Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Success at last!

We have a house!

Here is the link if you want to see it.

Don't you love it when an estate agent actually listens to you? We found a house on the internet and went to see it. It wasn't right for us, but the estate agent really paid attention when we answered his "what are you looking for?" question.

"I've got one coming up" he told us. "It sounds just perfect for you." And he was right...yes, it needs work and renovation...quite a bit, in fact. But we made our offer with that in mind and, while the seller was balky at first, after a show house (open house) that produced no results, the agent presented our offer and said "These are serious, pre-qualified buyers and this is their best offer." Unlike the owner of the Eichler-style house we liked (which is still on the market and now has new agents because the owner is unwilling to accept the reality that nobody wants his house at his price), this guy is obviously reality-based and really wants to sell his house. After a little straight talking from the agent (i.e. "How long do you want to stay on the market?" "Your first offer is often your best offer" etc.) the man decided that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush and said "yes!" Now the paperwork starts and, if we are lucky, we'll be in our new digs by end of June.

What a great birthday prezzie for my husband, who celebrates another year on the planet tomorrow!

Monday, March 29, 2010


I bought my first house in 1975 and for 35 years have been the mistress of my own domain. Aside from the positive emotional aspects that owning your own home brings you, there are undeniable practical advantages, chief among them being you are not at someone else’s mercy when something goes wrong.

Hubby and I own rental property in Cape Town and we have always tried to be the kind of landlord we would hope to have, should we ever have the misfortune to be renters. Well…the misfortune happened in January and, unfortunately, we did not end up with a landlord like us.

We are renting a relatively new (less than ten years old) house in what is known around here as a “posh” suburb. I don’t know about you, but there are certain things I automatically assume in such areas, among them a relatively high degree of safety and security, cleanliness, privacy, civility, and well-kept properties. These are things I am willing to pay a higher rent to have…and in my rental house, I do. Problem is, I’m not getting what I am paying for.

Our landlord gave us a paper with useful numbers on it when we moved in…they live in Cape Town now, so we need numbers of people to contact for emergencies. It seemed a little odd to me that there was the number for the person who repairs the motor for the automated driveway gate…there was no number for the garage door opener guy or a plumber or a drain company…why the driveway gate? But with the stresses of moving in, I thought nothing of it and focussed on more immediate concerns.

One of the first things I noticed were the flies…omigod, the flies! They were everywhere! Hordes of them! I found them in my refrigerator (apparently sneaked in while the door was open) I found them in the oven door, between the two sheets of glass. I took to using more kitchen towels to cover exposed food that I used for drying hands and dishes. I could not cut a slice of bread without the flies swarming me, demanding their tribute. My landlord professed ignorance when I lodged a complaint.

The mosquitoes were awful…I am allergic to mosquito bites and the bite that makes a little bump on you and itches uncomfortably for a day or two gives me a red swelling two or three inches across that itches like my skin is on fire for ten days or more. But mosquitoes are a fact of life in Africa, even in expensive, posh suburbs, because nobody here has a clue about screens. Instead, we plug little aerosol misters into the wall and they emit a toxic vapour into the room to kill the little buggers if they come in. Unfortunately, the lure of my pale, plump, succulent flesh seemed to overwhelm even their death throes, and the little buggers continued feasting on me, even after we had installed two different brands of mosquito vaporizers in the bedroom.

Then, a couple of weeks after moving in, I went to the bathroom in the middle of the night only to find a rather large cockroach gazing at me from the front of the toilet tank. Before I could raise the alarm and kill the little monster, it fled behind the tank, doubtless wondering what the feck I was doing up running around during what should have been his personal time. It was not long before I was finding roach droppings and eggs in the bowls and pots…I grew up in a roach-infested house near the beach in San Diego…I know ’em when I see ’em!

The bites got worse…some of them healed in a couple of weeks but others turned blackish purple and after the blister in the centre broke, a deep pit formed. Today, nearly three months after moving into this house of horrors, many those bites still have not fully healed…they are shrinking in size but a nasty purple scar remains. We began spraying a moat of insecticide on the carpet around the bed and spraying the bed and mattress each time we changed the sheets, thinking maybe it was something actually in the bed, but when the maid came to me with similar bites, and her bedroom is down the hall (and we don’t share bedding) I knew it was something else.

And then, outside under the patio cover, we spotted it…a large spider nest that was open on one side…there had been a spider hatch just below the main bedroom balcony, to which there are doors and windows from the bedroom. We actually suffered three successive waves of these biting spider attacks, the maid’s room only being attacked in the second one, so I suspect there were three spider nests that hatched within weeks of each other, the spiderlings taking refuge from our great bird population by coming indoors. These, then, are the purple bites with the blistered centres…spider bites, most likely yellow sac spiders. We keep them out of the bed by spraying every time we change the linens, but I see little spiders on the interior walls of the house almost every day.

The Yorkie has spent most of the last three months fretting at the baby gate at the front door, frantically beseeching me to open the gate and let her out to chase down the rodent she was convinced was hanging around out there. While we were still unpacking, the maid found rodent droppings on the patio where they had chewed their way through a trash bag full of packing paper, and we found evidence of the beasties on the front doorstep. But a few weeks ago, while standing in the driveway, I saw a rat run out from under my car and disappear into the hydrangeas beneath the scullery window. And where there is 1 rat, there are more.

So, a few weeks ago the landlord was in town and he stopped to visit. My first concern was the insect life in this house but I was totally unprepared for his blasé attitude: when I said I had seen cockroaches, his reply was “Oh, yes, you will see roaches here.” Excuse me? The man knew the house had roaches and he let us move in 1) without warning us and 2) without spraying for them? What?? Now my belongings have roaches…I moved in here roach-free (we had our house sprayed every 6 months or so…we lived near a marshland and roaches are common in such places) but I’m afraid I may not move out in the same condition.

He professed puzzlement at the fly problem, saying he’d never noticed much of a problem. Well, I guess he’s never bothered to look at the light fixtures in the kitchen and scullery ceilings, which are literally full of dead flies! And I don’t think he believed me about the rat at all. But he promised to send out an exterminator company to do a quotation.

Three weeks passed and the company came, did their assessment and went. Still no exterminator. Meanwhile the driveway gate goes on the fritz, necessitating a call to the gate guy on the list…ten days, three call outs, and multiple parts swaps later, we find this is an on-going problem in this house, and that is why his name and phone number are on the list. This particular motor was installed last November, a replacement for another, even less reliable motor.

We have had a terrible problem with the doors and locks. On the day we moved in, one of the furniture movers got locked in the guest bathroom because the lock doesn’t work properly. He had to hand the key out the bathroom window to Hubby, who was able to unlock the door from the outside. The door from the dining room to the patio would not close properly…it had to be slammed…which knocked a sensor for the alarm system off the door and broke the interior of the lock, leaving us with a door to the outside that could not be locked and an alarm sensor precariously reattached with tape. The front door had to be shouldered open and the doors to the balcony could be opened, but it took my husband and his 100kg+ frame to pull them closed enough to latch and lock. Our landlord instructed the handyman (who lives next door) to come and fix the doors, which he almost did…he fixed the front door, he half-fixed the dining room door, and didn’t touch the balcony doors at all. This last, however, may be a good thing because, when the landlord was out there with his father just recently, a wasp took umbrage to their close proximity to his nest…right beside the door!...that it stung the landlord’s father. That could have been a tragic event if it had been me, as allergic as I am to stings. It would have been nice if we had been forewarned that this was a possibility, however, so that I could get a bee kit!

Power is a bit of a testy topic in South Africa these days, and I was dismayed to find my electricity unexpectedly going off several times a week. We weren’t sure if we were putting an undue strain on the house’s electrical capacity and ultimately asked the man across the road who told us that reliability of the electricity supply was poor in this area. So, for nearly three months I am enduring unexpected power outages of unpredictable duration several times a week. Ya think the landlord might have warned us about this?

Then there was the hot water heater’s repeated boilovers when we went out of town ten days ago. My poor maid, who was left to housesit (which she loved…she got the big screen all to herself for four whole days!) called me at noon on Saturday to report “water is everywhere!” Do you think the landlord or his wife answered our frantic telephone calls or SMSs? Not a one. Ultimately the maid got the handyman from next door to show her how to shut the thing off and when we returned on Monday…after more futile attempts to reach the landlord…we called his mommy who called a plumber for us and got the mess sorted out.

But as we pulled into the driveway on Monday afternoon, the car boot full of groceries, to see a wall of steaming water cascading off the porch roof…and the driveway gate choosing just that moment to again fail…I finally lost my patience. The following day Hubby and I drafted a letter to the landlord enumerating our complaints and, basically, saying that if he didn’t take some swift action, we would either fix the problems ourselves and deduct it from the rent or we would start looking for another rental. Amazingly, the man who could not return our telephone calls or respond to our texts for a week or more, got back to Hubby in less than half an hour after the email was sent! It was all a big misunderstanding, he says, he’ll look into it…

And so now the gate seems to be fixed…and the handyman will be here Saturday to fix the doors…and tomorrow the exterminators are due to arrive.

Just in time, too...last Saturday morning when Hubby went out to feed the dogs, there at the bottom of the steps was a very dead and thoroughly chewed rat. Pretty little Candy, who looks like a dainty white poodle, is part Jack Russell and I suspect this rat’s attempts to help himself to her bowl of midnight snack kibble wasn’t exactly to her liking...and she let him know it with deadly effect.

So, by tomorrow evening our house should have received a radical verminectomy…bug spraying and rodent traps should help a lot. But I am a loss as to who to call to help us with that landlord…

Sunday, March 28, 2010

We have an offer out…

Last week we put an offer on a house we like. Unfortunately, it suffers from much the same problems we seem to encounter everywhere…it has some expensive problems that the owner has failed to correct, but he’s pricing it as if those problems had been resolved.

This particular house has a cottage on the grounds that will bring in rental income, and a studio that, when the half-done kitchen is finished, will also bring rental income, so we can actually offer a little more money for it, since we’ll have some income to offset the higher monthly house payment. But, there are significant…and costly…problems with the place.

Real estate agents use a thing called “comps” to help people come up with a price for their houses. This is a survey of recently sold nearby properties, their size and selling price. That would seem to be a good way…if the house across the street has the same footprint on the same size lot, then the prices should be proximal, yes? Well, no, actually…because the comp doesn’t take a lot of important differences into account.

Let’s say the house across the road has been renovated inside…it has a professionally designed gourmet kitchen with a large gas stove and first rate finishes including real wood cabinets…plus a generous scullery with room for three appliances. And perhaps the bathrooms have been renovated into luxury spas with Jacuzzi tubs and slate-tiled walk-in wet rooms instead of prosaic showers. And that tiny, almost useless fourth bedroom has been repurposed into a huge walk-in closet and dressing room. The back patio not only is covered, but it has a ceiling in which there are dimmable lights and it is surrounded by stacking glass doors that can be closed in cold weather. Maybe there is air conditioning and underfloor heating, gas fireplaces, and costly natural wood floors. And none of this is visible to the neighbours because the house still retains its original appearance from the street.

Now, your house may be in immaculate condition…nothing is broken, nothing is shabby, nothing needs fixing. But your kitchen is original, complete with the cheap melamine cabinets and counter tops, the old white enamel electric hob and miniscule oven, and space only for the smallest of refrigerators. Your washing machine is in the kitchen, and there is no place for a dishwasher or tumble dryer. Your bathrooms are original…30 years ago, when brown fixtures with orange accents was the rage, they were the height of fashion…today they are in like-new condition, but they are still brown and orange. Your patio is paved and a few timbers covered with shade cloth is your patio cover. Space heaters take care of the cold, big fans take care of the heat, and your spotless floors are the original tiles with the house, beautifully preserved, if 30 years out of date.

The comps cannot take into account the differences between the two houses, only the basest of the similarities. And while comps are useful in determining a range of prices in an area, they are useless in determining a fair price for a property simply because the differences in property amenities and condition cannot be factored in. Ok, so the estate agent is supposed to be the arbiter, the person who adjusts the comp figures in order to bring the asking price into line with specifics of the house. In theory this is correct, but in practice…well, the owner is actually the person who determines the selling price: if the agent won’t list the house at the price the owner wants for it, the owner will simply shop agents until he finds one who will.

What does the owner use to determine his price? Well, there are numerous answers to that…back in the States, for example, I knew a man who was in the middle of a divorce and had to share the proceeds of the sale of the family home with his soon-to-be ex-wife He had spotted a house he wanted to buy and determined he needed $90,000 to his pocket in order to be able to buy it. So, he calculated what the house had to sell for in order for him to realize his $90K and that was the sales price he settled on. Other people will take the comp as gospel…the house across the road sold for X a year ago, so my house must be worth X+the rate of inflation, never mind that my house hasn’t been painted in 10 years, the kitchen cabinets are falling apart, and the bathrooms are original with the 30 year old house.

We are seeing a lot of the latter…they look in the newspaper and see that a 3br, 2ba house in their area is on the market for X and immediately assume their house is worth the same, and that is not only the price they list it for, it is the price they insist on receiving. Instead of viewing the listed properties, taking into account the upgrades their house will need to be comparable and either doing the work or reducing their expectations by the cost of the work, they somehow perceive the cost of making their house truly comparable as belonging to the pocket of the person who buys their house. And so the houses sit on the market and buyers like me gnash their teeth in frustration.

I have seen some beautiful houses that are priced right for their size and condition…many of them, in fact. But they were not suitable for our needs…the rooms were too small for our furniture, there wasn’t space for the maid and her family, or something. But the houses themselves were beautifully updated and tastefully decorated and priced fairly for their size, condition, and location. Unfortunately, the few houses we have found that are suitable for us in terms of size and accommodation are sorely in need of renovation, and the owners have fallen into the comp trap…they won’t reduce the price of the house to take into account the necessary renovations to bring the house up to current architectural standards: modern bathrooms, open plan kitchens with good finishes, updated exteriors and, in some cases, necessary repairs.

And that brings me to the house we presently have an offer out on. Our offer is R300K below the asking price because the owner, nice man that he is, is asking “renovated and modernized house” price for a house that desperately needs some very costly work. The house is large and it is lovely, but even the estate agent says the owner’s expectations are out of line with reality. Originally he wanted to list at R3mil and the agent refused to take the listing. The man came down to R2.5mil and the agents took the listing, but with the knowledge that the seller would likely not get offers at that level (nor would the house likely appraise for that, making it difficult to get a mortgage).

We have carefully assessed the property and found numerous deficiencies: two of the brick boundary walls are in bad condition: one is a security risk, the other a safety risk. They will have to be taken down and replaced. Since we recently extended a brick wall at our house in Cape Town, we know this is going to cost in excess of R50K. There are no gates at the end of the driveway, which is a security problem in Johannesburg. To put in the gates and remote control for them will cost handsomely. The bathrooms have not been touched since the house was built: pea green fixtures and rose pink tiles! We had an estimate to upgrade our small bathroom in Cape Town: R20k + the cost of fixtures and tiles. The main bath in this house is quite large, so to update the two bathrooms, we are probably looking at R100K (the main bath has a Jacuzzi bath, also in pea green, that will have to be replaced, and the whole shower must be torn out and rebuilt).

To give the sellers credit, they did redo the kitchen. Unfortunately, they did the wrong things to it. It was an open plan type of kitchen and they sealed it up! They also removed about a third of the cabinets by removing the wall between the kitchen and the scullery! We have a copy of the 1980 house plans (when an addition was put on the house) that shows the original kitchen, so we can see what the layout was. Now, instead of stepping out from the kitchen and going directly into the living room/dining room, you have to step out of the kitchen into the foyer and walk through the foyer and then up three steps into the dining room…all this carrying heavy, hot pots of food and piles of dishes, both clean and dirty. The kitchen will need returning to an open plan design…separate kitchens are very much out of fashion and they make houses difficult to sell because open plan is what house buyers want. And returning this to open plan is not going to be a cheap proposition since it will mean taking out walls, moving electrical work and cabinets, etc.

There is a studio flat attached to the house that could be rented out except for one thing: they brought in the pipes, drain and electricity to put in a small kitchen but never finished the job. So, at least another R30K to buy and install cabinets, countertops, sink and taps, and a kitchen stove.

Some years ago houses built of facebrick were very trendy here. “Facebrick” is a kind of exposed brick that is neither painted nor plastered over, and comes in numerous colours and textures…and is now so out of fashion that some areas actually prohibit the building any new houses with it! And this huge house is not the only facebrick on the property, so are all of the garden walls…and the entire driveway and what should be the front yard are also paved with bricks. Not only does this outdated exterior drive the price of the house down, it is expensive to remedy…it is doubtful we will live here forever and it is essential that we take the difficulty in reselling this house into consideration: if we don’t want to linger on the market, we will have to employ an effective…and costly…program to either paint or plaster over (or both) at least a portion of the brick, remove some of the paving bricks and install plantings to soften what is now an monolithic expanse of bricks, bricks, and more bricks.

Then there is the fact that this house is on a corner…not a good thing in Joburg. The perception here is that a corner house has two boundary walls exposed to criminals and is therefore twice as vulnerable to being invaded. Also, this house is in a boomed area, with only two entrances a neighbourhood of 250-300 houses, and one of the entrances is on the road that runs beside the house, making for a relatively busy street just outside the main bedroom. Now, the wall has electric fencing on top of it and there is an abundance of plantings between the house and the wall to soften traffic noise, but potential buyers will still see that the house is on a corner lot…and a relatively busy one at that. This, of course, drives the desirability of the house…and its value…down further.

So, knowing all of the above and being aware of the costs of necessary repairs and bringing the house up to modern architectural standards, we made an offer on the house that was R300,000K below the listing price. The owner has until Tuesday evening to respond.

And so we wait.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Are we expecting too much?

With yet another unsuitable house viewed yesterday afternoon, it occurs to me to wonder if the problem is our expectations: are we expecting too much?

In terms of an agent we expect the following:
1) Don’t waste your time, our time, or the time of the sellers. Show us houses that fit the criteria we give you;
2) Don’t be selfish or greedy: share with your colleagues and show us houses they have listed if they fit our needs, even if you have to split the commission with them;
3) Recognize that the upper limit of our budget is for a “perfect” house: i.e., a house that needs no immediate expenditure for work to make it ready for us to move in. That means if the house is listed at the top end of our budget and the bedroom wall needs to be pushed out two metres just to get our furniture into the room, we cannot offer full price for it, we have to offer full price minus the cost of pushing out that wall or we simply cannot buy the house;
4) Respect our needs…don’t tell me I “have too much stuff” when I say the house is too small or that I need to “downsize” my collection of pots, pans, and utensils when I say the kitchen isn’t big enough or that “the owner likes it this way” when I opine that something is not to my liking. Just listen, take the information under advisement, and use it to refine your next recommendation;
5) We have R2mil to spend, give or take a couple of hundred thousand. Don’t condescend or treat us like paupers…it is a generous amount of money and it will buy us a decent house…we have time, we are preapproved buyers, and we will keep looking until some estate agent wises up and shows us the right house at the right price. If you want a percentage of that preapproved chunk of money our lender has promised us, go find us a house that suits our needs…don’t try to shove us into just any old house you are eager to sell. I want to buy the brick-and-mortar equivalent of a gently used second-hand Mercedes ML, not a brand new Ka.

In terms of a house, these are the inflexible minimum requirements:
1) 3 bedrooms, one of them large enough for my large, heavy bedroom suite of six pieces of furniture;
2) 2 bathrooms, one of them en suite with the master bedroom and with a shower, preferably larger than a 1m x 1m cubicle;
3) Either generously sized staff quarters or a granny cottage on the property. Our maid came with us from Cape Town and we need sufficient space to house her and her family. I do not consider one room barely bigger than a double bed and an outside toilet to be sufficient space for even one person, and some of these sellers should be abjectly ashamed at the conditions in which they expect their live-in helpers to reside! It is this requirement that has us looking at more expensive houses, as only they have granny flats or staff quarters.
4) No cluster houses, no houses on panhandle lots, no houses backing up to a freeway, shopping centre or industrial park, no houses on busy roads.
5) Adequate security, please! That means a functioning alarm system, security gates, locks that work, and intact boundary walls at minimum.
6) Fireplaces, pools, air conditioning, water features, covered patio and other amenities are nice, but they don’t make up for the lack of a large shower, space in the kitchen for a double fridge, automated garage doors, remote controlled driveway gate, or room for a washer, dishwasher AND a tumble dryer, and we don’t consider them necessary. We won’t turn down a house because it doesn’t have a pool or the patio isn’t covered…we will turn it down if the fridge won’t fit into the kitchen or there is no shower in the en suite bathroom.
7) Please, no houses that don’t have at least a modicum of decent room flow! I don’t want to open my front door into the dining room; I don’t want to walk through my closet to reach the bathroom; I don’t want my mother-in-law to have to walk to my room to get to the guest bedroom; I don’t want to carry a hot, heavy pot of food down a hallway, through a dark “TV room,” and around a corner to reach the dining table; I don’t want to pull into my garage on a rainy day, the boot of my car full of grocery bags, and have to lug those bags, in one of our torrential downpours, across a courtyard or lawn, down some steps, past the pool, through a security gate that I must stop and unlock with a key, and then up to the front door which must also be opened with a key, all in order to just get the groceries into the house. I want a house that has had some reasonable consideration to traffic flow put into its design…I will have to live in it every day for years and I simply do not see myself living happily in a house in which the rooms have been stuck randomly together!
8) An adequate-sized kitchen is not negotiable. It doesn’t matter if it is poorly laid out or has insufficient cabinet space…I can sort that out with a good kitchen designer. But if the room is too small, we are talking major money here to add on foundation, walls, roof, and plumbing in addition to new cupboards, counters, appliances, fixtures and flooring.
9) Trees. I want a mature garden with trees to shade the property. This is Africa and it can get bloody hot here, and trees are cheaper than a/c, they filter pollutants from the air, give off oxygen, and look beautiful. I want shady trees and I simply will not buy a house that doesn’t have them.

So, a 3 bedroom, 2 bath (one with shower) house with large kitchen, adequate space for our live-in maid (newer American homes often have “in-law suites” which would be perfect), double garage with automatic door openers, adequate security, and a quiet, tree-shaded location…that’s the bottom line. It sure doesn’t seem like too much to expect for a couple of million bucks, now does it?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

More houses…more estate agents…more disappointment…

While the process of buying a house here is largely like the process in the US, there are some differences. In the States, for example, once an offer on a house has been accepted, the marketing of the house ceases. The buyer and seller have a contract, usually with some contingencies included that could result in one of the other of them being able to back out of the contract, but if you accept an offer from me for your house and somebody comes along a couple of days later offering you more money…and in cash…you are out of luck unless I am unable to secure a mortgage (bond) or sell my present residence (assuming the sale was contingent upon selling it) or some other such circumstance.

Not so in South Africa. If you accept my offer for your house, unless I have offered you cash, you still have options open. A contingency sale, for example, can derail if you get a cash buyer, even if you have accepted my contingent offer. In such a case, I get 48 hours (used to be 72) to come up with enough cash to cover my offer to you or I lose the house to the cash buyer. There are certain other conditions under which an accepted offer can be invalidated as well, so even after your offer has been accepted, the owner and the [real] estate agents will continue to show the house to prospective buyers until your bond is granted and the money is in the hands of the seller’s attorneys.

Buyers here are greatly at risk. The estate agent works for the seller, as do the conveyancing attorneys. We don’t have escrow companies here, so the money and paperwork transfers (such as deed registration) are handled by specialist law firms…who are engaged by the sellers, not the buyers. We also do not have title search companies, but the deeds registering office is supposed to make sure the property is free of liens prior to the transfer…and if there are liens, it is the job of the conveyancing attorney to clear them from the funds he has received from your lender prior to handing over cash to the seller. The conveyancing attorney acts very much like an escrow company in the US, but with one notable difference: in the US, escrow companies are, by their nature, objective in their dealings; here, the conveyancing attorneys work for the seller and sometimes that works to the buyer’s detriment.

So, knowing that the estate agents and the cash-and-document transfer specialists are in the employ of the sellers, we approach our house hunting with great caution: we’ve been burned once by an unethical, thieving seller and shafted by both her agent and attorneys…we aren’t going to allow it to happen again. We therefore take agents’ ecstatic waxing about houses with a lump of salt and expect very little…for a great deal of money.

Houses here are sold “voetstoots,” an Afrikaans word meaning “as is.” This can work both for and against a buyer: on the one hand, the house must be in the same condition (and have the same fixtures) as when the buyer viewed the house (items specifically noted as exceptions excluded)…but if there are defects in the house that the buyer failed to notice, he’s stuck with them. Yes, there is a clause for latent defects (i.e., the roof leaks, the seller knew about it and concealed it), but activating that clause is prohibitively expensive (I know, I sued that unethical, thieving seller a few years back). But if your seller is moving out of the country (which is common around here), the latent defects clause is just pointless…even if the house collapses around your ears, you have no recourse. So, we are very cautious about houses that look like they will need work, especially with regard to drainage, foundations, plumbing, electrical work and roofing.

Last week we called an agent about a house in Paulshof, a nice upmarket suburb within easy commuting distance of Hubby’s job. She took us to two houses, neither of which met our requirements, and neither of which were the house we called about! Leafing through her book of open mandates, she flipped to the page with the house on it and I stopped her…“That’s the house we called about,” I told her. She seemed surprised but promised to set it up and call us back.

Well, for some reason she turned it over to her partner (miffed that we didn’t like the houses she showed us, even though they clearly did not meet the requirements we gave her?) to show us. The internet ad showed a neat brick house and the description fitted our needs. It also included two rental cottages and river frontage. The only thing that bothered me was the lack of interior photos, but I know that sometimes that happens because nobody was home the day the photographers came to take the pictures.

Well, I should have listened to my instincts. The house was shabby, both inside and out. It was a panhandle house, reached by a narrow, twisting driveway and located behind one house and bordered closely by another house and a huge apartment complex overlooking the garden. The view to the front was a rubble pile backed up by the house in front, the view to the right was the roof and windows of a neighbouring house less than two metres away, the view to the left was a multi-story apartment complex with at least two floors of windows looking directly down into the front and back gardens, and the view to the back, which should have been inviting river frontage, was that of a cliff as seen from behind a massive snarl of razor wire. Oh, there was a river, all right, and you could hear it flowing…but you couldn’t see it because it was at the base of the cliff, masked by the razor wire barricade.

Inside, the house had once been attractive, but now it was just shabby with age and neglect. The owner, a frail woman who looked to be in her eighties, was just no longer robust enough to keep the place up. A kind of dingy grey overlaid everything, from the paint to the windows to the carpets to the furnishings. Most of the rooms were of a generous size, save the living room which was amazingly small, none of the bathrooms had seen renovation since the construction of the house, and the work that had been done to renovate the kitchen had left it a dark, disjointed, poorly designed and shamefully executed space (the lower kitchen cupboards, for example, were so out of plumb that it was obvious to the naked eye!).

The garden was a wreck. Oh, it was planted and neatly trimmed, but there was a huge gouge in the earth, nicely covered with lawn, that would doubtless fill with water during the rains and become swampy, as it had no outlet to the river’s edge or to anyplace it could drain. Evidence of neglect was everywhere, from the peeling paint on the window frames to the threadbare garden to the scummy shower tiles. But the shocker was that she had wanted to list the property for more than R2mil and only settled for R1.95mil when the agent simply refused to list it for that.

Looking at the work the place needed, especially the fact that the back garden would need a visit from a hydrologist to work out proper drainage for that gash in the earth in the back garden, and the fact that to give the place even a semblance of privacy the front garden wall would have to be raised at least two metres and tall trees put in to screen the property from the prying eyes of the apartment building, we figured the place probably needed close to half a million in work. This figure took into account the need to completely re-do the kitchen and renovate the bathrooms, install a security system, and relandscape the back garden as well as haul away the rubble in the front of the house and landscape that area which, presently, is nothing but bare sand, piles of construction debris, and a lone tree. At the end of all that expense and work we would be left with a small house with a tiny garden…perhaps a hidden jewel, but even then, barely worth the nearly R2mil she was asking for it.

We asked the agent if he had explained to her the fact that, no matter what a buyer wanted to pay, the lender would send out an appraiser who would value the property and the lender would not lend one rand more than the appraiser’s estimation. He said he had. We then asked if the woman was aware that the properly could not possibly appraise for her asking price and, in fact, might not even appraise for the R1.5mil we might consider offering, in present condition. He said he had…but she was immovable.

And so, we go to see another house today…we’ll see how that one goes.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I think that Murphy guy is stalking me…

So, Friday morning we grabbed the Yorkie and jumped into the car headed for Durban, a drive of six or so hours. Hubby’s brother was celebrating his 40th and, now that we are within reasonable driving distance, we headed down to share his day.

Our maid came to Joburg with us from Cape Town and is now living in, so we left with no concerns: she would take care of the Maltese Mafia and make sure the house looked occupied…and was securely locked up…while we were gone. We left with clear minds, no thought of problems…we had, after all, sorted it all out. Yah, right…

Just as we sat down for a Saturday lunch of Mum’s delectable chicken curry with the family, my phone rang. Uh-oh…the call is coming from home…not a good thing when you are 600 kms away and home is a rental, not your own place (over which you have the power of decision and choice). Sure enough, it’s T and “water is everywhere!” I handed the phone off to Hubby who helped her find the water shut off valve to the house and sort out the problem, which turns out to be the hot water heater. The handyman, who lives on the grounds of the house next door, came over, crawled up into the attic space and came back, and pronounced the device to be “ok.” He told T that it had just gotten too hot and boiled over, sending water out through the overflow pipe which, inconveniently, deposited water in the ceiling space, causing it to run out the eaves and cascade from the porch roof in a steaming waterfall, some of it even finding its way to the light fixture hanging in the stairwell and flowing down its branches onto the stairway, creating a cascade down the stairs. But he turned the thermostat down and told T that it was fine and it was all resolved.

So, Monday evening we get home and unpack, then head off to the grocery store because the fridge is bare. As we are checking out my cell phone rings…it’s T and “the water is everywhere again!” We hurry home and, sure enough, hot water is cascading from the porch roof, a wall of steam rising from the earth in front of the entrance. Hubby calls the landlord…phone goes straight to voicemail; he tries calling Mrs. Landlord…same thing. Fortunately, we have the phone number for the landlord’s mother, who organized a plumber for us…for the following day…meaning we were without hot water until the plumber came to sort out the problem.

This would have been bad enough, but when we came back from the grocery store, Hubby couldn’t get the automated gate to close properly behind us. This is a big deal in Joburg as it is not nearly as safe to live here as Cape Town and the failure of this gate meant we were vulnerable to unsavoury sorts just opening the gate and walking onto the property. This wouldn’t be a huge problem…it would be “luck of the draw” that someone would randomly test our gate…except for one thing: the motor for the gate, which is located just inside the garden wall, was making a “peep peep peep” noise to warn us that the gate was not working properly. Unfortunately, anyone walking by on the other side of the wall could hear the warning as well, motivating him to give the gate an experimental tug. Interestingly, the gate was not working properly last week and the repair guy came out and replaced the battery and transformer…now, less than a week later, it has failed again. Could he come out that evening and repair it? Nope…we had to go through the night with the warning sounding nonstop, a temptation to any chancer who might happen by. Hubby, engineering wizard that he is, found a way to manually lock it for the duration but neither of us have the cell phone number of the tenant who lives in the cottage behind us (and shares that gate), so it was just dumb luck he didn’t try to come home that night and find himself locked out of his driveway!

So, the gate temporarily sorted, we got inside, unpacked, used up the rapidly cooling water in the hot water tank (Hubby switched it off at the power board to prevent additional boilovers) with a couple of quick showers, and sat down to check my email for the first time in four days. I’ll bet you can guess what’s coming, huh?

Internet fired up fine, but my Outlook didn’t seem to be working. I kept getting a message that it was unable to connect to my POP3 server. Then, contrarily, two dozen emails downloaded in rapid succession, only to be followed by the inability to connect notice just a few minutes later. Too tired to deal with it, I took care of the emails I could, then sacked out, hoping it would be resolved by the morning.

No such luck…got up yesterday morning to find the email was still occasionally spitting a few messages my way, then stalling behind the inability to connect notice.

So, now it is Wednesday…the plumber came yesterday and the hot water heater (“geyser” in South African) seems to be working properly. The gate guy came, but the gate is still intermittently misbehaving. And Outlook? Well, I dunno…this morning there were a few emails in the Inbox, but that is in keeping with the intermittent nature of the problem, so no proof of cure. I guess if there are no more “inability to connect to the POP3 server” messages, I can consider it resolved.

The real question, however, is “Who is this Murphy guy and why is he stalking me?”

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Do they really want to sell these houses or not?

If you could get a 100% mortgage, how much could you afford to spend on a house? We can afford about R2,000,000 (Hubby can get a 100% mortgage for that amount), which translates to about $270,000 USD. Sounds like a pretty modest amount, yes? Take a look at this to see what $270K US can buy here in Joburg. This particular property search is confined to the “better” suburbs, middle class and up, and shows 448 homes between $135K and $270K USD.

So, while we aren’t looking at Hollywood mansions or Beverly Hills estates, we are looking at very nice homes in upmarket areas, houses selling for a respectable amount of money and located in beautiful settings. The problem is, I am coming to question just how serious these people are…agents and sellers alike…abut selling their houses.

Take the mid-century modern house I have been coveting…it has been on the market since November and was originally listed at R3.1million, a hallucinatory price if I ever heard one. It is a lovely house, but would you pay Beverly Hills prices for a house located nearby…but definitely outside the confines of BH? Well, Bryanston and Randburg have a similar relationship, Bryanston being the prestigious suburb and Randburg being more of an ordinary middle-class kind of place. And although this house and the surrounding area look like Bryanston, the fact of the matter is, the utilities are supplied by and taxes are paid to Randburg and, as one estate agent told me, “Nobody pays 3 million for a house in Randburg, no matter how nice it is!”

So, the owner learned the hard way that this is very much a live sentiment and has been lowering the price of the house, little by little. When we first saw it, he wanted R2.7mil, too rich for our blood. But a few weeks later, checking the website, we saw the price had come down. Unfortunately, our offer of R2.1mil was not accepted…twice. But this weekend we were told the price of the house has come down to R2.2mil…100K more than the best we can stretch to offer. And I have to wonder…does this man really want to sell this house??

He’s had it on the market for nearly five months. He had one offer at R2.4mil, which he accepted, but the buyer couldn’t qualify for a loan. He has had at least six open houses (“show house” in South African) and not a nibble. His own attorneys have advised him to accept our R2.1mil offer…we’ve made the offer twice, the second time backed up by a letter of qualification from our lender. We’re the only game in town and the amount of money he’s quibbling over is around $13K USD…he’s already returned to the US (he’s American) and his family is presently en route, so the house is empty…does he really want to sell this house or doesn’t he?

This being the 21st century, I do a lot of my house hunting on the web. Property Genie, the link noted above, is a particularly good source as it aggregates listings from multiple real estate agencies, allowing me to browse the offerings of many companies all in the same place. But many of the listings are of a very poor quality…not only on Property Genie, but on the agencies sites themselves. Tell me, would you be motivated to go see this house? No pictures, about as unremarkable description as you could possibly get…why would anyone even click on this ad, let alone call to make an appointment to see it? Does this agent really want to sell this house? It sure doesn’t look like it to me!

Or this one, headlined “Bank Repo Bargain”… No photo and the description consists entirely of “look no further for a property that meets your needs.” Excuse me? How am I supposed to know if it meets my needs or not…or even want to explore that possibility…if all I know is the house has 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms? Douglasdale is one of those schizo suburbs (I know…I live there) that, on one side of the main road are luxury homes with lush gardens and on the other side are tacky little boxes that pass for houses…without a picture, how can I tell if it’s on the side of the road that would interest me? Without a description, how do I know if it has a garage or a pool or if it is even big enough for my family and possessions? It doesn’t seem the agent is particularly interested in selling this house because if s/he was, wouldn’t there be a few pics and at least a basic description of the property?

Then there are the house listings that show a dozen pictures of the outside of the house from every possible angle and distance, but no pics of the inside. Those listings make me nervous…what is wrong with the inside that the agent isn’t posting any pictures of it? Kitchen and bathrooms not updated since the 1950s? Holes in the walls? Broken cupboard doors? Missing fixtures or sanitary ware? Hideous tiles or paint? Evidence of destructive tenants? What is wrong with a house that pictures of the interior are conspicuously missing? I don’t want to waste the agent’s time…or my own…battling traffic to a house only to find that the kitchen is too small or bizarrely laid out, that the living room won’t fit the sofa, or there isn’t a shower in the place. Show me pictures of the interior and I’ll self-select out the obviously unsuitable houses without wasting anybody’s time…agent, seller, or my own.

Then there are the ones that show multiple interior shots but nothing outside…or no pics of the front of the house. It just makes me wonder what they are trying to hide. We actually went to see a house that had an absolute horror of a back yard…boundary wall backed up to a busy freeway, the trees that once shielded the household from the traffic noise cut down and some of them burned in huge pits dug into the back yard, no flowers, bushes, trees, or shrubs…nothing but a dry, scrubby lawn and a pit at one side of the house full of stagnant water. The house interior was also a nightmare, with sagging ceilings, no room flow whatsoever (you had to walk through a dark TV room to reach the dining room from the kitchen, for example), and a tenant in the cottage who refused to let anyone in to see it! This house was listed at R1.65M and the owner had turned down an offer from a neighbour for R1.5mil…about half a mil more than I would have considered it worth! Did that woman really want to sell her house? Her actions would suggest that she wasn’t really a committed seller.

Then there are the pictures themselves. Even when the agent includes interior pics, they seem to be randomly chosen, and often so dark that the features of the room are indistinguishable. Do they think this lends an air of mystery to the property, that it piques curiosity on the part of potential buyers? Well, not this buyer. There are literally hundreds of listings to sort through and if other buyers are anything like me, they only spend a lot of time on the really interesting listings and just skip over the ones that don’t jump out at them. In fact, I suspect most buyers are like me, because the listings that jump out at me often are for properties that have already sold, indicating the listings jumped out at somebody else before I even got there!

Which brings up another problem…houses that remain on websites long after they have been sold and the mortgages granted. The laziness on the part of the agents who fail to take the listings down causes a lot of pointless phone calls. OK…I suspect some of the agents leave them up because they will generate calls to which the agent can say “I’m sorry, that house has been sold…but what are you looking for and maybe I can find something for you?”

In America we call that “bait and switch” and it is illegal. Surprisingly, it is not illegal in South Africa, although it is gravely unethical. I won’t work with an agent who suckers in potential clients this way. Advertise a good house with decent pictures and appropriate description and I’ll call you, waving my prequalification certificate like a flag!

I don’t understand why agents aren’t breaking their bums to find houses for buyers like me. If these agents really, really want to sell houses and take commissions to their pockets, what is their issue with sharing with their colleagues? Don’t they realize that 3% of a sale is much nicer to the wallet than 6% of a no-sale? I see multiple houses listed by the same agency but an agent working there will only show me his/her listings! Agents! I don’t care who listed the house, you or your colleagues…they have listings…I am a serious, committed, prequalified buyer…why aren’t you showing me everything your agency has listed that fits my needs, instead of the one or two houses in your own personal inventory? Don’t you realize that half a commission is better than none? That your sellers need more foot traffic than less because the more people who see a house, the better chance of selling it?

But I seem to keep coming across agents who would rather try to talk me into buying the wrong house than find and sell me the right one. How lazy…and ultimately stupid…is that? We saw a house that was too small and too expensive. Instead of hearing us…at this price we wouldn’t have the money to expand the house…and saying “Let me check with my colleagues and see what they might have available that would suit you”…she countered each objection with an explanation for why the owner did that, or that the owner likes it this way, or we could make something bigger or paint it or… Sorry, but the owner’s taste and sense of balance and style were way out of whack with mine, it would have cost a fortune we don’t have to fix it, and unless her owner was willing to drop the price by about a million rand so that we’d have the funds to fix it, this was just not the house for us!

So, we continue househunting, slogging through internet listings that don’t tell us how big a house is (and those that do invariably include the garage, patios and balconies in the square footage, places I am loathe to put the sofa, king-sized bed, or Hubby’s big screen), that list prices the owner won’t accept, that fail to show pictures of such important areas as the kitchen, bathroom, and front of the house…or just simply fail to show pictures at all. For an entire afternoon’s perusal of hundreds of listings, yesterday I came up with four houses…one of which has been sold, two of which we are going to see today, the fourth one we will see tomorrow. Nearly 500 listings and only four suitable…

But what about all those that fit our price and location requirements but didn’t have any pictures or descriptions? Wouldn’t it be sad if my perfect home was one of those but because some slothful estate agent couldn’t be bothered to write a description and post some pics, we never meet?

Later…Hubby on his way to pick me up to see a house…

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Murphy’s Law kinda day

Today has been, to use an Afrikaans expression, a kak day.

At 5 am I discover I have no internet connection. After an hour and several phone calls, I discover that our ISP is fine but our telephone company, Telkom (aka Hellkom) has a DSLAN (whatever that is) down at the exchange in my area. They don’t know how long it will take to fix it, but they will magnanimously take a fault report from me, even though they already know it is broken. They can’t tell me how long it will take to fix it…but what they don’t tell me is that they have no overnight repair crews, so every person and business in my entire area (which includes several malls and the area’s largest casino) will have no internet at least until the first of the repair crews report for work at 7:30 in the morning.

An hour later the phone rings…it is some woman doing a survey for Telkom and she wants to talk to the person who logged a fault that morning. Much to my dismay, she cared nothing about the crap telephone tree that kept me holding while it went through ten minutes of “try this fix” suggestions that didn’t need…I had already spoken to my ISP, knew was was wrong, and just wanted to log the fault. No, what she wanted to know was whether or not the service tech with whom I spoke was polite or nice…basically the same question about the poor guy who had to take me call at 5:30 am, but not a single inquiry about the difficulty in getting to the poor guy, or their crap service that necessitated the call in the first place.

So, I go about my day, periodically checking on my internet connection…nothing. At nearly 11 I call to check on the progress and am told “they are working on it.” Not what I wanted to hear…the last time someone from Telkom told me that, it took them 12 days to get someone to come out to the house and track down the reason I couldn’t connect to the internet…twelve days! From this phone call I learn that Telkom, the telephone monopoly in South Africa, does not have emergency crews to address line faults outside of business hours…reason enough for me to switch to the first competitor that lands on our shores. How can you operate a 24/7 service without having 24/7 repair crews? I can see limiting scheduled maintenance to business hours but emergency repairs? Does this mean if that DSLAN committed suicide at 6pm on a Friday, my whole area would be without internet until Monday morning? What is wrong with this picture?

So, the day moseyed on until my maid, who likes to watch Days of Our Lives while she irons, comes to me and says something is wrong with the living room TV. Already hearing the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments when Hubby discovers his precious big screen has gone kaput after only two years, I rush down stairs. But, it turns out, that the satellite company has turned off access to the “second” TV and when I get upstairs and check the “primary” TV, I get a message that says I must have a valid subscription. This is all well and good except for one thing…our subscription does not expire until May, so we are still quite valid, as far as I know.

Midday I went downstairs and with the able assistance of my intrepid maid, whipped up some homemade bagels (what passes for bagels here is a travesty!). Returning to my air conditioned bedroom I find my computer has turned itself off Now, this is a laptop, sitting on a tray on my bed…the battery is fully charged AND it is plugged in! I have two virus/malware detectors, one scans every day at noon, the other every Monday night…so far no problems there. But when I rebooted, it gave me the screen that says Windows did not shut down properly…the same screen I get with a reboot after I’ve had to pull the battery to force a shut down after a freeze. I still don’t know what the problem was…

The second fellow I talked to at Telkom also could not give me an estimated repair time, but when pressed, said I should call back and check the status of my report after 2 pm. He was polite and helpful and actually had a bit of information…I thanked him politely and put down the phone. I waited until 3…still no internet.

So, taking a few deep, cleansing breaths, I picked up the phone and dialed Telkom again. OK, I know the spiel from the Chatty Charlie recording and wait to be prompted for checking on a reported fault…the prompt never comes and instead I am routed into the nightmare that I first encountered this morning. It was not until my third attempt that I finally got the desired prompt, pressed the “2” button and ended up with someone in a call centre in Bloemfontein, roughly 500 kms away, who doesn’t know Fourways (the faulty exchange) from a gangway. A nice enough fellow, I have to admit, but he gave me the shocking news that the fault had been “cleared” (meaning the technicians claimed it was fixed) but when he pings the exchange, the DSLAN doesn’t respond.

Eventually, after a series of resets and pings and fiddling around, my internet came back…after ten hours. The problem, it seems, is that the fault actually was cleared, but I needed to reset my router…neither of which Telkom bothered to communicate to me. If Telkom has the ability to sic that survey person on me within half an hour of logging the fault, someone kindly explain to me why they were unable to notify me that the fault had been cleared and my router needed resetting.

So, finally, around 3:30 I was able to get on the net, get my email downloaded, and get my browser back up. Just as I was going into FaceBook, however, to reply to a couple of messages…can you even guess what happened? Yup…this is Jozi, land of the disintegrating infrastructure, and my power went out.

So now it is back and I’m sitting here wondering if I dare leave the room. I am afraid to contemplate what new techno disaster may befall me, and I’m not going to hex myself by indulging in idle speculation, either!

Monday, March 08, 2010

A new week

My father has been buried and with that a chapter in my life comes to a close.

The house hunting continues, and it is not easy, despite having more than 150 pages of real estate ads. Unfortunately, print media is organized for the benefit of the advertiser, not the convenience of the reader, so instead of being able to go to a page for the suburb I want to buy in and then select a group of ads for houses (not duplexes, flats, clusters, or townhouses), I have to peruse each page individually, filtering each page by my criteria. Exhausting and, after looking through the whole thing, found fewer than eight properties of interest. The paper does provide an index of suburbs with a list of the page numbers where relevant ads are located, but it is discouraging to thumb through dozens of pages and find apartments, flats, cluster developments and townhouses instead of stand alone houses.

I don’t think clusters are a popular option in the American housing market. Here, they are all the rage, despite narrow lanes, miniscule plots and postage-stamp rooms and a homogeneity in appearance that makes it easy to park in front of the wrong house, especially if it is dark or you are tired. The houses all look alike, are mandated to be painted the same colour, and individuality in the exteriors…at least the part of the exterior that can be seen by your neighbours…is verboten.

We looked at a cluster house recently…it was a rare one that had staff quarters (read: maid’s room) and even a few trees. But we parked Big Bertha on the street and nearly blocked the road, once inside the gate it was obvious that there was no shade in the garden whatsoever, the plot was so small the swimming pool was in the front yard, and the view from all windows was into the neighbour’s houses and gardens. The kitchen was so small I would have had to expand it into the dining room just to house the pots, pans, and dishes, and the living room was so small we would not have been able to put the 3-seater sofa in it. And the bedroom? Well, one wall was all windows, one wall was built-in cupboards, the third wall was doors (to the en suite and into the hall) leaving only one wall for positioning furniture. Since my bedroom furniture consists of considerably more than just a bed, there was no way it could have worked for us.

Aside from the forced homogeneity of the clusters and the crowded conditions, one of my chief gripes about them is that the developers knock down all the trees on the land and when the building is done, it is as bare as the Gobi. Yes, we can plant our own trees and shrubs, but next Sunday I will be 63…I will be in my grave before a tree I plant reaches sufficient size to provide respectable shade, and will have lived those years without the comfort and ease provided by trees and lush landscaping.

But South Africans seem to like clusters. I am told it is the security they like, the boomed gates and the high walls with security, but I find that difficult to accept. I live in a separate house…I have high walls with electric fencing, an alarm, an armed response company, and my street is access controlled. And the house is twice the size of a cluster with three times the landspace…AND I have a lushly landscaped garden with mature trees in it, even though the house itself is only a few years old. Like me, the owner loves the greenery, and when he built the house, he positioned it on the lot so that the trees already here would be spared.

Clusters are not like the boomed communities in America that border golf courses or vineyards. Those “gated communities” boast expensive luxury homes with large properties and grand, opulent houses, places where those teetering at the top of the “upper middle class” ladder live conspicuous consuming lives as they ready themselves to leap to the nouveau riche rung of the next one. That kind of gated community is just arriving…Waterfall Estates is just getting underway and promises the kind of luxurious enclave that our upwardly mobile will flock to until they can afford Illovo or one of the other areas where you don’t buy houses, you buy multi-acre estates. No, clusters here are a developer’s dream…they buy one gracious older home on a large lot, knock it down, scrape the land bare, carve out tiny little parcels of land with dangerously narrow lanes between them. Then instead of burning the bucks to build houses and risk standing around with an inventory of unsold bricks and mortar, they simply put in the services, hire an architect to draw up a couple of housing plans, then sell “plot and plan” to buyers who spend their own money to build a house that takes up most of the plot, has views of their neighbour’s windows, no shade, and will always look like every other house in the development. I don’t like them, but then I am not a “cookie cutter” person (no offense intended to those of you who are).

Apparently some of the older clusters, however, are not so uniform in appearance, have larger lots, and they’ve been there long enough for the trees to have grown to a size sufficient to provide some shade. We will be looking at two houses in a 13 year old cluster this week, and hopefully one of them will be right for us. I am tired of looking at other people’s awful houses and biting my tongue to keep from laughing when I am told they are asking a premium price for a house that hasn’t had the kitchen or bathrooms updated in 30+ years.

Now, I’m off to scour the internet for my next exercise in futility…

Thursday, March 04, 2010

R.I.P., Dad. You were the best…

My father passed away on Monday. Like his parents before him, he died of a stroke. He is being buried on Saturday, the day before his 84th birthday.

My father was a good man and a fine father. He cared about his children very deeply and while he didn’t often speak that caring, it was something you could feel in his presence. He lived a long and interesting life and when I’m a bit more coherent and less shell shocked by his passing, I will doubtless write more about him.