04-13-09 - Anger

My fucking physical therapist lied to me about being a preferred provider for my PPO, so now I get to go through health care grievance arbitration. Yay ! I'm not too optimistic about that working out well, so I probably get to eat the cost. Fuckers.

In other news our fucking cock landlord has the heat in the building turned off and it's been super cold again recently, so we had literally no heat over the weekend and it was miserable, so I got the fun of calling him.

Oh, and the white trash neighbors had a backyard bon fire at midnight and filled our house with smoke. That's the last one I'm tolerating, next time I just tell them no, and if it persists they get reported for fire code violations. I went and talked to them about it once before and they were just like "oh yeah okay". I have no problem confronting them, I'm just concerned about the possible revenge response. (* see later).

And the other side neighbors just had a baby. It's not actually that bad, we hear it cry a bit once in a while, but the side walls in the building are almost half decent (unlike the floors). The baby neighbors are actually incredibly considerate about not making noise, actually too considerate, I find it annoying. It makes me feel uptight just being around them. I sort of imagine that they put a pillow over the crying baby because they're worried about it being too loud.

The whole situation with health care billing pisses me off so much. You don't get to see your bill until weeks after you go in, because the health plan has to approve or not approve various charges. Many providers illegally try to "balance bill" you. Watch out for that. Even if you are careful and specifically try to go to a preferred providers, they will often take you in for xrays or something and the xray tech is not a preferred provider, so blammo suddenly you get a nasty bill. The thing that happened with my physical therapist is that the company is a preferred provider, but the particular therapist that they assigned me to is not.

It's ridiculous how bad the health insurance system is if you think about it. The health insurance companies should want you to go to cheaper, better providers. It would save them money, which should be the whole point of an HMO type company, is to set you up with better care for cheaper. But they don't, they do nothing. The right way to do it would be to provide information and choise to the customer. For example, make you pay a 10% coinsurance, and then show you the average cost of various providers. Also, they should give you quality ratings for various providers. It is in their best interest financially to send you to better quality providers who make you healthier in the minimum number of visits, because that reduces their cost of followups and complications. They are better off if you see surgeons who have a higher improvement rate. But they provide you with none of that information. Instead they literally just give you a provider directory with 1000 names in it. Gee thanks, now what do I do? Eenie meanie miney moe.

Some random less bitter junk :

This is pretty old, but the NYT Buy vs. Rent Calculator is super awesome. It's just an amazingly well designed piece of interactive statistics graphing. You can click on all the spots to get more info, you can drag the sliders on the left and it adjusts the graph. It's just so money.

The crashing real estate market is sort of tempting me, but this actually reminded me that it's not so hot. Yes, things are closer to a decent bargain than they have been, but even undervalued stuff is not likely to go up much at all in the next 5 years, what with finances being generally tight and people being scared of buying. I'm expecting home prices to be almost level for 5 years, so even getting into something that seems like a bargain right now isn't really a great move unless you hold it for 10 years or so.

(*) : I think the fear of revenge response is actually usually wrong. For example in customer service situations, when someone is being totally incompetent, like the other day I went to the UPS store and was trying to send something to Lebanon, PA, and the guy starts asking about declared value and contents and whatnot, I started thinking in my head "wait, are you doing a custom form to send this to the country of Lebanon?" but I just tried to be nice. The logic is that if you just call them on their stupidness then they will be unhelpful, while if you are polite and nice to them, they will try to help you more and give you better service.

I think that's mostly wrong. Most people just try to incompetently muddle through life and are just constantly fucking up and cutting corners and being lazy and not doing their job. If you let them, they will keep doing that. If you give an inch by being nice, they will just keep fucking up. If you call them on and say "hey, I'm sending this to Pennsylvania buddy", they get shocked out of it, they realize they can't get away with sneaking their half assed shit past you, because you're going to call them on it. Then they want to get their work done and take care of you because they don't want to be around someone that calls them on shit.

Also : Majesco's stock ticker is COOL !? WTF that is so awesome. And it's perfect if you ever meet the Majesco people. They know absolutely nothing about video game development, and literally talk like The Sopranos; I swear that company is some kind of mob money laundering operation.


drew_card said...

You're right, the health care system is so fucked. I'm really sick of the market purists that cling to the idea that if we go with nationalized health care we will somehow lose this great market based system that we currently have. Literally the most important number in any market transaction is price, and in our current system finding out the price of a health care service ahead of time is almost impossible. If you can't find the price of a something and then shop around the market totally breaks. In addition you can't even see a new doctor without jumping through hoops and having your medical records transferred from your old doctor, so it isn't a fluid system where you can change providers easily.

Good luck with your arbitration. Don't take any shit!

ryan said...

DUDE! You need to fucking move. All the stress your neighbors cause is not worth the location... Also moving is a bit of a pain, But its only a few days of suffering compared to every night at your current place.

cbloom said...

Yeah I know, I'm thinking about moving. I'm kinda hoping that some of the new condos on cap hill that aren't selling will either come way down in price, or just give up and switch to rentals. I want a top floor in a brand new building.

billyzelsnack said...

That rent/buy calculator should also show you your savings inflation adjusted. Sticking in my numbers it shows my savings at $384K or what.. $100K inflation adjusted. Which in 30 years is totally not worth the huge fucking hassle ( or loss of moving freedom ) of being a home owner.

cbloom said...

Well I guess you could subtract inflation off the appreciation percent, but you're right that's not quite the same.

Schiller says appreciation after inflation is around 0.5% , which makes home buying look really bad.


nothings said...

I have no idea what savings billyz is saying it's showing?

Anyway, under methodology, it says (naturally I can't cut and paste from it, you shits):

It also takes into account something known as opportunity cost -- for example, the return you could have earned by investing your money instead of spending it on a down payment. The calculator assumes that the profit you would have made in your investments is taxed as a long-term capital gain and adjusts the bottom line accordingly.Who knows *which* bottom line--it would be nice if they broke things down more granularly.

Aaron said...

I bought a house in 2005, about a year before seattle's market flattened off (even then I'm up about 60k in appraised value (not that I could get that if I sold it in this market, but that is money I can access if a critical need were to arise), and even I can see my own bias in the following comments, but:

A lot of tricky things to consider.

Tax deductions on mortgage interest paid are pretty huge (esp when you're paying >20k/year in interest.

Taxes paid on capital gains if you choose to invest instead of putting money in a down payment eat back at that money in the other way. And your avg stock market winnings per-tax are probably only about inflation anyway, unless you think you can beat the market lol :)

The odds that you will *actually* invest *all* your down payment money instead of blowing it on fancy cars and cheap hookers (or vice versa). If you're not super diligent you'll do crazy worse than you would with the money 'saved' for you in the mortgage.

The real killer negative for a home purchase: the thousands you pay for upkeep (can be pretty staggering once you get into it, esp with an older place, but newer places are shit construction, so stuff you think will last (like paint), won't).

"loss of moving freedom" cuts both ways. With renting you're pretty much 30 days away from being on the street at the whim of your landlord.

Keeping up with inflation after taxes is in fact a huge achievement and not to be sniffed at.

Will say that owning a home, even knowing the market is shit and I bought at a terrible time, usually feels pretty fantastic, and the great feeling is maybe work $500/month or so, maybe double that, not sure, compared to renting. Kinda a subjective thing I guess, but definitely worth some cash.

cbloom said...

Yeah, for me owning a home has never been something I thought of as an "investment". It's something that I want for my lifestyle, so that I can avoid dealing with fucking landlords and tweak things the way I like, and have a yard and a garden and all that.

There has been a big problem recently with too many people thinking they could get rich with home ownership, it's driven up the price so much that buying a home is now a *horrible* deal compared to renting in many places (CA is particularly bad), unless the home appreciates at 5% per year after inflation.

billyzelsnack said...

When I was younger I had all these dreams about building my own house so it would turn out exactly how I wanted. Now I just don't care. Creating anything takes for damn ever and I'd rather focus my available time/energy on my projects/hobbies. So for me the feeling of owning a home is worth maybe $2/month and a hell of a lot less when the basement floods.

billyzelsnack said...

Sean.. You need to click on the curve dots for that info to show up.

nothings said...

ah, i see.

well, like i said, it does say it's factored in, somehow.

cbloom said...

Back on the Buy/Rent calculator :

Actually I just realized if you click on the "advanced settings" tabs you can set all kinds of things - including inflation. Their default settings may be a bit optimistic. But if you believe that they are doing everything right, it appears quite comprehensive.

I wish I could download it.

Aaron said...

Well the probably wasn't quite just that people thought they could get rich in home ownership, it's that we fucked up credit so much that you could actually get rich via home ownership if you sorta halfway knew what you were doing. And you still can, it's just back in the hands of the pro real estate investors and out of the flip crowd.

I'm not sure that waiting will make the Seattle market better. The majority of potential buyers out there are are probably pretty similar to you. Everyone is hoarding cash right now, trying to be careful and not buying, and sellers are pretty stingy on prices, even still (though their position weakens daily). That's exactly when Buffet would be buying, right? The great thing about buying now is that the sellers are in incredibly weak negotiating position. If you aren't in a hurry to buy that puts you in a very strong position. You can go in and negotiate like a motherfucker as a buyer (offer crazy below asking, etc etc). If you have time, and you do that over time, you will eventually hit a 'sucker' seller who is desparate or weak or stupid and they'll fold to you and you'll get a great deal.

Seattle's housing prices are still in the semi-sane reasonable range too, for the quality of the town. It's not like frisco or vancouver or nyc or boston where your brain practically melts thinking about what the prices mean for the actual thing you're buying. Sure seattle isn't quite as cool as those places, but it's pretty close.

If I were flexible these days (no fam, hadn't already bought, not in a rush to buy) I'd totally be out there with my favorite real estate agent making way-below asking offers on properties left and right (with some nonsense carrots thrown in (fast closing, paying closing costs, direct cash money for sellers (who doesn't want cash in today's economy)).

And if it doesn't work out, it's good practice for what... when depression hits and housing prices totally crash and then it's a really good time to buy?!? When they start going up again?

Thatcher Ulrich said...

The thing I don't get about historical housing prices is, with improvements in construction technology, why don't inflation-adjusted prices get lower? I mean, we've got nail guns and concrete trucks and cordless power tools nowadays; it should be way cheaper to make a house.

To separate construction costs from pure supply/demand on the physical space, I'd like to see historical un-built housing lot prices, to go along with housing prices like on http://mysite.verizon.net/vzeqrguz/housingbubble/united_states_1890-2008.png

cbloom said...

Interesting point Thatch.

I'm also guessing those home price charts are for the whole US, which means they include lots of expansion into cheap suburbs and new building in cities like Phoenix where land is super cheap.

If you actually charted the price of a single plot of land in a consistent metropolitan area like NY, I would guess that the price goes up more consistently.

That is, these home price charts are sort of like the new broken CPI in that they have baked in the fact that consumers decide that city homes are too expensive so they switch to a cheaper non-identical product (suburban homes) but the home chart counts those as being the same product.

Aaron said...

Yeah but we've had nail guns and concrete trucks for a long long time. Cordless power tools probably don't speed things up a whole heck of a lot on their own (and they're maybe slower than corded versions) There really hasn't been anything in the way of improvement in the speed of construction that I can think of, except the introduction of the 'spec home' model (the cookie-cutter mc-mansion thingies that are all pretty much the same design (practically a manufactured home, especially if they put one anywhere near MY house :), so really easy to build them the same way over and over again). Then there is the big sorta fixed cost, the land underneath the house, that can't drop in price over time. The house construction itself is at most, what half of the price, then just chip chip chip away.

cbloom said...

Aren't pretty much all new homes new "spec" or tract with lots of prefab pieces?

Custom homes have got to be like 1% of new construction or something.

Aaron said...

Yeah. In the old days I feel like there was more variety, though certainly not in suburbia where they just cookie-cutter them out. Could be wrong though, maybe it's just that older places got replaced more, or additions got added so they look fancy and new. There are whole huge neighborhoods in Eugene where all the houses are pretty unique, and not necessarily the fancy high end part of town either. Probably an outlier though. So I guess no new savings there either. Mostly cookie-cutter houses since the 50's easily.

nharding said...

Majesco : I did some work for Majesco on the GBA. There is 1 good guy there, Dan Kitchens he's started programming on the VCS, but the rest of the staff was not as good and they got rid of most in house development back in 2001.

old rants