Archive for June, 2010

Without a Trace

Posted in hit bull win steak on June 29, 2010 by samsondoggie

My rental property has a lot to tell me. It is almost a month since my first tenant moved out. I remember telling him that “you were the tenant that I was waiting for.” That was a mistake. I couldn’t have been more wrong. He turned out to be the tenant that I needed to meet in person. I am pretty certain, by now, that he didn’t leave my home because he didn’t feel safe. I think he was just looking for a place to stay for a month, before he moved on. Even now, I can see signs that something was odd about that family. For one, it seems like they hardly used the home at all. The new stove is still new. It was never used. Same with the new cabinets in the kitchen. There are still little piles of sawdust in the back of the shelves. He told me that he wasn’t using the dishwasher. “I don’t want to waste water,” he said. “Besides, I want to teach my kids to take responsibility to clean up after themselves.”My mailbox is piling up with his bills. The City of Durham has a water bill for him, and so does the gas company.

Today I called the gas company to get them to turn the power back on. “My tenant left after 35 days,” I said. “Without a trace.”

The operator was deadpan. “Same for us. Without a trace.”

– – – –

James could not believe that it took two months to find a tenant. “Adam,” James says, “you just don’t know how to rent a house. Do I have to do it for you?”James can’t believe that I interviewed almost fifty people before I found a tenant.  “You don’t need to ask a lot of questions, Adam. Just get that government money.”   James has two rental houses, and both are rented to Section 8 tenants. “I make them let me inspect three times a year, and if there’s a problem Continue reading


Family Ties

Posted in that's a tasty beverage on June 11, 2010 by samsondoggie

I love to be there when my kids have a big day. I love when my kids do things that evoke memories of my own life.  I am reminded, regularly, of how our lives are evolving in circles. Maybe the reason that I want to spend so much time remembering my kids’ lives is because it heightens whatever memory I have left of childhood. I hope that those feelings are not slipping away. I know that I will never remember elementary school so readily, though.

Today is John’s last day of school. He has had such a good year at E.K. Powe. Mr. Dodyk made John work. He made him stay on task. He managed to differentiate, even if it meant no reading groups after April 1st for John and lots of time at centers. The private Montessori school did not work out, but the resource-challenged urban public school did.

Mr. Dodyk's 1st Grade class. E.K. Powe Elementary. June 2010.

E.K. Powe emphasized reading, and to a lesser extent the school wanted to spend time on math. John’s homework included a mandate that he spend read out loud to us for twenty minutes, four nights a week. I feel like I have watched him learn to use books as tools. I see him picking out books for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes, it is favorite author. Sometimes, it is because he has an appetite for a subject. Sometimes, he seems to be trying to read about something that he is scared about or that makes him worried. I can’t Continue reading

Your Choice

Posted in hit bull win steak on June 8, 2010 by samsondoggie

Things were great.  I remember driving through the neighborhood after a Saturday game.  It was about 11 am. The lawn was covered with grass clippings.  There were all kinds of balls in the backyard. It looked right. I turned around.  I waved at my neighbor, Don. As I was idling at the stop sign, Charles turned the corner in his red truck. “How are you liking things,” I said.

“The house is great,” he said. He was a bit circumspect, I thought. But I remember thinking, who really wants to talk with their landlord?

Well, now things aren’t so great. Now things are getting tough.  As I see it, there are three basic paths. One, he can stay in the house. I would add an alarm system and put in some lights. I’d probably do a bit more. I’ve been told that I should bring the driveway around to the back, so that the tenants can have their cars well off of the street.

Second, he can go anead and move his family out of the home. Then, its just a question of how much. I already have his deposit. He’s late with rent. What is the number? One landlord friend says three months. Another says 30 days, and return the deposit. I don’t know the number, but I’ll need to know it soon.

The the last path is court. I can get a judgement in small claims court against him. That is more of a penalty to him than it is a reward to me. The only Continue reading

What He Said

Posted in that's a tasty beverage on June 7, 2010 by samsondoggie


I turn the corner onto Crosby Road, intending to get to the bottom of things.  My tenant’s blue Ford Windstar van is parked out front. There are some toys under the car port. Otherwise, there’s no sign of activity.

Next door, a blue Honda Civic is parked under the carport, so I head over for a chat. Ren, a 20-ish blond woman answers.  She has her huge dog, Layla, so she subdues him before she opens the door. Although I’ve spoken with her husband several times, we have never met.  Still, she seems to know who I am.  She does not invite me in. She comes out on the concrete porch.

I try to convey the situation. Charles says there has been some crime. The police don’t have a record of it. I just want to get down to the bottom of it.

“Well,” she says, “we’re moving next week. It’s not worth it. I like this neighborhood, too. There were gunshots last night, someone fired into there last month, and that kid shot up the gas station, too.”

I know the kid. He’s from the house across the street. He lives at a white house owned by his grandfather. Don Continue reading

Something to Talk About

Posted in hit bull win steak on June 5, 2010 by samsondoggie

I was visiting my mother-in-law at the Carillon Assisted Living facility, on the outskirts of Salisbury, when my tenant called. He had said that he would be calling, because “there’s something important that I need to talk with you about.”

He had mentioned a concern on Thursday. “There’s something, something important,” he said.  “We need to talk about it.”

I suspected that perhaps there was something wrong with the house. The living room has a window treatment that seems to be on the edge of breaking. Ahead of time, I was preparing for news that one of his young children had pulled it down. Maybe the dishwasher was on the fritz. The dishwasher conveyed.

– – –

Saturday afternoon, at around four, I was at the Carillon. The Carillion has a lot of rooms, but Rose is confined to one hallway. There is a keypad that secures the door. There’s a man standing behind the door. When you come in, he addresses you with a sincere plea.

“Tell me the code,” he says. “I want to see my wife. She’s on the other side, down there. Please tell me the code.”  It is an Alzheimer’s unit. Visitors can get in, but residents can’t get out.

The “Country Kitchen” is not really cozy, and it is not very country, either. The pads on the wooden chairs seem to stick to the green linoleum.  Although no one has a spouse, the tables are large, as if set for a family on a retreat. There is a stray piano in the corner, jammed up against a light and a walker.

Continue reading

My Beautiful Idea

Posted in literally happened on June 5, 2010 by samsondoggie

Last fall, I bought a three bedroom brick ranch about a mile from our home. I bought this home, which had been sold by the children of the previous owner at a substantial discount, as an investment. Real estate is part of the American dream, and in the last decade, being a real estate landlord has been a new iteration of that old story.

My decision to follow that path was not a sudden idea. I remember searching for property more than five years ago, in the spring of 2004. I thought it about carefully. I decided that houses were too expensive. It was a shrewd estimation.  Still, the idea that I had made a good decision stayed with me. I had a sense of having been right. It gave me some confidence when I surveyed homes in Durham last fall. Prices were low, homes were plentiful, and borrowing money couldn’t have been much cheaper. Even by a conservative analysis, my home in Northern Durham was going to have a substantial cash flow. Before taxes, I expected a return on my investment of about 17 percent.

Rehabbing the home was easy. It had been the home of an older lady, and it needed to be updated to reflect new taste. I tore down a wall to expand the kitchen. I put in an island. I replaced a lot of things – commodes, cabinets, vanities, sink, and the sidewalk. I purchased a new stove, as well as an older washer and dryer.

And, less than two weeks after we finished, I had a lease agreement with an ideal tenant. A 54-year old woman, without kids, with a job as a housekeeper and a son with a big job in Seattle.  It wasn’t just that. I felt comfortable with her because her story made sense. I could understand her motive for moving. She was paying $800 to live in a small house,  in an area that is full of crime.  Sure, she had bad credit and not much income, but her son was on board. I asked him to co-sign, and he did.  She put down $500 to hold the place.

Except, her son changed his mind. I guess he came to the same conclusion that I did – it was a fine time to buy. I was actually at the home, shoveling the snow off of the driveway, when her daughter-in-law called.

“I’m sure you can understand,” she said, “that it just makes more sense to buy.”

She was calling because she wanted her $500 back.

So, I had the February mortgage covered, but I still needed a tenant. It costs money to have an empty place. The heat has to stay on, and so do the lights.  It is not absolutely essential to have water, but then again, its not convenient to go without.

Continue reading

Then and Now

Posted in literally happened on June 3, 2010 by samsondoggie

I found this picture of Durham, made during the 1930s.  It is a picture of a lunch counter. I believe that it served the tobacco market.

Durham Lunch Counter, 1930s

Durham Lunch Counter, 1930s
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