Friday, September 30, 2005

I Y USPS

Yesterday I went to a bulk mail (you call it junk mail) training class at the main post office on Van Buren. Unlike most people, I really like the USPS. A few reasons why I like the USPS.
1. 37 cents gets a letter from LA to NY in 3 days.
2. USPS.com. The online postage service allows us to ship eBay merchandise without having to sign up for cumbersome FedEx or UPS accounts. USPS is perfect for small business people. And I never wait in line with all the chumps at the post office. Maybe if people actually went to the website, they wouldn't be fuming in line with their armful of boxes.
3. Free mail for the military when deployed.
4. Stamps. I used to collect them when I was a kid. My Uncle Dennis knew everything about stamps.
5. International shipping rates. Try sending something to China. For $30 USPS will get it there in 3-5 days with $100 insurance included. UPS costs $100 to ship and it will get there in 11 days.
6. This operation. ("Barney." Get it?) Amazing to see in action.
The Postal Service endures their share of criticism and stereotypes (see images above). But not from me.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Do Not Bleach

This past weekend I almost cost myself $300. I, actually Robyn, (but it was wholly due to my stupidity), washed my cell phone. Not washed like sprayed with water. Washed like spin cycle, heavy soil. Flashback: I couldn't remember where I set it. As I was calling my number to locate it, panic gripped me. I rushed over to the still warm Maytag. There, nestled at the bottom of the colorfast darks, was the soaked gadget. We went to the Verizon store to examine our options. Our options were to receive a barrage of "you should have bought insurance" from the condescending clerks. Just when I was thinking I should have sprung for their stupid insurance..."Hello Moto." The little guy started breathing. Goodbye, Clerk I-Told-You-So. After a stop at Auto Zone for some tiny tools and an hour of steady handed tinkering, my magic communicator was prepared to receive.

Apparently I have voided the warranty:

(b) contact with liquid, water, rain, extreme humidity or
heavy perspiration...are excluded from coverage.

Heavy perspiration? Where are you putting that phone?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Don't Be A Litterbug

There are few things that I truly hate. Litter is right at the top. I hate litter. Litter seems to appear everywhere. However it is not often you actually see someone throw a can or bag out their car window. But how many times a day so you see smokers casually drop their cigarette butts onto the ground? Their ignorance amazes me. Eventually these toxic little pills (which are not biodegradable) make their way into playgrounds, birds' nests, and animals' mouths. There is some great education on the web about the litter problems that smokers are sticking to the world. Again, buttheads, please feel free to poison yourself but stop punishing the rest of us.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

My "A" List

I was flipping through the channels in a rare non-TiVo moment and I came across a religious channel that had the crazy Tammy Faye Baker interviewing a guy with whom I went to grade school. Apparently he is running a church in LA. I think I will add him to the list of famous people I know...which has just doubled.

There are high school and college reunions. How come there aren't grade school reunions? I always wanted to know what happened to all those people that used to make fun of me. Come to think of it, there are plenty of people that are still making fun of me. Why add to the crowd?

Monday, September 26, 2005

Happy Birthday!

Today is my Dad's birthday. Happy birthday, Dad! Yesterday Reed, Ryno, Dad, and I went to the Ben Avery Shooting Facility, the largest public operated shooting facility in the country, and attempted to destroy some clay targets. Ryno was the real marksman, killing more innocent clay pigeons than the rest of us combined. We had a fun time, even if my shoulder still hurts. Next year we're going on a machine gun adventure.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Saturday, September 24, 2005

All Creatures Great And Small

There is at least one pet cremation provider in Arizona and plenty of open space for the proper burial of a pet. The same is not true in NYC. At least one casualty of the booming real estate market is the lack of final resting places for the creatures with whom we share the planet. I find it offensive that people would put an animal out on the curb for the city to dispose. Show some respect.

Friday, September 23, 2005

We Come In Peace

Last night Robyn spotted something that looked like this out our front window, which faces west. I thought it might have been a partially illuminated cloud since it was about thirty minutes after sunset. As we were standing in the street staring at it for about ten minutes, some neighbors drove by and said they thought it might have been an aircraft from Luke AFB. Turns out it was not:
a. the end of the world
b. an alien invasion
c. a cloud
It was actually this. The rocket was launched from Vandenberg AFB near Santa Barbara. Very impressive. The conditions were nearly perfect for viewing this dramatic sight all over the western US.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

I Can't See Saks!

So The Donald gets the go-ahead for his Biltmore "high-rise" (only in Phoenix is 150' a high rise). I think it is funny that the city council is so concerned with the "delicate balance" of mountain views, luxury retail, and golf courses for Biltmore residents. The city council doesn't seem to be too concerned with the delicate balance of crime, homelessness, and poverty in Phoenix's real downtown. I would like to see revitalization in the real downtown instead of continually pushing commerce north and east.

There is plenty of room for peaceful co-existence between residents and developers. I applaud the move for vertical development instead of expanding our city to LA and Albuquerque.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Do Not Pass Go

Last night Robyn, Reed, and I went to the Phoenix Real Estate Club meeting. It was ok, but not as informative as the Baltimore club that Robyn and I used to attend. The Baltimore club was great because even though the speakers were selling their investing programs, they gave great one hour seminars. Here I thought too many members were allowed to commandeer the microphone and spew whatever half-baked real estate theories came into their brain. If you're reading my blog, you already get plenty of that for free! We stuck around for a little bit of the networking but left when they broke into investment role playing. If I wanted to role play, I'd bust out the Monopoly board.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

For Sale By Blog

This guy is selling his house and writing a blog about it. The place looks nice but has been on the market for nearly six months. I like to tell people there is only one reason things don't sell on eBay, at the store, or in real estate: they're overpriced. After six months in the $350K market in San Antonio he needs to seriously reconsider his pricing. His blog entry tomorrow should read "Just Reduced!" Unknown if the blog conveys.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Adults Can Be So Cruel

Apparently the Katrinas of the world are taking some heat for their monnikers. Very petty. Who are these people making fun of someone's name? My cousin's name is Katrina but I think she goes by Kat. I was called "Science" and "Pigeon Toes" (among others) when I was younger. Luckily Hurricane Science never came ashore.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Ask Bob

From the Ask Bob Bruss column in today's Washington Post.

DEAR BOB: Eight months ago, I bought a single-family rental house with a 5 percent down payment using an adjustable-rate mortgage. As I read about "real estate bubbles," I worry that I should either refinance to a fixed-rate mortgage or sell and take my profit. If I wait five years, I am afraid, the home might be worth less than today. What is your opinion? -- Max B.

DEAR MAX: Sorry, my crystal ball is foggy today. If you think your area is in a real estate bubble of peak market values for homes, today would be a great time to sell to take advantage of your short-term profit.
Be aware the long-term trend of home values has always been up, but there are peaks, valleys and plateaus along the way. However, I don't know of a better long-term investment than sound, well-located single-family houses. Do you?

DEAR BOB: My mortgage lender is unwilling to discuss dropping my $118 monthly private mortgage insurance payment until May 2006, when I will have 24 months of ownership. I am willing to pay for an appraisal to prove there is no need for PMI because I now have well over 20 percent equity. But I don't want to sell or refinance. My FICO credit score is 750. Do I have any other recourse than refinancing to get rid of my PMI? -- Randy H.

DEAR RANDY: Your mortgage lender gets to set the rules for removing that wasteful $118 monthly PMI premium.
Yes, there is a federal law on this issue, but it won't help you or any PMI borrower because it requires the mortgage to be paid to below 78 percent of the purchase price.
For most PMI borrowers, that won't happen until at least the 10th year of the mortgage. Increased market value due to capital improvements and market value appreciation doesn't count under the useless federal law.
Now you know why I recommend avoiding PMI whenever possible. Unless you are willing to refinance with a lender who doesn't require PMI, you will just have to wait until you meet the lender's nonsense 24-month requirement in May.

DEAR BOB: Can you recommend a good book for first-time home buyers? -- Dan W.

DEAR DAN: The best-selling book for home buyers and, in my humble opinion, the best home-buying book available today is "Home Buying for Dummies," by Ray Brown and Eric Tyson.
Editor's note: This was the book I read before we bought our first home. An all around excellent guide.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Like Sushi...Except Meaty, And Cooked

Williams-Sonoma eat your heart out. A kitchen gadget you cannot live without. Behold, the OctoDog. I don't know how I have lived this long without one.

Why wasn't it named the Dogtopus?
Serving suggestions? What about the bun, people? The bun?!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

F Is For Fired

Does Professor Trump advocate investing in online universities? Raking in nearly half a million dollars on this lecture alone, it seems like he has a pretty good gig at TU. This lecture sounds like it was for people who are struggling in Real Estate 101. Wake me up when he goes over what is going to be on the final.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Now Mow The Lawn

Google finally crossed off "make blog search" from their to-do list. Now you can search blogs right here. Seems like this was a little overdue.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

High On Downtown

According to this article, the FAA may need to modify some emergency procedures if the city of Phoenix allows high rises in the downtown area. As an aviator, I have a couple of opinions about the FAA's concerns with tall buildings in the vicinity of Sky Harbor.


1. Let's eliminate a 9/11 scenario. That could happen near or far from an airport.
2. Newsflash: if a commercial airliner loses an engine on takeoff, it is most likely going straight ahead. The pilot will probably not have enough airspeed and/or altitude to make it back around to the runway for a safe landing. If one or more engines are lost during the approach to landing, the pilot will do the best to conserve energy and squeak on a landing.
3. The proposed tall buildings are not in any flightpath. See diagram of one of the most common approaches to PHX.
4. Phoenix enjoys great weather year round. The possibility of an off-course pilot flying into a building in poor visibility is very, very slim.

At 486 feet, the Bank One Center dominates the skyline of downtown's lowrises, but 486 feet is not that tall. There are airports all over the world with large buildings and mountains surrounding them. Check out this shot from Hong Kong. There is no reason to squash downtown development by citing fears of aircraft mishaps.

Monday, September 12, 2005

$cottsdale Living

Last week I brought you the most expensive home in Pima county. This week you can take a peek at the most expensive home in the state (9422 E. Happy Valley Rd., Scottsdale, AZ 85255). It is poised to set the Arizona sale record. But it is priced to move! Reduced from $35M to only $19.9M, this little charmer won’t last! A Howard Hughes-like germophobe would love the allergy-free features. Oh, and if you want to buy it, let me know.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Gulf Coast Real Estate

Writing as a real estate investor, there is certainly value to be found in buying "ugly" houses at very low prices. Some of the ugliest property on the planet right now is in New Orleans. And ugly property attracts investors like flies. I can appreciate the much needed revitalization that investors will bring to the area; however, I do not support redevelopment at the expense of needy families facing foreclosure because of Katrina.

What's In Your TiVo?

As part of a “you show me yours, I’ll show you mine,” here is what we are currently TiVoing. Any recommendations?

In order of season pass preference:

1. Desperate Housewives
2. Boston Legal
3. The Office
4. Arrested Development
5. The Simpsons
6. So You Think You Can Dance
7. Will & Grace
8. Saturday Night Live
9. CSI: Miami
10. The King of Queens (new and reruns)
11. The Daily Show
12. ER
13. Real Word/Road Rules Challenge
14. Judge Judy
15. Cops
16. Caesars 24/7
17. Iron Chef America
18. This Old House Classics
19. 48 Hours Mystery
20. I Want That! (a show on HGTV about new home improvement stuff)
21. The People's Court
22. Oprah Winfrey
23. Dog the Bounty Hunter (our surprise summer hit)
24. The Real World
25. Seinfeld
26. Inside This Old House
27. Property Ladder
28. Flip This House
29. The Howard Stern Show

Friday, September 09, 2005

Ferocious Beasts

Speaking of insurance...I was on the phone with my insurance company updating our homeowner’s policy. I was patiently answering his barrage of standard questions about our property. This one is my favorite.

Insurance guy: “Do you have any pets?”
Me: “Yes.”
Insurance guy: “Have they ever attacked or bitten anyone?”
Me: (thoughtful contemplation)

Do they think about it?
Very few humans were injured in this re-creation.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

GIS Mania

After reading about the looming insurance snafu in NOLA, I wondered if our properties were anywhere near a flood zone. I already knew they were not in one, but I wanted to make sure we were not across the street from a boundary. What I found was a pretty comprehensive source of information.

Google earth might be the place to get a virtual tour of anywhere on the planet, but for sheer resolution and zoom capability, the map section of the Maricopa County flood control district site is highly capable and interactive. Click on 100-year FEMA Floodplain Maps and you can zoom into resolution that makes a pool diving board clearly visible. Cool.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Are You Serious?

As if the victims of Katrina need any more heartbreak in their lives. Even if they did pay their astronomical flood insurance premiums, they may never see any of their claims paid.

This is the line that gets me:
"The fact that a government-run levee fails and creates a flood does not create a liability for private insurers," says Robert Hartwig, chief economist of the Insurance Information Institute.

Insurance companies should probably update the construction of their language before the words get out. From the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers site:
Covered flood damage (as defined) "can be caused by:
-The overflow of inland or tidal waters, or
-The unusual and rapid accumulation or runoff of surface waters from any source, such as heavy rainfall, or
-Mudslides, i.e., mudflows, caused by flooding, that could be described as a river of liquid and flowing mud and
-The collapse or destabilization of land along the shore of a lake or other body of water, resulting from erosion or the effect of waves, or water currents exceeding normal, cyclical levels."

Get those claims in. Before they change their minds...again.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Katrina Picture

An image that I found moving.

Buttheads Beware

There are few things I miss about living in California. But one thing I pine for is their statewide smoking ban. I’m happy to see that we are attempting to join the ranks of enlightened states like California and New York that have figured out that second-hand smoke is a bad, bad thing. I still don’t undestand why we tolerate smoking indoors. If you want to destroy your lungs, more power to you. Just don’t destroy mine. But you can’t go without your nicotine? Switch to dip…the healthy alternative. Sign the non-smoking initiative and tell your friends.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Needs Work! Investors Welcome!

This modest home tucked away in the hills outside Tucson is currently the most expensive home listed in Pima county. Some additional fun facts:

If you could get a 30 year mortgage at 6% for the full $17.5M list price (you can’t-- most lending will top out at about $2M) , you would be making monthly payments of $104,921.34 PI.

At 25,000 square feet, it is about one-quarter the size of a Home Depot store.

I guess I like it. But at that price I would expect a helipad.

Your Sunday Cartoon

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Stop The Madness

I'm sorry for the inconvenience, but I had to do it. Word verification will now be required to post comments.

Super-remodel

Why is the remodeling market so hot?
1. Because the housing market is so hot. Equity and low interest rates allow owners to afford to renovate.
2. Gas prices. Nobody wants to drive 45 miles to work. People are willing to buy or stay in older homes in stable, centralized neighborhoods instead of purchasing new construction at the edge of suburban sprawl.
3. Home improvement mania. There are television channels, magazines, books and seminars dedicated to "educating" (selling) would-be fixers on the latest, greatest, and craziest tools and products.
Gotta run. I have to go put on an addition to my house.

What's In A Name

Convivo Bistro
7000 N. 16th Street
Phoenix, AZ 85020
602.997.7676

Nestled in the shadow of Squaw…sorry Piestewa Peak, is another Phoenix staple that has undergone a change, if not in name, in ownership. Convivo Bistro is now under the competent ownership and operation of Chef Christian Martin. The tiny restaurant is inconspicuoulsy tucked into a strip mall behind a Walgreen’s and next to a nail salon. If you’re not after q-tips or a french manicure, you might not know it was there.

Glass, beechwood and white linen greet patrons on entry. A cozy environment of about fourteen tables is arranged in full view of the bar and open kitchen. Lightly textured walls and modern oil-on-canvas art complement the simple elegance of the small dining area.

For starters the Caesar salad l’orange ($9) is a delightful summer twist on a traditional plate. Orange wedges amid the greens accent the orange-laced dressing. The duck terrine ($9) was served alongside a bed of bitter greens topped with a raspberry vinagrette and crostini. The vinagrette is appealing as a standalone dressing but it overwhelmed the delicate richness of the terrine. Bread is freshly baked by Wildflower Bread Company. But the real story of the bread is in the butter. A trio of pats included pesto butter and a surprisingly tangy sweet red pepper-chili butter.

Martin truly comes into his own with the main dishes. The special, halibut wrapped in bacon with a pineapple sauce and grilled pea pods ($27) was a delightful Hawaiian inspired entrée. My wife and dining companion insists that I note that the peas were the “best vegetable” she has ever tasted. A testament to Martin’s showcasing of organically grown produce. The rack of lamb ($32) was perfectly tender and cooked just as requested. The eight chops, yes eight, were crusted with bread crumbs and gorgonzola and displayed around a haystack of buttered spaghetti squash and more of the same organic vegetables-- a large portion by anyone’s measurement.

Simple desserts ($7) rounded out the experience. The signature ancho chili brownie had a wonderfully smoky understated aftertaste that was complemented by a mild cinnamon ice cream. The chocolate raspberry cake was moist and drizzled with a raspberry sauce. Cointreau truffles ($2/ea) were accompanied by crystallized ginger and dried saguaro cactus fruits. The saguaro fruits were a dried, nutty, raspberry-textured delight. The truffle plate was complements of the chef for our anniversary.

Not to be forgotten, service was deftly handled by a staff of only two, Brooke and Joe. Friendly and attentive, but never overbearing, we felt as though there was a staff of ten.

Great for a romantic night out or a casual dinner with friends, Convivo Bistro is a wonderfully unique addition to the humdrum chains in the Camelback corridor.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Growth In Fast-Mo

This is a pretty interesting time-lapse view of growth around the valley. I wish we had the long history of a state like Massachussetts.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Help Is On The Way?

Well I've been watching what amounts to an international disaster continue to unfold in NOLA. I feel stupidly comfortable sitting here in the safety of my suburban home.

What frustrates me the most is the obvious lack of a coordinated, calculated response. FEMA Director Mike Brown just stated on CNN that "the federal government only learned of the people at the convention center today [September 1]." Does FEMA not own a television?

I can't believe the trickle of rescuers and security that is so long in coming to the Gulf Coast. Maybe if our Reserves and Guardsmen weren't busy mopping up the mess in Iraq, they could help mop up our own. But a Tucson special operations search and rescue unit is enroute with some very capable helos and crews (pictured). Be safe.