Another quick update – sort of unrelated to REI

I’m still working on my B-school application.  GMAT books no longer decorate my kitchen table.  I’m no longer pondering “if X = y*sin(xy)+tan(z), What is the value of C?”**  It took my brain about two days to fully recover from the GMAT exam that I took on Saturday.  PSU’s average is 645, I scored a 660 (I’m slightly better than average mom!)  I’m now recovered and pounding the keyboard, writing my essays.

Everything is due Friday.  I’m trying to wrap everything up by tomorrow (Thursday), just so that in case I miss something, I’ve got 24 hours to correct any oversight.

The flip is SLOWLY moving forward.  The carpeting is ordered (measurements on June 2), basement is mostly clean, yard has been trimmed back (Thanks Rick!), and I should be able to start painting trim on Friday night (I’ll have a 6-pack of a really good IPA if anyone wants to join me).

Other than that, I fixed a sink drain and hose bib this past weekend.  The home owner had ‘repaired’ the drain with packing tape (!).  The hose bib was a crazy amalgamation of CPVC, galvanized, copper and one black iron coupling.  Yes, it was a mess.  All those various types of pipe were found in a 1′ run of pipe.  I cut that mess out and took the wuss’s way out: I used Shark Bites for my ball valve and female FTP connector.  So much for my nice MAP gas torch.

But it was quick.

In about ten minutes, I had shut off the water, removed the bad pipe, installed the new pipe and turned the water back on.  The expense for the Shark Bite connections are totally worth it.  Had I used typical solder connections, I would have been there for at least thirty minutes.

Back to writing essays…


**Not a real question on the GMAT


Quick update – Unrelated to REI

IMG_20140519_204634210  (That is a very random framing square on my papers…and has nothing to do with the rest of this post)

Hey all, I just wanted to apologize for not getting any posts out recently.  Between some recent travel and an opportunity that presented itself, I’ve been in deep.  I recently had a friend graduate from PSU’s MBA program.  My friend was pragmatic about the program but he felt it opened a bunch of doors for him.  I had been on the fence about going back to school but after working on my budget and looking at the next 3-5 years, I realized that my current day job does not leave enough wiggle room for me to breathe easy and I have no recourse in case of a disaster.

I looked into the MBA program and the deadline to submit an application was April 2014.  I had missed the deadline, so I decided I would put the proverbial nose to the grindstone and pick up any overtime I could, any extra hours working in crappy conditions just for the ‘crappy conditions’ bonus that our company pays and use that money to save and/or pay down some minor debts (outstanding debts on some rental properties…this post isn’t ENTIRELY devoid of REI news!).

The GMAT exam is required for the application process.  I took that test almost 10 years ago and failed miserably.  I thought I had four or five months to study to take the test to make the October application deadline…no sweat, right?

For whatever reason, I decided to look at the application four days ago.  At the top of the page, not quite in bold, but definitely called out was the announcement “The application filing deadline has been extended to June 1”.  You can read into that announcement what you want, but I look at that as an opportunity to get my application in and maybe start school in August.

So, after I saw the program was accepting applications until June 1, I ordered the GMAT prep book, got two-day delivery and took a practice test (and didn’t do so hot).  So, I’ve put myself on an information diet of the following:

4.45am – Wake up
4.59am – Put the coffee on – make it strong
5.00 – 7am – Study
7am – 7.40am – get ready for the day job (shower [if necessary], eat breakfast, etc.)
5-6pm – Return from work
6-7pm – Eat dinner, relax and prepare for studying
7-10pm – Study
10pm – Sleep

It’s going to be a rough week, but the test is this Saturday, applications are due by June 1 and a decision should be made by June 30.  This may be a crazier year than I expected.

Blast from the past

Need more proof the past repeats itself?

“Although interest rates have subsided from the 1981-82 peak, the low and slowly changing interest rates of former years are plainly gone with the wind, as are the former government decreed limits on interest rate competition for savings accounts and the favoritism for [investment institutions] over banks. But an agency of the U.S. Government (…) continues to insure savings accounts in the [investment institution] industry, just as it did before. The result may well be bolder and bolder conduct by many [investment institutions]. A sort of Gresham’s Law (“bad loan practice drives out good”) may take effect for fully competitive but deposit-insured institutions, through increased copying by cautions institutions of whatever apparent-high-yield loan and investment strategies seem to allow competitors to bid away their savings accounts and yet report substantial earnings. If so, if “bold conduct drives our conservative conduct,” there eventually could be widespread insolvencies caused by bold credit extensions come to grief.

Sound familiar?  Banking ‘crisis’ of 2007 maybe?  This was a letter from Charlie Munger to shareholders of Wesco in 1984.  My use of ‘investment institutions’ was a replacement for ‘savings and loan’ in Mr. Munger’s letter.

Ignore history at your own peril.


Granite Counter top installation

The house that I’m flipping is located about 20 miles from Penn State.  The town is a former timber baron town and when the timber boom ended in the early 1900’s, the town started a slow ‘drift’ downward.  Homes were purchased as investments but the owners never improved the homes (or even kept up with the maintenance).  As a result, many properties have been run into the ground.

As the housing recovery has picked up steam, the homes in the town of State College (home of Penn State) have continued on a steep upward trajectory.  For example, my wife and I looked to purchase a townhouse in 2005.  Most townhouses then listed for between $100k and $110k.  Townhouses now won’t list for less than $150k; if they do, they need significant amounts of work.  Single family homes don’t list for less than $200k.  The $200k will buy a 2/1 in a busy area of town.

I purchased the house to flip in one of the surrounding towns, Philipsburg.  Philipsburg is becoming a bedroom community for State College.  Homes can still be purchased for sub-$100k, meaning you can own a home and pay $500-$600/month for PITI.  As State College becomes more expensive, many people are looking for less expensive housing options, so they are considering Philipsburg.  At my day job, I am receiving many more phone calls from Philipsburg for construction estimates.  Many of the people calling are Penn State faculty or staff.

There has been a marketplace shift to solid counter tops (granite, quartz, etc).  As such, while Philipsburg doesn’t necessarily lend itself to granite counters, I want to attract a buyer that doesn’t want to spend much each month on housing, but has a nice house.

Solid counters can be expensive, sometimes as much as $40 – $60/sf.  I didn’t want to spend that kind of money on counter tops but wanted the quality so my business partner and I decided to handle the granite fabrication ourselves.  My partner has worked with soapstone in the past, but never granite which is significantly harder.  We figured good technique will yield good results.

I located slabs of granite for about $14/sf.  These slabs were edged on three sides (one side is against the wall) and had a polished top.  Granite is not a light weight material and each slab is about 225lbs or so and measure 26″ x 78″ x 1.25″.



To get familiar with granite, we decided the easiest cuts would be straight cuts for the counter top material around the stove/range:



We built a temporary work space on two wooden pallets.  There was a space between the pallets for our straight edge guide for the cuts.

After getting the pallets set and the slab on the pallets, I taped the bottom of my circular saw so the metal plate wouldn’t scratch the granite.  We simply used masking tape for this.

My partner then set the a piece of tape on the slab, running approximately where the cut would occur.  We did this to reduce tear out from the granite.  I’m not sure how much this actually helped, but it probably helped a little.



Once the tape was in place, my partner marked the location of the cut.  We then set the guide fence off of the cut line.


We set the cut depth on the saw almost as shallow as it would go for the first few cuts.  We wanted to reduce tear out or chipping of the granite itself.  The saw we used is a standard Rigid worm drive saw, which, as my partner pointed out, isn’t grounded.  To keep stone cool and reduce dust, we add a little water.  Water and electricity don’t mix too well.  We didn’t have any problems, but it was something for us to be aware of while we cut.

The slab is 1.25″ thick.  To cut through this, we took about 10 progressively deeper cuts through the stone.

We cut from the finished face of the stone.  We did this to reduce any potential blow out on the face side.  As we finished the second cut of the day, we did experience some blow out of the back side of the stone, which doesn’t matter because no one will ever see that.  The cut edge is a little rough and isn’t rounded over like a factory edge, but all in all, our plan worked.

Here is a shot of the partially finished product: