Monday, September 26, 2022

Home Values Dropping Fast

Home values in the US peaked in May 2022. Since then, the value of my home has dropped by 5.7% as of September. With interest rates rising, the drop in value is only going to get worse. I expect to see a full 10% drop from the high by the end of the year. This will bring home values back down to levels seen in December 2021. 

Is this good news or bad news? As always, it depends on if you are a buyer or a seller. In my neighborhood there have been very few homes for sale in 2022. There is currently one down the street with an asking price of $395K. That price was dropped by $5K in early September. They will need to drop the price by another $15K to meet current valuations. Having seen the value of our home double in the last 10 years has been nice. But it is unrealistic to expect that to continue. This is a long overdue correction. I just hope it doesn't become as extreme as the correction we are seeing in the stock market.

Compared to the housing market, the stock market has been a disaster in 2022. This does not bode well for those of us who depend on our investments as our only income. Every time there is a major drop like this, I hear from financial advisors who tell me that this is just part of a financial cycle and that I should continue to hold until things improve. Advisors will point to past corrections and use that to prove their point, having never lived through a correction themselves. Every correction is different. I've lived through 8 major market downturns. This one feels like the start of a two-year period of negative growth. The pain will come for many when they lose their jobs and then their homes.

I've moved more than half of my money into a money market fund or cash. During past corrections I have taken advantage of higher interest rates on CD's. Sometimes having deposits in several different banks depending on who had the best rates. This was back in the days before online stock trading. Today, you can find CD's online, but I think it would be better to use that money to pay off a mortgage. The value of not having a mortgage before retirement is one less bill to worry about. You need to look at how much you are paying in interest on the loan vs. how much you could get by having that money in a CD. In most cases your mortgage rate will be higher than a short-term CD rate.

Monday, September 05, 2022

Deck Restoration Project 2022

Deck (2009)
The winters in Minnesota are hard on decks. I have been living here for 11 years and this is the third time that the deck has needed restoration. The last time I repainted the deck was about 4 years ago. I used one of those deck restore products that is designed for older wood decks. The product was very thick and filled large gaps in the wood. It looked good for a few years, but then it started to peel off and expose the wood. This year (2022) I started by removing as much of the old paint as possible.

I spent a few hours each day over three months working on the deck. I first scraped and repainted the railing. I then replaced 60 feet of deck board. It just worked out that the boards I needed to replace were every 5th board on the 400 sq ft deck. It would have been nice to replace all of the deck boards, but I didn't have the money for that. Instead, I replaced the worst boards with the best boards I could find for the project. I bought a used 3-inch belt sander for $28, thinking that I could use it to remove the old paint. But the sanding belt got clogged and I ended up scraping most of it by hand. That took a lot of time, but that was less messy and made it easier to collect the old paint chips.

Restoration in Progress

I was originally planning to use Thompson's Water Seal on the deck because I had some from a previous project. I realized that I would have to completely remove all of the old paint if I wanted to use the water seal product. After scraping and sanding the deck with 80 Grit in the belt sander, there was still some paint visible in a few places. Thompson's is inexpensive compared to other deck stains, but I found reviews of their product were subpar when used on decks. I decided that if I spent this much time preparing the deck surface, I needed to use the best solid color stain I could find. 

After some research I decided to go with Cabot solid color stain + sealer. The reviews are 4.4 out of 5 on the Lowe's website. Of course, the best product is going to have the highest price. At $52 per gallon, I needed to complete the project with only 1 gallon. To make sure I had enough, I finished the new boards with the leftover Thompson's transparent stain and added a few ounces of water to the Cabot each time I started a painting session. 

The Cabot solid color stain covered well and looks great. The boards with the Thompson's water seal have large water puddles every time it rains. I'm glad I didn't paint the whole deck with it. I'm sure the deck will need to be redone again in 3 or 4 years. No paint or stain can hold up to 6 months of winter for very long. Total amount spent on this project was about $200 and 60+ hours of labor. 

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Xfinity Mobile vs US Mobile

In my last blog post I compared Xfinity Mobile to the Verizon Small 2GB shared data plan which is no longer available. I expressed concerns about Xfinity's customer approval ratings, annual price increases, and the poor reviews of their mobile app. Despite this I decided to order two SIM cards from the Xfinity Mobile website. After verifying that my phone would work on their network, I had the option to choose a plan or order SIM cards and choose a plan later. I chose to order the SIM cards. The confirmation screen said that the cards would be delivered to the address they had on file for my Internet service. Two weeks passed and no SIM cards. I went back to the Xfinity Mobile website and saw that the order SIM option was no longer an option. So, I decided to chat with Xfinity Mobile help to find out what happened. After the help person verified my identity, they basically said that there was no record of a SIM card order under my name. They told me that I could place the order with them in the chat window. Next, they started asking for information which they said was to see if I qualify. Address, date of birth, social security number, as if I was applying for a credit check. I stopped at the SS number question and told them that I would go elsewhere for my mobile service.

Another week passed and no SIM cards, so I decided to go with the next option on my list: US Mobile. I created an account and ordered one SIM starter kit using coupon code FREEKIT. Even though the kit was free, I still had to enter a credit card. A few days later the kit arrived from a US Mobile address in Farmers Branch, TX. Next, I logged into my US Mobile account using my computer to decide on the best plan to purchase. US Mobile has Unlimited, Bundled Data, Pooled Data, and Custom plans. After looking at the pricing, I determined that the best option would be to create a 2GB pool with one line for now. Each line comes with unlimited talk and text for $9 and each GB of data adds $2. The final price on my one-line pool came to $13.48. Adding a line to the pool and transferring an existing number was fairly easy because I did some homework and knew what to expect. The phone I added was my girlfriends new unlocked Samsung S10e. Within a few minutes of entering the information on the US Mobile website, the number transfer and activation was complete. I inserted the dark colored SIM card which uses the Verizon network. The white card uses the T-Mobile network. I powered on the phone, and it quickly showed the US Mobile network connection.

It has only been a few days, but everything works like it did with Verizon, except that it costs 350% less. After doing a little research into US Mobile, I discovered that the company was founded in 2015 by Ahmed Khattak who was born in Pakistan. It is a private company based in New York. From the emails I received, I would guess that most of their support staff is also from Pakistan. Since all the reviews I've read about their support has been positive, I don't have a problem with this, but some people might. Their website is also easy to understand and navigate. They don't advertise as much as Mint Mobile and some of the others. I found out about US Mobile after reading reviews on websites like