2017 Update: Grocery Delivery in Columbus: Is it possible?

In 2011 we reviewed (See options #1 and #2 there) the more convenient grocery shopping options offered by Meijer (then called "Grocery Express") at their Westerville store and The Hills Market (Home Delivery Service) which is still available.  Meijer has since changed the name of their Grocery Express service to "Curbside" and no longer offers it in Columbus at any stores.  Interestingly, Meijer now has a "Shipt" service that appears to rival the home delivery service offered by The Hills Market (I guess they read our blog post).  We will have to test out Shipt soon.

We recently did a test of Kroger's "Clicklist" service.  This is basically the same as Meijer's old "Grocery Express" and new "Curbside" service.  Here is how Clicklist went:

Semi-Option #3: Kroger Clicklist

Description: With this service, you go online and pick out the groceries you need (normal online shopping here), pick a one hour window when you can pick them up at the store.  When you arrive in your one hour window, there are designated Clicklist parking spots.  In front of the parking spots there are signs with a phone number.  You call the number and tell them your name.  A few minutes later, a Kroger employee brings the groceries out to your car and places them in your trunk.  The items are bagged and placed in one of 2 color coded bins (cooled and non-cooled bins).

Cost: First 3 are free, $5 for each trip after that.

Conclusion: The Kroger online store is EXCELLENT!  Not only is it nicely arranged and easy to use (many websites, even in 2017, are bad) but if you utilize a Kroger card, it knows what you bought during previous shopping trips and throws those things on the main page for easy re-selection! I spent about 20 minutes during my initial online shopping trip (mostly browsing) but this will take probably half this time next time.  

I came to the store half way through my 1 hour window.  From the time I parked to the time I drove away was 14 minutes.  If the items you selected are not available, they substitute at no additional charge.  If there is no substitute, well, you don't get that item.  They provide you a print-out summarizing the changes (both substitutions and which items were not available).  

This service (and likely a much better version) is the future. Picture an Amazon warehouse with robots picking your groceries off racks and loading them into a bin which is hand delivered to your car.  Unless you need groceries urgently, you should never go in the grocery store again (by using Clicklist of course). Happy grocery shopping!

The REAL Cost of Owning a Home

The age old debate, buy vs. rent.  The media loves dwelling on this issue. The decision is faced by all of us at some point.   In our "Renter to Homeowner - Outdoor Yard Tasks" we laid out every cost we could think of that a homeowner would incur on the outside of their home. Now we'll visit the interior and core ownership costs.

A few key points before we begin:

  • There is a certain level of spending which is required to keep a home at what we'll call par-value.  Many homeowners choose to avoid this spending as they simply can't afford it. Hopefully they find this post before their next home purchase.  This is largely where "flip" properties come from.
  • The home considered in this post is a conventionally financed single family property. We'll assume a typical suburban yard and a total home market valuation of $175k.
  • A detailed financial analysis (We've done one ourselves) comparing home ownership costs with rent payments will almost always show that the major deciding factor is home appreciation/depreciation.  A renter does not see the upside or downside of home market values.  If you buy a home, the only way you will save money over renting is if your home appreciates.  I like to say that renting is like buying insurance.  This insurance protects you from the potential downside of market valuation and the large investments occasionally required by homeowners.
  • Optional costs like phone, internet, dog walking, etc.. will be ignored here as they are the same as the renter would pay.  (Unless your landlord throws in free dog walking!)
  • Some of the monthly costs listed below to cover an entire category are based on our extensive database of property operating costs. 

Now to the costs..... 

To purchase your home, you will have to pay "closing costs".  This money pays for the professionals needed to transfer the property to you and prepare your loan.  These costs are variable and are typically in the range of $2000 to $5000.  Many people do not think about these costs as if they were spread out over every month the home is owned.  If the home is owned for 7 years, this cost is approximately $42 a month.  This thinking is where the banks came up with A.P.R. concept. 

Once purchased, your approximate $1300 monthly payment to the bank will cover the following items: 

  1. Property Taxes (Paid to your local city/county by the bank, in Ohio this is mostly for school costs)
  2. Homeowners Insurance (What we like to call "Fire" insurance, as it does not really cover much else) 
  3. Interest payment on your loan (Paid to the bank for loaning you the money)
  4. Principal payment on your loan (To pay down the amount owed to the bank)

Once owned here are the costs you will incur moving forward on the interior of the house:

Repairs ($90 a month)

  • Fireplaces
  • Appliances
  • Electrical Fixtures
  • Furnace / Air Conditioner
  • Water Heater
  • Electrical System
  • Sump Pumps
  • Plumbing
  • Garage Doors and Openers
  • Drywall

Maintenance ($40 a month)

  • Furnace Filters
  • Water Heater Annode Rods
  • AC System Re-Charges
  • Fireplace sweep
  • Door and Window Hardware upkeep
  • Fire Extingushers
  • Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors
  • Lightbulbs
  • Pest Control
  • Alarm Systems

Improvements ($120 a month)

  • Windows
  • Paint
  • Carpet
  • Flooring
  • Cabinets
  • Fixtures
  • Energy Improvements (Insulation, Air Sealing) 

Time -  Awww, yes.  It will be you dealing with the above repairs, maintenance and improvements.  No landlord to be found.  Let's assume you spend an hour a month dealing with these issues. ($50 a month)

Utilities  - Water, Sewer, Trash, Electric and Gas.  These will be roughly the same as the renter and will typically costs you around $300 a month.

Cleaning - These costs and/or time are arguably the same as the renter would incur. The average cleaning company charges 10 cents per square foot per month for cleaning services.  We'll assume $175 a month for our example.

Appreciation / Depreciation - The house will have to be sold eventually.  When it is, the change in market value must be faced.  A depreciated home will force you to sell the property for less than you paid.  Appreciation is where home ownership pays off as discussed above.  We'll assume +/- 2 % per year for our example ($290 a month).

Summary

Lets ignore utilities (equal for the renter) and add up the monthly cost.  We'll add in $160 a month for outdoor costs as discussed in a previous post linked above:

42 + 1300 + 90 + 40 + 120 + 50 + 175 + 160 +/- 290  =  $1,977 +/- 290.  

 We have always heard that you should count on out of pocket costs equaling 150% of your mortgage payment.  In this case 150% of $1,300 is $1,950.  We believe this is a good rule of thumb.  As you can see, the appreciation or depreciation of 290 can make a big dent in your monthly costs.  When considering buying a home you must think about this market value fluctuation risk.

As you can see here, the worst case monthly cost could be $2,267.  This is significantly more than the $1,300 mortgage payment.   Alternatively, the best case monthly cost will only run you $1,687.  Not bad and probably less than renting (We would charge around $1750 monthly rent for the home described here).

Happy house hunting!

 

Housing Quality of Life: It's the Little Things

Truly, it's the little things that can make or break a new residence. Don't be caught unaware when looking for your next home. Many issues aren't immediately obvious, and you can be sure the listing or leasing agent won't be pointing them out.

Here's a list of things to keep any eye out for:

  • Ease of highway access.
  • Neighborhood street surface quality.
  • Traffic levels during different times of the day and days of the week.
  • Sidewalks: Is the neighborhood car-centric or pedestrian-centric? Are the sidewalks well-maintained?
  • Shade quantity.
  • Ambient noise levels (explore this during multiple times of the day. Beware of intersections with stop signs or traffic lights - accelerating vehicles are LOUD, motorcycles are worse). Also drunks.
  • Ambient light levels: Nonexistant or overbright street lighting, or a neighbor's 24h floodlight).
  • Upcoming nearby construction projects (road or development).
  • Window size, quantity, and quality.
  • Shared walls (a la apartments/condos) are a mixed bag. It feels better in winter (less heat loss), but noise can be a concern.
  • Age and quality of mechanicals and appliances.
  • Power outlet (3 prong?) locations and quantity. GFCIs near water.
  • Natural and artificial light sources and quantity.
  • ISP/cable TV availability and competition (Check for fiber availability).
  • Cellular voice and data service quality on your preferred provider.
  • Broadcast HDTV reception quality.
  • Responsiveness of the local municipality in general.
  • Responsiveness of the local municipality to snow removal.
  • Trash and recycling service options, days and cost.
  • Property tax rate (and upcoming levees).
  • HVAC quality and average monthly cost (ask for previous bills).

Happy hunting!

Renter to Homeowner - Outdoor Yard Tasks

You've decided to stop renting that great rental from RL Partners, now what?  There are a number of costs to consider in addition to your mortgage, utility and house maintenance costs when deciding to buy a home.  In addition to the costs you will incur indoors (which we will cover in a future post) many fail to consider the time and money required to keep up the outside of your house.  Here are all of the outdoor items to consider and the relative cost for each.

  • Trimming Trees and Bushes - Your property may have bushes and trees.  The tasks required may be as simple as spending a day trimming the bushes with $30 hand clippers once a year. At the worst, you could spend $500 to $1,000 a year in tree trimming and pruning services. Having an average sized tree professionally removed can cost $750 to $1,250.  Disposing of bush and tree trimmings is also a consideration.
  • Mowing Grass - May need completed up to one time a week during the warm season. A lawn mower ($200 to $1,000) will be needed as well as gas to operate the mower ($75/year).  A typical quarter to half acre lot will take 1 to 3 hours to mow.
  • Trimming Grass and Edging - Typically this is done after each mow.  A gas or electric weedwacker and edger will make this task quick and simple.  Expect to pay $100 to $150 for each of these tools.
  • Weeding and Mulching Flower Beds - Keeping a proper 3 to 4 inch layer of mulch on top of weedblocker fabric will keep most weeds from growing in your flower beds.  Expect to spend $1 to $2 per square bed foot a year on these materials.
  • Picking up Sticks, Leaves, Walnuts, Acorns -  Self explanatory but this task can take 1 to 2 hours a week during certain parts of the year.  Not completing this task can kill the grass you'll spend a lot of money on in the next item.
  • Fertilizing, Aerating and Seeding Lawn - The chemicals and tools required to complete this task throughout the year will cost between $200 and $400 for a typical lawn.  Each of these items plays a vital role in keeping your grass green and healthy.
  • Cleaning Out Gutters - This will have to be done twice a year.  Expect to pay a professional between $150 and $350 to clean all your gutters.  If you do it yourself you will need a ladder, gloves and about 3 - 4 hours.
  • Painting Fences, Exterior Trim, Decks, Mailboxes - The frequency that each of these items will need painted depends on a lot of things but expect to spend $300 to $400 a year on average to keep these items nicely painted.
  • Washing Siding and Shingles - Moss and other dirt will build up on these surfaces over time.  Expect to use a pressure sprayer of good old elbow grease for a day each year to complete this task.  A pressure sprayer can be rented for about $75 a day.
  • Concrete and Asphalt Sealing - Spending $200 to $300 a year to seal your driveway and walk surfaces will ensure you get the maximum life out of these items.

We hope this list helps you get an understanding of what may be required on the outside of your house.  Let us know if you have any questions about these items.

Single Family Home Investments - "Load Up On Them"

Peter and I are big fans of Warren Buffett and his investing knowledge.  Here is an interview with him on CNBC earlier this year sharing his thoughts on single family home investments:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XOGP6hd0B24&sns=em

Buffett describes single family homes as a "Very Attractive Asset Class" and notes that management of this type of investment is very important.  He also notes the low mortgage rates available today.

We agree with this thinking and believe there will not be a better time in our lives to buy SF Homes.

Ohio State Sophomores in Dorms - Numbers and Analysis

The president of The Ohio State University Gorden Gee wants OSU sophomores to live in university-owned and managed dormitories by fall 2016. Gee says: “It’s about providing the best quality education to students by taking a bold step that no one else is making.” Some critics say Ohio State is trying to capture more of the student residential housing market. I will point out that OSU just sold the management of its parking facilities. As Gee has said, he wants to be in the business of education -- not parking, and likely not dormitories. This post will not try to speculate, but instead look at the facts surrounding this decision and try to conclude what impact this will have on private off-campus housing. As I read recently "If we have data, let’s look at data. If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine."

 The facts:
  • Number of Dormitories: 31 (South, North and West)
  • Current OSU undergraduate housing beds (Not including the current south campus expansion or planned north campus expansion): 9,936
  • Demolished beds: 675
  • Beds being added: 3,200 (North Campus) 3,000 (South Campus)
  • Beds after all construction: 6,359 (North Campus) 9,102 (South and West Campus) = 15,461 Total
  • Enrollment (Fall 2011) Columbus Campus: 56,867 (6904 Freshman + 9700 Sophomores = 16,604)
  • Enrollment (Fall 2001) Columbus Campus: 48,477
  • Annual Growth Rate of Columbus Campus Enrollment Past 10 Years: Approx 1.8%
  • Anticipated Columbus Campus Enrollment by 2016: 17,517 (Freshman and Sophomores) 59,993 (Total)

Conclusions:

By 2016, there will be 17,517 freshman and sophomores at OSU. With only 15,461 beds available by this time (Assuming the almost 400 million dollar north campus expansion can be completed by then, which is unlikely based on our construction experience) then 2,056 freshman and sophomore students will not have a bed available on campus. This may actually be by design as I am sure OSU expects some students to simply not be able to comply with the new rule. Also by this time, there will be an additional 2,213 students at the Columbus campus. All this does not take into account the more-than-normal increase in enrollment OSU could accommodate with the potential unused housing stock off campus. The maximum number of un-rented beds off campus in 2016 is then as follows:

3,200 + 3,000 - 2,056 - 2,213 - 675 = 1,256 beds.

Gee - "There are some places that I would not allow people to live if I were absolutely in charge. The good landlords are going to thrive. Those who should be squeezed out should be squeezed out, and they will be," he said. "And we have a lot of quality landlords that do a wonderful job and we need to support them and we will."

Final thoughts: 1,256 beds is not that significant when you look at the total number of "beds" available in the "off-campus housing". As Gee alluded to, a majority, if not all of the landlords who provide quality housing will have no problem filling their rentals.  Some landlords on campus having been crying wolf -- especially those who own multi-million dollar Florida beach houses paid for by deferred maintenance and price gouging.

As a graduate of Ohio State, I will say that I wish I had lived in the dorms my sophomore year rather than living off campus. On the flip side of this regret, living off campus allowed me (probably like many other students) to have a conveniently parked car with which I made a fair bit of money at a part time job.

Worst case, the nicely located off-campus houses will be filled by non-OSU students looking for the campus experience previously unavailable to them (due to the previous demand). In summary, we do not anticipate a significant decrease (if any) in the demand for quality - well priced off-campus housing.

Grocery Delivery in Columbus: Is it possible?

I have been curious for quite a while whether I could have all my grocery needs delivered to my house.  I decided to test out some of the options available in Columbus, OH. Semi-Option #1: Meijer Grocery Express (http://www.meijergroceryexpress.com/)

Description: With this service you go online and pick out the groceries you need, pick a time when you can pick them up at the store and arrive at that time to pick them up already bagged and ready to go.  Unfortunately, this service is only available at 4 Meijer stores.  The Westerville store is the only one in the Columbus area.

Cost: A $6.95 fee per order.

Conclusion: Unfortunately, this store is 12 miles / 20 minutes from my house.  A 40 minute drive and I could have done the shopping myself at my local Kroger.  If you are near a Meijer with this service it is definitely worth $7 to not have to wander around the store for an hour searching for what you need.  Meijer’s prices are very competitive.  A Columbus Dispatch comparison done a few years ago placed Meijer only second to Wal-Mart in overall grocery prices.

Option #2: The Hills Market (http://www.thehillsmarket.com/)

Description: With this delivery service you go online and pick out the groceries you need, pick a time when you want them delivered (1 hour window) and they get delivered at that time.

Cost: A varying delivery fee is charged depending on your zip code ($5 to $40).  Tip is recommended.

Conclusion: The Hills Market website is great, easy to use, the selection is good and you can tip when you place your order.  My delivery window was 6-7pm and they arrived at 6pm sharp (Far cry from your cable company).   The cost:  The breakdown shown below is my Hills Market total and a Kroger price check done a few days later.

Price Comparison
  6/26/2011 The Hills Kroger  
8 3 Musketeers Bars $5.69 $4.00  
5 Bananas $2.00 $1.17  
80 Fabric Soft Sheets $6.69 $4.99  
1 Cheez-It Box $5.49 $3.26  
1 Eggo Waffles $2.58 $2.00  
1 Chicken Breast $3.49 $2.23  
1 Hersheys Choc $8.69 $6.06  
1 Ground Beef $3.19 $1.87  
1 Crackers $3.59 $4.00  
1 Pop Tart Box $3.49 $2.99  
1 Crackers $3.49 $2.00  
1 Miller light $17.49 $16.99  
1 Hot Dogs $5.79 $2.99  
1 Hot Dog Buns $2.39 $1.00  
1 Sour Cream $2.99 $1.25  
1 Strawberries $2.50 $1.00  
  Sub Total $79.55 $57.80  
  Tax $1.63 $1.18  
  Delivery Fee $5.00 $0.00  
  Tip $8.62 $0.00  
  Total $94.80 $58.98  
   
  Kroger Costs 38% $35.82 Less
   
  Time (mins) 15 60  

So depending on how you value your time it may or may not be worth the extra cost.  (Note: I was lucky to be in the $5 delivery fee zip code, you may not be)

Know of some other options in Columbus, Ohio?  Let us know at info@rlpartnersllc.com

 

 

 

How To Renew A Lease (and get a free upgrade!)

Landlords HATE switching tenants. It's a ton of work for them, introduces a lot of uncertainty into their finances, and carries a lot of risk. They love it when you renew your lease - for them, there's essentially zero work involved, and they're assured another year of rent checks from someone they already know. You can use their preference to your advantage. I got an email from a friend asking if it was standard for a landlord to offer a free upgrade when you renew your lease. Here is my response:

"That doesn’t sound standard, per se, to me. However, landlords do need to replace things as they wear out due to normal wear and tear. Do you know how old the carpet is? Or when it was painted last? I think it would be totally reasonable to ask for the interior to be painted or the carpet to be replaced if those things weren’t done right when you moved in (ie, if the paint or carpet is more than 3 years old).

"Now that I think about it, there are a few items I would ask him to take care of while renewing your lease. You could even write these directly onto the lease. You are absolutely correct in having high expectations of him while signing on for another year. Landlords will always sink to the lowest possible level of maintenance and attention for their tenants that they can get away with. Most landlords, anyway. The way to rectify that is to have high expectations and just pretend it’s normal. Form letter:

Mr. X,

Thank you for the opportunity to renew the lease. It’s a great location and I enjoy living here here, and look forward to at least another year.

As I have been living here for nearly 3 years now, there are a few maintenance items that have cropped up. Sorry I didn’t get around to emailing you about these sooner, I’ve just been really busy.

  • Wall patch in master bedroom to be sanded and painted
  • Kitchen cabinets/drawers fixed
  • Master bedroom door doesn’t shut properly
  • Electric space heaters removed
  • Large gaps around living room windows filled/caulked

I have also noticed that the carpet is getting pretty worn out and is due to be replaced. Nothing serious, just normal wear and tear. I know this is typically done between tenants – I have no problem working around your schedule - just let me know what day to expect them and I’ll be sure to accommodate. If you take a look and feel the carpet does not require replacing, please arrange to have it professionally cleaned as would be typically done between tenants.

One other item – you had mentioned getting washer/dryer hookups installed at some point(this was before I even moved in). Has that been done?

Thanks!!

As you can see, the tone of the letter is formal, and strong yet polite. Feel free to steal the template above to use when contacting your landlord.

Did you negotiate an upgrade when renewing your lease? Let me know in the comments below!

14 Things To Ask Your Potential New Landlord

Ready to find that perfect place, and not get ripped off in the process? It's easier than you think, with a little prep work. When you set up a time, inquire who will be showing the unit. It is preferable to have a walk-through with the actual owner of the property (not just a manager or his shady cousin). Be sure to allow yourself plenty of time, and don't rush.

Take pictures of every room while you are there – it will show you are serious and that you won’t be taking any crap when it comes to security deposit, because you have a record of the move-in condition. Don't be afraid to poke around and ask questions about anything that seems unusual.

The apartment should be perfectly clean and everything in it should work when you move in. If the landlord is too lazy or cheap to have the place cleaned when showing it to prospective tenants, that's not a good sign.

Get any “promises” to fix this or install that in writing. You can even mark right on the typed-up lease – that is totally fine. Hand-written sentences “Landlord agrees to have washer fixed by move in date. Landlord agrees to upgrade windows by X date” etc.

Things to ask the landlord about:

  • Who pays utilities?
  • What type of heat does it have?
  • Are there washer/dryer hookups?
  • How much do utilities run on average?
  • Who do I call for maintenance?
  • Have there ever been pets? (allergies)
  • How long have you owned the building/house?
  • Is there a dishwasher?
  • How new are the windows? (heating/cooling cost)
  • Do the unit have central AC?
  • Will the locks be changed when I move in?
  • Are the exterior walls insulated? (heating/cooling cost)
  • Are the interior walls insulated? (noise)
  • Will the carpet be professionally cleaned before I move in?

Items to take note of when viewing the unit:

  • All doors/windows open and close easily (not painted shut), and the locks work.
  • Safe egress from bedroom windows.
  • General condition of the paint/trim/drywall/fixtures etc.
  • Listen for neighbors – how is the soundproofing?
  • If multi-story or above-ground: No broken steps on the stairwell, handrails in good shape.
  • GFCI outlets anywhere near water (sink, tub) [GFCI outlets have those TEST/RESET buttons w a light]
  • Enough counter space?
  • Enough closet space?
  • Enough storage space?

In general, the idea is to get a feel for how well-maintained the place is. If it's not in good shape now, there's no reason to believe it ever will be. Beware of promises! Good luck and happy hunting!

Finding Rentals in Columbus

"Where do I look online to find a new apartment?"

A lot of people have been asking me lately where to look for apartments and rental properties for rent. So, I decided to compile a list for Columbus. Share and enjoy - leave your tips in the comments!

There are a few websites specific to Columbus, so if you want to "shop local", check here first:

  • Metro-Rentals.com - this site has a limited number of properties, but covers many areas. It breaks down the city by neighborhood, which is nice. Also worth a look is its sister site,
  • Suburban-Rentals.com - what it says on the tin. See above.
  • ColumbusRealEstate.com - which is run by the Columbus Dispatch. A decent amount of properties here, but sparse on details. Basically an online version of the paper classifieds.
  • Columbus Underground Urban Living - new site with rental listings, in addition to condo and home sales. [added 5/1/12]

The big hitters are nationwide, but do a good job with our city. Links go to the Columbus listings:

  • Craigslist.com - The default answer. It has the highest number of listings and covers every geographical area of the city.
  • Padmapper.com - Great. Basically a huge Google Maps, with the location of places for rent overlaid. It pulls data from CL and Apartments.com. Absolutely check this site - they have a cool blog too.
  • Zillow.com - Another good one. Their main area of focus is home sales, but they cover apartments and houses for rent as well. Map-based interface.
  • Trulia.com - Similar to Zillow; they have a nice interface and appear to have a few hundred listing for rentals in Columbus.
  • Apartments.com - They don't have as many listings as Trulia or Zillow. Worth a look, I mean they own the domain, right?
  • Rent.com - A big hitter. You must register to search.
  • ApartmentFinder.com - I like this one. Large pictures, good descriptions.
  • ColumbusOHForRent.com - This is actually a nation-wide company that sets up little websites for each city, and the Columbus one only shows 33 rentals in the entire city. Skip it.
  • ApartmentGuide.com - The most rentals I've seen on one site. Over 600 in Columbus, apparently.
  • Rentals.com - Sure are a lot of these, aren't there?
  • RentalHouses.com - Yawn.
  • ColumbusRent.com - Another one of those "clone for each city" websites.
  • Hellocolumbus.com - Another one of those "clone for each city" websites.
  • ForRent.com - Not a lot there.
  • Oodle.com - A lot there.
  • RentJungle.com - This is quite similar to Padmapper.com [added 3/8/11]
  • ForLeaseByOwner.com - What it says on the tin [added 3/8/11]
  • Hotpads.com - Similar to RentJungle and Padmapper [added 3/3/12]

Local property managers and rental companies:

I must give partial credit for this list to Metro-Rentals.com - they have a great list of Featured Owners which is well worth a look. The following is by no means exhaustive, but should provide a good start if you want to contact these companies directly or browse their websites.

 

Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments and I'll add it.