Small Space Living: We’ve Joined the Small House Movement!

It’s likely apparently obvious to those who enjoy this space that I have a slight infatuation with decreased consumption, which stems from a cognizance regarding third world countries, from whence I came, and the less-ness that exists (in terms of material goods) in correlation to the comparative abundance of happiness levels. So when the small house movement came into my radar, as I was exploring theories of minimalism, essentialism, and frugality, I was on board like a runaway child on a boxcar train.

The small house movement is embraced by those privileged enough to have an interest in reducing their living quarters to something more practical than the escalating housing  trend in the early 2000s. Technically, small housing is defined as a space less than 1000 square feet (still grand enough for a family of deux), whereas a tiny home is defined as one having less than 400 square feet. The more I browsed adorable photos of RV living and tiny guest homes, the more I thought to myself, “Why don’t we do this?”

Off course, extreme as I am, I immediately jumped to the thought of tiny house living. I approached Mike with talk of buying an RV, and posting up shop at a parking lot by the ocean. Imagine hanging macrame holding plant pots, a teeny kitchen with an oven big enough to make my own bread, a fold up dining table that double serves as a desk, and still room for a king sized bed. All thoughts of which were resisted heavily by a six-foot-three giant with claims of not being able to stand tall inside a camper. Fair enough. Just because I can fit inside a hobbit home, does not mean that a hobbit home is livable for my tall husband. So there goes that idea.

So then I started looking at homes bordering tiny. I set limitations on my Zillow searches for homes 600 square feet or smaller. Unfortunately, very few searches came up in Southern California, and unless we wanted to co-live in someone else’s backyard, zilch came up in Orange County. Somewhere along the way, I realized that my desires came from something external, specifically, from the appearance of tiny living. The homes that I was searching for did not move us towards the life we saw ourselves living. It may keep us away from over-consumption, out of necessity due to lack of space, but I realized we didn’t need to buy a tiny home in order to do that, too.

Once I saw that, I started to go back to our original idea, which was to buy a live/work loft like the one we were currently renting. The dream is to one day, wake up and walk downstairs for work. To work together doing something that seems mundane, but involves creating something as well, to share with the community. In order to make this dream a reality, we started looking at properties that would set us up for a future business. So that’s what we ended up doing.

We bought a 1,500 square foot live work loft in the heart of downtown Santa Ana. The greatest part of all? We technically joined the small house movement too! Our living space resides on the second floor, and the downstairs is partitioned specifically for a business, or a roommate for co-housing. Since the business has over 500 square feet of space, it leaves us with around 900 square feet of living space on the second floor. I’ll pretend that counts as small house living! It has everything I need and more, but without the excesses of a typical home. For example, there’s not closet on the second floor. There’s not even a bedroom or bedroom door. In fact, it’s an open floor plan, with no doors at all, not even a bathroom one. Minimalist to a high degree, but made even more functional in its sparseness.

floor plan

In this new series, Small Space LivingI hope to delve into the pros and cons of living with less. Some of the things I look forward to most about living small include:

  • Increased cash flow – When we were searching for a live/work loft, we had the choice of accepting a counter-offer for $650,000 and a counter-offer for $499,900. We obviously went with the latter. Now imagine if we were going to compare this place to a stand-alone home! Smaller homes might afford you a smaller mortgage, but there is the added benefit of lower property taxes, decreased homeowners insurance, and less maintenance costs. Imagine if you took the extra money you saved to improve on your home insulation or invest in solar roof panels and skylights to reduce energy consumption. Or you know, funnel that extra cash into paying down student debt, or creating the life you want to live.
  • Less Maintenance – Nothing excites me more than the fact that I will not have to spend hours of my days off keeping a large house clean. I recall my mother sweeping the floors day in and day out, and wondering to myself if she would have more time to relax if only we had a smaller home. Cutting down the hours needed to maintain a home leaves more time for enjoyable activities, furthering a business venture, or simply spending time with loved ones.
  • Lower utility bills – It costs less to cool down a small home in mid-summer’s heat than it is to cool down a large mansion, especially in deserty California.
  • Reduced consumption – The thing I love most about limited storage is the limiting effects on gaining even more stuff. Gone were the days when I would go rogue at a shopping mall, and there’s hardly a purchase I make now that does not involve hefty consideration. I avoid the cycle of buying more things, and then buying more storage for said new things. So many Americans use their garages as storage space, and when that isn’t enough, rent out a separate storage unit to store even more of their stuff! What’s the point of owning things that you never use? Currently, I have made a habit of getting rid of something that no longer serves if I need the room for something that adds more value to my life. So yes, I guess you can say I am pretty excited about the limited storage space.
  • More time with family – Have you ever left a family gathering and realized that you never saw Uncle Bob, or didn’t have a chance to catch up with your cousin Joe? Less space means that more room must be shared. When I was growing up as a teen, I thought having my own space was the most amazing thing ever. Now, I realize that we humans are social beings, and there is so much to be garnered from our togetherness. I’m all for a space that encourages bonding over group activities and dinners, strengthening relationships and creating memories. I now know the truth, which is this: Our dreams will end once we achieve them, but our memories will last our lifetime.

Off course, all this isn’t to say that small house living is entirely fantastic, let alone easy. Easier for some, but still, there is the question of where the clothes will go, and how to make do. Hopefully during the journey, I’ll share some solutions, and reveal some tips, that even I have yet to discover. What I do have to say about it is this: thinking about all that we already have, rather than what we don’t, leaves plenty of room for gratefulness to abound. For example, vaulted ceilings and 25 foot windows that grant me an abundance of natural light (and joy). A balcony for escaping, when spaces are not enough. Working appliances, and a roof over my head. An opportunity to celebrate our home with both sets of parents tonight. You know… the basics.

 

 

Property Ownership: 5 Things to Avoid During Mortgage Application (Travel Hacking Included!)

We are extremely open about how we are able to travel on a tight budget. Our dream to explore Earth is not to be deterred by things such as massive student loans. I have already outlined how we travel hack our way to achieving our adventurous dreams. As much as we love travel hacking, we needed to put a complete stop on our strategies, at least for the time being. While we have proven to ourselves that travel hacking does not negatively affect our credit scores in the long run (how to understand your credit score, here), we also are very aware that it will affect our mortgage application short-term! Travel hacking violates a lot on the “Don’t list” of Mortgage lenders, so in order to understand why we should put travel hacking to a halt, let’s review what NOT to do when applying for a mortgage loan.

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1. Don’t allow tardy payments.

Missing a payment (or worse, adding judgements to a credit report) can surely tank any chances you have of getting a mortgage loan approved. It may seem as if a small missed payment won’t matter much, but your score can lower by more than 100 points if a 30-day late payment occurs on any type of credit account! After spending all this time being reliable and building up good credit, the last thing you want to do is give the lenders any indication that you are a risky borrower.

Be very wary of what you owe. Even missed payments for medical bills or court judgements can weasel their way, uninvited, and interrupt, delay, or all together annihilate the entire mortgage lending process. Even utility bills, parking tickets and library fines can cause damage. I would simply be hyper-aware about all payments that need to be made.

2. Don’t have revolving credit.

As I mentioned in my post, Understanding and Improving Credit Scores, the second most important factor in determining your credit score is how much you owe. Therefore, it is important to avoid revolving credit as much as possible and to pay off all credit cards in full. I mean, you should be doing that anyway, but now isn’t the time to slip. I know that during the entire mortgage process, you are likely thinking of so many other things, however, you want to make sure your credit report is at the forefront of your mind. You can lose as much as 45 points on your overall score just by maxing out one low-limit credit card!

Sometimes, travel hackers have that push to hit minimum spend within a certain time period, but they do so unwisely by spending more on their credit card than they can pay back by the end of the month, thus creating revolving credit. Live below your means, an advice that should be heeded at all times, independent of a mortgage application.

3. Don’t open any new credit cards! (Travel hackers, I am talking to you!)

Here is where travel hackers need to beware. You want to be approved for the mortgage but you also want to snag a credit card offer that’s pretty much handing you 80,000 points FREE. Your fingers are itching to pull the trigger and sending in that online application with just one click more. Don’t do it!

Unless, off course, your okay with risking mortgage approval. But if you are applying for a mortgage in the first place, I am assuming it’s because you don’t have the money to buy your house in cash. AKA, there is no alternative. Other sign-up bonuses will be there in the near future. The mortgage lender may not.

Here’s the thing: Mike and I have not seen our credit scores go down since we started travel hacking in November 2017. Within 6 months, we had opened 5 credit cards between us, and our credit scores have actually increased. They say that your credit score may go down 5 points with each credit card inquiry. If you have a really good credit score (800+), then I would consider your argument that one additional card will not reduce your score to a low enough point that a lender would deny you a mortgage loan. However, I like think we are better off safe than sorry. A recent inquiry will indicate to the lender that you may be a high risk candidate for a loan, let alone multiple recent inquiries. And if I am being honest, every time you do a credit pull, it will give you the top reasons why your score is the way it is. Me and Mike’s top reasons? “Recent Credit Card Inquiries”. Then again, our scores were around the 800’s. You may take that with a grain of salt, a dash of pepper, or however way you want to, but we chose not to open cards during this 45 day period.

The day after you close on the house, feel free to apply for whatever card you want. Just make sure not to max it out on home improvement stuff! (More on that, later.)

4. Don’t close unused accounts. (This too, applies to travel hacking.)

Many people believe in the fallacy that closing accounts will improve their credit score. Some believe in an even worse falsehood, and that is, closing credit accounts will wipe off bad credit history from their credit report. Sadly, no and nope.

The truth is that closing accounts can lower your credit score. Why? Because your credit history makes up a large part of your score. If you close an account that’s been open for ten years, that maybe you haven’t kept active in a long time, that will cut your credit history. Additionally, they will always consider the credit utilization percentage, which is the amount of credit being used versus the amount available. When it comes to closing cards, apply the same practice as with opening cards: wait until after escrow closes!

As far as travel hacking is concerned, there comes a time when credit cards need to be closed to avoid the annual fee. Mike and I were lucky in that we were not even close to any of our one year anniversaries for our credit cards. If you are planning to apply for a mortgage, it would be absolutely wise to plan ahead.

5. Don’t use this time to dispute anything in your credit report.

Which isn’t to say, don’t try to fix any inaccuracies with your score. Right away, if you see an accuracy, the best action to take is to notify your potential lender of the mistake. Current rules dictate that a single dispute under investigation by the credit bureau is enough reason to delay or nix the loan, in order to avoid consumers trying to improve their loan last minute by disputing negative (and possibly, accurate) information.

 

Getting to Know: Cat and Chrystle Cu of Cocofloss!

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

unnamed-6Cocofloss is a product created by the sister duo, Cat Cu and Chrystle Cu. Cocofloss is a fun (and highly effective!) floss that is bridging the gap between a socially perceived arduous task, and a walk on the beach. Their vision imagines a future where everyone can keep their teeth for the entirety of their lives! Their reach is on the global scale, helping those at home develop good preventative oral hygiene habits, as well as those outside our borders, who may not have access to the tools and education needed to maintain a healthy smile. The truth of the matter is, flossing is not exactly exciting stuff… until NOW!

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Who are the imaginary minds behind Cocofloss? 

I’m Cat, and I started Cocofloss with my sister, Dr. Chrystle Cu! My sister is a tooth geek, philanthropist, and preventative dentist who graduated from Wellesley College and the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry. I’m an entrepreneur, yoga-addict, and art-lover. I studied engineering at Stanford and worked in finance, art, and tech before joining forces with Chrystle to start Cocofloss.

What was the inspiration behind creating Cocofloss?

Chrystle is very prevention oriented – she’s that dentist who spends an hour educating each patient about their teeth and gums –  and Cocofloss embodies her dream to make taking care of your smile more effective and fun. Chrystle’s dream is for everyone to be able to keep their teeth for life.

I love how Cocofloss is geared towards making flossing a fun experience! What are some of your favorite aspects of the product?

I love the Caribbean-blue floss color. It evokes freshness and blue oceans full of possibility. And of course, it’s functional! Folks can see their progress flossing as plaque contrasts against the blue threads.

Which one is your favorite flavor? Are there any limited editions to try?

Watermelon! Just launched this summer as a limited run.

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What are ways that Cocofloss can incentivize people to develop good flossing habits?

Cocofloss delivers a flossing experience that’s both rewarding and fun!

When I ask a lot of young patients if they have been flossing, their main excuse is, “We ran out of floss in the house”. Tell us more about your 6 month floss plan!

Would you floss tonight if you knew more floss would be arriving tomorrow? Customer behavior suggests so!

If you guys have ONE piece of pro tip for people who can’t get into flossing, what would it be?

Flossing is an acquired taste. Floss daily for 21 days (the number of days it takes to create a habit) with Cocofloss and soon enough you’ll begin to crave it.

Would you care to share some of your favorite flossophies? 

Our flossophy:

Bliss is a life lived in balance – take an adventure and enjoy the familiarity of home, take something and give back something, set big dreams for the future and enjoy improvisation also, eat your cake and don’t forget to floss too!

I notice that you guys love to travel, just like me! I think it’s especially important that you’ve linked travel with having floss with you, all the time, when you’re on the go. Any tips on how to remember to floss during times when we are busiest and most on the go?

Keep floss in your bag so that you can floss whenever you feel like it and don’t be embarrassed to floss on-the-go! I’m often that awkward human flossing in public or on-the-go.

How is Cocofloss making an impact on a global scale?

We’d like to inspire folks to keep their teeth for life around all corners of the globe. To name a few, we’ve donated Cocofloss to communities in the Caribbean, the Philippines, and Mexico. The worldwide floss party is just getting started.

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I was born in the Philippines, so I share a connection with your mission. I, myself, personally returned home to Manila to give free dental care for a week. Can you share any insight as to how your experience was?

Chrystle:

The global tooth decay epidemic is so painfully real. What people need most is prevention and nutrition education. Unfortunately, sugar is used as a universal rewards across all cultures. We need to shift the way people think about rewards, and instead educate and reward with preventive tools like Cocofloss.

More on Philippines mission trip here (happy to discuss more also): https://cocofloss.com/blogs/cocofloss-life/a-note-to-the-kids-in-bohol-philippines

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How do you envision making preventative dental care attainable to all groups of people?

We’re using the internet and social media as vehicles for prevention education. Our Cocofloss website has free education for all, and we’re on a mission to make flossing something everyone looks forward to daily.

Where will Cocofloss go next?  

We have big plans to help folks find their smile wherever they go. Stay tuned!


A sincere thank you to Cat and Chrystle, who took the time to talk about what Cocofloss has to offer. If you’d like to read more about my personal experience with Cocofloss, check out my review here!

Property Ownership: Understanding and Improving Credit Scores

It would be nice to buy a home entirely with cash. The transaction would be simple, and there’s only one dotted line to sign. Unfortunately, for many in California, this just isn’t feasible … at least, not any time soon. We debated waiting to buy a home until we can pay for it in cash (mostly because of the fact that I get sweaty palms every time I think about loans) but the trade-off was too great. Waiting to buy a home for cash would have taken us more than fifteen years, since we had to focus on paying down $500,000 student loans as well, which is equivalent in price to our most recent home purchase. That would be fifteen years of paying for monthly rent, which could be equivalent to fifteen years of paying down the mortgage. I ended up wiping the sweaty palms on my jeans, taking a deep breath, and choosing the latter. Meaning, I had to take on a new loan, at the exact same price as my student debt. *Deep breathIf it wasn’t for my husband, I am not sure I could cope with the thought. Reassuring hugs and “we-got-this” fist bumps go a long way.

While I can ignore the nervous sweat and the anxious breathing, there is one thing a buyer applying for a mortgage cannot ignore: their credit score. Credit scores can be supplied by different companies, the most commonly used being FICO, which stands for Fair Isaac Corporation. Each score is calculated by an elusive mathematical equation that evaluates many types of information with the patterns in hundreds of thousands of past credit reports. Simply put, they are trying to evaluate the risk that comes with loaning you money.

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Things to note: 

There are several categories that the FICO score considers, including your payment history, the amount you currently owe, the length of your credit history, any new credits you acquired, the types of credit in use, and the number of credit queries. Here are a few things to note, and then we will go in dept into each category.

  • A FICO score requires that at least one account has been open for six months of more, and at least one account has been updated in the last six months.
  • Although a score can quickly be lowered, it takes time to improve your score. If you are planning to buy a home, and your score is lower than 750, I would recommend starting to improve your credit score NOW. There is no quick fix to improving credit. In fact, quick-fix attempts may backfire. The best thing you can do is to manage your credit responsibly over a long period of time.
  • A score considers all categories mentioned above, not just one.
  • Everyone’s score is calculated a little differently. One category may have more emphasis when determining my score whereas another category may weigh more heavily in calculating someone else’s. It’s impossible to say how important each category is, because it differs from person to person, depending on the overall picture. Therefore, it is important to work on each of the categories. With that being said, the general rule for a majority of people is that the categories are listed in the order of importance, with the payment history usually being the most important and the number of new queries being least important.

With that, let’s get right into it!

Payment History

A good payment history shows the lenders that you will be reliable in paying back the loan. Your score will take into account:

  • Payment history on many types of accounts, including credit cards, installment loans, and finance-company accounts.
  • Public record and collection items, including bankruptcies, suits, wage attachments, liens, and judgements. Bankruptcies stay on your credit report for 7-10 years. A foreclosure, short sale, or deed in lieu of a foreclosure lower your score by about the same amount. These are considered serious delinquencies, so don’t expect to get a new mortgage loan with favorable terms for 5-7 years.
  • Details on late payments: Your score considers how late payments were, how much was owed, how recently they occurred and how many there are. For example, a 60 day late payment is not as damaging as a 90 day late payment. However, a 60 day late payment made one month ago affects your score more than a 90 day late payment made five years ago.
  • How many accounts show no late payments, which will help increase your credit score.

How to improve your score:

  • Pay your bills on time.
  • If you’ve missed payment, get current and stay current.
  • If you are having a difficult time making ends meet, get help. May I suggest a financial planner?

The Amount You Owe

Using credit accounts does not mean that you’ll be a bad borrower. However, using many credit accounts and owing a great deal in each one indicates to the lender that a person may be overextended and is more likely to make some payments late or not at all. Your score will take into account:

  •  The amount owed on all accounts and on different types of accounts.  The total balance on your last statement is generally the amount that is shown on the report. The score will also consider what types of accounts are being used.
  • How many accounts have balances. A large number can indicate overextension.
  • How much of the total credit line is revolving credit, meaning carrying a debt balance month to month. Those who are closer to maxing out on many credit cards may hold greater risk.
  • How much of the installment loan accounts is still owed compared with the original amount. Car payments are a great example. Even if you’ve been paying the monthly dues on a $10k car loan, if the majority has been going to interest, then you may still owe 80% of the car loan when you apply for a mortgage. Paying down installment loans at a quicker rate obviously looks good.

How to improve your score:

  • Keep balances low on all credit cards.
  • Pay off debt as close to 100% as you can.
  • Don’t close unused credit cards as a short-term strategy to raise your score. It won’t work, and it may even lower your score! Long established accounts show that you have a long history, which is good in the eyes of a lender.
  • Don’t open new credit card accounts that you don’t need. I am talking to you travel hackers out there. Put it on pause.

The Length of Credit History

In general, a longer credit history looks good to lenders. I remember when Mike was trying to apply for a car loan. He had no credit history, and had difficulty getting it. It blows my mind that being financially responsible and not having credit history is considered a bad thing by lenders. What a backwards world we live in. Unfortunately, when it comes to borrowing money, a credit history is considered a good thing. Your score will take a look at:

  • How long credit accounts have been established  – the longer “the better”. Also, the more diverse types of credits you’ve been managing, the more responsible you seem.
  • How long it’s been since you used certain revolving credit. For example, an inactive credit-card is given less weight in your credit score than active ones.

How to improve your score:

  • Don’t open a lot of new credit cards. Remember that new accounts will lower your credit score, even if it is temporarily.

New Credit You’ve Acquired

Any credit less than a year old is considered “new”. The score will consider:

  • How many accounts you have. It will especially look at how many of those accounts are new.
  • How long it has been since the most recent account was opened. 
  • How many requests have been submitted for credits. Typically, inquiries remain on your credit report for two years, although FICO only considers inquiries from the last year.
  • The length of time since lenders made credit report inquiries. FICO will ignore inquiries that are more than a year old.
  • Whether your recent credit history is good following past payment problems. Off course, your score will be improved after getting current and staying current.

How to improve your score:

  • When you search for multiple loans, do them all within a certain time period. 

Types of Credit in Use

Usually, this category does not bear much weight in the score, however, it can if there is not much other information on which to base a score. This score looks at:

  • The different types of credit accounts you have. They look to see if you have a mix of credit cards, retail accounts, installment loans, finance company accounts and mortgage loans. Off course, this does not mean you should go out and get one of each!

How to improve your score.

  • You can open new credit cards but ONLY AS NEEDED. You don’t need one of every type. Plus you have to remember to manage them responsibly. Meaning, pay each credit card in full at the end of the month. Note that closing credit accounts does not erase them from your report.

Number of Credit Inquiries

Credit inquiries are defined as the requests that a lender makes for your credit score or report each time you try to apply for a new credit line. FICO takes this number into account. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Inquiries do not have a large effect on your score. Typically, this lowers the score by less than five points. That being said, there is a larger impact if you have a short credit history or if you have few accounts. Also, people with six inquiries or more on their credit reports are 8 times more likely to declare bankruptcy, something worth considering.
  • Many inquiries are not counted at all. The following are not counted, although they may appear on your credit report: orders made by you from a credit reporting agency, lender requests for your score in order to make you a pre-approved credit offer, and requests from employers.
  • The score looks for rate shopping. This is why I mentioned before that shopping around for a mortgage or an autoloan should be done at the same time. Multiple potential lenders may pull your credit report, even though you are only looking for one loan. The score counts multiple inquiries in a 45-day period as one single inquiry. Also, the score ignores all inquiries made in the 30 days prior to the scoring.

So there you have it! Trying to understand your credit score can be overwhelming. Score determination is muddled by the fact that each individual’s scores bear different weights for different categories. The most important thing to remember is that you want to prove that you have little risk for defaulting on a loan. So pay back debt, stay current, be responsible, and do this over the course of a long time period. And the best day to start is today.

Good luck!

Intentional Living: Setting Boundaries

Once upon a time, when I was young and naive, I thought it would be most ideal to become the best “YES”-woman out there. That was my life goal. To take on the role of a fictional superhero, one that was capable of juggling a million things, and additionally, excel at them. I was deemed a bright star, but like all bright stars, I eventually burned out and, to some extent, was reborn. Existential notions aside, today I aim for a different life. One that is of a slower pace, one that has awareness with each step, and mindfulness with each passing thought. With this new life comes a new role, one that involves setting many boundaries.

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Intentional living cannot be achieved without knowing how to set boundaries. Have you ever felt overwhelmed by a to-do list, social obligations, or financial debt? All of this may indicate that you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, making it difficult to be intentional about any of your actions. You are doing so many things on such a short timeline, how would you have the time to consider what the repercussions and consequences of your actions are? How will you have time to explore alternatives? You won’t have time to think about what’s good for you, let alone what’s good for others.  Nothing about a fast lifestyle is intentional.

Some may argue that setting boundaries is selfish, but I beg to differ. Not having enough boundaries indicate a low self-esteem. Essentially, you are saying, “I am not important enough to be put first.” You spend your life trying to please others. I myself was once a people-pleaser. It made me extremely happy to make others happy. The problem was that my happiness was dependent on others, which was ultimately, destructive. It’s nice to make others feel good and to help others, but our own happiness has to come from within. Therefore, self-love is a key to happiness. Self – love is not equivalent to selfishness. Self-love invigorates us with life.

Off course, recently, I have been trying to separate boundaries from barriers.

Boundaries are always shifting, are growing with you, and are forgiving and kind. Barriers are definite, closed-off, and distancing.

Still, I struggle between the two, but I am learning. I have a tendency to require myself to show up and be accountable in terms of absolutes. I have difficulty allowing myself failure, allowing missteps and set backs. But once in a while, I am reminded of the need to be flexible, to mold with situations, and to move in a way that defines freedom rather than constriction.

Where to begin?

Know Yourself: You can’t set boundaries if you don’t know what you need. Many people have difficulty avoiding the stresses of the grind, because they don’t know what sets them off. When you are feeling tense, take time to identify the cause. Try to figure out how you can prevent it from happening again. Trust your feelings, honor them, and learn who you are and what values you uphold.

Select Your Crew: They say that you are only as good as the average of the five people you spend the most time with. While that may be oversimplifying things, it’s true that sometimes, we keep relationships that are negative. Surround yourself with people who build you up, who invigorate you, who make you feel passionate about something. Keep those who support  you. For those that are unaligned with your values, set boundaries, not barriers. One of the ways in which I have a tendency to put barriers up is by cutting out negative people from my life. It’s been for the better, but it wasn’t entirely kind. Additionally, cutting people out entirely does not allow room for growth, in either party. Even I can learn in this regard.

Limit Social Obligations: As an introverted couple, we exercise this more heavily than others. Social parties for us can be draining. One-on-one situations are better than group events, and shorter gatherings at home feel more comfortable than long weekend vacations. We know this about ourselves. I limit my social obligations because I know that I need time for myself, too. I let close friends and family know that we need time aplenty to mentally prepare, and to plan for a recovery period of recluse afterwards. It’s about knowing who you are.

Work Responsibilities: Work should never be taken home. That’s a rule that we practice in our household. Once we clock off, we respect our time to be spent with our loved ones and with each other. Once the lines between work and home start to blur, so do your priorities.

Web Surfing and Social Media: This is a recent one, but one of the utmost prevalence. Eyes have a way of gravitating to screens and hands have a way of reaching for phones. It’s like a magnetic force pulls us towards our electronic devices, and we must resist our ingrained tendencies. Setting aside specific times to use social media or surf the web is a great way to set boundaries. I try to limit use of Instagram to the morning hours on weekdays, before I head off to work. That includes using the Gram for blog stuff as well. I also have implemented the practice of consuming once, producing twice. Meaning, for every hour I consume media (whether that’s movies, videos, podcasts, reading blogs, and scrolling through social media), I try to spend two hours creating (examples of which include coloring, drawing, practicing guitar, writing on the blog, singing, or working on something else productive). What I’ve found is that the act of producing has this snowball effect that then fuels even more creation, which ultimately affects what I choose to consume. It keeps me from consuming random, unrelated stuff, but rather, I am spending my time learning about things I am working on. I consume other blogs that I could learn from, or music that inspires me to learn guitar. I listen to podcasts that motivate me with my financial journey. Et cetera. By allocating where I spend my time, I am also limiting what enters my life. Need help? Try these.

What I Need to Work On:

Mostly, I need to focus my attention on setting boundaries of the mental kind. Warding off worry, or negative perspectives of certain situations. Trying to grasp more control over my own happiness, by controlling the way I react to situations and people. Trying to be more fluid rather than rigidly standing strong. Despite all our trials, we need to keep our hearts warm. We need to remember the words of N. Waheed.

Stay soft. It looks beautiful on you.

 

Property Ownership: How much is it worth?

It is easy to get a feel for average market prices when you have been stalking the market for a year and a half. I am speaking out of experience. They say the best way to learn property values is to eyeball as many houses as possible and then monitor them until they sell. While I haven’t seen every single property on the market for the past year and a half, I HAVE monitored every single loft in Orange County and Long Beach. This focus on particular property styles in a certain location allowed me to be very educated about the general pricing of all lofts in our area. Lofts that were priced too high took longer to sell. Those that were priced fairly sold very quickly.

But even so, what houses list for is not always what they sell for. Unless you have access to the MLS or some other listing that also shows what houses sell for, you are guesstimating how much homes are selling based on the asking price. The actual selling price is not updated or revealed on search engines such as Zillow. Still, you need to know what a house is worth. Why? Once you understand how much a house is worth, you can finally separate your house buying decision from your emotions and buy based off of objective reasoning. Additionally, when it comes time to price negotiations when you are trying to submit an offer, you will have the upper-hand with FACTS supporting your suggested price. It’s better than struggling to make sellers see your side of the equation using emotion as evidence.

Before we go into how to determine if the listing price is fair, a few terms must first be defined. These three words are often used interchangeably but refer to very different things.

  • Value – Value is your opinion of what the house is worth. Value is entirely subjective, and it may change. Value is affected by internal factors, such as your current personal situation. Imagine a young couple who value living in an apartment in the center of a busy city, one which has an amazing walking score due to a number of neighboring restaurants and bars. But ten years from now, they may value a quiet street, a bigger home with a yard for their dog, and with a good school system for their kids. All of a sudden, their old apartment seems to hold little value. Conversely, value is affected by external factors outside of your control. If the city builds a garbage dump right next to your home, good luck trying to sell it.
  • Cost – Cost deals with yesterday. Cost was what someone paid for the property, and has nothing to do with today.
  • Price – Price is the correct term for what something is worth today. Seller’s have asking prices, buyers have offering prices, and together, they establish a purchase price, which is tomorrow’s cost.

Barring natural disasters, or states of duress, every home will sell at the right price, which is defined as the fair market value – a price that the buyer is willing to pay, and the seller is willing to accept for the home. Values are opinions, but fair market values are facts. It becomes a fact when the buyer and the seller agree on a mutually acceptable price. Therefore, it takes both the buyer and the seller to make a fair market value.

Now that those terms are defined, how do we go about finding fair market value? Median home prices are not the same as fair market values. They are simply the midpoint of all the prices of homes within the confines of a certain area. One must understand that there is a huge range of prices, and the median is just the middle. It’s too vague a number. There is a better way…

The best way to know whether a listing’s price is fair is to pull up a CMA report – which is a comparable market analysis, or a COMP for short. A real-estate agent can and should prepare a CMA for you before you send in your offer. When we were considering buying an over-priced turkey, we knew deep down that it was over-priced. But initially, it was difficult to separate our emotional ties towards a “dream home”, even though our heads knew better. What helped solidify our resolve was the CMA report that our real estate agent insisted we look at. Suddenly, we were able to turn down the seller, because over-priced homes that rob you of your hard-earned money are not dream homes at all.

There are two sections in a CMA. The Recent Sales section of CMAs should compare your home to others that are located in the same neighborhood, are approximately the same age, size, and condition, and have sold within the past six months. The Currently for Sale section of CMAs compares the home to others also on the market. This should include an analysis that checks for price trends. Do remember that sale prices are given far more weight than asking prices when determining fair market value. Sellers can ask for whatever fantasy price they want, whereas sale prices are facts and indicate fair market value. The best proof of what a house is worth is its sale price. Take the guess work out of the process by analyzing the sale of comparable homes. Be sure to factor in sales information, such as price reductions or large credits given to the buyer for corrective work.

Off course, CMAs also have their shortcomings. It is important not to compare two houses blindly, without knowing all the details of the subject properties. Here are a few reasons why the fair market values of seemingly identical homes (with the same floor plan, age, style, etc.) may differ.

  • Wear and tear: No two homes are identical after they’ve been lived in. Make sure you know the condition of both homes you are comparing.
  • Site differences within a neighborhood: A corner spot located by the park is a better location than a home facing a busy street, even if they are of the same community.
  • Distressed properties on sale: Identifying a foreclosure is easy, but a short sale, not so much. A short sale is not a good comp because it is considered as being sold under duress.
  • Floor plans matter: Two homes may have the exact same age, location, size, and condition, but one may have an open floorplan and another may be completely choppy. Therefore, the latter may have a lower fair market value.

If CMAs are not convincing enough, or you are of suspicion, then getting a second opinion is an alternative. You can pay several hundred dollars to get an appraisal of a property. The appraiser gives a non-biased opinion, because they aren’t trying to sell you anything. Personally, I would not recommend wasting money on a pre-contract appraisal. Firstly, a good agent’s CMA is usually as creditable as an appraisal. Secondly, it is not guaranteed that a seller will accept your offer. In which case, you would have spent hundreds of dollars for nothing, not even a chance at owning your ideal home! And that’s just not worth it.

So if property ownership is in the near future for you, congratulations! And hopefully, this helped.

Recent Reads: The Circle by Dave Eggers

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Reading The Circle was like looking in a mirror, and realizing that you’ve become the person you most hate. There was only one truth, and it was nauseating to uncover. We live in a world where a particular system has been set into motion, one that makes it not only easy to cede our most personal information, rights, and freedoms, but also one wherein it’s almost expected of us to do so, in order to be considered normal, social beings.

Empathy is apparent even after a child is born. The way babies try to mimic other human’s emotions, the way children easily reflect another’s suffering or joy, these are evidence of the fact that our connection with other humans are a large part of who we are. Unfortunately, that social need is being used as a façade, underneath which a flurry of our most personal information is being exchanged, made public, and made known. We are voluntarily giving up our information in return for appearing social. We tag who we are with, where we are located, can track our closest friends, take videos of what we are doing, update our emotional and mental statuses, share our finances, and so on and so forth.

Actually, it seems to me that transparency is imminent, which can be good, but which also paves the path for potentially surrendering our most basic freedoms. What was so unsettling about reading this book was not the realization that the extreme, dramatized world that Eggers created is so close to our reality, but rather, the realization that we may be too far gone. The gut-wrenching part is that we, ourselves, are voluntarily helping to create this world every day, and I’m not sure we can stop it.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from The Circle by Dave Eggers.

“First of all, I know it’s all people like you. And that’s what’s so scary. Individually you don’t know what you’re doing collectively.”

“We are not meant to know everything, Mae. Did you ever think that perhaps our minds are delicately calibrated between the known and the unknown? That our souls need the mysteries of night and the clarity of day? Young people are creating ever-present daylight, and I think it will burn us all alive. There will be no time to reflect, to sleep, to cool.”

“It’s not that I’m not social. I’m social enough. But the tools you guys create actually manufacture unnaturally extreme social needs. No one needs the level of contact you’re purveying. It improves nothing. It’s not nourishing. It’s like snack food. You know how they engineer this food? They scientifically determine precisely how much salt and fat they need to include to keep you eating. You’re not hungry, you don’t need the food, it does nothing for you, but you keep eating these empty calories. This is what you’re pushing. Same thing. Endless empty calories, but the digital-social equivalent. And you calibrate it so it’s equally addictive.”

“And worse, you’re not doing anything interesting anymore. You’re not seeing anything, saying anything. The weird paradox is that you think you’re at the center of things, and that makes your opinions more valuable, but you yourself are becoming less vibrant. I bet you haven’t done anything offscreen in months. Have you?”

“Here though, there are no oppressors. No one’s forcing you to do this. You willingly tie yourself to these leashes. And you willingly become utterly socially autistic. You no longer pick up on basic human communication clues. You’re at a table with three humans, all of whom are looking at you and trying to talk to you, and you’re staring at a screen! Searching for strangers in… Dubai!”

“Under the guise of having every voice heard, you create mob rule, a filterless society where secrets are crimes.”

“If things continue this way, there will be two societies – or at least I hope there will be two – the one you’re helping create, and an alternative to it. You and your ilk will live, willingly, joyfully, under constant surveillance, watching each other always, commenting on each other, voting and liking and disliking each other, smiling and frowning, and otherwise doing nothing much else.”

We all know what’s happening. There is an awareness of the ways in which social media is eating us alive, swallowing our very beings, trapping our souls onto little screens. But we allow for it anyway. The far reaching consequences, the approaching implications, all of these are being masked by the jubilee we feel for being seen, heard, and known. We are made to believe that significance is more important than being free. 

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Travel: City Guide to Portland, Oregon, Part Deux

Portland the first time around was so enamoring, that we decided to take back our dearest and share with them this awesome city. Unfortunately, that makes the creation of a sequel to the original city guide quite difficult, because no one wants to hear a long list of repeats. Although we did share with them our most favorite pit stops, we were also able to squeeze in a few fresh experiences, some of which surprisingly topped a few of our faves from our last visit. Overall, I enjoyed this trip much more than the previous, due to the cheerful company and the extensive amount of disconnecting from things that do not matter, and reconnecting with non-things that matter most.


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Not worth the time.

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Good, but ordinary.

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Great. Worth a visit.

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Exceptional. A must-do experience.

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Frugal friendly

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Reasonable

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Pricey


Afuri

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923 SE 7TH AVE
PORTLAND, OR 97214
$$

In my opinion, Afuri was the best place we ate at on this trip, and that’s after revisiting places like Pokpok and Lardo. We had finished a day of hiking and were eager to retire. Ramen sounded like a good, quick way to stock up on carbs and fat. What we found when we walked into the restaurant in our dusty hiking gear was an industrial space that made this the most hip ramen joint I have ever been in. The decor should have been an indication of the ramen as well, but I have only tasted ramen within the limited confines of what California was serving and thus was not expecting the twist of the ramen I was about to consume. The menu seemed unassuming, with only four variations of hot ramen, and four variations of cold ramen. Half of the table got the Yuzu Shio, and the other half ordered the Tonkotsu Tantanmen. I preferred the Yuzu Shio, with it’s lemongrass-like taste due to the citrusy yuzu. It was extremely unique, unlike any ramen I have tasted before. And the noodles, too, tasted like freshly milled wheat spaghetti pasta, which ended up having the perfect texture to pair with the light, limey broth. Delicious! The boys liked the Tonkotsu Tantanmen, which included garlic ginger pork crumbles in a spicy sesame miso tare and pork broth. It seemed a bit too fatty to me, but hearing them slurp assured me that they did not agree. This was definitely my favorite meal of the trip.

Never Coffee

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4243 SE BELMONT STREET
PORTLAND, OREGON
$

Last time we were in Portland, Mike and I couldn’t help but rave about Jory Coffee Co. This time around, Never Coffee took the prize. Whereas Jory was all about the purity of the coffee extracted from an optimized and calibrated pour, Never coffee is the farthest thing from pure coffee. They pride themselves in creating the magical spaces that only exist when opposites collide. It was like drinking unicorn dust out of a KeepCup. Every drink was espresso based, but there are five signature concoctions that require one’s exploration. I ordered the Hug, which tasted of spicy cacao, smoked chilies, and cinnamon. “It’s warm and holds you close. It makes you drop your guard. At the moment of bliss, it wakes you up with a bite, a kick, and enough fight to keep you coming back for more.” It’s got me saying “Amen”. Meanwhile, Mike was sipping on The Holy Grail, with tumeric, ginger and orange blossom water tastes topped with local cherry wood smoked honey, jacobson sea salt, and tellicherry pepper. Drinking Never coffee in the early morning inspires even the dullest to become poetic. It’s like creative juices, being shared via a latte mug. It’s got us re-thinking life. Next time, I will be back to taste the Midnight Oil – fennel seed, star anise, and black licorice awaits.

Cascade Brewery

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939 SE BELMONT STREET
PORTLAND, OREGON
$

After a second day of hiking and epic ping pong battles, the family wanted to unwind at Cascade Brewery prior to dropping off my sister at the airport. In the two times that we have been to Portland, this is still the only brewery we have visited. We chose this place because of their selection of sour beers. I can guarantee you, they brought the sour. My favorites were the Honey Ginger Lime (Nitro) and the Vintage Cherry Bourbonic. Frankly though, a few of the sours were just way too sour to enjoy. Thank goodness tasters are only 2 oz portions, so there were no regrets.

Fifty Licks

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 2021 SE CLINTON ST #101
PORTLAND, OR 97202
$

How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop? I’m not quite sure, but I am certain it took only a few to devour Fifty Licks ice cream. After trying Salt & Straw, the fam wanted to get ice cream again but was interested in trying something different. Well, Fifty Licks specializes in different, and in a good way! I would say that Salt and Straw serves trendy ice cream flavors that are based off of more traditional ones and which evoke a sense of familiarity. Fifty licks, on the other hand, is entirely new. I sampled a good number of their flavors, all of which had me wanting more, and none of which reminded me of ice cream. The ones that piqued my interest the most were Thai Rice and French Toast. It literally had pieces of toast in the ice cream! Off course, I went with Hood Strawberry, which seems the most basic flavor upon reading, but there was something about it that was not Strawberry-ice-cream-esque at all. Unfortunately, if I had to choose between Salt & Straw and Fifty Licks, I would still choose Salt & Straw.

Screen Door

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2337 E BURNSIDE ST
PORTLAND, OR 97214
$$

Mike and I had many people recommend Screen Door. My sister, who also went on this trip with us, chose this breakfast joint as the number one place she wanted to eat at, so we decided to give it at try. Originally, Mike and I were hesitant, because the food looks very heavy, and we usually prefer fresh farm to table type stuff for our food (like Milk Glass Mrkt from our previous trip). The verdict: The food was ridiculously amazing, but veryyyy heavy. We thought it was delicious, but our bodies felt slow afterwards, a feeling that we do not like. Hence the three star rating. The pecan candied waffle and bacon though was soo good, but I made the mistake of eating ALL the whipped cream that went with it. If we were to return to Oregon and someone in the group wanted to visit this place, we would happily go, but Mike and I would not choose to return here if it was just the two of us. Consider it a preference for the type of food, rather than the food itself. If you love to eat and get full, then this may be the place for you!

Por Que No?

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3524 N MISSISSIPPI AVE
PORTLAND, OR 97227
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On the way to the airport, we decided to swing by this joint for some chips and tacos. I wanted to rate them higher, but coming from SoCal where there are taco joints aplenty, unfortunately, this only rates as mediocre. We did luck out at arriving right when happy hour started, which lasts from 3pm to Close on Tuesdays. And the one thing that they do have that I appreciate are five different house sauces to pour generously over your tacos and the like. But other  than that, the tacos were pretty standard.

Saddle Mountain Trail

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$

This tops the charts when it comes to day hikes that we have done in Portland, OR. I would consider this a moderate trail, since my parents were able to do the majority of it. The last leg which was about 0.5 miles of steep climbing would be considered difficult. But the views are so worth it. This is an alpine trail that opens up to many views of the valley floor below. When you get close to the end, there is this amazing span of mountain ridges to walk out on to  get different vantage points. This may even be top 3 day hikes that we have been on, and trust me, we have been on plenty. Round trip, it took about 4.5 hours with plenty of breaks for the parents and while climbing at a slow pace. Walking sticks would definitely help older hikers, because of steep and gravelly hillsides. Also, they’ve placed wiring on the slopes to help with the footing, so I would recommend wearing hiking shoes, to prevent wires from snagging through your city sneakers. A must-do hike when you are in Portland! It IS an hour and a half drive away, but VERY worth it.