Month: May 2011

Numbers & Life

I am led to the conclusion that the word “numbers” starts with “numb” because you must learn to make yourself numb to tolerate them. This comes to you from someone who plays with numbers all day long. Numbers are not currently my friend.

Selling your house in a buyer’s market is a bit like online dating: you find the *best* picture(s) of yourself, you present the best face, you clean yourself up and dress yourself up for every date or even phone call, and you make yourself hyperavailable. Any sign of interest (Oh he WINKED AT ME!) is immediate grounds for hyperanalysis and contingency planning, any sign of disinterest is grounds for beating yourself up.

If selling your house is online dating, an open house is speed dating. For a three hour period random folks walk through your house, possibly attended by a realtor, and you have no idea if you managed to get across what you wanted to in that space.

Pricing your house is a whole other fresh level of hell. Again: I’ve been an analyst by trade. So when our realtor provided a Comparative Market Analysis (CMA), I of course ran my own numbers against it. Someone spent an awful lot of time on their algorithm, and it’s mostly right. I will point out that the numbers my CMA told me I would get back in January (yes, it’s been that long of a process) were much different from the ones I got in March, and again in April. The housing market is expected to drop 10% from December numbers and the pricing of my house shows it. Then there were unforeseen expenses — new carpeting and pad (very much needed it) and fresh coats of paint — that dipped into perceived net equity. Naturally,  I have a “drop dead” number — everyone does — and thankfully I’m not there yet. Having had to drop my house by $15k after 2 weeks (courtesy of two new listings, one foreclosed), is enough to send my Excel models into ‘not responding’. Pricing your house and dropping the price is that part of dating where you decide just how far you’re willing to lower your standards to get dinner, be in a relationship, or get laid.

Living in a staged house is both more and less of a pain than you would expect. The painful parts are the upkeep — done with that glass of water? Put it in the dishwasher — no, not the sink, no, not the coffee table or bedside table. Done with that magazine? Put it back in the display. Done with the remote controls? Hide them. Leaving the house? Open all the curtains, leave lights on. Need to do laundry? Do it after 8pm and get it all done and put away so no one sees it.  Have yard service? Make sure they come during “off” times so no one sees them (your house apparently is supposed to be fabulous without effort). Glass coffee and dining table tops are not your friend in this instance, and that’s precisely what we have. Oh, and there are spare hand towels in each bathroom, because the “good” ones are wrapped in raffia — the spares get hidden before you leave. Hide all of your soap dispensers, unless they’re decorative. Wipe down every surface, every day.

The less painful parts are that you don’t experience clutter, ever. It’s hard to have any clutter when you must even hide your keys, or your glasses. Also, your house is nearly always ready for a photo shoot, which the OCD narcissist in me enjoys. Finally, you learn you don’t need that much stuff when most of it is boxed up in the garage or under the house. I miss my books but movies have gone so much by the wayside that the male person and I are considering abandoning cable altogether, and having to keep a pristine clean fridge means you’re better about eating leftovers.

The good news is shortly we shall be on the flip side of this buyer’s market, as we will be buyers. We can expect someone else to go through all of that dating nervousness and hassle, we go from being the pursuer to the pursued. And when that happens, I’m bringing my black light for the carpet, and tsk-tsking older windows. I may wink at the ones I like, though.

Everybody’s Selling Something

My house is on the market.

No, this isn’t an homage or reference to a “Company Men” instance, in fact, life is good at the Big Travel Company. But the fact of the matter is my house and its square footage (interior, not so much exterior) isn’t enough for Myself, Boy, Man Person, and His Cat. Honestly, it’s the Cat that needs the square footage.

Having taken most of the unused furnishings and the entirety of my 2k+ volume library and boxed them up, tetris-style, into my garage, I can no longer park in it. Having replaced the carpet and repainted much of the interior, the house is officially on the market. This is a demoralizing, un-fun event, on several levels.

First, there is the fact that one needs to work with a realtor. In a buyer’s market, selling a house is a pain in the butt, and it’s a double pain in the butt if you’re a hyperanalytic metrics fiend. I can tell you right now the selling stats of every realtor who’s been through this house, the days on the market of each competitor to this house, and the pros/cons to my place vs. my comp set. I can also tell you it astounded me, too, that the competitor house listing at 35k more than mine that had their hot tub in the front yard (mine was in back) and had 100square foot less and about 1/3 the acreage just went pending. I have no idea why. Your realtor is there to guide you through this, mine is guiding me, but that doesn’t mean that her years of experience and my years of analysis don’t clash occasionally.

Second, there is the fact that your house is no longer your home — it is NO ONE’S home. It’s staged. Ever live in a staged house? It’s seriously un-fun. First off, staged houses do not admit that people wash their hands, so 2/3 of the bathrooms and the kitchen have the soap dispensers hidden. Also, because people do not wash their hands, the towels in those areas can totally be wrapped in raffia — no point in drying hands that haven’t been washed. Somehow it is still okay to have toilet paper in the bathrooms, apparently we all acknowledge that people poo. They just magically have sanitary hands afterwards. 

In a staged house, your TV will be at an angle that home-theater experts will declare is “exactly wrong”, you will have dishes in areas that you never had dishes (over the fireplace??), you will have angled “uplights” and fake ficus, place settings on the never-used breakfast bar and feature cards touting the wonderfulness of your RV parking (hey, mine has coax and full hookups!). Your glass coffee table and dining table (they aren’t really mine, in a way) will be cleaned daily (as will your stovetop) JUST IN CASE folks show up to view your house.

About that: item 3,492 that sucks about having your house on the market? Realtors who leave messages insisting they will show your house between 11 and 1, and then don’t. Or show up early or late. Or call with 5 minutes’ notice.

You would think the yummy prospect of homebuying (with a staggering pre-approval) would take the sting out of this: it doesn’t, quite. It’s not that we haven’t found some amazing places (we have — and considering that our search radius is 1.5 miles, that’s impressive). It’s not that we haven’t created a pecking order (we have a solid #1). It’s that there are so many that come *close* but are either oddly laid out or have too much space or have too little space or have EVERY ROOM angled. Paint and cabinets are relatively easily ameliorated, bones of a house are not. I tell you what though: anyone who wants a beige and brick 2-car garage house that looks like every other one on its block is TOTALLY in luck.

This also brings up a different sort of language you speak with your Significant Other. You start to refer to housing prospects by such monikers as “619 Dog Pee” (it was going for 619, the garage smelled of Dog Pee) or “Rambler Weird Kitchen” (nuff said) or “Eat Pray Love” (you don’t want to know). And then you need to explain the relative merits of things that excite you: “Oh, okay. So finding a house with a greenhouse is like you finding one with a complete home cinema already wired and all tech stays”. “Marble slab countertops = good, marble tile = bad. I would explain why but it’s like you explaining why one projector is so much better than the other. Just trust me.” 

I totally get that these are great problems to have. And ultimately there are things I will not be flexible on — location, for example. There are things he will not be flexible on — space, for example. If it means we are left in this house for another year while we wait for someone to transfer or bail, that’s fine.

I have cranberry juice in my crystal decanter, and artfully done throws on each bed; so I cannot live like this for a year or even several months.

I’m on a Plane… I can complain…

(written on Cinco de Mayo at 35k feet):

I have a massive issue with airlines that don’t offer wifi on all of their flights. I’m sitting here, United, on a 3 hour direct flight and couldn’t help but notice that my personal productivity has gone down the drain.

Part of the problem is I am one of these people whose brain is always on. Always. I have trouble going to bed at night sometimes because it’s on, and if I get up in the middle of the night then it’s 2:1 I won’t be able to sleep for an hour or two because the brain is on. I’m not even remotely suggesting what is running through it at any given time is useful: oftentimes it ranges from work-related (useful!) kid-related (useful!) or PTA related (useful!) to an in-depth analysis of when I last got a pedicure and if I really should go and get one in the next few days (so! not! useful!).

For me, getting to the airport early means I can leverage free-wifi and the ubiquitous Starbucks. Today’s blog post is courtesy of a work-provided venti iced caramel latte. It’s technically decaf but I think that isn’t doing much to stem the tide of angst. While I got lots done in my hour-after-security-before-last-minute-boarding, I am stuck on this plane with no access to anything useful. Cloud computing, the idea that you can access *your stuff* from anywhere, because it’s not tied to a given machine, has one fatal flaw: you need to have internets to get to it. And I have none.

Instead I have sat and watched the movie Red again (pretty good, actually funnier the second time around), paid $9 for in-flight Tapas (also surprisingly good), and seethed at all of the things I could be doing right now. Mostly work.

People often ask me what I do. My official title is: Director of Business Development & Initiatives, Americas. I can write that here because it’s on my Linked In. But that title doesn’t really tell you what I do, and really? I can’t tell you what I do. Not in a, “I’d have to kill you”/CIA sort of way; it’s more like a “I don’t want to get fired” kind of way. Easily twenty-five percent of the projects I work on either do not come to fruition (we go down the path and discover it’s an untenable or impractical one) or would have no external significance whatsoever. The other seventy-five are either corporate-specific (the travel industry is different from, say, the financial services industry) and would require you to be in the industry to get what I was driving at (or have a 2-hour primer on the topic), OR are very very shiny and I can’t talk about them. I really do mean that.

From a professional standpoint, there is a measure of tooting one’s own horn that is of value, both internally and externally to your company. Internally it’s valuable to work your way up and over (or over and up as it is sometimes done); externally it’s valuable to show a prospective new employer what you are capable of. I cannot, however, post about most of what I do.

Right now for example, I’m on a flight. I’m going to a place where I will need to discuss a business and operational plan, as well as the associated human and project management associated with that. Sounds very nebulous. Next week I have a meeting about a method of incentivizing people to do something extraneous to their job description without harming the parts of their job that are IN their description. And then there’s the process tree chasing — it’s official that X leads to Y, but unofficially we all know it routes to Z who then checks with A (or B) and if it meets condition C then it will never ever go to Y.

See? It doesn’t help the discussion along at all. Knowing that I can’t further any of it, though, because I’m on a plane, is sad.

The Things One Does For Money

Instead of run/walk/limp, Sunday featured a run/walk/run. I managed to complete with a time of 10 minute miles. But let’s be honest, that’s not what you’re here for. You’re here to see how the tattooing went.

The henna was applied on Thursday by Katie Bachand, and she is a lovely lady. She makes the henna herself, and adds essential oils, so instead of smelling all chemically I smelled like a spa. One interesting thing about henna is that when it is applied it is much like a mask: it’s gloopy, then it dries, and then it flakes off leaving little “henna boogers” everywhere. If a booger drops and gets remoistened, it will stain whatever it drops. I will remind you I just got new white carpet.

It’s fine, no henna boogers. I couldn’t resist adding that measure of suspense.

Here’s what was done on Thursday, and how it turned out on the day of the race:

I still have them with me, as the henna will take up to 4 weeks to fade.
 
I was sincerely thinking about shaving my head for an upcoming 3 day bike ride in September, however, it looks like two of the days are not what I though they were, so I backed out. No head shaving for me.
 
Unless I find another just cause.