Heading to Heath: Mission Find-a-Rental

This house is not for rent!

This house is not for rent!

So last week I mentioned we were having a little difficulty finding a place to rent.  Well, actually I think I said I thought we were going to be homeless.  Let me tell you about it.

Blinded by a Misconception

When Bill and I returned to Texas from California, eight years ago, we needed a rental and fast.  I called a real estate agent friend of my mom’s and by the end of the day, we’d found something.  A year later, Bill came home from Iraq and the tiny two bedroom duplex I’d been renting was suddenly too small.  I did a little research and in no time at all, we found something and moved in.  This one one time that my previous experiences were misleading.

Beware of Craig’s List

For my first stab at finding us a rental this time around, I went to Realtor.com.  Bill didn’t like what I found, so he took the lead.  The first thing he did was lead us into trouble.

I am not a fan of Craig’s List, but Bill uses it all the time.  He’s bought books there, sold all kinds of things and also finds different kinds of contractors and workmen for the house.  This time he found trouble.

During his first search, he found a house for rent that was right around the corner from where we’re building.  The rental was only slightly above the budget he’d given me and Bill was ready to lease it sight unseen.  I’m usually a worry-wart about things like that, but hey, I figured we’d only be there a year at the most and I can deal with almost anything for a year.

The Craig’s Lister sent us an application.  Bill had it all filled out and was ready to send it back when a little bird sang in his ear, “Beware the Ides of March.”  Well, actually, Bill just got cold feet about sending all that information to someone he didn’t know.  So he had me check the tax records.  The Craig Lister was not the owner of the home.  OOOOPS!

The Do-Over

Besides living through a cautionary tale about Craig’s List, Bill learned several things while he was researching rentals.  For instance, he’d been unrealistic with the budget he’d given me.  No way were we going to find something within the range he originally gave me.  So he raised the budget by a couple of hundred dollars.  He also found out researching rentals is a lot of work, so he delegated it back to me with a long list of the rentals he’d found on a variety of rental sites.

His priority was for homes that were being rented out by their owners, rather than homes being leased by agents.  I just wanted to rent from someone who didn’t steal our identity and empty our accounts.

With fear and trepidation I started trying to figure out if the homes on Bill’s list were really real or just another scam.  I quickly found that most of the houses were on Zillow.  So I poked around Zillow a little more.  The new price range made things a lot easier.

Eventually, I had to quit researching things on the internet and start making calls, but I’ll tell you about that next week.

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Travel There: Santa Barbara’s LotusLand

2014-06-19 03.48.12First atraction, first day: Santa Barbara’s Lotusland! Talk about a great way to start a vacation – this was it!

Hanging in SB

So, if our adventure started in Santa Barbara, why did we fly to LAX and stay in Carpenteria?  Well, this was a road trip which would end in LA, so it was cheaper to fly into and out of LAX, not to mention avoiding a one-way rental car charge.  And Carpenteria is only ten miles away from Santa Barbara and about a hundred dollars cheaper than any accommodations I could book in the more famous city.2014-06-19 01.53.15


The Beach

We left Carpenteria early enough to spend some time in Santa Barbara, because it’s one of our favorite cities.  The list of things we would have loved to do would be quite long, but all we had time for was a leisurely visit to the beach.  Next was lunch and we had fast food.


Lotusland07032014Finally, Lotusland!

Lotusland is one of those hidden travel gems people talk about, but it shouldn’t be such a secret.  Their website says they’ve been having tours since 1993, so I don’t know why more people aren’t raving about it.  I lived on the Central Coast of California for six years and in all that time I heard one person mention it in passing and they made it seem like a cactus farm.

Listen to me – you need to go to Lotusland.  Beautiful, serene, amazing – these are the words that come to mind.  Yes there are cactus gardens, but that’s only the beginning.  There are twenty other gardens there, also.  From a Japanese Garden to a Water Garden full of water lilies to a Topiary Garden – and the list goes on!

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Here’s a map from our tour.  At least, Trip Advisor lists it as the number two attraction in Santa Barbara,behind the famous Courthouse, but I’ve been to the Courthouse and it doesn’t light a candle to Lotusland.  Santa Barbara Mission is pretty wonderful, but Trip Advisor rates that as number seven.  What’s wrong with these people!

First you need to know Ganna Walska, the lady who planned and planted Lotusland, should have her own mini-series.  A famous opera singer with five different husbands, ties to both the Polish and Russian royal families and over thirty acres of gardens in Santa Barbara – what’s not to love?  Then there’s the gardens themselves.  Breath-taking!

Next, you need to know that you can’t just show up at the address on the internet for a stroll through the garden.  All tours are docent-led and there are two each day.  To tour the garden you have to go online, make reservations and pay for the tour.  Then you will get directions about where to show up for the tour.  I have to confess that you might get a little sticker shock.  The tours are $45/adult and $20/ child, but I am telling you it is completely worth the price of admission.  Trust me on this.

We had quite a tour.  About half-way through a sweet little old lady fell INTO a cactus plant, which sort of threw everything off – and certainly slowed us down on the next leg of our trip – but that’s for next week.  Lotusland is one of those places that I could wear myself out talking about and still not capture the essence of it, so now I’m going to shut-up and show you some of our pictures.  Just be sure and come back next week.  There’s more fun to come.

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The cactus mishap is just about to occur!

The cactus mishap is just about to occur!

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Travel Here: Welcome to Ye Shire

Ye Shire

Ye Shire Tavern. 3600 Shire Blvd. #112 Richardson, Texas 75082

No, I haven’t turned into a Hobbit, but I have found a great little neighborhood restaurant you should try.

Stopping by Ye Shire Tavern

It was late on a Sunday night.  After church we’d put in a full day of rental house shopping.  We were tired and all we wanted was a decent meal.  Bill said he knew just where to go.

Where he headed was The Shire, a restaurant/retail development at the Southwest corner of the Bush Tollway and Jupiter Road.  From the tollway you see restaurants like The Silver Fox, Casa Cha Cha and another place that’s just called TEXAS.  Behind that is another row of restaurants, places like Main Street Bakery, Thai’s Thumbz Urban Kitchen and Apollonia’s Italian Kitchen.

It was after nine and pretty much everything was closed down, with just a few stragglers finishing up their meals.  Ye Shire Tavern, on the other hand, was open until ten and they welcomed us in.  The other patrons were at the bar joking around with the barmaid and nursing drinks.  One got the impressing that they were there most nights, joking around with the barmaid and nursing drinks.

More Than Adequate

Confession: We weren’t expecting much.  It was the end of a Sunday night and no one else was eating.  We figured the real cook had gone home hours ago.  Still we were hungry, so we ordered.

Since we weren’t expecting much, we were pleasantly surprised with what we got.  I had a patty melt and Bill had another sandwich.  Both were delicious and time had actually been spent on presentation.  There were garnishes on our late night meal.

What’s more, the service was great.  No wonder there were so many regular patrons at the bar, joking with the barmaid, on a Sunday night.  She was a treasure.  My husband assured me she was easy on the eyes and she had a great personality.  She took care of us like she was glad we were there, rather than acting as if we’d just shown up to cause her more work.

We’ll Be Back

The beer was cold, the service was good and the food was delicious.  I even got to pretend I was being healthy, having a salad with my patty melt instead of fries.  The place was clean, very clean, which goes a long way with me.  The prices were reasonable.

In our new digs, on the northeastern edge of Dallas, the intersection of 75 and 190 will play a more important role in our lives than it did while we lived in Far North Dallas.  We’ll be back to Ye Shire, but someone should tell them this is the 21st Century, the age of social media.  They really need a website.



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Heading to Heath: Business with Friends

The Sadeks and their escrow officer

The Sadeks and their escrow officer

Well, closing day is still a few weeks off, but everything is going smoothly – at least as smoothly as anything Bill and I ever expect – but there are a lot of things are going on.  In other words, the deposit money went hard.

Escrow Things

First, I want to give major kudos to my best friend, Deborah Shera.  She just happens to be an escrow officer with Chicago Title.  She usually does huge commercial closings, but since she loves me, she agreed to take on my teeny tiny little escrow.  Since we are acting as our own real estate agents, it’s been nice to have a friend keeping her eye on my escrow. Her client list reads like an issue of Fortune magazine.  If you’d like to be on that list give her a call at 214-987-6782.

Anyway, things are trucking along in that department.  The buyers are as anxious to move in as we are to get that call saying, “The money has been wired into your account.”

More Kudos

Our Guy for Real Esate!

Our Guy for Real Esate!

My next kudos go to another good friend, Michael Picolo.  I haven’t known him as long as I have Deb, but that’s because he was probably in diapers when I met Deb.  Nonetheless, I’ve known him for over a quarter of a century.  Michael is a real estate agent with Ebby Halliday and he was my Plan B.

Well, actually, he was my Plan A.  Mr. Bill is the one who wanted to try and sell this house ourselves.  If it had been up to me, I would have just called Michael and been done with it.

We did call Michael though, because we wanted him to know what we were up to and we wanted his input on the price.  He “got” our house and understood its value.

I’ve found that most agents just throw a few comps into a software program and wave it around like the Holy Grail.  Michael knew our house and he knew the market, so he was able to give us a real number, not a piece of marketing.

He also knew us and figured with our experience in real estate and our expertise in marketing, we could get it sold ourselves.  He was absolutely golden throughout the whole process.  Calling to see how things were going and bolstering my confidence, because I really just wanted to hand it over to him, in spite of Bill’s insistence that we could do this.  When we got a buyer, Michael was the first to congratulate us.

Fast Forward to Mission Find-a-Rental

One morning Bill and I woke up and realized that we’d have to move in about a month.  I hit all the rental sites I knew and started trying to find something.  I suggested calling Michael, but Bill said, “He doesn’t make enough money on a rental to justify bothering him.  You can do this.”  Isn’t it amazing how often Bill has to keep telling me the same thing.

I dug into the task, but it was hard going.  For one thing, the market is hot.  As I called around trying set up viewings of different properties, I heard, “It’s already been leased,” a lot.  I also found out that pets are not universally adored.  Oh and we weren’t sure how long we were going to need the house, so we really didn’t want to sign a lease we might have to break.

So, after a couple day of banging my head against a brick wall, I made a post on Facebook telling my friends I might need a little prayer coverage on the project.  I have amazing wonderful friends who not only started praying, they started coming up with solutions.  Deb had already offered up her guest room.  Another friend had a small condo we were welcome to.  Other people had some really good suggestions of various sorts.

Then Michael called.  He had a solution for me.  Come back next week and I’ll tell you about it.

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Travel There: Good Luck or Good Planning

Refreshed and Ready for the Road

Refreshed and Ready for the Road

When you’re traveling, is a good night’s sleep good luck or good planning? Or could it be because you’re too exhausted to do anything else?

We Gotta Get Out of LA

As we surrendered to Navi (the GPS) and headed north, I was fantasizing about pillows and linen,but my job as navigator wasn’t over.  About the time we got to Thousand Oaks, Bill wanted to eat.  Food was just about the last thing I wanted, but through experience I’ve learned, when Bill wants food I’d better find a restaurant.

Gastronomic Detour

Do you remember what life was like before our electronic traveling friends?  You drove along hoping to see a sign on the side of the road, but you’d never just pull off the road, because you might never figure out how to get back.  Using that method, I might have made it to Carpenteria without having to stop, but no, Bill tells me to get out my phone.  Lo and behold, Google Local tells me there’s a BJ’s in the neighborhood and Bill takes the next exit.  We kept Navi pointed towards Carpenteria and used Local to get to BJ’s.

Now I really want to whine and complain about how awful it was, because I was really tired and not very hungry, but we shared BJ’s new Roast Beef Dip Sandwich, and I’ve got to be honest with you, it was really good.  In my day we called them French Dip Sandwiches, but I guess in this new politically-correct world, that might have some negative connotation – like all French people are dips.  Either that or some teenager planning their menu didn’t know their au jus from their assembly line.

A Reward at the End of our Drive

Sandwich happily consumed, we drove on to Carpenteria and found the Holiday Inn Express where I’d made our reservations.  This was an older property, but completely renovated, so you had all the charm of the old with all the convenience of the new.  The desk clerk checked us in like a champ, then we found a parking place close to our room and we moved ourselves in.

The room was wonderful.  A small seating area and mini-kitchen were separated from the bed by an attractive divider.  The furniture was new, but some older decorative touches were carried into the new design to add character.  We were very happy.

I would have loved to crawl in bed oblivious to everything, but I knew the drill.  I wake up at six and Bill doesn’t. I’d get up raring to go and Bill would be livid at my rattling around, if I didn’t get things ready ahead of time.  So, with a foggy brain I started re-organizing everything and getting ready for the rest of the trip, because packing for a flight and packing for a road trip are two different things.

Those gifts that took up half my suitcase? Well they were moved to the tote-bag.  All my shoes, belts and accessories?  I’d packed a fold-up nylon bag for them.  Pretty much everything else we packed needed to be shuffled around, too.  When I’d reorganized everything to suit me, I pulled out my exercise gear and an outfit for the next day, then fell into bed.  I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.

A Bright New Day

Yes, I did wake up at six.  I slithered into my workout clothes and found the exercise room – a nice one I might add.  They didn’t have a recumbent stationary bike, like I do at home, but the treadmills were in good working order and I slammed out an hour of cardio.  Then I was starving, so I went to the breakfast bar.

Cinnamon Rolls from Heaven

Cinnamon Rolls from Heaven

Let me tell you this – Holiday Inn Express rocks their breakfast buffet.  My particular favorite is their cinnamon rolls.   But they have everything from bacon and eggs to a pancake machine to hot biscuits.  They also have healthy things, so with my single cinnamon roll I had a boiled egg, yogurt and apple juice.

I returned to the room and Bill was stirring, so I returned to the breakfast bar with him – not to eat, just for companionship.  He got breakfast down, we got ready for the day and headed out.

Vacation Day One is ahead and it was a great one, so come back next week.


Filed under Accommodations, Art &Travel, California, Picks and Pans, Restaurants, Road Trips, Travel Planning

Travel Here: Frankie’s Mexican Cusine

From Frankie's website

From Frankie’s website

Here’s a local hangout in Richardson, near Custer and Lookout, you probably didn’t know was there.  Even though we were looking for it we missed it, because it’s hidden away between Canyon Creek Square and Valley Glen Drive.

Frankie’s Found Through Friendship

When I was in the throes of locating a rental to tide us over between the house we sold and the house we were building, I made a cry for help on Facebook.  Several friends made viable suggestions.  One had just bought a house on West Lookout in Richardson and was willing to hurry up his renovations in order to provide us with a place.  This was just the latest in a series of assists he offered, so even before we’d decided what we were going to do about our living situation, we knew we owed him dinner.

Our friend recommended a local hangout for dinner and it was perfect for catching up.  See, I’ve known this friend for about thirty years.  We used to work together and he was the roommate of one of my boyfriends.  The boyfriend is long gone, but the roommate and I are still good friends.  However, we travel in different circles now, so our paths rarely cross.  We had a whole lot of catching up to do.

Good Food and Awesome Margaritas

Anyplace would have been a good place to catch up with my friend, but as is often the case with him, that little restaurant he knew about was just the sort of place everyone else is looking for.  He is from New Orleans after all and New Orleans folk know food.  Every time I think of him, I think of a muffalata joint around the corner from Jackson Square.

The meal at Frankie’s started out right.  My husband considers himself a chips and salsa connoisseur.  He proclaimed the chips beyond satisfactory – some of the best he’d ever had, I believe, or something along those lines.  (I’m still on the El Fenix has the best chips team, but different chips for different folks)

Friend and I ordered Margaritas, on the rocks with salt.  Let me tell you, the drinks alone are reason enough to make your way to Frankie’s.  I had two and was a very, very happy camper.

For our meal, Hubby had chicken enchiladas with tomatillo sauce and I had flautas.  Friend had some kind of enchiladas with fried eggs on top.  Friend cleaned his plate.  He thought it was because the food was so good, but it might have been the spin class he’d just been to.  I ate way too many chips, because there was still guacamole left when my flautas were gone and it was very good guac.  Hubby ate up his meal, too.

So do I think you should go to Frankie’s? Absolutely!  The atmosphere is very casual and so are the prices.  We had a great waitress who got us everything we needed without being intrusive.  The food is yummy – and did I mention the Margaritas?


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Heading to Heath: Sold by Owner

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Well, we sold it, but it was a job!  Now will it stay sold?

Welcome to Our Open House

The real fun of selling our house started one Saturday morning when we put our custom sign out in the yard, with a box of full color flyers attached, and sprinkled a trail of open-house-signs (some custom, some from the home improvement store) from the major thoroughfare a couple of blocks away to our front yard. I filled the air with Glade and baked some chocolate chip cookies, then opened the front door.

That first weekend we were only on the ForSaleByOwner site, because we wanted to see what kind of traffic we’d get. They were also filming the virtual tour that day.

During the weekend open houses, we were overrun by neighbors, had a few drive-bys and were visited by one guy who saw us on the FSBO site.  We were surprised to discover we’d missed the price point by $10K. By the end of the first day we’d raised our price. This was another part of the reason we hadn’t gone very wide with our online presence. We wanted to test the water a little bit.

By the next weekend, we were on more sites with our higher price, but we were still getting mostly neighbors at our open houses. We did have a couple of folks set appointments to see the house during the week, but most of the calls were from agents trying to list our house.

One of the last people to come through that second weekend, came with an agent and made an offer, but the offer was ridiculous and I got pretty depressed.

The third weekend brought two very interested couples, but no offers. One of the interested parties wore us out with emails during the next week and said he was going to make an offer, but he just kept asking questions. Finally, the fourth weekend rolled around and we opened our doors again, but only on Saturday, because we had plans on Sunday.

Bill was excited by some of our visitors, but I didn’t put too much stock into people who wouldn’t leave an email address or a phone number.

Narrowing the Field

All along our question-asker kept asking questions, but then he got very, very quiet. So, we were gearing up for the fifth weekend of open houses, when late on a Thursday afternoon an agent called and asked to show the house. I’d planned to spend Friday perfecting my housekeeping, but Bill and I performed a whirlwind cleaning and opened our doors a couple of hours later.

The couple and their agent stayed forever, but when they left they said we’d get an offer the next day. Bill and I were both thrilled, but we were also afraid to be thrilled.  Lo and behold, the next morning we had a full price offer with no strings attached. We negotiated a few details back and forth throughout the day, but by dinnertime, we had a deal. We were going into escrow!

Due Diligence and the Loan Contingency

We’d sold the house, but we had some hoops to jump through. Right off the bat was an appraisal and a home inspection. We’d already planned a vacation and as we boarded the plane, the buyer’s agent was calling us about warranties and flood zones. We thought we might be fielding real estate calls all vacation long, but what we told them as we found our seats seemed to satisfy them.

Will the Money Go Hard?

One item that we negotiated hard for was the condition that if the loan was approved, then the buyer had to up their deposit and the funds would go hard.  That meant, even if they backed out, we’d have a nice compensation for it. Was the loan approved? Did the money go hard? Find out next week!

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