Saturday, July 27, 2013

Beware the IGMs - How Not To Be One!

What is an IGM?  My friend who is a property owner in Upstate New York describes them as the "I Got Mine" set.

What is an IGM?  Someone who has already accumulated wealth due to taking advantage of the previous set of circumstances (dot com money, real estate bubble, family wealth, more favorable economic climate of the 80s and 90s, etc, etc).

IGMs set a high price for property and when nobody is able to afford it, let the property sit empty rather than lower the price to make it affordable TODAY.

IGMs ignore family members who are in terrible situations due to a bad economy, "outsourcing" of jobs, and so forth.  They allow family members to suffer many calamities rather than admitting that they are in an impossible - to - thrive situation and lending a hand like allowing adult children and their families to occupy space in their homes or on their property, agreeing to pay bills for them, or simply offering sympathy rather than treating them as though they are second class citizens for not being able to keep up, a Herculean task in the brutal USA economy of today.

IGMs look for the next form of entertainment and overlook reality, determined to enjoy their situations and "whistling in the dark" while news reports show that many families in the USA are homeless or living in cars, vans, hotels and sheds.  They don't want to acknowledge that they are being called upon to lend a hand, upset that their "golden years" or other situations in their lives are being interrupted by the current financial crisis.

IGMs are inflexible about bending zoning regulations to include smaller more affordable housing in their subdivisions, neighborhoods or towns, even if that means that some families will continue to live in substandard situations.  They don't want affordable housing to "bring their property value down".  They won't allow families to legally run businesses from their homes, even if this means the ability to afford a better life situation for them.

EVERYBODY should pitch in to help in the current USA economy.  Those in positions of power in city and county zoning regulations need to think about how to include affordable rental properties, and by affordable I'm talking about in the $500 range.  $1,000 and up is just not affordable.  Real Estate Lawmakers need to scale rents realistically based on Minimum Wage in order to recreate prosperity in the USA.  Families need to be able to save in addition to just paying their bills in order to survive.

How can YOU avoid being an IGM?

Do you own a property that you can rent out at a reasonable rate to a needy family?  A guest house, or maybe a garage that can be made over into a livable home?  Try allowing the family to complete the work in exchange for rent credit.

Do you own extra land that you could allow families to park RVs, Tiny Houses or other living units on for a reasonable rate?  Why not make a difference to these people and provide them with safe, clean and stable space to create a secure foundation for their lives.

Do you have struggling family members? Why not agree to help them with various aspects of their day to day lives or bills instead of allowing them to flounder in today's economy? How will it help your family to have members who simply cannot get ahead for a number of years although they are trying?  If you have business contacts, why not try to help family members get jobs rather than turning a blind eye and "whistling in the dark", telling yourself that "they will be fine", and so forth?  This is a time that families must pull together in order to get ahead or even stay afloat.

Can you provide a public service?  If you have some extra time, what about running a message board online hooking people in your area up with tips on how to find low cost rentals or services such as low cost or free medical care, directions to food banks, or places where they can find other low cost items that can help their day to day lives?  Let's be realistic about what people actually need.

Together, we can help alleviate the crises being experienced by hundreds of thousands of struggling people and families in the USA today.  EVERYTHING helps, no matter how small.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Should Landlords Be Allowed To Make Major Life Decisions For Tenants?

One of the things that has hurt long term renters the most is no regulations for discrimination.  I'm not talking about race - that has been fought against in court years ago (although there is only so much you can control in the rent market which seems to be some sort of "gray" market, operating on a level BELOW that which is regulated).

How can you have an ad saying "apartment for rent for SINGLE person - No Pets".  Who in the HELL has no long term relationship in their lives for longer than a few months?  What if that person gets into a relationship - do they lose their place to live?  How can a landlord presume to try to control the person's intimate life?

How about "price applies to ONE person only - if another person moves in price jumps from $1,000 to $1200".  This is one that I actually saw last night while perusing Craigslist.  How can it be legal for your rent to jump $200 if you get into a relationship???

Almost every single rental states "No Pets" - that is pretty much a Given.  That is a HUGE life change! Give up having pets?  Is that normal for a human being not to have any pets?

So going by these ads, the perfect renter is someone who has no relationship but stays single long term, makes no noise, has no pets, no friends or relatives to come over and drops dead asleep by 10, works 9-5 and basically does NOTHING ELSE.

No.  Just.....NO.  How in the HELL is some stupid yokel Landlord empowered to make these crucial decisions for a human being's life???????  So there are supposed to be these "extra people" who don't have as many rights or are discouraged from developing normal relationships, in order to please the people who's mortgages they are paying off for them??????

This is evil, just very very evil, and I urge any and all renters to RESIST.  You have the right to relationships.  You have the right to pets.  Gatherings. Children.  Life.  And you should NOT have to suffer or find it hard to find a place to live due to HAVING A LIFE.  Renters, especially long term renter, should collectively RESIST this madness that makes it so that they are not able to develop as people.  Clearly, this is not what our higher powers intended for us.  Landlords are not God to make such decisions.

Obviously, if you own your own property you do not have anybody trying to force you to abide by rules that are better for THEM, stunting for you.  But failing that, you owe it to yourselves to stand up and say to these people who are renting apartments that you are NOT going to live "half a life" just because you are renting.

When you rent, in actuality, you are PAYING SOMEBODY'S MORTGAGE FOR THEM(instead of paying for property for yourself!), or making it possible for them to afford things they wouldn't have afforded otherwise like sending their kids to school and other important things.  And then to be treated like a second class citizen by them?  NO. Do NOT accept this kind of treatment.

In addition, does anybody see anything wrong with thousands and thousands of people being thrown off of their life's path- being expected not to do things that average people are supposed to be doing?  That this collectively stunts our society?

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Dreaded Trailor Park

On my way to view a residential property today, we passed a Trailor Park in Upstate NY.  Being interested in the Tiny/Small House Movement, I was curious about this park.  I have never been in a Trailor Park, only passed them from various highways and roads on the way to something else.  It seems as though the Tiny/Small House Movement has a lot in common with Trailors because of the spirit of saving money, convenience, and freedom of movement.  I resolved to check out this place after we had viewed the potential property.

Turning into the neighborhood, we noticed a sign that said "Office" in the most prominent and nicest looking trailor on the corner.  From there we saw various people out on the porches of their neat, multicolored trailers.  There were some obvious retires - it would make sense to retire to a trailor so that you won't spend all your savings and pension checks on taxes, upkeep and so forth.

Then we noticed a sign on one of the streets- "10 MILES AN HOUR OR GET OUT!" We remarked to ourselves on what an unfriendly sign that was.  Imagine seeing that day in and day out.  We saw another sign on the road encircling the trailor park - DRUG FREE ZONE.  As though they had to let the world know that there were NO drugs being done in this particular park, even though the reputation of trailor parks was that there ARE drugs there.  Another eyesore to have to live around, a constant reminder of the negative attitudes put forth about trailor parks and the people who live there.

I remarked to my partner that the worst thing about living there would be the feeling of malaise, seeing as how the people living there seem to genuinely believe that they are in a "bad" or "inferior" place, or accept that at least somebody thinks this way to put such signs there.  My partner remarked that the owner probably put them there.  That the owner probably purchased the entire plot and a lot of the trailers, and it was his little fiefdom - he lived in the nicest trailor on the lot and ruled the place, put the signs there, and generally imprinted his negative attitude upon the place and the people living there.

The Tiny/Small House movement is mostly made up of intellectuals, philosophers, students and so forth, who have rejected "McMansion" culture and embraced books like "Walden", and more importantly, have recognized that the USA is affording them such little opportunity now that they need a backup system that WILL NOT FAIL NO MATTER WHAT - a home that is paid for.  It's a different "crowd" than the trailer park crowd, one that regards itself not with a low self esteem but with a very high self esteem, of MORE worth than those in McMansions.  They see the failing in the USA system, not themselves, most of whom have at least some college study or a degree, sometimes multiple degrees, and come from an intellectual background, yet have hardly any job prospects here. NO Tiny/Small Housers would tolerate someone treating them as though they were suspected of a crime (a flagrant NO DRUGS sign posted right outside their house) or a really rude sign (10 MILES AN HOUR OR GET OUT) glaring them in the face every day, or other forms of oppression.

I hope that the Trailer Park culture can pull out of their malaise and force the owners of their subdivisions to start treating them with respect.  One day, maybe soon, ALL average houses could be the size of their trailers, and possible the cost could be close to the same as well, as it is in other industrialized, civilized nations.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Taking The Confusion Out Of Finding Land for a Tiny/Small House

When building or buying your Tiny/Small House, you'll need land to park it on. You can either park it on someone else's land or buy your own land.

Maybe a friend or relative will allow you to park in their back yard, on land they own, in the driveway, etc.  Or maybe someone who owns land or a house will allow you to park there for a monthly fee.  RV parks generally charge about $10/night to park there($300/month), for this fee you get to plug into electricity and sewer, and they have wireless internet.  Different RV parks charge different prices, some of them are more expensive if they are very close to a major city. In making a deal with someone to park in their yard or on their land, use this amount as a guide. *Good Idea - "bachelor" or "bachelorette" apartments/houses with several roommates are always looking to shave some money off of their monthly bills.  They are a good bet to ask to park in their back yard or driveway.*

If you're like me, you'll want to buy your own land.  Don't spend too much- good sources to find cheap land are ebay, craigslist and  Watch out for the pitfalls - always have a surveyor come and assess any property you are thinking of buying, in addition have a test done on the soil to see if you can install septic if you can't hook up to city sewer for some reason.   Composting toilets are a workable alternative if you can't hook up to city sewer or install a septic system.  In addition, have the water tested if you plan on drilling a well or for any reason can't hook up to city water.  How to get a land survey:  SURVEY  Be aware that land could have major flaws - one man bought cheap land only to find out that before he could build his house the land needed $40,000 of extra work because someone had "filled in" a hill that he thought was natural.  Be suspicious and check out everything.  Whatever the problems actually are, there are ways to alleviate them and work around them, but you should KNOW about them, especially to keep you from spending too much on the property if it has major flaws.

Zoning is an issue.  If the property you would like to buy is in a subdivision, there may be minimum size requirements for houses.  This will prevent you from living in an RV on your property there, which is what a Tiny/Small House is actually considered.  Even if you take the Tiny/Small House off of it's wheels and put it on a foundation, it may not be the minimum size required in the subdivision.  These size rules are in place because people who own large houses in the subdivision do not want a smaller property down the street from their house to "devalue" their property.  These ridiculous rules are what is keeping some families and children homeless or living in substandard conditions, so everyone SHOULD be working hard to repeal these draconian and selfish rules.  But until that happens, you will need to choose a place where zoning does not prevent you from living in a small house.  Obviously that will not be a subdivision unless you are parking in someone's back yard or driveway - they are allowed in some cases to have these units there classified as "offices", "mother in law suites", etc. - and RVs are allowed in most cases.  Some people take mortgages on large houses, put a Tiny/Small house in the back yard or on the property, live there themselves and then rent the larger house out and in this way pay for their mortgage.  I personally feel this is immoral because then you are forcing someone else to pay the bank's loan sharking and usury, but that's how some do it. *Good Idea - one guy I heard of lived in an RV parked in someone's driveway - in Queens.  He was able to live in a workable situation 15 minutes outside the city - for about $300/month.  Can YOU find a good deal like that one?*

Properties that allow small cabins or RVs are often located far out from the center of town or along roads, etc.  You can find Zoning maps of most cities and towns on the websites for those cities and towns.  When deciding on your location, think of what you'd eventually like to do with your property - I personally want mixed-use or commercial property so that I can run businesses from the same property that I live on.  Check the Zoning map and then either drive around and find signs that say that property is available in an appropriate area, call real estate agents local to the area and see if they have anything available in your price range, or write letters asking local farmers and other land owners in the area if they would be willing to sell you some land.  You may want to speak to the Zoning Administrator or a Community Board member of the town you are moving to in order to find out what is and is not allowed on the land you are interested in.  If you are paying all at once in cash and not taking a mortgage, you can offer less than what the property is listed for if it is listed.  If you can't pay the entire amount down, try to get OWNER FINANCING rather than going through a bank and paying through the nose for a commercial mortgage.  Don't participate in the loan-sharking business unless you really have to.

You may be thinking "this sounds like a LOT of trouble".  Well- it really is.  But think of what will happen if you do NOT do this work.  When I think of the money I wasted renting for 17 years, it's pretty unbelievable. I didn't set out to rent for 17 years, but the economy worsened as I got older, year after year went by, and I never "seized the moment" to buy anything, horrified by aaaalll the forclosures, the devaluing of property and the inability of people to sell their property once then owned it, etc.  I stayed away from the real estate market, for simple lack of understanding of the way things really worked.  In reality, the best thing I could have done would have been to buy land that was affordable, put a small modular house that I OWNED on it, and start banking my money.  If you own your land and house, your utilities and taxes together are much lower than what you will pay for rent or mortgage- mortgages in particular are just pure legal loan sharking (usury).  This was sold as the "American Dream" and it has been revealed to be financial abuse of USA citizens, and an unworkable gamble in the recession.  Living in cities is no longer the great experience it used to be in the USA, so there is no real benefit to staying in the unhealthy and crowded situation of a city when you could live an hour or so away and save most of your money, and be healthier besides.  Until the "powers that be" decide to bring back affordable rentals and reasonable interest rates on loans and mortgages, full ownership of your property and living situation may be the ONLY way to get ahead.  So stop draining your resources and start saving.

Friday, July 12, 2013

How Did Rents And Mortgages Get So High In Such A Short Time?

When my family moved from New York to Virginia in 1980, my parents secured a rental for us to move into so that they could save money to buy a house.  The rental cost $300/month for a one story ranch style two bedroom house with a back yard.  In three years, they had saved enough money for the downpayment on an $80,000 house, and they qualified for a loan for the rest of the money they needed from the local bank.  This house is located about an hour away from Washington DC where they worked for the government earning an average (comfortable) salary.  They were able to commute comfortably to work for the length of their careers and retire.

Now, rents in that area are around $1100-$1300 for a ONE BEDROOM APARTMENT, not EVEN a  two bedroom house.  The same feat that my parents accomplished in 1980 - IS NOT POSSIBLE TODAY.  Today they would have to be twice as far away from the city where they worked, and we would be cramped into a two bedroom apt, not even a house- and they would be paying a much higher percentage of their salary towards rent, so much so that saving would be well nigh impossible.

When I moved to the East Village of Manhattan in 1995, I was paying $1300 for a two bedroom on St. Marks Place.  Now my old apt is $3,000/month.  This is more than double the price in only 13 years.  There is really, really something wrong with that- this never, ever should have taken place.  I ended up living in a series of run down rentals in the borroughs of NYC that had serious consequences for my health, ultimately causing me to go to the hospital due to the over use of pesticides in the last rental I attempted to live in.  This is NOT what I signed up for with moving to Manhattan.  High rents and mortgages have had negative consequences on most people I know, ranging anywhere from health problems to social problems - being in relationships with people they would really rather not (please don't try to pretend this does not happen, for we all know that it does), or suffering greatly from lack of privacy from cramped living conditions, too many people in an apt, etc.

So how did things get this way in such a short time?  How were landlords and the real estate business/mortgage industry able to skew things so far in their favour, with little or no resistance from ordinary people?  There SHOULD have been huge marches in the street, bottle throwing, screaming, sign waving and all the rest.  What happened?  How is it that we allowed our money to be drained and drained and drained without making a peep? 

Motor Inn vs. Apartment

When I fled from my toxic apt and realized I couldn't stay with the friend who wanted me to stay with him due to his 6 indoor cats (cat allergy),  I found a descent Motor Inn about an hour away from the city and secured a room.

For the past 3 weeks, I have been checking out various rentals with the intention of moving from the Motor Inn to another rental until I can buy a property .  I was shocked to find that landlords even an hour away from NYC ARE TRYING TO CHARGE THE SAME PRICES AS 15 MINUTES AWAY FROM THE CITY.  The reason was explained to me by one of them - the banks are not giving out mortgages like they used to, therefore the rental market is flooded with people who would normally have a mortgage.  Therefore it's a "renters market" and they predatorily raised their prices.

If the rental is within walking distance of a Metro North train, a lot of landlords are trying to charge 1100-1300 per month- EVEN IF IT IS AN HOUR AWAY FROM THE CITY.  I was paying 1300 when I was 15 minutes from the city.  This is utterly, utterly ridiculous.  To then have to pay gas and car repairs and commute ON TOP of paying the same price is outrageous, not something I am willing to enter into.

Not only that, many of these landlords were pompous and entitled in what they said to me when I inquired about renting.  One man told me that although I was not allowed to invite people over for a party, he had parties all the time and "his parties were the best".  One woman told me that "She was Itallian so she was coming into the apartment whenever she wanted to and anyone who didn't like it would have to get out".  I was told by one owner that "he would get back to me when HE felt like it", even though I was living at a hotel and needed to hear back from him as soon as possible.  I was told that "I'd never find something cheaper than 1100 next to the train".  I did, in fact, find cheaper apts, they just weren't as nice, they were studios with no yard access.  I was told "there were cheaper places to live but they would be full of mold".  And other discouraging things.  The behavior I encountered from prospective landlords was pretty outrageous.  Keep in mind that this is not Manhattan, nor is it 15 minutes outside of Manhattan or even 30 minutes outside of Manhattan- this is a FULL HOUR AWAY FROM MANHATTAN, and they are acting like this because they are close to some godforsaken little train station out here.  GTFO.

I then started thinking about my current situation, the Motor Inn.  It cost as much to stay in it as it cost to live in my previous apt- however, there are some advantages to it.

1) I can park just steps away from my front door.  No worrying about my car, I could easily keep an eye on it- and in addition, there is no stair climbing, carrying groceries and belongings up flights of stairs.

2) Included in the amount I'm paying is electricity, internet, a landline,  really good cable TV, laundry of sheets, bedding and towels, vaccuming/cleaning of my room if I want it, and last but not least, free toilet paper.  None of this would be included in the $1100-$1300 fee to live in a rental that is this close to the train and highway.  So what I've actually got here is the equivalent of a $1,000/month rental when you add in all the amenities.

3) the Indian couple who owns the Motor Inn are laid back, friendly and non intrusive.  They have never said a harsh word to me or attempted to come into the room for any reason.  They are a lot nicer than almost any landlord I've had(with a couple of exceptions).

4) the insulation here is sufficient so that we don't hear what anyone else is doing next door and they don't hear us. In my previous apt we could not talk in our kitchen after 10 pm due to a failed attempt at insulation in the wall that bordered on our super/landlord's bedroom!  The kitchen is where people naturally collect to socialize, and we are "night people" so not being able to talk in our kitchen after 10pm was very detrimental to our use of the apt. Not only that, in one of the apts we checked out recently, we were told that we wold not be able to have the TV on or speak loudly in our apt after 10 because of the insulation being insufficient.  Letting people move in if you have insufficient insulation and then expecting them not to talk, watch TV, etc is just crazy, a setup for problems and ill will.  Yet landlords will still attempt to charge top dollar for such a situation???  Please, GTFO!

5) the Motor Inn is within walking distance to two shopping complexes, fast food places, 24 hour markets, etc.  Lots of the rentals we checked out were not, especially the cheap ones - for less than 1,000/month you had to drive for half an hour to get to the nearest store.

6) I can stay at the Motor Inn as much or as little as I need - there is no locking myself into a lease.  There's no crazy credit check, no hustling around for references or worries about being accepted.  If you have the $ and act normal, you're in.  I like that.  I don't believe in having to work hard to be accepted into a descent place to live, or being locked into one if you would rather be somewhere else.  Where is the sense in that?  Especially if it's the SAME PRICE as a rental???  Keeping everyone in fear of getting a decent place to live and making everyone jump through a lot of hoops to be accepted is a form of societal control that I just don't believe in.  I believe everybody should have safe, clean housing as a God Given Right WITHOUT the approval of ANYBODY. The Motor Inn is more in keeping with this philosophy.

7) there is 24/7 protection and surveillance here at the Motor Inn.  To get that in a rental, I'd have to spend big $ to install a system.

8) there is a culture of friendlieness and politeness here, where i can't say as much for a lot of the neighbors I had in Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan.

9) the Motor Inn is located in a place where we can get RIGHT ON the main highway to get to the city.  The rentals we saw mostly were not.

10) Sanitary Conditions and Heat/AC - in my rentals, the plumbing was constantly backing up, not working, etc - in my last rental, raw sewage backed up on my bathroom floor three times, in one case leaking through the floor and ruining the ceiling of the apartment below.  The landlord attempted to blame ME for their failure - *I* should have known how to turn the water off, *I* should have heard the water dripping sooner, etc, etc.  This is all BS- it's FULLY their responsibility to make sure the plumbing works no matter what, and to somehow try to implicate me in the plumbing problem is outrageous.  The bathroom in the Motor Inn has industrial strength plumbing that works- period and has not backed up once.  In addition, AC is provided - I was of course paying for AC every summer in the rentals I was living in, did without it except in extreme heat, etc.  And the heat the landlords were supposed to provide always had to be supplemented with a space heater that I paid for the electricity for.  The Motor Inn does not have these problems.

So landlords-

WHAT HAVE YOU DONE FOR ME LATELY????  What can you do for me that the Motor Inn isn't doing better for the same price?  Can you provide me with great parking?  Can you make the price worth it to put up with the extra rules that come along with renting?  Can you give me complete privacy and friendliness, low stress situation? Can you give me a convienient location that is better than the Motor Inn?   How about some of the amenities? IF NOT- I am NOT renting from you.  Seriously.  When the price of renting matches the price of a Hotel, renting becomes NOT WORTH IT ANY MORE.  GET A CLUE.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Forced To Buy Expensive Housing - NO. Nobody Tells Me What To Do On My Own Land.

Basically, USA Citizens are being FORCED to buy expensive housing that they don't really want or need, and they are not being allowed to control their environment to the point where they could afford their housing.   Even if you pay for your own plot of land, if it's in the wrong "zone", you are NOT ALLOWED to have a house under a certain size there.  Worst case scenario - you will be forced to either tear down, modify or get rid of your own house if the neighborhood regulating body ghestapo "objects" to it - ON YOUR OWN LAND.

Lots of USA Citizens could pick up a hammer, saw and screwdriver and make their own housing.  But they are being prevented from doing so due to draconian zoning regulations that are unrealistic.  How did the housing industry get so bloated and ridiculous?  Why did everybody just ASSUME that everyone can or was willing to pay $400,000 for a house (The eventual cost of $100,000 loan is about $400,000) ?  Does this sound like an amount that the average person can or should be forced to afford, even over the course of their lifetime?

The bottom line is that this huge figure that you owe from birth in order to get decent housing keeps you getting up early, keeps you going to bed early, and preoccupies you for 30 years so that you don't "get in trouble" (figure out how to participate in local, state and federal govt in a meaningful way).  "Everybody Knows" that all "descent" people struggle under a mortgage.  And if you don't knuckle under and pay it, you are considered Persona Non Grata by your parents and friends who did knuckle under, and all other "Descent People" who DO "follow the rules".  The unspoken "rules" that were put on us by banks and neighborhood boards who don't know us and don't care about us.

So do you really want to live in a place where you are NOT ALLWED TO DO AS OUR ANCESTORS DID - to take the natural materials found on YOUR OWN LAND, or any other materials you can find and bring in, and create your own house as they did, in the size that you see fit for your needs? Do you want to allow others to tell you that you MUST spend $400,000 over the course of your lifetime on housing, or even more as a perpetual renter? Do you want a whole host of people to make money off of your back breaking labour - banks, agents, contractors, EVERYONE IN THE WORLD EXCEPT FOR YOU YOURSELF - to be supported by your labour and your own savings, for things that you JUST DON'T WANT???  That the neighborhood zoning regulations tell you that you HAVE TO HAVE - or get out, even if you own your land free and clear?  Do you want to be used as a workhorse by these people,  churned for the sake of the economy?

Or do you want to stand up and be a Free Citizen, as you were meant to be, and tell them to their faces that you are NOT going to be used as a workhorse, you are NOT going to be churned for the sake of the broken economy that does not work, and that you are going to do as you please on your own land that you purchased?  That you will NOT work 40 hours a week only to to give half or 2/3 of what you earned to a bank for their Usury,  and that this is NOT what the Forefathers meant to create when they created the USA, and to get off your property and out of your face immediately or you're going to take it all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary?  Yes, that's more like it.