8 September 2006
Slow deflation

Zillow.com lets another $2819 out of the price tag here at the palatial Surlywood estate; the Zestimate, once pushing $120,000 for no discernible reason, is now down to $105,082.

At this rate, the numbers should be at least somewhat plausible in two or three weeks.

(Previous Zestimates recorded here.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:19 PM)
9 September 2006
Trunk show

Across the way"It was turning into a hazard," he said, and I suppose it was awfully close to the power lines at that. So last week he brought out the chainsaw, with the results you see. (Click to embiggen.) Yesterday most of the detritus was hauled off. Admittedly, I have something of a reputation as a treehugger, so I wasn't exactly overjoyed at seeing it come down, but hey, it's their tree, and for all I know, clearing this space might actually help with the process of selling the house, which is presumably uppermost in their agenda right about now. Still, when something you've seen every day for three years disappears, it takes a while for the image to right itself in the brain and the correction factors to be applied. In another three years, I might well forget about it — until, of course, I browse the archives for something or other.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:00 AM)
25 September 2006
Mower or less

Friday I said something about a riding-mower incident, and therein I marveled that someone had kept one of these things running for thirty-six years.

I marvel more today, inasmuch as my two-and-a-half-year-old mower is now semi-handle-less, the bolt which used to hold the left side of the handle in place having disappeared into the yard somewhere — and worse, somewhere far away from the knob, which I did manage to find within ten minutes. You'd think something metallic, therefore presumably shiny, would show up easily in the sunlight, but no such luck.

So I went to Sears' Web site, and they have the knob, but not the bolt. I uttered a few unpleasantries, then called Sears' 800 number. For some reason, they have the bolt.

(Aside: In AOL chatrooms, when one person is in charge of dispatching evildoers and otherwise controlling the content, said person's screen name is displayed in the room list with a lightning icon; this person is said to "have the bolt." If you are banned from the room by this individual, you have been "bolted." This is not to be confused with being "nailed" or "screwed," though I am told this also happens on AOL.)

Reviling Sears is a popular pastime — I turned up 963 Google hits for "sears sucks" — but I've always been able to get parts from them, which is one reason, perhaps the only significant reason, why I continue to buy their stuff.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:12 PM)
27 September 2006
Approaching poverty

Zillow.com continues to tweak the database: the palatial estate at Surlywood now is just barely into six figures, at $100,221, down $4861 from the last report.

The likelihood that anyone is going to offer me a hundred grand for this place, of course, is extremely remote.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:41 AM)
3 October 2006
Aw, go ahead, fence me in

Unlike some, I got the room:

Long a staple of middle-class life, the detached single-family home with a large yard is not only becoming less affordable but also harder to find. Lot sizes are decreasing, and attached houses and condominiums are gaining ground in some hot markets.

According to U.S. Census data, the median new one-family house, a category that includes attached units, was 2,227 square feet in 2005, up 40 percent from 1976. But the median lot size has fallen 12.6 percent to 8,847 square feet.

According to Oklahoma County data, the property unofficially known as Surlywood is a one-family house that covers 1,060 square feet, on a lot of 11,025 square feet.

By contemporary standards, that's a lot of lot. (It's also rather a lot to mow, but everything in life has trade-offs.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:33 AM)
12 October 2006
Meanwhile, I have a circle to square

Were you to make a list of Things That Just Don't Happen, I wouldn't at all be surprised if you included "insurance premium decreased," though in my three years at the palatial Surlywood estate, this actually did happen once.

Make that twice. Despite a four-percent increase in coverage (an inflation rider of some sort), insuring the little box on the curve will cost $100 less this coming year.

This being a mere eight bucks and change per month, I am going to use that sum to bump up the coverage another fourteen percent, splitting the difference between what the assessor thought the place was worth last year and what Zillow.com thought the place was worth last week (which is now a smidgen under $100k).

Taxes? I figure they'll go up $30 or so.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:10 PM)
23 October 2006
What's eating you?

Well, nothing's eating my house, anyway: today was the annual Termite Inspection, and once again there were no traces of the ravenous little so-and-sos. (I would much rather write them a small check once a year than a huge one every once in a while.)

I note in passing that this is the second time this month I expected a job to go to a semi-grizzled guy not unlike myself which was actually filled by an efficient young woman. If this be a trend, I approve. (I don't expect one to displace me permanently until I retire / drop dead / face the firing squad [choose one], whenever that may be.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:51 PM)
1 November 2006
The candy dish is full

No goblins this year, though someone felt compelled to call me on the landline at 5:46, 5:48 and 5:51 am, which I suppose qualifies as a trick: it certainly wasn't anything resembling a treat.

Incidentally, I must object to the characterization of these minimal packages as "Fun Size"; no way is there enough in any one of them to qualify as Fun.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:04 AM)
19 November 2006
Zillow: approaching plausibility?

The palatial Surlywood estate now carries a Zestimate of $93,730, which might even be reasonable. (I've been saying that somewhere in the middle 90s was plausible, more or less ever since they came up with the startling sum of $117,695 back in the summer, a figure which, I felt, couldn't possibly be justified.)

Not that I'm particularly upset; it's just a number, and I'm not planning to sell anyway. Others might take umbrage, and some actually have: the National Community Reinvestment Coalition has filed a complaint about Zillow.com with the Federal Trade Commission. Says NCRC:

Washington, DC — October 26, 2006 — Today, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) filed a consumer protection complaint to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) alleging Internet financial services and real estate provider Zillow.com is misleading consumers, real estate professionals and financial service providers in on-line home valuations.

According to NCRC, Zillow.com — who represents to offer unbiased valuations to over 67 million homes across the country — knowingly uses an automated valuation model (AVM) that is highly inaccurate and misleading.

"Zillow is placing the American dream of homeownership at risk for countless working families," says John Taylor, NCRC President and CEO. "For a company that represents to consumers that they are the 'Kelley Blue Book of Homes,' this is a very dangerous situation. We call upon the FTC to intervene and ensure that Americans receive accurate appraisals and valuation information to protect the single most important investment of their lives: their home."

Curbed.com's San Francisco blog finds this a trifle amusing:

It's an interesting dilemma. Zillow exists to bring real estate information to the consumer. It's also an entertainment site (baby, are you still zillowing? Come to bed...) Are dishonest appraisers ... using the notoriously (hilariously, even) unreliable Zestimates to cheat black, immigrant and unsophisticated homeowners?

I dunno. I've never met any dishonest appraisers, but obviously this doesn't mean that they don't exist. I suspect, though, that more people are using Zillow as a get-a-load-of-this site than as an actual valuation oracle. Certainly I've done my part to encourage this sort of thing.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:52 AM)
30 November 2006
Snow is just a four-letter word

And it's deep, too:

Snow stuff

That lantern is on the northwest corner of my flower bed; it hangs just over the Wall O' Bricks that surrounds and defines the bed. (Those little green pointy things are the last vestiges of this year's irises.) And the ruler is buried up to just shy of the four-inch mark. Supposedly we're more than halfway through this mess, but you couldn't prove it by me.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:44 PM)
1 December 2006
Friday morning, 6:30 am

This can be considered the reverse-angle shot to this one from yesterday afternoon, following a night of high winds and blowing snow. Temperature was a balmy 14 degrees Fahrenheit.

More farging snow

That slight bloom in the center is an artifact from the flash. (Sunrise was around 7:20, so it was still way dark when I shot this.) Not visible, off to the right, are the redbud trees and the strings of lights hung upon them, mostly because I thought it was a bad idea to run electrical stuff when the cord and the plug are under half a foot of concentrated wetness.

The camera, incidentally, is six months old.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:11 PM)
17 December 2006
Extremely short tree

Extremely short treeYes, this is actually in my house. (The seemingly inebriated bobby to the right will, if you press a coin into his hand, give out with a verse of "The Little Drummer Boy." And also if you don't, since he's too besotted to notice.) I'm thinking maybe I might be better served with a Festivus pole next year.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:13 PM)
22 December 2006
Lights! Camera! Something!

Seen at Surlywood while the sun tucked itself into a cloud: two Glee-Girls (not even slightly to be confused with Glea-Girls), yours truly, and a Big Swirling Ball of Light.

Sean Gleeson documents the scene. (And his lovely wife Phoebe can make a darn nice sugar cookie.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:20 AM)
11 March 2007
Spreading a bad idea

I woke up this morning at a wretched hour, noted that there'd been about a quarter-inch of rain, and decided that this, by Freya's bodice, would be the day I would get around to doing something about the front lawn. There had been no sign of greening, except where patches of horrid weedage were poking their way through, and, well, the first words on the back of a sack of Turf Teaser, or whatever the hell it's called, are FOR BEST RESULTS APPLY TO WET LAWN.

So I went back to sleep for an hour or two, remembered my pledge, duly rolled out the El Cheapo spreader, which has two settings (Not Enough and Overkill), dumped about 10 kg of the mystery crystals into its box, and ventured forth.

Not a wise decision. For where there is neither grass nor weed, rather a lot of area inasmuch as the old elm out front tends to suck up all the available moisture and we've been running about an inch below normal rainfall this year, there is a phenomenon called Mud, and we're talking industrial-strength, sink-up-to-here, spawn of Harcourt Fenton-type mud. Add to this one further brilliant idea — "It's not cold out, and it will be easier to clean up if I wear the ol' sport sandals" — and, well, were there any Bigfoot sightings in the neighborhood, 'twas probably I.

Had I bothered to go back to the weather statistics, I might actually have seen that that quarter-inch of rain had tripled between initial decision and actual action.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:22 PM)
17 March 2007
Selling out

Another house on my street is being offered for sale. The owners live in Edmond, and have leased the place out for the last three years or so; perhaps they're tired of playing landlord.

Description, from when it was first offered for rent:

What you get: Three bedrooms, two bathrooms, central heat and air, washer/dryer connections, 1550 square feet of space by whatever arcane mathematics they use to determine such things, decently huge back yard, the dubious privilege of living next door to me.

What you don't get: A garage (this one has been converted to actual living space), much of a view.

The claimed size is now 1569 square feet; I think it's closer to 1500, but I haven't been inside with a tape measure, so don't take my word for it. (The Assessor says 1075, but I don't think he's figuring the garage conversion into the total.) The place was seriously remodeled in 2002, and still looked pretty good the last time I was over there. A quarter of a bathroom has apparently vanished: they now claim 1¾.

Asking price is $95,000. The Assessor's notice this year says the place is worth $104,461; Zillow's Zestimate is $104,353. Property taxes run a little over a thousand a year. (I'll have some tax talk later, inasmuch as I just got my own notice.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:37 PM)
18 March 2007
When the levy brakes

First, a reprint from 2005:

Under the 5-percent cap law, the assessed value can go up by a maximum of 5 percent per year, regardless of actual market value, unless there is a change in ownership or a substantial change in the property itself. And the market value, they estimate, has risen a little more than 11 percent this year; however, the assessed value has risen by — wait for it — 4.998 percent. (Remind me to hire these people next time I need hairs split.)

For this year, read 9.19 and 4.999 percent.

You might think — and you would be correct — that the longer a property remains under the cap, the greater the disparity between the market value and the taxable market value. This year, the difference is about 9.4 percent.

The actual tax rate, which is not subject to the cap, will be determined in the fall; last year it went up 0.84 percent.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:17 AM)
23 March 2007
Seed money

To borrow a phrase, I fought the lawn, and the lawn won. It is my policy to have neither the best lawn on the block nor the worst, but I've dropped too close for comfort to the low end of the scale, and while the leading (trailing?) contenders have just enough physical proximity to make me look slightly better, I can't count on this continuing, especially with changes in ownership in the offing.

It was therefore clearly time to call for reinforcements, so I dialed up a vendor, and was presented the next day with an audit of what they'd found.

The lawn was characterized as "fair," in the sense that you would characterize the Antarctic as "cool." They consider eleven weed types to be controllable; I had five of them. Of ten potential lawn diseases, three were recognized. On the upside, I had acceptable thatch, and truly, how many of us can say that?

This is, I must point out, not my first choice for a counterattack. There are small creatures in the neighborhood, a legitimate cause for concern, and all else being equal, I'd rather be dealing out mass quantities of something that is less likely to be hazardous to their little systems. But that's for later, after the Unwanted Botanicals are under control; right now, I need something strong enough to take down low-flying aircraft.

(Oh, and while this should be obvious, it somehow didn't occur to me: price quotes tend to be based on the dimensions of the areas to be treated — typically, 5000 square feet. This will not work well at Surlywood, where the back yard alone is nearly 6000 square feet. No wonder it takes so long to mow.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:27 AM)
25 March 2007
Less than entranced

You're watching an old Warner Bros. crime drama at about 1:30 in the morning, and inevitably, there is a scene where one of the cops, the sort of guy you see playing NFL nose guard these days, puts his best shoulder into play and one, two, three, busts through the door. And you say to your significant other, nodding off behind the Chee-tos, "I don't believe that's possible."

I am here to tell you that it is.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:54 AM)
26 March 2007
Space considerations

The garage (one-car) at the palatial Surlywood estate measures, according to the authorities, 290 square feet.

I mention that in case you felt like looking at this.

Admittedly, my garage does not look particularly comfy.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:49 PM)
30 March 2007
I made it through the rain

Well, sort of. NW 50th west of Pennsylvania is flooded to a depth of half a foot, maybe more; it improves a bit once you reach Villa, but there are still lots of stranded cars.

I figured I'd get no stray water up here at Surlywood. I was in error, although only slightly: the water on the patio was high enough to seep into the garage, so I have a rather damp stretch of carpet along the north end, which isn't going to dry any time soon. Fortunately, once into the garage, gravity demands that the liquid head southward, under the door and down the driveway, so it's not going to accumulate. Much.

Other than that, it's been a rotten day.

Addendum, 10 pm: Weather records here go back to 1891, and not once has there been a March day with this much rain — until now.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:32 PM)
21 April 2007
To everything, churn, churn, churn

One of the things that drew me to this particular block of town is its asymmetry: there are 11 houses on the block, four on the north side, seven on the south.

The imbalance extends to actual home sales as well: since I arrived here in the fall of '03, there have been three sales on the south side and two on the north — but those two were on the same house, a year apart. This was the home at the east end (I'm at the west end). Both houses in between are now up for sale. I've mentioned one of them before, so it seems I should make some announcement of the other.

This FSBO is advertised as 1400 square feet (the Assessor confirms). It's actually on a similar floor plan to mine, but where I have an actual garage, they chose to build additional living space. Three bedrooms, a bath and three-quarters, CH&A, all that good stuff. It's offered as is, buyer to pay closing. Price is $87,900; the Assessor values it at just into six figures; Zillow's whatever-it-is comes to $99,471.

The weird aspect of all this, at least to me, is that once these properties are sold, I, with my 3½-year tenure, become the Old Man of the Block. The north side of it, anyway.

Update, 5:50 pm: The For Sale sign next door (not the house described today) has been replaced with a For Rent sign. Evidently they've had a change of heart or something.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:54 AM)
Native flora

Irises at Surlywood

Two shots from within my flower box. Above, the irises rise to meet the sun (though the stiff winds today haven't helped that much); below, one not-quite-perfect (but still pretty nice) rose, far darker than the pink ones I usually get. (The backyard rosebush produces flowers the color of ketchup, and I mean Heinz.)

Roses at Surlywood

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:12 PM)
23 April 2007
Is this a record?

I cranked up the A/C yesterday around 7 pm, not so much because it was necessary (it was still only 77 degrees in the house, about the same outside, and I was, um, equipped for maximum cool) but because I wanted to make sure that the apparatus was working correctly before the Real Heat™ kicks in later this spring.

At some point thereafter it occurred to me that this might be the latest First Air Conditioning event ever; it's not something I take note of every year, but here are a handful of prior-year references:

6 April 2001: Sixty hours ago, I reported to one of the landlord's minions that the air conditioning in my hovel was out of, um, condition. I repeated the report to the actual property manager thirty hours later; she had not heard about the initial report. Since it's not likely that this problem is going to be addressed over the weekend, I'm looking at a minimum five-day outage.

17 April 2002: One of the sure signs that it's getting warmer around here is the failure of my air-conditioning system, which was dead on Sunday, reported to the landlord on Monday morning, and which will be fixed, they tell me, sometime Friday, after the next cold front comes in.

13 March 2003: I celebrated the event by verifying that my air conditioner wasn't working — something one must do yearly, after all — and pulling Silvetti's dance number "Spring Rain" off the shelf where it's sat for the last twelve months or so. You know there's been a shift of some sort when I start playing the disco stuff again.

Be it noted that all of these events precede the November 2003 acquisition of the palatial Surlywood estate, whose current A/C system was installed circa 1997, and which was last serviced in July 2006.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:26 AM)
24 April 2007
Return of the Treelet Report

Sapling?  I dunno.  I've never sappled.The sweetgum tree-to-be in the back yard of the palatial Surlywood estate, rising from the remains of a tree that blew over in one of those legendary Oklahoma storms, survived the winter quite nicely, thank you very much, and while it hasn't added a whole lot of height, it's built up quite an infrastructure in its eleven months of life; certainly it's doing better than the grass that has still failed to grow back in the area directly beneath its predecessor. (Said predecessor was more or less centered in that ungrassed circle, the base of its trunk taking up approximately three-quarters of the area.) Unofficially, it's a shade (sorry) over twenty-seven inches tall, which means it's growing slower than bamboo but faster than the national debt. The tree obviously is a long way from being mature, but then again, people have said that about me, and I've been around for a whole lot longer than eleven months. Regular readers will remember that I took the loss very badly when it happened — residual treehugger instincts, I suppose — so I consider the rebirth, as it were, something to celebrate in a small way, especially since my new mowing regime puts the blades well above those damned spiky balls emitted by that second sweetgum five feet to the east.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:28 AM)
25 April 2007
CFL scoreboard

I made some noises last spring about trying out compact-fluorescent bulbs, and in the interim I've installed six of them: two in the bedroom (one in each lamp), two in the kitchen (over the sink), and two in the garage. I don't know how well they perform under really adverse conditions, such as below-freezing conditions, since this isn't, God willing, going to happen in the house, and the garage has never gotten below about 34 degrees no matter how cold it was outside, but there have been no failures so far, and as I noted in February, after mounting the last pair, my primary motivation is "the desire to avoid changing bulbs so damned often." Since lifespan is not always consistent on these things, at least not yet, I figure I'm either not working them too hard or I'm having better luck than some folks.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:49 PM)
27 April 2007
Pinker and prouder than previous

I'm downright awash in roses this spring for some reason; there's a fourth rosebush in Ye Olde Flower Box hiding among the irises, and it's producing nice pink blooms. This isn't one of them; it's from the plant just to the north, where it was easier to get a shot, but the general appearance is about the same.

Pink rose, not Nick Lowe's

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:41 PM)
30 April 2007
Grab life by the thorns

I'd mentioned before that there was a rosebush in the back yard. I gave it no attention for two and a half years; last fall I trimmed it back to about 54 inches in height and reshaped it somewhat. (Its width is ultimately limited by the evergreen right next to it.) This is what I got for my trouble:

Backyard rosebush

This compensates for the blah year I'm having on the iris front.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:16 PM)
5 May 2007
The whole one yard

Actually, I got rather a lot done today, terrain-wise, considering the stiff winds and all. After finishing up, I hit the shower, got dressed, and dragged myself off to the grocery store, and to prove that timing is everything, approximately two minutes after I'd left, the Yard Guys came by and punched several hundred holes in the topsoil. Just as well. And the rain started up later this afternoon, so we'll see if any additional moisture makes it down to where the roots are. They noted a heck of a lot of crabgrass; on the other hand, last time they were here, of the eleven "controllable" weeds on their list, I had five of them, so evidently four are more or less under control. And I've noticed that some of the bare spots out front, among my chief sources of despair, are indeed starting to fill in around the edges.

It dawned on me while pushing the mower that I probably overpaid for the darn thing, not so much for its Honda-sourced engine but for its front-wheel drive, which I think I've used once this year: most of the time I leave the drive disengaged and just push, even uphill. On the upside, it's still running in its fourth year, which, given the way I tend to treat mowers, is sort of remarkable. It is, however, on its second blade, and twice it's tried to throw a wheel. (The wheel is attached to the height adjustment, which in turn is bolted to the frame; this bolt doesn't like to stay as tight as I'd prefer. It's always the same wheel: left rear.) And it's taking very kindly to the three-dollar-and-odd premium gasoline it's getting, as it damned well ought to be, if you ask me.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:33 PM)
23 May 2007
And the yards went on forever

Your lawn? "An irrational consumer preference," says Zack Wendling:

There's no reason why we must demand sterile subdivisions with high-maintenance vegetation surrounding our homes. They only exist because we lack imagination and worry about resale value (or selling the thing in the first place if we are the developer). Hopefully, a greater awareness of the high costs of lawns (in terms of construction, maintenance, aesthetics, and ecology) and the low benefits (in terms of use and status) can change that.

Believe me, I know the costs. It's about a buck and a half worth of gas every week, plus $300-500 a year for the weed-control regimen, plus a whole lot of time, plus whatever I spent on the tools of the trade. And I do as little maintenance as I can get away with, if only to avoid the appearance of suburban sterility.

And while my front yard is mostly for show — which is a tragedy, because it doesn't look so wonderful — the back yard does get used, for sunning and (gag) occasional exercise.

Still, I have a thousand-square-foot house sitting on a quarter-acre-plus lot. I do not envision ever having the same thousand-square-foot house sitting on a quarter-acre-plus parking lot: to me, that's low status.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:05 AM)
2 June 2007
OMG and it wasn't even text

There was real live sun this afternoon, something there hasn't been a lot of lately, so I spread a blanket on the grass and did a brief Vitamin D-gathering session, the chores actually having been completed for once.

About three minutes into my semi-slumber came a cry from the north: "Oh, my God!" Sounded like a twelve-year-old. I've heard it before, but I've not been inclined to check out its origin. Still, there's something disconcerting about this sort of expostulation, even though it was fairly unlikely (though not completely impossible) that I had motivated it by my resemblance to an albino walrus.

So I had to listen to the entire conversation, which turned out to be older child threatening younger child with something along the lines of "Wait until Mom sees this mess!" Mom did eventually enter the thread, and she was not pleased. Or so it seemed; after a couple of sentence