Vacation, Baby stuff, Moving, Birthday Shoes, Busy

Life has gotten downright busy lately. So this post is a round-up of what I’ve been up to lately.

Life has gotten downright busy lately.

If you recall, we were trying to buy a house in Atlanta. Unfortunately, after a good five months of searching and one deal (that was under contract) falling through, we realized that with a baby only three months away, we were going to have to abandon buying and rent another year. So began a frantic search for a place to rent, which was surprisingly frustrating in that every good listing was already leased by the time we found it. Regardless, one tool that helped the hunt was hotpads.com, which has officially wowed me with being much easier and more powerful than Zillow.

After ten possibles, nine of which were already leased, we found a house in Lake Claire, Atlanta. Lake Claire is slightly east of Little Five Points and Candler Park. Our new pad is within a five minute walk to the Flying Biscuit there! It’s a sweet, walkable location, and will make a great house to tide us over through the birth of our first baby girl.

Speaking of babies, we have finally had the chance to dedicate time to finishing our registry and deciding important things like: nursery furniture and color schemes. This is hard. Way harder than it sounds. Sonal is now seven months pregnant. Our first is due in 80 days.

And regarding birthdays, my side project Vibram five fingers website, birthdayshoes.com, continues to grow. Here are the last six posts:

Note the Jamaica post. Sonal and I took a week vacation to an all-inclusive resort in Jamaica (Couples San Souci). We had a blast. If you’re a Duke basketball fan, you might be interested to know that Brian Zoubek was vacationing there, as well. At an inch over seven feet tall, the guy is a giant. The world was not built for individuals that tall. From what I observed from afar, every table is a kiddie table.

And my day-job, the Implode-O-Meter, just rolled out a subdomain on MLI dedicated to FHA education (replete with an FHA blog).

All of this has been happening over the last three weeks.

Life has been busy.

Homebuying Tools (We’re looking to buy in Atlanta)

As I recently mentioned, my wife and I are moving back to Atlanta. Our “move,” which is a mere shifting of clothes into a temporary living arrangement until we find something permanent, is actually commencing this weekend.

So what’s this about buying a house?

Despite the ongoing housing bust (we haven’t reached bottom yet in my opinion), the time is right for us to take the plunge into homeownership. Something I came to accept over the past few months is that putting your life on hold indefinitely due to exogenous events (such as an imploding economy) is no way to live. Unlike many homebuyers in the boom, I don’t believe in flipping properties. I see a house as the embodiment of a fundamental human need — that of shelter. I don’t want to grossly overpay for a house, which is why I pushed back on all the “You should buy now!” friends and family over the past few years.

It finally makes sense for us to buy, so we are actively looking for a home. I don’t want to get into too many details as to where we are looking and certainly not which houses we are looking at because the internet makes the world a much smaller place. Suffice to say that we are looking for a home preferably close[r] to the city, meaning inside-the-perimeter by a decent margin, that is north of I-20. Is that vague enough?

To date, we’ve got a handful of viable options though we are still in the early stages of our search. Since we have no home to sell and are working around temporary living arrangements in ATL, we can afford to be patient — patience may even pay off big as home prices are likely to fall further. I expect real estate to be a relatively ho-hum asset class for the next decade.

And now a word from our sponsor: I encourage anyone out there to stay abreast of ongoing economic events via any one of my company‘s Implode-O-Meterslenders, home builders, banks, or funds.

Having explained “why,” here are some useful tools for the would-be homebuyer

The following websites frequently used in concert have been particularly helpful in our quest for housing. In no particular order:

  • Zillow.com — zillow is a satellite-interfaced housing search tool that allows you to find properties by doing any sort of locational search. You can search by zip code, city, or street name. The results will turn up on a satellite map and you can zoom in and out of whatever area you are interested in, pan across the map, etc. For example, see the results of a search for 238 Peachtree Cir 30309.

    What makes zillow so useful is that it combines data on both active listings as well as listings for properties recently sold. Typically, this results in the zillow page for a certain property for sale displaying relevant pictures from the official listing if they are available. Whether a property is for sale or not, it has a listing page on zillow.com that typically provides public tax data on the property. This typically means square footage, how many beds/baths, the year the house was built, what the house sold for last and what the most recent taxes on the property were.

    Trulia.com has a similar service to zillow — sometimes if I didn’t find the data I needed I’d check trulia for it. Trulia also lists the last two sale prices per the tax records — perhaps useful for a deep dive on a particular property.

    One zillow.com tip for you mobile users, check out mobile.zillow.com. It allows mobile phone users with data plans to search for property information. Good for checking stuff like square footage while out checking out properties.

  • Google maps and streetview (and to a lesser extent, google maps real estate advanced search) — periodically you come across a listing that has no picture of the exterior of the house (never a good sign, mind you). Google streetview comes to the rescue. What is fantastic about streetview is that it enables me to get a real sense for what the surrounding houses look like. Thanks to streetview, you can pan up and down the street to look at would-be neighbors, get a sense for the width of a street, and even guess at the demographics of traffickers if any cars are parked or happened to be driving by.

    For an example, return to 238 Peachtree (Where we used to live in Atlanta):

    Some streetview tips: streetview utilizes the following hot keys (there may be more, these are just the few I’ve discovered by accident): up/down arrow keys take you up and down the street. Left/right arrow keys allow you to scan around your current view. WASD all work as well, except the W and S function as looking up or down. Finally, the + and – keys allow you to zoom in and out.

    Streetview is one of those things you don’t realize is awesome until you suddenly find that Google missed a street — or worse, an entire area!

    One seemingly obscure function in Google Maps is that you can do an “advanced search” on real estate. Google seems to be crawling the various real estate listings and then mapping them for you. To see this in action, check this link. Here are the results of that search:

    To access Google Maps real estate search, search for a location or area. Then click “show search options.” From the dropdown menu, select “Real estate” and click “Search Maps.” Voila!

    Sometimes Google Maps finds properties that Zillow misses, so it can be useful that way. It also has search parameters you can use to narrow down the search. Finally, the interface on google maps is smoother than zillow, so it has that going for it, as well.

    Final Google maps tip, be sure you have the latest mobile app for Google Maps as it now incorporates streetview (Works well on my Blackberry 8320)!

Zillow and Google Maps serve as my primary artillery. I use both in concert using multiple tabs in Google Chrome.

One site I’ve had mixed luck with is realtytrac.com. I signed up for a free seven-day trial of realtytrac.com and initially thought it was the cat’s pajamas: I could see properties that were entering into foreclosure or bank-owned (REO). However, come to find out, the data in realtytrac.com can be dated, and if you already have a resource to look up MLS listings, they are able to pull REO properties already.

Realtytrac may be useful for taking snapshots of how an area is doing with regard to foreclosures. Similar to zillow, you can employ a “map view” that lets you see REO and foreclosed properties in an area. Therefore, if you see a ton of foreclosures in a certain spot, that helps give an indication of what house prices should be doing there (in that case dropping like a rock). The only thing about realtytrac is that it costs $50/month to maintain your subscription. Thus, it aint cheap for such questionable value (or maybe I just haven’t discovered its great uses!).

So that’s all I’ve got for now. Even when our realtor sends us MLS reports, I still use zillow and Google maps to flesh out missing details on the MLS listings. Score one for technology making homebuying a much more informed process (and maybe eventually eliminating the need for realtors almost entirely).

Back to Atlanta

So after just about a year of full-time living in Augusta (and there was a good six months before that when we were here half the time), we are moving back to Atlanta. Chicago was a real possibility at one point, but got ultimately got eliminated for a number of reasons.

We’ll be heading back to Atlanta within the next four weeks and are looking for a place to stay. We’re giving serious consideration to buying a home even as we realize that house prices are still on their downward trajectory.

Our goal is to live within walking distance of hang-outs, the grocery store, restaurants, etc. There are a few places we have in mind to accomplish this, but they’re all a bit on the pricey side, which has made us wonder if we could find a place to renovate.

We’ll see what we can find. And regardless, we are looking forward to heading back to Atlanta!

Perseid Meteor shower at Grier’s Field

Word is there’s going to be a meteor shower in the early morning hours of August 12th. So says NASA:

The 2008 Perseid meteor shower peaks on August 12th and it should be a good show.

see caption”The time to look is during the dark hours before dawn on Tuesday, August 12th,” says Bill Cooke of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office at the Marshall Space Flight Center. “There should be plenty of meteors–perhaps one or two every minute.” …

The source of the shower is Comet Swift-Tuttle. Although the comet is far away, currently located beyond the orbit of Uranus, a trail of debris from the comet stretches all the way back to Earth. Crossing the trail in August, Earth will be pelted by specks of comet dust hitting the atmosphere at 132,000 mph. At that speed, even a flimsy speck of dust makes a vivid streak of light when it disintegrates–a meteor! Because, Swift-Tuttle’s meteors streak out of the constellation Perseus, they are called “Perseids.”

The moon will set around two AM on the 12th, which will make seeing the meteors much easier. I’ve yet to experience a really great meteor shower, and since I’m currently living in a less urban area, it should be easy to find somewhere with low light-pollution in order to observe the show.

Enter the realization that Grier’s Field, a rural spot dedicated to nighttime stargazing, is less than 60 miles from Augusta. I have the beginnings of a plan.

For those of you who aren’t into astronomy 1, Grier’s Field is where Robert Grier, of Grier’s Almanac fame (yeah I had never heard of it either), grew up. A bit more on Grier:

An amateur astronomer and accomplished mathematician, Grier put his knowledge to good use by publishing an almanac predicting sunrises and sunsets, lunar eclipses and phases, plus general weather trends. So accurate and popular was his almanac that it became an annual publication until Grier’s death, at which point another publisher took the reigns, and then another. Grier’s Almanac has now been published annually for over two hundred years. First published in 1807 as “The Georgia and South Carolina Almanack,” the almanac made Robert Grier’s name a household word in the nation until his death in 1848.

Hip to Grier, some nerdelicious astronomers from Atlanta created a dark sky community2 called the Deerlick Astronomy Village, which saddles up to Grier’s Field. Awesome!

So I’m thinking — why not drive to Grier’s Field on the 11th and set up shop for this meteor shower? Sure, I don’t have a telescope, but hey, maybe there’d be a generous nerd or two who would let me have a peep through their scope. Maybe I’d get lucky.

Anyone up for the trip?

Footnotes:

1 For the record, I’m not. However, those rare occurrences when I’ve been able to see the Milky Way are some of the most existential and awe-inspiring of my life.

2 I’m not big into the green movement. I’m not going to go into why here (maybe one day). However, I do have a general problem with pollution, where pollution is of the negative externality variety. Most specifically, I have a strong distaste for light pollution — not because its a waste of energy (not an externality – cost born by user), but because it blocks my view of the night sky. Sigh.

Lenox Mall Blogging

I’m presently “mallrooned”.

My better half and her female accomplices are perusing Lenox Mall. Like others who have grown weary of the Mall, I have found sanctuary in a pleather chair outside of Macy’s.

Armed with my blackberry and a grande-ly overpriced Cafe Americana from Starbucks, I observe:

  • Mall security guards appear considerably less menacing whilst riding Segway scooters. It doesn’t help any that they have to wear goofy bike helmets. Regardless, I’m jealous as said Segways look like a ton of nerdy fun.
  • I still fail to understand the style of certain teenagers and urbanites. I’m specifically referring to clothing that is 2-3 sizes too big, flashy, and/or hats with unshaped bills, still sporting their mirror-finish marketing stickers. Is this an attempt to imply that said hat is “new”? Isn’t the overly baggy clothing cumbersome to move around in? Is this merely a difference in aesthetic taste or something indicative of some greater difference in fundamental philosophy? Am I getting old?
  • Consumers in Buckhead Atlanta are still shopping in droves. Or at least acting the part.
  • Banana Republic is hurting – big, big sales going on (additionally, I am getting sales announcement emails from them on a weekly basis now).
  • Cargo shorts and flipflops: still stylish for men. So thinks this blogger, anyway. Yes, I am wearing cargo shorts and flipflops.
  • Is it sunny in here? Nothing says “poser” louder than wearing sunglasses indoors. Doubly so in a mall. Multiply by five if said sunglasses have a mirror finish with a chrome or gold frame.
  • I’m gonna go out on a limb here, but I’m guessing that the backpacked, brochure carrying, camera toting Asian family is not from around here. Particlarly the guy carrying the white leather purse (?) with the perma-smile on his face.
  • It’s cool for southern boys to wear pastels. Even cooler still when you double up and go for the “twin pink polo shirt” look. With your dad. With your pastel yellow Masters baseball cap. Whispy blonde bangs and pastel blue-polo-wearing-brother, optional.
  • Better still, go to the mall with your girlfriend. Wear matching teal tshirts – one saying “Fitch” and the other saying “Abercrombie”. Then, round out the look with matching rhinestone belt buckles. Complete the look by wearing your sunglasses indoors.
  • And that’s as much as I can handle.

Now how do I hijack that Segway?

i can has lizard? Weekend in Atlanta

About to head “home” to Atlanta for the weekend. Will be hanging out with friends and family and celebrating a birthday, among other plans yet to be made.

In other mundane news today, I caught our favorite 19 lb. cat Eli being tormented by a lizard. Said lizard was toying with Eli, walking back and forth on the window sill, occasionally pausing to peer in (With a touch of spite?). This went on for at least an hour. Poor Eli!

A la lolcatz:

Have a good weekend!