Viva Las Vegas

It’s been a little while since my last blog, a reflection of my crazy life!

It’s been almost a year since I moved to Las Vegas, and my life as been on fast forward.

I moved here with no job, no house, no career whatsoever. Within months I had gone to poker dealing school and gotten a job at a North Las Vegas casino. In the worst job market in the country (over 14% unemployment), I have moved on to another casino and been promoted to dual-rate poker supervisor/dealer.

Alas, I had to get the TV suits out of storage for my new position. Part of me was hoping that those TV suits would stay in storage forever!

I’ve taken up hiking, lost 25 pounds, given up fast food and soda, and now live in a rental house. The only drawback so far has been the challenge of finding a house to buy. Although there are thousands of empty houses in the Las Vegas valley right now finding the perfect one for me has been a little difficult. The short-sale process throws up a lot of hurdles, but I am working through them.

For now, I am house-hunting and playing poker.

Hope all is well with all of you!

Losing Weight: Hard, But Rewarding

After years of hoping, wishing, lamenting, procrastinating and just plain being lazy I have reached my tipping point with being overweight.

I want to be heathy and have more energy, so I’ve gotten back to working out. But more importantly I have started eating right. And that is hard as hell!

My steps so far:

1. I stopped drinking diet Coke. Depending on who’s research you believe, diet Coke can cause cancer. There is no arguing that diet Coke and any other soda product is basically just a batch of chemicals. I think we all remember that Nancy Reagan warned us to not put chemicals in our bodies. My last soda was July 25, 2010.

2. I gave up fast food. This was actually easy when I gave up the diet Coke. Fast food and soft drinks go hand in hand. That food is not only chemically-enhanced, but it’s fattening too. I didn’t have to watch Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me documentary to known Mickey D’s was bad for me. Heck, baseball reliever Goose Gossage told the world year’s ago. My last fast food meal was sometime before July 25, but I don’t know what date exactly.

3. If it comes in a can or a box, it is probably bad for you. This is my grocery shopping rule. Although there are exceptions, a majority of the things that come in a box or a can at a grocery store are high in sugar, chemicals, fat or all three.

This does make it a little difficult to eat while I am in the process of losing the weight. I’ve had to stick to apples, string cheese, yogurt, chicken, bananas and salmon thus far. I am single, and cooking for one can be difficult. But I haven’t been going hungry. And when I do eat, I get full much faster.

4. I do 45 minutes of cardio minimum every single day. This was the easiest one to achieve. After I stopped eating and drinking all the junk, I had a lot more energy to go to the gym.

I am sure I am on the right track. I’ve lost 9 pounds in the first 10 days I’ve done this. It is the incentive to keep going.

I Never Drank The Kool-Aid

As the Brett Favre saga continues to drag into the final days of July it’s time for real Minnesota Vikings fans to shake off their embarrassment of pouring so much love on the formerly hated Packer and realize that Favre didn’t take the Vikings any further than they had been before.

I’m a lifelong Vikings fans. I will probably be a Vikings fan until the day I die. I never drank the Brett Favre Kool-Aid.

I was embarrassed to see Brad Childress pick Favre up at the airport for training camp last year. Can you imagine Tom Landry or John Madden doing that?

I was more embarrassed by the legion of Vikings fans cheering Favre’s arrival, buying purple no. 4 jerseys and cheering his every throw. Have you no shame?

I understand how desperate Vikings fans are to win a Super Bowl? The Vikings were born just eight years before I was. I have been alive for virtually every agonizing moment in Vikings history. The losses to the Raiders, the Dolphins, the Steelers and the Chiefs in the Super Bowl. Fran Tarkenton and Alan Page being traded, the Steve Young TD, the Michael Vick TD, the McMahon game, the freakin’ fourth and forever TD against Arizona, Wrong Way Marshall’s TD, the Whizzinator, the Herschel trade, the Les Steckel era, the Mike Tice era, the 2001 NFL Title Game, Korey Stringer’s death, Robert Smith’s retirement, Drew Pearson pushing off, et al.

After all those years of suffering with the Vikings together, I still can’t believe that a legion of Purple Pride faithful would so quickly sell their collective souls to the ultimate Benedict Arnold to try to win a Super Bowl.

I spent the entire 2009 season cheering for the Vikings will quietly continuing to loathe Brett Favre.

In the end, Favre added nothing to the Vikings. Absolutely NOTHING!

Brett Favre in 2009: 13-5 overall, 363 of 531 passing for 4,202 yards. He passed for 33 TDs against seven interceptions. Two of those interceptions came in the NFC Championship game, including the critical one on the Vikings game-winning drive attempt in the fourth quarter.

Favre was 28 of 46 in the NFC Championship game for 301 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

The Vikings lost the title game in overtime in New Orleans, and the Saints went on to win the Super Bowl.

Wait, I’ve seen this before. It was 1998. Vikings’ starter Brad Johnson is injured and Randall Cunningham takes over.

Cunningham, like Favre, had his best years somewhere else. In this case it was the Philadelphia Eagles, not a Vikings’ rival like Green Bay.

With weapons Cris Carter and Randy Moss, Cunningham had a career year. He led the Vikings to a 13-1 regular season record.

He would finish the season 259 of 425 for 3,704 yards. He tossed 34 TDs with just 10 interceptions.

The Vikings lost in the NFC Championship game that year, too. Inexplicably, the Vikings played very safe in the fourth quarter against Atlanta. Gary Anderson missed his first field goal of the year, and the Vikings lost in overtime. Atlanta went on to lose to Denver in the Super Bowl.

The NFC Title game was hardly Cunningham’s fault. He was 29 of 48 for 266 yards in the final game, with two touchdowns and throwing zero interceptions.

Cunningham was already a much more likable guy when he QB’ed the Vikings. He didn’t have the prescription drug problem, the messy divorce from his first team, the awful season playing for someone else and a history of killing the Vikings.

Favre was a rent-a-QB in the worst way. The Vikings turned their back on everything they hold sacred — tradition, loyalty, their fans — and turned the reins of the team over to a guy who intentionally skipped camp, openly battled his own head coach and eventually cost the team a chance to go the Super Bowl.

A number of years ago I went to a Bears-Vikings game at the Metrodome. It was one of those let’s-just-get-cheap-tickets-and-go games where I ended up with three friends and their wives in the top row of the upper deck. The upper deck was probably 50-50 Vikings and Bears fans, which is what you expect from a great rivalry game.

Before the game a guy and his girlfriend came to the upper deck to find their seats. Because this guy was in his early 20s and didn’t no better or because his girlfriend appeared to be way out of his league, he had allowed her to leave the house and come to the game wearing a green Favre no. 4 Packers jersey. She was wearing a Favre jersey to a Vikings-Bears game at the Metrodome! As you might expect, Bears and Vikings fans agreed on something for the first time in history. Thousands of fans heckled and tossed garbage at the idiot and his girlfriend in a Favre jersey. That’s how much Brett Favre is hated within the division.

Favre’s never going to be remembered as a Vikings great. On the all-time Vikings quarterback ladder, he has to fall below Fran Tarkenton, Tommy Kramer, Joe Kapp, Brad Johnson and Daunte Culpepper. Maybe tied with Cunningham. Probably ahead of Warren Moon. Definitely ahead of Steve Dils, Wade Wilson, Rich Gannon and Sean Salibury.

I hope Brett Favre stays retired. I would rather go 8-8 this season with real Vikings, than back to the playoffs with a Green Bay Packer.

Finding A New Home In Las Vegas

Las Vegas has the craziest home market I have ever seen or heard about. Almost none of the homes are resales. Most are either resales or foreclosures. And that makes for some dicey buying.

A brief history…For many years Las Vegas was THE place to move to. At its peak, 6,000 people per month were moving to Sin City. With so many new people every month, year after year, home prices went through the roof. Homes there were really worth $150,000 were being sold for more than $300,000. It was the law of supply and demand to the nth degree.

With all the free money being thrown around by the mortgage companies prior to the economic collapse, coupled with American’s desires to live way beyond their means (I blame reality TV), the current funk in the housing market of Las Vegas was not only predictable but unavoidable. It had to happen eventually.

Now all of these homes that were priced at double their actual value have been adjusted back to reality. Which means there are a lot of people living in $300,000 houses that are really worth $150,000. In fact, you can even pick up poker superstar Phil Ivey’s mansion for the approximate half price of $2 million.

All of the lenders that made dubious loans to under-qualified people for over-priced homes are expecting those loans to be paid in full. The lenders are SHOCKED that the interest-only loans and 5-year ARMs to a family of five with $65,000 in combined income for a $400,000 house was a bad idea. Worse, home owners are absolutely flabbergasted that after signing 70 pages of loan documents explaining in explicit detail how much the house would cost, how much would be paid back and how high taxes would be that they are actually expected to pay off the note. The free market economy does not protect ignorant people from themselves.

Back to the Las Vegas market. Now various banks and lenders own as many as 25,000 homes in a city of less than 2 million people. That doesn’t include short sales — people who have made an arrangement with their lender to unload their house short of what they owe on the note in exchange for getting out of that note they promised they would pay back.

These are the tricky ones. Home sellers/brokers are guessing at the value of homes. Virtually throwing darts. The first home I bid on in North Las Vegas had an asking price of $145,000. The house sold for $362,000 five years ago. The sellers/brokers are actually setting prices a little lower than they should to encourage multiple bids and drive the price back up like a resell.

I didn’t get the first house I bid on because I refused to get in a bidding war. The broker held my seven-day offer for six days, 23 hours and 40 minutes. He then rejected it for a better offer.

On the second house I tried to buy my offer was more than the listed price of a home that the seller basically had to give away (i.e. short sell) or face foreclosure. The broker came back to me and said there were three bids and it was time for our “last and best” bid. He was trying to squeeze a few more dollars out of all of the bidders (and add a few more dollars to his commission). I told my agent that my “last and best” was the same as my “first”, an offer that was four percent above asking. I didn’t get that house either.

In fact, a good friend of mine put offers on 10 houses in two weeks to finally land ONE house!

The other factor making it tough to get a house in this market is the prospectors and their cash. Many of the uber rich families of today were born out of the Great Depression. When economic forces are at their worst, there is no place to go but up. People who survived the Great Depression, especially if they had the money to take advantage of the less fortunate, became uber rich. They bought up land, oil wells, gold and silver, stocks and more. Then hung onto it until prices returned to their previous high or higher.

Now some of these same types of prospectors are buying up these depressed value homes. They will turn them into rental properties for a few years (hurting the neighborhood overall) and will unload them when the values get high.

Despite all this, I have managed to find a home at a fair value that I am pre-qualified to buy. I made the offer and the seller accepted. I wish that were the end of it (like it would be in a resale). Unfortunately for me, this is a short sell. The sign off by the seller is more ceremonial than anything. My offer is now in the hands of Bank of America, the previous owner’s lender. Although Bank of America is not technically in the home ownership business (a note holder, not an actual tenant), they and other lenders have been forced into that role. They don’t have to live in the houses, but they do have to keep them up.

[Actually I think if lending officials actually were forced to live in some of these homes, say for a mandatory seven days, they would move this inventory fast. I would love to see the CFO of CitiMortgage forced to spend seven days on Las Vegas’ East side in a $45,000 house his company should have never issued a $130,000 mortgage on. Like house arrest.]

Bank of America will not give me or any buyer a timetable on when they will decide if they are going to take my offer. I have been told by people who do these things for a living that it could be a few days, a few weeks, several months or NEVER. Literally, NEVER. These lenders have no obligation to ever act on the short sell because they are trying to protect their stock price, their shareholders and their profits. A bank doesn’t actually take a loss on the original mortgage until they agree to short sell the house to the new buyer. In the shell game that is the mortgage business, the current mortgage on this house is still a revenue-producer/profit for the bank despite the fact that the owner of the house has left it vacant and put it on the market.

It is a tough way to buy a home right now. But if I can make it all work I am in for a pretty good deal.

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