Sunday, March 29, 2009

Working on Grandma's House

Today we took up the carpet in the front bedroom at my grandmother's house. It was quite a lovely avocado green shag. =) We found someone to take the carpet and pad (for free) so we didn't have to throw it away. Then we spent a couple of hours pulling up the tackless strips and tacks. Actually, the folks who installed the carpet were kindly enough not to go overboard with the nails and tacks so we found the task easier than we thought it would be.

We took Shasta with us and she is quite a good traveler buddy already. She just curled up in the spot behind the seats in the truck, the way that Lady used to. And once there, she was pretty good to sit where we asked. She found the pile of carpet padding to be quite the comfy spot to lie down and work on her rawhide bone.

We also brought over a couple of bookcases so we could display books for the Estate Sale. We figured we need to move them over eventually so we may as move them a couple at a time when we go work on the house. They'll help us with the sale.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

We Got a Dog!

Well, we were bad kids and adopted a dog. I know we should have waited, but Jesse was just too perfect! We are thinking we're going to change her name, though; the current top choice is Shasta. We had been calling her Jasmine earlier in the day, and then we remembered Wendy & Ross have a dog named Jasmine so we thought we'd better come up with a new name.

Of the two female Aussies this shelter had at the dog adoption event, we were actually favoring Britcey at first because she was a good cuddler, but then a woman showed up who had her heart set on Britcey and wouldn't adopt another dog if she didn't get Britcey. So even though we were first and could have snagged her, we let the other woman adopt her. We figured it was better for two dogs to get adopted today than one.

The white and gray and black dog in the photo with Sharon is their brother, Junior. He was also a total sweetheart and would have been tempting if they hadn't had the females, which we prefer.

We've had a nice afternoon with Shasta. She has been exceedingly well behaved, especially for her age (almost 7 months and still definitely a puppy). I don't think we could have expected anything more. So far, we're really happy with our decision, as ill-timed as it is.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Making Good Progress on Sifting House

I spent the last three days working at my grandmother's house sifting through stuff as we try and get it cleared out for Jeff and I to move in. It's been sort of fun as it's a bit like Christmas, except all the presents you're opening aren't for you. (My Aunt has taken most everything worth taking; the rest has gone in the estate sale piles.) Unfortunately I forgot the camera today, or I could have taken pictures of some very interesting stuff. =)

This week I learned my Grandmother didn't need anything and when she got gifts she typically would put the gift card in the box with the gift and then simply placed the gift in one of the spare bedrooms. And there they are, still there. There are gifts that go back to something like the 50s and certainly most of them from the last couple decades. I wish I had brought the camera. There were towels, probably from the 70s, in hideous fluorescent colors and prints. There were quite a few dress accessories and kitchen gadgets from the 50s. And very much glassware. Oh, and brand new kitchen pots that supposedly matched her set, still in the box.

Oh how I wish I could find some home decor collectors so these items won't end up at the thrift shop or in the landfill. I salvaged a few of the super-cool-50s stuff, not because I wanted them, but because it was simply worth the effort to find someone who is into that style and would appreciate the items. Looks like I need to go looking for some folks who feel about 50s ranchers in the same way I feel about 20s bungalows. =)

I find it a little sad that so many people bought Grandmother gifts and she didn't get around to using them. I guess coming from the depression era, she was waiting for the items she already owned to wear out before replacing them with the gifts. Very practical from the standpoint of using up stuff before throwing it away, but perhaps it would have been better if she started using the new item and donated the old item, or simply donated the new item. There was a lot of stuff in those bedrooms that nobody will use now because they are simply not used anymore or are hopelessly out of style.

Anyway, we have nearly cleared out the two small bedrooms; the master bedroom is still full. We've been staging stuff in the kitchen and living room and getting ready for the estate sale.

Now that we've got the two small rooms mostly cleared, Jeff and I are planning to go out on Sunday and start pulling up the carpets and removing the tack strips and nails, etc. We're going to go with the hardwood floors in the rooms that have them. And I think I even found someone who is going to take the two-tone green shag carpet from the front bedroom. It's still in pretty good condition, but definitely not in style.

We're also going to start hauling over bookcases so we can set up the books for the estate sale. Though it is unlikely many books will sell, Jeff and I still need bookcases over there so it's not really much extra work to bring them earlier.

Monday, March 23, 2009

To Grandmother's House We Go...

I went out with my father and step-mother to take a look at my grandmother's old house. Wow, it's still really full of her stuff. I had understood it had been mostly vacated, but in reality my brother and aunt removed all the furniture and just left all the stuff behind. Ugh. So it's going to be a while before we can get it cleaned up and ready for occupancy; probably at least 3 months.

The house itself has a few issues:  
* It has settled and there's a fair amount of cracking in the sheetrock or plaster. The master bedroom was built over an old septic and has actually sunk enough that it should get jacked up and the support repaired.
* It only has a 50 amp electrical box, and should really be upgraded to 200, especially if we plan to upgrade the HVAC.
* It doesn't have central heat or air, and I desperately want AC; the summers are too hot down here in California. 
* It needs insulation.

Now, if we were buying the house, fixing any of the problems wouldn't be a big deal. But the house belongs to my Dad (and Aunt) and he doesn't want to put much money into it because he's expecting that when they sell it, it's going to get torn down and the lot rebuilt. So, if we want to move in and have him fix some of these problems, we're going to have to commit to renting it for a year. That's a hard commitment to make, because I have been looking out for a house to buy. With our luck, we'll commit to taking this house for a year, and then our dream house will get listed in our price range in California or Oregon.

I'm adding a few pictures below, primarily of the kitchen and hallway, because Jeff didn't take any pictures of the bedrooms or bathrooms. I'll add a few more photos tomorrow, as I'm planning to go out again and try to help sort through some of the stuff for a garage sale.

My grandmother liked elephants and over the years everybody gave her elephants for gifts. I've never seen so many elephants in one place in my life. We need to find an elephant collector to find a good home for these.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Probably Moving to Redwood City

My father's parents owned a house in Redwood City; a cute little 1100 square foot house my grandfather built for my grandmother before they got married. Anyway, my grandmother died in late-2007 and left the house to my father and my aunt. It's just been sitting there vacant as it's a bit of a fixer; mostly because the systems need to be upgraded from their original installations in the early 1940s.

I understood my father was going to sell the house as soon as they got it cleaned up, but I recently learned my aunt doesn't want to sell it and now they're planning to turn it into a rental. So, I think Jeff and I are going to go ahead and rent it from them. We'll be paying a reduced rent cost in exchange for helping with the work to upgrade it (dealing with contractors, painting, easy repairs, etc.).

While the house is smaller than I would want to buy, renting is another matter entirely. Now that we've been paying truly astounding rent for a 4 bedroom in Cupertino, I think I can try and live with a smaller house for a while. At least I'll get to help choose the paint and the carpets. And we'll be able to save about $2,000 a month, which will make me feel much better than our current financial situation.

I've been looking at houses to buy for about the last two weeks and I haven't had much luck finding anything. The bank owned houses that finally hit the market seem to be in very poor condition, often needing structural work. And the nice houses still have unrealistic prices for their sizes; often costing in excess of $400/square foot which in the current market is too high in the neighborhoods we're shopping in. Or, sometimes they're short sales, and I haven't been willing to deal with those yet. We may consider trying on the house on 5th (the bungalow with the great woodwork).

So, I predict that we're going to squeeze into my grandmother's house in Redwood City and put a bunch of stuff in storage. We'll stay there while we save money and I finish school. Hopefully, I'll be able to find a decent job and that will help us to figure out where we should look once I also have a commute.

The commute we'll have from Redwood City is not so great, but at least it's pretty convenient to CalTrain and Apple has a good shuttle system set up that picks up from CalTrain so it will really only be me commuting to school and then a job when I find one.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Planning for the Future

I've just read an opinion piece titled "There's No Pill for This Kind of Depression," published by the Wall Street Journal which, I think, accurately sums up our situation at the moment: "People are in a kind of suspended alarm, waiting for the future to unspool and not expecting it to unspool happily."

We had a dream of traveling for a year, but with the collapse of our savings and the uncertainty of the economy, that seems a bit irresponsible for our future. In fact, the cost of the RV parks and food is, perhaps, the least of the cost; there will be the steady income of Jeff's job we'd be walking away from as well as the expense of maintaining our medical coverage.

The dream has not died, we still want to travel and we will, I hope, in several years. This timing was tempting because we were still young and at a juncture in our lives with the ability to choose from a variety of roads, but we were obviously premature in thinking we were "done" with the serious work in our life. We've been handed yet more challenges and it's not time for a vacation just yet.

Jeff has a good job he likes here at Apple, and while we were eager to get out of California due to the high cost of living, even a much lower cost of living will wipe you out if you have no income. Apple hasn't started lay-offs yet, so I guess we stay, for now. We're feeling, quoting the article again "There is "a pervasive sense of anxiety, as though everyone feels they're on thin ice.""

As a renter I feel really exposed and am worried about our future. I'm not feeling confident about our ability to take care of ourselves if the economy does, in the end, topple over. The government can only do so much to protect people from their own mistakes.

This quote from the article sums up my belief: "I asked a Wall Street titan what one should do to be safe in the future, he took me aback with the concreteness of his advice, and its bottom-line nature. Everyone should try to own a house, he said, no matter how big or small, but it has to have some land, on which you should learn how to grow things." So, despite the preference to leave California for greener pastures up north in Oregon, we spend a bit of time looking for an excellent deal on a house here in Silicon Valley, though few exist so far, even among the foreclosures and bank owned properties.

I suspect our short-term course will be to move in either with my mother in a small portion of her house, or perhaps we may "rent" my grandmother's house inherited by my father and aunt. At least they probably won't evict us if things get bad! =)

One of the very few nice things about this economy is the reemergence of Thrift as a valued lifestyle; I read more and more articles everyday.

BTW, change of subject, thanks to the referral of a friend, I have an interview tomorrow, for a position with some bookkeeping and event planning responsibilities. I'll try and do well; perhaps I'll finally line up an interesting job.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Happy Pi Day Everyone!

Jeff is making a pizza Pi in honor of the holiday.

Update: new picture of the Pi Pizza Pie Jeff made.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Downtown San Jose Historic Bungalows

We spent about 3 hours looking at houses today; for the most part we looked at fixer bungalows, but they were mostly too far gone to save, in crummy neighborhoods, or just too expensive for the effort. So many of these sellers are underwater. In fact, one of them that was listed for $300K had mortgages totaling $606K. What were those banks thinking?

Anyway, we found two really nice bungalows on the downtown grid that we really liked. Their current prices are too high for the comps and current housing market, but we went and looked at them anyway. We figure once we've seen them, we can watch and see if they sell or if they continue to drop their prices until they're in our range.

One of the houses, on 5th St, is almost exactly what I'm looking for in a historic bungalow. It has the original woodwork, unpainted, and they haven't messed it up too much. When the current owners remodeled the kitchen, they also did a fairly decent job of matching the wood color to the rest of the house. They did convert the closet in the master into a bathroom, which is a bit weird since now it's hooked to two bathrooms, but we could undo a bathroom a lot more cheaply than putting one in. Otherwise, it's quite attractive.

The other house was a total surprise, I expected we wouldn't like it, but we both did. It's located on Julian St near Third. This one, unfortunately, has had every bit of the woodwork painted white and it's had some unfortunate remodeling, but it has a really huge lot for being downtown (7500 sq ft) and it has a ton of space, being more than 2000 square feet. This must have been one of the rich person's houses downtown. It looks like they carved up some of the space into apartments as it has two kitchens; one of them installed in the front parlor. But the woodwork is mostly intact (except for the paint) and it seems to be in good condition as far as we could tell. Though it was weekend, there wasn't really that much traffic. I wonder how much traffic there is during the week? Probably quite a lot more. But at least it has lots of parking and I think the lot has 2 garages and a few mature trees.

Update on Monday, after I corresponded with our realtor: Apparently the house on 5th is very mortgaged. While their mortgage is less than their la-la land asking price, it's well above their likely market value, so we surely won't be buying this one. Unless the seller walks and doesn't ruin it and the bank takes it over and offers it for something realistic. Oh well, what a shame.

The house on Julian, however, appears to be owned free and clear and has been in the same family since nearly the beginning, so there is some hope on that one. Though that one is even further above what we want to spend on a house, so unless that one sits on the market for quite a while unsold and the price gets a deep reduction, it looks like this shopping trip was mostly window shopping.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Fibonacci fractal quilt design

Jeff spent the afternoon designing a quilt based on Fibonacci numbers used to make a fractal design (with a smidgen of artistic embellishment). The boundary of the yellow has dimension
s=1.83157... = log(sqrt(2)-1) / log((1+sqrt(5))/2)
At least in the pure form of the fractal.

Sharon broke down and ordered fabric for this one; she wanted to use batik fabrics.

Jeff is still tweaking some of the details.

Update: For an extra-geeky view of the fractal inspiring this, check out Jeff's blog entry.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Getting Cold Feet About Quitting Job

As the economy continues to decline, as well as our savings, we're now starting to get nervous about our plan to simply uproot and move back up to Oregon, with no job offer in hand. Jeff is feeling reluctant to quit his job with no obvious path ahead. He has been a great trooper and is working hard to re-inspire enthusiasm for his position, working very long days over the weekend, so he can keep at it until some better path presents itself. We just don't feel confident about our ability to line up decent paying positions once we're up in Oregon. And the few friends we've had direct conversations with have told us NOT to come now, due to the job market, themselves having been laid off recently and unable to find new jobs.

So we worry if we go and spend $500K on a house in Portland and then spend the next two years drawing down our remaining (much diminished) savings, then we'll be no better off than if we spend $700K for a house down here and have a good paying job. Even though the value of the house will continue to fall, we're not buying it for its investment value but for its shelter value and right now we're spending more than $40K a year for rent.

And perhaps if I really applied myself, I would find a job as well. If we stay down here, I would probably continue to work on my paralegal certificate and also try to line up an internship, so I can get some recent experience.

So, this morning, I spent a few hours poking around the Santa Clara County market to see if there is anything promising and there were a few houses (about 7). There are, surprisingly, actually a couple decent looking small houses less than $700K within our five mile radius from Apple so, perhaps, we'll go look at a few houses this weekend. More than likely they'll be fixers and, thus, too expensive. We also may pursue foreclosures.

We've also had a conversation with my Mother about renting the finished garage, the "family room," in her house (about 380 square feet total) where we'll put our bedroom and a minimal amount of furniture. We'll just pack up the rest of our possessions and stick them in storage until we figure out our long-term plan. Then we'll be able to save over $2,000 a month that we could add directly to our house savings account. My mother would love to have us, but who knows if she can actually clean out the space. She has a 5-bedroom house crammed to bursting with her "treasures" and has a hard time parting with them. Pretty much when she "cleans" she just shifts from one room to another, with little, if any, actual reduction in the amount of stuff.

I will, of course, continue to watch the Portland market and if something "perfect" comes on the market, then we'll likely move despite having no jobs. Last year, SE Portland did actually experience more than a 15% decline overall in prices, so if the prices come down to where we can buy the house we want for more like $400K, it would be easier to make the jump of faith.