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Lots of Houses For Sale Lately

August 11, 2012

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With the better weather, we’ve been traveling around town and out of town more frequently. As I travel, I usually take in the local flavor of the places we go, paying attention to house architecture (gives me a good idea of when the town was founded, or when it went through a period of prosperity), businesses, cleanliness of the town, and — most of all — whether there are many homes for sale. Here in Upstate New York, small communities tend to suffer economically more than the national average, as we have extremely high taxes and living costs from the get-go. When the nation’s economy suffers, it usually compounds the community problems around here. Taxes are exorbitantly high, and lots and lots of people are poking For Sale signs in their lawns and hiring Dallas movers to take them away. But even in far-away places like the Midwest and West, property values are starting to decline and taxes are increasing. Some of my pals out west are looking into those “we buy houses Dallas” companies to sell their homes fast and get out of a declining neighborhood.

I personally cannot fathom how you guys out west and down south do it…. It’s just so hot down there, even with the lower taxes and better property values. Here in New York State, the climate is wonderful most of the time (except July). What you all pay for first class heat and air probably equals that to what we pay in taxes here, right?

Anyway, I’m seeing lots of For Sale signs up now. Part of it has to do with the season (people rarely put their homes up for sale in the winter around here), but part of it has to do with the massive migration out of the state for greener (and less expensive) pastures. It’s sad that people must leave their homes because they can no longer afford the cost of their government and public schools….

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Building My Home Office

January 9, 2012


I’ve taken the teeniest, tiniest leap into building an official home office here. I’ve been working at home for over 3 years now, with a little desk and bookshelves showhorned into a corner of the living room. It’s so messy and my living room has become engulfed with stuff that I’m desperate to organize.

Well, I finally found some inexpensive kitchen cabinets suited for a home office. They are Aristokraft, in saddle oak. They are very plain, and are made of particleboard. But I don’t care– I don’t need a solid wood desk and the simple style suits me. The cost of the three cabinets with countertop was a fraction of the price of a new desk (one of those cheapo Chinese-made junk desks).


All I’ve got done so far is the bottom half. Eventually, I will build the top hutch portion when I can wrastle up the funds. For now, the base will have to do. Livvy likes it. 🙂

The area looks quite empty and sterile. Oh, I have plans, though! I am going to build my own hutch. It will have two narrow bookshelves and a pair of cabinets. Eventually, I will create a huge built-in bookshelf along the wall. I intend to convert the room (living room) into a library, with big wall bookshelves and a gas fireplace.


I also plan on installing crown molding along the top of the ceiling and placing LED white lights in the tray. It will give the room lovely ambient lighting.

The garage, once I have renovated it, will become the new family room where we will have sofas and chairs and the family’s huge assortment of musical instruments.

But before I rebuild the garage into living space, I have to build a barn in the backyard, to hold our power tools and auto equipment. Oh yeah, I’ll be busy for a long time. And then , of course, I still have to renovate the upstairs of the house and the downstairs bathroom….

Sheesh, who knows, maybe by the time I’m finally done renovating, I’ll be too old to maintain such a big house. I can then turn around and sell the place for a nice profit. It sure would be nice to enjoy the fruits of my labors here, though. I’ve spent most of my years living in a dumpy house!

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Good to Be Home

November 30, 2011

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We were away for a few days, traveling to the rural outback of Upstate New York (Schoharie County). This county ranks — in my estimation — as one of the most rural areas of Upstate New York. And these folks are not just rural, they are fiercely rural. No fancy, high-falutin’, city slicking city life here. Oh, these folks appreciate progress, just without the urban arrogance and unrealistic reliance on “the grid.”

It was our first time Livvy was alone in her 3.6 years she’s been with us. Well, the dogs and the bird were home, too, but they don’t count. I had the webcam set on surveillance and Livvy mostly sat by the back door and in my desk chair, waiting for us. Nearly broke my heart. I couldn’t bring her with us this time, though. We were staying at a nice hotel and would be strolling through caves during the day. Not exactly a cat vacation.

But Livvy survived and she is all lovey and cuddly now. 🙂 Hey, I could get used to this!

While we traveled through Schoharie County, we saw many, many homes devastated by the flooding from Hurricanes Irene and Lee. These folks were hit the worst– bridges and homes and barns and cows just floated away. This is a rural area where money is always tight and work is always hard. New York’s Upstate economy really shows here, and then the floods came and made bad to worse. I saw some homes that were skeletal, just barely able to stand upright.

Lots of our photos were taken from the moving car, so they didn’t turn out very well. We saw yards filled with garbage bags and strewn tree limbs, boulders and rocks in weird places, and bulldozers everywhere.



In one area, I drove past a small group of trees on the bank of the Schoharie River. The trees were literally covered with tons and tons of white feathery strips of what appeared to be toilet paper and paper towels (me being a suburbanite). As we rounded the bend, we saw that the white stuff was not toilet paper. It was the plastic wraps that go around hay bales. Large hay bales were clogging one area of the river bank, and great strips of the shredded white wrapping hung from the TOPS of the 20-foot trees. My heart ached for these folks. Wow.

Yet what makes this area so remarkable is the amazing cheerfulness of the people. EVERY SINGLE PERSON I met was cheerful and generous. Even when they spoke of their losses (some folks lost everything on the first floor), they smiled and said, “Thank God, no one was killed” or “It’s just stuff.” Now that’s an amazing community. No self-pity and wailing for government help. Help is welcome but these people weren’t going to sit on their tears and wait for FEMA. They just sucked it up and are starting again. And wherever we traveled, the folks were so generous. The coffee shop gave us two free coffees. The hotel gave us a free breakfast. The New York Power Authority Visitors Center gave us free coffee travel mugs and light bulbs. I can only admire their generosity, grace, and happiness. I also wonder if Schoharie County has the most churches of all New York’s 62 counties, because it seemed there was a steeple peeping out from the farms and forests every mile or so.

Houses come and go but communities are what make or break a town. It’s good to be home again but I can’t get those folks out of my mind. I understand flooding problems– yes, indeed. But I’ve never had to rebuild EVERYTHING like these folks have. Ya got guts, Schoharie County folks. God bless you all. 🙂

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Real Estate Still Best Investment

March 19, 2011

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I still think real estate is the best investment you can make in the United States. I don’t care what the doomsayers are saying about the housing market. The brokers are biting their nails to shreds, worried that they can’t get Americans to buy buy buy this year. I read some news story (sorry, I can’t locate it the exact article now, nuts) that the U.S. housing market is at its worst in decades. But then I read local stories from around the country where their housing market (and economy) is just fine.

Fargo, North Dakota, is actually seeing a boon. USA Today reports that the population and economy has surged to record levels. I’ve read similar stories for a few other areas, too.

But here in the Rust Belt, the economy is poor because of TAXES not because of lack of home buyers. The mathematics of trying to sustain a top-heavy public sector by an over-taxed, aging private sector always pans out to be a negative. It’s still too early to tell if any of these states (New York, Ohio, Michigan, Massachusetts, etc) will really change their ways. So people are “voting with their feet.”

But the folks who are left are snapping up the properties left behind (although, in urban areas, the governments are buying vacant properties). I was recently talking with an acquaintance who has– in the last 5 years— purchased a dozen properties. He’s rented them all out and become a landlord. And he’s been so successful that he no longer needs to work his regular job anymore. That’s pretty neat.

As for me, I’m just “small fry.” I like owning one home (I have enough to do around here!) but if I ever got a windfall with money left over, I’d probably invest in real estate. I’d probably rent it out to tenants or even as a vacation home (according to Forbes, vacation rental properties are VERY hot right now, especially in cities). It’s an interesting shift.

So I don’t give a whole lot of weight to the constant nay-saying that the housing market and US economy (which is built on the housing market) is going under. People are just shifting priorities. People don’t need to constantly build build build new houses. I am very much in favor of making do with the houses we have. 🙂 So the “house-building boom” of the late 1990s is over. That doesn’t spell the end of the world. There’s a WHOLE market out there of renovators, people who want to fix up their old homes and spark the economy in that way. But sales and income taxes are too high in some areas. Let’s see what happens….

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How’s Real Estate Where You Are?

March 8, 2011

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I haven’t heard a peep about the housing market from the media. Why do they go black on so many important issues?

Anyway, I recently read an interesting article at MSN Money about remodeling versus moving. According to the article, “keeping up a home for 30 years may cost you up to four times its purchase price.” I don’t know if that’s true. It definitely isn’t true for me– although we got our old house at a deep discount because it was in such poor shape. But we have done 99.9% of the work ourselves, and have saved a bundle of money so doing.

But it seems that the housing market is still a little slow. Eons ago (so it seems), owning property was THE bets investment you could make in America. Maybe that is still true, but the return on investment seems to be a lot lower the past 20 years. Here in my area, recently hailed an Upstate city as the number 1 place to buy a home, based on affordability and value. But the housing market here is “eh.” Our entire local economy is based on refugees coming in from the Slavic and Asian nations.

How’s the housing market in your area? Lots of “For Sale” signs, lots of foreclosures or empty houses?

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The Tweeners

February 10, 2011


I’m a tweener right now. Probably most of us in the Northern Hemisphere are! A “tweener” is what I call a person who is stuck between one weather season going out and another struggling to get in. In other words– we’ve reached the end of our tolerance for one season, and are eager to get into the next! While I like the snow and even the cold, I am sick of the ice and ice dams. Yet, I am torn, because I am one of the very rare people who dislike spring. Spring is wet, soggy, damp, cold, muddy. I am chilled more in spring weather then I am in the winter! I think it’s because spring is so clammy and damp. I dislike it. So I’m a tweener. Ready to see the winter go, but not really eager to see muddy spring come. Hmmm….


So far, spring is nowhere in sight...

In other news, we got approved for a home equity loan! HURRAY! I used credit cards and cash for the renovation expenses last summer. The cards had good promotional rates, which have now ended. So we applied for a loan and got approved. I like the scheduled payments, I like the routine. I’m praying with all my heart that we can get this loan paid off very soon, because we have the entire UPSTAIRS of the house to do yet!! Then, we tackle the exterior– we’ll need a new roof, new siding…. *sigh*

I am relatively new to home equity loans. Any kind of loan, especially on my beloved home, makes me nervous. It’s all out of pocket, all on our own. It is a REALLY gratifying feeling, though, to see your home’s value skyrocket because you sweated it out one summer. I am so proud of my kids, who helped with our renovations– thanks to our persistent work, we increased the value of our home AND “earned” money enough to refinance everything with a little extra, too. No wonder it’s called sweat equity! I am so thankful for my kids. I couldn’t have done this without them. And now, of course, comes the paying it all off!!! Which reminds me, I better get back to work….

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Home Ownership Down

January 31, 2011

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Home ownership rates continue to plummet. According to CNBC, Americans just aren’t buying homes so much.

America’s home ownership rate, after holding steady for a while, took a pretty big plunge in Q4, from 66.9 percent to 66.5 percent. That’s down from the 2004 peak of 69.2 percent and the lowest level since 1998.

Homeownership is falling at an alarming pace, despite the fact that home prices have fallen, affordability is much improved and inventories of new and existing homes are still running quite high.

Bargains abound, but few are interested or eligible to take advantage.

What’s even more shocking is that 11% of U.S. homes sit empty.

There were 18.4 million vacant homes in the U.S. in Q4 ’10 (11 percent of all housing units vacant all year round), which is actually an improvement of 427,000 from a year ago, but not for the reasons you’d think.

The number of vacant homes for rent fell by 493 thousand, as rental demand rose. 471,000 homes are listed as “Held off Market” about half for temporary use, but the other half are likely foreclosures. And no, the shadow inventory isn’t just 200,000, it’s far higher than that.

Not sure why, but I can guess. For one, Americans are uneasy about the economy. The government is spending like a MANIAC, China is rising almost as fast as our debt and interest rates… and who is earning enough to pay back those loans?

One of our Upstate cities was listed by as the Number One city in America to buy an affordable home. Everyone up here was practically waving flags: We’re Number One! We’re Number One!

But…. we have the “most affordable” homes in the nation– you mean the lowest priced? Isn’t that, like, bad?! And what good is it getting a cheap home for $25,000 in a city that is near bankruptcy and where property taxes are $7,000 a year?! How can that be a cause for celebration?

Economists and politicians alike go on and on, saying that the home construction and home ownership industry is the backbone of the American economy. So why are the banks and politicians selling Americans so short that we cannot afford the homes?

I don’t like this transition into a society that rents their homes. Property ownership is the backbone of the United States, property ownership gives citizens a vested interest in their community. Whatever happened to Life, LIberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness?

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More Interesting Mailboxes

November 28, 2010


Since my husband is a part-time rural carrier for the post office, we are more sensitive than most to mailboxes. And some of the styles and sizes of mailboxes are… well, not so hot. Here are some of the wackiest mailboxes I have found on the Internet.

Don’t know what to do with your yard junk? Heck, weld it all together and throw it up front for the mailman to wrangle with!

I wonder why these folks can’t afford to get a nice mailbox…

😐 Will the mailman dare open this for a nice surprise?

OK, where the heck is the door on this thing?!

:-p Bad taste. Most mailmen would cringe to use this one, but I dare say I know a few who probably wouldn’t mind…

This is actually kind of cool. Creepy, but very unique.

Photos courtesy of UglyMailbox.xom,,, and

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My Before, During, and After Story, Part 4

November 20, 2010


This is the story of our renovation, the toils and victories through a sweltering summer of blood, sweat and tears. Read all the gory details of Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Our kitchen project was finally coming to a close. Yet even now, three months since we moved back in, there are many unfinished projects awaiting me. Now that I am back to a normal schedule with kids’ schooling, my online job, and such, I can only chip away at these remaining projects, slowly but surely. My goal is to batten down the hatches for an Upstate New York winter, and I’ll pick up the hammer and saw again in the spring.

After we tackled the butcher block countertops, we collapsed for a few days. Almost all of the really intense physical labor was done. Except the flooring. We’d installed plywood sub-flooring over the 70s hardboard subfloor over the 50s linoleum over the 1855 pine planks…. thank God, they’d removed the funky 40s carpeting somewhere in there (although dregs of it appeared from time to time as we removed partition walls). I love wood, just LOVE it, but it is so expensive. I decided to go with TrafficMaster allure vinyl planks. It looks like wood– for a second or two, anyway– but it’s durable and easy to install. Cost me a small fortune, though, I’ll tell you what. But I had been waiting SO LONG for a new floor.

Vinyl Flooring

Very easy to install. I guess that's why it's so pricey.


It took me about 8 hours (straight) to install the dining room floor, 10 hours to do the kitchen.

Once the floor was done, the room looked like a real kitchen again. We moved in shortly after. Oh, the JOY!



This is our beverage area, which I conveniently tucked under the stairwell. Note the painted pantry shelf to the left. Still has no doors, though...



Our favorite appliance. Oh, how we dreamed for this moment! LOL, six adults in a home make a lot of dishes.

I’d mentioned before about the sink and window as the room’s focal point. I carefully crafted the trim around the window to reflect the home’s Greek Revival architecture. The Greek triangular pediment and fluted trim is repeated throughout the house. I stained this wood extra dark to make it stand out. Cellular blinds soften the hard lines. I need more color and decor here, but all in good time.

2010 was a wild, crazy ride for us.


I’m spending the winter quietly, taking things slower as best I can. I work at home to pay off the kitchen. If we had hired out to have all this work done, the job would have cost us a small fortune. By doing everything ourselves, we saved a ton of money. It was a lot of work, sure, but I think everyone was enriched by the experience, especially my kids. Here’s a quick breakdown of the economics:

According to this chart, we saved over $36,000 by doing this ourselves. That is a HUGE savings! Yes, I took time off from work to work on this renovation. I worked on reduced hours for four months. However, consider this: a kitchen renovation gives you an average of 70% return on the cost of the project, so I basically “earned” $25,200 on the value of the home. That’s more than I make in a year, let alone four months. So even though I’m not seeing a liquid $25,200 cash in hand, it’s part of my real estate investment. It was well worth it, I think, to go reduced hours on my job (with which, I figure, I lost about $2000 income) to earn $25,200 in capital investment on the property. Moreover, improving the electrical and water supply reduces our insurance premium, the insulation in the walls reduces our heating bills,  and everything in general improves the quality of our lives here.

I think my DIY project was worth it. But I’m SO GRATEFUL it’s over!

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Housing Armaggedon?!

October 15, 2010

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I don’t know a whole lot about the housing market, but like most other things, I figure such issues are easily understood with a healthy dose of common sense. There’s a blog post story in the Wall Street Journal (yes, I guess even the high-brow WSJ folks blog! lol!) Are We Headed For Housing Armageddon? It’s interesting. In a nutshell, the article describes a new twist in the housing market “crisis”: banks are unable to hold foreclosures due to improperly transferred paperwork from banks to homeowners; Apparently, during the housing boom, some banks were a little sloppy with their paperwork in their eagerness to get lenders. Now that banks want to foreclose for non-payment, homeowners with savvy lawyers claim that the absence of mortgage paperwork absolves them from bank foreclosure. Judges may rule that, due to the absence of proof of original lending agreement paperwork, the banks cannot foreclose on the homes.


So the chatter around the water cooler is that this will only prolong the housing market bust. According to Amy Calistri of Street Authority, mortgage debt in the United States fell by $99 BILLION in the first quarter of this year. In the second quarter, it dropped again, half that.

It’s pretty obvious that Americans are not buying new homes! This is good. Seriously. For one, I think our economy relies too much on new construction, particularly when there are billions of older homes that are perfectly suitable for use. All this excessive and new construction causes sprawl, eats up rural resources and creates more debt. I think we should change our attentions away from newnewnew, and begin to recycle the very good homes that exist currently. My home, built in 1855, is a fine example of making something old new again. And every single inspector that has looked at my house raves about the strength of the structure– “They don’t make homes like they used to,” they all say. So all this talk about a “housing armageddon” is, I think, a little overstated. It may be a housing armageddon for the banks, but for the average American and the average traditional American pre-owned home, it’s housing heaven.

Another result of the housing market turned upside down is the apartments industry. Again, according to Street Authority:

But the decline in home buying is starting to trigger an increased demand for rental apartments. Apartment occupancy rates rose to 92.2% in the second quarter of 2010, up from 92.0% in the first quarter according to Reis Inc. Rents are also starting to rise modestly, up +0.7% in the second quarter.

Apartment occupancy rates rose 92% ?!? That’s incredible! This is a radical change in the housing industry in our country. Now, I’m sure not everyone can afford a posh luxury apartment after foreclosing on their homes, right? This opens up an entirely new demographic after the housing boom of the 90s. The “experts” say that the backbone of the American economy is home ownership. I don’t know if this is true– is it? As I have already stated, home ownership requires bank loans. So the backbone of the banking industry is home ownership, to be sure.

I am wary of all the Chicken Littles running around, trying to make us anxious about the “crises” that face us, when in reality, most of the “crises” that exist are for the banks. It’s unfortunate that some folks lose their homes, yes. But as far as ruining our economy– I really wonder if this is true. If anything, Americans are focusing on making more with less (not necessarily a bad thing), and people are looking for apartments (which encourages cities and landlords to clean up and fix up their areas). We are, by nature, a resilient people. We will adapt and adjust to changes. I do not think the housing market shifts constitute the end of the world. Perhaps this is as good a time as any to return to the good old Yankee work ethic:

Use it, wear it out. make it do, or do without.

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