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House Hunting Journal – looking forward to moving

We have found a home we liked, placed an offer, and to our surprise, won the bidding. Woot. Now closing day is 10 days away, and it is time to reflect on how nice it will be to have a house again.

Some of the downsides to apartment living will be lifted.

  • Having a pantry – As a former chef, and someone who enjoys cooking, the worst aspect of apartment living is the limited space for storage of foodstuffs. I.e. a pantry. Being able to stock up on staples, to have room for some esoteric ingredients, a true spice rack. Right now, all the space I have is a kitchen cabinet, and it is cramped.
  • Buying sundries at Costco – as much as I hate the zoo that is Costco, it is nice to be able to buy toilet paper in 48 packs, and paper towels in quantities that will last. And cheaper too. We will once again have room to store these quantities.
  • private laundry – I have bitched about the laundry rooms on the premises at our apartments, contention for the machines, having other peoples’ soap scents in your clothes, and the general filth of the facilities. Having our own machines hooked up again will be awesome.
  • A yard – A fenced off, safe place for our hounds. Having to leash them up every time they need to potty is a drag.
  • non-through street – not strictly an apartment thing, but we will be living on a street that isn’t a thoroughfare. We currently are at the corner of Lean Avenue and Blossom Hill road, with a highschool next door, and two elementary schools walking distance across Blossom hill. That leads to a lot of traffic, at all hours, and it is difficult to sleep.
  • Garage – while it is not the awesome three car garage I had in Tucson, we will once again have a garage. A priority will be to unpack enough to allow us to park in the garage. It is good to be able to park under cover. My S2000 has suffered in the 7 months we have lived here.

Yep, we can hardly wait. The list of things to fix/change is piling up, but soon, oh so soon, we will be moving. Yay!

Relocation Saga, Part 97

Our timing was impeccable. All through the last year, the housing market in Phoenix was literally on fire. Values were rising, houses were flying off the shelf, and we saw that our home had some serious appreciation.

Then we put it on the market. SLAM that door shut. Suddenly inventory went from less than 4 weeks to more than 6 months, and it turned from a seller’s market to a buyer’s market. Almost over night.

So, even though we priced it to sell, and we were aggressive up front, and being in a good neighborhood with great schools, and desirable location, our house has languished for almost 3 months now.

We took the plunge and moved, hoping that being unoccupied and clean would help traction, but alas, no, so we are in temporary housing, and have a little more than 3 months until our company will buy our house for market value.

A bad place to be.

Options are bleak:

  1. Stay in temporary housing and keep our household goods in storage. It is tight, being in a 1 bedroom apartment, and it is in a good location, about 4 miles from the office, and a counter commute, so that is a positive. But the bad news is that after July 15th, I have to start paying out of pocket. At $159 a day (minus fees and taxes). Gulp. That is nearly $5500 a month for “rent”. Add in the almost $1,000 a month to store my household goods, we are quickly approaching $7K a month in out of pocket expenses (not counting our mortgage, and utilities we need to keep up on the house in Phoenix). Groan.
  2. Rent a temporary place. Find a pet friendly place, and rent. Seems easy, but we do have two greyhounds, large (yet calm) dogs makes this difficult. Rent will be much less than the cost of the temporary housing, and we can get our “stuff” back. So that is cool. But we have to sign a lease for a year.

Not really a choice. Burning through our savings at $7K a month will wipe out our down payment before my company “buys” my house in October. Then we won’t be able to afford a down payment. So we rent.

Found a complex that is “pet friendly” and a reasonable price. We will sign the lease shortly, and hope to move in in the next couple of weeks.

The irony: the management company asked if we had a rental history. Uh, no, we have owned for almost 16 years in total…

Welcome to California

Well, it is technically a “welcome back”, as I grew up here in Silicon Valley.

My job relocated us to Santa Clara, and over the last week, we made the “move“. The positive is that the movers rocked, and really got our stuff packed and loaded in record time.

After spending the weekend on a leisurely drive from Phoenix to Santa Clara (via the Hoover Dam, Las Vegas, and Lake Tahoe) we got to our temporary housing Monday morning.

Our last relocation to Tucson in 2003 found us put up in a decrepit Extended Stay America in Tucson. Shudder. Here our digs are a bit better (ok, a LOT better). We are in an Avalon apartment, well furnished, and a reasonable size. Sure, it has lousy appliances, and the washer and dryer sound like a mac truck is driving through, but it is very serviceable.

Our first trip to the grocery store was expensive (over $400). Partly because groceries are more expensive here, but mainly due to the need to stock up.

When I picked up my car, I lamented the fact that it needed to be less than 1/4 full of gas. First thing, a fill of premium. Gulp, it’s about $.70 a gallon more than in AZ. Sigh, might be time to buy something more fuel efficient than the S2000.

The weather is pretty awesome. Mid to upper 70’s during the day, and very pleasant at night. Humidity is high compared to what I am used to (low teens in AZ).

Tuesday was the first day in the office. The apartment is a hair over 4 miles from the office, a straight shot down Lawrence expressway. And I am going the counter commute direction, so it is a short commute. Sadly, the house we will likely be able to afford is not going to have such a wickedly awesome commute. Sigh.

Oh, and California finally figured out how to time their traffic lights. Today I didn’t hit one red light on Lawrence.

We do miss our dogs, so I am looking forward to picking them up in Tucson over the 4th of July weekend.

Now we just need our house in Chandler to sell. We are still priced the lowest of all the SE valley single stories, a good $12 – $18 per sqft under the area.

Fingers crossed.

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Selling your house sucks

There are many reasons to hate the process of selling. The last time I had to relocate, we moved up front, and left an empty house. Get it cleaned, and let the agents have free reign.

This time, we have to sell before we move. This is much harder to accomplish.

#1 Select a realtor

There are literally thousands of realtors in any major metropolitan area. We are fortunate that we had to choose one who knows the Relo game and works with our Relocation company. Two good realtors, two slightly different approaches, but both seem competent. We pick the local specialist.

#2 Get ready

Unless you have fucking Martha Stewart as a maid, and a kick ass gardener, there are likely a list of things to do. You can live there, but you have to be ready to show at any time. And while it can be lived in, you really need to not have too much clutter.

So there are about 40 boxes of stuff stored in the garage. No guitars out. Not much besides the essentials.

It is tough living, but we have to do it.

Get the carpets cleaned. Get the tile scrubbed, fix those little things you never got to. Oh, your kitchen sink faucet died? Get it fixed. Oh, your garage door spring died? Get it fixed.

A few thousand dollars later we are ready.

#3 Put it on the market

Now the fun begins. It goes live. The marketing begins. The listing gets picked up by Trulia, homes.com, and Zillow.

We put it on the market on a Wednesday. We knew the first weekend would be busy, so we went to a local resort for a splurge. Put the dogs into daycare.

Now we are in the constant readiness state. Dirty a dish? Into the dishwasher instantly. Vacuum every day. Pick up dog toys and beds. We went from 10 dog beds to 3 that we move in and out.

We are now officially 2 weeks into it. Showing have trickled to once a day, or every other day. Easter weekend is coming. I bet that is slow.

#4 Bad buyers – Ups and Downs

The first Monday, we had an offer. Full price. Wanted the washer and dryer. Cool.

But the Relo people have a special process. Since they didn’t live here, they have no direct experience with the property, so they give minimal disclosure, and the buyer has to buy it as is (they do get to do an inspection, and we will fix what they find, but no need to come completely clean). The buyer, being a lawyer, didn’t like the terms. We were in limbo for 4 whole days before they backed out. Fuck.

I can totally relate to the buyer’s trepidation. A simple Google search shows that the relocation company is more than a bit skeevy, and has totally boned a lot of buyers. Sigh.

I know this happens, but it still sucks. Ironically, if we were just selling without the relo group involved, we would be 2 weeks from settlement. (You can be sure that I will hammer them on the customer satisfaction survey)

Summary

We have priced our house to sell. We are $12 – $18 a sqft below the neighborhood trends. But we are in a buyers market, so it will take time to get the right person to walk into our house.

I just want to get moved, and move on. Too much happening in life to have this drag out.

We have a showing tonight at 6:30. Fingers are crossed.

“Silly”con Valley Neighborhoods

More on the saga so far.

This week we spent three days crawling around neighborhoods looking for places that fit the criteria:

  • They are livable – as in, we can walk our dogs in the evening without fear for our lives.
  • We can afford it – We do have an upper limit to what is affordable, after all. I don’t have early Facebook equity.
  • The commute doesn’t completely suck – Probably the hardest of all. The further away you get, the more affordable it is, but this is inversely proportional to the suck factor of the commute.

On Monday we ruled out a few neighborhoods in San Jose. The fear factor and the feel of some of the neighborhoods was pretty bleak. We also ruled out Gilroy and Morgan Hill. Yes, some affordable options there, but my commute would be tied to Caltrain, and it is a LONG drive for when that wouldn’t work.

But we did find some downtown areas that were well within the “livable” and “affordable” category. And it would be possible to commute by bicycle if I wanted, a bonus!

Tuesday we went up the east bay. Started in Milpitas. Very little inventory, (but lots, and I do mean lots of foreclosures) but every neighborhood we looked at was ratty and run down. Likely due to the reduced tax receipts caused by all the foreclosures (people in foreclosure are not paying their property taxes either). A real turn off.

Further up the east bay, we checked a few places in Fremont. The problem here is the neighborhoods were squiffy. Some really gnarly neighborhoods that made me want to drive through quickly, and some that were in the process of gentrification. But that process was not far enough along to make them attractive. Plus the commute from here is getting egregious.

Last place on the east bay was to check out the Hayward/Castro Valley area. A colleague lives up there, and recommended it. Claimed it took him 45 minutes to get to the office. cough He must never do it in the commute hours. It takes 45 minutes with no traffic and being at the speed limit on the freeways. Big negative.

We also went up the peninsula. Some people urged us to look at Redwood City. The few (very few) affordable places were east of El Camino Real. Very rough neighborhoods. Of course, west of El Camino Real are nice, but it starts at $1M and goes up. Apparently that part of Redwood City is the slums of Woodside.

Lastly, there was one house in “Menlo Park” that met our price target. But this finger of Menlo Park is just east of East Palo Alto. EPA often fights for the “Murder Capitol of America” with DC. Yes, EPA is changing, but it is still not a neighborhood to covet.

The Net Results

The trip was a success. We accomplished:

  • We will be able to buy something that is affordable (if we hold our nose and not think about the price).
  • There are some neighborhoods that are suitable and should be in our price range (yay!)
  • We now know what we don’t want. The fact that we were able to cross a lot off our list will help tremendously when we are actually shopping.
  • The move, while scary, is not terrifying. Yes, it will be tough, and yes, we will give up a lot to move back, but it is going to be do-able.

Now to the next phase. Getting ready to sell our house. We will likely need to downsize a lot of the detritus of our lives. It’s as good a time as any to streamline, so they say.

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Moving Travails

Moving from Phoenix to San Jose is going to be an eye opener. We currently have almost 2,400 sqft of house, not counting the garage. We will be lucky to have half that here (for 2.5x the price).

I am already thinking about what will have to go. A lot of what I have packed in my garage is going to get nuked. It has mostly sat in a box, so I am not going to miss it.

  • My CD’s might get sold. Not a huge collection, but apart from some special ones, that I want to save (signed etc) they have been digitized and archived long ago. Bookman’s will get a bounty.
  • My textbooks. I will look long and hard at my physics and math texts. Most will get pitched. A few I still refer to, but the truth be told, they have been collecting dust for a long time.
  • My old computer gear. I have fond memories of my 8-bit days, and a couple old Atari’s and Apples. I fear they need to go adios. There are emulators, and I still have all the software, so apart from nostalgia, there is little value there anymore.
  • My paperback and Sci Fi collection. This is going to hurt. I have a lot of sci fi that I have bought over the years. Some collectors editions, a lot of old books long out of print. I will sort through the 8 or so moving boxes, and pick one to keep. The rest will go to Bookman’s. I have been using the reader for 6 years now, and I find that most of what I want to read is available electronically.
  • My second computer desk/workstation. I will likely not have room for both. One will go, and I will probably sell/use my second 24″ monitor at the office. It will make it inconvenient to work at home, but that is OK.

This should help immensely if we get into 1,200 sqft. If we go much smaller than that, or only a one car garage, a lot more will get sacrificed. Probably some guitars and amplification. gulp

Notes from House Hunting in San Jose Area

This week I am in San Jose/South Bay to “preview” prior to deciding to relocate. Since I spent the first 38 years of my life here, I don’t need much pre-viewing, so we are hitting likely locations to live.

So far, I have pretty much dismissed the far south bay. Morgan Hill and Gilroy, while they are near and served by Caltrain, are just too damn far. I last lived at the north end of the Coyote valley, and it was OK, but still a long commute, even by light rail.

I did find some great neighborhoods in downtown San Jose. Near the Japantown district are cute bungalows (small houses) that look fun, and some neighborhoods just north of Willow Glen are attractive and affordable. The whole downtown area has cleaned up a lot since I graduated from SJSU. Definitely like it.

The Edenvale/Blossom Hill area is another strong contender. Older neighborhoods, but good feel, and it seemed like “home”. We did find some neighborhoods that genuinely sucked. Of course, when even in a sketchy neighborhood, a modest house costs over $500K, the trend is towards gentrification. Just not soon enough for our tastes.

The Internet makes it cozy to sit at your desk and look for houses. MLS Listings, Zillow and Trulia are all pretty easy to navigate. But until you sit in front of a house, you fail to get a feel. One would think that real estate agents would invest in a decent camera and some classes on how to take a decent picture.

Somethings I noticed on the road:

  • People here still can’t drive. Stupid maneuvers on the freeways, inability to merge on said freeways, crazy “california” stops. I thought Arizona had a lot of lousy drivers. But this takes the cake.
  • The infrastructure is looking old. Really old. Sidewalks are crumbling. Streets are rough. Not as bad as Tucson, but you can tell that some of the neighborhoods I looked in were from the very early 1900’s.
  • One thing Arizona gets right is the laws about how to deal with emergency vehicles. You pull over, both directions, and let them pass. I forgot about the past time here of chasing fire trucks and ambulances to catch their “green lights”. Insane at any speed.
  • Those “Keep clear” markings on the streets. Completely ignored. Traffic is bad enough, and it is difficult enough to merge cleanly, but blocking those areas is just selfish douchebag-ness. You are not helping, and you aren’t going to get there any quicker.
  • BMW must make a “California ONLY” version of their car. I swear in 2.5 days of driving around, I have yet to see a single BMW signal its intent. They must come without turn indicators here.
  • If you are in the right lane, and you want to make a left turn, it is OK in California to just cut across 4 lanes of traffic in 50′. No, really, nobody minds.

I am back at the hotel, and I am tired. Mexican food and Margaritas tonight.

Relocating back to Silicon Valley – The Good

Hell has frozen over, and it looks like I am going to be relocating back to the Silicon Valley. I left there in 2003 to take a job in Tucson that I liked, and came to enjoy much of what Arizona offers. A couple times I flirted with going back, including a very tempting job offer.

As we head out to “preview” the south bay, I would like to take a few minutes to reflect on some of the good things there will be about returning to my childhood and early adult home.

  • Family and Friends – Since I lived in the south bay until I was 38, I still have many ties to the area. My step father, and sister still live there. My other sister lives a few hours away by car in the Sierra Nevada foothills. I also still have several friends in the area. It will be good to reconnect with them.
  • Climate and Activities – I love the outdoors and the related activities. Cycling, hiking, scenic drives are all good stress relievers for me. Tucson had great (technically challenging) hiking, but the climate was such that you were limited from May to October due to the heat. It will begreat to have redwood forests, Stevens Creek Reservoir, Fremont-Older, and other great hiking. Being an hour or less from the beach will be a huge benefit (not that I am a beach comber).
  • The Food – Tucson had the best Mexican food I have ever had. But I struggled to find good Chinese or Indian food. The one Korean restaurant was so so, and everybody’s recommendation for Italian, “Caruso’s” doesn’t even rate a sneer. I know that the Bay Area has a much wider selection, and the ethnic communities do have far better restaurants and variation. Yum. And one thing that I greatly missed is good sourdough bread. Yep, Beyond Bread did a passable sourdough, but nothing, I mean nothing compares to real crusty, chewy San Francisco sourdough. Yum.
  • Business – I am not ever planning on leaving my current job. I love it, and at heart I am an instrumentation guy. But, after the barreness of Tucson, and the better but not great employment market of Phoenix, it is reassuring to know that there will be opportunities to find new challenges should I need to. Silicon Valley remains the epicenter of much of the tech world.

There are some plusses to the move, and I will keep them in mind as I am hunting for neighborhoods, weighing commute, quality of life, and where I can realistically afford to live.

Next post: The Bad

Big Changes in 2014 for Casa Gander

In 2012, I joined a great company, a cool place to work, and a true leader in Scientific instrumentation. Not quite a dream come true but a good move, particularly at this stage of my career.

Things had been going well, then the Friday before the Thanksgiving week, the bombshell fell. All manufacturing of our products will move to Malaysia (where we have been manufacturing since 1974), and thus the operation as we know it in Arizona will be closed.

Those of us in marketing and engineering were given an option. We could relocate to the home office in Santa Clara California, or we would be managed out by the end of April.

Gulp. Flashback. I moved to Arizona in 2003 to take a job at Veeco Instruments. Prior to that I was in the San Jose area. I gladly left because I realized that my 1,093 Sq Ft condo would be all I could ever hope to afford.

Moving back to that nutty housing and traffic area was something that I contemplated a couple of times, but the finances were never attractive. I even had a couple of good job offers in 2007/2008 to go back, but again the economics didn’t make sense.

This time is different.

  1. The company put together a kick-ass relocation package. Truly top notch, with mortgage assistance, tax assistance, and as painless of a move as possible.
  2. Realizing that the cost of living is pretty out of whack there, mainly due to housing costs, the company is giving a generous salary increase. Enough to help me afford a $600K mortgage (my generous house here in Chandler was $245K in a great neighborhood, 12 minutes from the office)
  3. I am rapidly approaching 50. A decade ago that wouldn’t have been a huge deal, the fact is that becoming unemployed at 50 would be a serious risk in this economy. Far too many people never find meaningful work again. While I fully expect to be a greeter at Walmart after I “retire” I don’t want that to start today.
  4. I really like the company, and believe in the products, the leadership, and the ethos of the company. At this point in my career, and I have worked for some really slimy operators, this is a big deal. I know that I have a lot to offer, and as much as I grumble about my profession, I am quite good at it.

So we are going to suck it up and move. I have until January 31st to officially accept or decline the relocation offer. In a week and a half we get a preview trip, which we will use extensively to scope out neighborhoods.

I am terrified, but if we are ever to relocate back to the Bay Area, this is the only way we will be able to do it.

This blog will be a useful outlet for my sojourn, so I hope you don’t get bored and leave.

Groovin’ on my VPS – moved 2 websites

So, after a brief support interaction with my new hosting company, A Small Orange hosting is who I went with, and I haven’t been disappointed, I am up and life is good. I have learned how to use cPanel, and its companion WHM. Really slick tools, and really easy to use. I now have 4 domains setup, and have 3 more to move, and four subdomains. I have learnt a few things:

  • WordPress is really easy to move.  I moved my wife’s site no sweat. took about an hour, and I played with it before I re-jiggered the name servers. Easy peasy.
  • Joomla is less so easy. My main site is still hosed. Apparently there is a PHP setting that I need to figure out. Might be a good time to go from Joomla 2 to 3. But that hasn’t been painless so far. (FWIW there is dogshit for information on how to best make the transition on the web. Sigh). I can’t even get it moved to a local LAMP server and running. Something is hosed, not surprising, as I am constantly fucking with it, so I am sure I am the cause.
  • One of my joomla sites, a 3.1 moved really easy. Move all the files, backup the database, recreate the database, set the configuration, and BAM, it just worked.
  • I like having complete control of my MySQL instance. At Media temple I had exceeded my database account limit early on, so I had to use the same credentials/account for more than one database. A security risk.
  • My next main goal is to get my SSH keys generated and installed.

So far, I am digging on the new hosting, and I am really pleased with my hosting provider.

My goal is to first move all my hosting to my VPS, then cancel my hosting account on Media Temple. Then, as my domains come up for renewal, I will move them to another registrar. But I realized when I moved my main domain (tralfaz.org) that soon, Media Temple will begin to morph with GoDaddy, and move away from using tucows for registration. I will be long gone before that happens though.