Friday, August 31, 2007

OK, the OC isn't so awful. This heatwave is messing with my brain.

interesting stuff going on in the OC foreclosure/repo market. i'm starting to see detached repos in Santa Ana and Fullerton asking around the $450K mark. granted, these houses S-U-C-K (one ad on craigslist refers to the house as "a dog" and another says "rumored to have plumbing"), and are probably in the crappiest neighborhoods of two of OC's oldest cities (and therefore the most architecturally interesting), but these are the kinds of harbingers i've been keeping an eye out for. nobody is going to be desperate enough to buy these tear-downs, and the lots are too small to put up jumbo houses, so my prediction is these houses are just going to sit there and rot until the squatters move in.

i talked to an agent of some kind on the phone today about an REO in Mission Viejo that was "taking offers" from 484 to 520. i'm looking for prices to drop at least another $100K below that, which may be a fantasy but also may actually happen in a year or so. we can be patient. i told the fellow that we definitely want to wait until we can get something that won't require a "jumbo loan" (over $417K) and he didn't laugh out loud at me, so i'm encouraged.

maybe we should look into squatting. i'm 75% joking. find an abandoned house, move in, produce bogus lease papers, and get 6 months of rent-free living in a house of our choice. i actually know a house that we might be able to pull it off in. eh, but i don't have quite enough chutzpah. Dan would be horrified that I had even considered the idea, although lately he's been surprising me with his willingness to slightly spurn unspoken social rules.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

what $1975 a month can get you in Mission Viejo!

Dan & i are getting ready (sort of) to rent out our townhouse and rent a house-house. so I pretend I'm getting the house ready (what? i got a quote for new carpet!) and obsessively check Craigslist four times a day for cheap houses. it's been a while since i've been a tenant, so i'm re-learning the facts of cheap rent.

1. the houses will always be sub-optimal. there are no cheap diamonds. we looked at one yesterday that was only $1975, but the outgoing tenant said the landlord was "horrible" and the house itself had some shortcomings. the story on the LL was that he never returned calls, never made repairs. so the tenant would fix things and then deduct them from the rent, which apparently was fine because he never, ever heard anything at all from the LL. the house itself is small, 1066 square feet, but the garage is big and the backyard has potential. the bathtub is hideous, and the kitchen is pretty ugly (with faux brick on the lower half of the walls) but nothing a little paint wouldn't help with.

2. the yards may be hideous. looked at a 4-bedroom for $2200. the house was awful, but it was big so i could deal with it. but the backyard was the tragedy. good trees, good all-day shade, but almost every square foot of the ground was covered in concrete of one kind or another. it looked like somebody had put in a concrete pond at some point (about 2 feet deep), roughly 20 years ago. there had been a pool at some point, but there were workers in the backyard filling it up with dirt. the place was a D-U-M-P and Zillow estimates it at $671K. in a pig's eye. i'd have to rent a jackhammer if we moved in there.

3. lots of other people will be after it, too. this is the kicker. we need to be ready to jump when the right place comes along. if necessary, we may have to have our place vacant for two or so weeks in order to get our own good tenants in. this is the part that paralyzes me. at least our credit is excellent (or should be, guess i need to get my annual free reports & make sure there's no hanky panky). we'll be in line ahead of the people who've been foreclosed on and now need to find new homes.

in fantasy land, we'll hang onto the townhouse (even though half of me wants to sell it) and when the real estate market really hits the skids we'll be able to buy a house-house too. maybe even become real esate moguls. bwahahahahaha!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Orange County is a lemon.

yeah, we live 11 miles from the beach. so what? i really don't enjoy dragging the kids down there by myself. it's not relaxing, it's just hot and sandy and sunburn-y.

yeah, we're close to mountains. wait a minute. the Santa Anas aren't mountains! they top out at 5600 feet! Dan calls them the Santa Ana Hills. they are pretty, but are only enjoyable to hike when the weather is cooler and cloudier. right now, in the dog days of summer, i don't want to spend any time hiking there. and forget backpacking - there's no water most of the year. and i like water.

cultural events? sadly lacking, at least as far as i can tell. there are very few "older" neighborhoods in the county, and very few "ethnic" neighborhoods. we have Santa Ana - which tries very hard, but seems to me to be mostly a depressing mash-up of desperately poor spanish-speaking families living in tiny pre-war shacks, with a few "restored" neighborhoods that are so gentrified that normal middle-class folk can't realistically afford to live in them. We do have Little Saigon, but Westminster is far out of my usual orbit and i have never worked up the courage to drag the kids over there.

Speaking of dragging, we took the kids to Los Angeles on the train last Saturday. it was Dan's idea and we went into it with tremendous optimism. we got off at Union Station and had breakfast/lunch at Luz Del Dia in Olvera Street. Then we walked over to Little Tokyo, where they were celebrating Nisei week, which is their annual "hooray for Japan" event. We strolled through the Japanese Village (shopping center) and over to the cultural center, where we looked at a beautiful bonsai exhibit and watched five ladies demonstrate five different ways of writing in Japanese. They laid out long papers on the floor and wrote the same 5 characters 5 different ways, using large brushes. I wasn't even sure which alphabet they were using - there are two. Japanese fascinates me and makes me hopeless. I'll never learn it.

Paul was really fascinated by both the bonsai and the calligraphy, which made me happy on several levels (one of which was the air conditioning). We also looked at some shoji manga (comics for little girls) and then headed back out into the muggy heat.

Paul didn't last long. he began to whine, whine, whine, and with the heat and the humidity (barest tail end of Hurricane Dean) we soon decided to head home on the earlier train. but we got in almost 5 hours of sightseeing and big-city experiences. There was an immigration rights protest going on in the area, so we got to watch the po-lice load up their guns and head off to get verbally abused by the protestors. don't get that often in Lake Forest!

at Olvera Street again, we had linner at Cielito Lindo. i need to remember not to eat there again. the beef in my Chile Colordao burrito was cheap and chewy. the one time a week i let myself eat beef, and it sucked! i'll have to eat some fake beef today (we are experimenting with semi-vegetarianism). when we got home Dan & i were the tired ones (he carried Eli in a baby backpack) and the kids of course ran around like lunatics.

i think i have the summer hates. it's hot, i don't want to waste electricity & money on air-conditioning, i'm stuck in a yardless townhouse all day, lots of stuff is looming on the horizon (see the previous post), and i'm cranky about it all. and tonight i have to go to our Homeowner's Association meeting. bleccchhh!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Paul starts school in less than two weeks.

He is actually looking forward to it, although I suspect he still believes he will ride a big yellow bus (like his cousin does). I am terrified and the gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach just grows every day. Or is that the dread of the upcoming Primary Sacrament Presentation? (alas, I am primary Chorister.) Or maybe it's the dread of selling or renting out our townhouse. There are many competing dreads; sometimes it's hard to determine which one is making me sick.

Kindergarten. It means the end of my freedom. I can no longer just pack up the kids and go anywhere I please, any day I please. No, because Paul has to be at school. Not only that, but he has to be at school at EIGHT O'CLOCK IN THE MORNING. We are a late-to-bed household. we are rarely awake at 8 in the morning (and that includes Daddy). I have been trying to practice going to bed earlier and getting everybody up by 7, but we haven't been very successful. Daniel and I are both guilty in this regard. it's hard to re-set the clocks we've been running on for most of our lives.

Kindergarten. It means I, control freak Mama, must let go of him and send him off to have complete strangers teach him. He has to mix with kids whose families I know nothing about. Yes, I am a TOTAL elitist snob. Do these kids care about education? Do their parents? Are they small-minded TV addicts? Worse, are they violent? All of my elementary school ghosts are coming back to haunt me. My experiences were mainly not good. I should really have gone to therapy about it all, but I'm incapable of asking for help, which ironically therapy probably would have helped me with. sigh.

I have a few small rays of hope. Paul was accepted to the 2-way Spanish Immersion program at a local charter school. Ninety percent of kindergarten is taught in Spanish. I am hoping that kids who get enrolled in this program have educationally enlightened parents - parents who care. I am hoping that parents who care have raised their kids in homes where TV is minimal and violence is discouraged, and maybe have even invested time in teaching their children. Dear heavens, I hope.

Less than two weeks. Less than two weeks.