Saturday, June 1, 2013

Settling Down

Five years ago today I was looking for a place to live.  The house I’d lived in in Coral Gables — a nice little place on a side street with nice neighbors and seven miles from my office — was in foreclosure because the guy who bought the place from my original landlord never bothered to pay the mortgage.

With the help of my good friend Margaret, a realtor and a whiz at finding the right place for the right people, we found this house.  It’s much bigger than the old place, and it’s in a very nice, quiet neighborhood.  Out back is a waterway, part of the water management system here in south Florida, so I can say with some truthfulness that I have waterfront property in Florida.  It gets recreational use by canoers, kayakers, and people out for a quiet day of fishing or boating.  It’s ten miles further to the office than the old place, but I’d rather have the quality of life I have here, and the drive can be pleasant, especially in winter when the cool breeze and side streets invite a top-down drive home.

1. Front

This is what the place looked like on Sunday, June 1, 2008 when we pulled up.  I’d looked at a number of different places, but when I saw this one, I just knew it was the place.  That afternoon I signed the lease — being assured that the place was not in foreclosure — and the following Thursday I moved in.  Here I am, five years later.  The place looks pretty much the same except the bushes in the front have grown up — and been trimmed back.

By my count, I’ve lived at nineteen different addresses since I moved out of my parents’ place on the way to college in 1971… not including a couple of times where I boomeranged back to live with them.  At times I lived in several places even if I only lived in the town for a short time, like when I was in Minneapolis for grad school from 1975 to 1977.  The place where I did the most roaming was Colorado where I had five different domiciles between September 1982 and October 1990, and that’s not including the summers at camp where I shared a cabin with kids and ravenous mice.

This place is the longest I’ve stayed put since I was a kid, and certainly the longest I’ve been in a place of my own.  It took a while for me to settle in: I waited until November 2008 before I got around to hanging all the pictures — with the counsel and guidance of my parents over Thanksgiving — and it took a full three years to unpack all the boxes of books and get the guest room set up.

I like it here.  I like having a nice yard and patio, I like having the visits from the ibises and even the noisy peacocks, and I like the fact that I don’t have to think about finding another place to live.  Settling down is a comfort.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Short Takes

Not looking good — The Eurozone crisis continues.

Slow Progress — Talks with Iran about their nuclear program didn’t have a breakthrough.

Poll: Obama leads in Florida, Virginia, and Ohio.

A very cold case may be closed.

Diplomatic Corpse — Rick Scott embarrasses the King of Spain.

It better have a good view — $25 million for a condo in South Beach.

Tropical Update: Invest 94 passed by South Florida

The Tigers lose yet again to the Indians.

Short Takes

Not looking good — The Eurozone crisis continues.

Slow Progress — Talks with Iran about their nuclear program didn’t have a breakthrough.

Poll: Obama leads in Florida, Virginia, and Ohio.

A very cold case may be closed.

Diplomatic Corpse — Rick Scott embarrasses the King of Spain.

It better have a good view — $25 million for a condo in South Beach.

Tropical Update: Invest 94 passed by South Florida

The Tigers lose yet again to the Indians.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Short Takes

David Cameron is Britain’s new Prime Minister.

Try, try again — A “top hat” is lowered onto the leak in the Gulf.

Yet another stabbing rampage in China; seven dead.

Oil company execs pass the blame in testimony on Capitol Hill.

The pope blames the church for the sexual abuse scandal.

Beau Biden is recovering from a “mild” stroke.

Overseas buyers fuel the condo sales market in Miami.

A 16-year-old high school basketball player in Texas turns out to be someone else: a 22-year-old guy from Florida.

The Tigers and Yankees were rained out; they’ll play a double-header today.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Short Takes

The bill is signed. (And yes, it is a “big fucking deal.”)

Now the Senate has to finish the reconciliation bill.

They’re trying to smooth things over with Israel.

Some insurgents in Afghanistan have a peace plan.

The stock market is taking off.

The South Florida real estate market is edging up, too.

Teacher tenure in trouble in Tallahassee.

The pythons are still in the Everglades despite the cold winter.

Bert Blyleven likes the White Sox and the Tigers in the AL Central.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Short Takes

The terror suspect in the NY case is charged.

Wary — the results of a CBS/New York Times poll on Afghanistan and healthcare.

Meanwhile, the president makes gains at the UN with Iran and nukes.

Here’s what they know so far about the death of Bill Sparkman, the census worker found dead in Kentucky.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been hospitalized.

Check your medicine chest for infant and children’s Tylenol products.

Now’s the time to buy a house in South Florida.

The things you find while wandering the English countryside.

The Tigers sweep the Indians and add a half a game to their lead in the division.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Short Takes

NATO hits a stolen fuel truck in Afghanistan and kills up to 60 people.

The unemployment rate still sucks, but at least it’s not getting worse.

The White House will open up the visitor logs.

There was a huge rally in Seattle in support of the healthcare reform plans, but since nobody waved pictures of Hitler or bit anyone, it didn’t make it into the headlines.

Wingnuts in California get worked up over the slightest things: a commemoration for Harvey Milk.

Meanwhile, some members of Congress prepare a repeal of DOMA.

Want to buy a cheap condo in downtown Miami?

The Tigers beat Tampa Bay in Tampa. And speaking of the Tigers, best wishes and get well soon to Ernie Harwell, the man who taught me all about baseball over the radio.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Busted

A lot of people — including yours truly — know all too well that the real estate market here in Florida sucks, and in Miami-Dade it sucks out loud with cheese on it.

The bursting of the Florida real-estate bubble now has a price tag: $153 billion.

That’s the loss in market value of all Florida properties, from houses to businesses, between 2007 and 2008.

As a result, state economists say, the total value of the state’s properties will decrease an unprecedented 6 percent. That’s double what they had estimated in November, when they noted the fast-booming state had never experienced such a decline in recent times.

That means that with property taxes going down, so will the tax revenues, which means less money for the things that we all need and use, like schools, roads, police and fire departments (one county is mulling over the idea of charging out-of-county accident victims for the time emergency services spend taking care of them), and all of the other things that are paid for through taxes.

And what is Gov. Charlie Crist’s great idea? Cut property taxes even more while raising the sales tax. The logic, such as it is, is that while property taxes are too high and don’t hit everyone directly, everyone pays sales taxes. The problem with that is that sales taxes hit poorer people harder; someone who makes $17,000 a year spends a lot more of their income on the necessities of life such as food, clothing, and fuel than people who make $170,000, and there’s no difference at the gas pump: a gallon of gas still costs $4 if you’re pumping it into a 1988 Toyota or a 2008 Mercedes-Benz SL 600.

Florida is the only state I’ve lived in — and I’ve lived in a lot — that doesn’t have a state income tax. The state constitution was amended back in the early part of the 20th century to prohibit it in order to encourage tourists, who at some point would become retirees and move here; the idea being that sales tax revenue through tourism and property taxes would more than make up for the lost revenue. Well, that was over 70 years ago, and times have changed; hurricanes and rising gas prices have taught us that tourism is not as reliable a source of income as George Merrick and other boom-builders thought it would be forever. Retirees are finding other places to go such as Arizona, New Mexico or, like some people I know, just staying put. Unlike Blanche Dubois, Florida can no longer depend upon the kindness of strangers… or their money.

One of my friends at work who knows about such things did a projection a couple of years ago that showed that a 3% state income tax based on the same formula a lot of other states use would not only give the state enough revenue to cut property taxes down to a reasonable level, they would be able to fund public education at the level it deserves and possibly even give us a budget surplus in a few years. But unless you can convince a super majority of the state’s voters to accept the idea of repealing the income tax amendment and voting for yet another tax, even if it meant saving property owners and businesses money, we’ll still be figuring how to squeeze the air out of a busted balloon.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Squatters

The real estate bust in South Florida takes its toll on high-rise condos.

Someone had kicked the door in on the foreclosure on the 33rd floor at The Club at Brickell Bay. Last week, Lori Rice, the building’s property manager, pushed it open. Inside, she found the tell-tale signs of a squatter: a mattress on the floor, a few toiletries in the bathroom.

”Clearly, a man was staying in there,” Rice said, adding that she called the police.

When police arrived on Monday they found the marble floors splashed with black paint. The man had fled, leaving destruction in his wake — along with a change of clothes in the washing machine.

Among the decidedly low-rent problems plaguing South Florida’s luxury condo market, squatters are the latest headache to arise from the glut of vacant foreclosures in some of Miami’s toniest condominiums.

At a recent meeting at the Brickell on the River North, a room full of property managers sat down to commiserate over a slew of other troubles: Impostor landlords leasing units they do not own, collecting deposits and rent from unsuspecting tenants, and a rash of vandalism and burglaries. Investor-owners, desperate to turn a dollar, are even renting to tourists by the day, undercutting local hotels at bargain rates.

And yet they’re still building more condo towers in Miami. It’s too late to stop the ones already under construction, but every day I drive by another vacate lot that announces yet another project “coming soon,” including the ten city blocks down the street from my old place in Coral Gables.

All I can say is, “whew,” and I’m glad I went through a licensed realtor to find my new place.

Friday, June 6, 2008

At Home

The move is done. Actually, all of my stuff is here, but most of it is still in boxes, and there’s a somewhat frantic search going on for the remote for one of the TV’s.

Everything went smoothly. The movers showed up on time and we were ready to roll out within a half-hour of the promised time. The cable guy showed up on time and got me hooked up, and — obviously — the internet connection was set up.

Bob and the Old Professor stopped by since I now live five minutes or so from them, and we went out to our favorite Mexican restaurant.

Now I’m home and getting used to the new cable lineup and trying to find the box with the bathroom stuff.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Moving – Day 2

This is it; almost everything is in boxes or ready to be loaded on the truck. AT&T has already shut off the dial tone on the land-line, but the DSL is still working for the moment. I’ve made arrangements to meet the my new landlord’s realtor at the house to do the walk-through and pick up the keys at noon, and Comcast has promised to show up between 2 and 5. Then I’ll spend the next couple of days unpacking.

So this is it from the old place; a nice little house in a nice neighborhood, and a house that didn’t deserve the humiliation of foreclosure at the hands of a thoughtless and amoral owner. I hope the next people that occupy this house find as much pleasure and quiet enjoyment in it as I did.


The old place

I’ll next report in from the new place. See you then.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

My Former Landlord

Courtesy of Bryan at Why Now?


As I noted in my comments at Bryan’s place, “I think I actually met my landlord once, when he came by to look at the place before buying it. He bore a startling resemblance to the species indicated (Procyon lotor), but lacked its morals. After he bought the place, we made all the lease arrangements via his secretary and I sent the checks to an address that was a Mailboxes Etc. office. I should have known.”

Moving – Day 1

I signed the lease on the new house last night and the moving company is sending over a packing crew today to basically pack everything that isn’t nailed down. I spent several hours last night cleaning out drawers and closets of clothes, old computer equipment, papers, and a lot of other stuff and made two piles: one in the garage that will go out for trash pick-up tomorrow, and the rest for Goodwill, which will be delivered today or tomorrow.

The instructions to the movers are simple: the only thing in the house that stays is the stove and the refrigerator. The rest is all mine and it all goes. I’m paying extra to have them do this, but I didn’t have the luxury that I did the last time I moved four years ago. Then I had a month between the time my friend said I could move in and the time I actually did, so I was able to do most of the packing and moving myself at the leisurely pace of a box or two on the way in to the office. This time I had less than a week from the time the bank’s attorney said they wouldn’t even consider the option of letting me stay here and work out a sale offer; I had to vacate the house or be evicted. (Coincidentally, the New York Times has a story today on what life is like in the eviction trade here in South Florida.)

So here we go again. By my count, this is the tenth time I’ve moved since 1982, when I moved to Boulder to go to grad school, and I had numerous moves before then, too. You think by now I’d get it down to a science, and I pretty much have. A lot of stuff that I boxed up the last time are still in those boxes, and they’ll likely remain so, but each time I get rid of more stuff. I’m a long way from being able to put all of my worldly goods in the back of my 1974 Jeep Wagoneer, but I keep getting more stuff, too, which is why I’m glad my new house has a bigger garage.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

I Found a Home

Thanks to the diligence and care of my realtor, we found a great place for me to rent.


My new home

It’s 1,688 square feet, three bedrooms, two baths, with a two-car garage, screened porch out back that overlooks a canal, and on a quiet street. I move in on Thursday.

And the best news is that it’s not in foreclosure.

House Hunt – Who is Lis Pendens?

I spent a good part of the day in the good company of my realtor. We looked at a number of places, including condos, townhomes, and single family dwellings. The second place we looked at was a large place on a big lot that had nice landscaping (albeit a tad scruffy since the house was unoccupied) with the requisite number of rooms, a large garage, terrazzo floors, and just the right feel to it for me; I’ve always liked older places with a few flaws rather than some small box with a view of someone else’s air conditioner condenser. We decided that this was the place; the price was right, too. So after a look at a couple of other places where we had appointments, we went back to the office to contact the listing agent from the real estate company that had the listing, sign the memorandum of lease, and write a deposit check. All was ready until a computer search came up with a little hitch: the property is in foreclosure… just like the place I’m vacating now. Oy.

So this morning we’re going back out on the hunt. We have some more places to look at, and hopefully by this afternoon I will have found the place again, and one that is not under the cloud of Lis Pendens.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Real Estate Realities

The news has been full of stories about the real estate slump and how it not only effects homeowners who can’t pay their mortgages, but people who rent from landlords who can’t pay the mortgage and face eviction. I can report first-hand on that latter part of that story.

Four years ago, I moved into this nice little house here in Coral Gables. It was owned by a friend of mine and it had been sitting empty for several months, and he was happy to have someone he knew renting it. I was happy to move into a nice neighborhood that was seven miles from my office versus my apartment that was 20 miles from my office.

But two years ago my friend decided to sell the house; Miami was at the peak of the housing boom, and he got a very good price for it. He sold it to a man who went by the name of D’Angelo __________*, a real estate speculator who was also in the process of buying several other properties in the area. The arrangement was that I could stay in the house for a small increase in rent, and everything seemed to be going well.

Then, last October, I got a knock on the door. It was a process server. D’Angelo had not paid a penny on the mortgage since the previous June, he was in default, and I, as the “unknown tenant,” was listed on the foreclosure papers. I immediately contacted my lawyer, who wisely counseled me to stop paying the rent and put it in escrow pending the outcome, and he would work with the bank’s attorneys to see if I could work out a deal to buy the house on a short sale.

Long story short: all those efforts have been to no avail, and I will be out of here a week from today. I have a great realtor who is finding me a lot of really nice places for rent to look at this weekend. Ironically, the nicest — and most affordable — are literally across the street from my old apartment complex.

Meanwhile, D’Angelo has vanished. All attempts by me, my lawyer, the bank’s attorneys, and apparently several private investigators to locate him have come up empty. The last I heard — in November — was that he was either in Las Vegas or Spain. Frankly, I hope he’s in Turkish prison and married to the guy with the most cigarettes.

So, if my blogging seems sporadic for the next couple of days, you’ll know why. And if you have any leads for rental property in Miami (ideally I’d like a 2 BR house with a garage) that’s not in East Naples or Key Largo, drop me an e-mail.

*I’m keeping his full name out of the story; with my luck, he’ll come out of hiding to sue me for defamation.