Sunday, May 27, 2012

Puppy Love

For those of you dog lovers out there who are familiar with the agony of losing your best friend know all too well how paralyzing and difficult the grieving process can be like.  When I lost my beloved German Shepherd to cancer almost 2 months ago, I literally thought I was going crazy.

I did everything I could to keep myself busy in an attempt to stave off the tears, whether it was detailing my kitchen and bathroom, painting my dining room, working on my truck or in my particular case all of the above.  All the simple things that I enjoyed most felt like a chore without Harley by my side. I barely ate, yet continued to push my running regimen beyond the limits I set earlier this year, because I knew that I had to continue on with my routine, simply out of fear of what would happen to me if I didn’t. 

Harley was my first dog, and she was also the first major loss I experienced in my life.  She taught me so many virtues that I thought I was immune to during our time together and she continues to do so from up above.  My inexperience with losing such an important piece of my life carried over to the question of: When is the right time to think about welcoming in a new dog?  The few people I let console me, who were more seasoned dog lovers themselves gave me the same 2 pieces of advice. 1) It’s one of the oldest cliché’s in the book, but it will get easier over time. 2) Think about getting a new dog.

I don’t know whether it was the desperate need to take care of something, or the timing of a friend of a friend’s text message about someone giving away 2 German Shepherd puppies while I was watching “I Am Legend” which also stars a German Shepherd that led me to visit a complete strangers house one Sunday afternoon. 

I barely knew how to get there, I had no idea what to expect when I got there and came home with a 4-month-old puppy, which I had no idea how to take care of. I found Harley when she was already 3 or 4 years old, so the things I had to learn with a dog that was fully grown and house broken was a far cry from taking care of a 4-month-old puppy for the first time.  After the first night I actually dialed the number of the home I got her from, in hopes of begging them to take her back. I went as far as contemplating paying for her food and a much needed vet trip as a way to convince them to let me bring her back, but I didn’t have the heart to hit the SEND button on my phone.

I took this little puppy away from her sister, and away from some deplorable living conditions with the promise of a better life, and a promise like that is something that needs to be carried out.

As the days passed and the more advice I got, the more comfortable we became with each other.  I quickly learned how to “puppy proof” (if there is such a thing) my apartment and read up online on how to train a puppy.  I never had a dog before, until I found Harley and that turned out to be one of the best things I ever did. I can only hope that my never having a puppy, until finding Stevie can lead to similar experiences.  It’s impossible not to compare the two no matter how unfair it is to do so.  Having another dog hasn’t stopped the pain or the tears for those are symptoms that can only be treated not cured.

I have to admit, it truly is a treat to see Stevie quite literally growing up before my very eyes and knowing her history and providence in a way that I didn't know with Harley. I swear there are days when I leave in the morning, I come home to a dog that is bigger than she was when I left. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s grown, just in the time it took for me to finish this blog post.

She does so many of the same things Harley used to do. She has a tendency to lay down in all the same spots and picks up pretty quickly in spite of her boundless puppy energy. I don’t know if it’s just a German Shepherd thing, or maybe Harley is somehow helping her to help me.  The comparisons between the two of them will never go away, I can only hope to accept and celebrate them over time. 

All I know is, in order to make this work, I have to open my heart and let her in.

At The Bend 
-W.S. Merwin U.S. Poet Laurete, written about his departed dogs, his beloved Chows.

I look for you my curl of sleep
my breathing wave on the night shore
my star in the fog of morning
I think you can always find me

I call to you under my breath
I whisper to you through the hours
all your names my ear of shadow
I think you can always hear me

I wait for you my promised day
my time again my homecoming
my being where you wait for me
I think always of you waiting

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Surging rents raise a new housing hurdle

Just on the heels of receiving a notice of a 3% rent increase from my landlord, along with a disclaimer saying that they will no longer be paying for the Sanitation charges on my DWP bill which averages to be about $45 every two months, I come across an article in today’s LA Times that tempers any frustrations I might have had.

Rents are on the rise and vacancies are being snatched up within hours of putting up listings, especially in desirable neighborhoods.  Once again the scales of the economy that have been tipped in favor of the qualified home buyer since the crash in 2008 are leveled off by those who have had to struggle with foreclosures, job loss and damaged credit. 

For those of you out there who have been renting for a while and like your place and neighborhood but felt like there might be some better deals out there, think again.  After reading this article by Alejandro Lazo of LA Times, I went from “really liking” my 1 bedroom apartment in an 8 unit complex with friendly neighbors and a shared courtyard to “absolutely loving it”, regardless of the 3% increase.

A nation still struggling to clear up one housing debacle has run smack into another — soaring rents.

The foreclosure mess has pushed millions of former homeowners with tarnished credit into a competitive apartment market across the U.S. Add fresh demand from young workers, few new units and tight standards for home loans, and the result is rental sticker shock not seen in years.

Rents are surging from New York to Los Angeles. The average monthly U.S. rent for apartments hit $1,008 in the first quarter, pushing past the all-time high set in the third quarter of 2008, according to the data firm RealFacts. USC's Lusk Center for Real Estate forecasts a 10% jump in Los Angeles County rents over the next two years. In certain markets, it is now cheaper to own a home than rent.

Menachem Krinsky of Hancock Park recalls how in late 2008 every street seemed ornamented with "for rent" signs when he first moved to Los Angeles from the East Coast. Back then, his landlord was so desperate to keep him as a tenant that he slashed his rent of about $2,000 by $800 after Krinsky's first roommate bailed on the lease.

These days, however, Krinsky's search for a one-bedroom apartment costing around $1,500 is shaping up to be a major headache.

"I am looking for something clean and new, and unless you want to spend a fortune, it's hard," said Krinsky, a 22-year-old art director and graphic designer.

Units that years ago would have languished for weeks are snapped up in days. The Santa Monica-based listing service is operating 14 hours a day to meet demand from renters. The company has even seen a bump in interest for its "platinum" relocation service, which offers to chauffeur clients to various Southern California listings.

Ellie Balderrama, who lists properties in Los Feliz, Silver Lake and Atwater Village for, said that as many as 20 people have showed up at some of her open houses. The ones who win arrive with completed rental applications and deposits in hand.

"In L.A., people have gotten so used to how relaxed it was, they are not aware how competitive it's become," Balderrama said. "Some people have got it, and some people don't, and the ones that don't suffer."

Rob Magnotta, a real estate agent, recently listed his two-bedroom Irvine condominium for rent on Craigslist for $2,300. He had six applicants within 24 hours, including one who wrote a poignant letter about losing a home to foreclosure.

"It was almost too easy," said Magnotta, who chose another renter. "I know the rental market was strong. But until you are actually renting the place, I think you are surprised it is that strong."

A big driver of rent increases has been demand from young workers who are striking out on their own after doubling up with family members during the worst of the economic downturn.

Alaia Williams, 27, recently moved out of her mother's Inglewood apartment to be nearer to her job at a Santa Monica tech start-up. She and a roommate are splitting the $1,400 rent on a two-bedroom apartment in Palms.

"We can't afford to live" closer to work, she said.

People who've lost their homes to foreclosure or short sales are also feeling the sting. Damaged credit means many must pay a premium or put down a bigger deposit to secure a place.

Robert Corlette pays about $1,700 a month for a two-bedroom town house in Anaheim Hills that he shares with his wife and five children. The family lost their home to foreclosure in 2009 after Corlette lost his $75,000-a-year job selling insurance. His current job, also in the insurance industry, pays about half that.

"There is a lot of pressure," said Corlette, 56. "It wears you down."

The crash has made owning a home more affordable than renting in some markets. An index by the research firm Green Street Advisors compares buying with renting in 79 metro markets; that index hit its most attractive point last year for buying since 1991, when the firm began tracking the data. Researchers calculate that the after-tax cost of a mortgage is only 10% higher than what it costs to rent nationally after taking into account mortgage rates, property taxes and other factors.

Orange and Los Angeles counties remain more expensive for buyers than renters, though that gap has narrowed, according to the index, while owning a home in the Inland Empire is now more affordable than renting.

Rising rents have converted some renters into buyers. Scott Matulis, 48, recently purchased a town home in Oak Park after enduring two consecutive years of rental increases. His mortgage, taxes and homeowner association fees now total $2,200, just $100 more than what he was paying his former landlord.

"I finally just pulled the trigger and figured I'd be throwing money away on rent," Matulis said.

Although rising rents may be motivating home purchases by people who are in good shape financially, those increases are walloping working class families and the poor — groups already hard hit by job losses, lost income and stagnant wages.

Marisela Alfaro has lived in the same one-bedroom Santa Ana apartment for 28 years. A large bed sits in her living room, where she and her husband sleep; their teenage daughters share the bedroom.

Modest religious art adorns her carefully kept home, but outside Alfaro's door the building is in disrepair, with tattered screens, broken lights and graffiti. Alfaro said the family pays $820 a month and feels lucky to have the apartment.

"There are other places that cost much more," she said in Spanish. "It's been difficult because my husband works in the fields, and that's the lowest salary that there is, and if there is no rain, there is no work."
Even for those with better jobs, paying rent can be difficult.

Virginia Villa of Brea, a single mother of four who works as a manager at Disneyland, has doubled up with her adult daughter, who contributes $400 to the monthly household budget. Still, Villa said, about half her take-home pay goes toward rent and utilities.

"I have a decent job and I would love to buy a house, but I don't think that's possible to do," Villa said. "In O.C., it's even difficult to find a substantial apartment or especially a house to rent — the rental cost for houses is really high."

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