Random Thoughts

11/18/2011- Sometimes Life is Like a Game Show

“So what do you think?”  my realtor asked.  “Ready to be a homeowner?”

The offer had been accepted, the inspection was done, and we had just finished our final walk-through.  I had noticed a tiny bit of moisture in the basement that wasn’t there before, but other than that the house looked fine.  Sherri (my wife) was to my right, looking at me and wondering if I would give my final approval.   She was a definite yes, I was on the fence.  The realtor glared  at me from the left and I found myself in the middle of a stare sandwhich.  I am notoriously frugal and I am sure they were both trying to wear me down.

Suddenly I felt as if I was in the middle of a gameshow.  I was in front of fellow Canadian Howie Mandel and the offer had just come in from the banker.  “Deal or no deal?”  Howie asks.  The crowd goes silent.  I take a deep breath and mutter the words “Deal, Howie!  We have a deal.”

When it comes to most purchases life certainly does reflect the Game Show Network.    The process of buying a house alone was like a blockbuster lineup of fun shows.  Let me take you through it.   Our evening lineup starts with Jeopardy.

Me: I’ll take contracts for $100, Alex…..
Alex: “It is when an agent represents a buyer and a seller.”
Me: What is a crook?
Alex: Incorrect.  The correct answer is double agent.  You still have control of the board…
Me: Radon testing for $300.

Jeopardy is followed by a rousing rendition of the Liars Club.  Yep! This is when you talk to lots
of interesting agents at various open houses and viewings.

AGENT: This house is built well.  You can see our gorgeous wood floors here and they’ve installed new windows.
ME: What about the wiring?  This house was built in 1937.
AGENT: That’s what the inspection is for….
ME: But I haven’t even bid or hired you yet.  Hey is that mold?
AGENT: If you look to the left you will see a lovely walk-in closet.

Sherri and I are quite cautious so we interviewed and took a few real estate agents out for a test drive.  It was like The Apprentice.

ME: So Clyde, you think you did a good job showing us around?
CLYDE: Yes sir, Mr. Artale.  I am fair and honest and will get you a great deal.
ME: But you didn’t call me back for over a week when I told you I wasn’t interested in the higher priced houses.   Business get slow?
CLYDE: Ummm….
ME: And Joe you got some good ratings online but you seem to be steering us towards certain neighborhoods?
JOE: I have your best interest in mind.   The ratings speak for themselves.
ME: What’s your favorite number?
JOE: 12.
ME: Good enough.  You’re hired!

Excited about having found an agent and committing to the process we tune in to Family Feud.

HOST: We asked Paul and Sherri’s family what they thought about them buying a house?  Top 100 answers are on the board…
ME: Inlaws thought we were crazy?


HOST:  #1 answer!   Pass or play?

ME: We came to play baby.

And play we did right into the home inspection or The Price is Right.
ME:   So you say the ground is on a negative grade?  How much to backfill some topsoil?
JOE: I am going to say $75


ME: The actual retail price is…..

Next on the schedule is an all new Fear Factor: an essential program to any major purchase.

HOST: You don’t have to buy today, but the tax credit ends in a month and you’ll miss out on a great opportunity OR if you don’t buy now rates and fees will skyrocket this time next year OR you should really buy this insurance in case a bigfoot comes through your yard and starts to eat your vinyl siding.  It happened to my brother, trust me.

Finally we are taken back to the Deal or No Deal which ends our regular broadcast schedule.  Offers shooting back and forth, the pressure is on! You don’t know if they will reject you outright or if some other buyer may come in and scoop up that gem.   Finally you take the deal and hope to God your suitcase is worth less than what you got.  Of course you don’t open the case until years down the road when you sell the sucker…or the house vanishes into a random vortex of doom.  Either way: you’ll eventually find out.

So as we go through major events in our lives (and purchases) here are a few tips that should help.

1) RESEARCH! RESEARCH! RESEARCH!.  Know everything you can about what it is you are buying.  Knowledge is power and when you are dealing with salespeople whose job it is to make money off you, the more you know, the better off you are.

2) KNOW YOUR LIMITS AND YOUR OBJECTIVES AND STICK TO THEM: Know how much you can afford and stick to it.  Salespeople will often tempt you with items that are the top of your range and beyond.  Stick to your plan because a few extra dollars a month can sometimes turn into a financial disaster- especially with major purchases.  If you follow step one then step two should be easy.

3) BEWARE OF LOW MONTHLY PAYMENTS: This step is a bit more complicated but generally speaking if you can afford the normal monthly payment then don’t opt for the “low monthly payment” option.  It always means a higher interest rate which means you pay more in the end.  There are a few instances when this makes sense but that’s a whole other article.

4) BIGGER DOWN PAYMENTS MEAN A BETTER SITUATION: If you can swing paying more money up front then do it.  It could mean a lower balanced owed (which helps credit scores) and in some cases leads to better interest rates.

5) SHOP AROUND:  This ties into research, but price shop, finance shop, coupon shop, do it all to get yourself the best deal.  It’s also fun to play provider 1 vs provider 2.  Don’t be affraid to ask for discounts or specials that may be going on as well.

6) AMORTIZATION TABLES ARE YOUR FRIENDS: Make sure to look at the  amortization table for anything that  requires finance.  Know how much of your monthly payment goes toward interest and principle.  See how much you can save by paying more than the minimum.  If you get 0% financing, be sure to understand the complete terms to that.  Often, if you miss or are late on a payment companies will tack on heavy fees and charge you interest owed (at 20%+) on your original balance.  So be careful.

7) BE WILLING TO WALK AWAY: We  don’t have an immediate need for most of the  things that we buy.  With that in mind, always be ready to walk away if the deal isn’t exactly to your liking.  Don’t get pressured into saying yes and don’t listen to sales tactics that invoke fear.  Sometimes walking away leads to be better deals anyway.  What do you have to lose?

That’s all I have.  This concludes our broadcast day.  I have to start some research on insulating my attic so that I can begin this lovely process all over again.

11/24/2011- And I am thankful for…

Well Thanksgiving time is upon us once again which means a slew of thanks, praise, and well wishes will flood the social media outlets.  These occasions always make me a bit pensive about my life and who to thank.  I want to take my gratitude in a different direction in 2011.   Of course I am thankful for good health, a fantastic wife, a great family, and the limitless possibilities that attending Michigan State University has provided me.   This year I am also thankful to those who came before me and blazed that trail so that life could be just a little easier.  So here goes.

1) My family.  I don’t mean this in the immediate sense.  I am talking more about those who many decades ago left the old country (Italy) for a better life in North America.  To me it’s always been a symbol of courage and determination.  They came over to make a better life for themselves, and more importantly; their children.  That has always stuck with me.  To this day I understand that excellence and success require sacrifice.

2) The heroes I’ve never met:  Terry Fox, Rick Hansen, and Jim Abbott.   Terry Fox is a such a  symbol of hope and courage and my admiration for him comes more from his sheer determination than it ever did the fact that he had one leg.  Terry still inspires people today and the Terry Fox Run is alive and well in Canada.    I once thought about trying to do one in the United States.  Maybe when I have more time.

In a similar light, Rick Hansen was also a source of motivation and hope for me.  Inspired by Terry Fox, Rick sought to travel the world in his wheelchair.  He logged over 40,000 km and traveled through 34 different countries.   Awesome?  Just a little bit.

Jim Abbott.  My childhood hero growing up because the way he was born most closely resembled how I was born.  I mention Jim a fair bit but its hard to tell my story without giving him an honorable mention at times.  Jim played with the “able bodied” and did it well.  That’s all I needed to fuel me.

3) Those who have served the military.  Never enough thanks here.  View my post for Veterans/Remembrance Day for more details.

4) The charities that help assist those in need.  For me this was the Hugh McMillan Center, the Easter Seals, and the War Amps of Canada.   The Muscular Dystrophy Association has also done much to aid those in my family.   These groups were instrumental in helping fund assistive (for me that was a computer to help me type my notes…I wonder if that’s considered an assistive device today?)  and aiding my postsecondary education.  There are not enough of these charities around and in the near future, I hope to both help them and start my own.  The best way to give thanks is to give back.

5) The farm-raised organic turkey that we are going to eat with good friends in our new house.  It’s going to be good eating.   Gary the Turkey, we salute you.

Have a safe and Happy Thanksgiving!

11/11/2011- Remembrance Day

10:45 AM

Once a semester a colleague of mine invites me to talk to her class about the cultural difference between my native land of Canada and the United States.  I am usually on a panel next to fascinating folks from China, India, Sri Lanka, South Africa etc.  It is always a multicultural experience and I usually get chuckles when I say I am Canadian because aside from media stereotypes of polar bears, mounties, healthcare, and some sort of hockey reference most don’t believe there are many differences.  Believe me, the differences are there but that’s actually not the point of this blog.

This semester I missed my chance to speak on the panel and it was then that I realized that one major difference between our two countries is how we celebrate November 11th.  In Canada November 11th is called Remembrance Day and honors all those who fought (and died) for Canada.  It really is the idea behind U.S. Veterans Day and Memorial Day all wrapped up into one occasion.  It is a somber day and the thing I miss most is 11 a.m.  That’s the time all things in Canada shut down and for a brief minute, everybody gives a minute or two of silent reflection.  I miss this…so much so that last year I tuned into Canadian television to “plug” into my roots.

I remember visiting the graves of soldiers at Montecasino when I visited Italy years ago.   Remembrance Day happened for me in July that year.  The sheer number of soldiers buried was overwhelming- and that was just one battle.  Thinking of it still makes me a little emotional.

Remembrance Day reminds me not just about those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom.   These days it also reminds me that making the world a better place in any way requires courage and sacrifice.  Period.  Speak up and do something to make the world a better place.  Don’t be a spectator, get in the game!  Even a small change can have an incredible ripple effect.

10:58 AM.

Thank you to all those who have served and who continue  to serve.  Your sacrifice gives me my freedom.  I promise to use that freedom to improve the world I live in.  I won’t take it for granted, you have my word.

10:59 AM.

No Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC) television for me today.  Have a few videos cued to watch following my moments

11:00 AM…..

11:01 AM

of silence.  A private Remembrance Day ceremony for me today.

Lest We Forget.