Big Changes in 2014 for Casa Gander

In 2012, I joined a great company, a cool place to work, and a true leader in Scientific instrumentation. Not quite a dream come true but a good move, particularly at this stage of my career.

Things had been going well, then the Friday before the Thanksgiving week, the bombshell fell. All manufacturing of our products will move to Malaysia (where we have been manufacturing since 1974), and thus the operation as we know it in Arizona will be closed.

Those of us in marketing and engineering were given an option. We could relocate to the home office in Santa Clara California, or we would be managed out by the end of April.

Gulp. Flashback. I moved to Arizona in 2003 to take a job at Veeco Instruments. Prior to that I was in the San Jose area. I gladly left because I realized that my 1,093 Sq Ft condo would be all I could ever hope to afford.

Moving back to that nutty housing and traffic area was something that I contemplated a couple of times, but the finances were never attractive. I even had a couple of good job offers in 2007/2008 to go back, but again the economics didn’t make sense.

This time is different.

  1. The company put together a kick-ass relocation package. Truly top notch, with mortgage assistance, tax assistance, and as painless of a move as possible.
  2. Realizing that the cost of living is pretty out of whack there, mainly due to housing costs, the company is giving a generous salary increase. Enough to help me afford a $600K mortgage (my generous house here in Chandler was $245K in a great neighborhood, 12 minutes from the office)
  3. I am rapidly approaching 50. A decade ago that wouldn’t have been a huge deal, the fact is that becoming unemployed at 50 would be a serious risk in this economy. Far too many people never find meaningful work again. While I fully expect to be a greeter at Walmart after I “retire” I don’t want that to start today.
  4. I really like the company, and believe in the products, the leadership, and the ethos of the company. At this point in my career, and I have worked for some really slimy operators, this is a big deal. I know that I have a lot to offer, and as much as I grumble about my profession, I am quite good at it.

So we are going to suck it up and move. I have until January 31st to officially accept or decline the relocation offer. In a week and a half we get a preview trip, which we will use extensively to scope out neighborhoods.

I am terrified, but if we are ever to relocate back to the Bay Area, this is the only way we will be able to do it.

This blog will be a useful outlet for my sojourn, so I hope you don’t get bored and leave.

House trivia, part X

A little over a year ago, we moved to Chandler as I took a job there. We bought a good house in a great neighborhood. However, I knew there were some things to fix.

I already had the plumbing nightmare where every step of the way in replacing a bad bathroom fixture, and replacing a hot water heater valve, and ultimately replacing the main water shutoff valve.

The concrete in the side yards looks like a third grader put it in. The lot isn’t graded to drain, so in heavy rain, our yard floods. They went ultra cheap on the insulation.

But the worst, without doubt, is the exterior paint. I knew it was a bit rough, but hey, it was 15 years old. We got the nasty gram from HOA that we needed to paint. So, we got a painter. He point out that the exterior paint was just a colored primer. Not even a finish coat.  Sigh.

I wonder what will be next…

Injuries – Foot edition

I have battled the scourge that is Plantar Fasciitis for a few year now. First cropping up in early 2010, it is a painful condition that really needs lots of rest and strengthening exercises. Returning to physical activity too soon is a sure way to make it far worse, and last longer.

What I have now is not it recurring though. This appears to be a sprain in the tendon on the top of the foot (instead of the plantar ligament), and affects only the ligament on the large toe. Ouchies. I have had this for a couple of weeks, and it seemed to fade pretty quickly (i.e. heal), but it came back with a vengeance on Saturday after a 26 mile bike ride. I guess the stress of pedaling on the upper ligaments of my foot are aggravating it.

Sigh, rest, stretching, and vitamin I (ibuprofen) to see if I can get it to heal without a trip to the podiatrist. If that doesn’t work, I am sure it will be another series of prednesone will be in store.

Getting old sucks. If your feet hurt, you are miserable. And foolishly exercising when you are injured is stupid.

One year in Chandler – Time flies

On this date, one year ago, we were busting our humps with the movers to get our stuff moved into our house. There were boxes everywhere (most where they belonged), and furniture that was almost in the right room.

That day was a blur, but it felt good to arrive in Chandler and get down to settling in.

I remember the AC was flakey in the south side of the house (the living area), and the sod that was recently put in was turning into a rainforest in the back yard, but it was “home”.

The next couple of days were a blur of unpacking, getting the gas turned on (the one utility that I forgot to do before move in), and get to a state where we could cook and eat. Literally hundreds of boxes were unpacked. Yes, there are still a few to go (need to get enough ahead to buy some furniture and cubbyholes), but it is home.

Lost an old friend, gained a new one

Last weekend, I posted about the demise of my faithful Swing-a-way can opener. I had that opener for probably 20 years. It had been a good kitchen tool, but it was finally wearing out.

The parent company, Amco, still sells the Swing-a-way opener, and I was going to go that route, but the reviews on Amazon were pretty negative. In a familiar story, Amco closed up their US operation, moved the production to china, and then import them back. As is often the case, this results in a slipping of quality.

Fortunately, there is a brand that is made in the USA, in the same factory as the old Swing-a-way can openers were made, and they have the same awesome quality. The new name is EZ-DUZ-IT, and for $7.59 Amazon delivered it to my door. That night, I needed to open a couple of cans of dog food, and I put the new opener on the cans, and it just breezed through them. Smooth action, clean cut, no missed spots. Heaven in a kitchen tool.

While I have a decade or two to see if it wears as well as my old Swing-a-way, I am hopeful for the future.

The real irony? Amco’s Swing-a-way, made in China was $8.99. The EZ DUZ IT – $7.59. Can’t beat that.

I feel like a failure – Gardening Edition

I think I need to turn in my Man card. I confess that I liked living in Tucson, because, we had xeriscaping that took almost no effort to keep up. It wasn’t elaborate, but it was easy.

We moved to Chandler (suburb of Phoenix), and we have a small patch of grass in the back yard. It is “maybe” 100 sq ft. Regardless of my efforts to kill it (and then be justified in ripping it out and putting in artificial turf) it continues to grow and thrive.

Shit.

That means that it needs to be maintained. Mowed, edged, and fertilized. I thought for sure that it was a goner over the winter, but alas, it came back with a vengeance.

If I had this for a mower, maybe I wouldn't mid mowing...
If I had this for a mower, maybe I wouldn’t mid mowing…

So why turn in the Man Card? Well, I just hate mowing and yard work. I don’t envy people who are maniacal about their lawns, and their gardens. Keeping the grass clipped, and shrubbery trimmed is just nothing I give a damn about. I have a push mower and a string trimmer, but I got half way through the grass last week, and gave up. Even 100 sqft of grass being mowed with a reel push mower in 105F temperatures is too much for any sane human.

So we called a landscaper. $75 to do major clean up (it needed it) and $30 every other week to maintain it all. No brainer. And I don’t feel even a little bit guilty about spending that money.

Next in things I am a failure at: I just don’t appreciate theater.

Garage Sale Culture

On this morning of our neighborhood’s “community yard sale”, I am reminded of something that appears to be a uniquely American cultural phenomenon, the “Garage Sale” culture. Simply put, it is people who are clearing out unused items by putting them in their yard, or their garage, putting prices on them, and then having people come by to buy stuff. I am not sure when it all began, but as part of my “Growing Up Poor” experience, a pretty large fraction of my clothes came from garage sales, thus I was inculcated into the culture from a young age.

As mentioned above, people put out “stuff” out that they no longer want, and strangers flock to your abode to buy it. An olden world market played out in yards around the country. We even had a large one to clear out stuff that we didn’t want to move last year.

There are some interesting observations I have made:

  • There is a class of serious shoppers. They come early, often while you are still putting items out, and have a sharp eye. You can tell they know the value of stuff, and are looking to buy items that they can resell for more money. They are quick, and they pounce when they see something that has value. 
  • Then there are the people who are laid back shoppers. Could be looking for something specific for their kids, or are interested in used sporting goods. Or they collect dolls. They straggle in and around all day. They like to haggle and to strike a bargain.
  • This is probably a Southern Arizona thing, but there is a swarm of people in pickup trucks from Mexico (they have Mexican plates) and they buy a lot of stuff. Broken electronics, old, well worn tables and chairs. Linen, clothes and kitchen items. I suspect they take it back in bulk and resell in Mexico. More power to them. (They also come out in heavy trash weeks looking for discards. An old, well used, grill lasted about 15 minutes before one came by to snatch it up)
  • Looking at the stuff some people have out (in our neighborhood sale today), I have to wonder why they ever bought it in the first place. Then to see somebody buy it and load it into their truck causes me to shake my head.

People will buy the darnedest stuff. My wife’s old sun shade for her Rav 4 died, and she bought a new one. The dead old one? Sold for $0.50. Dead Powermac G4 (circa 2002) sold for $75. Old, nasty dead running shoes. $5. I didn’t even have a price on them, someone just offered me $5 for them.

Perhaps this comes from the American desire to strike a bargain. The old swap meets and flea markets were a lot like this. I remember spending weekends at the Flea Market in San Jose, pawing through old stuff.

Oh, and the net result of our moving sale last year? $700 in cash, and probably 1/2 a moving truck of stuff disposed of.

Foreclosed Houses

About 7 months ago, we moved to one of the foreclosure hot spots in the country, Phoenix. When I was first looking for houses, I was thought I would be able to pick up one of the many short sales, or foreclosed properties. Clearly, there was a large inventory, and finding a lot of listings in the $150K price range was easy.

However, it wasn’t as simple as that. First, it is pretty clear that you are coming to a bank owned property when you arrive. To say that there is no maintenance on the yard, or the outside of the home is an understatement. You could tell from half a block away. Next, the insides were often rough. If there wasn’t a family living there (about 50/50 chance) the appliances would be gone and you would see damage to a lot of fixtures. Clearly you could tell that the prior owners had given up, and decided to take their misfortune out on the house.

After looking at a couple dozen of these choice units, I was losing enthusiasm for finding a deal.

Then I learned the truth. As someone who was looking for a home, there was virtually no chance that I would be able to buy one of these distressed properties. Whether it was foreclosed and up for auction, or whether it was one of the properties where the bank had acquiesced and allowed a short sale, the people who would be buying the home as a primary residence are pretty much out of luck.

First, the bank is usually not in a hurry to sell the property. They have already recognized that the value they are sitting on is worth much less than they have it on the books for. They are willing to wait for months to close and write the property off. So people who are interested in buying much write a bid, prove access to funds, and wait. And wait some more.

The process is rigged. Only investors are successful in buying these distressed properties. The hope that a family might be able to snatch up one of these is pretty much nil.

We ended up spending $100K more, got a nice house in a nice neighborhood that was bought by an investor, cleaned up, and res0ld.

The good news is that the inventory of bank owned properties, short sales, and foreclosures is shrinking.  The good news is that means the prices are rebounding, and we got in at a good time.

Neighbor Parties

One thing I miss about Tucson is the solitude we had. We lived on the edge of town, at the end of a street with a fair amount of open space around us. Behind us was county property, SR zoned, 5 acre minimum lots. Not much noise at night.

party105Here in Chandler, we live in a nice sub-division (Dobson Place), with (mostly) good neighbors. But on one side of us, there is a college aged kid  who lives with his parents. About every 3 weeks, he has a “gathering” of his friends. They drink, smoke (and toss their butts and empty beer bottles in our yard), talk loudly, and in general are annoying as hell. Last night, starting about 9:00PM, getting going good at 11:00, they were really obnoxious. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep well.

About 1:15AM, another neighbor came and read them the riot act. They quickly and quietly cleaned up and cleared out. Finally.

Next time, at 11:00PM, I am calling the police.

FWIW, the kid’s parents were home, and they seem to be fine with this. Da fuq is up with that?

HOA Fun

There is nothing like getting a nastygram (or two) from your HOA. In general, I don’t mind being in a community with an HOA. Lots of people whinge about the CC&R’s, and having to comply (no, you can’t have a 40′ “murican flag in your font yard, thankyouverymuch).

I have found that they have been very willing to work with you if you ask them. In our house in Tucson we had two primary interactions with the Silverado Hills HOA, both positive. First was to do something about the idiot ATV riders blasting through our property. The second was when we put solar PV panels on our roof (they were cool with it, as long as we tried our best to keep them obscured from view).

However, here in Chandler, where we moved in July of 2012, it has been less positive. I should back up. We bought a house that was foreclosed on, bank owned, and finally bought by an investor who did a great job cleaning it up before selling it to us. We are (mostly) really happy with the house, but we knew that the exterior paint was a bit rough when we bought it.

Last week, we came back from a short trip to San Diego to a nastygram. The one I expected was for the out of control weeds. It is astounding how fast they sprout up and take over the yard. But no, it was about our paint “not meeting standards” and gave us 10 days to rectify it.

The thing is, from the front it isn’t too bad. A hose to wash off some of the dust would spruce it up. The real rough parts are in the back, and that is clearly not in their purview.

So we got some quotes, and have filed an appeal. It has also caused us to look at the houses in the neighborhood.  There are LOTS that are in worse condition than us. I hope they all got the nastygrams.

But I suspect that they didn’t. I get the feeling that the HOA had been watching our house, and when owners came in, who live here they pounced on the painting.

Sigh.