Monday, April 28, 2008

Zillow Zestimates - Zact or Ziction?

If you invest or even follow real estate you likely have heard of the web site Zillow.

Zillow calculates a Zestimate® home valuation as a starting point for anyone to see — for free — for most homes in the U.S. So, using the Zestimate as the foundation, we built a Web page for each home and then filled it with data and maps and layered it with publicly available information such as comparables and tax information. We were breaking new ground — to package all of this information in one place for everyone to see, for free.

As the above information notes, Zillow pulls its data from publicly available information - here in Florida I regularly consult with my local property appraiser's web site. But Zillow has real advantages because so much information is compiled, mapped, graphed, etc.

As such, I generally review the Zillow Zestimates for each of our properties about once a month. I have noticed that our primary home Zestimate has worked its way back up to peak Zestimates from early 2006. See below.

Do you rely on or even consult your home's Zesitmate?

Note - When calculating our net worth, I utilize the official values received from the property assessor's office.

Risks of Cotton

I bought new place-mats at Pottery Barn this past weekend (in advance of a small dinner party on Saturday night and a visit from Mr. Sam's parents on Sunday). A wash and dry later this is what my brand new place-mats look like now.

And this is what they look like when I tried to reform them....

I have put the place-mats back in the wash and my new plan is not to dry them.

The cute Florida themed cocktail napkins that I bought at the same time, also at Pottery Barn, still look great after a wash.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

How we paid off $55,500 in debt - 1 of 6

In December 2006, shortly after I married Mr. Sam, I started shopping for a new/nused car. I wanted a new car (I was and continue to drive a paid for 1999 car) but I did not want to a new car payment. I did some internet research and came across Dave Ramsey and his drive free plan and I was intrigued by Mr. Ramsey's debt free philosophy.

Accordingly, I picked up Ramsey's book Total Money Makeover at the library and read it while Mr. Sam and I were vacationing in Key West over the New Year's holiday. When I had completed Ramsey's TMM I was highly motivated to tackle our debt and to start living "like no one else so we could live like no one else."

The first step was to determine how much debt we were carrying. Easier said than done. It took us a while to collect statements and information for our debts (6 credit cards, 1 other debt and 1 student loan) and when we added up the damage we owed $55,537.

Ouch!! Were we surprised at by the total debt amount? Yes, indeed, we were. But, step one of tackling any problem is to first face the problem.

Check back for steps 2 - 6 of how we paid off $55,500 in debt in 12 and a half months.

Are you interested in living a debt free life? Why not take the first step and gather your credit card, car and student loan statements and documents and add up your unsecured debt.

Net Worth

I have posted a link to our net worth entry for April 2008. If you click on the link you can review our net worth entries dating back to January 2007. See chart to the right.

A little bit of background information on our net worth. First, our net worth entry is joint (includes Sam and Mr. Sam's assets and liabilities). Second, we include our primary dwelling in our net worth calculations. Third, all real estate values are based on the assessment as determined by the property appraiser's office. Fourth, stocks include our pre-2007 IRA monies and bonds consist of our 2007 IRA monies. Finally, other includes our various ING savings account (except not our emergency fund which is included in cash).

Enjoy and let me know if you have any questions.

Friday, April 25, 2008


If you do something every day for 30 days it becomes routine.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Cooling Off Period

I really like this idea from No Credit Needed:

For every $100 that I want to spend on the purchase of a new product, I must wait one day before I make the purchase. This creates a self-imposed ‘cooling-off’ period.

If a new gadget costs $100, I have to wait one day until I can purchase the gadget.

If a new gizmo costs $400, I have to wait four days until I can purchase the gizmo.

If a new thingamajig costs $1400, I have to wait two weeks until I can purchase the thingamajig.

My husband and I have a rule that any purchase over $300 has to be discussed and agreed before one of us can spend that kind of money. I also, often, shop online by putting purchases into my virtual shopping bag and then I wait a few days or weeks before I purchase same. My basket has books and CDs that have been waiting to be purchased for months (its also fun to watch the prices rise and fall).

What do you do to keep your spending and shopping in check?

Check out No Credit Needed for more.

Hooray - Full House

Mr. Sam has rented the crack shack before the first of the month. We are back up to full house with tenants in all our rental units. Hooray!!

Mr. Sam is in charge of screening and approving tenants (although I could veto if I felt strongly enough) and it was his call to rent the crack shack to a felon. We have, however, rented this unit to others with a criminal background. We'll see how it goes with this guy and his girlfriend. We hope his criminal indiscretions were limited to his youth and now that he has a couple of kids he has put that type of behavior behind him.

It has been an expensive couple of months. Besides the monthly carrying costs (mortgage, monthly insurance and real estate tax costs) Mr. Sam has done a lot of work on the property including new laminate flooring in the 3 bedrooms and entry way, new tile in the kitchen and a complete gut and redo of the bathroom. We also refreshed the landscaping at the house. I don't have the total we spent because I have not done my Quicken numbers from March or April (need to get that done this weekend) but I would estimate at least $2000 plus @ $2000 in carry costs.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Check out this handy tool.

You can plug in your rental unit address, current monthly rent, number of bedrooms and units in building (i.e. apartment building, single family home, duplex) and this web site lets the average slum lord (kidding) know whether they are charging an average, low or high amount in rent. Even better, the web site maps other rental properties with a + or - sign so you can see where your rental unit falls on the neighborhood rent scale. So while many rental units in our small city are asking a higher rent than we are, rental units in the immediate neighborhood are asking a bit less ($995 and $1200).

This is the feedback Rent-O-Meter gave us on our crack shack. Its a good deal because of the neighborhood ameneties such as prostitutes and drug dealers (sigh).

Your rent of $1,250/month for a 3 bed unit at [address] FL is lower than the median rent in your area. Your unit seems to be a good deal!

Gold Plated Lab

Snarfle went to the vet this past weekend to be checked out by Dr. G. for his thirsty behavior. The short answer, Snarfle does have a urinary tract infection (hmmm..... wonder which lady dogs he has been sniffing) which would explain his need to pee every 2 minutes. The question about kidney function is still open and we are waiting for the blood work results to come back from the lab.

Total damage $325.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Real crack at the crack shack

We own a couple of real estate investments here in South Florida. Mr. Sam is in charge of our real estate business - he does 90% of the repairs, upgrades, landscaping, etc. Mr. Sam also takes care of advertising, screening renters, wrangling the renters (which can be like herding cats), etc.

One of rental properties, which we lovingly call the crack shack, is in an "up and coming" neighborhood. Presently, however, the neighborhood has taken a plunge for the worst - lots of prostitution, drug dealing and homeless. So Mr. Sam recently met with the police to try and get more police presence in the neighborhood. We'll see what comes of it.

Tonight, Mr. Sam brought home his very first crack pipe (found across the street from the crack shack).

Thirsty Dog

Snarfle, our 11 year old yellow lab, has been drinking water and peeing up a storm the last couple of weeks. I called one of my good friends, SM, who has adopted and fostered many old dogs and asked her what she thought about Snarfle's thirst. She confirmed what I suspected - kidney issues.

So, Snarfle is off to the vet tomorrow for a check up. SM said that there are special foods for kidney disease. Hope to hear good news from the vet tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Tax Day

So, one of the goals of this blog is to post about our finances.

Did you get your taxes done? Did you owe money to the IRS or did you already get your refund back??

We got a ton of money back this year -- about $8200. Last year we got about $4000 back. I adjusted my withholdings at work but Mr. Sam did not. In 2007 we both maxed out our 401ks and due to our investment properties and charitable giving we had a ton of deductions. So there you go, we ended up with a biiiiggg refund. Mr. Sam and I will be looking at the IRS withholding calculator,,id=96196,00.html to see if we can do a better job at bringing home more cash money in our pay checks and give less to the IRS.

Anywho, (I love that fakey word) our fun plans for the cash money (mostly my plans as Mr. Sam has not staked a claim to the cash money) is to add $1000 to our ING travel/vacation savings account which now has a balance of $1106. I made a couple of fun purchases at Red Envelope (

Practical plans for the money include paying off a 0% Home Depot credit card $555 charge for one of our investment properties (done), plumping up a couple of our checking accounts to compensate for one empty investment property and the bulk will go to our emergency account which before IRS monies is at $10,200.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

What is the Point?

My goal for this blog is to help me stay on track. I will be mostly focusing on issues related to personal finance and real estate investing. I don't pretend to be an expert on these issues so take all posts with that in mind.

This post from really sums it up.

Life Happens while we’re busy making plans. If you wait until tomorrow, you’ll have a whole new set of life circumstances to deal with that will throw you off-course yet again. Don’t be that person who wakes up one day wondering where life went and finds their self in a pickle, or worse – with regrets.
The tomorrow you’re waiting for never comes. So let’s try to find a way to make it work…today.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Friday Night loser

Ok, so its Friday and Snarfle and I are hanging at home. Mr. Sam is working on the crack shack (one of our investment properties).

So far, Snarfle and I have watched an hour of Cops and now we are watching I Know My Kid's a Star! Have you seen this show about crazy stage mom's and their kids... its a train wreck but somehow entertaining.

My first post!

Ugh, I feel so lame starting off a blog "this is my first post" .... but heck what are you supposed to write?

Anywho, I have decided to start a blog because I want to document the life of my yellow lab "Snarfle" (isn't that a noble subject matter), my pursuit of happiness, our personal fiancial goals, various house projects, life in So.Fla., etc.