Category Archives: real estate

Where I’ve Been & the Christian Genocide Resolution

Port Huron, 1939 USGS section
Port Huron, from 1939 USGS quad map.

Hello and happy Tuesday!  I haven’t posted in a while (which isn’t terribly unusual, I know), and knowing full well that my mind has been elsewhere, I wanted to give a “why.”  As I’ve posted about before, we moved from Southern California back to my home state of Michigan, and more specifically, to Port Huron.  We decided on this location because of all the water (and we happily concur that the St. Clair area’s nick name of Blue Water is justified), because we could afford to buy a low-cost house, and because–on paper, at least–it looked like there were enough jobs to keep us going.

(We originally wanted to move to Grand Rapids, which is the only region in Michigan really recovered from the last “recession,” but couldn’t get help with buying a low-cost home at a distance . . . realtors have replaced the lowest place holder of the employed in my mind now, with lawyers bumped up one.)

While the job front turned out to be less rosy than we anticipated, I have enjoyed getting back into my older career choice involving historical resources.  I used to work in cultural resources management–prehistory, then history–until consulting jobs became too far away from my family (as you might imagine, permanent employment in this field is rare and you have to be willing to move to wherever you can get it).

Now that we live in a place with obvious history and historic structures, my passion for investigating those things has been rekindled.   And finding that the city is a very mixed bag of preservation and anit-preservation sentiment (the state is having an anti-preservation infection now, too), which is reflected in how much a regular person can find out about it here, I decided to make a web page about it, with the hope that others would like it and benefit from it and a group would form.  I’ve spent a ton of my time getting up to speed on the history in Port Huron, catching up on preservation laws and such, and building the site:  Port Huron Area History & Preservation Association.

St Joseph Church, Port Huron
One of the historic churches in Port Huron, St. Joseph’s.

The city, being one of the older and busier ones in historic Michigan, has quite a few grand old churches, too.  And, I never ended up posting about something that we, as Christians, were excited to find here:  nativity scenes out in public areas at Christmas time.  How refreshing!  There weren’t a huge number of them, but they did pop up, and one felt that you might hear a “Merry Christmas!” come your way and not just a “happy holidays.”  I did run across an internet post somewhere by a lady who had lived here and moved to Tennessee, where there was even more openness and  joy displayed over Christmas, not just “the holidays.”  She was critical of Port Huron, but it is better here than where we used to live.

On a very different note, the US house of representatives voted 383-0 (!) in favor of calling what ISIS is doing to Christians in Iraq and Syria “genocide.”  Other countries in the world that seem to be less sympathetic towards Christians have already declared that Christian genocide has been happening.  Why is the US behind in doing so?  Obama and his administration, that’s why.  It’s strange how this administration can use the arguments of the persecutors to justify a “not genocide” stance when others know from either experience of research that the actions behind those arguments are covers for murderous intent, for the actual genocide going on.  Read about it at House Votes to Declare ISIS’s Actions ‘Genocide’: What’s Next? , House Passes Resolution Calling ISIS’ Mass Slaughter of Christians a ‘Genocide’, and at other online news outlets.

“The facts are well documented in our nearly 300-page report on this matter, and we must remember that for the State Department to issue declaration of genocide, the standard required is merely probable cause, which any prosecutor could find on any of ISIS’s Facebook pages.”  S. Smith, 03-15-16

 

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We Made It! Cross-Country Trip (Post 3): Through Colorado

Thanks again to all of you who liked my first cross-country road trip posts!  This one has taken me tooo long to get out because–and if you read my blog you won’t be surprised–Fallout 4 came out and I’ve been pretty absorbed in it.  In any case, for those who didn’t see my first cross-country trip post, here’s the series intro:

Hello from A MUCH BETTER PLACE than where I, and my family, had lived!  I wrote earlier about our experience in trying to buy a home from thousands of miles away, but now we’ve arrived (in Michigan from Southern California, if you must know)!  I’m not here today to discuss our property or the process in obtaining it, but to relay some photos and comments about our trip as well as a bit about the area we now live in.  This is the first post in a series, and I promise, I’ll try not to be long-winded.  I simply hope you enjoy the photos and any funny or interesting things that I can share.

Continue reading We Made It! Cross-Country Trip (Post 3): Through Colorado

We Made It! Cross-Country Trip, Richfield Cemetery, . . . (Post 2)

Richfield City Cemetery, Utah (c) Vicki Priest
A modded view of Richfield City Cemetery, Utah, October 2015 (c) Vicki Priest

First,  a big Thank You to those bloggers who liked my first cross-country road trip post!  Second, for those who don’t know, I’ll repeat the series intro here:

Hello from A MUCH BETTER PLACE than where I, and my family, had lived!  I wrote earlier about our experience in trying to buy a home from thousands of miles away, but now we’ve arrived (in Michigan from Southern California, if you must know)!  I’m not here today to discuss our property or the process in obtaining it, but to relay some photos and comments about our trip as well as a bit about the area we now live in.  This is the first post in a series, and I promise, I’ll try not to be long-winded.  I simply hope you enjoy the photos and any funny or interesting things that I can share.

Continue reading We Made It! Cross-Country Trip, Richfield Cemetery, . . . (Post 2)

We Made It! Cross-Country Trip, Fallout New Vegas, . . . (Post 1)

Utah road trip
Road trip photo, Utah, from a freeway turn-out. Oct 2015.  Taken with a phone camera and slightly edited.

Hello from A MUCH BETTER PLACE than where I, and my family, had lived!  I wrote earlier about our experience in trying to buy a home from thousands of miles away, but now we’ve arrived (in Michigan from Southern California, if you must know)!  I’m not here today to discuss our property or the process in obtaining it, but to relay some photos and comments about our trip as well as a bit about the area we now live in.  This is the first post in a series, and I promise, I’ll try not to be long-winded.  I simply hope you enjoy the photos and any funny or interesting things that I can share.

Continue reading We Made It! Cross-Country Trip, Fallout New Vegas, . . . (Post 1)

Rent or Own? Some Considerations from Experience

Hello Everyone.  I have been quite absent from my blog of late.  Well, not absent, since I’ve moderated comments and made comments, but I’ve been too entwined with our cross-country move preparations to write anything.

Some people may have the good fortune to be energetic toward organization (have OCD), or the income to hire maids and other help, or live in a house with room to move, store, and . . . be organized.  But us, no.  We live in a small apartment (although I used to live in a bigger house).  I would like to sincerely and vehemently correct anyone who says that living in an apartment can be better than living in a house (a house that you own).  Some reasons as to why we have known for some time, but other reasons we have just learned because of the major move we’re making.  Let me list them, but first let me say that I hope this helps some people out there.  Even at my age, some costly things regarding living in an apartment have taken me by surprise.  I wish I had known about them earlier, before we rented this particular apartment.

Continue reading Rent or Own? Some Considerations from Experience

Buying a Car or Home with Cash? Good luck! (The World Doesn’t Like It)

You can find all sorts of ads for businesses giving you cash for your old car, but you want to pay a dealer cash for one of his??  Forget it.
You can find all sorts of ads for businesses wanting to give you cash for your old car, but you want to pay a dealer cash for one of his??  Forget it.

We’re not “stay out of debt” and “pay cash only” fanatics.  It’s just that there can be good reasons for paying with cash instead of getting a loan, and we’ve had those good reasons.  Yet when we have paid for our cars with cash, both times have been horrible and draining experiences.  Lately, we have been trying to buy a cheaper home with cash, and that also has been an exceedingly stressful experience.  “Cash is King,” right? So what’s the problem?

As far as I can tell, those buyers with lots of cash and the know-how to flaunt it, don’t have the same problems.  When we were trying to purchase a condo in Orange County, California, a few years back, we could never do it because – as our agent told us – too many Chinese investors were here buying things up quickly with cash.  In very short order, real estate prices rose and we were shut out of the market.  (Why our own governments allows this . . . well, they allow it for the obvious reason that they prefer the influx of money over the the interests of its citizens and communities.)

This is what happened to us when we bought cars with cash.  We didn’t buy either one from an owner, and I’m pretty sure buying from an owner would be much easier with cash.  Anyway, we bought a used car from a dealership.  It took FOREVER.  They did a credit check, even though we weren’t paying with credit, and I believe they did a type of check that can be detrimental to one’s credit (I found out later).  In any case, we ended up leaving with the car, having paid for it with a personal check.   I thought they’d have one of those electronic check scanners and it would all be no problem; I was very wrong.  Based on our experience, perhaps a call to the dealer ahead of time–asking what you can do to make the whole transaction easier and less time-consuming–might be helpful if you want to pay with cash.

Continue reading Buying a Car or Home with Cash? Good luck! (The World Doesn’t Like It)

Manufactured (Mobile) Home Parks in Orange County, CA

A manufactured home in Southern California, with more trees about it than usual.
A manufactured home in Southern California, with more trees about it than usual.

Update:  A little while ago I noted that a rent control law was going to be on the next ballot in Huntington Beach, and that I’d write about it soon.  I went to do this today, only to find that the city council actually voted to take the measure off their ballot.  This is what I wanted to say in the comments section, but their comments are via Facebook only, so I didn’t submit them there.  But, for your consideration, I post them here:

People need to stop moving into MH parks – this is such garbage. I’ve been looking into MH parks for about 18 months now, and the way they are being run is bizarre–they are just a money-sucking form of profit.  If you buy a condo (or house, of course), you own the property and your monthly payments are always the same.  In MH parks, you have to buy the home but pay yearly increases on the rent of the land.  If you are like most lower income people (or are on a fixed income), your pay doesn’t go up yearly anywhere near the amount that the vast majority of MH park owners raise the rent.  I only know of one park that raises their rent based on the Consumer Price Index (actual inflation).  After a number of years of steady 5% (or higher) increases, I don’t see how anyone would be able to maintain living in a park.  On top of that, mobile homes go down in value, especially so in parks with high and increasing rents.  MH parks are draconian in their present form (at least here) – people need to be able to own the lots their homes are on.

_______________

I don’t know about where you live, but in my urban region there is not a comprehensive list of manufactured (mobile) home (MH) parks that I’ve been able to find.  If you know of one, please inform me!  My intention here is to compile information on any and all MH parks in Orange County, California, for the benefit of anyone trying to make a good decision in buying a MH.  If you have anything you want to share about a specific MH park, please comment below.

I have spent a great deal of time trying to find MH parks in my area and researching the ones I know about.  It is quite the frustrating time-consumer, and the results dismal.  I have talked with four real estate agents and have had two be my agent in the last several months, and no one can provide a list so you can check out the parks.  In fact, people seem kind-of tight-lipped about the whole thing.

Why is knowing of all of the parks important?  If location is important to you, and certainly it will be at some level (length of drive to work, value of property in the area, etc.), then it’s not very helpful to just wait until a unit becomes listed in an MLS.  For one, not all MH’s are listed in the MLS, but on sites like Mobile Home Village; in fact, the only way you’ll find out that certain homes are for sale is by driving by and seeing a sign.  Two, the best thing to do would be to check out the MH parks in your area of interest first, since you need to apply to be accepted to lease a lot in the park.  You need to know if you’d even qualify, and perhaps more important, you need to know if the terms of the lease are acceptable to you.  You could get your list down to only the parks you could afford and be willing to live in, then only look at homes for sale in those parks.  I think this makes sense, right?  This would save both you and your agent time.

That is, if a seller will even accept you–the buyer–having an agent.  The commission on the sale of a lower priced home is obviously not the nice chunk of change that agents are looking for.  I have had more than one seller’s agent not want to do business because I had my own agent.  However, with the high rate of foreclosures in the manufactured home realm, it is important to get good advice and assistance of some form when buying a mobile home and leasing in a park.

A word of warning about Orange County.  More and more, there are nightmare cases where a park is sold to a corporate owner who raise the rents and add fees to a ridiculous level.  This also sometimes happens when the children of the original owners take over.  The state does not see fit to enact any kind of rent control, even though you own a large and normally expensive piece of property on someone else’s land.  The situation is not anywhere near the same as renting an apartment, where you can leave without any other financial consequence.  But in parks, if rents are increased significantly and you feel you need to sell, your chances of selling are lower and you will invariably get less–maybe far less–for your home.  All due to no fault of your own.  It’s a risky business owning a MH on someone else’s land.

The El Monte article referenced below provides an example of immoral and seemingly illegal rent increases.  Large rent increases happened in Fountain Valley not too long ago, too, when a corporation took over a MH park there; the home owners claim that they were denied lease renewals–which is illegal–and that they would be forced to sign new leases with large rent and fee increases, or leave (a link to an article on this is given below).  There is no relief for home owners when these laws are broken, unless they take the time and expense to take the park owner to court.  Even then, without rent control, the owners can raise rents basically with impunity.  (Since this article was originally written, a park in Huntington Beach suffered the same fate.  It was sold to a corporate owner and lots that were $1000 a month were raised to $1700.)

So why am I, and my family, interested in a mobile home?  Well, prior to starting this post, I was told by agents that there is some kind of rent control, around 10% maximum per year.  This is not the case at the state level, and I have not found any rent control measures in the cities we are interested in living.  This makes me even more leery than before.  We would need to thoroughly check out the lease agreement and the park ownership/management before leasing with them.  Obviously this takes a lot more work and consideration than buying a condo or house.  And besides that, any built-in rate increases that are more than inflation need to be carefully looked at (who can afford 10% increase every year when their pay only increases by 0%-2.5%?).

Ok, so the reasons for wanting a MH instead of a condo (we can’t afford a house here whatsoever) are:  we would be on one level and not be upstairs; hopefully the park would be quiet; we might have a little yard for a little dog (we are trying for this, yes); we would have a washer and dryer – believe it or not, no low-end condos here have those (many or most are converted apartments – woohoo!!); and, we would probably have more in the way of household amenities than a condo, depending on the unit.  So it’s a a matter of quality of life vs. return on investment.  A condo that we could afford here would be in an outright slummish place, or a not much nicer white-washed slummish place.

Thanks for reading.  Please write comments or questions below.  I will be compiling park lists with information about the parks.  This will be an “ongoing” project, as I think this information is urgently needed.  Many people have lost, and many continue to lose, their homes and all the money they invested in them, while the park owners sit secure and do virtually nothing for the money they receive.  The only real solution, it seems to me, is to make any form of leased land homes illegal.  Perhaps after reading this and any of my other real estate related posts (particularly, America the Greedy I: Homes on Land-lease Land) you will feel motivated to ask your representatives for this change in law.

Below are charts I’ve worked on enough to post; Santa Ana is coming soon.  I’ll update them as necessary.   The charts are by zip code and include family parks only, not parks for seniors.

CM & NB MH parks 6-20-13

HB & FB MH Parks 6-20-13Last updated and edited on 10/05/13.

Resources:

El Monte Mobile Home Park Residents Outraged by Sharp Rent Hikes (2013)

Fair Housing Council

F.V. mobile-home residents seek rent relief (2012)

Golden State Manufactured Home Owners League

Mobilehome Residency Law (California)  There is NO limit to rent increases per state law

Rent Control in Orange County (index page of articles in the Los Angeles Times)

Great and informative comments after the article:  Why Mobile Home Park Rents Can Be Pushed Higher Than Others

Concerning the weirdness of mortgages “after the ‘recession'” Can the Real Estate World get any Weirder?

Can the Real Estate World get any Weirder?

Traditional Iclandic home. Photo by criscris1 (http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1400630).

Recently I wrote a bit on homes on Land-lease land  to warn anyone who is looking to buy and is wondering about this kind of place.  In our pursuit of owning instead of renting, and being lower-income, I have learned some more about real estate and mortgages, and I must say, the real estate world doesn’t make much sense right now.  And, the only group of people who are benefiting – in the low-end market, anyway – are the investors.

So we had this whole mortgage debacle and the recession (depression), and rules were changed as a result.  When new rules and regulations are made, it’s because someone out there was greedy or mean or evil, and “safeguards” are put into place.  These “safeguards” normally end up being a real pain in the posterior and make good people work harder, work more, pay more, etc.

Our personal background is important here, since getting a mortgage is tied to one’s last two years of work.  I couldn’t get a job during the recession/depression because no one would hire someone who hadn’t worked in a while (I stayed home for quite a few years to help my son with his learning issues); in fact, many employers wouldn’t hire someone who wasn’t working already!   In addition, I was either over qualified or under qualified, depending on where I was applying.  But I was finally able to land a job – a very part-time one.  I have had this job for about 15 months now and my boss is happy with me.

But, for Fannie Mae to consider my income at all, I have to have worked for my boss for at least 24 months.  Wow . . . that really helps people who are trying to get back on their feet . . .  So, we’re lower income and trying our darnedest to buy a home, since our monthly costs will be LESS, but we can’t because Fannie Mae says we’re just not responsible enough . . . !  Isn’t pleasing a boss and sticking with it for 15 months responsible, as well as trying to live more within our means??

Coupled with the amount that we can borrow relative to our income that actually is  “acceptable,” well, it’s just crazy.  See, they will give us a loan that shows that we can pay 50% or more of our monthly income on our housing costs.  As a lower income person, how can I do that???  If I pay for health insurance, car insurance, and my other needs, I couldn’t afford to pay out 50% for housing costs.  So it’s as if they want people to fail.

So, my good part-time income can’t be included when trying to get an ARM loan, BUT, they are willing to loan us a bunch of money under a higher-interest conventional loan under the condition that we pay about 50% of our pay toward housing costs.

As an example, the mortgage on a conventional loan of $200K for us would be almost the same as an ARM mortgage of $250K.  See what a difference a little interest makes?  We have the same credit rating, but getting different rates; I have excellent credit, but they won’t use it.

Meanwhile, my agent tells me, investors are having a feast here in Southern California.  They gobble up, with cash, all the lower end places and then rent them out; these new land owners are from places like China, too.  For people like us who can only afford a lower end place, either we simply can’t compete, or we have to end up moving into a complex that isn’t kept up, is over-crowded, won’t resell well, etc.   I don’t get how we can continue to allow foreign investors to buy our homes, places our own citizens ought to be able to buy and live in.

The rich are favored in this country in the name of freedom.  You are free to make a better life for yourself here if you’re wealthy or if you cheat (if you haven’t heard of the level of cheating that goes on in universities and on resumes, then you should check it out).  A “free” country can’t work when people are only into it for themselves, otherwise those who are power hungry and greedy will naturally percolate up and come to control whatever they want.  While our country’s history has not been perfect by any means, it was founded on Christian ideals.  Freedom can only work in this type of “love your neighbor as yourself” context.

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.  Matthew 7:12

In Christianity, you are supposed to give to the poor, not take from them or oppress them.  God commands in the Old Testament to not collect usurious interest.

In you men accept bribes to shed blood; you take usury and excessive interest and make unjust gain from your neighbors by extortion.  And you have forgotten me, declares the Sovereign LORD.  Ezekiel 22:12

And, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, just as Matthew 7:12 already pointed out.  And who are our neighbors?  Everyone, really, as the story told by Jesus of the good Samaritan alluded.  Certainly, we are not to be naive concerning cheaters and frauds, but our country favors the wealthy and aggressive and keeps down those who don’t want to climb the ladder to riches.  How else do you think we keep having these financial debacles that make everyone suffer and damage the whole economy?

America the Greedy: Homes on Land-lease land

In Anaheim one day.

Hello everyone – how are you all doing?  It’s been an unusually long time since I made a blog post, but looking for mortgages (loan shopping), looking for properties, taking cars into shops and looking for a new car, etc., surely takes one time up!  Since I’ve been in this mode and have learned some new things, I thought I’d pass a little of my new-found knowledge along.

So we are low-income (and recently lost some monthly income) and our rent went up.   But we have some funds to use for a down-payment, so it’s time to buy a condo if we can find one.  Why?  Where we live, it costs less per month to pay a low-end mortgage and homeowner’s association fees (HOA), than it is to rent.  Seems silly, huh?

Leaving the vagaries of renting vs paying a mortgage aside, there’s this thing that exists in our country called a land-lease (not all states allow this for condos/houses, apparently, and for good reason).  I have read a number of realtor’s comments and articles on this and this is what I have to say:  don’t buy into the idea that there are good reasons to buy a condo or house on leased land.  Buying a manufactured home in a mobile home park MAY be worth it, but I’m not talking about mobile homes.

Ok, so this came as a shock to me that you could BUY a condo on land you don’t own.   The lease tends to be a lot, and they also have high HOAs.  So how, possibly, could this help anyone but the leaseholder?  But wait, you might say.  What if you buy the home and the lease is finally paid up – don’t you own it all then?  That would make sense, right?  And it would make up, maybe, for paying the lease for all that time (up to 99 years, I’ve seen).  But NO, you BUY a condo, but when the lease is up it’s NOT YOURS.  This is what I’ve read; this is my understanding.  If you buy a condo or home on leased land and you want to sell and get your money back from the investment you made in the property, you might be dreaming.  If the lease is almost up, no one in his/her right mind is going to spend their good money on a home that will be “theirs” for only few years!

I saw a condo here recently that was very attractive, very cute, in a nice area (it only had one parking spot, however).  They were asking a fairly low price for the condo itself ($139K), but the lease was around $3,300 annually right now (this is actually a low lease), with scheduled increases to $6,814 annually by 2031.  The HOA was a very high $584 per month.  Another listing didn’t provide either the lease cost or the HOA.  Ok, another is one of those deals where the listing agent sucks in unwary people:  a nice condo listed for a ridiculously low price (about 25% of comparable ones in the area), with a bit higher than average HOA, and NO mention of it being a land-lease.

Finally, one in the city where I live.  An OK looking condo for not all that cheap of a price (in a perhaps an OK area, but not a great area), with $412 HOA and no lease price provided.  Let’s say you were able to put down 20% on a mortgage for this place (but good luck with even finding a bank to give you a mortgage for this type of property).  The monthly payments would be about $780 per month.  Property tax would be minimal.  There’s the $412 HOA, and the lease is . . . what?  Just for the heck of it, let’s provide a lease that is kind-of average for a mobile home lease in the region: $1,000 per month.  That would leave you paying $2192 per month for you basic housing needs.

We’re looking to buy a small regular condo and our monthly costs will be between about $1,025 and $1,420, and that includes property tax.  So how does the land-lease option help lower income people, or help to save on monthly costs?  It doesn’t; it only helps the landowner.  And you will not gain equity in that home.  You will be lucky if you get the same amount back for it as you paid.  This is what I’ve read from real estate agents and others.  One good side to owning, some people try to suggest, is that the place will be better maintained and generally nicer than a cheaper condo or apartment, so it’s better for families.  Well.  I say don’t throw away your hard-earned cash and be patient, do some more searching, etc.  (Build good credit; it’s kind-of astonishing how much of a difference one-half of one percent makes on your monthly payment.)  Save that money for your kids’ college education and don’t just throw it at some land-owner who’s sitting back making all kinds of cash off you for simply roosting on his land.