Thursday, April 25, 2019

MOVING CHRONICLES: Easing the Property Tax Burden in a High Tax State

So why did we choose to move where we did? Why did we stay in California instead of moving to a lower tax state? How did we still do it affordably?

First off, we did consider moving out. California is a very high tax state and it's getting higher every year. Now they want to tax our soda, water, and even ding us for every mile we addition to the other myriad taxes we already pay.

We looked...Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, and even a few states farther away, like Tennessee and North Carolina...but, in the end there's no place like home. California is still the best we've seen and we don't want to be too far away from family.

How did we make it affordable? Well, contrary to common belief, not everywhere in California is suffering from sky-high home prices. Yes, you can pay well into the seven figures for a hovel in places like Los Angeles, Silicon Valley, and San Francisco, but there vast swaths of the state that are away from those high-priced locales where you can get some bargains.

We found it was almost impossible to live near the coast on our budget...however you can find reasonable near ocean house prices in the far north in places like we explore in the other direction.  Home prices in the Central Valley, Redding, Red Bluff, Chico, the deserts, and Sierras are very reasonable, it just became a search of where it would be reasonable and desirable.

The Motherlode region ended up being the most appealing. This is the historic area where gold was mined from the Motherlode in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains during the Gold Rush. It extends...roughly...along highway 49 from the area around Auburn in the north down to Mariposa and Oakhurst in the south.

Great homes could be found here for our $400,000 maximum price. Heck, I can still go out and find decent homes in the area (and in the other areas mentioned above) for less than $200,000.

Why was that our maximum price? One taxes. We would not have a mortgage payment, since we could pay cash, but we'd need to keep those taxes down to a manageable level to be able to afford it on our fixed and small retirement income.

One tax that is under control in our Golden State is property taxes. Thanks to Proposition 13, passed four decades ago, property taxes are strictly controlled and not allowed to jump dramatically. It's something the politicians in Sacramento hate but it makes the state liveable for the rest of us.

The gist of it is this:

  • Basic property tax is 1% of the assessed value at the time of the sale, usually the sale price.
  • Only if 2/3 of the property owners in a defined area vote for an increase can that basic amount go higher than that...for instance, the local school district can put a 1/4% increase on the ballot to get more funds. If 2/3 of the property owners agree, then the local property tax would go to 1.25% of the assessed value at the time the sale.
  • The property tax can only be raised by a maximum of 2% a year so, if you paid $1,000 this year in property tax, next year expect to pay $1,020 - even if the assessed value of your house doubles or triples or more.
  • When the property is sold, the new buyer pays on the newly assessed amount.

It's this last point that makes it hard to relocate within the state sometimes. If you paid $100,000 for your house 30 years ago and, over time, your tax is now around $2, could be on the hook for a lot more if the houses you're looking at cost half a million or more (an extremely common and low price in this state). That's at least $5,000 per year.

We figured we could afford up to $4,000 per year which defined our top end house price.

It took a year of very casually looking at houses up here and, believe it or not, one day of intense house hunting to find the home we ended up with in Amador County in the heart of the state's gold country.

There are also two other propositions out there, Prop 60 and Prop 90, aimed at tax relief for seniors 55 or older. Both are able to be used one time.

Prop 60 states that if you move to another part of the same county you live in, you can take your tax rate with you so, if you paying tax on the $50,000 house you bought in the 70's and buy a million dollar McMansion a few towns away, your property tax will not rise.

Prop 90 works the same way if you move to another county that reciprocates. Currently, there are 10 counties that do:

Los Angeles
San Bernardino
San Diego
San Mateo
Santa Clara

These counties include some pricey and desirable real estate such as La Jolla, Newport Beach, Palm Springs, Claremont, Pasadena, Palo Alto, Ojai, and Thousand Oaks.

In short, you might have to give up your dream of living beachfront in Malibu or Monterey, but there are plenty of areas in this 3rd largest state in the nation where you can find a new dream.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2019 - All Rights Reserved

Monday, April 22, 2019

ADVENTURES CLOSE TO HOME: Micke Grove Park - Lodi, California

After almost 4 weeks of daily rain, it's nice to see a spectacularly sunny day. Looking for a cheap adventure close to our new home, we head down the hill to the central valley city of Lodi, located south of the capital and just north of the inland port city of Stockton.

Micke Grove Park is a large swath of green, shady recreational land just off highway 99. After paying our five dollars for park entrance, we slowly wind our way around picnic shelters that are designed for groups or large families to rent out for their parties.

We find the parking lot next to the zoo and pull in. It's another five dollars each to enter the zoo. I think we hit it just at the peak, on a Tuesday morning with a few other people, no hordes of school children on field trips, and all the flowers blooming in full glory.

It's a small zoo here in Lodi. The main path that makes an oval loop around the facility is probably about the same size as a high school track around a football field.

We start off seeing a pond full of turtles, then a sleepy fossa...a cat-like mammal from Madagascar that preys on lemurs...and a few birds of prey.

There's a very healthy looking bobcat next to some red lion tamarins.

A large exhibit well away from the fossa holds several lemurs.

An indoor annex also holds some reptiles and hissing cockroaches from Madagascar.

At the far end of our loop, we see a very sleepy snow leopard in his large enclosure, walk by a closed aviary (closed because of California's Newcastle Disease outbreak), and a marmoset enclosure.

Before you know it, we're back at the entrance.  It's an interesting and very pretty zoo. Very small, though, but definitely worth the small entrance fee.

Next door is Funtown.

This is a small amusement park that is open almost every day, year round. We could find no accessible rides or even any that would be feasible to transfer Tim onto. Mostly their just your basic carnival rides like a Tilt-a-Whirl and a small roller coaster.

We wait for the train to cross before we exit.

Back near the parking lot, we visit a very pretty Japanese garden.

Those blooming trees and flowers are making my allergies go haywire.

We see this Japanese bridge over the pond when Tim tells us the charge on his chair is running low on battery power.

Back in the van, we head to the nearby downtown and find Yume, a sushi bar and Japanese restaurant.

Letty has this brilliant plate of sushi...

...while I have the best bowl of pork ramen I've had since moving.

Tim digs in to this plate of katsu pork.

The day and meal behind us, we pack back into the van and head back up to the Motherlode to await our next adventure.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2019 - All Rights Reserved

Friday, April 19, 2019

Climbing Every Mountain for a Costco Run: Carson Valley, Nevada - Part 3

Read Part One here and part two, here.

We wake up to a sunny morning on our last day here in the Carson Valley. Today, we'll finally get around to the somewhat-flimsy reason we came here go shopping.

Mostly, I just wanted to get away from the trials of moving but the shopping angle made it a little more reasonable. We'd have a good reason to go, even though I mostly just wanted to get the family away for a little fun.

I'm also looking to get that cheap Costco gas in the cheap gas state of Nevada but, when I pull into the lot, I notice that the Costco station is closed for reconstruction. I ended up at a local Chevron where I paid $3.09, still about 30 cents less per gallon than the cheapest I could find in our neighborhood.

We fill up our cart with our rather long list of items at Costco, then head to Trader Joe's across the street to get a few more there, while Letty spends some time in Marshalls...which she's been missing since we moved.

The van is loaded. Actually, it's stuffed to the gills with our goods as we head up the mountains to head home.

Soon, we arrived in Lake Tahoe and stop in to the Lakeside Inn Hotel and Casino for a lunch stop.

The dining room is not really lakeside. In fact, you can't see the lake at all from here, but the food's good if the building seems a bit dated.

I lose a couple of bucks on an automated roulette machine and we're on our way.

We stop off at a showy beach to take a few pictures.

It's up to Hope Valley, a pristine alpine stretch about 20 miles south of the lake.

We stop again to take some pictures of the snow covered ground.

It's gorgeous up here where the Carson River starts it's journey back down to Nevada, where we just came from.

An hour later, we're pulling into our driveway and it's time to unload and rest up from the trip.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2019 - All Rights Reserved

Monday, April 15, 2019

Climbing Every Mountain for a Costco Run: Carson Valley, Nevada - Part 2

Read Part One here.

It's gray and cool this morning at the Historian Inn in Gardnerville, Nevada. Chicken fried steak, french toast, and pancakes fortify the three of us for a day of sightseeing in the area.

Watch the Video!

Bundled up in our down jackets, we head back towards the mountains. There, hard against the eastern edge of the Sierras, lies the tiny burg of Genoa.

Back when this was still part of Utah Territory in 1850, a group of Mormon pioneers built a fortified trading post here. When Nevada split from Utah, this was the first capital until it was later moved to nearby Carson City.

The rain is pretty steady, the ground pretty muddy, so we scratch getting Tim out of the van here but Letty goes into the general store for some trinkets and takes a few pictures.

Plans are quickly rearranged to do something indoors and we start down Jacks Ridge Road towards Carson City. Along the way, I see an old cemetery off to the side. The gates are open so I drive through, mostly hoping to get some photo opportunities.

A minute after driving in, I see this sign.

John 'Snowshoe' Thompson, a Norwegian immigrant, was a volunteer mail carrier back around the time Genoa was founded. He is famous for his tenacity in his work, delivering mail deep into the cold, upper reaches of the Sierra mountains.

He fashioned a pair of planks to scoot around on the snow...his 'snowshoes'...and is now considered one of the founders of skiing in California.

His name is legend at ski areas from Mammoth to Squaw Valley.

Soon, we find the grave with a little help from Google.

Thompson is buried here with his son, who died at 11 years old, and his wife, who lived into the 20th century.

Until a few minutes ago, I never knew he was buried here in Genoa.

We continue on to the capital and pull into the lot of the Nevada State Museum. Located in the former Carson City Mint, Silver State history abounds from the prehistoric fish that used to inhabit the inland sea that was here to the glittering casinos that now call the state home.

It's very interesting and an elevator, disguised to look like a mine shaft, gets wheelchair users to all floors.

An old coin stamping machine sits where it used to pump out silver dollars, quarters, dimes, and more. On the last Friday of each month, the staff fires it up to stamp out the souvenir coins sold in the gift shop.

A 17,000 year old mammoth skeleton sits next to a 25,000 year old horse..

In the basement is a recreated mine shaft, complete with rails for ore cars in the floor that can make it tricky for wheelchair users, especially those in oversized chairs. Tim manages to get through the tunnel but it's a bumpy tight squeeze in some spots.

Letty is impressed by the hall of taxidermied animals.

We end the day back in Gardnerville.  We're fans of Basque restaurants and the very first one we ever tried was the Overland Hotel here. It's long gone but JT Basque sits right across the street.

We're feeling adventurous so we share an entree of pig's feet and tripe. It may sound nauseating but it was very delicious.

Along with the soup, salad, bread, beans, beef stew, fries, and ice cream for dessert, no one was leaving here hungry.

That's enough to sate us for the day. Tomorrow, we'll check out, do our shopping, and go home. We'll conclude this adventure then.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2019 - All Rights Reserved

Friday, April 12, 2019

Climbing Every Mountain for a Costco Run: Carson Valley, Nevada - Part 1

Yes, there are Costcos closer to us. Lodi and Elk Grove are just over a half hour away. Rancho Cordova and Folsom aren't far, either. But we can combine a run to Costco with a quick getaway from the stress of moving by spending the night near Carson City, Nevada, just on the other side of the Sierra Nevada mountains from us.

Sounds simple but this has been the never-ending winter here. Even though I've put off the trip until April, the weather is still calling for heavy snow over the Carson Pass. The day before doesn't look so bad, though, so I book another night in the motel and we leave a day early.

It's rainy, but we make over the nearly 9,000 foot tall summit of the pass before any flakes start to fall.

Passing through a couple of avalanche zones...complete with evidence of earlier a bit unnerving but we make it through with no mishaps and end up at the Historian Inn in Gardnerville, Nevada, in just over 2 hours from the former gold fields of Amador County, California.

The room is a basic, maybe slightly nicer than basic, motel room with two queen beds. We think these narrow mattresses are more like full size, but we'll go with the flow.

The bathroom is nice and roomy with a roll-in shower.

It's dinner time when we check in, so we head across the street to Sharkey's Casino for a bite in their coffee shop.

It is a very good and cheap prime rib dinner for me...

...pasta Portofino with some large shrimp for Letty...

...and sliders for Tim.

We waste a buck or two playing the penny slots here.

It's a nightcap at the Silver Dollar bar as Tim decides this would be a perfect place for a pub crawl.

He's not wrong. There's the bar we're sitting in now, the Overland Pub across the street, JT Basque, almost next door to this casino, and three more bars between here and the hotel.

We get a couple of shots as we make our way back, then we'll finish up tomorrow for the next, new Cocktail Hour that'll be coming your way.

In the meantime, we'll call it a night and do some sight seeing tomorrow while we're here.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2019 - All Rights Reserved

Monday, April 1, 2019

House Hunters: Motherlode - Epilogue

If you've followed our posts...part one, part two, and part'll know that this particular trip to California's Gold Country is one that we're not returning from. We're making a permanent move here.

Well, we won't be returning for good but we do have to go back, sell our current home, pack up and move.

Sealing the Deal - After the sellers accepted our offer, it was now our responsibility to get a deposit in and open escrow on the house. First, the's late Thursday afternoon and we have 72 hours to deliver it. Since the weekend's coming up, that means we'd have to do it in less than 24 since the escrow office is closed over the weekend.

My plan is to do an online transfer from a credit union account to a bank account I have and get a cashier's check but that will take more than 24 hours. Some phoning around and I'm finally able to talk my credit union into wiring the funds straight to the escrow office's bank.

We're now under contract and in escrow to buy this house (we asked for a 60 day escrow and put a contingency on our contract that we had to sell our current house first).

It's time to take a deep the stress begins. We can't sleep, we're too wound up with our house purchase and the next day, we check out of the Doubletree in Rancho Cordova and head home.

Getting Into Shape - Now the fun begins. It's time to get our current home in shape for showing to prospective buyers. I've been working on getting the junk out of our garage and even started packing a few boxes but it's still not enough and the garage is getting full again.

I go and rent a local storage locker and move all of our extra stuff in the garage over to it.

We have two bedrooms with hardwood floors in need of refinishing. I can't find anyone who can do it within three months. At first, we decide to just sell it as is but our real estate agent isn't having it. She knows someone who can do it now.

We go with her recommendation which means Letty and I have to clear everything out of the bedrooms. The three of us, and our possessions, move into the family room for three days of misery while the crew works on the floors.

The bedrooms could also uses a new coat of paint, so the same crew takes care of that as well as the walls in our living room.  Old electrical outlets are upgraded...and one of the crew breaks our breaker box so that the lid will no longer close on it. We remove it for the time being and promptly forget about it (it will come back to bite us later).

Once done, we move everything back...just the two of us. Elizabeth, our realtor (who is excellent, by the way), has a photographer come over to take pictures. There's a bit of shuffling while we move patio furniture and trash cans so that they won't be in the background of his shots. At one point, I even moved our patio set out onto the hiking trail behind our house for a few minutes while he took pictures of our backyard.

The Show Begins - The house is listed two days later at $539,900 as Elizabeth hosts an open house geared to other real estate agents. In our area, this is called "the caravan" as agents go all over the area to these Wednesday open houses to see what's on the market.

In the meantime, Letty is asking me worriedly how low I'm willing to go on our price and still be able to buy our new house. Just take it as it comes, I tell her. No use agonizing over something you have no control over.

Elizabeth texts me and says the open house went well and we need to get out of the house that evening because someone wants to look at it.  Later, she tells us it's a couple who put in a bid at several thousand dollars over our price. She shows us that the financing package they have is rock-solid and I'm about ready to say "yes!" but she says "let's just wait a bit until I have the public open house on Sunday."

Again with the nerves...should we really wait or just go in and let this process begin? I have faith in our agent, so we follow along.

The open house...we go out all day, trying to have fun, but worrying more about what's going on back at the house. Finally, it's time to go back.

Elizabeth comes over and says there's another offer and more are on their way. This offer is for even more and now we are in the happy position of having a bidding war.

She says she'll go back to the original bidder's agent. They really want the house, apparently, so she thinks they'll match the offer. They do have better financing so that would be nice.

A couple of days later, she give all interested parties until 10am to get their offers in. After, she comes over and presents them to us...the original bidders have indeed sweetened the offer to even more than the secondary bidders.

That's enough for us...we accept and now they're under contract. A 30 day escrow is opened and a whole 'nuther level of stress opens up.

The Steamroller Arrives - Inspectors must come over and give our house the once over. An appraiser needs to come in and affirm that the house is really worth what our buyers want to pay. Any problems spotted by the inspectors needs to be addressed...remember that breaker box?

First, the termite guy comes in. Since we already had a regular pest control service with Western Exterminator, they waved the fee. Several areas of dry rot needed to be replaced but no termites. They'd take care of it...for a price. We said to go ahead.

As a side note, the inspector used to be a professional baseball player so it was fun for this group of baseball fans to chat with him about his former career.

The house inspector finds a plumbing leak under the master bathroom and says the breaker box needs to be replaced, along with a few other minor items like moving the dryer vent another inch away from the house.

I'm ready to call someone in to fix but our agent says, just wait, the buyers need to tell us what they want done first. We wait...and wait...for a couple of days before we finally get their response. They would wave all the rest of the repairs if we give them $2,000 at the close of escrow. still leaves us with quite a healthy profit when all is said and done and we just want to be through with this process.

The Final Chapter - An article comes out in the newspaper about how the local real estate market is seriously cooling and might even be crashing. It even used one of my friends as a source for the story. Oh no! Don't give our buyers any more reason to try to pull out of this.

"Relax," Elizabeth (and my friend quoted in the story) tells us. "You're too far into the process."

I'm just thinking about Murphy's Law but Elizabeth and my realtor friend were right...the escrow closed right on time. We call up north and they're also impatient to move so the close date on that escrow is moved up and closes the day after ours does back in Southern California. It's time to move.

More is to come but we'll be running the nuts 'n bolts accounts of the transaction stories on our other blog, the Cheapskate Suburban Dweller, while we'll concentrate on the travel aspects on this site.

See you then!

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2019 - All Rights Reserved