Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Florida real estate

There was a business aspect to our weekend trip to Florida, namely, to check out the state of Florida real estate and the prospects of getting in to an investment property.

The verdict on real estate prospects? Poor. I've read that the Fort Myers area of Florida is one of the worst hit real estate markets in the US. Knowing this, one would expect to see some signs of slowdown in economic activity, but this was not to be found. Everywere we looked was a parade of new cars, motorcycles, and people spending money. The shopping malls were packed to the point of hardly being able to find a parking spot. Restaurants were full, people looked happy, and there were few building vacancies to be seen. There were more "For Sale" signs up than in recent years, but nothing like what we were expecting. While it's true that you can buy a house for under a hundred grand, this will still only buy you a beaten up house in an undesireable suburb, miles away from the ocean. The premium properties are still commanding premium prices, though not as high as a couple years ago. Properties that were selling for 750k are now a steal at 600k. To me, the prices still seem well out of range for the average person and far, far below what I would consider to be a great deal.

It makes you wonder, how bad is this recession really? This past weekend every single WestJet flight to southern destinations, and most in Canada too, was 95% full. This is not a sign of penny pinching consumers and the populace facing economic oblivion. Maybe people are just enjoying their unemployment and spending their severance pay on enjoying life for a while.

Is it possible the real pain is yet to come?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Weekend in Fort Myers

Ana's been on a mission to plan us a long weekend getaway and it's been quite an adventure. The first choice was Nassau, Bahamas - we were hoping to go back to the same cool all-inclusive we visited last year but the price was much higher this year so we decided against that. The next idea was Barbados but the flights were too full and the accomodation prices were ridiculous. Next up was Newfoundland...which seemed like a great idea until we looked up the expected weather for this time of year and it was wretched. Plus the flights got filled up anyway, obviously a bunch of masiochistic tourists or homesick Newfies headed to St. John's. So then we set our sights on Las Vegas. Brilliant idea - the flights were available and the accomdation was reasonable. Plus Ana, nor her parents had been there before, and I hadn't been there for about ten years so it seemed like a great plan. We booked the hotel and watched the flights.....slowly fill up until this past Wednesday when it was quite obvious they were going to sell out. At that point, desperation was setting in. Not on my part so much, but more Ana. Once she sets her signts on a vacation weekend, it's like a crocodile snapping it's jaws down on a wildebeast's leg. In other words, the crocodile will not go hungry.

By this point, we were down to looking at what flights were available....going anywhere. The rapidly filling flights made us wonder, "Recession.....what recession??". It's not that often that every single flight leaving Toronto on a Thursday or Friday to anywhere remotely interesting is almost completely filled. Ana looked at Victoria (too full), Phoenix (nope), Fort Lauderdale (full), Orlando (okay coming back but full going down), and those are just the ones she told me about. By this time, I had practically resigned myself to spending a quiet weekend at home. Besides the desperate flight situation, the weather forecast for Brantford was looking remarkably lovely with highs of 25 and 26 over the weekend. Finally, from the depths of our home office, came a sort of cautious victory tone from my sweet wife.

"Fort Myers! Fort Myers is clear! And we can come back through either Tampa or Orlando, we're good to go!"

With that, accomodations and flights were booked and Ana was happy once again.

The only minor hiccup was that our sweet little girl Stella broke out in a most unusual rash, something looking very much like chicken pox. There was just enough time to get her to the walk-in clinic before we left, where the doctor admitted he really had no idea what it was, but it was not likely chicken pox since that affliction is very rare these days. Since Stella was feeling fine and in a great mood, though slightly itchy, we decided to push ahead with the trip.

So here I sit, Friday night, with a chilled Presidente beer in hand, commiting my thoughts to cyberland, with the kids in bed together watching a Diego video while Ana and her folks are out shopping. When it comes to the decision between going shopping and doing anything else, I almost always choose the latter, unless there's a nice cafe or cold beers or cigars or preferably all three included in the shopping picture.

Here's to another Olson-style power weekend!

Monday, April 20, 2009

From Cleveland to Port Dover

My friend Andrew bought a whoop-ass boat from a repo liquidator in Cleveland a few weeks ago. With the ice completely gone from Lake Erie it was time to go pick up the vessel and transport it back across the lake to Port Dover, where had had arranged a slip for the season. He asked me and another friend, Justin, to come along to give him a hand piloting it back to Canada. The boat is a 33 foot Sea Ray with twin 454 V8 engines and every onboard amenity you can imagine including tv, refrigerator/icemaker, stereo, electric toilet, gps, radar and free alcohol, though no topless servers this day, as it was very early in the season and a little chilly.

We had Ana, the kids and Andrew's girlfriend Jess drop us off in Buffalo, where we rented a car and drove to Clevelend, then stayed overnight at a hotel. We stopped en route in Erie, Pennsylvania for a burger and beer at TGI Fridays, which promptly put me to sleep in the passenger's seat for the remainder of the ride.

A planned early departure turned into a 12 noon kick-off due to several unforeseen circumstances such as missing supplies, marine stores that don't open until 10am, bad navigation in downtown Cleveland, and a small mishap at the fueling dock which resulted in 25 gallons of petroleum pumped into the waste tank of the boat instead of the gas tank which had to be suctioned out.

One we were finally underway, we found lake conditions to be absolutely perfect. It was about 17 degrees with a minor wind of 10 kph and hardly a boat to be seen. We began working our way up the US shoreline, about 2 to 3 miles offshore. We kept the boat at 3,000 rpm which, Justin advised, offered the best tradoff of speed versus fuel consumption. At that rate we were doing about 21 to 22 mph which was a nice steady comfortable pace.

Upon the approach to Erie, which was about 5 hours after leaving Cleveland, Andrew decided it would be best to fill the gas tanks before making the run across the lake to the Canada side. After several cell phone calls we learned that the pumps at the regular marina were having issues and the only place that had fuel was the private Erie Yacht club, who only reluctantly agreed to sell us gas. After 45 minutes of waiting for them to find somebody to turn on the gas pump, during which time we paid a visit to the club bar and caught some lip from a drunken sailor, we finally got fuel and were able get back underway.

This was the part of the trip I was originally most nervous about, as Lake Erie is home to hundreds of shipwrecks and known to turn deadly with fast changes in weather. Luckily for us, the wind was steady and smooth and gave rise to waves that were no more than 5 or 6 feet at the highest. The trip across took about two hours and was interrupted only twice, first by a strange engine noise which didn't reoccur, and second by me nearlying running the boat into two feet of water at Long Point.

The final two hour trip across the lake culminated in our triumphant entrance into Port Dover harbour, evidenced by nobody as the marina was almost completely devoid of boats. The ladies and kids arrived shortly after our landing, and after a few minutes of phone chatter with Canadian customs, we were cleared and free to go! We all squeezed into the van, stopped at Callaghan's for a quick fish feed, then drove back to Paris, nicely finishing off a relatively uneventful Lake Erie navigation- which is exactly what you want when crossing large bodies of water!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Sell that stock!

As the market wavered, then dropped, then climbed, then held steady, then fell down, then popped up....I decided to sell that little stock referred to in my previous posting. Made a nice profit, not a huge profit, but a nice profit. Of course, as soon as I sold it, it went up another 30%. Emotions of lost opportunity wash over me like a sickness. But I hold to the old maxim that you'll never go broke taking a profit.

This has been a good exercise and has reinforced these two beliefs:
1. Fear and greed are overwhelming strong emotions and nearly impossible to control once you let them out of the box
2. Active market trading takes a lot of time and energy, and is generally a losers game

The market has been climbing steadily as I watch. Job losses mount and the news is mostly bad, except for real estate whose descent has somehow slowed. I still fully expect the market to tumble again and present new buying opportunities. I'm thinking by June there will be carnage once again.