Tuesday, July 28, 2020

How To Kill Your Home's Value

[“Let Inga Tell You, La Jolla Light, published July 29, 2020] ©2020

Anyone who has been reading my column for a while knows that I’m a sucker for those internet articles about how to make yourself look 20 pounds thinner (Photoshop?) or what your car says about you (um, cheap?)  Recently I read one entitled “14 mistakes that will kill your home’s value.”  I was dismayed to see that half of them applied to my home.  Fortunately none of them were done by us. Even more fortunately, we’re not planning to move anytime soon.

I do have to say that I have occasional fantasies of being able to meet for even five minutes with the builder of my home, an edifice built by the lowest bidder after the war. I can only assume there was a scarcity of quality building materials, along with the knowledge of what constitutes a square corner.  I also wouldn’t mind a brief chat with several of the previous owners to query what possessed them to inflict what I consider this home’s most egregious flaws on it.

My house is a teeny home on a really big lot.  The house next door could be similarly described.  So why, one wonders, would the builder, despite all this land, construct these two houses practically on top of each other, ten feet apart?

At least in the original configuration, the builder had the wisdom not to put any windows in the other home’s master bedroom on the side facing us.  That all changed when a house flipper bought the place, ripped out all the gorgeous sound-barrier foliage between the two properties and installed a whole row of master bedroom windows right over our patio. 

The person who purchased the flipped property – a hunky single guy with an active social life – made Sunday morning newspaper reading a whole new experience for us.  We tried to delicately convey the situation to the new neighbor by talking loudly.



One of the new neighbor’s lady friends eventually seemed to catch on to our dilemma.

Lady Friend:  Um, honey – no, don’t stop - does it seem like there are people right outside your window?

Neighbor Guy: Hrrmph?

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  When my former husband and I bought this house some four decades ago, it was a real estate boom era.  In fact, the owners made a whopping 40% on the place in the two years they’d owned it.  They probably couldn’t believe that these idiots (that would be us) were actually willing to pay that amount for a house with a dead lawn, a seriously leaking roof, hard water stalactites dripping from the faucets and a master bedroom entrance through the kitchen. (Definitely lacked feng shui.)  But we were New Yorkers. It had a palm tree and a pool.  We could have happily overlooked plutonium deposits for the palm tree alone.

Clinching the sale, they had upgraded with then-all-the-rage green shag carpeting and matching avocado appliances.  (Are you listening, granite countertops and subway tile?)

Not surprisingly, numbers 5 and 10 in the “14 Mistakes” article are “Screwing up the floor plan” and “Converting the garage.” 

Hence, it’s the 1955 owners I’d really like to chat with.  These people incomprehensibly ignored the huge potentially-view lot and decided to convert the two-car garage into a wood paneled laundry room, master bedroom, and bath. (Who panels a laundry room???) I realize that wood paneling was the hot new thing in 1955, now regularly disparaged on HGTV shows. And with good reason: it gives rooms the charm of a root cellar.

While we were away about eight years ago, our son and daughter-in-law stayed in our bedroom when they came down one weekend. Afterwards, my daughter-in-law suggested our bedroom was such a depressing cave that a bear faced with wintering there might elect not to hibernate.

Thus motivated to take action, we had the paneling painted a soft creamy white which frankly should have been done 40 years ago but has improved its livability dramatically.  But we still have to walk through the kitchen and laundry room, past the water heater, to get to it. 

It goes without saying that anyone who ends up with this house will bulldoze it and hopefully even relocate it forty feet to the west where it should have been constructed in the first place. 

So that’s my fantasy of meeting the Ghosts of Owners Past.  I’m still desperate to know what they were thinking when they made the decisions that they did. 

Now, of course, our City Council is trying to encourage people to convert the garage (or the backyard) into a rent-producing granny flat to create housing.  Not my favorite idea, frankly.  But please, skip the wood paneling.

Wood-paneled garage-conversion master bedroom, 1980
(access through laundry room)

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Test Your Coronal Comfort Zone With The Inga Index

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published July 22, 2020] ©2020

It occurred to me that one of the difficulties in these coronaviral times is that even people we think of as kindred souls have very different levels of comfort as to how much social distancing and disinfecting they require.  It would be nice if there were a scale that would give people a score that they could just pass on to their friends and relatives so you wouldn’t have to go through this whole laborious “we’re doing this but we’re not doing that” dialog.  As my contribution to pandemic living, I have created one. 

I also have to confess that I myself have had moments of Covid Psychosis. My L.A grandkids had all their summer camps cancelled and went to spend the summer with the other grandparents on the east coast.  I wanted to give them their birthday money but then started reading about the possibility that coronal cooties could live on paper bills for unknown periods of time - 2 hours to three weeks, depending on whatever Leading Authority you’re trusting that week. So after some research, I wiped the money with alcohol wipes, left it in the sun for three days, ironed the bills at the hottest setting that wouldn’t ignite them, then quarantined them for four days.  Then I looked at myself in the mirror and said, “Who ARE you?” 

Anyway, here’s my quiz:

Your general feeling about coronavirus is:
• It’s a political hoax.
• It’s all the fault of some much-maligned people far away, one of whom unfortunately decided to ingest a bat. #acaseforgoingvegan
• You are not getting on an airplane ever again.
• Four months ago you’d never even heard of Instacart.
• Are there really 400 rolls of toilet paper in the garage? 

Social gatherings with friends.  You:
• routinely attend all bar re-openings. You only have one life (and in this case, it may be a short one).
• will do Zoom happy hours only.
• will do outside happy hours if there is enough breeze to sweep away aerosols from the area (proven scientific fact).
• will do outside happy hours if the air is totally still so as not to blow aerosols on others (proven scientific fact). 
• will do outside happy hours if the hostess is clear you are ABSOLUTELY NOT comfortable consuming any food, at least until you’ve had a few drinks and eat the entire cheese platter.
• wear masks to Zoom meetings, ignoring people who make fun of you. #lastlaugh

Family interactions.  You:
• could not have imagined in your worst dreams that you saved all these years to pay $50,000 for your college student to be remotely learning at your dining room table.
• have no clue what “family groupings” actually means.
• socially distance from own children, especially if they’re teenagers.
• use home schooling time to stick pins into facsimile dolls of Zoom creator.
• will dine at the home of persons over 65 only if you stand to inherit.

Community interactions. You:
• frequently check in with neighbors, offering love and paper products. #bringingoutthebestinpeople
• have appointed self Chief of Covid Police, posting regular rants on your neighborhood Next Door about perceived non-compliance. #bringingouttheworstinpeople
• get very very mad at anyone who makes the teeniest joke about Covid-19 since it is a Very Serious Matter Not To Be Joked About Ever And That Could Be YOUR Grandmother Who Gets Sick and Dies.
• have been wearing the same blue paper mask for four months, even after it fell into a dish of seafood linguine in April.
• refuse to wear mask because it is your Constitutional right not to, according to your neighbor Jerry who is very certain about this.

Contamination containment.  You:
• wear mask as mandated by law.
• wear mask to water plants in secluded back yard.
• sleep in mask.
• make dog wear mask.
• have not left bedroom since March 1, subsisting on beef jerky and tap water.

Disinfecting measures. You:
• regularly disinfect masks plus any items entering your home.
• sterilize money.  (Public Service Announcement: Microwaving paper money for more than one minute will set it on fire. Really.)
• surreptitiously spritz elevator buttons with purse-size bottle of rubbing alcohol before touching.
• tried to steal the bottle of hand sanitizer that was duct-taped to the counter at CVS last March.
• clean Lysol wipes container with Clorox wipes.

Now here’s the problem I haven’t worked out yet: exactly how to score it.  Definitely a work in progress. But I think it could be a really useful, nay, essential tool in this Covid world.  Instead of trying to assess just how strict – or lax – someone is about following Covid regulations, you could just ask, “So what’s your score on the Inga Index?”  Until there’s a vaccine, it would be a lot less stressful just to stick with people in your own comfort range. 

In the meantime, please don’t iron money.

Yes, I really did this.

Monday, July 6, 2020

The Twilight Zone

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published July 8, 2020] ©2020

I’ve had people say to me at times that unusual stuff seems to happen to me.  I have always demurred, insisting that I don’t think any weirder things occur in my life than anyone else’s.  Until now.  This was truly a Twilight Zone experience.

I recently recounted the untimely crumping of our stove in March during a time when neither repair people nor appliance installers would set foot into your home because of coronavirus.  After many stove-less weeks, we were ultimately able to prevail (it will remain a secret how) and get a new oven control panel and switch panel installed, finally reprieved from microwave and crock pot cuisine.  It was especially important for my husband whose retirement passion had become sourdough baking.  I truly began fearing for his mental health in a loafless world. 

The Thursday night before the Memorial Day weekend, a mere two weeks after we had been restored to stovedom, we were just finishing a late (8:45) dinner when I heard what sounded like the Beep of Death coming from the oven.  Uh-oh. When our stove panel shorted out in March, it beeped intermittently around the clock and drove me so crazy that I would have taken a sledge hammer to the stove if we owned one.  Unfortunately, the stove is on the same circuit breaker as other kitchen appliances, mostly notably the refrigerator, so flipping it off was not an option. 

Upon investigation, the display panel had mysteriously lit up (I know I turned the stove off) and was querying if I wanted to do a convection bake.  I have never done a convection bake, ever.  I turned off the oven but seconds later, it lit back up with  a new message:  did I want to do a timed bake with meat? (Another setting I have never ever used.)  Every time I turned off the oven, a new message would come up seconds later. Then, terrifyingly, the  broiler started to crank up to 500 degrees.  It was like poltergeist had taken possession of this machine. 

It couldn’t have been worse timing.  The grandchildren - whom we had not seen since Christmas – were coming the next day for the three day holiday weekend.  $300 of comestibles for the weekend had just been purchased that day so flipping the kitchen circuit breaker was fairly low on my list. 

Not knowing what else to do, I started taking pictures (when all else fails, take pictures) of each new message on the display panel to document this issue for either a repair person and/or an exorcist. I was in a total state of panic. 

As I was snapping pictures, I thought I detected something moving inside the electronic panel.  A flashlight determined that it was a large bug – a roach? -  running back and forth inside the glass.  All I could think of was this stupid bug was going to short out my brand new $500 oven panel - AND potentially burn down my house by keeping the oven on continuous broil. 

Who the heck could you possibly call to deal with this at 9 p.m. on the Thursday night of a three day holiday weekend during a pandemic?

Now, you’re probably wondering where my nuclear physics-trained Cal Tech-educated engineer husband was during all this. 

“Olof!” I cried, “what are we going to do?  We can’t have the oven on broil all night!”  He shrugged, poured himself an after-dinner Scotch, then went to watch sourdough English muffin videos on YouTube.  He was branching into raisin varieties.

I reflected that our 25th anniversary was the next week.  Would there be a 26th?  #notlikely

Some ten minutes and 12 messages after it had all started, the oven turn-ons stopped. I think the roach finally found its way out of the switch panel.  Or fried itself on the broil setting. 

Now, I will have to confess that in the two weeks leading up to this episode I had, for the first time ever, seen a few roachy-like creatures in my kitchen if I went in there late at night.

I did, however, have a neighbor (Neighbor A) who had had a serious roach problem a few years ago.  The city had put some irrigation pipes on the set-back on their property which somehow seemed to have created a massive creepy underground colony of roaches who were regularly invading their home.  The city finally came out and decided to clear the sewer lines (and hopefully the roaches) by blasting water at very high velocity from the manhole in front of the home of a neighbor (Neighbor B) across the street.

It was an epic fail. Fortunately no one was sitting on a commode in Neighbor B’s house when a geyser of high pressure water blew through their toilets all the way up to the ceiling creating, besides utter life-altering terror in the residents, a giant sewer-eal mess.  The city was very nice about cleaning it all up but these neighbors now require that they be notified if city water crews do anything in that manhole involving sewer maintenance. 

When I called Neighbor A on May 22, they had been seeing some roaches recently themselves, but fortunately only outside.  We collectively engaged a pest control service to smite the little buggers in both abodes.

So I guess I haven’t been the only person to experience poltergeist-level domestic terror episodes. Just the thought of a billion roaches living under your house would keep me up at night.  That toilet episode most definitely took years off Neighbor B’s life expectancies, as did the saga I wrote about last year of a different neighbor who had a colony of raccoons living in her crawl space who were trying to claw their way through the floor in the middle of the night.  If that wouldn’t scare the s—t out of you, I don’t know what would. 

But at this point, I am suffering from stove-related PTSD.  I’ve already Googled sledge hammers. It better be listening.

 I have never ever used "convection roast"

 Didn't even know there was a convection meat option

 Uh-oh - now it wants to broil?

Turned the oven off yet again but it still wants to broil

The English muffins came out great. 
Husband's reputation in the household not so much.