Monday, August 30, 2010

Let's "rent it out"!

With reports of the housing market still in decline and an economic recovery still in limbo, what used to be a renter’s market is quickly turning in favor of the landlord. The days of renters negotiating on not only rent, but also on deposits and paid utilities are slowly becoming a thing of the past. Vacancy rates are currently at 7.8%, down from an all-time high of 8.8% last year. It may sound like a small shift but it’s enough to give landlords more confidence to stick to their terms and stand their ground.

With one more month left on my lease, I have decided to go back to apartment living. As much as I and my furry four -legged family love the privacy of a house and enjoy having a backyard, the monthly savings between rent and utilities are simply too much to ignore. With this being my second move in only one year, I thought I would share some strategies that I have learned along the way that may cut your bill and hedge against future bumps.

Long Term vs. Short Term
Signing a longer -term lease almost always ensures lower monthly rent and makes you much more of an attractive renter for landlords. Because the landlord has your tenancy secured for a longer period of time, you are also less likely to get outrageous rent hikes at the end of your lease.

Research the market and the neighborhood.
Location, location, location is a rule that not only applies to purchasing real estate, it holds true to renting as well. Pick a few areas that appeal to you and contact any friends or family that live in the same area or close to it, ask them how much they pay and how they like living there. Think about what is most important to you. Are you willing to sacrifice square footage for location or vice versa?

Don’t be scared off by rent alone.
If a landlord stands firm on the monthly rent, look at other avenues in which you can meet in the middle. According to 44% of landlords say they are willing to reduce security deposits and 22% would offer upgrades to more desirable units. Other points of negotiation include covering more utilities within the rent; waiving pet security deposits or getting preferred parking spaces or extra storage.

Make yourself look good!
When meeting a landlord for the first time, pretend like you are going on a job interview. The way you present yourself can be a determining factor on whether or not you get the place you want. Besides your credit score, landlords need to feel like they can trust you. Most landlords have done this many times before and have developed an innate sense when it comes to sizing up potential tenants. There’s nothing wrong with hardball negotiating, but keep in mind you and your future landlord will have to “get along” for at least a year.

Don’t be afraid to ask.

It never hurts to ask for a better rate. When I first found my place I was able to negotiate my rent down by $100 a month. When I decided I was leaving I asked my landlord if he would be willing to lower my rent even further, since I have never been late on my rent, he offered to lower my rent by an additional $150 a month, which unfortunately was still not enough for me to stay. Just remember the worst that can happen is that the landlord says “no”.

Monday, August 16, 2010

“Giving college the third degree”.

With the economic recovery losing steam and states across the country experiencing budget cuts, public four-year universities everywhere are feeling the pinch. The once “affordable” alternative to anyone seeking higher education has become a bureaucracy of red tape; riddled with tuition hikes of almost 7%, fee increases and overpopulation. Recent high school grads looking to obtain a college degree are faced with more obstacles than ever before, which begs the question…is getting a college degree still worth it?

The fact of the matter is, that there are fewer jobs available and too many overqualified candidates. Government surveys indicate that the vast majority of job gains this year have gone to workers with only a high school education or less, casting some doubt on one of the nation's most deeply held convictions: that a college education is the ticket to the American Dream.

With technology advancing by the minute, education of the non-brick and mortar variety is becoming more of the norm. You can learn different languages in a matter of months with the right software and a computer. Do it yourself online courses and “How to do Anything for Dummies” are a high speed internet connection away. So what makes getting into thousands of dollars in student loan debt or working a full time job while going to college worth it?

I worked my way all throughout college and have many friends who did the same. Working 30+ hours per week while taking on a full academic load during my last 2 years. My parents had plenty of moral support to give, but not a whole lot of financial support. I paid out of pocket what I could and applied for aid for the rest. Going to college and working toward obtaining a degree should not only be about dollars and cents, think about all of the other things in life we buy or finance; cars, boats, houses, etc…shouldn’t an education be top on that list?

No one made me go to college, I did it, not only for the education and the knowledge, I did it because if I hadn’t, I knew it would be something I would always look back on with regret. The long days that turned into even longer nights. Getting home at 11pm after working all day and attending classes all night, when dinner was simply brushing your teeth and going straight to bed, only to wake up the very next morning to do it all over again. A college education allows you to discover interests you never knew you had. It instills confidence, builds character and demonstrates resolve. Foundations that will be built upon for the rest of your life, a foundation that can never be taken away from you.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Live each day to its fullest.

(Allen, Cindy & Nascar)

As I sit here typing away, getting a late start to my Monday post…I decide to change my initial topic of “Is getting a college degree still worth it?” to something much more personal and dear to my heart. We live in a world in which we are constantly multitasking. We answer texts and emails while pretending to be interested in what the person sitting right in front of us is saying. We surf the web on our laptops while watching movies we supposedly couldn’t wait to see. We approach each fleeting moment only to anticipate the next. We forget just how much life can change with such little notice.

We meet many people in our lives some come and go while others leave an imprint that forever changes the very nature of our being. They give us hope and reinvigorate our faith in humanity, they remind us that there are still good people out there. I had the pleasure of meeting Allen & Cindy Stockman 5 short years ago when I started working for a client who had been in the entertainment industry. Allen & Cindy worked as my client's estate managers handling all the goings-on if you will around the house and taking care of the needs of a very busy family. We were in the trenches together and quickly became close friends.

The 3 of us were constantly around people who were completely out of touch with reality and for all intents and purposes lived on a different planet than we did. While I would sometimes look at all of my client’s unobtainable toys with wandering eyes Allen & Cindy were impervious to envy and cared more about the simple joys of short weekend trips in their 5th wheel and quality time with each other.

They later left for a job managing a breath taking estate in Napa Valley to be closer to their aging parents. We managed to stay in touch and I was fortunate enough to have been able to visit them in a place that defined the term “getaway”. From the second you heard the sound of car tires on a gravel driveway you knew you were some place special. The mild, quiet evenings were so peaceful that speaking in your normal tone of voice made it sound like you were yelling.

I have never been the type of person who could easily impose on friends, no matter how close they are. I have even had friends of mine scold me after they found out I drove myself to the airport opting to pay a ridiculous sum for parking rather than asking them for a ride. So you could imagine how difficult it must have been for me to stay in someone else’s home for several days, surprisingly enough it was never that way with Allen & Cindy. There was just something about their generous souls that made me always wish that I could stay longer. Then, not more than a month after my last visit I received an email then a phone call from Cindy, Allen’s wife telling me that Allen hadn’t been feeling well and that he became so weak and sick that he admitted himself to the hospital. Days later he was treated for an infection and we all thought he was out of woods and I was already starting to plan my next trip. Then things started to take a turn for the worse, and Allen fell into a coma and came out of it paralyzed from the neck down with very little movement in his mouth and can barely even blink his eyes, his original diagnosis was MS and now his condition is simply a mystery to the doctors of UCSF Hospital in San Francisco. “Live each day to its fullest” Cindy would tell me before we got off the phone.

Allen Stockman one of my dearest friends, 49 years young, whom I rode ATV’s with through acres of vineyards cannot even blink his own eyes. His kitchen view of orange trees and jasmine have been replaced with monitors emblazoned with indecipherable images and numbers, how is it that a machine can tell you how a person’s heart is doing? His plans of living the remainder of his life traveling across the country in their RV with his wife of 25 years have been put on hold indefinitely. Allen, I pray for you each waking minute of every day. I will always treasure the memories that we share and look forward to making new ones. I cannot wait to be by your side this weekend and will be there with you when you wake up from this terrible nightmare. See you soon my friend.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Renting the "American Dream".

It’s something that has been ingrained in our psyche from the very beginning. Most of our parents did it, and they made us want it too. Work hard, do well in school, go to college, get a good job, get married and buy a house. Have a place you can call home, a place that you will one day own free and clear.

This was a dream that came true for many Americans during the housing boom of the early to mid 2000’s, a dream, which for a lot of people ended up becoming a nightmare. Now with the housing bubble that has long been burst and a real estate market still in the infancy stages of recovery, the word “RENT” is no longer viewed as a four-letter word but rather a sensible alternative. Myths about renting propagated by the housing market are slowly losing steam. Myths like:

• If you rent, you’re throwing your money away.
• Owning your home is a forced savings plan.
• Home ownership is a path to wealth.

Tell that to the millions of people who have had to foreclose or short sale their homes losing tens of thousands of dollars if not more on down payments. Yes, some of the blame has to be placed on those who made poor decisions or bought houses they simply could not afford, but the idea or maxim that home ownership is for everyone or defines the “American Dream” needs to be reevaluated.

There’s no question that there are a myriad of advantages to owning a home. You have stability, you can do whatever you like to the home, and you are not at the mercy of a landlord. These advantages however can come at a great cost. Buying a home in today’s market would require a minimum of a 20% down payment in most cases,that's IF you can even qualify for a loan. And if something breaks there’s no one else responsible for the cost of repairs but yourself. Can’t stand your neighbors? There’s not a whole lot you can do about that. And even though you are not at the mercy of a landlord, you are at the mercy of the housing market, which could be far more temperamental than any landlord can be. Renting on the other hand allows you freedom, depending on whether you are on a lease or month to month contract, you can pick up and move somewhere else if you don’t like where you live or need to follow opportunity.

With the unemployment rate higher than it has been in decades, traditional jobs are becoming more and more scarce, while non-traditional freelance and consultant jobs are becoming more of the norm. Pensions, tenure and company sponsored retirement parties are becoming a thing of the past. A white picket fence and 1.5 children no longer represent the “American Dream”. 40 acres and a mule have been replaced with an Internet connection and a Smartphone.
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