Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Burying Your Real Estate Woes With St. Joseph

["Let Inga Tell You", La Jolla Light, published December 30, 2010] © 2010

Looking for an appropriately warm fuzzy holiday topic for my column, it occurred to me that nothing says fuzzy like saints selling real estate. 

As anyone who lives in La Jolla knows, the real estate inventory in the million-plus range isn’t moving.  And since most of the inventory is, in fact, over a million dollars this has realtors in a serious funk.  On my block alone, some houses have languished on the market for two years.

Frankly, I’m a little surprised that everyone who is trying to get out from under a soggy mortgage isn’t aware of St. Joseph by now. 

I’m actually a big fan of Catholic saints who have been an integral part of my massively multi-religious Judeo-Catholic-Protestant family.  (No Muslims, alas, but we’d welcome some.)  If it looks like a saint can get the job done, well, we’re all for it.  Last year, I wrote about a hot tip I got about hanging my rosary beads on the clothes line (I had to sub in an orange tree since we’re zoned against clothes lines) to guarantee good weather for a family wedding.  And it worked!  I am not willing to concede for a millisecond that it was La Jolla’s statistically good weather and not the saints’ doing.

I first heard about St. Joe two years ago from a Jewish friend who said that her son had been transferred across the country and couldn’t sell his west coast home.  Two mortgages were eating him alive.  Finally his realtor advised him to buy a statue of St. Joseph, bury it upside down  in the back yard, and say a little prayer over it regarding the wish for a timely offer on the house.  For someone Jewish to buy a statue of St. Joseph was hard enough and he initially just put it in a closet hoping this would suffice.  Still no offers.  Desperate, he finally went out and buried the statue as instructed, and awkwardly mentioned to the little patch of bare earth below him that, if it were not too much trouble, it would be really nice if he could have an offer on his house.  An offer – and house sale – came hours later.

Well, maybe it was days later.  Or even weeks later.  Details schmeetails.  The house sold.

If you go on the internet and type “St. Joseph” you will find pages of hits, mostly from people who want to sell you some version of the official St. Joseph Real Estate Kit.  These generally include a plastic St. Joseph statue in either the four or eight inch size, along with instructions which are pretty much summed up in one paragraph but dragged out into booklet length with testimonials. 

Tales of miracles abound.  Unfortunately, variations on the instructions abound too.  Some insist he has to be buried in the back yard, others the front yard, yet others near the For Sale sign.  Along with property-value-crushing clothes lines, La Jolla is zoned against For Sale signs so this could be a problem locally.  There are those who insist St. Joe has to be buried exactly twelve inches deep.  A few even prefer him lying flat on his back, which would definitely be easier for those of us with clay-like soil, or anybody selling a house in winter faced with chiseling a plastic statue into the permafrost.

All of this raises burning questions.  Does the larger size St. Joe work faster?  Do you un-bury him if the house sells?  If you don’t, do the new owners find themselves inexplicably hounded by unsolicited offers? Inquiring minds want to know.

And why upside down?  One site maintains that by burying him upside down he works harder to get out.  Frankly, if I were St. Joe, I’d be working just as hard if I were right side up. 

What I like about St. Joe is that he appears to be an equal opportunity saint.  Unless, of course, you’re trying to unload a high rise condo.  For you it’s bubkes.  No soil, no sale.

But hey, if I were in Year Two of trying to sell a three million dollar La Jolla house, I might just order a St. Joseph statute and have the gardener bury him.  Or this being La Jolla, a truck load of St. Josephs and go for the carpet bombing, er burying approach.  Because at least one of those guys probably really wants to get out.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

*Sitting By The Fire Waiting For Bimbo Clause

["Let Inga Tell You", La Jolla Light, published December 16, 2010] © 2010

While most folks are happily counting down the arrival of Santa Claus, I’m eagerly awaiting Bimbo Clause.  

As I told Olof, I trust him implicitly.  Whom I don’t trust is the bimbo who marries him after my untimely death.  Such has been the level of discussion that she is now officially referred to by both us and our estate attorney as The Bimbo.  And in our impending estate documents, she has her very own Clause.

Olof tries to maintain that it could just as easily be The Pool Guy who will cash in if he goes first.  But there is no mention of The Pool Guy in our wills.

When the kids (who came from my first marriage but whom Olof feels a certain proprietary ownership of since he paid for most of their college educations) were of age, we decided we needed to update our standard A-B trust document. 

Frankly, there is no such thing as an A-B Trust that will make me happy.  There are supposed to be safeguards you can put in there, like locking up the A Trust, to make sure The Bimbo doesn’t roll in and steal the estate from the kids. But there are too many ways around it, especially if The Bimbo wants to gut the estate even before the Bimbee dies.   I don’t so much want to lock up the A trust as lock up Olof. 

We know of several cases right here in sunny La Jawla where The Bimbo (or her evil twin, the Bimbo Caretaker) has appropriated substantial portions of the estate even before the decedent crumped. Our estate lawyer said there really isn’t much you can do about that, assuming the geezer, er, pre-decedent, is more or less compos mentis.  And besides, he asks, don’t you want Olof to be happy?

“Define happy,” I said.   

It might sound like I do not trust Olof not to do something insanely stupid after I’m dead.  And that would be true.  But it isn’t personal to Olof.  Would that guys of a certain age of which Olof is fast approaching weren’t prone to start thinking exclusively with the little head.

Our estate lawyer said he’d never met someone who had so little trust in trusts.  “Can’t you have a little faith?” he said.

Not. A. Chance.  As one might guess, I have personal parental experience with bimbo home invasions.  To this day The Bimbo is dining off my mother’s Limoges, which I am now secretly hoping contains lead.

The problem with putting too many legal constraints on Olof is that he is far too nice to mention that my standard of living and that of the kids, never mind our  level of happiness, has been exponentially improved since I married him fifteen years ago.  He’s just the kindest, funniest and most generous guy on the planet. The kids adore him.   Given that an influx of cash from him upgraded this house from abject squalor, it seems a tad unfair telling him who can live in it after my premature passing.  But this hasn’t kept me from telling him anyway.

When I divorced in 1983, I gave my former husband every asset of the marriage plus took out a second mortgage to buy him out of our La Jolla home.  As a long term strategy, it was terrific.  How could La Jolla real estate ever lose value?  (OK, don’t answer that.) In the shorter term, I was perpetually destitute.  I used to lie awake nights formulating plans A-M, with A being to take in roommates and M being to sell my body on the street.  Problem was, I didn’t think I’d get much for it.

 I have lost years of my life expectancy just hanging on to this little house and The Bimbo is simply not going to get it.  

So, yes, I do want Olof to be happy.  If he is dating some minimally attractive menopausal troll over sixty with an estate of her own and no desire to remarry, he can be as happy as he wants. 

Let no one say I’m unreasonable.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

**When You Gotta Do What You Gotta Do

["Let Inga Tell You", La Jolla Light, published December 2, 2010] © 2010

There are times when you just have to lie. 

All right, I can hear my many lovely devout friends shaking their heads and saying, “No, it is NEVER okay to lie.”   So let this be my mea culpa: 

I lied. But if I hadn’t lied, I’d probably still have a dead possum in my front yard.

The day started out innocently enough as I hustled the kids out the door to be dropped off at school on my way to work.  I was a single working parent with two grade school kids.  Getting to my entry level university clerical job was essential to our survival. 

My nine year old, Rory, was the first to see it:  the huge dead possum lying on its back, feet in the air, in our front yard. 

“Cool!” said Rory, racing over to have a closer look.  “Can I bring it to school for Sharing?”

Henri caught up. “Neat!  Let’s name him Bob.” 

“Do NOT touch that!” I yelled, in hot pursuit.  I swear this possum looked like it was meandering happily across the yard and keeled over of a massive marsupial heart attack.  Its big eyes were wide open. 

Like most kids of divorced working mothers, my kids were latch key kids after school.  It was imperative that the possum not be still there when they returned.  Home Alone With Dead Possum Named Bob.  There were no good possibilities there.

Turns out that it is not so easy to get rid of a dead possum.  It’s against the law to put it in your trash.  I called every agency I could think of who might come get it, even Project Wildlife.  They pointed out that they don’t deal with dead wildlife.  Only live wildlife. Hence their name.   I realized I should have told them it was still breathing. Already my mind was operating in perfidy mode.

But finally I connected with the Dead Animal Recovery Bureau.  And yes, there is one.  Absolutely, they said.  We’ll come and get it.  I was massively relieved.  I gave them my address and noted that the decedent was in my front yard.

There was silence.  “Sorry, m’am.  We don’t go on private property.  We only take animals off of public property.”  And before I could say anything further, he said, “No exceptions” and hung up.

This was a dilemma.  Kids are going to be home from school in three hours. Best case, I see Bob tucked into my bed wearing my nightgown.  I told my boss I had a personal emergency and raced home.  Donning rubber gloves I went out to the front yard and surveyed the situation.  Between the yard and the street was a four feet high fence.  There was clearly only one alternative.

Who knew a dead possum could be so heavy?  But once I got a little momentum going (“and a one and a two…”) Bob was airborne. 

Back at work, I was on the phone to the Dead Animal Recovery Bureau reporting a dead possum in the street.

The guy on the phone was suspicious.  “Didn’t you just call?”

“Call?”  I said.

“Well,” he said, “someone just phoned a while ago and reported a dead possum in their yard at this address.”

“Wow, I sure hope it’s not an epidemic,” I replied.  “But this possum is definitely in the street.”  For effect I added, “You might want to report this outbreak to Vector Control.”

When I came home, the kids were distraught that the possum, for whom they had great plans, had disappeared. 

“What happened to Bob?” they asked.

“Some nice animal people came and took Bob away,” I said.  “I’m sorry.”

Well, at least the first part of that line was true.

A former co-worker, Dave, rewrote this column and entitled it "Inga Noir".  Frankly I like it better than my version:

There are times when you just gotta lie.

I can hear my mama now, smackin me upside da head an' sayin I'm gonna burn in hell, burn cuz I lied. But ya gotta know dis. If I hadn't lied, I'd still have da stiff in my yard.

It happened like dis, see. Some mornin' way too early -- and all mornins are too early when your drinkin' till closin' time, waiting for a phone that never rings to tell you you got a new case -- I pulled my hat on an' unchained the front door. Gotta go to work, no matter how many too earlys it is. Punch my timecard, make a buck and a quarter an hour for sittin behind my desk like I's supposed to.

I pushed open the screen and walked across the porch, remindin' myself to get that loose board fixed someday. Everythin' as usual.

Den the screen door kicked open and Rory and Henry come flyin' out like they'd been thrown by the bouncer at Mo's. Rory and Henry. I got dem from a missin' persons case. The missin' person was my spouse, if ya gets me.

Sos Rory jumps over da loose board and runs out to the walk and den stops all sudden. "Hey!" he hollers. "Look at dis! It's a stiff!"

"A stiff!" Henry joined him. "Who's stiff is it? Is is Bob? Did you smack 'em?" he asked, looking back at me, his eyes bulging.

"Get away from dat stiff!" I yelled, pulling Henry back by the ear. "It ain't Bob, I don't know who it is! It ain't mine, you stay away from it!"  That stiff was a sorry sight, eyes wide and starin', as if the big ticker just gave out an' he keeled over right there, all inconsiderate, on my yard.

Here's what I was thinkin'. If I got on the bus to work, see, and left Rory and Henry here with da stiff, who knows what'd happen. I might get home to find it lying on da couch with its head onna pillow and my slippers on its feet. Rory and Henry are kinda weird like dat. Strange.  Not normal.

"You reprobates get ta school," I yelled. "I'm taking care of da stiff."

Turns out it's not so easy to get rid of a stiff in your yard.

I called O'Malley down at da substation. You think he'd think better of me since I took one for him from the Spanetti brothers last February, just doin' my job and all, but it still left a hole in my shoulder and a bigger one in my wallet. But he's still pissed about what happened with that Porter Bros. heist. I kept telling him nothin' personal with dat, I'd pay him back dat reward money some day, but he ain't buying it.

He wasn't buying it today. "A stiff?!" he yelled sos I gotta hold the horn extra-far from my ear. "Is dis you Noir? I'm gonna put you away if I find a stiff in your yard!"

Lucky he can't hear what I say after I hang up. But he gives me an idea. I put on my rubber gloves, see, the ones I keep in my back pocket. You know, just in case. I go out and I grab that stiff, and with a couple of da back and forths and a big heave, I toss it right over into da alley.  Makes a funny sound when it lands. I try not to remember dat sound.

I get O'Malley on the horn again. "Is this you Noir?!" he bellows, like it's me that got the hearin' problem. "I'm sending you up dis time, got  that?? You ain't comin' back for 10 years, and that's if yer lucky!!"

I do dat little high-pitched voice I use sometimes. Usually times like dis when I'm talkin' to da cops, but I ain't sayin' when else. "Nah, I mean, no, it's ... um ... Inga. Yeah, dis ... this is Inga. I gotta stiff in the alleyway. I mean, body. Come get it, will yous guys?"

So whens Henry and Rory finally get back from delinquency school, dere all sad cuz the stiff ain't in da yard any more. "What happened to Bob?" they say. "Did ya sink him? Jersey river job?" Henry starts lookin' round like he's gonna see lead weights just lyin' there.

"Nah," I say. "Some nice people came and took it away."

Well, at least I was only lying about the "nice" part.