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August 2007

To complete — at least for now — my living room upgrade, I purchased a Toshiba HD-DVD (HD-A20) from Circuit City. Just looking at the listing now, I see the price has increased since Tuesday from $359.99 to $399.99. In fact, in the store, the advertised price was $399.99, but after showing the listing on the internet from that day, they matched their online price.

Before deciding on this device, I had to face the big question that is preventing other people I know from jumping into high-definition video: Blu-Ray or HD-DVD? For me, the answer is straightforward. Blu-Ray players are often twice as expensive as HD-DVD. It’s a shame that studios are aligning themselves with one format over another; this might prolong the inevitable crowning of one champion, like Beta vs. VHS.

Toshiba HD-DVD HD-A20Once settled on the HD-DVD format, I wanted to find the best value I could. After more online research including Consumer Reports and a number of other communities, I chose the system I mentioned above. No, it’s not built with high-end components, but it delivers a good value.

I also picked up one HD-DVD, Sky Captain & The World of Tomorrow. I saw the movie in the theater when it came out. It wasn’t a fantastic movie, but it was visually stunning, a perfect candidate for high definition. Once the HDMI cables arrive today or tomorrow, I’ll have something to pop in immediately to see how 1080p suits me.

The store didn’t have a wide selection of HD-DVDs, but I’ve been finding more options on Amazon.com and adding them to my Wish List for future purchasing.

After my expenditures this week, it’s time to cool down for several months. There are still several components I need in order to make the experience complete, but I will hold off for a while. Here is what is missing in my set-up:

* Television stand or wall-mounting brackets, so I can reclaim my repurposed coffee table
* High definition audio receiver with surround sound and additional speakers, as the television’s internal speakers are not so hot
* Fancy remote control that can communicate with all devices, so I don’t need the variety I use now
* Game system like the Xbox 360 so I can waste more time when I should be blogging

Once I’m ready to spend significant money in this department, I’ll be looking back at this list.

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In my last entry in this series, I talked about how to find the right neighborhood if you’re looking to buy a rental property. But there’s more to understanding an area than just seeing the neighborhood: invisible factors which could cost you big-time. Here’s my next tip.

3. Be aware of local rental regulations.

In many locales, rental properties are treated more like businesses than residences, and while 8×10 might constitute a proper bedroom in your personal home, it likely won’t be considered such for a rental property. In one local township where we presently own three properties, there are minimum ceiling heights (7′) and square footage (100 sq. ft.) for bedrooms, substantially different from what is required for residential homes. Occupancy is calculated by the township based on the square footage of the unit, so what the local realtor touts as a four bedroom home may only legitimately be a two bedroom home if rented.

Plus, in this township, fire blocking is required for all habitable spaces, which means that a finished basement may not be considered living space unless it was finished in accordance with the code. And basement bedrooms need to have windows of a certain size and opening radius to meet egress standards. The township’s code officials can actually require that if a basement was not finished to code, all finish work be either upgraded or torn out if the house is to be rented. If you have tenants already residing there, you are not spared – you can be forced to relocate the tenants at your own expense until these standards have been met and fined heavily if you refuse.

These types of township-enforced renovations can be a massive expense; in fact, I personally know someone who paid nearly $50,000 to get two basement bedrooms and a bathroom upgraded to meet this code. He’d bought the house with a “finished basement” which the previous owners had completed without a permit. Because rental properties are treated as businesses, he was not allowed to do the work himself but had to hire an architect to draw and seal the plans, then licensed plumbers, electricians, and building contractors to do the work.

Once bitten, twice shy, but it’s better to know exactly what you’ll be getting into before you buy. Ensuring that all additions or renovations were completed with permits and that all living space meets local rental property code can save a great deal of expense and heartache later.

Carbon Monoxide detectors and hardwired smoke detectors are an additional requirement, and special parking rules may be in effect as well, as I’ll discuss further in the next tip.

Rental properties need to be licensed (for a fee) and have a Certificate of Occupancy inspection (for yet another fee) annually, and the township requires that issues identified during this inspection be resolved and reinspected before tenants can move in. Therefore, it is a safe assumption that you’ll need to bring your property into accordance with local rental regulations prior to your earning any income from the property. Knowing the issues, you can budget accordingly.

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While I was covering my own responsibilities as well as those of a vacationing coworker today, I missed all the excitement in the markets. Dow up to 13,289, S&P 500 up to 1,463, Nasdaq up to 2,563. [MarketWatch]

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As of Monday, calculating how much I had spent on televisions, DVD players, and other entertainment equipment was fairly easy. I “inherited” a JVC receiver and large JBL speakers from my father when he upgraded. When a friend and roommate of mine moved to Seattle several years ago, I purchased his 27 inch CRT television, DVD player, and entertainment center for $150 or so. Last year, I bought a cheap DVD player for $35 when the first one died. Also last year, or maybe two years ago, I purchased a pair of small Yamaha speakers to replace the large JBL speakers when they no longer functioned properly.

I have wanted to upgrade my entire system for a long time. Knowing that it would be an expensive endeavor, I put this off for many years. While I know that spending a large sum of money now could mean less for me in retirement thanks to the powerful effect of inflation, now that I am able to aggressively save for retirement (25% of my day job salary and I could easily go higher at any time), I decided this past weekend it was time to start the upgrade.

The last few days have been spent reading a large number of reviews of various television sets on Consumer Reports (where I am now a member), forums, and a wide selection of other websites. I solicited advice from friends who are familiar with the technology.

First, I settled on LCD as the appropriate technology for my typical viewing conditions and for its recent advancements in competition with the picture quality of plasma. I went back and forth between several brands, but I eventually decided on Sharp Aquos.

Sharp Aquos 42 inch LCD HDTVThe price on the Sharp Aquos LC-42D62U 42 inch LCD HDTV — the size I determined would be appropriate, large but not overbearing, for my space — was in the range of what I wanted to spend for the best high definition resolution (1080p), and the lowest price I could find was under $1,300 at Circuit City. That didn’t surprise me, having helped my girlfriend purchase a television several months ago.

Unlike that last time, I could not get the sales associates to drop the price. I can understand why; the television is selling well, is not discontinued, and the price dropped as recently as a month ago by $800. Still, Circuit City offers a 30-day price guarantee in case they lower the price or I find an offer in the local competitive area for less. When I shopped for a television with my girlfriend, we spotted a discontinued model and were able to work the sales associate down about 33%. He even showed us a list of all the store’s television equipment, including what would be considered the “invoice price,” or what the store supposedly paid.

Back to my HDTV, a friend assisted me with transporting the television from the store to my living room (and setting up the television) as the box would most likely not fit into my Honda Civic. Another aspect of LCD technology that fits my needs is its weight. Plasma screens are much heavier and difficult to transport. I expect I will be moving again in the next year or two and Plasma screen are fragile.

I was surprised Circuit City offered high definition cables (HDMI) for no less than $100 and up to $140 a piece. I left the store without buying any of the cables that would allow me to completely enjoy the high definition experience. Instead, I opted to order 2 HDMI cables — one for cable television and the other for the HD DVD player I will write about in Part 2 — online through my friend’s wholesale source for $14 a piece.

The television looks great so far. I expect once I receive and install the HDMI cables, quality on standard definition broadcasts will actually decrease, as one negative point of this particular model is that it doesn’t have a strong conversion processor. Nevertheless, high definition broadcasts are consistently increasing — almost everything I watch is broadcasted in HDTV, and my cable service including HD is free for the year.

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Market Update, August 28, 2007

by Luke Landes

Dow down to 13,041.85, S&P 500 down to 1,432.36, Nasdaq down to 2,500.64, Flexo’s net worth down by over $1,500 today. That last statistic is due to a long-overdue upgrade in living room entertainment. [AP]

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Market Update, August 27, 2007

by Luke Landes

What goes up… you know the rest. Dow down to 13,337.58, S&P 500 down to 1,468.98, Nasdaq down to 2,565.19. [CNN]

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Guide to Capital One Credit Cards

by Luke Landes

Updated December 1, 2008. Any indented text is excerpted directly from Capital One’s marketing. Capital One has been in the news recently for two issues relevant to card holders. First, the company reversed their policy on reporting credit limits so FICO scores are not adversely affected. Later, Capital One closed its wholesale mortgage business, distancing […]

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10 Tips for Buying a Residential Rental Property, Part 2: Find the Right Neighborhood

by Sasha

As I mentioned in my last entry on this topic, rental property ownership can reward or punish you for decisions made during the buying process, so it’s crucial to make the right ones. It’s about much more than just getting the right price. Here’s my next tip in the series. 2. Find the right neighborhood. […]

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Market Update, August 24, 2007

by Luke Landes

They say this week was a good one for the market. Dow up to 13,379, S&P 500 up to 1,479, Nasdaq up to 1,479. If you sold your S&P index fund at the end of last week when you were nervous, you would have missed an annualized increase of 119.6 percent. [MSN]

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Market Update, August 23, 2007

by Luke Landes

I’ve been busy wrapping up projects at work and not paying attention to the market. My company’s share price is almost back to where I want to send my second-quarter stock. Today, the Dow is down to 13,235.88, S&P 500 down to 1,462.50, Nasdaq down to 2,541.70. [CNN]

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