Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Homebuying for Dummies

It's really killing me that I can't scrounge up the time for a full post because E3 had plenty to talk about. However, juggling unpacking with my normal life has been more time-consuming than I envisioned. I should be back in action soon, but this week my time was taken partially by a speech I had to write for Toastmasters. So instead of a true post, I thought I'd just paste the entirety.

It's been a little while since I've delivered a speech because I made the bold decision back in late March that I was ready to buy my first home. Now that I've moved in, I feel a bit like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix when he was being programmed to fight: instead of kung fu though, I've learned a lot about the process of buying a home. It's not uncommon in Seattle for people to rent a place much longer than in other cities. Hence, I felt like it would be appropriate to talk about the part of my journey leading up to negotiating an offer, starting with deciding if you should buy.

Deciding whether buying a home is right for you is a very difficult question that there's not an exact method to. If there's one thing you take away from this speech, I hope it's that buying a home is a choice that only you, and possible your significant other, can control. Do not let peer pressure get to you like a bad after school special. To be precise, the right reasons to buy include that you're looking to settle down somewhere for at least 5 years, you have the job security to afford a mortgage, you want nicer amenities than a rental can offer, you want more room than you can get in a rental, or you want a place you can freely make changes to. The wrong reasons to buy are for a tax break, to make a quick buck in flipping the home, or simply for prestige. This is a major financial decision. Don't take it lightly and don't be afraid to rent a little longer to help you build up some cash.

Before you embark on searching for your home, you need to decide a budget. Ideally, you do not want to spend more than 28% of your gross income in monthly payments for your home, including taxes and homeowners' dues. Let that be a hard upper ceiling and then modify that ceiling to what you would be comfortable with given your usual budget. Take a firm stand here and stick with it. Wavering above your limit is a financial minefield. It's a very good idea at this point to get pre-qualified by at least one lender. This legally means very little, but an honest lender can encourage or scold your price range at this point. I had a great experience with Cornerstone and would be happy to speak with anyone afterwards in more detail about them. You can change your lender before you offer, so you're not committed yet.

You're still not ready to set sail on the high seas of house hunting though: you need to set your criteria first. Decide on your must-haves, and then pick a location with homes fitting your restrictions. Some buyers need to bask in the glow of natural sunlight while others can't live without a quiet patio for their morning cup of coffee. You will not find the perfect home. Before you even set foot in a potential home, understand that compromise is key. You would be surprised how cheap major changes can be, like painting walls or changing carpet. So keep only a short list of must-haves. Don't forget to make sure that the location you pick fits your price range: Redfin.com is a great resource to research this.

If you've made it this far, then you're ready to enlist the help of a realtor. While all realtors are mainly interested in making a sale, their advice can be invaluable. It's not a good idea to see a bunch of places without representation. It can be especially messy for your agent getting paid on closing if the seller thinks you found the place on your own. I used Redfin and had a great experience all around. I enjoyed taking charge of the search though. You'll need to turn to a traditional agent for a more controlled experience. My agent was mainly an advisor and kept all the paperwork in order. I had what's called a Redfin field agent to show me condos. Good questions to ask a traditional realtor include "how many clients do they have right now" and "how many sales have they made in your desired area in the past year".

Once you have your realtor, the fun really begins. You get to tour potential homes. Be sure to take notes at each place on things you liked and disliked. Take note of things like how much HOA dues are and what they cover, what appliances stay, whether or not there's parking, and don't be afraid to talk to residents to get their honest opinions. I recommend taking video tours of each place for reference later. The Flip Mino camcorders on Amazon are affordable and produce crisp picture and sound.

Trying to explain how you know you've found the one is like trying to explain how you fell in love: all you know is that it happened. One indication for me was that any place I saw afterwards paled in comparison, even though they were actually quite nice. You'll also be able to smell the aromas of a dinner party with friends and feel the joy of relaxing evenings on your couch. Even after you reach this point, I'd encourage you to see at least four more places and sleep on it. This is risky advice in a strong market, but I urge you to not rush this decision.

When you're ready to make an offer, the negotiations begin. I could give a whole speech on negotiations, but the one tip I'd like to offer for now is to be reasonable. Don't offer an offensively low price on a property you know is worth more - your agent can best guide on you on this.

Getting to the point of making an offer on a home is a long process. You have to decide whether to buy, set criteria, pick a location, get pre-qualified, and find a realtor before you can even start touring. However, you stand to reap many fruits in the purchase of a suitable house or condo. Last night, I walked out of the shower into my living room bathed in the orange light of sunset. I can't put a price on that, and I'm sure that you'll feel the same when you get the keys to your dream home.

Monday, June 07, 2010

No Post This Week

Between moving and other unexpected events over the weekend, no time for a post this week. I should be back in full force next week though.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Apple Under Investigation

The DOJ Investigates Apple

Once again, we have a slow news week. And, once again, I'm slightly relieved because I've been busy getting ready to move to my new place.

The biggest story happens to be an Apple story: the US Department of Justice is investigating Apple for suspicion of anti-competitive activities. It has come out since that the initial impetus for thee investigation was Apple disallowing Flash on the iPhone, but it has since shifted to center around Apple's agreements with music publishers to deny music to Amazon MP3. One thing I know is true (this isn't insider information, I heard this outside of Amazon) is that Apple has leveraged iTunes to threaten some publishers out of being a part of Amazon's $5 album deals and other promotions. I'm not sure that all these things are illegal, but I certainly consider them somewhat unethical. Regardless, I'm anxious to learn what goes on behind the scenes. iTunes has retained fairly large market share in the face of Amazon MP3, which has a pretty large selection and is on several mobile platforms, including Android, and has been pretty aggressive with cross-product promotions to drive traffic to Amazon MP3.

It definitely looks like Adobe may have initially filed the complaint. If that's true, it seems really childish. I think Adobe is really fighting a losing battle with Apple - the more they antagonize Apple the more they're hurting their relationship. There's nothing anti-competitive about disallowing Flash on the iPhone because it's freely available on Macs and PCs - I don't know that Apple actually has a majority share in smartphones in the U.S., but definitely not worldwide.

You have to love the irony that Apple is basically following the Microsoft life cycle. They've been getting bigger and bigger with success that seems to have no end and massive market shares in their strong sectors, and are now likely to be embroiled in antitrust litigation.

Flash on Android

Meanwhile, what is Adobe really doing with Flash on mobile platforms? There's finally a beta for Android, but it doesn't even support Hulu still and only works on Froyo (Android 2.2) due to API requirements. It looks like the issue with Hulu is legal, but if you're going to release a mobile version of Flash that's only of partial use, then what's the point? The hype for mobile Flash is so old that I don't know who's going to care when (and if) it finally does come out. So far, the speed tests aren't impressive.

Dell Launches Streak

Why does Dell keep trying to making portable consumer electronics that aren't laptops? Their latest creation is the Streak tablet, which is the analog of the iPod touch for Android: it's slightly bigger than a cell phone (5" wide) and is geared towards everything but making calls. This is by far one of the stupidest gadgets I've seen in a while. I didn't care for the iPad, but it was a beautiful device that had some niche use cases - this thing is useless. There are already great Android smart phones out there that can fit in your pocket, and if you want a bigger screen then you can get a full-on tablet like the iPad. This thing seems like it's for indecisive people: people who want a bigger screen but not too big. If this thing doesn't flop I'll be totally astounded.

The Next Apple TV?

I usually don't report Apple rumors since they're a dime a dozen, but Engadget has pretty reliable and believable word on the new Apple TV and it sounds like it could whoop Google TV, if true. It's supposedly based on iPhone 4, though with support for 1080p and at a $99 price point. It would focus on cloud storage, as well - which may explain the price point (less onboard storage). It would be cool if they leveraged Lala in this product, as well. Unfortunately, they're not likely to announce it until after WWDC so we'll have to wait a while longer to find out more. It sounds like it could be a pretty killer product if they pull it off right.


This is a somewhat interesting malware possibility, although it may be tricky to implement. It's called tapnapping and relies on people opening a bunch of tabs (like me) and then forgetting which tabs they had open on what page. That way, it can redirect within a tab to the login page for your bank when you're not looking and you'll think you just got automatically logged off and need to log back in for whatever you were doing. Of course, it relies on your having been logged in on another tab to some sensitive website in order to successfully trick you, but if it tricks one people out of 10,000 then it could definitely become profitable. I don't think there are any major outbreaks of this sort of malware yet, but it could happen.

Final Notes

There are a few more quick stories left.

Verizon got a gym employee fired because his stupid friend posted pictures of a secret Verizon phone that he recoveredfrom a member who lost it, even after returning the phone. Kind of silly - if I worked out there I'd be pissed for the employee (though he was planning on quitting anyhow).

This article shows a really funny trend: Android has a much bigger edge against the iPhone in North America than the rest of the world. I would've thought the individual device manufacturers would have stronger distribution channels collectively than Apple around the world, but I guess not.

If you want to know what lurks inside the Windows Phone 7 architecture, check this out.

Chrome 5 is out and is really only a remarkable improvement for Mac and Linux from what everyone is saying.

Have a great week with more sleep than I'm sure to get!