fj: (angry)
Dear WaMu

Do you have any idea of the damage you have done? You were a bank. A BANK. As in stability, rock-solid, a foundation. You were supposed to be one of those institutions that would carry on, that knew what it was doing. You were in the class of companies that was special, that was so conservative it has its own hours and gets forgiven for them, where people dressed up to work at, where Business Casual was frowned on, where, from the earliest depictions in children's books onwards through everyone's life, you were depicted as necessarily stuffy and solid because you guarded people's money, so you had to be beyond trustworthy, and exude it. Hell, WaMu, banks are so special they weren't even ranked in the popular mind as a mere company. You were a bank. A bank!

You were supposed to be filled with people who patted youngsters on the head and adults on the shoulder, reassuringly, and say "You are safe here". Like a church is supposed to give sanctuary from evil, you were supposed to give what little we could scrape by from our hard work to save sanctuary from all the scammers and idiocy and forces ready to leave us with nothing when we needed it. Dude, that was my contract with you when you took that word BANK. That was your promise. You'd tell us in small print my deposits would be insured, but then you were supposed to be able grin a little as you ever so slightly rolled your eyes and spread your arms a little and said "Like you'd ever need that FDIC guarantee, I mean, look, we're a bank." Then you'd clasp your hands and put them on the desk and lean over and say "We are safe. We take your deposits and lend them out and then from the returns we give you interest. But we always make sure your deposits are covered. It is not just the law, it is our promise. We deal in trust." A bank, man, you were a bank. Not a corner drugstore.

And now it turns out you were taking my money and investing it in crap that only worked if house prices kept rising forever. Which you, as a bank, remember, the smart people with computers and MBAs, should know is an idiotic idea. Yes, everyone mortgaged as if it was true but we all knew it wasn't and couldn't be, and now you turned out to have bought into that idea wholesale in the investments you made, buying up all those mortgages, which turned worthless when a lot of people stopped making their payments, house prices stopped rising so they could not sell or re-fi, and the agencies you turned out to be paying to tell you those investments were good had no choice but tell you overnight they were bad. And you had so much of that bad shit you suddenly were no longer covered. You didn't buy just a little of that mortgage securities stuff with my money, you hadn't conservatively spread risk, no, you had bought whole hog into something you didn't actually know if it was worth anything. You took my money and invested in tulip bulbs, in Webvan.com.

No, seriously, how could you? Not just be so stupid, but be so stupid that you ended up betraying your social contract with us so? How could you so behave like a drunk dot-com investor in 1999? I am so angry with your whole industry right now. Another set of lies I was fed. Turns out you were not trustworthy. Turns out you and all your little friends are no smarter than a chain of corner drugstores. I am not looking for mommy and daddy, I don't need a rose garden, but was it too much to ask for something, anything, to be more than a thin façade of trustworthyness? Like my bank?

Look, I'll get over this. I'll now have to just evaluate banks just I like evaluate everything else in corporate life: with mistrust, wariness, cynicism. A little extra padding on the skin, a little more irony. Turns out you guys with your smarts are just as shit moronic when it comes down to it as everything else in corporate life. Untrustworthy. Like there was no difference between you and giving my money to CVS to keep safe (except, well, CVS is still in business). Except this time with my money, you know, what I need for food and shelter. Turns out, all libertarian free-market-rules corporatist bullshit companies have been spouting for years now, in the end it actually is that government you business people so despise and feel holds you back that keeps me safe after all, that is the net that is there.

Because as sure as hell it wasn't you and your free-market honed, nimble smarts.

Deregulate more my ass, it turns out you actually couldn't handle being allowed to do what you wanted to do, you and everybody else invested in the stupidest thing possible, whole hog, until it killed you. I was always wary of people who scoffed at regulation and the government, saying they made things inefficient and got in the way, and had all this ideology and examples; I knew from my background It Wasn't That Simple. Now it turns out what should have been the most stable and conservative institutions, pillars of public trust, handled their unregulated freedom by chucking all common sense and being stupid. Without any real repercussions to the people being stupid. The shareholders lose money, dear money they need, and the rest of us lose trust, something all you money fucks should know is even more precious because it what your banks are built on -- 'scuze me, your companies, your rackets, are built on. "Bank failures like in the 30s can't happen again, oh no, we fixed that now, you can trust us. Your grandpa who is wary of us, well, that is old thinking, no, it isn't like that anymore."

WaMu, you suck. All the other banks suck too. I am glad I have so little money in your accounts. I burned much of it from that account trying to get away from the US clusterfuck when I knew that somehow the country would have to pay for giving the national checkbook to a cokehead alcoholic and his cronies for 8 years, so I am glad that I contributed some to you even being less covered for your idiocy, even if it was by an infinitesimal small amount. But I didn't get far enough. Because I did the right things. And now I am gonna hurt.

Because you see, WaMu and all you financial cronies, remember me? I am the guy who saved, like everyone says I should have, because I could. And when I had a chunk of savings I did what was recommended for good returns, which is invest it, carefully. So it would grow and not lose purchasing power when I needed it. And I bought my flat instead of "throwing money away on rent", because you have to invest and use tax advantages.

But here's something that you failed to mention, you financial whizzes of good advice, something I knew after I saw the.com failure, but you still didn't explicitly mention: unless you put your money in places where it will not or barely keep up with inflation, it will not be available for you when you need it. When do we non-retirement age professionals need our nest savings most to tie us over? Not when times are good, we can g from one job to another then. When do we need money to move, retrain, pause, regroup? When times are bad. Well guess what, that's when nobody wants your real estate, your mutual funds have dropped so much your returns are worse than if you had bought CDs, and most of the good saving certificates still have your money locked up because to get that return you had to commit to a specific locking in.

There is no safe place for saving. The safest place turns out to be run by lunkheads, the place that gives some return will not be available when you actually need it, which is when times are bad. And the people reading this who want to tell me I should have 'diversified' can saw your own heads off with a popsicle stick first before even taking a breath to talk to me, and then go run a bank since they are in obvious need of your super smarts, but most of all, you can can it. I was diversified, and it included real estate and very diverse funds and saving accounts, and they all turned out more or less useless in a crisis like this when everything has lost value across the board and nobody can buy whatever I have to sell except against vulture prices, and the places I trusted turned out to be run by total idiots. Makes me reeeeeeeeeaaaaal comfortable about that 401(k) scheme I am supposed to believe in these days. I am kind of glad I have no US job and no salary to contribute to that bullshit built on the vagueness of "average returns". And the bailout apologists telling me that we have to support the lunkheads or "we will all hurt" need to fucking first acknowledge that I am already hurting. Everybody but the lunkheads is hurting, just in grades of hurting or hurting more.

Sincerely,
FJ!!
fj: (Default)
Since my contract with Voda ended, I went to Düsseldorf to clean up, Amsterdam, and my Dad's, then went to SF & LA and have now been back for almost two weeks, but I have not worked. I do not have a new contract yet. I had a job interview the day after I returned, and yesterday they got back to me and said it was a bad fit for the open position. I had to agree, but I hadn't send the No Thanks email myself.

There's no urgency money-wise; Voda paid buckets to compensate me for me having to pay for the commute, and by British tax laws I got most travel and lodging expenses deducted from the taxes that go off every paycheck. I am good, and need to remind myself to use this money to hold out for something good and not give in to that fear of not working by jumping in too early to any opportunity.

Of course, there's no open offer to give in to right now. Since I re-activated my resumes I got a call from a recruiter most every morning. These British ones are not as bad as the ones I dealt with in the US: they do not offer me wildly inappropriate jobs, and they get the salary space right. We'd agree intial stuff over the phone, they send me the req in email, I send them email back with a .doc version of my CV, I never hear back.

Then again, maybe I am too impatient for Europe. Sunday I was at Nigel's, checking out what normal TV looks like on a 32" HD panel by watching the pilot of Space 1999 and a documentary on Blake's 7, and we were bitching about "Remember rejection letters? You know, actually getting them? These days they won't even tell you if you didn't get the job, and I was actually interviewing in their offices! Is it because I didn't send the 'Oh thank you so much for letting me interview' email seconds after I left?" and then I see his expression and I have to follow with: "Wait, you don't know what that email is? All the rage in the US, especially during recessions. It reads like..." and he gets the confirmation again that the US is insane and I get told I needn't send that in the UK, and then one day later I actually got the rejection email totally denying my whining. I just wasn't patient enough.

Miss Me?

Jul. 1st, 2008 10:00 am
fj: (travel)
Seems I'll be going to LA July 18th and then the weekend after that to Dore in SF.

It is extravagant since I do not know where my next paycheck will come from and I haven't fully stocked up the savings accounts from my move, but I wanted a holiday with friends and beach, and it turns out that, while the ticket is kind of expensive, accommodation is free.
fj: (talking)
I will not use my tax refund to do a hit-and-run on NYC for the Black Party this weekend. I will not use my tax refund to do a hit-and-run on NYC for the Black Party this weekend. I will not use my tax refund to do a hit-and-run on NYC for the Black Party this weekend. I will not use my tax refund to do a hit-and-run on NYC for the Black Party this weekend. I will not use my tax refund to do a hit-and-run on NYC for the Black Party this weekend. I will not use my tax refund to do a hit-and-run on NYC for the Black Party this weekend...

I will go buy some pants, though.
fj: (talking)
Not so good day. I am missing LA bad since the Tuesday Night group I was slowly becoming part of did something really cute last weekend that I might have been invited to, and the coming weekend would have my favorite party and two bar nights where I would see my friends who were making it fun for me to go to bars with and even meet new people and carouse, after a decade or so of being bored trying that in other cities because I never had bar friends.

Instead, the not working after a week of working has ceased to be fun, I am tired of how London actually does nickel and dime you for everything when you pay the foreigner-tax. Examples of that are how I can't get a landline without a deposit, I can't get off my mobile PAYG plan for a regular monthly mobile plan that works for me because I am not passing the credit check, so calling 'free' sign-up and information numbers will keep getting billed at my standard mobile rate, I can't get a tax identification number until after April 8th so I will get taxed heavier but I can get refund at the end of the year if no-one screws anything up, which these burocracies cannot be trusted not to do: I have already, at my mobile rate, had to call back my electricity company after they left a concerned voice message that they couldn't get my account right and had to verify everything again. I even gave them the serial number of my meter the first time, yet they asked to verify it as if I hadn't. They had already sent me a Welcome To Your New Account letter.

I really like my flat, I really like my neighborhood, but getting lost today around Bond Station under gray skies to find an Uniqlo store to replace my sweaters because they had a sale on cashmere advertised in all newspapers, and then once I was in one finding out they mean goddamn "cotton cashmere" (89% cotton, 10% cashmere, 1% wool) made me, well, pissed off. This city can be such a rip-off. Meanwhile, my agent is trying to sell me on a 4-day-per week 3-month contract, commuting weekly to Germany. Airport security every week twice a week, living in hotel rooms or some business apartment mid-week, trying to sort out a gym and my food for four days a week without eating restaurant food that will leave me unhappy all the time, hanging out watching TV in the evenings from boredom, for 3 months... I am really not sure I left LA to go do that. The day rate is pretty darn good, though. Maybe I could write one of the three books I have in my head. Who am I kidding, it'll end up with me taking work to the room.

Oh yeah, the sweaters. So one lazy afternoon I am in The Loft (still not selling and the article in the LA Times about how DTLA "has failed" is so not helping), on the fashionable platform futon bed, languishing in the afternoon with the sun coming in, probably waking up after napping, and I am looking at my huge beautiful organized clothes closet of which I left the door open. And I see, wings delicately lit against the shadows, a moth flutter out. Out of my clothes closet. Out of the sweater drawer, to be exact. A moth. So much for cedar blocks. I went in denial, but when I unpacked my sweaters here the damage could not be denied, nor the uncanny accuracy of that damn insect to chew holes always in the belly-button area. One Comme des Garcons, one Montana, and two basic cashmere V-neck sweaters have been thrown out. I am chalking them up as a casualty to the move. But one needs sweaters here. So I bought two anyway, it was a sale.

So, one of the reasons I moved here was to be closer to my family. Well, all of them are converging this weekend. Let's find one of those super-cheap European flights I have been hearing all these years about so I can spend Sunday morning with ten nieces and nephews instead of sleeping in from kissing new hot men in the early hours of Sunday morning in LA. Where do I find these Ryanair Easyjet things anyway?

I need a hair cut.

Pay Me

Mar. 12th, 2008 10:18 pm
fj: (tech)
Due to tax and employment laws, employers needing freelance or contracting work will not just hire someone, they will only work with other companies. This is why there is a blooming market in the UK for ready-made companies you can buy and install yourself as president and earn through dividends and such stuff -- basically buying an administrative product. For a few hundred quid more you can even have one made with the name you come up with. You need one extra person to be a board member, and stationary and business cards with the company name, and a yearly tax aountant. This looked all too complicated to me.

There are also body-shops here, companies that 'hire' freelancers in 'permanent' positions. Basically when you contract out, the company that gives you work to do contracts with the body-shop company for yourservices at the fee you negotiate, and you yourself do the work, fill in a time-sheet, submit it to the body-shop, they harge the client, take a small cut, and pass the rest on to you, also taking care of all taxes and accounting and doing the tax magic for your business expenses when you submit receipts. These body-shops are called 'Umbrella companies' here. The one I chose on recommendation of the headhunter I work with is called The Parasol Group. I expect that name for an Umbrella company took three weeks of intense brainstorming. (I also keep wondering whether Parasol only has above-ground labs to create monster zombie cats and viruses that turn you into the picture of health and where Milla Jovovich comes in every time I think about this.)

Why am I boring y'all with this? Because I wanted to mark the occasion of me submitting my first time sheet. Ever, I have really never contracted on a daily rate. In fact, it's been over a decade since I've freelanced, and that just-out-of-school gig was all set prices for end results. The work was at a small mobile research and interaction consultancy, where we decided to start me out contracting until we all knew how we felt about each-other. I am very positive and would like to work with them again, and the three directors with whom I spent the week in a small office said the same. I think my technical background with my very specific design skills an complement their available skill set very well. Unfortunately their actual client is being wishy-washy for the project I was on is being unsure, so I cannot do any more work until feedback comes back for what I have done now. Ok, we'll just continue with me being called in when they need me at my day rate.

I learned all kinds of lingo like 'strategic designer' for this field usability consulting, which should allow me to position myself and communicate to other people locally in this business even better. They also got an idea what it means to work with me in that, always professionally, I will voice my opinion and recommendations about what is going on about projects in the room. And that when you hire me, you get someone who has a constant stream of 5 or so RSS feeds open to follow tech trends and products in the mobile space. You want 3 paragraphs on Google's Android technical capabilities, or how it compares in the market to other SDKs? 45 minutes please, I just need to do 20 minutes of research to confirm what I already know and have proper sources at the end of the document.

But yeah, first week of nice salary, and now a few days off. I could get used to this.
fj: (Default)
So, a month in the UK, and what do I have to show for it already? Well, a funded bank account. I have been to many areas of London. I got the keys to my flat in Kennington this morning, and got about half of what I need to make it into a home from IKEA this afternoon to be delivered tomorrow, and will get the rest over following trips. And it seems I will be freelancing at an excellent day rate for a mobile concepts and usability consultancy starting Thursday with people I am excited to work with.

So yes, I went from photographing dark tunnels with blinding light to walk through to, a few weeks ago when I knew I would get the flat and a huge load I didn't even know I was carrying just lifted off my shoulders, shooting fluffy happy clouds and sunsets. That latest tunnels was just me clearing the memory card, it is weeks old. But it is also easy to shoot beautiful images here in the Belsize area. The place is gorgeously developed and maintained since the Victorian age.

So, one month: house, solid chance on job, still sane. Now I need to finish moving in this week, and start having a fabulous social life already. After I get a coat rack for people visiting me to hang their coats.

Tomorrow I get to hang out at my new home waiting for the delivery person while wrangling utilities. I think I have settled on O2 for broadband, BT for a POTS line with minimal services over which that DSL will run, and that green energy plan I need to find bak. Call the council of Lambeth to let them know I moved in so I can pay Council Tax, and no clue what to do about water and sewage... have those been deregulated yet?
fj: (UK)
In the UK, you can actually select which power supplier you use for gas and electricity. Your stuff still comes off the grid normally, it is not like anyone needs to bury a new cable to your house; the consumer's choice is basically which company you give your money too and comes read the meters, while the companies pay the grid for transport and supply it with chunks of gas and electricity.

There's a gazillion plans, but fortunately fool.co.uk allows for comparisons and filtering to find one. And of course the numbers it compares on are yearly, so they look big. And they allow you to select 'green' plans only, from companies who promise to offset carbon usage or use only renewable energy and all. So you can see how much that costs extra. Per year. Ulp.

You know, I will pay 50 cents more for some recycled item, but to then see that 130 pound sterling difference per year, while you still have no income coming in, does make you seriously wonder about your commitment...
fj: (LA)
So a few months ago I was still in LA when the car insurance needed to be renewed. Since I was living alone in an expensive loft I wanted to cut my costs, so I of course hit all comparison sites and plugged my data into all web forms for car insurance in CA I could find. The results were miserable. My homeowners insurer was the funniest one of all: they promised a discount for already having a policy with them, and still ended up twice to half as much as Geico. Not that Geico was any comfort, I was not all amused by what they were quoting me, even with high deductibles. But the small fender bender I had had at the beginning of my time in LA was doing me no favors.

So I am also on gay.com chatting that afternoon, and someone asks what I am doing, and I bitch that I am looking for car insurance, and this one long-term chat buddy privates me and says, have I got a tip for you. A company nobody has heard of. Canadians setting up shop in the USA. Wawanesa.

I'm like, sure whatever, and plug my numbers into their quote generator, that asks questions in a different way then most insurers. I am not impressed at the number that comes up, totally in line with the discount insurers. Until I notice something: that quote was for a whole year. The name-brand insurers quoted me for 6 months. Ok, this made me pay attention.

I asked my chat bud how the claims resolution was, he said he was very impressed. So I went with them. Filled in the form a week or so before my then current insurance would expire. Got called back because I seemed to have transcribed my VIM wrong. When that was resolved, they timed my insurance to start just as my current one expired. I could do my payments over the web. And they still qualified me as a good driver deserving discount because my fender bender was just not expensive enough according to them. My previous insurer was raising my rates because of the event.

I just got off the phone with them to cancel my insurance since, well, I sold the car and moved to London. The rep saw my point and took my contact address to mail my refund. Very polite, but it did take a while of being on hold before I go to that point, and I did not need to hear the muzak version of "Here Comes The Rain Again". My experience has been that if you leave a number, they do call back, but I didn't want to use international minutes off my international calling card, so I stayed on the line. I have no experience with their claims resolution, though. But I am otherwise a very happy customer who saved a lot and always got polite service.
fj: (UK)
I have stupid mobile phone shenanigans because I have called the US a number of times now without having my bundle of cheap US minutes in place, and I can't register my local bank card on the stupid website because it says I have reached my limit of cards I can add to my account, and it won't allow me to top up from my non-local bank card any more nor delete it from my account so I can register my local card. Thanks, T-Mobile. I'll have to top up tomorrow at a shop.

Well, I made progress then this week: at least I have a local bank card, but funding this account is taking time since all funds need to come from foreign places; the fastest one will probably be the small stash of money I had in an old Dutch giro account. The EER or EC seems to have international money transfers down now.

I will need to fill that bank account up. I have been pounding pavement again to see flats. I find studios and flats in the price ranges I am working with on propertyfinder.com or thinkproperty.co.uk, but of course they are all gone when I call. What is left I see, and they are postage-stamp sized and drab. I know housing is out there for me, I just need to luck out. Of course, since I am new to town and thus have no references ("No, I do not have a landlord in the US, I owned"), am still unemployed, and no guarantor, the agents all tell me I will have to fund upfront the whole 6 months of the letting contract, 6 months being the minimum contract anyway. My head spins at the kind of money we end up talking about even for something with no light and so small my couch coming in a few months will never fit, costing about 200 pounds a week.

Still, if the estate agents would take AmEx for that balloon payment once I find my place, it would end up saving me a lot of transfer costs: AmEx is the only one not charging me fees for using my US card here, and I pay that card with my US bank account. I can stay in my new yet decrepit rented room here for a while, paying up every week. My top-up life: phone, travel card, room, all funds being added as necessary, in larger amounts than I want. For example: need to make 4 quick trips to see places all over zone 1 and 2, pay 4 pounds for the day. That's 8 dollars, btw. And the Tube system makes a point of telling you they are doing you a favor by capping your maximum spend if you use their special contactless travel card, Oyster. That daily maximum is 4.80 off-peak and 6 pounds on peak hours. Double to get the dollar amounts.

I am working out in the local gym, again expensive because I can't commit to an economical long-term plan seeing that I do not know where I will actually end up. I walk for hours a day, from agency to agency to supermarket. I know I am not supporting myself nutritionally enough, and will have to buy protein powder soon, instead of eating turkey breasts for dinner and lunch and pre-packaged chicken sandwiches after a work-out. Did get some EFA oils, though, healing dry patches on my skin again that came back after not having Omega 3 and 6 oils for two weeks. Still coughing up gunk, otherwise ok. Except for the chocolate binge last night, which I am not happy with since I think I may have been self-medicating.

One recruiter I have been working with for a while keeps finding me interviews. Did one over phone, that job will have a sucky commute. They wants me to do a presentation about how to improve the user experience in a specific area as part of the in-person job interview. They have yet to confirm which date on the week of the 25th. Seeing a handset division of a large company Monday, I should check my suit is ok, and iron it with the iron supplied in this room -- no board though. Meeting the head of a small UX agency Tuesday for lunch. Had some people calling based on monster resume (but I actually think it is the jobserve one they are seeing, because that is the one changed recently), but nothing interesting from those recruiters. At least they do not want me to move to Mountain View to write multi-media drivers in J2ME. It does mean I will not take the time out to do my own thing.

London looks nice in places. I've met up with people, as I wrote here, and will meet up with Nigel tomorrow.
But I am not having fun. I am just slogging through hoping I will get to a better point.
fj: (Default)
I am feeling not too weak, not coughing as much from the gunk still in my lungs, and it is a sunny day. I should be feeling alive and positive. Instead I am a ball of stress going through motions. It is all the worst when there are no motions to go through at 5.30 AM and all I am wondering is, how do I atually get to Step B of finding a place to live?

I cannot throw money at this, partly because I need to live cheaply while floating The Loft, partly because I do not know who to throw money at and how. I've been told about Loot and Gumtree online classifieds, and their forums are full of how everything is a scam and let down. I have thrown some money towards a referral service which a) reminded me most of those hopeless days of trying to find a room in Amsterdam in 1988, all shuffling bits of paper and fruitless calls b) got qualified as a scam on Gumtree's housing forums, since what they advertise as having and what they have are two very different things.

It comes down to me having to make lots of calls to strangers to ask about things I know nothing about, a prospect that makes me want to hide under the bed shaking. Except that the clock on this bed is ticking. I think of who I could call to ground me and realize all I will get is encouragement without actual knowledge of the situation. I don't want encouragement, motherfuckers, encouragement is completely overrated in my life. I want to know what I do next to actually get somewhere. I need out of this place where the toilet room in the hallway has no heating but a window that someone here always leaves open so they can smoke there without having to go outside.
fj: (Default)
Bridge Burnt: called Disney benefits and stopped COBRA. It's the NHS for me from here on out.

Meanwhile, I no longer carry my Greencard with me in my wallet. My new Oyster card will go there instead, I think. Attempted to open the bank account with HSBC, they'll send paperwork to my contact address in a week or so with which I can pick up my debit card. No progress on real housing, but did get agreement I could extend my current easily. Cancelled an interview for tomorrow when I came home: only two hours out, one small conversation at a bank, and I was exhausted. I could not do a full day of discussions at a handset manufacturer by tomorrow.

Back in bed now.
fj: (Default)
So I am selling The Loft. It seems necessary if I am moving away. Bad time to sell real-estate in the US, but it could be worse: I could be trying to sell somewhere else than in Los Angeles city itself. I need to find a broker, then.

Now, what does a broker do? I am not entirely sure. They seem to list you on their big shared listing system, the MLS. They find out what you should set your price to by looking at what comparable units sold in your area, they call that "running comps". They stage, they photograph, make flyers, put out signs with balloons for open houses, tell you what your house should look like or find people to make it happen, and more. They also know which other brokers to talk to who have clients, or so they say. For this want they 3% of the sale price when you sell. You also need to pay the broker for the buyer 3% for bring you a buyer. Sell a half-million dollar loft and already you spend $15K on middlemen whose main skills seem to be entering data and running the color printer.

Or is it? Am I being mean, naive, or just ignorant? Maybe they have really good marketing plans or other things I do not know?

Of course, the WWW sees middlemen as damage and tries to route around them, or help you find better ones. An example of the first is RedFin. A seller signs up with RedFin and describes their house on a web-page. RedFin will find stagers and photographers and use their results to make your property look even better. Then RedFin auto-prints flyers, tells you where to pick up "For Sale" signs to put outside your house, and that you should bake cookies when it's time for an open house. They will list the place on the MLS, Yahoo homes, Zillow, etc, with your open house times, so hopefully buyer brokers will see it and people will come by. They will also give you a lockbox, a little safe you attach to your front door that opens with a numerical code, to put your front door key in, so brokers can come in when you are not home. So you do everything yourself to sell your place, except you do not know people and hope the listing on the MLS will get you foot traffic. RedFin will negotiate for you, handling all the official paperwork that comes with negotiating a price, going into contract, doing the final sale. For all this RedFin asks a flat $3K5. For a half-million dollar loft, the seller saves twelve thousand dollars by making their own cookies and smiling on Saturdays, RedFin says.

Seller brokers are screaming bloody murder on their blogs about RedFin. They invest tons of time in open houses and flyers and relationships with other brokers and other buyers and other sellers, and they have teams and workers to pay, they get only paid when they close, and now they have a down market on their hands. They see what Amazon did to indie book sellers and wonder if the Internet will take them out next. The ones who have been brokers for the long haul are less worried, they have seen these assist-to-sell brokers come and fail before, but do know that while this one plays out, things will be a little leaner. Still, times are tough for realtors. I know of one here and two in Fort Lauderdale who are looking for real jobs again. It is just lean times for those who started in the last 5 years, often with no sales in 2007 as buyers are skittish or uanble to get credit now, and sellers will not take their losses from when they bought during bubble years.

The web also tries to help you find a better middleman. HomeGain and AgentMachine have services for sellers where you enter some details about the place you want to sell, and they send it to seller brokers who have signed up with them, so these brokers can send you a response back why you should engage them. I used HomeGain to describe my space, but also as a chance to ask specifically, why should I hire you?

I had 4 or so questions in my application. Some might be seen as tough, but I truly think that is ok to ask someone I am about to go into an exclusive relationship with about the largest asset I have that results in me handing over 5-figure dollar amounts. How long have you sold in downtown Los Angeles, which is a difficult and very new area with its own quirks? How many properties have you sold in the last year, or 3 months? What can you give me that RedFin cannot, seeing as I am unemployed and can let in anyone any time?

I got 10 responses on HomeGain. 2 of those were from the same team of people, so those are out for not coordinating with each-other, it looks really bad. Those included, 8 were pages of boilerplate responses about how they had 12 to 21 point marketing plans that include how your home should look neat and what color flyers they will make and how experienced they were selling homes in my area, like Encino or Pasadena. Of those I am more inclined to take the one who speaks Korean and Mandarin since the dollar is low and DTLA is right next to Koreatown, but otherwise, no. One of them offered to buy the place if it was lsited for more than 120 days, I expect this means listed at half price for 120 days, but I should call, I think. And only one single respondent actually answered my questions, and his answer of what service he provides is that it will be a High Touch experience: he will be there, he will make it painless, he will negotiate for a high price for me. Ok, you know what, still sounds a little vague, but at least he answered what I asked.

And then there's John. John was proposal number 10. John didn't send me pages of boilerplate. John didn't write soothing or exciting words about how he has teams of people ready or knows the Los Angeles market inside out or will put me on his personal real estate site, or even educate me about what he has that I cannot see. No, John used HomeGain to send me:
"Why don't you just save the commission? It seems you don't value the job of an experienced real estate broker. Try to sell it...just Redfin and you. Good luck, JC"
HomeGain also mentions John sold 0 propertries in 2007. I wonder what his fallback career is.

And then there's my neighbor. He scoffed at this story and told me to just put it on Craigslist, of course that will sell.

COBRA

Dec. 3rd, 2007 10:28 pm
fj: (health)
I always like doing HR things over the web. Nokia was great at that, almost eevrything HR related, like medical plans and paychecks and stubs and holidays was all completely webified, I never needed to ask anyone for help, I can do it at home, I do not need to wait for someone else to have office hours. Disney slightly less so when I started, but more and more as I stayed. They both had outsourced their 401(k) management to Fidelity's, and HR to Hewitt's websites.

Now I stopped working for either company I can still go to both these websites and do everything electronically. I never rolled my Nokia 401(k) over to Disney for that reason. Annoying enough, Nokia just sent me form they want confirmation of where I live for 401(k) admin purposes, and I need to fax it in - hello, Fidelity.com knows, people. On the good front, now I could log into Hewitt, click a few buttons, and extend my healthcare and dental coverage all the way deep into 2009 with COBRA. $325 a month. Something's being heavily subsidized here.

I hope to not need it for many months -- I am close to being over not working. I should got to a dentist, though.
fj: (Default)
Mad Money's Jim Cramer is in full recession-mode, almost talking one up.
fj: (Default)
So let's see: applied for new insurance, installed light next to the bed, reconfigured headboard, put down a phone cord so I have the local phone (no long distance plan, no voice mail, pretty much for doorbell / 911 only) next to the bed, two cute shelves in the bathroom, finished the vanity countertop, replaced the fluorescent tubes in the bathroom (CIR around 75, I bet) with Soft Warm fluorescent tubes (CIR 85) -- still not happy, should try a Daylight tube (CIR 95?), but it is way cheaper than installing new lights -- organized all towels in baskets, painted and sealed the grayed out sad grout on the bathroom floor white. That last bit involved putting this product with a small painter's brush on the grout, giving it 45 mins to dry, and then scraping the product off the tiles next to the grout. This took 5 hours over two days, and every time I stood up afterwards I could not stand up straight, my back was so stiff and painful.

Still not finished, and I think I am doing all this not just to maybe stage the house, but to avoid watching TV all day or going to the beach and realizing I am jobless. No, if I keep busy I am too busy to go on monster and look for jobs, and I am on payroll till the 26th anyway. I wonder if all my former teammates -- animators, illustrators, art directors, designers -- are working again already. I bet they are.

Can't even do that loafing while watching Oprah, as jobless loafing should be done properly, because yesterday I called Time Warner and ended my cable subscription. Yes, I did. I have a week to return the Cable Box, and maybe I'll switch to rabbit ears to catch the last of the analog broadcasts, assuming they come through this building at all (I am on the south side, all transmitters are north). I am not sure how to tell the TiVo.
fj: (LA)
One day, [livejournal.com profile] pinkfish was on some local gay irc channel, just as mouse-season in our apartment was peaking and we had just returned two cats, after having had them for two weeks, to the original owner who had had a hard time parting from them, when someone wrote "I hope I find a good home for my cats before Friday before they have to go to the shelter." This is how we got Twinkie and Piruli  from pretty much a random stranger.

My car insurance is coming up. Fortunately I have time now to be online all day entering data about myself into web-forms, and calling my condo-insurance agent. The price-differences these businesses are quoting me are astounding for pretty much the same package, and they do not show you how their premiums are built up at all, making it very hard to make trade-offs. I used to, for example, not have medical coverage since I had very good medical insurance anyway through work. Now that will be over on Nov 26th, I have to wonder whether I want some coverage there in case of... I dunno, am I really not going to get COBRA? Or not have a job? Oh god. Is this why I can't get to sleep at night until 2 AM? Fortunately I don't have to be up early anyway, so I keep turning over in the dark and then shutting off my alarm at 1.30. Anyway, but what if I want medical expenses covered through the car people, how much a difference will that make in premiums? You just get a big number at the end and that is it. Big number.

I had a chat room on gay.com open in the background where people started saying what they were doing. I mentioned I was trying to save on car insurance, and so far a bare-bones Geico was the winner. You can see where this is going: I got an IM with a recommendation. Wawanesa Insurance, a bunch of Candians now offering in California. My contacts says they were good with claims too. I go to their form, enter stuff, get a quote and think, 600 bucks more than my lowest quote on Geico.

Then I realize the quote is per year. All the other quotes were for every 6 months. (Yes, I need to pay around $1200,- for insurance every 6 months here.) I can't purhase over the phone or web, I have to print out this form, but the form shows the structure of their premiums. I can make informed choices now? Huh? Is this a brave new world? And then just mail it off with the first check? OMG, you mean this will actually work?
fj: (health)
After almost a year of working out with Ray, first one day a week (shoulders), then twice a week (shoulders, chest) until now I can tolerate more pain and exertion, I have allowed him to switch to (legs, chest / shoulders). Second time we have worked my legs together, and I was unable to walk normally out of the gym.

Then I spent the day painting: another color test, color conformed; staining stone sink cabinet surface test, inconclusive; painting two coats on two walls in bathroom two shades whiter, needs touch-up after removing masking tape; installed track lights in ceiling, may need to be moved 1/2 inch -- and all the shopping that goes with that.

IN short, I should be falling over with sleep. I can't sleep. I went on to Digg and found another article about sound financial strategies to stay middle class, and came across descriptions of IRAs. I decided to read those.

Now I should really be sleepy. Except I find them fascinating. Roth IRAs seem to be designed to thwart ever becoming more than middle-class with that financial instrument, and is almost useless for what is middle class in NYC, SF, LA, SD.
fj: (LA)
Tonight I drove through East of Downtown over 7th street to the entry of the 5 I take to Glendale, to get to the Whole Foods and get my shopping for the coming week over with. This means driving right through Skid Row to Alameda and then through some very low-cost housing with boarded- and barred-up liquor stores on the ground floor. And I think it was across from the bus station that I drove by a man, sitting on steps of some brick house, rocking back and forth, slapping his head and chest with his hands in a repetitive, mechanical, yet uncontrollable-seeming, motion.

I don't know enough to distinguish withdrawal from untreated Parkinsons from mental illness in the second that I drove by. I think I do know enough to recognize this person needed to be in a psychiatric ward. Of which one bed in jail is being taken up by a girl who is there, longer than most people would be for the same offense, because the world around her basically is so outraged she had it too easy in her life and she has become a pawn between feuding government institutions jerking her around at their whim.

Oh, there's much to be outraged about in LA tonight. Just like every night.
fj: (Default)
My High School years were spent in the upper middle class part of a town right outside Arnhem, a city in the middle of The Netherlands. We lived in a detached 3-story house, probably built in the thirties or forties. And we had a Cheese Guy. He'd come by every Wednesday in his minivan, ring the doorbell, take an order (two dozen eggs, half of a ball of aged Edammer, a quarter wheel or so standard Goudse), go to the van to get it, come back, get paid, and be off. We did this week after week, year after year. The question might be why my Mom did; she went to the supermarket often enough to get cheaper cheese and eggs, and as a mother of four in an expensive house she was deeply fond of economizing: our chocolade hagelslag was always the store-brand, so cheaply made it wasn't even legally allowed to all itself chocolate. (Why this did not get us kicked out of our show-off neighborhood, I can only fathom is because my whole family fit in so well otherwise in the tennis-club and society. My mom turned this kind of selective cheap chic into a badge of honor among her friends.)

The answer was in something that she one day said on that topic of managing a relationship with the Cheese Guy: during the Winter of Starvation in 1944, when the northern part of The Netherlands had not been liberated from Nazi occupation and was going through worse hunger than ever in the preceding 4 years, it was the previous and ongoing relationships with tradespeople and suppliers -- in this case the farmers outside of town the children had to bicycle to on wooden tires -- that would create the circumstances that would give a hungering family a break. Another egg. A tiny bit more of milk. Any food at all, even if it had to be travelled miles for.

And it worked out in present day as well: on days that my mother did not open the door beause she was deep in her nap -- she went to bed for a short nap every afternoon since she became a stay-at-home wife after her marriage -- and no kids were home, the Cheese Guy would just leave our order in the garage, with a note that he would collect payment next week. After some years of occasionally having to do that, and only very occasionally since my Mom preferred someone was home to deal with him, he didn't even bother with the note. Also, as an Executive's Wife she entertained -- a lot -- and she worked with him to develop an almost signature collection of specialty cheeses to serve after dinner based on her tastes and his recommendations. This too came to the point that she would just mention there would be a party next week, so he could be prepared for when he came by next week, and the specialty cheeses would end up in the garage in the box with the standard order if I had forgotten it was Wednesday which was his day to come by and I had already gone to the library, where I spent my life. I am now realizing that we lived in a neighborhood where we left the garage unlocked by day.

The point to this is that her attitudes have shaped mine towards tradespeople. I want them to love me as a client. I want them to be happy to walk through my door and feel they want to do the best job for me. I have a carpenter right now, a friend of a friend, turning into my friend. That's a pitfall in itself, having a contractor who is also a friend, but fortunately I love his obsessively perfectionistmeticulous work. So say I need another thing done, which I do. I fully intend to stay in this loft, but even if I do not, that just means this place needs to look even better for a sale. This utter craftsman (be kind about the website, the editorial text is not finished) writes me a quote. I know where this guy lives, he is in a relationship with one of my local friends here, which is how I got him. He has proven himself as a contractor who shows up -- in between acting jobs, he finally got his SAG card -- and, get this, home-remodeling veterans, finishes the job. I thought I was doing a FOAF a favor with a carpentry gig, turns out the man had a practice in New York doing set construction for high-end magazine shoots and 6-figure Park Avenue remodels, and he came to LA to have a new life which is why I get him as he starts out in new careers.

He writes me a quote for this latest thing, asks for 50% upfront. I know most of that goes to materials, so I write the 100% amount check, just to get that money off my books, and know what my budget is without future surprises. Off, gone, no worries. This makes me an 'awesome client'. I understand why, but am still baffled.

In the grand scheme of real estate and remodeling, it is a minor amount, two days of work. He tells me the big jobs sometimes were awful, awful, awful about paying for his hard work. I don't get that. Good craftsmen and contractors, who show up, sober, and work, are hard to find, as I learned during The Great Fenway Bathroom Remodel (a.ka. Those 2.5 Months Were The Longest 4 Weeks Of My Life). Masterful guys who listen to what you want, design, and then execute, are even more rare. So rare that Apartment Therapy is devoting a whole blog post to the one guy in New York City who seems to qualify. Who the hell would treat a guy like that poorly? Who the hell would treat someone who is doing repeat gigs in your house, and doing them well, poorly?

It's not just that my carpenter is a cool guy (we end up at the same parties for example). It's that you never know when the war hits, whatever war it is, and you need a little more, a little extra, just a small break. Or just keep the good work coming.

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