Sunday, May 20, 2018

{Del Boca Vista} Buying a condo in Florida

I didn't say anything before our trip to St. Pete or right after we returned because I didn't think anything was going to happen.  But now that something has happened, I thought it would be interesting to talk about it and the process of purchasing property out of state in (somewhat) real time.

The main purpose behind our quick vacation to St. Pete Beach in Florida was to meet with a realtor and look at some condos.  No, we aren't moving.  This would be 99% an investment right now.  The back story?  When we were purchasing the cottage on Cape Cod, we thought that we would rent it out for a few weeks during the summer to defray the costs of owning it.  However, after using the cottage last summer, I became adamantly opposed to the idea of renting it.  We use it so much that I'm not really setting it up to be a rental.  Meaning, if someone spilled something on something, I would be highly annoyed.  It's also not in my personality to rent something so personal to me.  For example, I see people online Airbnbing their homes so they can travel or while they're on vacation.  Hell no.  Never.

At the end of the summer, liking the idea of owning a vacation rental, we discussed purchasing a second cottage on Cape Cod that would be strictly rental.  There are a few downsides to this.  One, we would kind of be putting all of our eggs (well, all two of them) into one basket.  If the Cape Cod market continues on its upswing, well, that's great.  If not, we would have two properties in the same area not doing well appreciation-wise.  Also, "in season" on Cape Cod is a very short time period.  There are six months of the year when seasonal properties are completely shut down and unusable.  Then you're looking at the end of June through mid-August as high season.  Maybe, if you're lucky, you'll find renters for 12 weeks of a year.

September rolled around and while I still kept my eye on the Cape Cod real estate market, the idea of purchasing a rental property there faded as school and dance started back up.  One evening, after winter hit, Rich commented, "I think we should buy something in Florida.  That way when I retire, we'll have someplace to spend the winter."  You guys know this is another dream of mine.  I imagine my old lady self enjoying that warm Florida sun when it's freezing cold in New England.

We did a little research and settled on St. Pete Beach/Treasure Island.  When they retired, Rich's parents used to spend a few months each winter renting a condo in this area so he's somewhat familiar with it.  We reached out to our peeps and received recommendations for a mortgage broker and a real estate agent down there.

Over the past 15 years, we've purchased three houses and I've found all three myself online.  For the first two, we did have a realtor but she was the one who haggled with the listing agent and dealt with the paperwork.  With the cottage, we didn't even use an agent.  For all three, it was easy because I know the area and the market.

I knew nothing about St. Pete Beach so I spent quite a bit of time studying maps and what was for sale and what had recently sold and what was renting and the cost of everything.  We had a price range we were focusing on and I could see that it would be possible to buy a condo at the low end of that range if we gave up location.  Obviously, closer to the beach means a higher price, but we could still be within a five minute drive to the beach but at a lower price.  I could also see that at the top of our budget, rents were higher.  Out of proportion higher.

Here's what we're looking for in a condo:
  • 2 bedrooms
  • 2 bathrooms (could settle for 1.5, maybe 1 if everything else was super awesome)
  • Private balcony or Florida room
  • Pool
  • Smaller condo complex
  • Views of outdoor green space and not a parking lot
  • Walking distance to beach (would sacrifice for lower cost)
  • Shorter rental periods (ideally 30 days or less minimum)

Our realtor set out to find properties she thought would be a good fit while I provided her with others in which we had an interest.  This is where she became an extremely important part of this process.  She knows the area so she is aware of the better places to purchase.  I am not.  What I discovered during our visit is that while a condo may look decent on the internet, reality is much different.

We looked at seven condos during our trip.  We had time to look at more but the market down there is hot and obviously we can't just up and fly down there to look at properties right when they come on the market.  All of the condos on our interested list from January, February, March and early April were either no longer on the market or under contract.

The first condo we toured was found by our realtor.  It had been on the market for three weeks and I know I passed over it because I was focusing on less expensive units at that point.  This was listed at almost the top of our budget and for good reason.  It's located just over a quarter of a mile to the beach and it met every item on our wish list above.  I recognized the area when we drove in because whenever a townhouse across the way had come up, she had forwarded it to us.  I wasn't a fan of the townhouses but had agreed to look at them because, obviously, you can't rule something out just from a few photos.  Now I see why she had been focused on that area.  It's quiet, all residential with a park, playground and tennis courts.  And, best of all, within walking distance of the beach.

The kitchen looked like it may have been updated back in the '90s.  Same with the bathrooms.  I didn't mind the tile floor.  I walked through and said to Rich and our realtor, "This could work."  The balcony was really what did it for me.  It overlooked an intracoastal waterways (I think that's what they're called) and green space.  We even saw a dolphin swim by.

The next condo was in an area not within walking distance to the beach.  Condos here were less expensive and as soon as we pulled into the parking lot, I could see why.  There was a large church right next door which would mean extra traffic on the weekends.  The condo that we did look at was dirty and very outdated.  The kitchen was also awkward.  The only thing I liked about the place was the balcony and the view.  We went out the back door which had stairs leading down to the grass and a waterway.  This is when I realized this was a big fat no.  The stairway was littered with dead bugs and someone from that condo or the one sharing the back stairway had left a snub of a Cuban cigarette with a mouthpiece on the stairs.  I don't know if it had been discarded or left there for a later smoke but I was done after that.  This condo was one I had added to the list.  When we left, I could see why our realtor had never suggested anything from this area.

We looked at three condos in the same complex and all of them were a no.  There was also a condo in a high rise, which had been my find, along with the three in the same complex.  Nope.  The other condos we looked at were found by our realtor and we had more of a chance of purchasing those than anything I had found.  This is all to say that having a good realtor is key.

Almost every condo we looked at aside from the first one was listed as having been updated in some way.  I'm not a picky person, especially for investment properties, but I could not stand most of the updates.  Fake wood floors that felt soft and bouncy, dark kitchens (hello, you are near a beach in Florida), bathrooms slapped together with whatever was on sale, mixing warms browns with grays and blacks.  I liked how the first condo was functional but we could update later on however we wanted to.  We wouldn't be paying more for tacky upgrades which would eventually be torn out.

On our way home, Rich and I both agreed that the first condo was probably our best bet.  The next night, we asked our realtor if she could find out some information about its rental history.  We told her the day after that we were thinking of placing an offer.  At that point, she asked the listing agent for a disclosure form from the sellers.  We do not do that here in Massachusetts.  It's weird to me because, in my opinion, it puts the sellers at an advantage.  They now know that someone is interested enough to ask for a disclosure.  It took a day and a half to get the disclosure and the listing agent threw out that he was expecting a offer to come in from someone else.  I still think that was BS but we had a range from our realtor and it was in line with what we were thinking so we put in an offer $15,000 less than asking.  If the realtor hadn't mentioned another interested party, we were going to offer a few thousand less than that.  Surprisingly, they accepted without a counteroffer, which I've never before experienced.          

We still have many hurtles to jump over before we close.  The inspection took place last week and I'll have to talk about that later because this is getting long and I'm tired tonight.  I've lovingly named this Del Boca Vista not only because I'm a Seinfeld fan but because the condo association needs to approve the sale.  More later!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

7 Perfect Polishes for Spring/Summer Nails

Technically, per the calendar, it's currently springtime here but the weather some days is pure summer.  Today, I want to share some of my current favorite nail polishes for this time of year.


1.  Private Weekend - This is still my favorite white, and I'll wear it year-round too.  So if you look at this polish in the bottle, you'll see tiny flecks of glitter.  When painted on nails though, it's not glittery.  The flecks give the polish some dimension and helps the polish last longer.  You all know that glitter polish tends to stay on longer.

2.  Muchi Muchi - A creamy pale baby pink.  I like using this on my toes.

3.  Secret Story - For when you want a pop of color.

4.  Mint Candy Apple - Apparently my bottle of this polish is the old version, which was a formula mistake per a google search.  The color is supposed to be more green, hence the word 'mint' in the name, but this is most definitely blue.  Either way, a nice pastel color and one of Essie's best sellers.

5.  Pre-show Jitters - This is another white with a tiny bit of blush.  You could also call it an extremely pale pink.

6.  Looks to Thrill - I love the color orange and this one is a great shade for summer.

7.  Chalk Talk - This is actually Emily's polish that I like to borrow.  Another version of white polish but this one has a bluish tint to it.  We picked this up at Sally Beauty Supply and I'm able to get a week's worth of wear out of it when paired with Essie's Gel-Setter top coat.

To read about my experience using Essie's gel couture line of polishes, click here.  Both Pre-show Jitters and Looks to Thrill are from the gel couture line.

Some people state how they still cannot get their polish to last more than a few days without chipping even using these new "gel" polishes and top coats  The post I've linked to above offers up what I do to keep my polish from chipping.  What I didn't talk about in that post is keeping your nails clean.  Before I polish my nails, I use a cuticle remover or you can also soak your nails in soapy water.  I then scrape dry skin off of my nails, especially around my cuticles.  I also make sure my nails are clear of lotions, oils, etc. before I paint them.  This helps the polish stick to your nails.  Yes, it takes me a long time to "do my nails" because I'm not just painting them, but the polish isn't chipping after three days.  

Disclosure:  This post contains affiliate links.  TGUH is a participant in the Amazon Services Associates Program LLC, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

An emotional, dancing Mother's Day weekend

A friend of ours had a baby last week and, in general, there was quite a bit of discussion about babies and such at the dance studio.  Normally, this doesn't bother me or trigger any type of emotional overload but by the end of last week I was feeling a bit drained by it all because I had been thinking about what had happened with Abigail.  So that's how I headed into Mother's Day weekend, a bit emotional and suppressing it all because I was raised in a Boston Irish Show-No-Emotion Catholic household and that's what we do.  It's the same deal with anxiety.  People think you're being a jerk but, really, you're just trying to deal with your emotions.

But let's talk about happy, good stuff.

The girls' dance team finally participated in their first competition on Saturday.  They were supposed to compete at the end of April but that competition was canceled due to low registration.  I guess that kind of shows you the popularity level of competitive dance here in New England.  Recreational dance does fairly well but there aren't very many big studios focused on competitive dance.  I'm sure in other parts of the country, there are competitions turning away participants.  Unfortunately, not here.

Saturday actually turned out to be a perfect day weather-wise for a dance competition as it was rainy and in the low 50s all day.  I had big plans for a quick photo shoot before we left the house.  And by photo shoot, I mean moving furniture, setting up the stand and rolling out the paper.  Didn't happen.  I snapped these off before we ran out the door.



I started hair and make-up two hours before we needed to leave the house and that still barely gave me enough time.  This coincided with lunchtime, of course, so I assigned Rich to the Catering Dept.  I also had to pack up everything and bring it with us because they didn't actually hit the stage until much later which meant I needed to touch up make-up (black liquid eyeliner on three kids almost sent me over the edge) and potentially redo hair.  Messy hair could mean lost points from the judges.

The girls were told to arrive dressed in their costumes but to wear black pants over their tights.  It was a little awkward because of the fringe but thank goodness we followed the rules because Emily stepped out into the garage, tripped and slid down the garage steps on her bum.  It was so loud, I thought Rich was emptying the recycling bin.  This child also ripped a hole in the toe of a brand new pair of tights before we even left the house and those tights are extremely difficult to rip.  No one could see the hole when she was wearing shoes so it was fine and I'll stitch it up before the dance recital because I'm frugal and that's what I do.  If you have a visible hole in your tights while you're competing, your team could lose points.  I actually brought an extra pair of brand new tights with me because of this very reason.  (Yes, I was concerned that Emily had bruised her tailbone but she was fine.)

The girls have learned a lot about teamwork in school these past few years.  Those experiences aren't always pleasant as any of us who have been forced into teams for schoolwork know very well.  They've had to deal with teammates who insist on only using their own ideas and teammates who sit back and let everyone else do the work, but I hope they've seen the difference with their dance team.  All the kids on that team want to be there.  They were all invited to be there.  And they've all worked very hard this year.  Teamwork extends beyond the kids as well.  The moms have to help each other out.  I took care of someone's bun in the dressing room while another mom did someone's make-up.  We all need to work together.

Proud mom bragging time.  Their performance was amazing!!!  I was so freaking proud!  There is one part of the dance that makes me a little nervous.  Emily, Allie and another girl jump into their partner's arms (think of a groom carrying a bride) and then they bend back and flip over.  So they not only need to get the timing correct, they need to not fall on their heads and it was perfect!!

Their dance received a High Gold, which was the second highest rating, and their team received a special award from the judges for teamwork.


I took a photo of the entire team for the studio owner before they all headed backstage for their dance and completely forgot to pull my own kids aside for a photo.  I grabbed these in the chaos shortly after they came offstage.


Sunday, May 13, 2018

Where to stay in Boston

Question:  I'm traveling to Boston and not sure where to stay in the city.  Do you have any recommendations?

Because this is a frequently asked question, I thought it made sense to write down my thoughts here for all to read.  I still need to get that permanent travel page up with links.  (One day.)

Okay, let's talk about Boston


Your Agenda:  First off, I'd start with your reason for visiting Boston.  If you know what you'll be doing when you're here, check out a map and see where in the city you'll be spending the most time.  I'd look for a hotel in that area first.  Boston is actually a small city and with cabs (or Uber), the subway (known as the T), and your own two feet, it's fairly easy to get around.  So while I recommend this step, don't freak out if you can't stay in your ideal location.  Keep your budget in mind too.

This will show you the walkability of Boston.  I used to work on Devonshire Street near State Street, not too far from the Old State House.  When there were serious train problems, I would get off the train at Back Bay and walk to work.  Yes, it took a little bit of time (about half an hour) and it wasn't anything I would do in the middle of winter but it was walkable.  Check out those two locations on a map.

Safety:  Boston is a fairly safe city.  Tourists are most at risk for theft of personal items.  The areas at risk for violent crime are locations where tourists most likely wouldn't have a reason to visit.  If you stick with the hotels in the major parts of the city, you shouldn't have any issues with safety.

From a personal point of view, I never felt unsafe when I worked in the Financial District and, more recently, in the Seaport area.  Keep in mind that I used to work late and often walked to the train station alone at night in the dark when streets in those areas were mostly empty.


Here's a quick rundown of the different parts of Boston where visitors are likely to look for a hotel:

Back Bay/Copley Square -  This is a fairly central location with plenty of hotels and I feel like many visitors to Boston choose to make this area their home base, so to speak.  You'll be near Newbury Street, the Hancock Tower, shopping, Boston Public Library and the Public Garden.  Residential areas, such as Commonwealth Ave and Beacon Street, are right in the mix too.  If your trip revolves around a Red Sox game, I would recommend staying here.

Financial District/Downtown - Don't discount this area simply because there are mostly businesses.  The Financial District is pretty small and there are several hotels which are practically right next to the Freedom Trail.  You'll be near the Theater District as well.  Yes, Boston has shows!

Harbor/Waterfront - If you're coming from somewhere landlocked, why not stay on the harbor for the water views.  You can walk along the water via the Harborwalk, visit the aquarium or stroll over to the North End.  (Check out the Boston Harbor Hotel or the Marriott Long Wharf.)    

Seaport - Twenty years ago, the Seaport area was known for their mud lots, which were unpaved parking lots charging far less than parking garages in the Financial District.  Now, this is the up and coming area which has seen an incredible amount of growth and development over the past few years.  Seaport is slightly out of the way if you do have plans in the city but, again, Boston is fairly small.  I used to work here and walked from South Station everyday.  The subway does extend out here as well so there are transportation options.  If you do end up staying here, there are plenty of restaurants.  I wouldn't say that there's a lot to do but if you're staying here for business reasons or because you found a deal on a hotel, it's not a bad place to be.
To read my post A Boston Tour Guide by a Bostonian click here.


Friday, May 11, 2018

Two Days in St. Pete

Over the weekend, Rich and I flew to Tampa, FL for a quick getaway.  But before that, four days to be exact, I woke up not feeling quite right.  I had a pounding headache and moaned through the school lunch preparation process.  When Rich asked if I was ill, I told him it felt like there was a small bird trapped inside me and I could feel its wings beating against my rib cage.  "Are you having an anxiety attack over this trip?"  I didn't think so, but then I started to have anxiety thinking that I was having an anxiety attack.  Anxiety over anxiety.  That's a new one for me.

This happened to be the warmest day we'd had this spring and I decided to go out for a run despite not feeling well.  That did not go so well.  I barely made it to a mile and a half and then I had to walk.  Later that afternoon, I determined my problem.  I was dehydrated and the day before I hadn't eaten enough.  I'd had a small lunch and then I was hungry in the afternoon but I put off eating until dinner, which was a salad.  I just hadn't taken enough in.  So as soon as I figured that out, I increased my water intake and ate more.  I felt better the next day and fine the day after that.

Goodbye, Boston.

There was a business purpose behind our trip so no hours spent relaxing on the beach or poolside.  However, we did have the chance to check out St. Pete Beach and the beach on Treasure Island, which is right next to St. Pete.  The beach towns there are so very different from what we have here on Cape Cod.  Different is good.









We had just experienced a handful of hot days right before our trip, so the heat didn't feel like it would have if we had been coming off of those never-ending 50 degree days.  I'll never complain about the heat though.  I'd much rather have it hot than cold.  It was a bit overcast for the first day but then it cleared.












A lot of our meals were grab and go or at the hotel, but there was one restaurant worth mentioning.  I had researched places to eat just to have an idea in case we were out and about and hungry.  Well, we were both full out hangry and right down the street from Jimmy B's Beach Bar.  We didn't want anything frou-frou or a steakhouse so I stopped here for dinner.  It's connected to a resort with a beautiful location on the beach.

Here's your view:


The structure on the left side of this photo is the restaurant.


The food was decent, especially given the cost, which wasn't outrageous.  I had the chicken tacos and Rich ordered the fish sandwich.


The tacos were quite tasty and my only complaint was that the chicken was a touch too dry.  Rich enjoyed his fish sandwich.  Of course, I had to order Key Lime pie for dessert!


Note that even though this is a "bar" there is a section for kids on the menu and we did see a few little ones eating with their families.
Both of our flights were fairly uneventful, except for that stretch of "minor" turbulence over Maryland on the way home.




That last one's not too bad for handheld in a moving plane.  Boston!