Sunday, January 15, 2012

Success

  1. Things don't always go as planned.
  2. Don't dwell on the past.
  3. Learn from the past, plan for the future, but live in the present.
  4. Don't dwell on the past.
  5. Be here now.
  6. I can only move forward.
  7. What is the best way forward from this exact point in my life?
  8. What are my assets?
  9. What are my liabilities?
  10. How can I best leverage my assets and overcome my liabilities?
  11. How can I do the most good?
  12. What good cause should I be anxiously engaged in?
  13. What is my highest potential?
  14. What is my vision of success?
  15. How can I get there?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Yes it's true I did some actual real work for once

The people that know me in the real estate business know that I never lift a hammer on my remodels. I just write the checks. So they would be shocked, SHOCKED, to hear that this morning I actually did some roof repairs on my own house ALL BY MYSELF!!

I had a few shingles blow off the roof in one of the recent haboobs, and I thought it might be fun to try fixing them myself. I know, that doesn't sound like me, but maybe I'm turning over a new leaf or something, who knows. Before starting, I did watch this quick tutorial on removing and putting back roof shingles.

I thought I'd better provide some photo documentation as proof of this once in a lifetime event.

I was thinking of taking a video, but since I was working by myself I couldn't really capture the actual action. I did get a little video of the materials and tools:




Here are some of the damaged shingles:



The brown stuff on the one above was some stuff called Tanglefoot that we put down for pigeons. Originally it went on clear, but after 6 months it turned brown for some reason. I'll get that cleaned off one of these days.

Here's an owl that we put on to scare pigeons away. (Not related to shingle repair.)


Here's a shot of my oddly shaped roof:


Tools:


Here's a new shingle that I added. I had it lined up perfectly but then after pounding the nails in I noticed it was about 1/4 inch too low. Oh well, still works:


On this one I didn't want to install the whole new shingle because I would have had to remove the ridge cap shingles (the ones on the peak), so I cut the shingle about 2 inches above the visible portion, and then removed 3 nails from the ridge cap shingles, slid the new shingles underneath, and then put in new nails. I made kind of a mess with the tar but it still works:


Conclusion: It was kind of fun and satisfying to do, but SO hot and sweaty.  And that was only for a few shingles. I'm very glad I'm not a roofer.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Know Any Easy Magic Tricks?

When I was home teaching last month I did a magic trick for the kids, who are 2, 5, 7, and 15.  It was the standard magic trick from the mission days where you make a coin disappear by rubbing it into your arm. They loved it. And it sort of even tied in to the lesson about tithing.

Then for this month I figured I had to follow it up with something, so I hopped on youtube and found this one:



My replica quarter wasn't the best. I thought the kids would be able to tell there was something wrong with the quarter, but they actually didn't notice anything wrong, and they couldn't figure out where the quarter disappeared to. Last week I made the coin appear in one of their ears but this time I didn't have anything to make reappear. (I guess I could have used a second quarter for that.)

But now I'm going to keep having to come up with new material, so if you know of any easy magic tricks that will impress kids, especially involving coins, please let me know.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Five Guys versus In-N-Out Burger


VERSUS


I have been an In-N-Out Burger aficionado for many years, and I've recently heard vague rumblings about different competitors such as Shake Shack and Five Guys Burgers and Fries popping up. I just tried out Five Guys for the first time, at Reagan National Airport in DC. Here is my head to head review:

Burger: Five Guys was actually a little better than In-N-Out! I liked the thicker patty, and loved that they offer additional toppings such as green peppers.

Fries: Five Guys' fries were better as well. Their fries are thicker and pretty good, while In-N-Out's are just average, even though they are "freshly cut"... (who cares?)

Price: Five Guys was WAY overpriced! $6 for a cheeseburger and $5 for a large fries? Seriously? But it was at the airport, where everything is overpriced. So it may be priced more reasonably at non-airport locations.

Other Factors:
  • Five Guys gives you a TON of fries. That might be nice if you have someone to share them with, but since I was flying solo, it wasn't that helpful.  And I can't really reward bonus points for contributing to the obesity epidemic.
  • Five Guys is not available in Arizona, which is a big minus since I don't want to have to fly to DC for a burger, no matter how good.
  • Five Guys took a really long time to get the order up. (Could be another airport only issue.) But In-N-Out isn't really very speedy either.
Conclusion: If Five Guys was/were available in AZ, it/they would have probably pulled off the upset victory. However, since they're overpriced, slow, and unavailable without a flight involved, In-N-Out still gets the nod for now.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Holocaust Museum

Matthew and I went to the Holocaust Museum at the Smithsonian, mainly because we'd been to the other museums before. We ended up spending quite a bit of time there on the tour. I most enjoyed the stories of the heroic individuals who risked their lives to save others, such as the White Rose group. However, the thing that struck me the most, and that I still have trouble grasping, is how most of the people of Germany, as well as Austria and some other countries, just went along with Hitler's plans. I may be off on this, but it seems like when Hitler said "OK, new plan, we're going to systematically discriminate against Jews", about 99% of Germans (and later Austrians and other countries) said "Sure, sounds good to me." How is that possible? And it's one thing to go along with discrimination, but then later, Hitler literally said things like, "We're going to go into Poland and kill every man, woman and child without mercy." And everyone was STILL ok going along with his plans. I know there was a lot of brainwashing and propaganda going on, and of course there was a point when it was too late to openly oppose anything, but I just can't comprehend how the large majority of normal citizens and/or soldiers were seemingly ok with Hitler's systematic discrimination, hate, murder, and genocide.

Friday, April 15, 2011

How To Appeal Your Property Tax Valuation In Maricopa County Arizona

Tired of paying high property taxes? I just appealed my property tax valuation, so I thought I would share the steps for how to do it. This will only be helpful if you live in Maricopa County, AZ. (And actually our property taxes aren't that high compared to some states, but it's still a good idea to appeal if your valuation is inaccurate.)

There are two ways to appeal, administrative and judicial. I will only be talking about the administrative option. (For the judicial, according to the State Board of Equalization, "You may file a petition directly with the Tax Court at any time after receiving the Notice of Value, provided you do not file an administrative appeal - but you must file it no later than December 15. This is the Judicial Process.")

If you hurry, there is still time to appeal your 2012 valuation, which was the one that you should have received recently. The county sends out a postcard in February with your valuation for the following year, which looks about like this:


The deadline for them to send out the postcard is March 1, and then the deadline for you to appeal is 60 days later. So you probably only have another week or so. Get on it!

If you did not receive a postcard, you can see your valuation info online:

  1. Go to the assessor's website
  2. Enter your street number and name (or your parcel number if you know it)
  3. You will be taken to your property info page.
  4. Scroll down to "Valuation Information"

How is the amount of tax determined?

The way the taxes are calculated is quite a complicated mess. It's not imperative that you understand the details of how the taxes are calculated, and I don't really understand it completely myself, so feel free to skip down to the section below about appealing. But here are some basics.

One important thing to understand is that when your assessed valuation goes down from one year to the next, that does not necessarily mean your taxes go down! Your assessed value only determines how much of the pie is your responsibility. So if everyone's valuation went down about the same percentage, then the percentage of the taxes that are your responsibility, or your piece of the pie, would not change.

Your property is identified by a unique parcel number. You will see on your notice of valuation a "full cash value" (FCV) and a "limited property value" (LPV), which are each used to determine different portions of the tax for your parcel. Then there's an assessment ratio which is multiplied by the FCV and LPV to determine the value that they then multiply by some arbitrary "tax rate" to determine your actual amount of tax. You can read more nitty gritty details in the FAQs here.

For owner occupied homes and rental homes, the assessment ratio is always 10%. (It's higher for land and commercial properties.) So if your full cash value was $100,000, then your assessed value would be $100,000 x 10% = $10,000. And if the tax rate was 8%, then your annual property taxes owed would be $10,000 (assessed value) x 8% (tax rate) = $800.

If you are interested in seeing a breakdown of where your taxes are going:

  1. Go back to the assessor's website
  2. Enter your street number and name (or your parcel number)
  3. You will be taken to your property info page.
  4. Click on "View Tax Information"
  5. You will be taken to the treasurer's website.
  6. Click on "Tax Bill" in the upper left hand corner.
  7. Scroll down and you can see all the places your property taxes are being used for. (The majority goes to the school districts.)

Is My Property Valuation Too High?

If you want to appeal your tax valuation, you will need to show that the valuation should have been lower. (At least I'm assuming you want your taxes lowered, not increased.) There are at least 4 ways you can value your property:
  1. Market approach
  2. Cost approach
  3. Income approach
  4. "Equity" approach

Market approach. Using the market approach just means looking at the current market value of your home. So for example if the valuation on your property notice was $100,000 and the comparable sales in your neighborhood show that your home is worth $80,000, then you could argue that your home is worth $80,000, by providing those comps.

Cost approach. Using the cost approach means looking at how much it would cost to build your home. So for example if the valuation on your property notice was $100,000 and you know that it would only cost $80,000 to build your home, then you could argue that your home is worth $80,000, by showing that it would only cost $80,000 to build it (including the purchase of the land). This option is not going to be helpful anytime soon, since the assessments are generally far lower than the cost to build.

Income approach. Using the income approach means looking at how much your property is worth based on how much income it brings it. This would only apply for income (rental) properties.

"Equity" approach. This last one, which I am calling the "equity" approach, just means looking at how much the other properties in your neighborhood were assessed for, and seeing if theirs were assessed for less than yours. If the other similar sized properties in your area were assessed for less than yours, then you have a strong argument that yours should also be assessed for less. So, even if you think the assessed value of your property is equal to or less than current market value, you should still check and make sure that it's also in line with the amounts that your neighbors' properties were assessed for. Otherwise you'll have to pay for more than your share of the pie!

How To Check On The Assessed Values Of The Properties In Your Area

To check on the assessed values of the properties in your area:
  • Go to the Assessor's website.
  • Scroll over "Maps" and click on "GIS Interactive Maps"
  • In the search fields on the right, enter the Street number and Street name (or parcel number) for your property, and click "Submit".
  • Your parcel will be highlighted.
  • On the right, click on the "Valuation Data" tab to see the assessed value, and click on the "Property Data" tab to see the size of your home. (Make sure the square footage is correct. If the assessor has an incorrect value for your home size, that is another factor that you could appeal.)
  • On the map, click on the neighboring lots on your street and in your area. After clicking on each parcel, click on the "Property Data" tab to check the size of the home.


    When you find properties similar in size to yours, click on the "Valuation Data" tab and compare their valuations to yours.

  • If your neighbors with similar sized properties have lower valuations than yours, then you have cause for appeal. You're paying for too much pie! Make a note of the parcel numbers and valuations that support your case.

Appealing the tax valuation

If you decided based on any of the approaches above that you can argue that your home should have a lower valuation, then you can appeal the valuation. To appeal, go to this page on the Assessor's website, enter your parcel number, click "Submit", and then follow the instructions on the form to make your case!

(If you are confident in your case, click on "Yes" for question 8, "CHECK HERE TO REQUEST A MEETING WITH THE ASSESSOR'S OFFICE". According to David Schweikert, former Maricopa County Treasurer, that will help your chances.)

After your appeal, the assessor must consider, decide, and answer your request on or before August 15. If you do not agree with the decision, you can file a petition with the Board of Equalization for the county.

Good luck!