11 October 2003
The magnificent seven

Actually, I don't know how many, if any, of the houses I'm supposed to look at today are going to be magnificent; in this price range, it's more realistic to expect, well, seven dwarfs.

Still, my needs are modest never you mind about my desires and almost anything is likely to be an improvement over what I have now.


(Vent #360 has some backstory, if you're curious.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:39 AM)
Househunting (part 1)

Well, The Expert and I started with a list of seven, but three were eliminated at the very beginning: under contract already or otherwise pulled from the market.

That leaves four, which we will cover in the order visited, followed by an Entertainment Weekly-style letter grade.

1. A cute little stone bungalow on a corner lot with a huge yard. Some newish amenities, lots of ceiling fans, and evidence of a fair amount of repainting over old paint. And whatever they'd painted the exterior stone with, it didn't stick worth a darn. C+

2. Modern, at least by Fifties standards, and about 30 percent larger than #1, and in a nicer neighborhood to boot. So why was it selling for only slightly more money? The Expert figured it out at once: basically, the entire block is sliding down the hill, a few centimeters at a time, and implementing the fixes would increase the price by half. There was also a general air of dinginess. D+

3. I should have known this 1941 frame house was wacky before I ever saw it; the MLS description contains the cryptic phrase "faux walls." Well, the walls looked genuine enough, but this was the first mock fireplace I'd ever seen that had been converted from a real fireplace. What's more, there was a single-car garage with two half-width doors, vertically hinged, which makes remote operation highly unlikely. Add to this an utterly gratuitous Florida room off the master bedroom, and porch steps the full width of the porch, and this place screams Insane Owner! at the top of its sixty-two-year-old lungs. Had it been about ten or twelve percent cheaper, I probably would have put in a bid. I may yet. A-

4. A noisy box in a quiet suburb, though the noise was due mostly to the people next door, who apparently were convinced that there was a special White Trash Edition of Architectural Digest coming out and they wanted to fix up their yard accordingly. Lots of clever space-utilization techniques to make the most of the smallish interior; The Expert, tipped off by a floor irregularity, spotted a couple of places where the foundation might be cracking or otherwise failing to behave itself. Otherwise, a solid B.

The search resumes once we get another fistful of prospects.

(Update, 10:15 pm: So that's a "faux wall.")

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:53 PM)
15 October 2003
Househunting (part 2)

We had three prospects for last night, but two of them evaporated recession or no recession, houses are moving in these parts. However, today we had half a dozen more to play with, and we got to see five of the seven in what must be considered better-than-average time.

5. Small, vacant, simple, but executed well, and there's a not-as-rickety-as-it-looks deck out back. Backing out of the driveway is a trick, since there's a blind corner backed up with a hedge, but not what I'd call heinous. Docked a quarter-point for that godawful metal script passing for a house number; these things should have proper digits as Allah intended. Still rates a B+.

6. A few touches of whimsy here: proper digits, vertical, mounted on a block of wood covered with fabric; an added-on den (I assume) lined with knotty pine; slightly eccentric floor plan. Otherwise fairly ordinary, but kept up well, although the change from individual climate-control units to a central system has clearly been on an as-time-permits basis. A-

7. Huge, huge lot, demanding a John Deere to maintain it and an empty storage building out back to keep one in. Decent interior, though I missed an actual step between the inside floor and the garage, 18 inches or so below. Very nice woodwork. B

8. Cute bungalow occupied by dog lover, maybe too cute. Gorgeous deck overlooking nicest backyard of the bunch. Floor plan leaves something to be desired, but exterior is nice and master-bedroom windows (on the corner of the house) strike me as brilliant. B

9. Tucked away in a neighborhood I'd never heard of, this is a smallish box with a big interior and 1¾ baths, something I hadn't seen yet. Nice kitchen. Exterior trim was actually being painted while we walked through. Good-sized backyard; neighbor's pecan tree will likely drop some freebies on this side of the fence. Slight cracking in the brickwork, though the slab looks solid. A-

Two more, plus anything else we catch between now and then, on Saturday.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:31 PM)
18 October 2003
Househunting (part 3)

No new listings since midweek, so The Expert and I had just two houses to check out this morning.

10. This place was a foreclosure, and it had been suggested in earlier discussions that despite what you see on those TV infomercials, there's not a lot of benefit to buying these things; apparently, once informed that they're about to be dispossessed, the occupants avenge themselves by trashing the premises. It was certainly the case here: non-functional appliances were scattered about, the window treatments were more trick than treat, and someone had made off with a couple of downspouts, fercrissake. This will be a beautiful home for someone someday provided that someone is willing to spend half again the purchase price to restore its dignity. I'm not. C-

11. Located in one of the neighborhoods of which I dared not allow myself to dream, this house should have been a disaster: how else could I afford it? Well, it's small for the area, but it's up to the local level of spiffiness, all the major functions have been renovated to at least late-90s standards, and the floor plan is ingenious, once the mind accepts the idea of, say, an L-shaped bathroom. When the biggest gripe is "The cylinder in that deadbolt seems to be a little loose," it's time to sign the papers. A

And if they sign the papers, this is the last installment of "Househunting" you'll have to endure.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:02 PM)
19 October 2003
Househunting (part 3.5)

A mere half an hour before the deadline, the deal foundered, and I said to myself, "Self, do I really want to lose out on this over one lousy percent of the purchase price?"

I didn't.

They sent me a counteroffer, and I sweetened the deal to the extent requested.

Unless I hear otherwise and at this point I don't expect to, inasmuch as I have met their terms I'm going to assume that said deal is done.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:29 PM)
20 October 2003
To preserve and protect

Oklahoma City has a dozen or so Urban Conservation Districts, one of which was created last month to include the neighborhood into which I'm buying. (Yes, I'm moving into the city, and yes, this was disclosed to me before signing the papers.) This district is so new that they haven't posted the rules and regulations on the online Municipal Code site, but I read the specs on some of the others, and so far as I can tell, it's the functional equivalent of an Historical District, without having any individual buildings which are defined as Historic.

In other words, now and forevermore, where I live will look like or is supposed to look like a typical neighborhood of the immediate post-World War II era. This has its advantages: for one thing, nobody is going to tear down a house and replace it with a double-wide McMansion too big for the lot. It also means that any improvements made have to be consonant with the character and the period of the neighborhood, which may limit the nature of those improvements in the future.

Now to find a '51 Kaiser to park in the driveway (not in the yard).

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:47 AM)
21 October 2003

Debt, schmebt

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:11 PM)
22 October 2003
The Crimson Permanent Assurance

My desk is littered with Good Faith Estimates of how much all this real estate is actually going to cost me, and one thing I've noticed about all of them is that their annual insurance quotes seemed a bit low. I didn't realize how low, though, until I started talking to agents, and discovered that a policy tailored to my level of paranoia (I carry about five times the legal minimums on my car) will cost roughly twice what they're guessing.

This propels the monthly payment from the "tight, but not a problem" level to "Can I get one more week out of this basket of fruit?" It's not going to queer the deal by any means no way am I going to back out now but it's going to take more shuffling of priorities to make this thing work.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:40 PM)
28 October 2003
Not quite trepidation

Today is Inspection Day at the new digs, and while I'm expecting no surprises this is why The Expert was called in, after all surprises, by definition, are not expected.

So what we have here, essentially, is a manifestation of my innate pessimism. And that's no surprise either.

(Update, 8 pm: Not too shabby, if I say so myself. More important, someone who does this for a living said so himself, which makes me feel a little better.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:30 AM)
29 October 2003
Please include your address label

It's four weeks until closing on the house, so I sat down tonight to hit the Web sites of the magazines to which I subscribe, in the hope that I could run the standard change-of-address scheme without actually having to talk to some poor soul in Customer Service. (Not that I object to poor souls, mind you; it's just that they might hate picking up the phone as much as I do.)

Thirteen of fifteen magazines contacted over the Web were able to process the change with a minimum of folderol. The two exceptions were Automobile and Out, neither of whose databases seemed to recognize me, and Out further sinned by resizing my browser.

Two magazines Consumer Reports and Mother Jones actually responded with email confirmations, although the response from CR contained, inexplicably, the old address.

"What kind of nitwit subscribes to fifteen magazines?" you ask. I don't know. I have about a dozen yet to go.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:20 PM)
2 November 2003
Rules of the 'hood

The city has gotten around to posting the details of the restrictions imposed by the designation of my new neighborhood as an Urban Conservation District, and while most of them don't bother me a great deal from the standpoint of conformance, a few of them might strike some people as being just a tad anal.

An example:

Satellite, Television, Radio, and any other Transmission or Receiving Implements:
  1. This section shall only apply to satellite dishes in excess of two meters in width;

  2. If mounted on a pole or attached to the ground, shall not be forward of the front building line nor exceed the height of the main structure by more than 15 feet;

  3. If mounted to the main structure, shall not be forward of the front building line; in the event the structure has a hip type roof, shall not be forward of the main ridge line and/or mounted to the front slope; in the event of a gable type roof, shall not be forward of the main ridge line and/or mounted to the front slope; in the event the mounting is on the side of the structure and/or the side slope of a hip or flat type roof, shall be a minimum of ten feet from the front building line. This provision shall not prevent the item from protruding above the main ridge line and the height shall not exceed the height of the main structure by more than 15 feet.

  4. Pre-existing satellite, television, radio and any other transmission or receiving implements, prior to the enactment of this Urban Conservation District, shall be deemed to be legally non-conforming for a period of one year. After the one-year period, must be in compliance with these provisions.

Then there's this:

The storage or keeping of items forward of the front building line shall be prohibited, such as barbecues or other types of charcoal or gas type grills, appliances, buckets, tools, tires, toys, bicycles, wheel barrels, laundry, furniture not intended for outside use.

Which leads to a philosophical conundrum, of sorts. This ordinance was enacted because of requests by an association of the residents; presumably its provisions are close to what those residents desire, and indeed a brief sweep through a couple of streets suggests a willingness to conform to those provisions. I've got to wonder, though, whether it relegates me to the status of what Francis W. Porretto calls "an indentured serf, who must have the lord's permission to rethatch the roof of his hovel." Certainly the mortgage reeks of indenture. So far as I can tell, though, there are no specific rules for roofing in this neighborhood.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:54 AM)
4 November 2003
The mythical Average Home

If it's in the ZIP code to which I'm moving, it's 1509 square feet, was built in 1957, and sells for $92,392, or so says Homestore.com.

My particular neighborhood skews a tad smaller, somewhat older development began in 1946 and was mostly completed by 1950 and similarly pricey: five other homes in the district were on sale when I bought, and their average asking price was $97,740.

New construction, out towards the edges of town, will of course cost Much, Much More.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:35 AM)
13 November 2003
Songs of appraise

No later than day two of Econ 101, they tell you: "The value of something is equal to what someone is willing to pay for it." The arcane art of real-estate appraisal is devoted to disproving this statement.

I have been reading over the appraisal for the new digs, and it's a complicated piece of work: there's a whole lot of WTF-level math and enough disclaimers to keep a passel of lawyers in Evian for a month. Still, I remind myself, this isn't for me; this is for the lender who is actually advancing the bucks for the purchase in exchange for three decades of servitude, and said lender isn't at all keen on forking over, say, two hundred grand for some place they can't sell for half that if I go off the deep end.

Interesting bits of verbiage:

Race and the racial composition of the neighborhood are not appraisal factors. (Freddie Mac Form 70)

Not legally, anyway. I suspect it plays a small role in some other characteristics, but is probably impossible to isolate.

Definition of market value: The most probable price which a property should bring in a competitive and open market under all conditions requisite to a fair sale, the buyer and seller, each acting prudently, knowledgeably and assuming the price is not affected by undue stimulus. (Freddie Mac Form 439)

A further paragraph adds more adverbs to the mix.

Even though the printed output is obviously from a PC software package, the guy who had to put all this together certainly earned his fee; there seems to be a tremendous amount of work involved just to make sure all the disclaimers are properly stated, and there's a fair amount of statistical analysis lurking behind the numbers. And, what the hell, he priced the place at 2.7 percent over what I'm paying for it, which is close enough for non-governmental work.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:31 PM)
22 November 2003
The appointed hour approacheth

At 11 am Wednesday, I hand over fistfuls of cash, and they present me with the deed to the New Digs and a thirty-year note.

This is, therefore, the last weekend out here on Shabby Road. (Although I'll be on the premises a week from today, doing a perfunctory cleanup.)

So far, everything has gone comparatively smoothly, considering that one of the participants is moi.

During this period, you can probably expect something of a reduction in the volume of prose generated here.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:28 AM)
24 November 2003
Imagine the interest

So what kind of real estate market did I enter? As of the 16th, one local expert (not The Expert) was saying this:

November trends have shown that NW Oklahoma City sales are steady and predictable. The low interest rates, first time bond money loans, and 100% down conventional financing are keeping the lower prices ranges strong in sales, especially homes that are updated.

It seems to me that if you put down 100%, you don't need much in the way of financing at all, conventional or otherwise.

Not that this is an option for poor shlubs like yours truly, unless we want to live in a tool shed.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:46 PM)
26 November 2003
It's official

At approximately 11:40 am on the shores of historic Lake Hefner, I signed a few thousand sheets of paper and became the owner of hysterical Shangri-Chaz.

My thanks to Carol Schick of Churchill Brown and Associates, described hitherto as The Expert, and justifiably so; Holli Smith of Keller Williams Realty, who served as Expert to the seller; and to Brenda Newberry of Oklahoma City Abstract and Title Company, who made all the legalese look almost sensible.

There will be further acknowledgments as this little drama plays out. A lot of people are contributing in substantial ways to making all this possible, and I'm grateful for their assistance; I could never have pulled this off alone.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:23 PM)
27 November 2003
Haul of fame

Things do change between vision and execution, and sometimes it's a matter of necessity.

I must have plopped onto three dozen pieces of furniture yesterday before settling, so to speak, on a chair/ottoman and loveseat combination. (The tale of the tape was inexorable: 84 inches was about all this room would accommodate, and sofas seem to have grown into the 87-96 inch range.) PETAnians will note with glee that I wound up with something of vegetable origin for the upholstery leather was within the budget, to the extent that a budget can be said to exist, but I didn't find something suitable during this search, and I am not one of those people who will go look for days, weeks, years until The Right One comes along. I thought about ordering a side of beef to compensate, but there's not enough room in the new fridge.

Mental note: Do not assemble your own bar stools unless you have access to Bob Vila's tool shed.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:57 AM)
28 November 2003
Moving day

And Silly Billing Corporation hasn't cranked up my phone service at the new digs yet, so it may be a while before the next update.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:38 AM)
29 November 2003

This post comes to you from the Belle Isle Library of the Metropolitan Library System, inasmuch as a telephone company which shall remain nameless (though its initials are S.B.C.) has thus far failed to provide me with anything resembling a working telephone line.

Which is a considerable letdown, since everyone else involved in this move put forth truly heroic levels of effort. On the backbreaking-labor end of it, I must thank Steffanie and Bill, her son JP, Leslie, and the ineffable (no one dares eff him) Terkish Payne. I owe them lots (and lots of food also).

And the real driving force here is my daughter Rebecca, who flew down from Kansas City to see the old man finally clean up his act. I am indeed blessed to have the children I have.

We now return you to your regularly-scheduled blog, assuming the phone drones get off dead center.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:40 PM)
1 December 2003
All the schmooze that's fit to print

It's a new month, and as the literal New Kid on the Block, I got to go to my first Neighborhood Association meeting. It was cordial, if a bit short on actual participants, but what the heck; we had a quorum, and those who didn't show up have only themselves to blame when they discover that the annual dues have been doubled in their absence.

I just hope I remember to set the trash carts out tonight.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:32 PM)
3 December 2003
Noises in the night

Forensic scientists which, if you were to judge solely by network television, make up approximately two-thirds of all scientists in this country have yet to issue a definitive statement on the subject, but I rather think that every building has its own distinct sound pattern, a combination of not-necessarily-random noises that, when combined correctly, identify a building as surely as its street address or its legal description. (No doubt composer John Cage was aware of this phenomenon when he came up with 4' 33", a piece where ambient sounds comprise the music.)

I'm just now learning the sounds of the new house. Of course, "new" is a relative term: the house is actually fifty-five years old. You might expect a bit of creak here and there, and indeed the wooden floors do have a recognizable jounce/rebound pattern, each room slightly different but none of them at all silent. And while the gas furnace is not particularly noisy, there is a pattern that repeats whenever the thermostat commands: a low-pitched grunt, as though the giant had been awakened from his slumber ("Fee, fi, fo, farm/Suppose this twerp would like some warm"), then a rumble as the gas valve opens, finally a snap of metallic fingers and the rush of warm air.

I have yet to distinguish, other than by location, the difference between the fridge kicking into cycle and the water heater going into full sub-boil.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:37 AM)
8 December 2003
Elastic measurements

Depending on whom you want to believe, the New Digs contain 1053, 1057 or 1060 square feet of living space. (The most recent appraisal says 1053, so that's the figure I give out to those who ask.) Not huge, but not so tiny as my former hovel out on Shabby Road.

When The Expert and I first saw this house, she commented, "This seems bigger than they say it is."

My brother did a walk-through yesterday, and he said that it was at least as big as his house, which he described as having 1400 square feet.

Good floor plan? Or just sloppy measuring techniques?

I suppose it's time to pull out the tape measure for myself.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:22 AM)
15 December 2003
Maybe it's my breath

The house next door to me is being offered on a lease-purchase deal because, it's been suggested, the price the owner wanted on a straight sale was too high and now, the house across the street (more or less) is being sold. In this case, since it's bearing a For Sale By Owner sign and a phone number in the next county, I think this is a refurbished rent house that the owner would like to get rid of. (And judging by the succession of trucks I've seen in the driveway, a lot of refurbishers were called in.)

Interestingly, this latter place is offered for about two percent more than my digs, though the house is nominally twenty percent larger. Of course, there's a certain elasticity in these measurements.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:12 AM)
21 December 2003
Fixed orbits

Part of the standard operating procedure for moving to a new address is adjusting one's local buying habits, which includes things like transferring prescriptions to a different branch of the pharmacy chain, observing the gas stations and guesstimating their price patterns, and finding a new batch of out-of-the-way eateries.

In my case, it does not include finding someone new to do my hair, such as it is; the same person, or a member of her staff if she's busy, has performed the tender ministrations upon my dying follicles for more than a decade now, and I am not inclined to go look for someone else to take over the job. (Had I moved 150 miles away, instead of 15, this would be a different story entirely.)

I decided not to spend any time checking out how the 'hood had changed, and it's probably just as well, though I did note that the traffic pattern on 10th Street had been altered again, this time to close a different set of lanes. Inasmuch as there will be lots of utility work in my new neighborhood over the next few months, I limited my response to a sigh and a grumble of "Criminy, aren't they through with this yet?" Of course, where I live, it's just routine replacement of old water lines; down 10th, it's extending services to an area that last year was wholly uninhabited, a far more complicated process.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:17 AM)
22 December 2003
Our Lady of 46th and Miller

And while we're on the subject of neighborhood associations, Vincent Ferrari links to a story about a Florida woman who was asked (which is to say, ordered) to remove a statue of the Virgin Mary from her front yard because it was deemed to be a violation of the rules of the homeowners' association of which she was a member. Mr Ferrari asks, "Is this micromanagement of a person's private property a legally defensible action?"

The ordinance for the Urban Conservation District in which I live doesn't make any specific references to statuary; there is, however, a catchall phrase about "that which creates a disorderly appearance," which conceivably might be brought to bear. As a practical matter, though, someone would have to complain, and I suspect it might take more than a single religious statue to produce enough disorder to warrant a complaint.

Please note that I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:55 PM)
27 December 2003
Large and in charge

An unheard-of 60 degrees this morning, and the sun won't rise for another two and a half hours. I was carrying a trash bag outside (Big Blue and his brother, per city ordinance, reside behind my fence except on pickup days), and in the dim light cast by street lights to the west and north of me, it dawned on me that damn, this is a pretty big yard, and weirdest of all, it's mine.

And then it dawned on me that it was Saturday, a day when I habitually don't get dressed until 7:30 or 8, and I probably shouldn't spend a whole lot of time outside before that time. Especially with the winds blowing at twenty.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:20 AM)
31 December 2003
Speaking of moving

Now you know why.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:38 AM)
8 January 2004
First official home repair

One of those talk-show guys is fond of saying, "If you have a home, you have home repairs." This is, of course, not something I want to think about, but if I'm to avoid being at the mercy of some guy in a battered pickup truck, I need to be able to do some of the simpler tasks myself.

Problem: Extremely loose toilet handle requires jiggling in any position and for any function.

Solution: Replace handle/actuator lever. (Float valve was judged to be working correctly.)

Tool used: Vise-Grip", to remove old (and somewhat grungy) apparatus.

Time to fix: 6 minutes, not counting trip to Home Depot.

Cost: $4.28.

I feel better already. Okay, this isn't exactly retrieving the Beagle 2, but frankly, I'd rather not face something incredibly serious just yet.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:49 PM)
9 January 2004
Riding that drain

First city utility bill has arrived, and it's a monster: $135.71, though about $76 of it seems to be refundable deposits of various sorts, and there's $20 for a service initiation fee. This suggests that until Heavy Lawn Watering begins, I'm looking at $40ish water/garbage/sewage bills every month, which isn't exactly horrendous.

Once I recovered my composure, I noticed something marked "Drainage Fee Fee Due To Unfunded EPA Mandate." Needless to say, I had to track this down, and here's the scoop:

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) now enforces strict storm water drainage regulations.

The monthly "drainage fee" is to pay for work we must do to meet these new EPA drainage standards and requirements. The regulations are the result of a federal mandate to clean up pollution from storm water which drains into rivers, lakes and streams.

Washington did not provide any money to pay for meeting the requirements. Every large city in the United States must spend local money millions of dollars to avoid crippling fines.

Of course, "unfunded mandate," if you say it loudly enough, becomes a buzzword. And it's said quite a bit, now that the Feds seem comfortable with handing out regulations without regard to cost. Still, absent evidence to the contrary, I am going to assume that this particular mandate is something that needs to be, or at least ought to be, done, and will pay my $3.82 (up from $2.73, unless this is prorated in some strange manner) with a smile and only slightly clenched teeth.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:29 PM)
12 January 2004
Now how much would you pay?

If you've got a spare $10,130 burning a hole in your pocket, you can come live next door to me for a year.

I've been avoiding asking the owner just how much he wanted to rent the place, but someone pulled one too many information sheets out of the little plastic tube, and the extra one was found lodged just this side of my flower bed, and thus informed, I pass the details on to you.

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.

What they want: Twelve-month lease, $650 deposit, $790 a month.

What they don't want: Smokers, pet owners, Section 8.

I haven't been inside, but the outside is pretty decent, and it's a block and a half to the grade school, if that matters to you.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:20 PM)
18 January 2004
In the right place

The rental next door is still vacant, but across the street and one down, there's a sale. After the owner sank some serious dollars into refurbishing the place and then sat by the phone for a month of FSBOing, he finally bit the bullet and called in an Expert, who promptly sold the place in half a week.

As everyone knows, the three major guiding principles of real estate are location, location, and location, perhaps in that very order. But in my case, at least, to make the deal work, it also took research, elbow grease, and good ol' dumb luck. I wouldn't be at all surprised to hear the same story from the new folks on the block when they get here.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:44 AM)
23 January 2004
No sale

The contract for the house across the street and one over has apparently come undone; the For Sale sign was back on the curb this afternoon, and there was a card in the mail from the owner's agent with a picture of the very place and the price, which has somehow gone up $9000 since December, when the owner was trying to unload it himself. Needless to say, this fellow would like to sell my house, too, inasmuch as he needs "well maintained 3-4 bed homes" in the area.

Not that I'm willing to cash in my seventy-nine bucks of actual accumulated equity, of course, but I'd be very happy to see someone pay that much for a house on my block, for reasons of personal avarice.

(Donna, dearest, pay no attention to this. It is not going to happen to you not this close to your closing date.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:48 PM)
26 January 2004
The demand side of the curve

Across the street and one down, there was an Open House yesterday from 2 to 4 pm. At least, those were the posted hours: at least three prospects showed up before two. The agent had gotten there half an hour early, and he was more than happy to honor the Sooner tradition.

Meanwhile, I concentrated on my yard work, perhaps with the thought that it might influence someone to think that this block was tidy.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:46 AM)
6 March 2004
The rake's progress

Yard work began today.

There isn't that much yet only the faintest green is starting to show in the lawn but I did redistribute some of the accumulated leaves from the last few months, scrape away mud from in front of the gate, and stir up the wood chips in the flower bed. (I have no idea what, if anything, is planted therein; by the time I bought this place, fall was well underway, and any actual blooms would long since have expired.)

The apartments around the corner did some serious tree-trimming last week, and rather a substantial amout of detritus dropped over my side of the fence. I stacked it in the far corner for now. Maybe some of the bare spots near the fence will be somewhat less bare, now that they're getting less shade.

The weather, atypically for March, was cooperative. By summer, of course, these same tasks will seem excruciating.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:08 PM)
9 March 2004
You're young, you'll adjust

After three house payments, I find myself with a brand-new payment book, containing the standard but nonetheless ominous notice:

[name of bank] has completed an analysis of your escrow account, and has adjusted your mortgage payment to reflect changes in your real estate taxes or property insurance.

And they did indeed adjust it by one cent.

Downward, yet.

I haven't checked with the County Assessor yet, but I'm assuming this means I'm not getting a big jump (which, in this state, is defined as five percent) in property taxes this year.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:33 PM)
25 March 2004
A name for a place

When I was acquiring this little piece of subheaven, I dubbed it "Shangri-Chaz," a name that had little to recommend it other than its singular lack of euphony. But with spring in the air, the foliage coming in lovelier than I deserve, and my moods blacker than usual, I stumbled across a name which fits so well it's no wonder I didn't think of it then.

Hereinafter, my quarter-acre of God's green earth, not all of it equally green, will be known as:


At some point, I will commission a sign for the house.

(The "In City Dreams" category has been renamed accordingly.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:16 PM)
28 March 2004
Signs of spring

Two of the nondescript trees in my front yard at least it seemed so when I bought the place turn out to be hale and hearty redbuds, and right now the one to the east is breaking out into a glorious purple, while its western cousin is a lovely bridal white. They're both a long way from full bloom, though.

And my mower of choice was sold out.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:25 PM)
8 April 2004
Pay to the piper

State Question 676, passed in 1996, limits the increase in assessed value for property-tax purposes to five percent per year.

There are a couple of catches, of course. The actual tax can rise more than five percent, if the tax rate increases. However, since tax increases must be approved by voters, this is less of an issue than it could be.

The other one will hit me this year: if the property is sold or otherwise conveyed, the limitation does not apply, inasmuch as the assessor has to come up with a new set of numbers. Tax bills come out in October. I didn't take possession until the last week of November; at settlement, I paid about one-tenth of the taxes to cover my 36 days of possession for the year. But for 2004, the tax bill will reflect a new, updated, and significantly higher assessment; in subsequent years, the five-percent cap will kick in again.

Assuming the actual rates don't rise, which they haven't in a while and probably won't by October, I'm looking at about a $150 bump in this year's property taxes, which isn't onerous but isn't fun either. The Gods of Escrow will, of course, demand $13 a month to cover the difference.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:25 PM)
23 April 2004
Life among the redbuds

It looks something like this, at least for a few weeks:

Redbuds in bloom

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:07 AM)
24 April 2004
How now, brown thumb?

Up to now, I have never had much luck with plants; I've always suspected that once aware of my presence, they shut themselves down rather than endure it.

White irisesThe flora at Surlywood, however, are anything but suicidal, and they're utterly indifferent to me. I expected, based on what I found in the November inventory, one small clump of irises this spring, but got three. (This is the first, which is all white; the second is a mixture of white and yellow; the third, in the back yard under the cottonwood tree, is purple.) I'm starting to envision having the entire back fence lined with these things. Of course, if I actually plan for this, I may be pushing my luck.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:55 AM)
10 May 2004
The delicate balance of nature

A Really Large Tree sits on the property line, overhanging my front yard and the one just east of it. If ever it has to be cut down, presumably both owners will have to consult.

Early this morning, the combination of fierce winds and relatively dry wood resulted in the fall of a ten-foot branch, and amazingly, it dropped right along the property line for about two feet, anyway. The rest of it was blocking the street.

I hauled the debris into my yard for eventual disposal, reasoning that well, I saw it first.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:41 AM)
12 May 2004
Gray skin rots in the hot sun

I fought the lawn, and the lawn won.

Actually, I'd subdued about 94 percent of the area in question when the mower sputtered to a halt. Out of gas. Screw this, I thought, and went back inside to catch my breath and start dinner.

Later, I popped back into the yard, surveyed the scene, and contemplated the possibility of finishing up, when a wandering cloud, obviously tickled at the prospect, dumped a lot of water on the premises and moved on just as fast as possible.

So six percent of the back yard gets ignored this time around. Fortunately, it's not one of the areas that grows most quickly.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:22 AM)
16 May 2004
16 trees, and whaddya get?

When I bought this place last year, I was aware that one of the prices paid for the premises, in addition to two-point-something years' salary, was the necessity of doing yard work. And while I don't much enjoy it, it does get me out in the sun once in a while, and it does provide me with some worthwhile (they tell me) exercise.

On the other hand, Velociman sees no such upside with his purchase.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:23 PM)
31 July 2004
Window of opportunity

Two or three days of rain, one day of "partly sunny," and a return to more summerlike (read: "hot") weather predicted for the weekend. So what did we Moderately Sophisticated Urbanites do with our Friday evening?

Right. We got out the lawn mowers. I don't think I've ever heard so many of the contraptions going at once. It was a gloriously irritating cantata in n-part disharmony, a sound-effects record of angry bees played loud at 16 rpm, the occasional string trimmer adding counterpoint.

Oh, and the back yard looks pretty good, too, though I should know better than to do this after putting in an eleven-hour day. Everything south of my chin hurts.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:39 AM)
19 October 2004
No snacks for you

There once was a time when it was considered cute to illustrate your Yellow Pages or other institutional advertising with sub-literate urchins, and the results were usually as godawful as this piece for an exterminator, from deep in the cultural wilderness of the early 1960s:

SLU#1: "Be's you got bugs?"

SLU#2: "Sure I are. Ev'rybody do."

Ev'rybody do not. Surlywood passed the annual termite inspection today with flying, um, fibers. Which means, of course, that apart from the weather, the major destructive force here is yours truly.

Semi-amusing sidebar: Since this property changed hands in the last 12 months, the 5-percent cap on property-tax increases no longer applies, and the county assessor was happy to bump up the tax bill by $175 this year. Offsetting a fifth of this, my homeowner's insurance inexplicably went down $35. (Well, it's explicable enough: I have slightly less crummy credit this year than I did last year.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:13 PM)
15 November 2004
Be there!

If you act now, you, too, can live down the street from Surlywood; the house three doors down has gone on the market.

Built in 1948 and extended a couple of times, this little one-story box offers three bedrooms, a single bathroom, a carport built for two, and a couple of outbuildings. Claimed interior area is 1376 square feet, which seems about right. They're asking $89,900, and being the greedy so-and-so I am, I hope they get pretty close to it. (So far as I know, only one person in recent years paid 100 percent of the actual asking price on this block. Don't even ask.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:41 AM)
28 November 2004
Running a trace

What I know about this neighborhood is not much, really. I know that C. B. Warr, after whom the enclave of Warr Acres is named, developed this subdivision right after World War II; my house, like most of the others close by, was built in 1948. (Other noteworthy happenings in this year: the founding of Israel, the beginning of the Berlin Airlift, the publication of Alfred Kinsey's Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, and a Triple Crown win by Citation.)

Which leads to the question: what happened to the original settlers? A 1907 township map shows everything owned, if not necessarily platted, as far north as Wilshire Boulevard. (Townships were six miles square; the boundaries were Wilshire and Reno on the north and south, and May and Bryant on the west and east.) This quarter-section was owned, says the map, by one Halvor Steanson, for whom Steanson Drive (2800 block West, through this neighborhood only) is presumably named; in 1925, Steanson was still listed in the city directory as a farmer, located around NW 45th and May.

Tarrant County (Fort Worth), Texas reports the birth of Kirk Halvor Steanson in July 1955. Grandson, I'm guessing. Did the Steansons sell out to Warr and move to Texas? One of next year's projects will be to find out for sure.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:15 PM)
29 November 2004
Three doors down

There's a big SOLD sign on the house up the street, and a traveling storage bin sitting in the driveway. I have no idea if they got the price they wanted, but the important thing is that they got a buyer within a couple of weeks, which indicates that demand remains strong out in this little corner of town.

I expect they'll close right before Christmas.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:17 AM)
3 December 2004
Putting the wind farm to work

Friends and neighbors and total strangers and whatnot joined in the effort to get my Christmas decorations up today, and a considerable effort it was. (My own input was limited to reorienting a few things, removing a few things that came off as just too overwrought, and debris disposal.)

I would have been happier had this happened next Friday, after the electric meter is read, but what the hell. And Michele, and by extension presumably Lileks as well, will be happy to hear that there are at least four colors of lights involved.

Thanks, guys (and gals, as appropriate).

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:51 PM)
9 December 2004
Exterior desecrations

If you'd like to see just what sort of weirdness went on here during the Decorating Phase a week ago, it was something like this.

Incidentally, "Snowman" has been moved to a more frontal location.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:33 PM)
11 January 2005
Visions of dollar signs

The place three doors down closed for a startling $101,000.

I have never before lived on a block where a house actually sold for six figures. Geez, what must my humble little doll house be worth?

(No, I'm not moving. Don't even think that.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:08 PM)
17 January 2005
Hitting me where I live

Regular readers (all three of you) will know that shortly after I moved into these semi-swanky digs in the city, I bestowed upon the property the name "Surlywood," which, all things considered, isn't a bad name, even if it is a bit too reminiscent of Lileks' beloved Jasperwood.

Not everyone does things like that:

We've never named our houses. We simply distinguish them by referencing the name of the street on which they are located. The one we are in the process of moving to is on a corner lot, and has a separate address for the upstairs apartment, but we do not refer to the place as "Thirtieth".

I spent too many years in apartments which deserved no names at least, none which are utterable in polite society.

Interestingly, the practice in my neighborhood is to denote a house by its color, should that color be distinctive. For reasons unknown, my place is referred to as the "Brown House," despite the fact that very little of it is brown (most of the wood framing is painted some sort of Hello Kitty-esque pink, and at some point before that it was green). Nor was it ever, to my knowledge, owned by anyone named Brown.

The yard, however, definitely qualifies as brown, at least for now.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:49 PM)
16 February 2005
From the Department of Serendipity

A question I asked last fall about this corner of town:

[W]hat happened to the original settlers? A 1907 township map shows everything owned, if not necessarily platted, as far north as Wilshire Boulevard. (Townships were six miles square; the boundaries were Wilshire and Reno on the north and south, and May and Bryant on the west and east.) This quarter-section was owned, says the map, by one Halvor Steanson, for whom Steanson Drive (2800 block West, through this neighborhood only) is presumably named; in 1925, Steanson was still listed in the city directory as a farmer, located around NW 45th and May.

One of my resolutions for the new year, so to speak, was to answer that question. Fortunately for me, someone else spotted it first. A Steanson, yet.

Steanson B. Parks reports from Dallas:

Halvor Steanson was my great grandfather. He and his wife came with their family from Norway, entered the USA at Ellis Island, some stayed in Brooklyn, and their group came onto Kansas and ultimately on down to OKC in the late 1880's. They originally settled in a "mud hut one room home" up around the WKY radio/tv antennas (I believe above 63rd and May). However, they did not have any water there and had to fetch water via walking or horseback. I'm told by my grandmother (my father's mother) that they then traded their land for about 40 acres down around 48th and May (one block east of May) where the current Steanson street is located, and runs about four or five blocks. At the base of the street was a pond/creek and that is where they moved the prairie porch-style house that they had built to replace the original mud hut home up north. They lived a good life, and eventually built a new brick home (I think in about 1948 or so). My great aunts Julie and Kate lived for many years in that home. Their older sister Chris, lived to be 103 years of age. They were all three school teachers, and Chris, the oldest taught at Capitol [Hill] High, south of OKC, and the two younger sisters taught at Edgemere (spelling?) down around 15th Street as I recall. My grandmother, Jennie Harriet Steanson, married M.B. Parks, settled in Muskogee, Oklahoma and raised her family there. My father Elmer B. Parks was named after my grandmother's younger brother, Elmer Steanson, who lived/worked in OKC for many years and was with Southwestern Bell Telephone. The old original wooden, two story prairie porch style home was later on cut into pieces and moved over to the Lincoln Ext. area somewhere, where I understand a landman in the oil and gas business currently lives.

You gotta love this Internet stuff. And 1948, you'll remember, was right at the beginning of this neighborhood.

Thank you, SBP. We can always use a little more history.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:28 PM)
1 March 2005
Underneath the cap

The County Assessor has gotten in his licks for the year, and given the progress of real-estate prices in this neighborhood, they were perfectly predictable.

According to today's notice, Surlywood is worth just over 11 percent more than it was at this time last year. Under Oklahoma law, they can increase the taxable market value a maximum of 5 percent, which they did. Assuming the tax rate remains unchanged, which it probably won't, my actual taxes will go up 5.7 percent.

Still, this is quite an improvement from last year, when as a new owner I didn't qualify for the 5-percent cap and they made up for what they didn't get from the previous owner in one fell swoop.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:28 AM)
15 March 2005
Tripping the lights fantastic

If it's dark enough outside and you get halfway from the driveway to my front door, the floodlights come on.

This is no big deal, but it got me wondering just how small an interloper can be spotted by the motion detector.

And while I was pondering this matter last night, the floodlights came on, and I got to the window in time to see one of the neighborhood cats at a slow, deliberate pace, as though he'd had nothing to do with it and just happened to be passing by.

Which could possibly be true I mean, I didn't see the cat trip the beam. But he certainly wasn't startled by it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:22 AM)
8 April 2005
Trumpet involuntary

Fridays are always hectic for me, and when this one proved to be slightly less so than average, I decided I'd mow the front lawn, which, as always, is a dispiriting sort of activity, inasmuch as at this time of year actual grass makes up maybe twenty-five percent of the stuff that's too tall. (Mental note: Call landscape architect, prepare for huge bills.)

And when this tedious task was over and I'd put the equipment away, I went out back and sprawled under a sweetgum tree, and let the memories of work slide off into nowhere. Background music, as always, was provided by the rest of the world: the dull rumble of traffic at a distance, occasionally sharpened by the sound of a car on my block; the hundred billion or so insects that live near my back door; dozens of birds playing call-and-response in every key of the scale and a few that fall somewhere in between. I looked up through the still-sort-of-bare branches and noted the color of the sky, and thought, "This would be a really good blue for a sea, you know?"

As if on cue, somebody in his first week of learning trumpet from an old fake book (I'm guessing) broke into the first three bars of "Anchors Aweigh," and that's about as far as he got before delivering a sour note. The birds went into "What the hell?" mode and clammed up. He tried again, and flubbed a different note this time, then presumably turned the page and went on to something either less difficult and unrecognizable or more difficult and unrecognizable.

He'll get better. (Even I, the world's third-worst pianist, can occasionally render some semblance of a tune.) And really, I was grateful for the interruption: it was definitely an improvement over thinking about yard work yet undone.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:29 PM)
17 April 2005
Wilson mode: ON

If I'm working in the front yard, neighbors will usually say hello, and I'll occasionally get a wave from people walking through the area, which is a definite change from the days in the old CrappiFlat", where people kept to themselves if they possibly could.

In the back yard, I'm not generally visible, and there's a fence surrounding the area that's as tall as I am, further shrouding the premises, so no one acknowledges my presence out back, and given my particular predilections, this is probably a Good Thing.

Then today: "Hello!"

I figured it probably wasn't for me anyway, and ignored it.

On the third "Hello!" I dragged myself over to the fence, and there was your basic Sweet Little Old Lady, apparently a dweller in the apartments on the adjacent block. Given the topography of the area, which slopes down from the west side of my house, she was basically staring me in the navel, or could have been had it not been for the fence and the trees on its far side.

And it was a tree she wanted to talk about. "This apricot tree hangs over on your side," she said.

I pointed out that I kept the more blatant intrusions trimmed back, and had in fact pruned a few branches this morning. "It's not time yet, but when they're ripe, would you mind terribly if I gathered them from your yard?"

"It didn't produce much of anything last year," I noted.

She apparently remembered the previous owners, didn't recognize me, and figured that she'd renew an existing arrangement. Which was fine with me. "Just come around to the gate." No harm done; I wasn't planning to pick them, and I was happy not to have provoked a discussion of my attire.

And then: "You're working on getting a tan?"

Um, yes, I was. "It's good for me."

Apparently it was good enough for her, too. "Thank you." And she disappeared into the mysterious wilderness next door.

Maybe I won't trim too narrowly this year, although any branches that protrude through the fence are going to be gone the moment I see them.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:11 PM)
19 May 2005
Changes afoot

I was briefly entertaining the idea of calling in someone with landscape experience to reshape the western side of the lot, which has a rather ragged slope and all manner of bare spots.

It's probably a good thing that I didn't, since Oklahoma City is replacing a sewer line that runs parallel to the fenceline, and they'll do quite a lot of reshaping themselves, though not necessarily the sort I might actually want. They left a note on the door yesterday afternoon explaining in the vaguest possible terms just what it is they're doing.

As always with easements, it's a mixed blessing:

Upside: Presumably an end to the sporadic hydrogen-sulfide stench in the front yard near the regular access point; about five percent less back yard to mow.

Downside: Trees are coming down, and so is the fence (a temporary chain-link fence is already in place); no discernible privacy for the rest of the summer; no access through the gate.

More as things begin to happen.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:31 AM)
Sewer update

And doesn't that sound yummy?

Well, they're not dawdling, at least not yet; the rest of the fence was ruthlessly excised today, lengths of pipe were stacked up at the north end, and the parking lot to the west was partially blocked off.

I have two trees of my own on the periphery a small evergreen and an adolescent cottonwood and both are still standing for now. The chain-link temporary fence is almost flush against the rosebush, which suggests some possible amusements down the way.

The meter readers (gas and electric) will be totally blocked, which should make for some bizarre billing in weeks to come.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:52 PM)
20 May 2005
Can you dig it, baby?

Apparently they can. The city's crew demonstrated that shovelry isn't dead after all: since yesterday they've managed to open up nearly 30 percent of the trench, about 50 feet, no small accomplishment on a day which topped out at 97 degrees, three above the previous record. Large piles of rust-red dirt this is Oklahoma, after all are heaped on the western edge, and the ubiquitous yellow tape is looped around the weird elm/mulberry hybrid on the far side of the driveway; since they've already dug past it, I have to assume it will be spared. They haven't reached the backyard trees yet, though.

Next report, I presume, will be Monday evening, for those of you who are utterly transfixed by the very idea of sewerblogging.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:02 PM)
23 May 2005

A cooler day (merely the low 90s) than it's been, and the sewer-line crew have made substantial progress: they've now dug 100 feet, maybe a little more. (I estimate 160 total for this segment.) While some of the vines and such around the cottonwood have been excised, the tree itself and the evergreen to its south apparently will be spared entirely, perhaps because they're so close to the gas line that runs nearby. (Of course, if ONG ever has to replace that line, I can kiss those trees goodbye, and well, I draw the line at hugging them.)

So far, no reason to complain, other than the fact that complaining is what I do best.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:26 PM)
24 May 2005
Slash and burn

Okay, nothing was burned today, except maybe some exposed skin (not mine), and some phone customers up the street: the sewer guys dug all the way to the back fence, and at the last minute sliced through some telephone cable. When I got home, SBC was busy patching up the repair; one of the crew allowed that given the sheer number of sewer repairs, they wound up doing fewer such splice jobs than I might expect.

Still, decent progress, and no change to the status of the trees.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:22 PM)
25 May 2005
The less-than big dig

It rained today, but not enough to keep the sewer crew away, and I suspect that in a day or two they'll be ready to start flattening out the mounds of dirt. The south end already looks like they've kicked down a sand castle or two.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:23 PM)
26 May 2005
Rained out

At least long enough this morning to decide "Well, we're not going to get anything done here," even though the afternoon was bright and sunny.

Not so bright was the tailgater I drew on I-44 westbound; it took not one but two exhibitions of "Geez, that guy must be insane" to shake her. The more interesting of the two was the left-lane exit at Classen Circle, the curve of which is most safely managed at 30 mph or so, and which I took somewhere in the lower 50s, about 10 over my usual. I really don't like doing this sort of thing at some level, I'm aware that I'm just asking for a local version of the Darwin Awards but it did tell me that I can probably go ahead with World Tour '05 without having to buy a set of tires first. (Zoom Zoom means nothing if you can't hold the road.)

Tomorrow: who knows? The city's official completion date is still listed as the 18th of September.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:37 PM)
29 May 2005
Return of the neighbor

I was in the driveway this morning, trimming mulberry branches that were hanging low and might scrape someone's car roof, when the sweet little old lady from this article waved at me from what used to be across the fence. We talked about trees, the previous residents, Decoration Day those "younger folk" don't seem to understand what it all means, we agreed and the inconveniences of the ongoing sewer-line work.

Fortunately, we didn't discuss wardrobe issues.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:17 AM)
7 June 2005
Actual sewer update

After a week of nothing happening, the top of the trench has been filed down, not exactly smooth, but decidedly closer to flat than it was when the pipe was laid.

I have no idea whether the fact that I mentioned the lull to the president of the Neighborhood Association had anything to do with this sudden upsurge in activity.

The terrain is still kinda bumpy, but then it was kinda bumpy before.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:57 PM)
8 June 2005
The home stretch

Fenceposts are up, which can mean only one of one thing: they're getting ready to replace the fence.

Good gracious, they might actually have all this finished by Friday afternoon.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:46 PM)
13 June 2005
The penultimate sewer update

At least, I hope so. About half the fence is now up; one section that had not been secured actually fell down during last night's storms. (Winds of 70 mph and more can do that, even if they're not spinning around in a circle.) The rains resulted in rather a lot of unwanted gullies being cut, but there's very little that can be done about that, inasmuch as there's no actual vegetation just now to hold the soil in place.

Tomorrow should be sunny, and maybe they'll be finished.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:04 PM)
14 June 2005
Do fence me in

It's done, and in a mere three and a half weeks.

Of course, it's a mixed blessing:

Upside: Unexpectedly, the crew repaired the diagonal wire on the gate (which was broken before they started work), and the areas closest to the inside corner of the fence were actually covered with sod, meaning I'll have about a third as much in the way of bare spots as I anticipated. What's more, the new gully cut by the Sunday rainstorm was filled in with fresh dirt, so I won't have a mini-trench developing in front of the gate.

Downside: They hung the fence on the back side of the posts instead of the front, which may (I haven't looked at the abstract yet) give me more space back here than I'm entitled to. Also, it's obvious that much of the privacy that I used to have was due less to the fence than to the foliage next door, which is now gone; I am about as well-hidden as an ostrich beak-deep in sand. I do not know if they plan to replant; I am contemplating putting up something of my own.

And I'll have to replace one board in the gate, which split. All in all, though, not horrible.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:29 PM)
24 June 2005
Let's not call it treehugging

I do rather a lot of whining around here about my chronic datelessness, but it never occurred to me to blame it on the enormous chaste tree in my back yard.

I'm not complaining about the tree, though; it's quite lovely, and after an indifferent 2004 it's come back very strong this year, reaching a height of about nine feet on its way to the sky.

After entirely too long a workday, I wasn't up to mowing the entire yard, so I decided to do the worst two-thirds this evening and save the rest for some unspecified future time. In making the turn by the back fence, I knocked loose a few dozen blossoms from the chaste tree; from a distance, the spillage looked like a nice blue puddle. And if there's one thing birds in this neighborhood love, it's a freshly-mowed lawn, or even two-thirds of one, so the moment I parked the mower, one of the resident robins dropped into the pile of blossoms to investigate. Within twenty seconds, there was a second and a third; a fourth followed quickly. From the far north, or at least north of the back fence, a blue jay ventured into the zone, but the robins weren't in any mood for guests and dispatched the intruder forthwith. A second jay, perched on the gas meter, decided he wasn't going to wait around for the same treatment, and departed. Last year the jays ruled this yard, but once they abandoned their nest (in one of the twin sweetgum trees near the back door), they fell victim to regime change.

(Yes, I have a lot of trees. One of the reasons I live here.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:06 PM)
22 July 2005
You, too, can live here

Well, not here, exactly, but in the next block over.

It's a 1½-story, four-bedroom, 2½-bath home with 2250 square feet (splitting the difference between the listing and the County Assessor's records) and a single attached garage, newly remodeled in 2004 but still looking, as required by the rules of the Urban Conservation District, like a product of 1948, at least on the outside. They're asking $164,900; the agent's listing is here.

(Yeah, that's almost twice what my house would bring. Then again, this one is twice as big.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:49 PM)
5 August 2005
Chaste across the yard

Chaste treeOn the off-chance that some of you are curious, this is the shorter of the two chaste trees in my back yard, shot back in June when it was somewhere close to full bloom. (The enormous one, described in the original post, was substantially taller but quite a bit less colorful for some reason; I assume it's not because it's closer to the gas meter.) As you can see, I prune only under duress. (If you want a better look, here's a bigger picture.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:00 AM)
9 August 2005
A Type O personality

In this month's Neighborhood Association newsletter, the address of the meeting location was printed incorrectly.

Turnout was about 50 percent higher than usual.

Next month, I'm going to suggest they put in the wrong date.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:57 AM)
28 September 2005
We don't need no stinkin' bubble

Gawker fishes this out of the AP net:

Everything about Frank Fazio's new two-bedroom apartment on Manhattan?s Upper West Side is decidedly average, including its price: a hair under $1 million.

With five rooms and about 1,050 square feet of space, the place is a nice size, by New York standards, but it is no mansion. There are no chandeliers, no soaring cathedral ceilings and no doorman downstairs to help with groceries.

I must point out here that Surlywood, my humble abode, can be described this way:

"With five rooms and about 1,050 square feet of space, the place is a nice size, by New York standards, but it is no mansion. There are no chandeliers, no soaring cathedral ceilings and no doorman downstairs to help with groceries."

For that matter, there's no downstairs. (And if you count the bathroom, there are six rooms, though anyone who's ever seen my bathroom will argue that it shouldn't be counted.)

The price, were it for sale, would be a hair under $100,000. Maybe a few hairs.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:45 PM)
29 September 2005
It's getting expensive around here

While following up on this, I poked through some of the local records, and for the first time I can remember, we've had a house in this neighborhood bring over $80 a square foot. I'd characterize said house as "pretty but unremarkable," but still: eighty?

Apparently this trend started a couple of years before I moved in, and accelerated when I got here. I'd attribute the acceleration, not to my presence (duh), but to the neighborhood's ascent into Urban Conservation District status, according to legend the next-best thing to Actual Historic, which took place right before I bought in.

The last time I marveled about such a thing was eight months ago. That house was more than 10 percent larger, and sold for almost exactly the same money.

I have the smallest house on the street; I'd probably be amazed if someone offered me this kind of money for it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:00 AM)
14 October 2005
On the subject of small homes

The price of entry to my block is now $109,900.

No, really, I mean it. And that's up twenty thousand from last fall, even.

Evidently I'm not doing a very good job of repelling the neighbors.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:02 AM)
29 October 2005
Eating me out of house and home

This is the usual function of teenagers, but since my children are grown, I now reserve this description for termites, and this week was the annual inspection.

Once again, no trace of the little SOBs. You can be sure that I plan to be most inhospitable should they put in an appearance during the next twelve months.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:30 AM)
12 November 2005
The taxman cometh

I got my property tax bill today, and it was almost, but not entirely, predictable.

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.)

The actual tax, however, did not go up by 4.998 percent; the tax rate has dropped by a little more than two mills, though it's still slightly higher than it was for 2003. The actual increase is more like 3.7 percent.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:44 PM)
5 December 2005
As though leaves weren't enough

The winds have changed direction almost every day since Thanksgiving, which means a wider variety of debris blowing into the yard. Most of the time, I don't really care how it got there; I pick it up, toss it into the trash, and that's the end of it.

But there has to be some sort of story about how a ClearBlue Easy Pregnancy Test stick, still in its wrapper one end was torn slightly, but not enough to remove the product wound up beside my mulberry tree.

Not that I particularly want to hear that story, mind you.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:36 PM)
7 December 2005
Pretending to be handy

It occurs to me that the optimum time for replacing a toilet flapper is not the day when the incoming water is at its coldest.

(Yes, I did shut off the valve. It's still cold inside that tank.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:00 PM)
4 January 2006

Surlywood has one of those monitored alarm systems, with a phone connection, a battery backup, and a REALLY loud siren, which requires a permit from Oklahoma City ($20 initially, $5 a year thereafter). My annual permit expires at the end of December; on 26 November I sent my renewal application. (My bank reports that the city cashed my check on the 30th.)

The 2006 sticker has yet to arrive, so this morning I called the OCPD to see what was going on. Apparently the poor soul on the phone had been getting a number of these calls: as he tells it, they had outsourced production of the permit decals, and late last year they changed suppliers and the new supplier is way, way behind. (I got the distinct impression that it wasn't the OCPD who wanted to change the contract.) In the meantime, he said, not to worry, and if by some fluke I'm written up for an expired permit, they'll take care of it.

I don't feel better, exactly, but at least I'm not alone in my plight.

Update, 5 January, 5 pm: The new decal has arrived.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:09 AM)
5 March 2006
Zillow talk

Zillow.com is the current project of Expedia founder Richard Barton, and not everyone is impressed with Zillow's "Zestimate" market-value figures. Zillow contends that the more information it can tap, the more valid the Zestimates will be, and as it happens, the Oklahoma County Assessor has all this stuff available already, so I figured that Zillow had likely tapped in and run its magic formula and gotten something close to plausible.

Which, in my case at least, they did. The official Zestimate for Surlywood is $84,482, though they allow for a Value Range of $71,810 to $103,068. There are also percentiles: 43rd percentile for my ZIP code, 55th for Oklahoma City. (Who knew this part of town was pricier than average? Then again, it butts up against the south edge of Nichols Hills.)

The Assessor's 2006 numbers should be out by the first of April. I will check that figure against Zillow's presumably-updated figure at the time. I'm thinking, though, that the difference between the two will probably be $1000 at most.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:14 AM)
7 March 2006
Old Facefull

Note to self: That abandoned birds' nest you knocked down this afternoon? There's a reason it held together all through the fall and the winter: careful application of local soils to reinforce its structure. Add four months and very little rain, and allow to sit; then, when force is applied, gravity does exactly what it's supposed to do.

Had I fetched a ladder before dislodging the nest, making it possible to attack it from the side, I'd have had nothing to write about; on the other hand, I'd have had a lot less dirt on me.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:49 PM)
12 March 2006
Won't you be my neighbor

The house three doors down, which was sold around Thanksgiving 2004, has since been resold; there was a massive yard sale yesterday to get rid of most of the contents. I don't know the sale price this time, but the previous sale was for $101,000, and Zillow.com Zestimates the place at $114,646.

Now a house across the street from there has gone up for sale. It's a slightly smaller home 1152 square feet, says the Assessor's book and the asking price is $85,500, within a lawn mower or so of Zillow.com's Zestimate. (Speaking of Zestimates, the one on my place, which was lower than that a week ago, has crept up to $86,407.) The usual neighborhood benefits apply: walking distance (a block and a half, in this case) to one of the better Oklahoma City schools (state API score: 1291 out of a possible 1500), comparatively easy access to the best stuff in town, Urban Conservation District zoning, and a Neighborhood Association that gets rather a lot done, given its limited resources. So far as I can tell, my presence on the block for the past two years has not caused property values to plummet.

Update, mid-April: Selling prices, per the County Assessor: $109,500 and $87,000 respectively. The latter, you'll note, is above the original asking price, suggesting yet another bidding war on this block.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:11 PM)
5 April 2006
People moving out, people moving in

A house up the street (mentioned here three weeks ago) sold last week; two more around the corner and northward went up for sale about the same time or slightly afterwards, and one of them already has a contract.

I don't know what the neighborhood record is the house that became Surlywood was listed on a Tuesday evening and I put in a bid the following Saturday, which is fairly quick but obviously there's some serious demand over here.

Still, if the one that remains for sale (it's a "Dream Starter"!) brings the $114k asked, I'll be somewhere between delighted and flabbergasted.

Update, 16 April: They've cut the Dream Starter to $107,000.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:08 AM)
15 April 2006
The yard report

The weeds, of course, returned to greenitude before most of the actual grass, so I hauled out the mower this morning to knock down the areas of most blatant growth.

Nothing seems to have died over the winter, which, since it wasn't that much of a winter half the usual snowfall, and one of the warmer Januarys on record isn't much of a surprise. There's a new shrub north-by-northeast, which last fall wasn't much to look at: today it's bound for treehood, which might be a Good Thing if it doesn't play hell with the fence it approaches.

Irises: front box, one, white, in bloom: four in waiting. None in back yard yet; I am hoping to get some to grow under the elm.

Roses: front box, four, three red, one baby pink. (Shades of "Lipstick on Your Collar"!) Huge backyard bush, seven, very, very deep red. Still smallish in diameter.

Trees: Greening slowly, except cottonwood, which is past its Q-Tip stage. Brace of chaste trees slow to warm up, so to speak.

Ground texture: Seemingly lumpier than usual.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:26 PM)
16 April 2006
House of the rising gorge

I was headed east on Wilshire from May yesterday afternoon when I spotted a vacant lot: a teardown. One of the more modest homes on the western edge of Nichols Hills was gone, presumably to be replaced with something, well, less modest. It seemed unlikely to me, though, that one of the faux châteaux you see in newer suburban communities would be appearing on top of this lot. While houses along this stretch varied substantially in size, their setbacks were more or less identical; I assume that Nichols Hills regulates this sort of thing rather tightly, and there simply isn't room to plop a McMansion on a lot this size and still have the prescribed amount of front yard. (In fact, where I live, there is a setback ordinance, part of the Urban Conservation District zoning rules, which does exactly that.)

James Joyner doesn't object to zoning rules of this sort, but he wonders about their motivation:

While I understand the desire to preserve the historic character of truly old neighborhoods, as well as the interest of homeowners in not having multi-family or much lower value properties built in their neighborhood, I can?t see why anyone would be opposed to nicer homes.

My wife and I live in a subdivision that was once part of George Washington's Mount Vernon estate. The homes were built in the early and mid-1960s and have what for this area are considered large yards. Slowly, the older, smaller, less attractive homes are being bought by developers and replaced by much nicer, more expensive new homes. We're delighted, as it not only improves the aesthetic quality of the area but increases our own property value. It also encourages others, including those like us who plan to stay put, to invest money in renovating their own homes since the fear that they will not be able to recoup the investment on resale because of the value of other homes in the community is diminished. This strikes me as a win all the way around.

Not having seen Dr Joyner's neighborhood, I can't address this idea directly, but at least around my part of the world, suburban homes built in the early 1960s tend to be something less than distinctive unless they're seriously high-buck; this was an era of cookie-cutter architecture. (I owned one such circa 1980, and it was fairly indistinguishable from the rest of the block.) I don't think it's a property-value issue so much as an aesthetic one: your own car looks older when your neighbor shows up with a brand-new one. And in the estimation of some of our cultural arbiters, the McMansion is to a house what a sport-utility vehicle is to a car: the very idea is an affront to their sensibilities.

Molly is an art/architectural historian, and she has her own qualms:

[W]hile I would always support reasonable efforts to preserve historical structures, I am troubled by efforts like those in Arlington County, VA to dictate how people build anew ("... limits on home sizes ... in most cases ... [mean] a house alone can occupy just 30 percent of a lot"). And I think that the distinction between these two plans rests on a question of motives. We should preserve because we value evidence of our past, not because we find it beautiful. For if we saved (and built) only that which someone defined as beautiful, we would miss many works of great value; beauty and value are not the same thing.

[This CNN] article also raises bogus arguments against McMansions, like that they destroy community. Green spaces and quirky homes don't make friends; the people who live there do. While I am a huge believer in the power of architecture, there's a lot more to a loss of community over a much longer period of time than the growth of new suburban neighborhoods.

This quote from the CNN piece struck me:

"Most of these new houses are more internally organized. You see the driveway and garage doors from the street, not people," said Adrian Fine of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "We're losing mixed-income neighborhoods because the prices are going up so much that it becomes one class."

Then again, in some places "the prices are going up so much" even without teardowns and rebuilds.

And this brings up another issue, says Dr Joyner:

Then again, I have never quite grasped the argument against "gentrification," whereby blighted slums are torn down and replaced by decent housing. I understand, and sympathize with, the desire to ensure that the working poor can afford a place to live. But the antipathy toward gentrification and mini-mansions has always struck me as visceral a reaction against an upper middle class lifestyle than about concern for the poor.

The dynamic of envy. Some of us used to suffer greatly from that.

While the individual blocks tend to be more homogenous, the ratio between the most-expensive and least-expensive houses in my neighborhood is about 2.0: you can buy in at the low-priced end, or you can pay up to twice as much. I don't know if this meets anyone's definition of "mixed income," but it certainly doesn't seem to have restricted the diversity of the neighborhood, in any sense of the word.

And ultimately, it boils down to this:

Owner Michael Hamilton said the choice belongs only to the homeowner. He argues that evolution has saved plenty of Austin neighborhoods including the eclectic Hyde Park near the University of Texas and that neighbors who are resistant to change are forgetting that "when they built all those old houses, they were new then, too."

"Somebody could paint their house purple across the street, and I really wouldn't like it," said Mr. Hamilton, who has lived in Austin for 33 years. "But I don't have the right to tell them they can't have a purple house."

My house, by the way, is sort of puce.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:30 AM)
18 April 2006
We want our bubble

By my count, there have been five home sales on my block in the past 2½ years, and four of them brought in 100 percent of the asking price or more. None of this is exactly secret, which perhaps explains why the owners of the house across the street, who posted their FOR SALE sign over the weekend, have listed the place for $99,900.

It's not out of line, really; this block has already broken the $100k barrier. Twice. (On the same house, which was sold one winter and resold the next.) Still, it makes me wonder. Maybe it's the heat (98 degrees yesterday, way above the previous record for the date).

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:21 AM)
10 May 2006
In mourning

I lost a tree today.

The storms ripped through the area just after midnight; I slept through most of it because, after all, it's an Oklahoma spring, and storms are part of the background. And since I didn't go into the back yard this morning, I didn't see it.

This afternoon, I was carrying some broken limbs from the front yard back to the patio, where the trash barrels reside, and there was the west sweetgum, ripped literally in two, its trunk intact to about five feet, half of its crown leaning on its sister to the east, the other half twenty-five feet away, parked next to one of the evergreens.

This is the very tree beneath whose leaves I did my best quiet time, whose shadow marked my sunbathing area, whose shade kept my patio from turning into a concrete grill.

And when it's cleared away, it's going to leave a hole a lot larger than just the circumference of the trunk.

Addendum: Here's how the twins looked in happier times.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:33 PM)
12 May 2006
Coming around again

I'm more or less repeating this item from January 2004, since the tenants are on the way out, which means that the house next door to me is becoming available again. I went over to look for a flyer in the InfoTube, but the supply was depleted. Still, the house likely hasn't changed much since then.

What you'd get: Three bedrooms, two bathrooms, central heat and air, washer/dryer connections, 1340 square feet of space by my decidedly-unscientific guesstimate, decently huge back yard, the dubious privilege of living next door to me.

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

What they want: Well, last time they wanted a twelve-month lease, $650 deposit, $790 a month.

What they don't want: Probably same as the last time: smokers, pet owners, Section 8.

Zillow.com thinks the place is worth just under $92,000, which doesn't seem out of line for this block.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:01 AM)

The Arborist arrived in good spirits; I have to believe, especially since he spent rather a lot of time over the past year working on Katrina/Rita damage, that it's probably pretty hard to shock him anymore.

Anyway, he inspected the sweetgum, and decided that it's as good as dead, and bring on the chainsaws.

So that answers that. Is the tree next to it in trouble? Apparently not. "And it's weird, how you'll sometimes have two otherwise identical trees, and one grows well, and the other never does much of anything."

Not an unknown characteristic in other species, you'll note.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:48 AM)
14 May 2006
Changing of the guard

In 2004, the pecking order was pretty clear: the blue jays owned the back yard, patrolling from two nests, and woe betide any other creature which dared to trespass. (I once saw them escort a squirrel off the premises, and not gently, either.)

Last year, the jays abandoned their nests but kept close by; the robins saw this as an opportunity, and one day the robins and the jays held a face-off over by the gas meter. The jays, to my surprise, backed down.

This year nobody rules the turf. The front yard, of late, has been a veritable PigeonFest; pigeons being sort of phlegmatic, all manner of other birds have been stopping by for brief visits, knowing they will meet with token resistance only. And squirrels, even the occasional roaming cat, wander onto the premises with no fear of reprisal. Out back, with no dominant birds, the variety is seemingly greater; this past week has been filled with some form of flycatcher. (It's not the scissor-tailed; this one has a somewhat-truncated tail, by comparison, and lacks the reddish front.) The serious singers are usually at it around sunrise, but I don't get up on weekends until seven, and by seven I mean eight-thirty.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:58 PM)
15 May 2006
And that was that

The Arborist's cutting crew came by today and put the suffering sweetgum out of its misery; only a narrow wooden disk, more or less level with the surrounding soil, remains to mark its former presence.

I had discussed with the Arborist, on the way back from the back yard, that I had a tree in the front yard with a split personality: half of it was clearly dead, and yet the other half was flourishing. Excessively so, even. (No, it wasn't an elm.) He pointed to a couple of saw marks which predated my arrival and said something to the effect that "This is what happens when people who don't know trees try to control them."

The chainsaw kittens, while they were on the scene, duly excised all the dead stuff and trimmed the live stuff back to something resembling a sensible state: the volume seems to have shrunk by a quarter, maybe a third. Perhaps more important, it's now well away from the power line. (I suspect this is why I got rather quicker service than I might have expected; avoiding power lines is a major issue for tree guys.)

If I've learned anything from this, it's that I can't let things run too awfully wild; while there's some not-so-vague satisfaction in letting nature take its own time about things, this isn't exactly the rainforest here, and the usual methods of removing dead plant material slow decomposition, or speedy forest fire have distinct disadvantages this close to downtown.

And I don't think I dispossessed any birds at least, I hadn't seen any nests in either of these trees but birds are pretty resilient.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:23 PM)
5 June 2006
"I'm not dead yet!"

Is this a new tree?About four weeks ago, I lost a tree, and I did not take it well. Oh, I was not at all remiss about having the remains removed, and much of what was left of it was eventually ground down into a fine, inedible paste, but still: of all the trees I have, this is one of the ones I would have most hated to lose. So I'm quite possibly overreacting to the presence of this ... this branch suddenly pushing itself up from the ground at the intersection of grass and wood chips, and I'm trying not to see it as, say, a reenactment of the last few frames of Carrie. But I know this branch-in-the-making on sight I'd trimmed quite a few of them off that tree, and some more off its sister to the east and if I didn't know better, and let's face it, I don't, I'd swear the tree was trying to come back. And I'm thinking I may as well let it. (Click the picture and it grows, so to speak.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:11 PM)
14 June 2006
Colors in the sky

Young Old GloryAbout ten-thirty this morning I remembered: "Geez, I bought a new flag the other day." It took me a minute to find it, and another minute to remember the rest of it: "And I forgot to buy a freaking bracket for it." Fortunately, I am not entirely incapable of improvisation, and the winds fell short of maximum ferocity today, so this expedient worked out better than I had any right to expect. And even a brand-new flag is still a Grand Old Flag, don't you think?

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:25 PM)
16 June 2006
Treelet update

More than just a twigBack on the 5th, I took a shot of a sweetgum tree in the making, rising Flagstaff-like (it's hardly big enough for Phoenix yet) from the pile of sawdust that remained of its felled predecessor. I am ordinarily fairly stingy with the water around here trying to support two elm trees costs just about as much as cooling off a volcano but I gave this little sub-sapling about three quarts' worth over the last ten days for the purpose of experimentation, and by George (not Washington, he's a cherry-tree kind of guy), it's showing some serious growth: it's now a foot tall. (Ridiculously large 350k photo is behind the thumbnail.) I have to wonder, of course, given its position at the Surlywood Wind Vortex, if it will survive the thunderstorms promised for the next 24 to 36 hours, but most of the plants around here are simply too mean to die, or something; I've done my damnedest to kill off a few of the shrubs around the periphery, yet they keep on shrubbing, or whatever it is they do, and at some point I'll probably shrug and give in. Nature, they say, bats last. (And if you've ever seen her bat cleanup, you'd be happy to have her ninth in the order.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:44 PM)
26 June 2006
Treelet report

The last time we looked at Baby Sweetgum, ten days ago, we had a foot or so of trunk-in-the-making to look at. There's not much change in its appearance, so no new picture, but in a week and a half the treelet has grown a little more than half a foot: height is now 19½ inches. I'm not quite sure at which point the term "sapling" kicks in Wikipedia suggests one meter in height and 7 cm in stem diameter, which seems a little early to me but if we go by one meter, we're halfway there now.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:40 PM)
2 July 2006
What's the opposite of "hype"?


It is an axiom of Life In These United States (let's see if this draws in the Reader's Digest crowd) that real-estate advertising is a major contributor to the Grossest Domestic Product, which is more often abbreviated, not GDP, but BS.

I was trying to clear some space in what passes for an office around here and happened upon a printout of the actual MLS listing for this place, which I was schlepping around during the househunting days of ought-three. Let's see what they had to say:

You'll love the HUGE yard! This home is great! Beautiful Parquet Wood floors & tile in the kitchen. Lots of closets and windows w/roll out vents. Many updates have been made to this home in the past few years, to include heat & air, attic fan, sewer line, wiring, fencing.

I am less fond of the HUGE yard during periods when I have to mow it, but actually, this is pretty accurate: according to the disclosure statement, all of those updates took place between 1999 and 2003, with the exception of the A/C compressor, which is a bit older, and while "beautiful" is in the eye of the beholder, everyone who's seen the flooring since I've been here seemed to be favorably impressed.

And, well, they didn't say anything about "really weird landscaping."

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:35 PM)
8 July 2006
Sapling alert


Well, we're not there yet, but the Tree To Be has now topped the two-foot mark on its way to the sky. Sweetgum-haters like McGehee will point out that it's still mowable at this point, which is true; I've chopped down dandelions at this height before, and they've got a heck of a lot more infrastructure. (About a quarter-century ago, I had a dandelion staring me in the face, but that's another story, and it required more substantial hardware to remove.) On the other hand, if I ever get around to expanding this actual house don't count on it any time soon both sweetgums and the shed will become expendable, and I'll probably have to go away for a month just so I don't witness the carnage.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:31 AM)
16 July 2006
Cue the Mop Brigade

It's said that the one scary aspect of owning your own house is waiting for something to fail, especially over a weekend.

Water pouring onto the kitchen floor, fortunately, is usually easy to trace, and in this case, it's coming from the single oldest component in the kitchen: the garbage disposer, which is leaking enough to make me wonder if I'm going to get a nasty letter from Valerie Plame.

It could, of course, be worse, and eventually it will, but this is a comparatively-simple (if not especially cheap) fix.

(Update, 5 pm: New In-Sink-Erator purchased, despite some delightful distractions.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:59 AM)
20 July 2006
Everything's a tradeoff

The thing about this brand of air-conditioning unit, I am told, is that their coil design provides for good airflow even with small accumulations of the inevitable crud.

The downside, of course, is that you tend to postpone cleaning until the accumulations of the inevitable crud are no longer so small, and when the time comes, you start wondering if maybe it wouldn't be easier to reroute a river through it, since the very design that makes them somewhat resistant to crud also makes them more than somewhat difficult to clean.

So now you know how my morning went. My participation in the actual activity was limited to asking stupid questions and then writing a large check, but life, they say, is for learning.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:12 AM)
5 August 2006
Sapling update

This being August, and early August at that, it's imperative to get the yard work done early in the morning before the sun gets high enough in the sky to bake you to a crackly crunch and the temperature forces enough liquid out of you to qualify as basting.

The upside, of course, is that the lawn grows more slowly, if at all, and once the mower was put away for the day, I decided to check on the Sprouting Sweetgum, which has now reached a height of twenty-eight inches, a four-inch gain for the month despite only two good rains.

Its more mature neighbors seem to be in need of some trimming, though that will have to wait a day or a week.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:58 AM)
10 August 2006
File under "WTF?"

I have defended Zillow.com's Zestimates in the past, but I'm thinking maybe they've finally gone off the deep end after all. My semi-regular once-every-three-weeks search on my own house produced this implausible statistic:

1 week change: + $20,329

In one week? Does this look like the freaking San Francisco Bay Area?

I was sufficiently alarmed to pull up the County Assessor's listings. They haven't changed. The only thing I can conclude is that some poor souls overpaid for housing stock in this neck of the woods and all the comps were dragged up commensurately.

We'll see how long this number lasts: $117,695. I give it a week.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:02 AM)
17 August 2006
Jumpin' Jiminy

Crickets outside are soothing; crickets inside drive me up a freaking wall, and since I have only eight-foot ceilings, I don't have all that far up the wall to go.

By chance, though, while climbing said walls last night, I found two of the little buggers: inside (sort of) the light in the hallway, which is one weird period piece of a fixture. It descends from the rafters, but doesn't quite make it to the ceiling; in the ceiling itself, there's a square hole, a frame around it, and a sliding glass plate to seal it up. (There's another one in the living room.) The crickets had apparently been dancing around the attic and wound up on that plate, where their every movement was amplified into Scary Stomps.

It occurred to me, at some point during the approximately 0.9 second I had to move the plate horizontally, drop the insects to the floor, and arrest their forward motion, that a baton twirler might have been more effective wielding the broom than I had been.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:19 AM)
Zillow recants, partially

You may remember this from last week:

1 week change: + $20,329

In one week? Does this look like the freaking San Francisco Bay Area?

We'll see how long this number lasts: $117,695. I give it a week.

One week later: $114,095, "1 week change: -$3,600." Looks like they're going to fix it a little at a time.

A number I might believe: $96,200.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:39 PM)
23 August 2006
Now with even greater down content

You'll remember that two weeks ago Zillow.com came up with the implausible value of $117,695 for the palatial Surlywood estate, which occupies a whole quarter-acre in northwest Oklahoma City. After a $3600 drop the following week, I predicted that "they're going to fix it a little at a time."

This week: $109,315, down $6232.

My own guesstimate remains at $96,200.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:10 AM)
1 September 2006
A soft, Zillowy cloud

We're down to $106,663, $2297 below last week, and only $10k above what I think this place is really worth.

(Previous Zestimates recorded.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:22 PM)
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