the grand scheme of things, my house will never be on a busy street, and will never be more than a 10 minute walk from a pretty cool commercial/pub/shopping scene. I may not be interested in holding onto the property if I find myself living entirely alone. Who really knows?

I like living here because it gives me joy, comfort and I take some pride in maintaining it (both from a domestic and financial point of view). Hey, I had to buy this house twice already, I’m not going that easily.

For now, I’m reminded I should update the appraisal I had done in July of 2009 and just see where it’s at. Maybe when the snow melts and the buds push up, the place will look that much nicer.

P.S. Nope, that’s not a picture of my house up there. I just want to get a paintbrush and fix it up though!

Acts of kindness

Seems I’m a bit of a wuss.

Only a few days ago I boldly declared that I wasn’t going to accept any more fill-in opportunities for my part-time gig. That lasted two days. Since I wrote that, and was convinced of it, I’ve accepted three fill-in shifts.

Shall I say again, I am not accepting any more opportunities to fill-in for others, certainly not in March.

Last night a colleague asked me to cover for her for a couple of shifts. I agreed because she’s kind, she’s hard-working, and recently she’s been extra good to my family through another act of goodness. When I agreed, she offered me her complimentary tickets to see an upcoming performance at The National Ballet of Canada. I was overwhelmed.

First I said “no, that’s okay.” She presumed I wouldn’t like to sit through a full-length ballet – it’s not everybody’s cup of tea. Truth is, I would love it! The offer was just so generous I didn’t know what to do with it! I’ve taken the girls to the ballet before, trust me, it isn’t cheap. It’s about the same as a month’s worth of groceries. That’s why we only go every few years, if at all. When I assured her I loved the ballet, and assured myself that she wouldn’t get into any trouble for the offer, I gladly accepted.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been the recipient of more than one act of kindness. My step-mother also sent me an unexpected gift of $125 for helping her find, screen and secure a tenant for an apartment she has for rent. My step-mother isn’t internet savvy, and isn’t as well versed in the Landlord Tenant Act as I am. I was happy to help her out.

Honestly though, I was also happy to see the kindness returned. It doesn’t have to be money or ballet tickets, but it sure is nice to hear that others have appreciated that you did a little something for them. Recently I exchanged some emails with a friend I haven’t corresponded with for a number of years. Even just the “thanks for taking the time to write such a thoughtful note” makes is an act of kindness.

I work a second job because I need the extra income to balance the books here at home. I also work that second job because I enjoy the work, and I almost always get instant feedback from the members we serve. Of course I love my full-time gig too.

The revenue will help me accomplish my financial goals of being consumer debt free, and live a financially sustainable life. However, the people that I get to interact on a day-to-day basis make me richer as a person, just by sharing bits of themselves with me and allowing me to do the same. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

Aren’t we lucky? I sure am.