16 March 2007

Flipped Off: How Speed And Greed Kill Houses

DON'T KILL THIS FLIPPER. Save your rage for those d-bags who
ruin houses and then jack up the price.


Know what I'm going to do? I'm going to get a pump-action 12 gauge Remington and ventilate the liver of the next "handyman" I see attempting to "flip" a house.

Yeah, OK - I won't. Yeah I know, I'm all Buddhist and stuff and the whole shooting somebody with a shotgun kinda runs against the grain of the whole compassion thing. (Yeah. Kinda. -Ed.) But I'm hacked at what I see these guys doing to houses, not to mention to what they're doing to prices, and I desperately need to vent my anger by at least soaking one of these guys with a squirt gun filled with wee-wee. That's harmless and it'll get the point across, right?

Let me back up. Here's how I hyperextended my spleen on this particular subject.

Teresa and I are in the market for a house. We have to get something by July 1 because that's when our lease is up. Besides, Crashy McThunderfoot just moved in upstairs, so our apartment is kinda like living in the basement of a bowling alley now. If only to save our eardrums, we must move.

So we're out looking for houses now. You are already well acquainted with my inclination to obsess on turn-of-the-century Craftsman architecture, not to mention work myself into a pungent lather over small domestic gems of the early 20s. So the first house we go to was - at least architecturally - a classic small Craftsman bungalow. My kinda place. Looked great from the street. But oh, Sweet Mother of Gustav Stickley what this man - the owner, who we'll call "Flipper" - had done to the place. It was obvious in very short order that he had tried to flip this house - to improve its appearance quickly and on the cheap so's to fool the first cloth-eared bint with a swollen wallet and leaden aesthetics that walked through its ill-hung front door.

First of all, he must've got the paint and plaster buckets mixed up. The place needed plaster desperately. What it got was 36.8 coats of paint. Even that did not stop the canyons that were forming in the walls even as we watched. Then he replaced all the interior doors with hollow-core pieces of shite; turned the kitchen into a mustard-colored, black-marbled, 1970s love pad, and then - and THEN - painted the Christ-all-freakin'-mighty out of the exterior without - withOUT! - scraping it first. It looked like a case of post-adolescent acne that got a dermabrasion treatment from Lizzie Borden.

Needless to say we didn't buy it.

But - man! - don't you think people like that oughtta be arrested? At least? The Craftsman bungalow is an American architectural icon and legacy. Anyone who compromises one of these places in any manner should at the very least be forced to live in a rusted-out single-wide on the Hanford nuclear reservation. Surely there must be some rule of law whereby these speedy, greedy Home Depot recidivists can be flogged in a very conscientiously designed village square.

But no, this is America, and those who throw art into the meatgrinder of commerce get their own TV show. And those who throw Thomas Kinkade on their walls are looked upon as "art collectors". (Frankly, I'd rather draw on my walls with a poop crayon. But that's just me. And my poop crayon.)

So off we went and continued down the list of homes that we had decided to view that day, and the next was no better. Someone had turned the back porch of a cove-ceilinged 1920s cottage into a very long, narrow bathroom - or rather Bathing/Pooping Assembly Line. If you turned sideways in there you'd be trapped forever. Best to just face the wall and move along. And again, plaster that was practically basted with dusty flat cheap-ass acrylic.

Oh, the price on both of these palaces? 'Bout $380k. I think you can buy Utah for that much now. Which brings me to my next point, which is the fact that house flippers have contributed in no small way to the hysterically inflated prices of real estate in our formerly affordable neck of the Pacific Northwest. (Not exactly so. The increased focus on Seattle because of the Grunge Movement, microbrews, our "liveability" index, and MegaJillionaire Paul Allen's Seahawks - not to mention overpaid Boeing veeps, Genentech billionaires, Immunex zillionaires, a feistly little startup with a can-do attitude called Microsoft - and - the predilection of the mossbacks to fleece California transplants all contributed in their own small way. -Ed.)

Yeah. So. Poop. Not going so well so far with the whole house-hunting thingamadillyo. However, we are venturing down to Tacoma on Saturday to take a look at a Craftsman we found there for a buck-two-ninety-five. We've discovered that you can still find unmolested architectural treasures in Tacoma for cheap. And we've been assured by our agent that the low, low real estate prices have nothing to do with the fact that the city is riddled with crime and smells like baked ass, or that "Tacoma" is the Salish word for "the place where evil dwells". We'll give you a full report when we get back.



14 March 2007

Happiness Pt. 6.5: I Won The Lottery. Again.

THAT'S HOW I ROLL. First thing I'm gonna buy when I hit the Lotto jackpot
for real is a sweet setta wheels just like this bizzad bizzoy right here.
Dudes at the Starbucks driveup window are gonna crap every corner of their
pants when I glide up for my short drip in this ride. Oh yeah. And then
I'm gonna give the rest of the money to world peace. Amen.


I won the damn lottery. Again. Well - wait - not the whole thing. If I'd've matched one more number, we'd be having this conversation at 600MPH on the Bonneville Salt Flats in the front seat of my solid gold rocket car. But anyway, for the third time in less than a year, I won $1,000 in the Washington State Lottery. Fu, the guy at Uwajimaya who sells me my tickets, gave a little squeak and exclaimed, "That's three times! You're the luckiest person I know!"

So what's my secret, assuming I have one? Well it's like this. I do have a lottery-winning secret. However it's not the reason that I keep winning money literally by the thousand-fold. Here's what happened:

Way back in ought-one when I was going to Seattle Central Community College on the state's dime, I was forced to take math against my will. Unbeknownst to me - or to the gnomes who run my checkbook - I had hidden powers of mathematical wizardry that suddenly bloomed under the tutelage of my many, many math teachers at SC(3). So yeah, I'm hanging out in the math lab one day, (Just saying that makes you a certified nerd. -Ed.) and I'm all talking smack about how the lottery is not truly random because if it was you would not be able to plot a bell curve on the results (which you can). No number would have a better chance of being drawn than any other number. It would be pretty close to a flat line. And Nick, the Uber-Math-Geek (If math smarts were pectoral muscles, he'd have an 80-inch chest. -Ed.) says no, it's truly random. I'm all like, "Hey Nick, why'n't you go blow a quadratic?" And he's all, "Why'n't you suck my rational equation?" And our professor goes, "Yeah, real mature." So I says to him I says that I had a way to prove that it wasn't random, and I was going to go do it, and when I did, he would have to wear a t-shirt every day in the math lab that said "THADDEUS GUNN'S KUNG FU IS THE BEST - and I, Nick, am his bitch for life".

So I got a spreadsheet of all the results for the Washington State Lottery Lotto game from day one up to the present, and I listed them all out in descending order of how frequently each number was drawn. I drew a median line through the results, thus creating a set of the top 50% most frequently drawn numbers. Then I wrote a simple Visual Basic program (OK - now you're a certified nerd with a gold star. -Ed.) that would randomly draw sets of six numbers from that pool. I would draw five sets of six numbers this way, and then create a control set which was drawn randomly by the Lotto machine at the store where I bought the tickets. So what I wound up with for every drawing was ten draws: five by me, five by the machine.

After doing this for three months, I calculated (with my bitchen new math skills) that my draw set won over five times more often than the control set. What I mean is that it won something - any prize level from $1 to $75. I wasn't shooting for winning the whole damn thing. I just wanted to influence my frequency or chances of winning anything. So it looked like I was right, that the lottery was not truly random, and that meant that a person could indeed influence their chance of winning a prize. Nick would be my bitch for life. Of course he poo-pooed the whole thing and told me it didn't mean anything, to which I replied that he should probably drive a Fibonacci equation into his rump at high velocity.

Nick now works as a Programming Titan for some company that prints money by the silo-full especially just for him. On the weekends, he crushes numbers with his 80-inch pecs at the Pike Place Market. (The tourists love it. -Ed.) He also drives a solid-gold rocket car. I, on the other hand, do not.

So yeah, so I've been doing this "experiment" for...oh more years than I can count now (Six. -Ed.), and my draw set still beats the control set five-to-one in number of wins. However - here's the rub: the control set, though it wins five times less frequently, wins - and I have calculated this mathematically - way way way WAY more $money$ than my draw set. The three times that I won $1,000, it was the control set that won. Same with the times that I've won $150. My draw set wins $1, $3, $5 and $20, like, all the time. But the big duckets come from the control set.

Ancillary-yet-interesting note: On my "three things" list the night that I won for the third time, I wrote, "Won $1k in the lottery again. Although I didn't mind winning, it didn't make me as happy as I thought it would."