We’re about to become real estate investors!

As part of our efforts to achieve financial independence and retire early, Ken and I have been talking for several years now about purchasing some rental properties. Within the past year or so, we’ve started to do a lot more formal research on the topic, and over the holidays, we even scheduled a few property viewings with a realtor.  

Over Christmas, we found a duplex that we liked and we’re planning to put in an offer. We’d be long distance property owners (but I’m familiar with the area as it’s the neighborhood that I grew up in and that my dad still lives in), so we’d have to use a property management company.  The neighborhood is not the greatest, but the rental market is strong.

Real estate appreciation in that area is negligible, and doesn’t really outpace inflation.  So this purchase would definitely be about acquiring an “income stream” as opposed to buying and holding a house and hoping for some decent appreciation. Because that would be very unlikely.  This area was even pretty immune to the housing bubble of the 2004-2007 era.

The duplex we’re looking at already has tenants, so we’re currently doing some due diligence communications with the seller’s realtor, asking for copies of leases, payment histories, and permits for previous house renovations, as the current owner put in extensive renovations since purchasing it about 5 years ago.

We’re anxious to put in an offer, but we are resisting that urge before we have all the information we need!

This will very much be a learn-by-doing process.  However, it’s not totally uninformed.  Ken and I have both read a few books on the topic (which I realize doesn’t make us experts by any stretch. But, we found that books were a lot more helpful than the voluminous, yet disjointed information all over the internet.)

We met with a lawyer to discuss, for instance, whether he’d recommend setting up an LLC, or whether an umbrella insurance policy would be sufficient.  And, although we had read in several places that getting a mortgage is usually the best bet for a return-on-investment for rental properties, I wanted to hear the lawyer’s thoughts on whether he recommended paying up front, or whether we should get a mortgage (“Mortgage as much as you can!” was his response). For what it’s worth, the houses we’re looking at are VERY inexpensive, that’s why we could consider paying for it in its entirety!

My sister and her family currently rent out their old home that they own, and she uses a property manager as well.  Their house isn’t far from the house that Ken and I are considering putting in an offer on, so we’ll likely use the same property management company.

So, we’ll be documenting our first foray into rental property investing.  This will also be the first home I buy (Ken bought the house we live in now before we got married).  We’ve decided that I would just be on the mortgage for this house, with the idea being that we’ll acquire more rental properties over the years, and we’ll likely want to “split” the mortgage amounts on our credit reports in an effort to get approved for more.

I’ll also be interested to see that, as a frequent credit card churner, if any additional explanations will be required about why I always have so many credit inquiries on my credit report, and why I have so many open accounts! I don’t carry any credit card balances, so it doesn’t affect my debt-to-income ratio or anything, but I have read anecdotes online that the multiple credit inquiries sometimes attract additional questions.

So much going through my mind!

Do any of you have rental properties?  Any last minute tips before we put in an offer?

Using Paintable Wallpaper to Cover Wood Paneling

Covering Wood Paneling with Paintable Wallpaper


In my Basement Renovation introduction post, I outlined the COUNTLESS (okay, you can count them – five) options we considered regarding our faux wood paneled walls in our basement.

We ended up going the route of paintable wallpaper, and I cannot begin to tell you how pleased we are with the results! (P.S., We bought our paintable wallpaper from Amazon here.)

 

Covering Wood Paneling with Paintable Wallpaper

Once we decided on paintable wallpaper, I contacted three local wallpaper contractors that I found on Angie’s list.

  • The first contractor essentially laughed at our suggestion via email, saying that that wallpapering over paneling would not work.
  • The second contractor at least stopped by to provide an estimate. He said that he could wallpaper over the paneling, but that we’d still have to fill in the grooves with spackle or drywall mud. As I mentioned in the previous post in this series, that would have been a tremendous amount of time and work. I told the contractor that I thought the wallpaper would cover the paneling grooves well enough, but he said that it wouldn’t work. Whelp, that wasn’t encouraging.
  • A third contractor stopped by to provide an estimate. He said that he had never worked with paintable wallpaper, but he was willing to give it a try. Since, as part of our renovation, we were planning on ripping out our basement bar which also had wood paneling, he offered to put up a piece of wallpaper right there on the bar. If it didn’t look nice, it wouldn’t make a difference since the bar would be gone in a few days anyway. He wet the wallpaper in our laundry sink, waited a few moments, and then attached a small strip to the wood paneled bar. ** “Wow,” he said, “this is great stuff.” We could immediately tell that it covered the grooves just fine. We decided to proceed with this contractor. He took some measurements of the room and told us how many rolls of wallpaper to buy.

It’s worth noting that we had this work done in September 2015. So, as of the time of writing this, we’re now 17 months past the wallpaper installation. And it still looks just as fantastic as when it went in!

There are a lot more “before” photos in our intro post, but here are some of the paneled walls again, just for reference:

Basement wood paneling Wood paneled walls in basement

Then, the wallpaper installation began.

Covering wood paneling with paintable wallpaper Installing wallpaper over wood paneling Wallpapering over wood paneling Contractors hanging paintable wallpaper Paintable wallpaper installation

It was an incredible transformation to witness. Even before the wallpaper was painted, our basement looked like an entirely new room.

Room with paintable wallpaper - not yet painted Room with paintable wallpaper - not yet painted Room with paintable wallpaper - not yet painted

I’m not sure how necessary this step is, but just thought I’d share it in case others are considering the same option. After the wallpaper was up, the installers decided to cover the seams of the wallpaper with a little bit of caulking. I think this was to help in case the wallpaper shrunk a bit as it dried.

The instructions on the wallpaper said to give it 72 hours to dry before applying paint. So, three days later the contractors showed back up to paint the wallpaper!

Painting the paintable wallpaper Painting the paintable wallpaper Painting the paintable wallpaper Painting the paintable wallpaper

Like I mentioned at the beginning of this post, it’s now been nearly 18 months since having this work done, and it still looks so fantastic. Just for absolute disclosure though, there is one teeny tiny portion of paneling that is visible under the wallpaper. So, I never had looked very closely at our paneling, but apparently paneling is installed in pieces that are several feet wide. Where these pieces “join,” there is a slightly larger groove than the normal part of the paneling. THAT thicker groove, every 5 feet or so, is ever so slightly visible under the wallpaper.

Here’s our attempt to photograph the deeper groove:

Visible groove in wood paneling under wallpaper Paintable wallpaper

But seriously though, that’s probably only visible to us because we know it’s there. It still doesn’t change our mind that the paintable wallpaper was the easiest and most cost effective option (for the style impact it has) for our basement! And we haven’t had any trouble with the wallpaper settling into any of the regular grooves.

** Here is the sample that the contractor installed on our wood paneled bar before we removed it. We also then used that spot to identify paint samples we’d eventually want to use on the walls.

Paint samples on paintable wallpaper

If anyone is in the DC / Northern Virginia area and would like to pursue this option, message me and I can send along the contractor’s info.  They were great.

Do you have a 1970s era wood paneled room in your house? Did you do anything to cover or replace the paneling? What option did you use?

 

Covering Wood Paneling Using Paintable Wallpaper

Friday Randomness 1-6-17

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  • Happy new year everybody!  I hope everyone had a great holiday.  Ken and I went to Pittsburgh to visit with my family for almost a week, and then had a belated Christmas Day celebration with Ken’s family from Baltimore at our house on New Year’s Day.  Did you have any holiday travels?
  • We got an Amazon Echo and two Echo dots for Christmas!  We’ve been having a blast with these.  Perhaps most entertaining is how our 3.5 year old niece and 20-month-old nephew have caught on fast that trying to yell “ALEXA!” can trigger a response. However, neither of them can quite pronounce “Alexa” correctly to get it to turn on.  Well, really, our 20-month-old nephew was just baby-talking at it the whole time.  
  • Back over the summer, I got a new car! It’s a Ford that has Sync 3, and I’m very excited about the prospect of asking Alexa to start up my car.  It’s my first car with remote start, but I can’t get used to starting my car up in the morning to warm it up! I’ve tried to work it into my morning routine, but I keep forgetting! Maybe if it integrates with Alexa, I’ll remember!  
  • Please take a look at these enormous vultures that were pecking at one of our community’s trash pickup spots.  I’ve never seen these around here before! Literally the one is taller than the trash bag.  

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  • I finished the entire season of The Crown on Netflix.  I thought that was a really fantastic show! Highly recommend. Although I feel a little guilty now that most of my historical “knowledge” about King George VI comes from watching the King’s Speech and now The Crown.  Seems like a legit way of learning, no?  
  • My commute home on metro yesterday was absolutely brutal.  After searching twitter to see what other people had to say about Metro/WMATA, I definitely wasn’t the only one!  These tweets made me laugh out loud.  

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Have a good weekend!

Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa Review | Pools, Lounging, Restaurants, etc.

In Part 1, I covered our one bedroom suite at the Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa, the lobby, and some of the outdoor seating areas.

But now, let’s get to the REALLY fun parts of the hotel!

The Pools, the “Ramblin River,” and Outdoor Lounging

We spent the vast majority of our time in the pools with our niece and nephew. The pools were huge, relaxing, and had plenty of free inner tubes to lazily float along the ramblin river endlessly.

Pools at Hyatt Hill Country Pools at Hyatt Hill Country Pools at Hyatt Hill Country Pools at Hyatt Hill Country

This “beach” area was especially popular, and allowed for a shallow water area for kids to play and splash.

Beach at Hyatt Hill Country Beach at Hyatt Hill Country Beach at Hyatt Hill Country

There was also a very large hot tub:

Large hot tub

As well as a kiddie pool:

Kiddie pool at Hyatt Hill Country

And an adults only pool, which I’m pretty sure was empty the entire time we were there. (P.S., the pool is Texas-shaped).

Adult pool at hotel

One of the favorites of my three-year-old niece? The waterslide!

Water slide at Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa Water slide at Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa Water slide at Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa

There were plenty of outdoor lounge chairs, as well as cabanas available for a rental fee.

Lounge chairs near pool Outdoor lounging area at hotel pool Cabana rental option

Evening S’mores and Outdoor Movies

Every night, the hotel hosted free evening s’mores at a huge fire pit. Everything about the s’mores was free (marshmallow, graham cracker, chocolate, etc.). Unlike, for instance, Disney resorts that let you roast the marshmallow for free but charge for the chocolate and graham crackers.

Firepit for s’mores Firepit at hotel S’mores area from a distance S’mores table

The staff on hand even removed the marshmallows from the sticks so that your hands didn’t have to get all sticky. Their technique was pretty amazing! They slide it off by pushing it between two graham crackers.

S’mores night at hotel

Then, on some evenings, there were outdoor movie showings (it appeared that these were mostly on the weekends. We were there in May, so I’m not sure if that changes as the season progresses.)

Outdoor movies at Hyatt Hill Country

Other Miscellaneous Activities and Amenities

There was a good size playground for younger kiddos. My 3 year old niece was a fan of this place!

Playground at Hyatt Hill Country

There were also free bicycles to use, both adult and children’s sizes. There was even a trunk full of helmets to use.

Bicycles to use at hotel Helmets for bicycles at Hyatt Hill Country

Also much appreciated were these free drinking water stations all around the grounds. Perfect for that hot Texas weather.

Water dispensing station at Hyatt Hill Country

There was also a surfing / wave rider type thing, but it’s worth noting that this is an extra charge.

Wave rider

And, if volleyball is your thing, there was a beach volleyball setup on the resort grounds as well:

Beach volleyball court at Hyatt Hill Country

We also found a fun little arcade at the resort as well. Ken and my nephew spent some time playing arcade games and air hockey here!

Arcade at Hyatt Hill Country Arcade at Hyatt Hill Country

I also thought these little “selfie spot” stickers were fun!

Selfie spot mark

Food and Dining at Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa

We ate at the resort for about half of our meals. I found the meals to be relatively reasonbly priced, perhaps a bit over what you’d pay for breakfast at a normal (non hotel, non resort) restaurant. But definitely MUCH MUCH cheaper than, for example, my New York City $34 plate of spaghetti room service debacle, which Ken still never lets me live down. And, for instance, our $30 plate of pancakes at the Park Hyatt Moscow. So, you won’t go broke eating at the Hyatt Hill Country. Unfortunately I didn’t get many photos of the restaurants and meals, but I was pleased with all of them. My family especially like the sports bar, where my dad could watch hockey games and basketball games, my nephew tried his hand at billiards, and the music was loud enough that nobody noticed if my niece was being, ummm, boisterous.

There were also outdoor food (and drink, including alcoholic beverages) options, so you never had to venture far from the pool if you didn’t want to.

Outdoor restaurants at hotel Outdoor restaurants at hotel Outdoor restaurants at hotel

Other Miscellaneous Photos of the Hyatt Hill Country

And finally, here are a few miscellaneous photos from around the Hyatt Hill Country resort and spa that don’t necessarily fit into any of the above headers!

Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa Grounds Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa Grounds Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa Grounds Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa Grounds Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa Grounds Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa Grounds Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa Grounds Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa Grounds Hyatt Hill Country Resort and Spa Grounds

Overall, we had a really great time. I’d love to visit it again, or perhaps a similar property, the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines. I’ve also read a lot about they Hyatt Regency Lost Pines over at one of my favorite points-and-miles bloggers, Mommy Points!

 

Have you ever been to the Hyatt Hill Country?  Or what about a resort similar to it?  If so, let me know, I’m dying to try out some other places like it!

Ruby Princess | Cabin Review | Mini Suite and Accessible Staterooms


Ken and I had booked a mini suite with a balcony on the Ruby Princess. This was our third cruise together. On our first cruise (a Caribbean cruise), we had a balcony. But on our second cruise (a Mediterranean cruise), we had opted for no balcony to save some money. We really regretted the decision on that cruise. So we decided that for all cruises in the future, we’d book a balcony.

This review will cover our mini suite, as well as a handicapped accessible, obstructed view outside cabin that my dad booked. My sister and her family also booked a mini suite, so no separate review is required there! My sister and I decided to book cabins nearby one another on the same deck, but on opposite sides of the ship (one on port, one on starboard). That way, regardless of the side of the ship with the best scenery, we’d have access to a balcony!

Review of Mini Suite onboard the Ruby Princess

This was the view of the room immediately upon entry. The small doorway on the left leads to the closet and the bathroom door.

View of Mini Suite o the Ruby Princess

And here was the closet. There was a hanging part of the closet, as well as tons of shelving behind the mirrored doors.

Closet in the Ruby Princess Mini Suite Shelves in the mini suite | Ruby Princess review

The bathroom was basic, but had plenty of countertop storage space, as well as some small shelf space too. The mini suite had a shower / tub combo.

Bathroom in mini suite Sink and countertop in mini suite bathroom on Ruby Princess

I wish there was a little more space for shampoo and soap bottles in the shower, but I feel like those tiny shelves are pretty standard in all accommodations these days. Boo.

Shower and tub in the mini suite

The queen size bed was comfortable, and there was a desk area right next to the bed. The desk doubled as the nightstand for the one side of the bed.

Queen bed in Mini Suite Desk in mini suite

The other side of the bed had a small nightstand with two drawers.

nightstand in mini suite

The “seating area” also had plenty of storage, along with a small couch, a sitting chair, and a small coffee table.

Sitting area in mini suite Sitting area in mini suite Sitting area in mini suite

The storage area was great for things like charging our cameras and cell phones, and we kept things like bottled water and sodas on the lower shelves (that we had brought with us onboard the ship).

Storage shelves in seating area

And, of course, the balcony! There were two small chairs and a small table on the balcony.

Balcony on the Ruby Princess mini suite

It’s worth noting that we were on the Emerald deck. Not all ship cabin balconies have fully covered “roofs.” We definitely wanted to be on a deck where our balcony was fully covered, to shield us from the rainy Alaska weather as much as possible. We were really lucky and only had one day of rain, but I’d still recommend the fully covered balconies.

Here are a few other miscellanous photos of the cabin, just from other angles.

Mini Suite onboard the Princess Ruby | Cabin review Mini Suite onboard the Princess Ruby | Cabin review Mini Suite onboard the Princess Ruby | Cabin review

Ruby Princess Accessible Cabin Review (Outside cabin, obstructed view)

My dad was going on this cruise, and since he has some pretty extensive mobility problems these days, we booked him an accessible room. It had large open floor space in between the furniture, a no-threshold shower, and plenty of grab bars in the shower and next to the toilet.

Bed and seating area in cabin Bedroom in accessible cabin | Ruby Princess

There was plenty of room for the motorized scooter that we rented for the duration of the cruise.

Plenty of room for motorized scooter

The storage was low to the ground, with the exception of the safe that was higher up in the closet. Luckily my dad can still stand up and everything just fine, it’s just something to keep in mind if traveling with somebody who can’t stand at all.

Desk area in handicapped accessible cabin

The bathroom was fantastically spacious and easy for my dad to get around in.

Accessible bathroom in Ruby Princess Cabin Accessible bathroom in Ruby Princess Cabin

Like I mentioned, there were plenty of grab bars in the shower, as well as a good size bench for him to sit on. (Which was good for the two fairly rough seas days we encountered).

Bench seat in accessible shower

I also liked that there was a “help” button next to the toilet.

Help button in accessible cabin

Although it’s not the best picture, hopefully this gives an idea of the “obstructed view.” Basically right outside the window is a deck walking area (in other words, the window port hole is not directly on the side of the ship). There was also a lifeboat right outside the railing of the walking area. But, at least you get sunlight in your cabin! It was only a few dollars more than an inside cabin.

Obstructed view port hole on Ruby Princess

The only real complaint about the room was that the door to the room was incredibly heavy, just like all the other cabin doors. That made it really difficult for my dad to open the door, which opened inward toward the room, and maneuver his way out the door on his scooter. It would have been really nice to have a button that would automatically open the door for a few seconds to give him a chance to get out the door without having to try and open it.

One other minor complaint. Like most cruise ships, the cabin/stateroom hallways and corridors are very narrow. And throughout most of the day, cabin stewards keep cleaning carts along the walls of the corridors as they clean the cabins in the morning and do things like turn down the beds in the evening. When these cleaning carts were in the hallway, which was much of the waking hours, my dad had an incredibly difficult time moving around the hallways. Luckily my dad’s room was right by the elevators, but sometimes it was more convenient to use another elevator bank, or if he was coming to our cabin or my sister’s cabin.

Anyway, I don’t think that is specific to Princess cruise lines, and it’s definitely nothing I had noticed on previous cruises, but that was only because I was never traveling with somebody who had mobility problems before.

In the next post in this series, I’ll cover a review of the ship and the ship amenities, like the pools, restaurants, and bars!