Thursday, July 11, 2013

How About a Wine Tasting?

While I was cruising in Margarita, Venezuela, I was contacted by a cruiser friend who wanted me to buy him a case of a certain wine.   Since it's much cheaper in Margarita than most of the Eastern Caribbean, I told him that was no problem.  We knew we would meet up again during the next few seasons. 

I wrote down his description of the wine - what picture it had on the label and the type.  Unfortunately, he didn't remember the name of the winery or brand.  OK, I didn't think it would be a problem to buy a case and I knew just the store to get it in, they had a great selection. 

On my next trip to the store, I went to the wine section and scanned the bottles, to my amazement, multiple brands of that same type appeared with the same type of picture, an old fashioned picture of a mother cradling her baby.  There were at least 10 different brands.  I decided not to buy anything that trip, but had contact with him in the next few days.  He said he didn't know which brand was good, but just pick any one and it would be fine.

Great, now it's my decision - and there's so many!!  I decided this was a good excuse to have a wine tasting party.  That way, we would all rate the different wines and I would buy what the majority thought was the best of the bunch.  I talked to a few people and they thought it was a great idea and a wonderful excuse for a party - like we needed excuses! 

A California couple on a catamaran insisted that we do it on their boat, they said they were wine connoisseurs after having lived in California.  We decided what type munchies we should have and I bought numerous bottles of that type wine and settled on a date. 

We all gathered together on the catamaran.   Because the California couple had been to many wine tastings and had some of their own, they wanted to organize the tasting.   Fine by me, I knew they were more experienced than I was.  We had a great time doing the test and surprisingly, a lot of us agreed which were the better wines.  Everyone agreed that the party was a success and that it was great to do something different for a change.

My friend and his wife were thrilled when I delivered the case of the most popular wine and thought our selection was great.  I told them the story and thanked them for the wonderful party we had.

Betty Karl

Friday, July 5, 2013

Want to be a Landlord?

Way back when I had a really good job, I decided that buying rental houses or a duplex would be a great idea.   It all started when I got divorced and bought my first house.  I was ready to move to a nicer house in about a year and I was convinced that I should keep my first house as a rental.  It worked pretty good, my second batch of tenants took pretty good care of the house and when I was ready to sell it, purchased the house from me.  They had lousy credit and the only way they could own is to take over my mortgage and get a second one.  I took a balloon mortgage from them for a certain length of time and made out pretty well with the interest. 

During that time, I was ready for more experimentation with being a landlord.  I had a friend who was a real estate broker who would call me when he had a property he thought I might be interested in.  I had a real estate license myself, but never worked at it.  I did know quite a bit about the area I was in and the values of properties there.  I figured I could buy properties, paint, recarpet or tile and make them look a lot better than what I'd been seeing.  So, I bought a duplex.  Started fixing up one side, got it rented out.   Fixed up the other side, got that rented. 

Most of my tenants were single moms and I had a couple long-term ones in that duplex, after I weeded out a few deadbeats.  If people didn't pay rent on time, I charged a late fee.  I would work with them if I saw any indication they would be paying soon.  If they didn't pay after my written warning, and I had a bad feeling about not seeing any money, I could go to the county office and start eviction proceedings.  While those proceedings are going on, they are living in your house/apartment without paying rent.  You know that they're not taking care of the place, in most cases, they're damaging it.  To make things worse - even though you'll never see any money from them, you have to pay to have them evicted - and wait a certain length of time before the officials actually go out and physically move the people out.  Most of my non-paying renters knew exactly how many days they had until the officials showed up - and left the day before.

Even so, I had a positive cash flow on this property, so I bought the house next door and fixed that up, rented that out.  And a year or so later, I bought another one in another area of town.  Still the same problems, but all of these had good cash flow.  Tenants would break things and expect immediate response to their problems.  My response to their problems was determined on their prompt (or otherwise) payment history. 

After every tenant left, I would have to repaint the entire place.  It wasn't too bad, since these were small units.  I became a very good painter.  Sometimes I had to replace carpeting, sometimes I could just get it cleaned.  After one couple left, there was a large hole in the drywall where it looked like he shoved her head through it - just the right size and height.  One dog chewed up one of my doors and there were other unsavory damages and leavings.

One young couple was very good with paying rent - and as a bonus, they would bring big bags of bagels, since they worked in a bagel restaurant.  One month, they were late and I thought it was odd, since they had always been on time.   I drove up to the house, knocked on the door, no answer.   Looked in a few windows and saw that all their furniture was gone.  They left with no notice, but at least they didn't do much damage.  I was kind of disappointed with them, because they had been so nice.

When I left to go cruising, I sold all the properties because I knew no one would manage them like I would.   I did try a management company for a few months, but there were always excuses for no cash flow and they were making my mortgage payments late.

Yes, I made money while I had them, made a little when I sold them because I bought them right.  No, I won't do it again.  It was way too much of a hassle and I just don't want to deal with it.  But, every once in a while, I see a fixer-upper house and my mind starts telling me I could make some bucks if I just bought it, repainted, recarpeted.......   NO!!

Betty Karl

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


Vacations are great.  Weeks before you leave, you find yourself getting more excited about leaving.  You're deciding what clothes to bring for the destination you planned.  You might even go out and buy a few new things to take with you.  Be sure your camera batteries are charged, the camera is clean and you have enough memory cards to take with you.  Get out the passport, can't forget that.   About this time, I have my suitcase in my extra room and I have tossed things in there that I absolutely can't forget.

Finally, the day arrives and you get up extra early for the drive to the airport, doing a last minute check of all the things you need to remember.   Don't forget the pre-printed boarding passes, what a great idea they came up with!  I usually find myself driving to the airport in the dark, reaching the parking area at dawn.   Even though I've allowed myself plenty of time, I always think there will be a holdup.  Security is always a holdup - even though I have nothing on but my clothes, when I go through the scanner, it seems that they always have to pat me down.  I don't think I fit their profile, but something prompts them.  Or their scanner is defective?  This time, they even took my glasses and put them in a container to go through their scanner with all the other luggage.  I'm sure there's a reason for that, I just can't figure out where I'd hide anything in my glasses.

Then you sit and wait to board the flight and endure the change in planes at another airport and finally arrive at your destination.  Within hours, you are whisked away from your life and have been placed in a totally different location with a totally different agenda for the week.  It feels great!  You just know you're going to have a great time and things will look different when you get back home.

You do all the things you planned - hiking, snorkeling, sailing, eating the local food so different from where you live.  You're happy and content just sitting and gazing at your surroundings for extended times.   It's so different from where you live, and you want to imprint it in your memory because you know a photo will only be a reminder of the great view you are seeing. 

Too soon, it's all over and you're packing to go home.  In some ways, it feels good to be going home because you're relaxed, you just know that things will be easier to deal with.  OK, so maybe you haven't missed your job, and you're not anxious to get back there, but maybe it won't be so bad when you get back.  Maybe they've kept up the work so you don't have a stack of it.  You can always hope. 

All too soon, you're back home.  The house is the same, the cat is whining that you left her for a full week.  It doesn't matter that she's had company once in a while and she's had food and water and sleeps most of the time anyway.  What she's really upset about is that YOU weren't there to be with her, but she gets over it and is much more affectionate than usual. 

Back at work for the first few hours, or maybe even a couple days, work doesn't even seem that bad.  Then you realize no one kept up with things and you have a pile of problems to deal with.  Did you really think that someone would take care of things like you did?  Silly thought.  After a few more days cleaning things up, you're pretty much as stressed as before you left.  Then you start thinking you maybe should have "missed" your flight home.  

Most people go back into their lives, happy with the memories and stories and they will be content to wait for next year's vacation.  I never quite get that feeling.  You realize that the wanderlust you've kept hidden deep inside has surfaced, like a monster you've kept at bay.  You want to become the perpetual tourist, the permanent traveler.  No one understands except possibly another kindred soul. 

Betty Karl