Friday, January 08, 2010

New Year...Changes Ahead

It's a new year, and a new decade.  Big deal...not news to anyone to be sure.  So what I am to do this year?  Make resolutions?  Reflect on the last year and come up with some earth shaking revelations?  Beat myself up for all the things I wanted to do last year but didn't?  Ponder the meaning of life?  Freak out over the fact that I am across the mid-point of my 40's and on my way to 50?
Answer: E - All of the above.

Seriously, though, it is a time for reflection and to make commitments to one's self and to establish some goals.  Businesses do it, sports teams do it, clubs and non-profit organizations do why not the individual.

This week, on one of my typical insomniatic nights, I sat in the living room in some deep reflective thought (beating myself up a bit, again) and wanting to figure out how to keep "the important things" important and keep them in front of my face.  I decided to make a list of things that were important to me.  I also did some "accounting" for time, as time seems to become more and more my enemy as I get older.  I really struggle with understanding where all my time goes and I feel guilty for any time I spend doing anything that seems "unproductive" in any way.  It has become my true inner-demon.  Finally, I tried to come up with some objective self-criticism and some ways to improve and work on my weak areas. 

Here is what I came up with:

Insights and Observations - Objectives for 2010

What is important to me?

1. My own physical health
a. Cycling
b. Strength Training
c. Core and flexibility
d. Diet
e. Sleep

2. My own mental and emotional health
a. Stress Management
b. Time Management
c. Work/Life Balance
d. Feeling a sense of value and accomplishment – both personally and professionally

3. My wife and my daughter
a. Quality Time spent with both
b. Investing in my relationship with my daughter – being a father, fully and completely
c. Nurturing my relationship with my wife
d. Seeking ways to keep life fun and interesting
e. Do something fun everyday (doesn’t have to be elaborate)

4. My family (Parents and Siblings)
a. Stay in touch
b. Call each at least weekly, if not more
c. Tell them I love them
d. Listen and help them to talk

5. My work
a. See # 2 above – all apply here
b. Setting goals for myself – 1 year, 3 year, 5 year
c. Plan the work and work the plan
d. Invest more time in building relationships – team as well as peers and next level of management
e. Ask for help
f. Building and establishing trust
g. Trusting others

6. My friends (close, old and personal ones)
a. Call weekly or at least email

7. Growth and continuous development/learning
a. Professionally – both technical and management
b. Personally – work on the big blocks – balance, being reasonable on self, parenting
c. Read – in general, more of everything

8. Establishing and investing in new relationships
a. Seek out new connections
b. Get out of my shell and comfort zone
c. Be a better listener and seek information
d. Be patient

9. Improving on weak areas – personally and professionally
a. Time management
b. Stress management
c. Communication
d. Work at being less introverted – be cautious about avoidance of conflict and situations that I don’t have control over
e. Forward thinking and planning
f. Living in the NOW

Where does my time go (currently)?
In a general sense:

1. Sleeping – 6 hours
2. At work – 8.5 hours
3. Daughter – 1 hour
4. Wife – 1 hour
5. Fitness – 1 hour
6. Morning prep – 1 hour
7. Evening prep – 1 hour
8. Relaxing (doing nothing, watch TV, read before bed) – 2 hours (am and pm)
9. Travel – 1.5 hour
10. Eating – 1 hour

Weekend days:
1. Sleeping – 6 hours
2. Piddle (miscellaneous efforts) – 3 hours
3. Daughter – 2 hours
4. Wife – 2 hours
5. Fitness – 3 hours
6. Morning prep – 1 hour
7. Evening prep – 1 hour
8. Relaxing – 2 hours
9. Travel – 2 hours
10. Eating – 1.5 hours
11. Errands – 1 hour

Total = 24 hours

Improvement Opportunities

1. Improve Productivity through better planning and organizing
a. Spend 1 hour planning on Sunday night/Monday morning
b. Spend a few minutes at the end of each day organizing for the next day
c. Spend 1 hour on Friday afternoon organizing for next week

2. Gain efficiency in information management
a. Check e-mail three times a day – morning, after lunch, near end of day
b. Take notes/minutes from every conversation. Save and track by project/technology/issue

3. Improve meetings
a. Use the agenda
b. Force team to contribute and be prepared
d. Follow-up needs to improve

4. Be conscious of the moment – live in the now
a. Better planning and organization should help with this – get it out of my head!

5. Make use of every moment!!!

6. Avoidance - Procrastination
a. Do not invest the time in avoidance. Just do it. It will go a long way to clearing my head and reducing anxiety.

7. Make a workout plan and adhere to it
a. Set goals
b. Tell people my goals to make me accountable
c. Document it and track it

a. Everything should align with overall objectives and strategies. If it doesn’t, it likely is not that important!

9. Stop reacting to everything.
a. Sometimes it’s better to not react and make that part of the consequence of the action

I plan to review my list daily.  I have it pinned next to my monitor at work and a printed copy inside my notebook so it is always closeby.  I am a firm believer that we are all creatures of habit and that we need time to break old habits and time to form new ones.  Having the things that are important to me in front of me every day will help to keep me focused on what is truly important.

Saturday, April 12, 2008


We got hooked up with a realtor in Dallas - Brooke Hunt with Ebby Halliday Realtors. We spent a fair bit of time on the phone talking about what we were looking for in a home and reviewed a number of MLS listings that Dottie and I had pulled up so that she could get an idea of our needs and our priorities as far as criteria is concerned. Basically, it came down to:
  1. Schools
  2. Neighborhood and general area
  3. Distance to work
  4. Proximity to places where I could ride
  5. Specific home elements

Numbers 1 and 2 were not difficult as we had several options. The schools in the northern area of DFW are predominantly good to excellent. DFW seems to pride itself on the overall quality of their schools and education and there are endless amounts of statistical data to support this. There is a rating system and a website devoted to education statistics broken down by school district and by indidvidual school. We used this as a guide to selecting cities and neighborhoods with schools that had high marks.

Dottie and I had spent quite a bit of time sifting through the listing in the towns that seemed like good locations overall and based upon my visits and drives from the week before. We had it narrowed down to four towns - Keller, Southlake, Grapevine and Flower Mound. We started with a list of about 60 properties and after weeding through them and checking the specific elementary and middle schools against the TEA (Texas Education Agency) ratings for those schools, we either kept it as one to see or tossed it in the trash. We set the criteria pretty high by only looking at elementary schools that had ratings of "exemplary" which is the highest rating. We didn't want to look too far into the future, but we at least wanted to ensure that the middle school was no less than "recognized", which is still a very high rating. The rating right below "recognized" was "acceptable", which pretty much meant that - acceptable - and we were not interested in any that were simply meeting the minimum established standards. This alone narrowed the choices to about half. We then looked at drivetimes and tossed anything that was greater than 25 minutes. That may sound severe, but the issue around the north end of DFW is congestion and it is often the case that something that is 10 to 15 miles out takes well over 30 and ofter 45 or more minutes in rush hour. This took our list down t less than 20.

We left the house at 4:00am on Wednesday to catch a 7:00am flight in Philly. Madison was excited and was wide awake the moment I woke her. We got to the airport and on the plane with no delays or incidents. We got bumped from row 30 to row 8 which was a nice bonus.

Brooke was not meeting us until Thursday, so we had the remainder of Wednesday to ourselves and I had planned to drive Dottie around and show her the areas that I looked at the previous week to ensure that she and I were on the same page (even though we usually are). We landed at 10:00am and after all the ordeal of taxiing, deboarding, walking forever to baggage claim to wait for what seemed like an eternity for luggage and then off to get the car, it was pushing 11:30, so we headed for the hotel for an early check-in and grabbed some lunch before we headed out.

We drove through Southlake and Keller before swinging north to Flower Mound followed by Grapevine. Dottie agreed that the areas were all very nice but also questioned the drive time from Keller and even the northern parts of Flower Mound.

The next day, we met Brooke and went about the business of driving all over creation, in-and-out of the car umpteen times and trying to take pictures and notes so that at the end of the day, we could narrow the candidates again. We found a couple of really strong candidates, but not as many as we had hoped, and at the end of Thursday we still had a few more to see.

On Friday morning, we found out that our two strong candidates went under contract, so they were no longer available. We headed out to look at the remainder of the list and Brooke threw a couple in that were just above our price criteria so that we could be sure not to miss anything that we could negotiate down into our range. We found one that we really liked alot and we decided to write an offer. Brooke submitted it and got a call from the agent a while later saying that they had accepted another offer. Addtionally, another one of our homes on the short list from the previous day went under contract, so we were now down to only one home that we liked enough to pursue purchasing.

We had a half-day on Saturday as we needed to be at the airport by 3pm to catch a flight home. The night before, Dottie and I scoured the MLS listings again changing our criteria a bit in the hopes of getting a few more to look at, and we came up with 5. On the way to see the first one, Brooke called to see if we could get into look at another that she had pulled up, and it had gone under contract that morning. When we got to the first one, we really liked it a lot. It was in a great area, it was a solid home - albeit on the large side at 3200 sq/ft - and it was in good shape with a really nice kitchen. When Brooke called the listing agent to ask some questions and to let her know that we might be making an offer, she was told that they were working on an offer at that moment. We just couldn't win. Everything we liked was getting snatched up before we had a chance.

We went to the last home of the day, a larger home in a very desireable area of Grapevine. It was desireable due to the fact that it was zoned into the Carrol Southlake school district and it was a solid and established neighborhood. We loved the home. It was in a heavily wooded neighborhood and it was the perfect size. It had some downsides - mostly a very small backyard and it needed a little cleanup and landscaping on the outside. We decided to make an offer and we were getting close to the end of our day and needing to get to the airport. Brooke had us fill out and sign all the blank forms for the offer and write a check for the earnest money. She even had us sign a second set for our back-up home if this one were to fall through.

She called the agent to inform her we were going to make an offer and we found out that there actually were NO offers on this place! We were excited for the first time that we found something that we really liked and that was actually available. We flew home and felt relieved that this was behind us and we were one step closer to the end goal.

Something we have done in our last two home purchases (Allentown and Westfield) was to plug our address into the national database of convicted sex offenders. The website is and it will display a map of the area where the address provided is located with colored dots on the map that identify known convicted sex offenders, their photos, the distance they are from the address and their conviction(s). We tried to to look up the home we were buying before we left but the website was down. When we got home, that was one of the first things we did and we were devasted to find that there were three within 1/3 of mile from our home, all convicted of offenses against children and one of them right behind us a few doors down. Needless to say, we promptly called Brooke and pulled the offer.

Sunday was a rough day. We felt frustrated and defeated. We went back through ALL the homes we looked at and reviewed them as well as our notes and photos in the hopes of finding a couple that we be good compromises at this stage of the game. We were still left with that one home on our short list from the day-one search and it was still a candidate, but we had a couple of issues with it, which is why it was number 5 on our list. It had no pool and no community pool either. Dottie expressly wanted one or the other given how hot it is in Texas in the summer (100+ degree days for weeks at at time are not uncommon). Additionally, it needed a kitchen rehab from the ground up - floors, counters, fixtures, appliances and a cabinet refinish at minimum if not new ones entirely - a costly adventure to be sure and we had just gone through all that when we moved here to Allentown - buying a home that needed TLC from the onset.

We managed to pull two from the remains of those homes that we tossed aside in favor of stronger candidates (all of which were now gone, with the exception of this one). We spent a few hours going back and forth between them. We had one really nice, large, updated home in a nice neighborhood. The commute was longest of the three and there was no pool, but there was a community pool. We had one in a great area with great schools which was down the street from a huge community and aquatics center and this one HAD a pool AND a 3-car garage. The problem was it was small. It was 2200 square feet and no basement (there are NO basements in DFW due to the soil conditions). The third was our home on the short list - a contemporary brick ranch, in an awesome wooded neighborhood in Grapevine. It had a three-car garage, nice landscaping, had been tastefully updated in most all the rooms and was very unique in the layout and design. It wasn't so unique that it was weird or would be a difficult resale, but just enough that it was appealing to us after seeing so many cookie-cutter homes. There was the issue with no pools and the kitchen rehab, but in the end after we weighed it all out, we decided that we should snatch this one up before it, too was grabbed out of our hands.

We called Brooke and told her what we wanted to do and she went about making it happen. She still had the other blank set of contract forms and the blank check we had signed the day before. A few hours went by and she called us to say that the agent had contacted her to inform her that another party that looked at the home over a week ago had decided they were going to make an offer as well. Dottie and I did not want to go back for another go round of house hunting. It didn't make any sense because we pretty much had exhausted the inventory and had a high degree of confidence that there wasn't anything left that we had not seen or considered. In an effort to get to the chase, we made a full price offer on the house and asked for nothing in the initial offer with the exception of a home warranty. We sat on pins and needles until the next morning when we found out that it was ours - they had accepted our offer over the other one.

Here are some photos: 3029 Ridgebend Drive, Grapevine, Texas

Next blog - Inspections and ticking clocks

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Looking for a place to call Home

I have been going down to Dallas pretty much on a weekly basis since the end of January. In all those weeks I had no time to go site-seeing and get the lay of the land. A couple of weeks ago, Dottie drove back to Indiana to visit the family and on that same day I flew out a day early so that I could spend Monday in Dallas trying to get an idea of the surroundings and to figure out where we might want to live. We had been doing a great deal of shopping on the Internet using the North Texas Real Estate Information System. It is a powerful search utility that taps into the entire North Texas database of MLS listings. Using this and Google Maps (in Satellite mode), you can type in the address and not only see an actual satellite view from 100,000 feet to down around 500 feet off the ground, but in many cases there is also a street-level view that allows you to see everything around the house and as much of the neighborhood as you want to scroll through. It's not like being there, but it does allow one to throw out a lot of listings due to what you can see that is around them. Basically, it allows for superior screening. For example, we found several nice homes and we would have wasted our time driving to them only to find out that they were behind warehouses, chicken farms, big ugly ancient baptist temples, shopping malls and redneck neighbors.

So, on my free day of wandering through the north DFW metroplex, I went armed with information. I had put together a list of homes in various neighborhoods from the search process listed above. I have a GPS which has a companion website where I can put addresses into my profile on the web and then it downloads to my GPS. Once on the road, I'd only have to drive where the cranky old lady inside the box told me to (if you have ever owned or used a GPS, you know what I am talking about).

I set my clock for 5am on Monday and my plan was to drive all the way out to the farthest community we had been considering, which was Keller, and time it so I drive in to the office during rush hour. This would give me an idea of what I was looking at for commute time.

Up at 5:18...snooze bar x2...which begs the question - why nine minutes? Why can't it be 10 or 15? Better yet, how about a 30 minute snooze bar? Anything less is just a major annoyance...but wait...maybe that is THE POINT! Anyway, I get dressed and head down to the lobby of the hotel. The company has a corporate rate at a really awesome Marriott across the street from the office and they have a Starbucks in the lobby. I head off the elevator, my head in a fog and I can almost taste the 4-shot latte. I round the corner and the counter is closed. Bummer. I am too early...imagine that. But of course there are Starbucks on every corner anymore. I was a bit annoyed because it took me almost 10 minutes before I came across one. On a semi-related note - try going to Toronto and find a corner where there isn't a donut shop. There are many within eye shot of another.

So I get to Keller in about 25 minutes - longer than I had hoped but within my 30 minute tolerance window for a commute. I turn around and it's pushing 7:15 - perfect. The drive back took almost 40 minutes - and without incidents - only traffic. My understanding is that on mornings when there is an accident, it can take upwards of an hour or more.

I spent the rest of the day driving around the towns of Coppell, Keller, Southlake, Colleyville and Trophy Club. I spent the most time in Keller as that is where the most homes in our price range were. The problem with Keller is it is growing faster than the infrastructure that supports it. This is not only true of the roads but of the schools as well. It's like Fishers or Avon on steroids, only with nicer homes. Which reminds don't find any vinyl down here. Everything is brick and stone. You'll find the occaisional wood back-side or cement board, but mostly it's all brick. This has much to do with the amount of sand available (primary component of brick manufacturing) and also the fact that labor is cheap and the brick mason trade is still huge here.

At the end of the day, I had a pretty good handle on the towns around the office. I had ruled out Coppell and Colleyville, mostly due to the age and style of the homes and the communities weren't planned all that well. Southlake was very desirable, but not likely due to the cost of housing there. It is much like Carmel with the majority of homes just out of reach for the average family. That left us with Keller, Grapevine and Flower Mound and we decided to focus our search there.

I spent the next two days in meetings and then flew home to Indy where I spent some very compressed time with our family and a few friends and then we all drove back home on Saturday. We spent two days at home getting ready for real estate agents to come out and do interviews so we could get the home on the market asap.

Next till you drop...