Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Those old Houses

This has nothing to do with SAHD's so, if you are looking for that, move on.

We have, at long last, sold our old house. This was a long process, much longer than I had thought it would be at the time. A year ago, I was obsessively scanning the MLS listings literally morning and night, just in case something had been added in the time since I'd last looked. I fiddled with zip codes and price ranges, tweaked this and that, drove around neighborhoods looking for "For Sale by Owner" signs, and obsessed like mad over a house I never even had a chance to look at because it sold in like three days. We agonized over a couple of places that were almost right, and even made an offer on one (just this once I think it would be okay to breathe a prayer of thanks for crazy out of state siblings that don't belong to you). It would be early July before we found a truly suitable place, the end of July before it was ours. Long-time readers of these pages will know that the process of getting the place ready was a long one, and it was not until December we could move in. A month later began the job of getting the old house ready for sale, with new paint and carpet, clearing out the trash and detritus of the move, all that crap. A month later that was finally all done and we could go on the market. A month and a half later, we got a good offer (not without some other nibbles along the way), and a month and a half after that was last week. The process was a bit over a year from start to end.

I tell you what, that was a load off.

And on top of that, last week we closed a sale on an old house that had belonged to my grandfather. My family used it when working at our ranch near Tilden, Texas. Trish and I hung on to it for five years after Mom died, thinking we might be able to use it ourselves. In the end, we finally realized it would be better to put a cheap little hunting cabin on the ranch itself than to keep that house (in town, about 10 miles away from the land), and we put it up for sale as well. After many fits and starts, it went last week as well. We were there this past Sunday, clearing out the last little bits of stuff we wanted or needed to get rid of.

But now we are done with all that. Done. Finished. Kaput. And we can concentrate on polishing the one house we have left.

Monday, May 08, 2006

In Which I Channel Andy Rooney

…and I wonder how many people still know who that guy is.

I use my credit card a lot. Much more often than five years ago, and an insanely lot more than ten. And really, since you get the 1% (or 3%, or 4 2/3% or whatever it is) cash back and you were going to spend the money anyway, why not? Even for amounts I wouldn't have considered using a card for back when. Not quite "stick of gum" levels, but sub $10 ones, anyway.

This has caused me to notice odd quirks in how businesses deal with cards. In Ye Oldene Dayes (as late as 1992 or thereabouts) using your card would cause people to pull out this heavy mechanical thing with a lever or a runner and some special carbon paper. Then they would take your card, go klerchunk-unk, make a totally illegible copy of your numbers and you would then sign it. I forget now if you got to keep the good copy or the unreadable one. Then they got the electronic things where the clerks would enter your number and it would print a (usually) very readable receipt for you to sign. The next steps were the gadgets that read the magnetic strip on the back of the card.

There things stopped for a while, and all was good. But gradually new wrinkles have been added.

I first noticed it with gas stations, the whole "pay at the pump" thing. You just swiped your card. And you did it yourself. No clerk action required. Pretty much everyone seems to do it that way now.

Back to the gas stations. Used to be you always had to sign the reciept. No more. No matter how much you buy, you swipe and you're done. Actually, I suppose there must be some limit where they make you go into the store and show ID or something, but for your average gas purchase, that's it. More and more stores are doing this. A drugstore and a bagel place near my home don't require signatures for purchases under a certain amount. A different amount at each place, I might add. This messes me up, because I can never recall if its purchases under $20 or $25 and I never know if I need to reach for a pen or not.

All the grocery stores I trade at still require a signature, even if you're only buying that stick of gum. Some places have you do an actual signature with a pen and ink. Others use those electronic writing pad things. I'm not wild about those. They start out dutifully creating a decent copy of your signature but after only a few months devolve into reproducing a bizarre squiggle that might be a two-year-old's attempt to draw a cat or a reproduction of one of Picasso's doodles as rendered by an epileptic forger. I've pretty much ceased to care what shows up on the screen and just hit "okay" as long as something is there.

Probably the weirdest store policy for credit cards is the one used by Lowes, the giant hardware retailer. You swipe your own card, but then you have to tell the checker the last four digits on it. This makes no sense to me whatsoever. It can't be to stop fraud, you're standing there holding the credit card. Who couldn't just look down and read the four digits? How many people have those numbers memorized anyway? People who shop at Lowes a lot? It’s an utterly pointless extra step, and I'm certain the checkers hate it. Some day I need to ask if they have ever been told the rationale for this.