Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Selling our house in Cape Coral, Florida, and the end of my days as a pack rat

There's nothing quite like the experience of trying to sell one's house in the midst of the housing bust in a location that is ground zero for the foreclosure crisis!  It's not a question of how much you're going to make on the sale; it's all about hoping for the lowest possible loss!  The new reality here is simple: If you can sell your house and not have to write a check to the mortgage company at closing, you've won!

Our house is in good shape, and it will show nicely.  However, its setting is not going to be everyone's cup of tea.  In an area where most houses are on plunked right next to each other on a plain, quarter-acre lot with a manicured lawn, our house sits on a private, two-thirds of an acre parcel, with over two hundred feet of our back yard on a freshwater canal.  There is virtually no lawn; instead, we've got a cornucopia of Florida native plants and trees.  It's like living in a house inside a botanical garden.  Not something one would buy for use as a rental property, and not luxurious enough to attract wealthy Germans looking for a second home in sunny southwest Florida.  The relatively large amount of land is actually a potential liability.  Someday, possibly within the next decade, Cape Coral will expand water and sewer utilities to our neck of the woods.  When they do, there is going to be an insanely large assessment, the size of which will depend on the size of the lot on which the house sits.  Large lot means large assessment.

Location, location, location; a reasonable asking price; a good Realtor -- this baby ought to sell without being on the market forever, but I'm going to pull out all the stops.  Back in May, I came up with the idea of posting a short video extolling our house's virtues to prospective buyers everywhere in a way that cannot be accomplished by traditional photos or virtual tours.  I envision a web site where Zillow meets YouTube meets Craig's List.  I added comebuymyhouse.com (and comebuymyhome.com) to my internet real estate holdings, storyboarded the video, and wrote the script.  When the house goes on the market in the fall, my secret marketing weapon will be ready.

Now that it's early October, and we've found a home for our new home (the 5th wheel), it's time to put the traditional (non-mobile) version in Cape Coral, Florida on the market.  The Realtor I wanted to use tells me she'll be getting out of the business soon, and now has an associate.  Not a good sign, but we set up an interview.  The associate has an attitude problem, and really doesn't understand (or like) our house.  Buh-bye!  As fate would have it, Janet was getting some plants from the place that did our Florida-native landscaping.  A woman who works there and Janet got to talking about selling their houses.  It turns out that the woman had just sold her Florida-native landscaped house in Cape Coral using a great Realtor who really appreciated the property.  Bingo!  We called the Realtor, who wowed us at the interview.  We gave her the listing, effective October 10th.  Time to make the video for comebuymyhouse.com

Timing is everything.  My buddy, and long-time co-conspirator in radio and TV production, Jeff Ronner, is coming to town for a visit starting on October 5, and he's going to help me do the video.  We plan the shooting, and decide to do it the next morning.  Come Saturday morning (note to self: what a great idea for a song title.  When I have some free time, I'll see if the Sandpipers are available.), the day dawns sunny and warm, with a clear, blue sky.  We start shooting at 8:30 a.m., and we're done by noon.  A few hours of post production work, and voilĂ , we've got a nice video that runs two minutes and forty-five seconds.  Up on the web site it goes, ready to supplement the MLS listing and the Realtor's marketing efforts.  (Check out our handiwork for yourself at www.comebuymyhome.com )

Two weeks later, we got a firm offer on the house, with a net value very close to our asking price!  It's great when a plan comes together.  Yes, we're going to lose lots of money, but we won't have to write a check to the mortgage company at closing.  The house is sold, and I still have my shirt.  Woo-hoo, we've won big time!

One small thing, though: We've got two weeks to vacate.  That's just a fortnight to get everything in the house either moved to storage, sold, donated, or thrown away!  We find a climate-controlled storage facility literally across the street from the RV park, and get space at a really good rate.  Between Craig's List and a yard sale, we sell lots of stuff we no longer need or want.  What doesn't sell, we donate.

Now here is my confession: The bulk of the time it took me to get ready to move out was caused by my being a consummate pack rat!  Stuff... stuff... so much useless stuff!  Product boxes by the dozens, things I was sure would be useful one day, junk I haven't seen or needed for over a decade all had to be sorted through and thrown out.  What on earth was I thinking that made we want to keep all this crap in the first place?  I'm not a hoarder, but come on, this is ridiculous!  I filled an eighty-gallon trash bin four times over, a fifty-gallon recycle bin three times, and still had enough worthless electronic junk for the recycling center to fill the bed of our truck!

I'm now a member of PA (pack raters anonymous), and I can attest that my days as a pack rat are over.  (In fact, I've told Janet that if she sees me saving so much as a box for a can opener, she's to shoot me!)  My new world of limited space and weight will keep me on the wagon.  Others who have gone through the "shedding excess stuff" process have told me it was a cleansing, liberating experience.  I used to think that sentiment was a bunch of hooey, but now, I get it!

Coming up next: Photos

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Finding a home for our new home

Now that we have what will be our new home (the 5th wheel RV), we have to find a "base camp" that will be our location when we're not traveling.  We want to stay in the Fort Myers, Florida area, and fortunately, there is no shortage of RV parks here.  One day in August, Janet and I were driving to Fort Myers Beach, and just after we passed our favorite ice cream parlor (Love Boat Ice Cream -- all hand made), we noticed an RV park: The Fort Myers Beach RV Resort.  An interesting find for two reasons: First, the RV park is actually four miles before Fort Myers Beach, and second, we've driven past this RV park a gazillion times in the past fifteen years and we never really noticed it was there!  Funny how when you start looking for RV parks, they suddenly appear.  Janet suggested I do a scouting trip and check out the park later in the week.  I did so, and found the cost of an annual spot to be reasonable and the RV park to be really nice.  The location is great -- lots of restaurants, stores, and food shopping within walking or bike riding distance.  So too is Janet's dad's place, and a big public library (yes, we still like to read dead-tree tomes).  Fort Myers Beach is only four miles away, so we can bike there too. The park has a large, heated pool and big hot tub -- we'll surely enjoy those facilities all winter.  And best of all, Love Boat Ice Cream is just steps away (cue Jack Jones)!

We pick a lot that will be ours for the year, sign the papers (including giving management permission and money to do a required background check on us that we somehow pass), fork over a security deposit and the first month's rent, and starting on October 1, 2012, we'll have a home for our new home.

Now there's just one little detail that comes next: We have to sell our house!

Coming up next: Selling our house in Cape Coral, Florida, and the end of my days as a pack rat

Thursday, October 25, 2012

How we got the rig home, RTFM, and other surprises

Now that we've bought the big rig, the first challenge is getting it from North Fort Myers to our house in Cape Coral, a distance of about ten miles.  Simply drive it home?  Not quite!  First, the fifth wheel RV has to be hitched to the truck.  How to do this is certainly beyond the scope of Janet's and my driving experience.  While the task seems daunting to us newbies, I remind myself that we see these rigs on the highway all the time, often being driven by geezers, and they manage to do it.  (By the way, the definition of "geezer" is someone who is older than we are.)  We don't want to enroll in The Tractor Trailer Truck Training Institute (motto: "with any luck, you can drive a truck"), so we opt for the learning by watching carefully method.

The day the RV was taken for its inspection (before we bought it), the owners were nice enough to give me a complete run through of how to prep the fifth wheel for towing (taking it from living condition, with its four slides out, all hooked up to water, sewer, and electric utilities, to ready-to-be-hitched condition), and how to connect the fifth wheel to the hitch in the bed of the truck.  Janet was not with me that day, so I decided to make a video of the whole process.  (A great idea, because there were so many details, I'd never have remembered them without several reviews, let alone try to explain it all to someone else.)  Janet and I watch the video, and wonder if we'll be able to do it ourselves.  We assure each other that since geezers can do it, we'll be able to do it too.

Fast forward to the big day when it's our turn to actually try it ourselves.  Janet has driven a school bus, so she's going to drive the truck.  I'm going to be the ground crew.  The means I get to prep the fifth wheel for towing, after which I guide Janet to line up the hitch with the king pin on the fifth wheel, hitch it up, make various electrical and mechanical connections, raise the fifth wheel's "landing gear", and verify we're good to go.  The first rendezvous and docking of the space shuttle with the International Space Station looks like a piece of cake (and seems much less dangerous) by comparison.  Oh, by the way, any errors or omissions on my part can result in severe damage to the truck and the fifth wheel.  Not too much pressure there!

Janet's first big challenge is lining up the truck with fifth wheel so it can be hitched.  They say that clear communication is the key to a good marriage, and boy are they right!  In order to marry the fifth wheel to the hitch at the proper position and height, I've got to guide Janet to the right spot, and she's got to maneuver the truck precisely, mostly going in reverse.  Somehow, we succeed in short order (what a team we are), and we're on our way to Cape Coral, Janet solo driving a 19-foot truck towing a 37-foot fifth wheel, while I follow in my car.  When we arrive, Janet's knuckles are a bit white, but she made it like a pro.

This is what's now in front of our house:

The transportation challenge behind us, I reflect on how my newbie naivete has already allowed me one surprise today: Waste management!  In an RV, when the water in the sinks or showers go down the drain, or after you do your business on the commode, the waste gets collected in tanks.  There are three waste tanks in this fifth wheel: one for the sink and shower in the bedroom, another for the sinks in the kitchen area (the "gray" tanks), and one for the toilet (the "black" tank).  The surprise is that even when the RV is connected to a sewer (via a flexible sewer hose), the waste is still collected in the tanks, and has to be emptied periodically by guess who?  The ground crew.  (Hey, that's me!)  And here I thought that I could just leave the waste tank valves open and let everything flow out the sewer line.  WRONG!

But wait, there's more!  An RV toilet is nothing but a fancy porta-potty.  One even needs to use special toilet paper (yet another surprise), where "special" means expensive, and about as soft as sandpaper.  Mister Whipple would never stand for this!  Fortunately, our fifth wheel has a great optional feature to help deal with the black tank's effluvia: a flushing system that sends jets of high-pressure water from a hose through the tank.  This helps flush out the poop and toilet paper remnants that stick to the tank's walls.  Now please don't read the next couple of sentences if you've just eaten, or if you are a bit squeamish about waste.  Where the waste tank outlet connects to the sewer hose, there is a fitting that mates the hose to the outlet.  That fitting is clear plastic, which allows the ground crew (me) to watch the waste as it flows from the tanks to the sewer hose.  This makes it easy to see when the tanks are empty.  Hey look, there's the corn from last night's dinner.  What fun!

Next, it's time to read the manuals -- and there are lots of them, forming a pile over four inches thick.  Practically every gizmo in or on the fifth wheel has a manual, and there's a great deal to learn and master.  Some items are so obscure, I've never heard of them before.  (For example, do you know what a de-flapper is?  I sure didn't until I read its manual.)  I realize that what I don't know can really hurt or cost us.  Advanced Calculus suddenly seems like a walk in the park.  What have we done?  I recite our RVing mantra: "Geezers do it all the time, so can we."

Coming up next:  Finding a home for our new home.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Getting Our First RV - The Purchase

The couple selling the truck and the fifth wheel RV are really nice folks.  They show us the truck – it's a 2008 Ford F250 Super Duty with the big 6.4 liter twin-turbo diesel engine.  This is a 4-door model with the King Ranch interior and a Reese fifth wheel hitch in the bed.  The wheels are 20-inch alloys, and this baby sits high off the ground.  With a powerful engine, heavy-duty transmission, built-in brake controller, and giant side view mirrors, this truck was made for towing a big rig.  And that's a good thing, because the fifth wheel, a 2006 Jayco Designer 34rlqs is indeed big – 37 feet from stem to stern.

We take a tour of the fifth wheel.  With four slideouts and 34 feet of living area from front to back, there is a surprising amount of room inside, on two floors no less!  It's like a condo on wheels.  Up front, and upstairs, is the bedroom, with a king-size bed, big closet, lots of drawers, a shower, and a separate, enclosed bathroom with a window and an exhaust fan that vents to the outside (thank goodness).  Downstairs is the kitchen, dining area, and living room area at the rear with a big bay window.  There are lots of windows, and lots of roomy storage compartments.  The kitchen has an island with two sinks and plenty of food prep space.  It has a gas stove and oven, microwave, and a refrigerator/freezer – just like a real house!  The ceiling is high, which gives a spacious feeling.  (There is even a ceiling fan.)  A large dining table seats four.  The living room area has a sleeper sofa and two very comfortable reclining leather chairs with matching foot rests.  There's an entertainment center for the TV and audio/video equipment, and a desk with space for a computer system.  This fifth wheel has about 300 square feet of living area.  (Nice and big for an RV, but coming from a house with over 2000 square feet of living area on 2/3 of an acre of land, it's going to take some getting used to!)  Janet and I can visualize living here.  The Jayco has been well-maintained, but with its age, it's going to need some work on the interior.

Next, we take the truck for a test drive (sans Jayco).  Make no mistake, this is a manly man's truck!  (Yet, who will be doing all the initial towing?  Janet!  She used to drive a school bus.  The longest thing I've ever driven was my old Ford Aerostar van.)  I get behind the wheel of the big Ford, and I feel like rustling cattle and smoking a pack of Marlboros.  The interior is HUGE, and it has the most comfortable leather seats that have ever caressed my bottom in a vehicle!  The truck's cab alone is almost bigger than my entire Honda Fit, and the back seat has tons of leg room.  The dog is sure going to enjoy riding in this monster.  The guy who is selling the rig shows me a great feature of the hitch: It has two positions – one for regular towing, and another for maneuvering to get in and out of spaces.  In the maneuvering position, the truck can make almost a 90-degree turn with the fifth wheel attached!  During the test drive, I notice that there's too much play in the steering wheel at the center position, but otherwise, the truck looks good and runs nicely.  It has been well-maintained, but it's going to need some mechanical work.  The owner tells us that while towing the Jayco on the highway, the truck gets about 12 miles per gallon.  While that's great for an RV, I still do the math.  Let's see, a 30 gallon tank, $4.00 per gallon for diesel fuel... YIKES, that's a $120 fill-up to go 360 miles.  I'm going to be some Arab Sheik's best friend!

The sellers are straightforward, and don't want to dicker on price, so they cut to the chase and come right out with the lowest price they're willing to accept for both the truck and the fifth wheel.  We've done our homework, so we know the price is right.  We agree to have the truck and the fifth wheel inspected (at our expense), and if there are no surprises, it's a deal.

The inspections are done the following week, and the only serious issues involved the truck.  One of the steering components will have to be replaced, followed by a wheel alignment.  The rear brake pads will have to be replaced, six lug nuts are bad and will have to be replaced, and I'll need to buy a new spare tire.  The service won't be cheap, but it's not a deal breaker.  (By the way, who knew that lug nuts for the spiffy Harley-Davidson alloy wheels were only available from Ford, in packs of eight, at a cost of $150?  Until I was informed by my mechanic, not me.  If you had told me I'd spend almost 19 bucks each for lug nuts, I'd have thought you were nuts!)

Inspections behind us, it's time to burn a hole in our savings account and make the purchase.  Cashiers checks in hand, we sign on the line and get the titles signed over to us.  Next, it's off to the DMV to register the stuff , get them titled in our names, and get tags so we can take 'em home.  And that's where the REALLY BIG surprise occurred: In Florida, every time any conveyance is sold (including used), the 6% state sales tax is due.  For used cars, motorcycles, trucks, fifth wheels, and motorhomes, the tax is collected by, you guessed it, the DMV!  OUCH!  I leave the DMV office feeling woozy, with wallet deflated.

Coming up next:  How we got the rig home, RTFM, and other surprises.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Getting Our First RV - Decisions, Decisions

Every year, there is a big RV show in North Fort Myers, Florida, a short ride from our home in Cape Coral.  At the show, one can ogle, drool, and check out many different types and makes of recreational vehicles, covering a wide range of price points.  Janet an I have gone to the RV show many times.  We did a lot of tire kicking, and tried to get an idea of what we'd like and what we could afford.  (We found many RVs we really loved, but the prices were astronomical, making a large, private home on a big lot look like a bargain!)

The first challenge was to determine the type of RV we want.  The two contenders were a "Class A Motorhome", and a "Fifth Wheel".  By way of introduction, a Class A motor home is a recreational vehicle built on a stripped truck chassis where the driving compartment is an integral part of the RV interior. A class A motor home looks like this:

A fifth wheel is a towable trailer that connects to a pickup truck directly above its rear axle by way of a special fifth wheel hitch.  A fifth wheel RV looks like this:

There are advantages and disadvantages for each one.

Class A Motorhome advantages:
  • Driving and living compartments are connected. No need to get out of the RV during stops. Living area accessible even while moving.
  • Usually has more storage space than a fifth wheel of equivalent size.
  • Can tow a vehicle behind it.
Class A Motorhome disadvantages:
  • More expensive than a fifth wheel of equivalent size and quality.
  • The driving compartment and engine take up part of the living space, resulting in less living area than a fifth wheel of the same length.
  • If there is a mechanical breakdown of the engine or drivetrain, we'd need to find another place to live while repairs are being made.
  • Most are too large to drive around town; alternate local transportation required (such as a towed vehicle).
Fifth Wheel advantages:
  • Spacious, open floor plans suitable for full-timers.
  • Provides more interior living space than a motor home of the same length because it does not contain driving and engine compartments.
  • Tow vehicle doubles as local transportation.
Fifth Wheel disadvantages:
  • Must be towed by a large, powerful, (expensive) heavy duty truck with a fifth wheel hitch in its bed.
  • Driving and living compartments are separate. Living area inaccessible while moving.
  • Cannot tow a vehicle behind it.
Which type to get?  We vacillate.  One thing is for sure: To stay within our budget, we're going to have to buy something used.  We figure whatever comes along that we like, in good condition, at the right price will determine which way we go.

In early July, 2012, Janet starts our used RV search by pointing her iPad to rvtrader.com.  Lo and behold, she finds a fifth wheel and a truck being sold by the same person.  They are the type and size we are looking for, in our price range, not too old, and right near us in North Fort Myers.  Nearby is good: No long trips to check out the rig, and no transportation charges should we decide to buy.  We call and make an appointment to have a look.

Coming up next: Getting Our First RV - The Purchase

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Introduction - How it all began

It's 2004.  Janet and I notice that we're not getting any younger, and our friends seem to be aging at the same ever-accelerating pace as we are.  Some have acquired nasty habits, such as getting very ill, and even dying!  With mortality becoming something to consider (I mean, really, we're grandparents, and aren't grandparents old?), we decide to do some long-range planning for the next phase of our future.  We are very fortunate to be in good health.  We want to have fun and adventures together before we're too old.  (Too old being defined as one or both of us having poor health, highly diminished mental, visual or aural acuity, ambulatory limitations, and the ultimate show-stopper: being dead!  The latter can really put a damper on spousal plans.  My step-father died when he was only 54.  So much for him and my mom enjoying happily-ever-after!)

We decide to do what we dub the "Eat Dessert First Retirement Plan": At the end of 2012, we'll retire and hit the road.  Lots of travel, lots of adventure.  We won't be really old at that time (I'll be 58, and Janet will be 62), so if all goes well, we'll still be healthy and we'll be agile enough to get around nicely.  Will our finances allow us to do this, without our becoming totally broke in our dotage?  Probably... maybe... or maybe not!  Who knows?  2012 is still eight years away.  But 'ya gotta have a plan.  So we decide that we'll eat dessert first.  If and when we get to the rest of the retirement meal after some number of years, and there's a financial problem, we'll deal with it then!  After all, we can save money, but we can't save time!  Time is a precious, non-renewable resource, and when it's gone, there's no getting it back.  Do we want to wind up having sat through the meal of life and for some reason not make it to the dessert course?  Heck no!  Come the end of 2012, we're going to get a recreational vehicle (RV).  It will become our home and our springboard to travel adventures.  We'll be all-in, full-timers.  We'll be Going Mobile.

Then came the "great recession".  We watched, with dismay, many of the assets we were relying on to fund our future vanish into the ether, never to return.  We could certainly use this reality to justify putting off our great plan, but we still have the most important thing going well for the both of us: good health.  Perhaps we can get back some money, but there is still one thing we can't get back: time.  By gum, we're going ahead as planned.  Come the end of 2012, we're Going Mobile.

Welcome to Going Mobile, a tale of how our plan actually turns out (including the good, the bad, the surprises, the adventures).

Disclaimer.  I've never written a blog before.  It's something I never considered doing, probably for two main reasons:

1. Would anyone really care about what I'd write?
2. Might my blog become a self-indulgent exercise?

I decided to write this blog for three reasons:

1. Several friends and relatives suggested that I do it.
2. My friend Pallas HupĂ©, who moved from California to New Zealand when her husband got a great job opportunity, started a blog about her experiences.  She, her two boys, and her husband, made a major life change, and I find her accounting of those changes, and how she deals with them, to be fascinating.  Perhaps someone will be interested in reading about Janet's and my major life change.  (Pallas is a great writer.  I can only hope that my writing skills are half as good as hers.)
3. I think it will be fun to look back on my ramblings years from now.

As a newbie blogger, I ask for your assistance.  If this blog is a waste of time, please be blunt and let me know.  If it can be improved, please tell me how I can make it better.  If there are things you want to know more (or less) about, please say so.

Coming up next: Getting Our First RV