December 22, 2008

Snow is a part of life here in Minnesota.  I don’t mind it for the most part, except when I’ve got to shovel a large amount of it or drive on slick roads.  The landscape right after a snowfall is pristine, and quite beautiful to me.  It covers up things:  brown grass, or a child’s toy absent-mindedly left in the yard.  It can also reveal things:  animal tracks, or a deer silhouetted in woods where it could previously roam unseen.

The snow reveals something else as I move around my neighborhood.   We’ve had several snowfalls in the last week.  Some folks are fastidious about shoveling their driveway off (that includes me, usually); some not so much, and some just don’t bother at all.   The lazy ones just drive over the snow and mash it down to the point that it’s a hard, slippery mess.

The interesting thing lately is that there are several houses where the driveways haven’t been shoveled yet are still in pristine condition.  No tire tracks or footprints have marred them.  The lights are always off, and there’s no ‘for sale’ sign in the yard.    Back in the fall, I thought we had a few empty houses in the development.  Now I am sure of it.

Another resident in my development is a mortgage broker, and he’s also active in the local Cub Scout unit.  We chat once in a while about the housing market, since it affects both of us in admittedly different ways.  He confirmed to me that we’ve had at least seven foreclosures or short sales in 2008, and that several houses in the development are bank-owned and empty.  There’s no signs in these yards, so I am assuming the lenders are being patient waiting for a better market to come along.  Good luck with that.

At least a few of these houses have been trashed by their former occupants.  I’ve heard stories of missing appliances, walls beaten to crap, missing fixtures, etc.   That’ll do wonders for the average sale price in the neighborhood.    This isn’t necessarily a bad thing from my perspective.

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Congrats… Now DO Something…

November 6, 2008

For the first time in 20 years, my preferred presidential candidate has won.   It’s an odd feeling of sorts, to be honest.

I voted for Obama because I feel he was the better candidate.   I felt that his pragmatism and his self-control will be assets in the rough years ahead.   He never seemed to lose his cool no matter what situation he found himself in.   Impressive.

John McCain was more eloquent and gracious in his concession speech than he had been for most of his campaign.  Had we seen more of that side of him and less of the Rovian-crafted side, this might have been a closer election.

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More empty political pandering masquerading as an energy plan

June 17, 2008

We here in Minnesota have our fair share of political hacks and nutjobs just like any other state.  First-term Representative Michelle Bachmann is attempting to jazz her re-election bid by proposing a ‘plan’ to slash gasoline prices back to $2 per gallon.

Her plan?  In a nutshell it’s basically to throw open any area of the country for oil drilling, open several new oil refineries, and some incentives to invest in alternative energy.    From where I’m sitting, we’ll do number one sooner or later anyway, since it’s too late to gracefully transition away from fossil fuels without doing so.  The proposal for more oil refineries doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense unless she’s planning on setting them up for processing ‘heavy’ crude like oil sands and that nasty sulfurous stuff that Saudi Arabia and elsewhere are billing as wonderful new sources of oil.   The alternative energy investments is a nice add-on as well, though there are no specifics.

My main problem is that Rep. Bachmann is touting her plan as a way to ‘push gas prices back to $2 per gallon.’  The only rational response one can have to that idea is something along the lines of ‘put the crack pipe down.’   Bachmann is deluding someone… whether it’s herself or her electorate we can only guess.

I’m all for politicians from both sides acting like mature grown-ups and discussing the crucial issues of the day.  Throwing empty rhetoric out such as a pie-in-the-sky promise to return the USA to the golden land of $2 gas is either cynical pandering or a good example of how out-of-touch this candidate is.  Having had Bachmann as a state senator for a few years, I’m willing to believe either case.

So it begins…

June 10, 2008

We had our first political candidate ring our doorbell last night, so the general election season has officially begun.  It was actually the wife of a candidate for the state house, but for all intents it’s the same thing.  My wife had a short chat with the lady, took a flyer and then went about her business.  When I got home from our son’s T-Ball game, she showed me the flyer and mentioned what a nice lady she talked to.

I took one look at the flyer and asked my wife what party the candidate was affiliated with.  She had no idea, and a quick scan of the ad revealed nothing.   After a few moments, it became obvious to me that the guy was a Republican… the incumbent for this seat is a first term Democrat, and one of the few paragraphs on the flyer that wasn’t feel-good mumbo-jumbo was a blurb regarding how this guy would stand up for allowing people to “make choices about their children’s education”  (i.e. private school school vouchers).   When I pointed that out to my public school teacher wife, she raised her hackles and looked as if she needed to go take a shower to remove the taint from the GOP flyer.

What is interesting is that at the lower level of politics, the Minnesota GOP has decided (in some districts at least), to try and sell the personality of the candidate rather than specifics about the platform being pushed by the party.  It appears to me that the Repubs in this state are worried about getting rolled this November, and quite frankly, after the hash they’ve made of things in D.C. over the last 8 years, they have every right to be.  It’s the Dems’ turn to mess things up for a while.

Just an interesting tidbit some of you might find of interest…

At the Food Bank

May 25, 2008

My son spent last night at my mother’s home. Earlier on Saturday, I brought him to my mom at her church in south Minneapolis, where she volunteers at a local food bank distribution site on Saturday mornings. She’s brought my son there several times in the past when she keeps him overnight. He’s 5, so while he’s picked up on the concept that they are giving food away for free, it hasn’t dawned on him why these folks are doing so. There’ll be plenty of time for that in the future…

Anyway, I spent a few minutes conversing with my mom and some of her friends about the project. The size of the crowd waxes & wanes from week to week, but usual attendance ranges from 150-200. Over the last few months the number of attendees has been growing. This week there was at least 260 folks that took part. As has been reported on the local news recently, the tanking economy has both increased the number of people needed to use food banks while at the same time reducing the number of people who donate to those same food banks.

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Large Housing Auction Coming up in Minnesota

January 8, 2008

The Pioneer press has an interesting article in this morning’s edition about a housing auction coming up at the end of the month here in the Twin Cities. Long story short, local builders are trying to unload a lot of spec homes, models and the like. According to the story, there’s probably around 2,400 new, never-lived-in homes & townhouses in the metro area, and this auction is trying to dump around 200 of them in this auction. Read the rest of this entry »

Hitting Bottom?

October 11, 2007

As a follow-on to yesterday’s post about the local housing market, I was watching the late news last night and one of the main stories was on the housing market & foreclosures.   All things being equal, it was a pretty balanced piece, but the rep for the local realtor’s association was trying to put a positive spin on things, notably stating that in his opinion ‘We really are at a point where the bottom, if that’s the right word, has just about been reached.’

I’m willing to believe that some of the numbers are getting better, but as the story notes, that may be due to frustrated sellers yanking their homes off the market or deciding not to sell in the first place.   I have trouble believing that the bottom is close to being hit, since foreclosure rates are still rising and the subprime ARM reset  wave isn’t supposed to reach it’s crescendo until sometime early next year.    Time will tell, right?