Thursday, July 31, 2008

Vanagons and Communications

With Mrs Elliott's Volvo on the fritz, I've taken my 1984 VW Vanagon Westfalia van into the shop for pre-trip inspection and prep work. I asked the fellows there to look into a recently developed weirdness where the engine does not like to idle, and struggles to develop power when pulling away from a stop. I have been unable to find the source of the problem myself, even with the help of much more experienced mechanics on the Vanagon.com mailing list.

The fellow at the shop found that the air flow meter was a little out of whack, and adjusted it. And using his O2 sniffer, he found that the engine runs very very lean at those times when the engine's idle starts to drop and when trying to accelerate. Not enough fuel. This is odd because the O2 meter I installed in the van's dash doesn't indicate this. A puzzle.

As a test, they replaced my engine's electronic control unit (ECU) with their good one, and the engine ran just fine. Several months ago I borrowed another ECU from a friend and tried it, and the engine didn't run any better, so this is interesting. But when the shop plugged my ECU back in, the engine ran poorly again. So the indications are that the ECU is on the fritz. The shop is looking around for another ECU, and a couple great guys on the Vanagon.com mailing list are sending me spares to try. If the shop is right -- that the problem is the ECU -- then this odd little problem might be fixed before I start the 1,000 mile trek to Bend.

On the telecommunications front, everything seems to be coming together w/r/t getting Mrs Elliott's phones moved to the new location. Qwest Communications is getting the HDSL2 circuit to the house in plenty of time, Integra is prepping all the DIDs to route the PRIs to the house (whatever that means), our local SoCal phone guy is ready to take the phones, backboard, and PBX switch down and overnight it to Bend so TTC (Eugene), can install it all and -- in theory -- the phones will go "live" inside the house midday on Monday.

My thanks to Christopher Moody, Integra (Portland), for shepheding the four vendors and one customer through this process. Since the proof of the pudding is in the eating, we will know on August 18, 2008, how well everyone has prepared for this move. On the one hand, we have the best efforts of all parties involved, and on the other, we find the formidable Mr Murphy, of Murphy's Law fame, standing by to cheerily point out how willing the universe is to support his contention that if something can go wrong, it will.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Volvo Goes Down.

"SERVICE TRANSMISSION URGENT" is apparently Swedish for Sell this Car Immediately. The dire message appeared on the dash of Mrs Elliott's 2001 Volvo S80 sedan. She bought this car used a couple years ago and it has performed pretty well. This warning appeared four days ago so we took it to the local independent Volvo/Mercedes repair shop. They gave faint hope for an easily resolution, having seen this warning before. Our next stop was the local Volvo dealership. The service manager, whose job of course is to maximize repair sales, was even less optimistic: He told us that when they open transmissions on cars displaying this warning they find metal filings. "Sell the car," was his advice.

So Mrs Elliott will be donating the car to a wholesale auto auction which benefits charities, and looking for a replacement car. We are told that a signature sign of the Bend newbie is the presence of a Subaru Outback so naturally we are seeking a good used one. Heh.

The loss of the Volvo changes my moving plans. The day before the warning light appeared I had received a tow hitch and wiring package from IPD USA. I am coming to Bend a few days before the giant Penske truck arrives with all our stuff in order to do some prep work on the house. I was intending to drive the Volvo with our little utility camping trailer in tow. But with the news of the transmission's imminent failure, that plan had to be scuttled and the tow kit returned.

So how to get the trailer to Bend? It's possible that whatever car we find for Mrs Elliott will be a good candidate -- if I can find the appropriate hitch and wiring hardware in time to set it up, but Mrs Elliott is more of the mind to find a car at an auto auction closer to Bend, maybe somewhere along the route, and pick it up on the way to our new house. Or--and here's my backup plan--I can tow it behind "Mellow Yellow," my 1984 Volkswagen Vanagon Westfalia camper. It is already set up with a tow hitch and the needed wiring connector to pull that trailer.

But it's old, my Vanagon. Hauling a little trailer on a camping trip is a lot different than pulling it 1,000 miles in the heat of August behind a 24 year-old vehicle. In fact, I wasn't even planning to drive it to Bend: we had arranged with Penske for a car carrier to haul the Westie behind the 26-foot moving van. But circumstances change and I've needed to re-evaluate my view of this trip: no longer a boring drive in a sober sedan, I'll be making the longest drive I've ever taken in my contrary old camping van. The trip has become an adventure.

I'll load up on cold drinks because Mellow Yellow doesn't have air conditioning--and there's nothing quite like California's Central Valley in the dead of August--and avoid the hottest part of the days. I'll leave late in the afternoon on Sunday, August 10, so I get through can do the hardest climb--where I-5 claws its way up the Grapevine from the San Fernando Valley up to California's Central Valley--in the cool of the evening.

And I'll obviously need to get some suitable paint and write "Bend or Bust" on the van.

Friday, July 25, 2008

And the Minutiae Continues

Moving's not a trivial matter. The buyer of our SoCal house visited last week, the wife brought her parents, a sweet older couple. "How long have you lived here?" Dad wondered. "Since 2003," I said. He thought for a moment and said that he and his wife had lived in their present house for 23 years.

23 years! The longest I've lived in a house was about five years. By my rough counting, I've lived in as many houses as years that that fellow and his wife have lived in their house. My family moved around a lot. I reckon that by the time I graduated from high school I went to six schools. I'm not real skilled at putting down roots, and don't feel the need to. So moving to another house doesn't feel at all unnatural, though I have to admit that all my moving around has been in the southern part of California, save for a few childhood years in Napa and a few years in San Francisco.

But even so, a move is a move. I paid July's bills yesterday (I pay bills on the 24th of the month) and stapled change of address notices to all the checks. The couple who has sold their house to us in Bend kindly gave me a list of the utilities which provide the power and trash pickup and water and all the other necessities for urban living for the property, and I've contacted them all to arrange for continuation of service. Then their counterparts here have been contacted to arrange for shut-off of the same for this property.

But let's be honest: preparing for a move is long on detail and short on drama. It's just not that interesting, all the fussy little details that need to be handled, and any effort to pump up this entry's word count by describing them would make reading about them about as interesting as the doing them. So I'll spare the one or two insomniacs who are reading these words the tedium and move on.

The Qwest for a Signal, dept. I described earlier the struggle we are having getting Qwest Communications to install the T1 data line to the house in time for the move. Mrs Elliott needs a 1.5Mbps line for her phones and the plan was to have this capability installed and up and running before we get there so all she needs to do is have the PBX hardware uninstalled here and overnighted to the new house for installation and immediate use on Monday morning with little or no downtime. But the delay they were imposing would mean that Mrs Elliott would need to stay here in Carlsbad for over a week, in an essentially empty house, before she could pack up the hardware and make the move.

I volunteered to see what I could to to help her with the various companies in Bend to speed the operation. I found a mid-level fellow at Integra Telecom and assigned him the job of managing the project .

What he did was to organize an attack on Qwest from two fronts: First, their escalation department was tasked to sweet-talk Qwest into giving the T1 line a higher priority, and second, a parallel request was placed with Qwest to install an HDSL2 (high bit-rate digital subscriber) line on the hope that an alternative line could be placed more quickly.

Today we learned that while getting a T1 (1.5 Mbps) line is still looking weeks away, getting an HDSL2 (1.544 Mbps) line to the house is easier for two reasons: First, HDSL2 uses just a twisted pair of 24 gauge wire, and second, HDSL2 signals can go farther without signal amplifiers. The net result is that the phone company can get the signal to the house much sooner. So much sooner that they offered to do it immediately.

This is good news.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

It's Sinking In...

...that I'm finally leaving this s#!thole. Okay, that's not fair: Many people consider SoCal, especially coastal SoCal, to be paradise. And by god, who am I to say they are not wrong? For them, it's a wonderful place. I reckon that by moving out, I'm making room for those that appreciate it. The folks buying our house are from Alameda, CA. They moved here because he was transferred here. I've only seen them twice, in that awkward space of being home sellers/home buyers, so I can't say whether they are going to be happy here. This is your basic breeder family with two kids, and the wife is mainly concerned with noise and construction (the high school between the house and ocean is getting a long-needed renovation), while he is mainly concerned with the view. Yes, you can see the ocean, one mile away, if you look in the right direction off the upper deck and if the weather co-operates (today it's not co-operating, presenting one of those completely white skies which are common along the coast). But folk from more northerly places, or places which are not on the bottom of the atmosphere, don't know how thick the air is here, how muggy it can get, how the vaunted climate, in its thick tedium, offers so little in beauty.

But thick air is not generally a problem at 4,000 ft., something that gives me hope that Bend's high-elevation blue skies, puffy cumulonimbus, and arid climate can offer what coastal SoCal can't provide: change and beauty.

I just got off the phone with JM, the handyman that will be doing the work on our house to convert three small rooms into one large 11 ft x 30 ft room for my shop + adding an exterior door. The price shocked me: it was much lower than I expected. Of course I still have to arrange for a concrete walkway/ramp to the new exterior door on the lower level for deliveries, and have to see about having a 12 x 15 shed built outside that door for storage so we can a.) shuttle my 20 year-old son down into the room which I'll temporarily be using for storage, which will then b.) free up a room which Mrs Elliott will then gratefully convert into a guest bedroom for the grandchildren. The one thing depends on another, it's rather like those puzzles where one slides tiles with letters on them about. I forget what those are called. . . .

Update 1.: By paying a mere $5, the Oregon Secretary of State kindly faxed the Articles of Organization to my banker in Bend, Liberty Bank (LB) on Century. So she's ready for me to open my business bank account. HOWEVER, LB does not have a SWIFT/BIC number, which is needed for overseas customers who wish to wire money to me. Instead, they use an intermediary bank, which is kind of mickey-mouse. Intermediaries are confusing to folk initiating wires, and they scrape off a few bucks from the money intended for me. I've asked LB to absorb the cost. I'll see how they respond.

Update 2. Frankly, compared with here, doing business in Bend is a pleasure. The Deschutes county tax assessor's office picked up the phone first thing on a Monday morning (I had a question about the Property Tax filing requirements for businesses -- we don't have such a thing here in California-- instead, we pay $800 per annum for the pleasure of doing business in Calif., as opposed to the $50 annual fee one pays in Oregon for the same privilege); and the nice lady at the Allstate office in Bend was helpful and friendly when I called her to ask about a detail on our new home owner's insurance policy.

Adding to the pleasure of doing business in Bend, I placed an ad on Craigslist-Bend to find someone to do a little yardwork around the house, and found a qualified guy right away at a fair price. And an ad in the Bulletin to find someone to build USPM-15 approved crates has brought in a few, though not necessarily qualified, responses.

Yeah, I think that Bend is gonna work out all right from a "doing business" perspective. That's what is sinking in -- that (in the words of Fredrick Frankenstein) "IT COULD WORK!"

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Gathering Theads

Many little but meaningful tasks are consuming my time. I have a feeling that I have but scratched the surface of the things that need to be done before we can effect our move to Bend. While I walk around our house and my shop I am now taking note of those things that I must not forget to bring: a concrete statue of the seated Buddha in our front yard--a birthday gift of many years ago; my modest collection of wines stashed inside a bench seat in the kitchen; a bunch of power tools under a blue plastic tarp behind the house, moved there to make the property more presentable. I'll be leaving Carlsbad to Bend a week before everyone else, me in a car towing a little trailer, the others will be left behind to load our possessions into the rental truck. I plan to leave them a note reminding them to bring these things which I fear will be overlooked and left behind.

I've handed out copies of our termite report to two handymen who take care of that kind of work, hoping that I'll get much better bids than the government contract-sized one provided by the exterminator who did the inspection. That shoe will drop in a couple-three days.

Mrs Elliott's phone-answering business can't afford to be off the air for more than a weekend or so, else her clients will get mightily annoyed. She made arrangements with a company in Bend to take care of routing her dozen+ lines and Internet VOIP setup; and another in Eugene to take care of installing and programming her Samsung multiline office phones. It's a far more complicated system that I am describing here, and it takes planning and coordination: the plan is for Mrs Elliott to overnight the hardware up to Bend, and for the Eugene people to install it in the house, while the Bend company is tasked with making sure that when the hardware is connected to the copper, that all those 800-numbers that folk call will be hooked up and active, and the phones will ring just as they do here.

However, the Bend company is now telling her that Qwest Communications, who have to actually get the lines to the house, are saying they can't get the work done until the end of August. There's no way that Mrs Elliott's company can operate with more than a weekend of outage so this is a big deal. According to the Bend company, Qwest is so far unresponsive to pleas to move faster, and they even hinted that Qwest could choose to delay even more if too much pressure is put on them. Of course, Mrs Elliott is more than a little annoyed that the Bend company hadn't put in the work request sooner than they did, but that may prove to be water under the bridge. She may have to delay her departure to Bend for a couple more weeks just so she can answer the phones here. This is not end of the world news, of course, but it's a major hassle.

Especially so because we've already bought tickets for the Sheryl Crowe concert at Les Schwab Amphitheater at the end of the month -- Mrs Elliott would not like to miss that! Me, I suppose I could live without that concert especially since one of my favorite bands, Mingo Fishtrap, is playing a couple days later -- for free.

Interior decorating is not one of our strong suits, neither of us was born with that gene. But we do know that we need to change the color of the paint in several of the rooms in our new house. Our realtor will let workers into the house before we get there, and we're wanting to have the kitchen, nook, dining area, and master bedroom painted before we move in. The guy that will be painting the rooms likes Sherwin Williams paint so I visited the local S-W store and picked up paint samples. We're pretty sure that the existing kitchen will look nice if the present mint-green walls are painted a warmer hue, like the kitchen in this photo, (courtesty Jim Johnson's Bend Oregon Real Estate Blog). All I have to do now is figure out which paint color will get us closest. At least I have a calibrated monitor and matching light source of the same color temperature...clearly the kind of stuff only a photography geek would have.

And of course, paperwork. Registering my business online, filling out documents to speed opening my bank accounts in Bend. Mostly no big deal, only requiring attention to detail, except for drafting up the Articles of Organization for the new Oregon domestic LLC. You'd think that finding a generic set of Articles for a simple single-manager, single-member (both me) manager-managed LLC would be easy on the Interweb. No so! The free ones are a little too complicated for me to modify easily, being a technical kind of guy and not a lawyerly kind of guy, while the pay-for-then-download ones don't provide enough information to tell a fellow whether they'd be any easier to modify to suit my needs. So I sent an email to the business banker in Bend who promised to hold my hand through the whole setting up business in Bend thing, hoping that maybe she has anything generic I could plagiarize. Who knows? I could be lucky....

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Mrs Elliott is Not so Comfortable...

... being called "Mrs Elliott" here. It is an anachronism, a throwback to an earlier time when wives who may have ruled the household were but an offshoot of the husband in public. But I'm writing about the two of us without her input and the Interwebs are a creepily big place where anonymity is hard to come by. So out of respect for her privacy I am not using her name. She has been given Moderator rights on this blog so she can post whatever she likes--but has shown little interest in doing so. "Nerd," she calls me, for chosing to discuss our lives on a blog instead of with Real People.

Okay, so that having been said to make folks wondering about how our relationship works -- not that that's anyone's business -- this blog is about us moving to Bend. And I reckon that there is a little bit of updating to be done.
  1. We are converting three room in the house we bought in Bend into a workshop for my little business. I have engaged the services of a local handyman, "JM", to knock down two walls to convert the rooms into one larger one, and to install a new storm door to the outside for deliveries.
  2. I have ordered a s#!~load of workshop furniture for the new shop. Assembly workbenches, shelving, u.s.w., and have given the companies explicit instructions about when to deliver the goods. I am shocked at how expensive the shipping is for these goods.
  3. Two banks in Bend have been recommended for my business and personal accounts: Liberty Bank and Umqua Bank. They both have branches on Century, near to our house. The branch managers of both have been very helpful and communicative. Both banks have emailed me a bunch of documents to fill out to open accounts. I am pretty much choosing Liberty because the branch manager and business banking manager have worked harder for my business.
  4. Clearly, Mrs Elliott and I need to get the paperwork started to properly register our businesses in Oregon.
(Luckily for me I have an excellent CPA who is a fan of the work I do. He graciously provides free accounting and tax prep work.)

The packing continues. We have emptied two (count them, two) storage rooms of my company inventory and my son's possessions to bring to Bend. A roommate has moved out of our present house, making her room available for storage. This is a boon: storage has been costing me $175 a month!!! There is sufficient room in the Bend house for all this materiel.

And, just to add excitement to the mix, the company that inspected our house here in Carlsbad has quoted $10,000 to tent the place for termites and fix all the damage that those little cellulose eaters and dry rot have wrought over the past five (5!) years. Note to self: never buy a wood house in a damp climate . . .

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Does Bend have Enough Trains?

Last night Mrs Elliott and I attended a birthday party for a couple who were celebrating their 60th (his) and 50th (her) birthdays together. I love trains and Mrs Elliott knows she can pretty much get me to go anywhere if there is a train ride involved; so after taking the MetroLink commuter train from Oceanside to Union Station in downtown L.A., then the Red Line, L.A.'s first modern heavy-rail subway, to Wilshire Boulevard, then a bus to Veteran Avenue, Mrs Elliott's sister and husband picked us up and provided transportation for the final leg of the trip.

The party was held on the outdoor patio of a restaurant on Olympic in Los Angeles -- a quintessential Los Angeles venue. The food was good, the atmosphere festive, and amateur slide shows of the birthday boy and girl were great fun. I've only known Mrs Elliott for ten years and these were friends on her side of the family, people with whom I don't have much history unlike Mrs Elliott: for decades they have been dear friends of hers, and they are indeed lovely people: even in the short time I've known them, I've grown quite fond of them.

Along with the usual catching up with each others lives -- and those of our children and grandchildren -- were questions about moving to Bend. I make no secret of my dissatisfaction with southern California's tackiness and shallowness, and how I'm looking forward to putting it behind me. During a lull in the conversation I looked up and saw palm trees silhouetted against the darkening sky -- a totally cliched Los Angeles image, one that could be used as an establishing shot in a film -- and one that is the only thing I'll miss about SoCal.

But Mrs Elliott is more conflicted: she does love Carlsbad, and has here a huge circle of supportive friends. She makes no secret that she's feeling some anxiety. The move will take me closer to my brother and sister-in-law who live in Spokane, whom I've not seen in many years, but for her the move will take her away from much that she holds dear, to a place where she will know no one.

To her credit, she is confident that she will be able to find new friends (she's outgoing and nice) and after taking some time while in Bend last weekend to visit used furniture stores, including Deja Vu,* she said "I feel much better now," realizing that once she starts to make the new house hers she will feel settled.

But back to trains. The route between Los Angeles and San Diego passes through Carlsbad. We live a mile from the right of way and more than 40 [Update: I originally wrote "30" but was mistaken] Amtrak and the San Diego Coaster heavy rail passenger trains pass through daily. The sound of their horns is a calming sound to me (though probably not so much to those living right along the tracks: something tells me that hearing 110dB** horns blasting a hundred feet away is not conducive to ones sense of tranquility). That's something I'll miss in Bend: no passenger trains. I don't know how many trains pass through Bend, or what they carry, but I doubt I'll be able to hear them from our new house.

==============
* To help the economy we will buy locally, and for "green points" we'll endeavor to buy used).

** Amtrak's horns are required to sound at range of 96 to 110 decibels and they lean on the horn button when they blow through town. The San Diego Coasters travel more slowly so are allowed to sound their horns at a lower level. Coaster engineers driving the early morning trains often soften their horns to a tentative "hoot" out of respect for folk sleeping along the tracks.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Back to Carlsbad, Early July

Having completed most of the Bend-related tasks, Mrs Elliott and I flew back to SoCal, while my son drove himself and his friends back -- picking up two (2) speeding tickets in the process, one in Oregon on the 97, one in CA on the 5 near Fresno. I am not pleased with him, but I reckon there's little need to chew him out since the second cop had him handcuffed and sitting along the road while sorting out the particulars of his mysterious lack of a driver's license. The lad is a registered driver, but being more forgetful than the average young bear, he tends to lose more than his fair share of important items. He's also picked up a $420 fine in Oregon, and will need to attend traffic school here to erase that point off his driving record. Of course we'll pay the $420, then make him pay us back by laboring around the Bend house. So I think the lesson will be learned.

Down here, the termite inspector found plenty of termites and dry rot -- probably close to $10,000 worth of damage. This is not happy news, esp. since most of the damage is older than three years, and the pest inspector that we paid when we moved into the house three years ago missed much of it, and that pest inspection company is now out of business so I don't know if we have any recourse.

Much of today has been spent playing around with a scale drawing of the rooms where I'm setting up shop. Little paper cutouts of assembly workstations, shelving and other exciting items.

As mentioned below, we met with two handymen at the Bend house to discuss knocking down walls, cutting a new door on the side of the house. I wasn't real excited by either guy and wish I had a couple more handyment to get to look at the work.

Friday, July 4, 2008

A Return to Bend

Okay so, we have accepted an offer on our Carlsbad house, I managed to get a loan approved for the purchase of the house in Bend (a minor miracle in itself, being self-employed and never one to focus much on my finances, I was surprised to find that I had a FICO score of 719, which when combined with the combined business and personal income was good enough to qualify), and we picked a date to move -- mid August.

But we had to return to Bend to take care of a lot of issues, like: Mrs Elliott needed to meet with the new telecom people who will be responsible for routing a couple dozen 800 numbers to her office -- two companies need to be involved: one, in Bend, will handle bringing the lines to the house, the second, from Eugene, will be responsible for hooking up and programming the Samsung multiline phone hardware in the house; we both needed to interview potential employees; meet with handymen about making the changes we need to the house, sign the title papers; locate suitable banks, and a raft of other details. Oh -- and Mrs Elliott wanted to find a nail salon, she loves her acrylic wraps.

So with these tasks in mind, Mrs Elliott and I flew to Portland on the last week of June, and returned to Bend in a rental car. Three days prior, my 20 year old son, Jim, departed with three of his friends in Mrs Elliott's 2001 Volvo sedan on a road trip taking them to Bend through Santa Cruz (a friend of his), a motel in Ashland, and a hostel in Portland before meeting us at the vacation rental house Mrs Elliott booked for all of us on the westside.

In addition, Mrs Elliott's younger son and his wife and toddler and infant drove up from Alameda to visit. Fortunately they stayed at the Inn of the Seventh Mountain out SW Century -- fortunately for me, anyway. Too many people, too many voices, and I start to get all hinky and irritable. Oh, and just to add to the general hurly-burly, Mrs Elliott's older sister and her husband came up to check out the real estate market.

Bend truly is lovely. The weather was promised to be hot, and it was. But I gotta say that high desert dry heat is a lot more tolerable than more humid coastal heat. In between duties and tasks I managed to take in just how civilized and attractive Bend is. Although we had had a very disappointing lunch off highway 20 on the way to Bend (road food is seldom very good in my experience), the food in Bend was uniformly excellent. Kebaba found room at the front for all eleven of us and served up a very fine dinner, I sampled some fine cheeses at the Newport Market (see Glen, the cheese manager -- who knew that such a title existed?), Pizza Mondo's lunch special (slice pizza, salad, fountain drink) was quite good for $5.50, and we determined that El Jiminez is a suitable place to load young people with food inexpensively. My son hoped to get an el Jiminez t-shirt -- his name being Jim, after all -- but alas they had nothing.

We spent one afternoon lounging in the shade at Drake Park, and the kids and I spent another afternoon drifting down the Deschutes from Robbie's Bistro to the park. In my estimation, nursing a bottle of local stout while drifting down that river ranks pretty much in my personal Top Ten of Totally Decadent Experiences.

I interviewed four very talented and skilled applicants for my technician position, and Mrs Elliott interviewed as many for her telephone answering person, and both of us found someone quite qualified for our respective positions.

However, Mrs Elliott struck out in the nails department. Unlike here, where there are Vietnamese-owned nail shops in every stripmall, corner lot and I think I even have one in my left ear, she had no luck finding anything on the westside that didn't require appointments. She muttered that the local nails salons were too complacent and needed a little competition along the lines of moving a couple of experienced Vietnamese nails women up to Bend to open a shop. They'd rake in the bucks.

Selling Our House

So what about selling our Carlsbad house? We know that the housing market is in freefall right now, the bubble well burst and prices tumbling -- but what about our area? Eric Janszen's article, “The Next Bubble: Priming the Markets for Tomorrow’s Big Crash,” in the February 2008 issue of Harper's showed how bubbles build, burst, and drop a little below what they would have been had there been no bubble, then slowly rise back to normal. Property appreciation, he argues, historically tracks average inflation -- about 3.5% per year. Using his illustrative curve, I estimated that we had bought our Carlsbad house when the bubble was midway to its peak, that now after the burst we were halfway back down the other side -- in other words, right now we might be able to sell our house for the same amount we purchased it for, but if we wait it will sell for less, and it will take many years before normal appreciation will bring the house back to its present level.

Could I be sure? Not easily. One thing Bend has all over SoCal is the transparency of the real estate market. bendbb, the anonymous (to me, at least) owner of the Bend Economy Bulletin Board has set up tools to track listings and housing prices in Bend, and has even created a nifty mapping tool to let one view listings in any area of Bend. Nothing like that exists for San Diego's real estate market, so I can't see how prices are doing. (I did ask a member of our real estate team, a bright fellow who writes for the San Diego Business Journal, whether similar data were available for our market and he responded with a link to where I could download a 20MB Access file. I'm not a database jockey so it wasn't much help.)

But this much I could rely on: the ball is falling down, so we need to sell now or plan to wait a long time before it bounces back up to today's level.

So Mrs Elliott and I proceeded to tart up our house: cleaning, uncluttering, painting, new skins on the kitchen cabinets, new granite marble where the formica once was, and a new sink, flowers everywhere. We know the drill: stage the house so it looks pretty. The hardest part was not boxing tons of stuff and hiding it, which did take two solid weeks of boxing and taping. No, the hardest part was getting my 17 year-old daughter to get her freakin' room clean enough to show. Teenage girls do resist anything resembling house work, but I gotta give her props: once she gets started, she doesn't stop until she's done.

We brought out the realtor -- the same fellow that sold us this house four years ago -- and listed the house at pretty much the price I thought it would be, the price he thought it would sell for. That was on Wednesday of last week. On Saturday we had two offers, both the same price, both the bottom of our selling range.

But sometimes you take what you're offered.

The Doubts Set In . . .

Shortly after returning to Carlsbad I started looking on the Internet for blogs and news about Bend; wanting to gain familiarity with the local scene, its issues and events. I quickly found the bendbubble2 blog, Jesse Felder's My Back Pages, and the Bend Economy Bulletin Board. Written by folk that seem to know their economics and real estate stuff, all three sources have a high Doom and Gloom content about the future of Bend, at least for the next handful of years.

Had we made a Big Mistake? Would our house shortly end up being worth less than we paid for it? Will Bend turn into a depressing "once was" town, the quality restaurants and shops shuttered due to lack of tourism and HELOC spending money? In answer to the first question, we bought a house for $135 per square foot, well below the westside average, and even if the median home value were to drop another 25%, as some are predicting, we'd be okay. With regard to the second question, I guess the only answer is that time will tell.

But after running the numbers this much became obvious: living here in Carlsbad costs us $1,000 a month more for mortgage, property tax and homeowner's insurance than what we'll be paying in Bend. That alone means that Mrs Elliott and I can work a little less hard, spend a little more time recreating and chilling, and a little less time chasing after the smaller, less-interesting sales and business. Not inconsiderable lifestyle gains.

And Bend has these weather phenomena called "seasons," very little pink stucco, far less traffic (no matter what old Bendites may say, Bend has a long way to go to match coastal SoCal's traffic ugliness, and only 78,000 people. Sure, Carlsbad has about that many people, but it's pressed up against other towns with as many or more people, who are pressed up against other towns with more people. In fact, a fellow has to drive at least 50 miles to find relatively unpopulated areas, and while I like the desert as much as the next guy, the desert, with its crappy little depressed towns gets a little tired. Bend, on the other hand, has a lot more to offer for the guy that appreciates natural beauty.

Bend probably deserves its reputation for whispering sweet nothings into the ears of Californians and seducing them into buying overpriced real estate, then leaving them with nothing more than a headache in the morning. Like Lowell George's Dixie Chicken:

I've seen the bright lights of Memphis
And the Commodore Hotel
And underneath a street lamp
I met a Southern belle

Well, she took me to the river
Where she cast a spell
And in that Southern moonlight
She sang this song so well

Yeah well, we made all the hot spots
My money flowed like wine
And then that low-down Southern whiskey
Began to fog my mind

And I don't remember church bells
Or the money I put down
On the white picket-fence and boardwalk
Of the house at the edge of town

Oh, but boy do I remember
The strain of her refrain
And the nights we spent together
And the way she called my name

Yeah, well it's been a year since she ran away
Guess that guitar player sure could play
She always liked to sing along
She's always handy with a song

Then one night in the lobby
Of the Commodore Hotel
I chanced to meet a bartender
Who said he knew her well

And as he handed me a drink
He began to hum a song
And all the boys there at the bar
Began to sing along

Will Bend be our Dixie Chicken? Frankly, we don't know. This blog will record the ups and downs of our experience in Bend. But before we can move, we need to sell this house.

Finding a House, Pt. 2

We were up early the next day, and after breakfast at Victorian Cafe we decided to concentrate on the west side, with its heterogeneous mixture of old and new properties, expensive and modest houses living side by side. (The food at the cafe was excellent and the the pretty ladies waiting table added visual charm to the experience -- I may be an older gentleman but I can appreciate beauty around me, whether flowers, a gorgeous sky, or a pretty girl.) Using the intersection of Galveston and 14th as a center point, we divided the west side into quarters and drove every single street, grabbing fliers from every house with a For Sale sign.

There were only a few houses that were large enough for our needs, and they were either too expensive, too cheaply built, or too ugly to interest. But when we started looking in the higher areas on the north of westside we found two or three likely candidates. One property on NW Portland Ave was a nearly perfect fit. It had a four bedrooms, an office with built-in desks and shelves for Mrs Elliott's business, and three smallish rooms at the end of the hall which the owner was already using for his guitar-building shop. All I'd need to do is put in a new exterior door for our employees to enter the house, and knock down the walls between the three rooms to make one larger one, and I'd be in business, too.

In addition, the kitchen was well laid-out for cooking (I like to amateur chef), there was a formal dining area for Mrs Elliott to entertain, and several large decks with a view to the south. Mind, this isn't a craftsman house, it's an inexpensively-built ranch style house with cottage cheese ceilings downstairs, cheap light fixtures, and small bathrooms. Other than a wood stove downstairs and a gas fireplace upstairs, the only heat is 220-v wall heaters in some of the rooms, and radiant heat ceilings in the bed rooms. I'm not a fan of electric heating, and the Bend winters are considerably colder than what we're used to, so I do have some trepidation about how comfortable the house will be when it gets cold.

But even so, the house felt good to us and because the owners/occupants were considering moving to another state, it was priced to sell. We made a lowball offer -- no harm in trying -- which they immediately rejected, so we came back with a more agreeable offer, which they accepted. It was agreed that the house would become ours at the end of June, 2008, and that the owners would rent it back from us for the month of July while they sought new living arrangements.

Time was running out, we had to return to Carlsbad. Having an offer on a house accepted is the easy part -- now we had to get a house loan, get our house sold, and plan how to move ourselves, one or two kids, and two businesses to Bend.
 
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