Friday, February 20, 2009


President Obama's first big foreign trip was to Ottawa yesterday where he was welcomed by hordes of cheering Canadians, a snowstorm, freezing cold temperatures, a happy Harper and about ten thousand cops, security personnel, mounties and military snipers. I suppose that indicates he is fairly high value target. The Canadian news reports of the visit were overwhelmingly positive and the trip seems to have been quite a success for both leaders. Stephen Harper actually looked happy, which is an emotion he surely hasn't felt for months. During the press conference Ana and I were trying to imagine how it would have been different with Stephane Dion up there and the image was not pretty - something along the lines of "the Messiah meets Forest Gump". Thank god that didn't happen. There has not been such an outpouring of affection for a US president by Canadians since Kennedy so I see this as a potentially huge turning point in Canada-US relations. The anti-Americanism in Canada isn't just an embarrassment, it is an insult to our collective dignity. I think that Obama will give Canadians a reason to leave much of that crap behind and instead focus on the overwhelmingly positive aspects of our relationship with our neighbour to the south. One thing Harper said yesterday really struck a chord with me - he said that we often concentrate on the differences between our countries, and even when Canada "wins" a dispute with the US, we lose. That's some terrible paraphrasing on my part, but the idea is so true. Thanks for visiting us, Mr. Obama! Here's to a productive US/Canada partnership as the collective economic shit hits the fan!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Economic disaster - time to buy a boat?

We took a drive to Cleveland last weekend. If you're as geographically challenged as I am you probably haven't got a clue where it is or why you'd go there. Cleveland, Ohio is about a 5.5 hour drive from our home in Paris and the route takes you through steely Hamilton, past splashy Niagara Falls, across the border at wingy Buffalo, then west across the spooky south shores of Lake Erie until you hit Cleveland, home of the Rock & Roll Museum and I'm not sure what else. Our friends Andrew and Jess put a bid in on a repossessed 34' Sea Ray powerboat and we went down there with them to check it out in person before sealing the deal. Of course, spending a couple hours poking around beautiful, bargain priced boats certainly puts you in a "retirement fantasy mode" and we of course started scheming for our own boat purchase. We've been thinking that we'd like to spend our 40th birthdays on a sailboat someplace warm. And since our 40th birthdays are six months apart, it really gives us no other choice besides spending a full year away. My original calculations produce an estimated departure date three years hence but when I checked with Ana to see how old we were, I found out that I slipped a year somewhere and was a bit older than I thought. So we may have to do our 41st or 42nd birthdays on a boat. Regardless, we still need to get a boat beforehand to actually learn how to sail. The last time I owned a boat I nearly destroyed it on several occasions, which is a tremendous way to learn, but this time around I think it may be a better idea to take things somewhat slower and try not to sink it. If anybody hears of a person with a 37' to 40' mint condition sailboat manufactured in the late eighties who is desperate to sell for a ridiculously low price due to job loss, divorce, mental instability, boredom, grief, fun, or whatever, give them my email.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Market value of rental properties

Ana and I have been discussing selling one of our rental properties in Brantford that we currently rent to students. It's a 3 + 1 bedroom house that we originally bought to renovate and resell but were not able to sell it for what we wanted so decided to keep it and rent it out to students, since it's close to the university in Brantford. I've been wondering if we should sell it now in case the local real estate market takes a tumble. The house now is cash flow positive, especially since the variable rate mortgage payments have been tumbling, but it is not our best performing property. We discussed this last night and came to the following conclusions: 1. If we sold it now, we wouldn't make a substantial amount of profit after realtor fees, mortgage penalties, etc so it wouldn't result in a large amount of equity to put into another project 2. Our student tenants are excellent and are taking good care of the place 3. We've done a substantial amount of maintenance on the house making it pretty much maintenance free now 4. We haven't been finding many opportunities in the market, prices are still very high and there's not much quality stuff coming available 5. The local universities are expanding like mad and since university attendance usually increases in a recession, we should have no trouble keeping it filled for the foreseeable future Since revenue generating real estate value is based on cash flow produced, it may make this particular segment of the real estate market hold up okay in a major correction. Landlords are normally very wary of reducing rents so hopefully the rental market remains strong and we'll just keep collecting that monthly cash flow!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


This is year two of our website redesign project. Year one didn't go so well - we came up with lots of ideas to improve and modernize the site, but then life got in the way! One area to update is our journal. We are now in the tenth year of logging journal entries and during the time, the internet has come a long way to say the least. Our current system of adding journals is very manual so I decided to set up a proper blogging account and link it back to our website. Now that I have it set up I am really amazed by the functionality available, much more than I was anticipating. Just being able to add to the blog from any computer or even mobile phone will be a major improvement. Recently, I've been wanting to do more writing on the various thoughts I have on other topics, such as investing, real estate, landlording, and raising kids. I find it very interesting to look back at old journal postings on our website, which are mainly travel related. To help develop my investing skills I think it will be good to log how I'm currently viewing the markets and my current investment strategy then look back in a year and see if they were the right decisions at the time. This should help in making me a better investor. I'd also like to use this to start building up our lifeisgrand mailing list. I am currently working on a book and once it's done it will be nice to have an email list ready to help in marketing the final product. Welcome to the new lifeisgrand blog!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

February 1, 2009 - Flying home from Calgary

Ah, another Olson family power weekend.  As I type, Ana, Magnito and Stella are all snoozing wildly in their leather WestJet chairs enjoying the hum of the 737 engines.  Ana was in Calgary last week for training so the kids and I flew out on Thursday night to meet her and spend the weekend in Calgary catching up with old friends including brunch at our favourite restaurant in Inglewood and a great dinner party on Saturday.  We spent Friday with the Davidsons - Gerry, Barb and Nicole and had a great visit, which included the obligatory and much loved finance/investing session with uncle Gerry.  I am always amazed at the depth of his knowledge of all things financial, especially impressive for a weenie engineer.  We of course discussed the current market meltdown and the abundance of opportunities presenting themselves in the markets.  It seems like a simple decision to up the stakes in financial investments and cash in on the amazing yields available.  But hold on.  I'm also in the midst of reading Garth Turner's latest (see book called "After The Crash".  Though an awful lot of the book is simple reiteration of his last book, "Greater Fool", there are nevertheless some interesting viewpoints presented.  The basic thesis is that the world's financial systems are in a mess, the value of residential real estate in Canada is destined to plummet much further and the possibility of a major depression and deflation, though not inevitable, is real and significant and the overriding majority of Canadians are ill prepared to weather such an unwelcome storm.

I don't believe that we are headed into a depression, but many of the ideas in the book strike a chord with me.  The one basic recommendation is to hope for the best but be absolutely prepared for the worst.  In recent years I've found myself becoming more risk averse and much more concerned with safety and self preservation.  I don't know if this is due to the aging process or perhaps having the responsibility to protect and take care of my family, or maybe simply because of the large number of close calls, near misses, death defying stunts, and amazing acts of irresponsibility  experienced during my bachelor days.  A couple simple things he recommends is having a backup generator for your home in case of a major power outage (which just happened in Toronto a couple weeks ago that left people without power for two days in -20 weather), having an emergency food supply available and having a "Bad Day Kit" prepared which includes items such as batteries, water purifying tablets, cash, etc.  Best to prepare well before it's necessary.

In other news, after a year and a half of aggravation and stress, our worst tenant finally moved out.  This is the guy we've been to tribunal court with twice for late payment of rent and selling drugs out of our building.  He has caused us more grief than anything else in our lives and his departure is like a blessing.  We now have a month to renovate his unit which will take a lot of work considering he's been chain smoking in there for six years. Like anything else, persistence has paid off but it's been a real test of patience and we've even considered selling the building several times because of him.  In one regard, though, I'm happy we went through it because we now know the Ontario Landlord/Tenant law like the back of our hand, which will definitely help us in our future dealings.

One last bit of news, we spent a week in Dominican Republic with Dad and Loretta and loved it.  We stayed at an all-inclusive resort at Punta Cana for the entire time.  The kids spent 90% of the time in the pool, which meant we spent 90% of the time in the pool; fortunately there was a swim up bar so that helped lubricate the swimming lessons.

All for now, back to the renovations!