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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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Consistency is not a virtue of the stock market these days. Dow down to 13,238.73, S&P 500 down to 1,457.64, Nasdaq up to 2,565.30. [Bloomberg]

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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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In writing about the purchasing of a new Sharp Aquos HDTV, I forgot to mention the extended warranty. I tried to use circuit City’s extended warranty as a bargaining chip to see if the salesman could lower the price. That didn’t work, so I left the store without the plan. For $190, if the television stops functioning properly in the first three years of ownership, Circuit City will send someone to attempt repairs. If the television cannot be repaired, Circuit City will replace it. I know that Circuit City makes tons of money on extended warranties like these, but it may just be worth it for a device in which the technology is still so new, and replacement costs would be prohibitive. $63 a year is not bad for this kind of insurance.

The friend who was helping me transport and set up the equipment says he usually will buy extended warranties on expensive electronics, even though it bothers him that they are cash cows for the company. When a piece of equipment stops functioning 18 months after the purchase — past the limit of the manufacturer’s warranty — it can be frustrating. Is peace of mind on a $1,300 piece of equipment worth $63 a year?

For comparison, a phone from Verizon Wireless that costs $100 can be insured with replacement protection from that company for $72 a year (and you’ll still have a $50 deductible). I think it’s clear which one is a better deal.

I still have several days to think it over. What would you do?

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Market Update, August 29, 2007

by Luke Landes

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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Money Magazine: No Fees? Get It in Writing!

by Luke Landes

Money Magazine is sharing an interesting piece of advice in their September issue. This comes from “The Mole,” the magazine’s “underciver financial planner.” If your financial advisor or broker tells you there are no fees for a particular investment or no risk for some product, ask to confirm in in writing. Even though my clients ... Continue reading this article…

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Upgrading My Living Room Entertainment, Part 1: Television

by Luke Landes

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, ... Continue reading this article…

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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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Where Did You Come From, Where Did You Go (August 2007)

by Luke Landes

Thanks to the following blogs or websites (not including RSS readers or search engines) who sent the most visitors to Consumerism Commentary during the month of August. # Consumerist # The Simple Dollar # Get Rich Slowly # pfblogs.org # AllFinancialMatters # Blueprint for Financial Prosperity # MoneyBlogNetwork Home # FiveCentNickel # Free Money Finance ... Continue reading this article…

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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 ... Continue reading this article…

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This Week in the Archives: Relationships, Mental Mistakes, and Online MBAs

by Luke Landes

New to Consumerism Commentary? If you have a Facebook profile, visit mine. If you’ve been reading for less than a year, you’ve missed several more years of writing. Here are some articles from August 23-31, 2006: * Spending Philosophies: Five Tips for a Better Relationship * Five Tips for Starting a Career or New Position ... Continue reading this article…

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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. ... Continue reading this article…

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The Carnival is Up!

by Luke Landes

The latest Carnival of Personal Finance has been posted at Free Money Finance. Besides the host’s picks for Editor’s Choice, I enjoyed Charities and Their Management Expense Ratios, Pay Yourself First, and Not Just Financially, and I Could Use Someone Else’s Credit Card to Buy My Groceries.

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Weekly Blog Round-Up, Business Checking Account Edition

by Luke Landes

This weekend, I finally got around to opening a business checking account at a brick-and-mortar bank. I’ll write more about that this week. In the mean time, here are some articles from around the MoneyBlogNetwork and beyond. Five Cent Nickel reports that the University of Minnesota has dropped TIAA-CREF from their retirement savings options, citing ... Continue reading this article…

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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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Seven Home Equity Tips, Part 5: Get the Tax Deduction

by Luke Landes

The interest on a home equity loan or line of credit can be tax deductible, which many people find to be a strong positive point to taking advantage of these products. Tax deduction on interest doesn’t beat paying no interest at all, but if that’s not a possibility, this is a good alternative. There are ... Continue reading this article…

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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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10 Tips for Buying a Residential Rental Property, Part 1: Buy at the Right Price

by Sasha

This is the first in a ten-part series about residential rental properties based on my experiences. Looking to diversify your investments and take advantage of the current dip in real estate prices? While by no means a passive investment, if you’re up to the challenge, residential rental property ownership can provide not just additional short- ... Continue reading this article…

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New Writer at Consumerism Commentary: Sasha

by Luke Landes

Very shortly, you will begin to see some posts and articles written by a new individual at Consumerism Commentary. Please welcome Sasha to Consumerism Commentary as a regular contributor. From Sasha’s bio: I’m a young thirtysomething Masters degree holder and outdoor buff, employed within the new media industry. A frequent personal blogger in the nineties, ... Continue reading this article…

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