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Monday, July 30

Moving Checklist

The move is scheduled for August 21st.  Any move can be overwhelming, but since my new home is over 500 miles away, and I am leaving my income stream (rental properties) in Alabama, I'm especially concerned about whether I can get everything done.  I decided to document what needs to happen for this to be a successful move:

  • Close on the house in Florida:  DONE
  • Get the house I live in now rented:  DONE (WOOHOO!)
  • Get condo rented:  Meeting with potential tenants Tuesday.
  • Close on new townhouse in Birmingham:  Scheduled for Wednesday.
  • Get new townhouse rented:  Not started.
  • Decide what to do with townhouse #2:  In process.
The reason I haven't posted in more than a week is because of how much is going on.  Last week I drove to Clearwater and back to buy the house down there.  On Sunday I finalized the lease with the tenants who will be taking over my current home (bonus:  they agreed to a 30-month lease-purchase option and will handle most maintenance and repairs themselves).  

I've also been fielding emails from the ad for the condo.  Tonight I meet with the departing tenants to make sure the condo is in good condition; tomorrow I have at least four potential tenants coming by to see the condo.  Then on Wednesday I am buying another townhouse.  I'm hoping that the overwhelming response I received for the condo will spill over and that I can show the new townhouse to some of the people coming by to see the condo.  

If that weren't enough, I have another townhouse that I will probably have to get rented.  The current tenant lost her 9 year old daughter so I have been slow to do anything.  She emailed at the beginning of the month and told me she would be moving out and did not have the rent for July because of the funeral expenses.  It's a sensitive issue.  

I haven't even mentioned my grandfather's house.  I've neglected to do anything about either renting it or selling it.

Needless to say, I have to cut way back on mystery shopping.  I have a bonused route to do this weekend and a luxury hotel in Atlanta to shop on the 17th.  Otherwise I will be very picky about what I do.

Friday, July 20


In one week I close on the new house.  It's here, in  Clearwater, FL

Soon this will be my home.  I am overwhelmed by the emotions of starting over.  I want to lose weight, get in shape, and pay off all my debt.  A change of scenery will hopefully be the kickstart I need.

Wednesday, July 18

Feeling Overwhelmed

Today (Wednesday) is the first slow day I have had in a while.  By slow I mean I only have two mystery shops scheduled and I don't have any outstanding issues at my properties.

Yesterday I completed 11 mystery shops and I repaired an air conditioner.  As luck would have it the Summer of 2012 has been the summer of constant HVAC repairs.  I've had to repair or replace the units at 3 of my rentals in the last 60 days, and the expense has killed my cash flow.

Tomorrow (Thursday) I'm doing some bonused shops on a route north of me.  It's only 4 shops but I'm making about $100.  At 3:00 a potential tenant is coming by to look at the house.

August gets even crazier.  Between trying to move and getting my recently vacated properties rented I will be  on the road a good bit.

Friday, July 13

Surging Forward

I can't emphasize how important goal-setting has been in my life.  Frankly I am surprised how anyone can live without a "compass" directing you on where you should be headed.  Once again I find myself on the brink of achieving one of my 2012 goals (posted here).

For more than a year I've considered buying a house in the Tampa Bay area, and it looks like it's going to happen... finally.  Last week I put in an offer for a small 3 bedroom, 1 bath home in Clearwater.  There were five offers on the house, but my all cash offer with no contingencies for financing, sale of current residence or inspection finally won over the other, sometimes higher bids.  If all goes as planned the paperwork will be finalized July 27th.

If that weren't enough, I'm buying another property here in Alabama.  I haven't written about this because it was such a long shot.  The property is a townhouse next door to one I already own.  The one I already own was purchased as a foreclosure for about $43,000.  This one is not a foreclosure, but the aging landlord is tired of dealing with it and has agreed to sell it to me for $27,000.  I was lucky on this deal, as the current owner never even listed the house on the MLS.  It's practically move-in ready save for a bit of cleaning and likely replacement of a couple kitchen appliances.

I feel like I'm getting in over my head, which is exactly where I want to be.  I always work best under extreme pressure:  give me more than I can handle and I will achieve way more than I would if life were simple and easy.  What do I mean?  Well, not only am I simultaneously purchasing two properties, I am also dealing with 1) a tenant moving out on July 31st, 2) converting my own home to a rental property, 3) a stubborn tenant who I just may have to evict (though not for unpaid rent, so hopefully I can work things out on this one), and 4) a tenant who emailed earlier this week to say she has to move and may not be paying her July rent.

Needless to say, I've got to scale down the mystery shopping.  I've already made a number of commitments through this month for dozens of shops, so my July income shouldn't really be affected.  However, in August I've got to turn my focus to the bread and butter, which are my rental properties.

Tuesday, July 10

Mystery Shopping a Time Share Resort

Perhaps one of the most valuable mystery shops you can do is the time share.  There are different scenarios ranging from full resort stay vacations to "day drive" shops.  Yesterday I completed my very first time share mystery shop.  Since my assignment was a "day drive" I will report on that scenario.

The day drive shop is the most basic one and is given to first time shoppers.  I should note that the company who assigned me the shop normally requires experienced shoppers, so even this basic shop is available only to seasoned mystery shoppers.

The day drive shop is easy.  I was given a list of locations in the Orlando area where retail kiosks were located.  I had to visit any kiosk and express interest in a time share.  This wasn't part of the mystery shop but rather was how I get access to a presentation.  I had to answer just a few qualifying questions about my income and finances and make a $20 deposit, which would be refunded after the presentation.  That part was kind of weird but it was intended to weed out people who weren't actually going to attend.  Why would someone pay to listen to a sales pitch?  Because these kiosks are set up to look like they are offering free or discounted tickets to theme parks.  Sit through a sales pitch and maybe get free tickets to Disney.  Since I wasn't interested in theme park tickets I asked if there were other carrots they could dangle and was offered a $75 American Express gift card in exchange for sitting through the two hour presentation.

I was required to covertly record the presentation.  This wasn't too difficult but I was nervous that something would go wrong with my equipment.  Fortunately my worries were unfounded.  The presentation itself was relatively painless.  I was given a tour of the resort, watched a Powerpoint presentation and met with a salesperson.. and her manager... and some other guy.  My assignment was to express interest until I found out the price, at which point I could end the shop.  The purpose of the shop is to ensure the sales staff are complying with the law in regards to time shares.  There are certain promises they can't make and disclosures they have to provide.

The best part about the shop is the compensation.  I was provided a $102 travel allowance, $200 hotel allowance, $50 shop fee and received a $75 gift card that I got to keep.  Since I wanted to be in the area anyway, this was a lucrative way to subsidize my trip.  In total I received over $400 for little more than three hours of my time.

One last thing.  This shop was different than most I do.  Yes, there was a report.  But, it was quick and easy.  Since the company provided me the recording equipment, I simply mailed back the materials in a prepaid envelope.  The report took about 20-30 minutes.

Monday, July 9

Update from Orlando

It's been a busy but fun several days.  We spent last week in Clearwater, FL looking at houses.  I made an offer on one house but was outbid and am waiting to hear back about an offer I made on another house.  It is unsettling that home buyers in the Tampa Bay area don't seem to have learned any lessons from the housing collapse.  What I have found is that buyers are bidding more than the asking price on these homes.  Once again, insanity.  The first offer I made was at the asking price because I really wanted that house.  At the asking price mine was the third best offer.  Ridiculous.

Today I am doing a time share mystery shop.  This will be my first time share shop so I am nervous.  It is recorded so I'm mostly nervous that I'll run into technical issues and my shop won't be accepted.  Hopefully my anxiety is unfounded because this is an extremely lucrative shop.  I'll probably write more about it this week.

I've done several shops while we have been in the area.  Most of the gas for the rental car has been free and most of the meals are free, too.  I only shopped one hotel so I am coming out of pocket on lodging.

The trip is quickly winding down:  we fly home Wednesday afternoon.  Fortunately, I did plan a day of fun before we leave.  Tomorrow we are visiting Sea World.  I redeemed Hilton Honors points for our passes so the admission is free.  The hotel provides a shuttle so we won't have to pay for parking, either.  If that weren't enough, I am mystery shopping a restaurant for lunch that is walking distance from Sea World.

Tuesday, July 3

My Frugal Miser - June Expenses: $12,939

In June I was a glutton.  I wish I could attribute the higher expenses all to legitimate expenditures like maintenance on my properties.  Unfortunately that doesn't explain the money I left at the casino.  I have a problem with drinking too much when I am gambling and then doing stupid things with my money.

I spent over $5,000 on property insurance last month and nearly $4,000 on a new HVAC system.  I also lost over $1,000 at Sam's Town in Tunica.  On a more positive note, my spending everywhere else was fairly reasonable.

June Personal Expenses ($3,432)
$141 Auto (all for fuel)
$11 Bank Fees
$0 Clothing
$1,212 Entertainment (movies, gambling, alcohol)
$202 Food
$23 Gifts Given
$0 Home Repair
$52 Household
$0 Homeowner's Association Dues
$139 Health and Dental Insurance
$559 Homeowner's Insurance (paid annually each June)
$0 Medical
$0 Miscellaneous
$379 Mortgage Interest (primary residence)
$0 Personal Care
$0 Subscriptions
$0 Taxes
$99 Utilities
$616 Vacation

June Business Expenses ($9,506)

$742 Mortgage Interest (rental properties)
$171 Interest on Debt (not including Mortgage Interest)
$8,593 Rental Properties - Maintenance and Repairs (mostly for insurance and a new HVAC system)

Total June Expenses : $12,939

  • Once again I benefited from mystery shopping by spending just $141 on fuel.
  • I don't have a budget for food but think about $200/month is where I need to be.  This is for two people and includes both groceries and dining out.  Free food from mystery shopping doesn't get counted.
  • Most of the Vacation expense was for a one month car rental, which I'm returning next week.  I also included four nights lodging for our trip this week to Clearwater.

Monday, July 2

My Frugal Miser - June Income: $11,701

June was a great month for income because one of my tenants paid July and August rent early.  Unfortunately, it was also an expensive month, as I spent more than I made (more about that tomorrow).  Here's where it all came from in June:

June Income
$2,539 Mystery Shopping
$8,723 Rental Income
$438 Other Sources
$11,701 Total Income for June


  • I had my best month of the year for mystery shopping income.  Of course, much of the income was earned in May.  Still, it was a busy month and there were hefty bonuses on many of the shops I completed.  For this category I combine my reimbursable expenses as they occur with the income that comes in during the month.  Accountants wouldn't like my way but it sure is easy, and over the long run it's 100% accurate.
  • Rental income reflects the additional rent one of my tenants prepaid (a $2,300 benefit).  All of my properties were occupied in June.
  • Other Sources includes $75 for the anthrax medical study (just one visit left though), a rebate for a water heater I purchased and some cash back on my credit cards.