March 13, 2017

What are your home dealbreakers?

On the trail of a likely home: Shh! We're huntin' houses!We’ve been going over our priorities for a new home for weeks now. There are the obvious ones: near public transit, in good school districts, walkability score, safety.

Then there are the personal things: I don’t want anything with stairs, my joints need to avoid that kind of daily up and down. He wants something facing east.

What’s tough is that this market is unnerving and bizarre. Most listings are in contract within 7 days of the open house, if not sooner, typically sell for  20% over their list price, and it’s not uncommon for them to go for more than that.

It’s such a seller’s market that we’re at a huge disadvantage making offers against people who have oodles and oodles of money. We can’t make an all cash offer, and we aren’t willing to go into a multi-million dollar loan. In some ways, it’s a good thing. We simply can’t be tempted to buy too much house! (And who wants to clean 5,000 square feet of living space??)

I looked into foreclosures but they’re priced just as badly, well north of $500K, and the buyers would have to take on the property as is. It’d be one thing if I were healthy, we can learn to be handy, but since I’m not, and we’re not renovation experts, that’s out.

We’re seeing some trustee sales which mean there’s less information available, but that doesn’t stop people from buying, and some are even buying sight unseen before the listing agent has a chance to host an open house!

Speaking of weird, I’ve even seen houses renovated without things like full showers or ovens. What? Who completely removes an oven from a kitchen? These Bay Area people, I don’t understand them. Who puts in a shower so narrow that I’d be claustrophobic in it? I’m tiny, and can fit into some bizarrely small places, but those showers are scary. Then there’s the places with almost mini-fridges. I think that’s an old timey thing, when fridges weren’t the monsters they are today, but we need our fridge space. We’re big eaters, here!

It’s strange, I tell ya.

The other half of my work this quarter is getting our place ready to sell, which means going through all kinds of disclosures that we’ll have to declare (nothing major, a few dents and scratches), and learning what sellers are required by law to declare.

One of the disclosures stood out to me: sellers must declare whether there’s been a death in the home in the last three years.

Would you be bothered if there had been a death in the home that you intended to buy, assuming it was because of natural causes?

I’m not sure if it would bother me, but I’m not sure we can afford to be picky about that, either 😀

As PiC said, “what are you gonna do when you’re bringing a knife to a gun fight?”  (Me: “Bring TWO knives!”)  We are enormous dorks.

Edit to add information people have shared on Twitter

Death doesn’t seem to bother anyone but you have to actually asked if meth was ever made in the home, they aren’t necessarily required to disclose that, and you can still get sick even after it’s been cleared out.


:: Would you consider a home that didn’t have a built in stove, oven, dishwasher, or fridge? What would you be willing to give up? When’s the last time you had to go home-hunting?


*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich.*

March 8, 2017

An ode to massages

When massage therapy is physical therapy and makes living possibleMost people get massages for relaxation and pampering. I used to, once upon a time. They were a treat to get me from one bad flare up to another. Over time, they became the only effective physical therapy left in my toolbox. I stay active, walking as much as I can every day, stretch, do deep breathing exercises to complement my medication regimen. But that’s not enough.

The gift of fibromyalgia is ever-present pain, waking or sleeping, forever. It might be localized to a couple of areas, or generalized to my entire body, or shift from area to area. The one thing it isn’t, is gone. This may mean radiating muscular pain, shooting pains up my back, or twangs in my shoulders so they permanently attach themselves to my ears. It could mean that on an otherwise pleasant walk with Seamus, my knee gives out with every third step, or that the ball and socket joint of my hip grinds bone against bone. It might also mean that my fingers and toes suddenly swell up, making typing more than awkward, and walking even more so.

It definitely means that whatever twinges, shrieks, and burns, the rest of my body tenses up in response to the assault.

This produces a less than salubrious effect on the rest of my body, transmitting panic and trauma down the spinal cord, sending fight or flight messages to overworked and confused neurons which respond by clenching my jaw tighter than a vise in shop class, my neck muscles lose elasticity and become like steel braided rope. This repeats over and over with every muscle down to my tippy toes, and no amount of stretching will release the tension. Pain breeds stress which breeds tension which breeds pain. It’s a cycle that only a massage therapist can break.

Applying the kind of pressure that could double for an MMA submission hold, my therapist bears down on stubbornly wound-tight muscles, bringing tears to my eyes. I breathe through it as best as I can, until she moves on to the next one, and the next one. An hour feels like three, as the pain I chose forces out the aftereffects of the pain I didn’t choose. By the time it’s over, I’m nearly gasping with relief that it’s stopped. A true bargain!

I pride myself on not actually crying, which would stop the therapist in her tracks, because after it’s over, and I’m laying there, endorphins I can no longer summon through a good hard workout flood my body. And for a few hours or days, I can turn my head, turn at the waist, bend my knees (carefully) and not send a freight train of pain screeching through myself.

The money part

Because there’s always a money part. I could once claim back the cost of the massages from our FSA, with a doctor’s note, but our FSA account is overcommitted now so that’s a savings route we can’t take.

My other way to make them more affordable is to buy SpaFinder gift cards at a 10% discount. Or it was, anyway. My spa stopped accepting them without warning this year, after many years of taking them. I found myself mournfully holding a $250 gift card for the year that I couldn’t use. Thankfully, though it took several days, I finagled a refund.

This means getting fewer massages since only a few therapists can do the kind of bodywork that I need without injuring me – I learned this lesson the very hard and painful way.

With any luck, this should still be better than last year when I was so sick for most of the year that I couldn’t get any massages at all! Savings: not worth it.

:: We all need something to make it through the day, week or month. What do you do for yourself to reduce stress and live better? 

February 27, 2017

Feeling rich and poor, simultaneously

Rich or poor: how much do you need? What would it take for you to feel rich? Specifically money rich? Joe at Retire by 40 asked.

I feel rich and poor at the same time. A very strange feeling, that. I told Joe that we’re at this weird crossroads of nearly being there, for us, and then having the rug pulled out from under us with the house thing. It wouldn’t matter in another COLA but it matters a great deal here.

About 80% of our assets are invested in real estate and the stock market, intentionally. That was a long term plan I developed based on the assumption that we would pay off this mortgage in approximately 7 years. During that time, we’d go on to save at least half the same amount of cash that we do each year now, and invest that cash. At the end of 7 years, I’d legitimately feel wealthy, if all went according to that outline.

Ignoring those categories of assets, as I do in covering a contingency of this size, we’re not near the shouting distance of the neighborhood of rich.

It would be shortsighted to sell off our budding portfolio or rental property and I’m not prepared to toss either of those to the winds. It would require a far bigger catastrophe for me to be willing to liquidate our long-term assets.

On the other hand, a couple weeks ago, I started the conversation with our lender. Apparently he thinks we’re great borrowers and is totally competent as well because after 4 days, he approved our loan for a vast sum. (This is in stark contrast to our refinancing with SoFi that took almost six months. I’m at least a little bitter that I wasted all that time, now!) I don’t even like to think the number, but it’s real: $800,000.

Even with that large a loan, we’re still priced out of most homes in this area. Even smaller places, and more rundown places, than what we have now are running more than $1M. I’m just not willing to take on more debt than that.

Pardon me as I shudder in the corner for a while.

Safe to say, where we are right now? Weird. I also don’t like our financial stability to be dependent on “as long as nothing else goes wrong” because in my experience, that’s an open invitation to my old friend Murphy to come kick me in the ribs.

:: How much do you need to feel rich? Are you on a steady trajectory to that point or is it more of a waltz?

*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich, and Racing Towards Retirement*

February 15, 2017

Figuring out family and asking for support

When helping family turns into a thorny mess The story of my money and my family goes back to the very start of this blog. I wanted to be independent for my own sake, but also wanted to take care of them as they had me. I wanted to support them until they got back on their feet.

More than ten long years of striving later, the truth of today is hard to swallow. My dad isn’t who he once was. He’s not the person I dedicated half my life to helping. He’s become, maybe as a result of my taking on so much responsibility, someone who lies to me, and takes from me. Because he’s not working with me, for his own benefit, but rather working against me, I have to step away from this relationship even more. He’s not just undermining my efforts, he’s damaging my ability to trust people, all over again.

This truth has lain heavy on my heart for months, for years. It hasn’t set me free, I didn’t know what I could do with this revelation.

In all these years, I’ve kept this a secret from the rest of the family. I didn’t share my challenges, or discuss Dad’s actions, I just took care of business. It was my other way of protecting them – I didn’t want them to look bad in front of their siblings. It wasn’t something they asked me to do but it felt, much like writing anonymously, it was just the right thing to do. Take care of your business and don’t share that with people outside the family. Heck, I barely learned to let PiC in on the secret, in no small part, due to the scars it left.

Walking Seamus in the dusk, ground wet from the (drought-breaking?) rain last week, I finally felt overwhelmed. After all the struggle, when confronted with a need to move, I find that honoring my responsibilities has left us with the choice of no choice at all. To change living situations, we have to make financial commitments that eliminate even the possibility of asking whether I want more kids. We can’t afford to have that answer be yes. We can’t afford to take on foster kids, we can’t adopt more dogs, we can’t afford to add to our family in any way.

With that frustrating realization, something in me dissolved. That last bit of pride fell right out of me and I called my aunt.

Not my rich aunt, I don’t have one of those. My poor aunt, the one who still knows what it’s like to struggle because she still works every day plus weekends to provide for her family, putting off retirement for another couple of years so she can be sure her kids make it through their internship years.

I asked her if she had a minute. I asked if she might talk to my dad about his housing situation, and convince him to apply for housing assistance. He should be eligible. For more than five years, he’d been telling me that he always intended to move out now that Mom’s gone but he’s done nothing. We think that he doesn’t want to move to a more affordable place because he’s tied to Mom’s memories there. It’s the only way I can see us squeezing any more money out of our budget – we’re currently footing the bill for his rent and utilities, all of which add up to well over a thousand dollars a month but I can’t very well push him again without coming off like a total jerk.

What she had to say shocked me.

Not only did she already know what I’ve been doing all this time, she’s talked to (at) Dad in the past already. She and the other aunts have always helped a bit as they can – bringing by food, or clothes when they spot a great bargain, but they can’t tackle his living expenses. This I knew.

What I didn’t know was that while doing so, she’s told him that grieving Mom is one thing, and his right, but he has to attend to the living as well. If he loves me, as he should, he shouldn’t let his grief for someone who is gone override his love for the person who’s still here working her tuchus off. He should be looking for ways to ease the burden on me. She and her family love me, unconditionally, and it’s clear to them that he needs to be making better choices, my support notwithstanding. He’s not, she says, “realistic.” That’s a very accurate assessment. He’s never had to learn to live with our poverty, not really. He’s always had me to cushion the financial hits, to pinch the pennies, and Mom did it before me. It’s past time that he starts making better choices, and nothing I’ve said has ever made a difference. She’s agreed to try to talk to him about it.

I don’t expect results immediately, maybe not at all, but the confession, and hearing someone in the family agree with me and offer to support me, was unexpectedly hard. You’d think it’d be harder to go solo – but I’m used to that. I’m NOT used to being vulnerable enough for someone to offer help.

Choked up, I confessed, I’m not sure that he loves me, judging by his choices. It’s a hard thing to say out loud and I thought it didn’t matter, but it does. The knowledge makes it much harder to continue to give and sacrifice freely, even if money wasn’t an issue.

While I can’t (won’t) put him out on the street, I must pull back on some of the bills we pay. With someone, another elder, willing to push him to live more prudently, and make changes, I can take steps to minimize the financial harm. He’s more likely to give into that pressure.

Whether it’s because of the shaming fact of my going to his sibling, or that he’s more willing to listen to her, it appears that he already has given in.

For 5 years, he’s said my sibling refused to apply for disability assistance which would include housing support to pay for the rent that I’ve been footing. I don’t disbelieve that, but I don’t necessarily believe he’d done all he could, either. Mere days after my aunt said she would step in, they started the application and approval process. I can’t know if the magic was my aunt stepping in, for certain, but the timing is certainly telling.

We need to save every bit that we can now, and he needs to make ends meet on his own eventually, with or without sibling. It’ll take months for the process to be completed. Then we’ll see if I see a penny of that housing assistance without becoming a bill collector but this is the first step toward that goal.

Wish me luck?

:: Have you ever had to make a tough love decision? Tell me about it?

February 13, 2017

When you can’t throw money at the problem(s)

Dogcare and when I can't throw money at our problems I hate change (that I didn’t initiate) so much. This is turning out to be the season of many changes, many more than we had originally planned.

We have that awful neighbor / house thing happening right now, which means we have to pare our things down to the bare minimum, and then put a great deal of furniture in storage. That also requires renting a truck to move said furniture to and from storage. And of course that’s the smaller portion of the greater problem: we have to show and sell our place, while finding a place for ourselves to buy. And then move.

That’s been stressing me out but I’ve just about been able to handle it, even with dealing with the logistics for a big trip we have to take later this year.

It’s almost like I was taunting my old friend Murphy who came swooping in with a new problem and dropped it on my head.

I’ve been trying to book our favorite, and most trusted, and let’s be honest, our only trusted petsitters well ahead of time. We always try to give them as much notice as possible. This isn’t just our favorite sitter, this is The Perfect Sitter. They made themselves available when JuggerBaby was born, picking him up, dropping him off, bathing him, keeping him an extra day when we had to stay in the hospital another night. They take him for hikes, their dogs cuddle with him, they sleep together on his bed. They text with pictures and updates regularly, they spot even the slightest new thing wrong with him and alert me immediately.

But – you knew that was coming, right? – they are unexpectedly unavailable for several months this year. We would normally need to leave Seamus with them a few times, and now we have to find a new sitter entirely.

This has happened before.

A few weeks before we went to Italy, 20 days before we were set to leave, our sitter had serious issues that prevented her from watching Doggle. Given the short timeframe we had to find another sitter, I wanted to skip the trip and stay home with Doggle and Seamus who had just come to live with us. That feeling seemed irrational at the time. There are competent, caring people who can care for a dog, and some of them live right here! We finally chose to trust a friend – I’ve regretted it ever since. The worst possible thing happened: we lost Doggle.

Can you imagine how little I want to go on any trip, much less an international trip in these uncertain times, and leave Seamus in the hands of someone who hasn’t proven to be a completely reliable, intelligent, resourceful sitter with great communication?

This is one of those times where I would normally just say damn the cost, and find a way to fly out a trusted friend for a vacation for the price of hanging out with and caring for Seamus.

This is one of those times that totally sucks because I can’t afford to throw that kind of money at the problem. Our housing situation is going to suck up every bit of cash we have and then some.

I have more than just 3 weeks to find someone suitable, this time, but I can’t shake that horrible feeling that this is going to turn out terribly again and I don’t know how I’d forgive myself if that came to be true.

:: Tell me that it’s possible to find a second great dogsitter in a few weeks? Tell me good stories of your pets (or kids if that’s your thing) being taken care of by other people?

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