Property taxes, who knew?

Going into buying a home, I had to wrap my head around a lot of things. There was finding the home itself, then the whole process of negotiating the offer, the mortgage, and then all the thoughts of what you want to do when you actually move in. A big part of the financial aspect of the purchase and mortgage is projecting your monthly payments. Property taxes are a significant part of this.

The thing is, even once you pay your mortgage down, you’ll still be paying those property taxes in perpetuity. In a state with high property taxes like New Jersey, it’s a sizable percentage of what you might pay in rent some other places. I was aware of property taxes. I assumed they’d be predictable and logical. Boy was I wrong.

Disclaimer: Per usual, I have to make clear that I am (obviously) not an expert on this topic. This piece reflects my growth from zero understanding, and hopefully underscores that you should get professional advice as you make your own financial decisions. Comments and corrections are very welcome!

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Hot Take From A New OCaml Developer

I recently started a new job at One of many things that attracted me to the role was that they proudly use OCaml. Even if you’re a professional developer, you might not know of it. It’s not a widely used programming language, but it has been highly influential on many of the most cutting edge programming languages. If you’re not an OCaml, suffice it to say, this post probably won’t be that interesting to you.

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A bitter pill

Several years ago, I returned to Baltimore for the funeral of one of the kids I coached in basketball. He was stabbed to death in an altercation at a gas station. I almost wrote a piece about my feelings, but never did.

Last week, I learned that a student I taught was found shot to death on the street. I don’t know anything more about what happened. There’s no news story about it. If you know the intro to the track Straight Outta Compton…well, almost 30 years later, not much has changed.

This kid was one of the kids who defined my experience as a teacher. He was funny as hell, complex, brilliant, stubborn, inquisitive, and energetic. In one particularly out-of-control class period, he got carried away and was standing on his desk ring-leading the chaos. Floundering to figure out how to regain some semblance of control, I play-lunged at him, and he quickly scrambled back down, saying something probably like “Mr. Johnson ain’t playing”. I earned a little cred, the wrong way. (Not my proudest moment as a teacher, but I never claimed to have been great at the job.)

He and I didn’t always get along, but we also had moments of the two years I taught him where I think I really reached him. On my last day with the students, I let them write reflections about their time with me, if they wanted to. Each one was almost shockingly introspective and grateful for what I had at least tried to accomplish. But this kid’s was hands-down the most heartfelt. That day may have been the last time I saw him, and I’m presuming our lives diverged significantly from that point.

Sadly, I wasn’t able to get enough information to make it back to pay my respects and just express my support to his family and any of his classmates that would have come. But it’s also a reminder of how marginal I am in that world, where media, justice, economics, and just about everything else are entirely different than in the bourgeois world I inhabit. Premature death is so common in Baltimore that young people talk about how they want to be memorialized on a t-shirt in the same way that I might think about a living will.

When I returned to Baltimore for that last funeral, it hit me in the gut that, in a sense that is almost too literal for comfort, I helicopter in and out out of that world at will. But my former students, that precarious world is their default, and they venture out only with incredible difficulty, as the forces of concentrated poverty constantly pull them back in. The people who stay in teaching in places like Baltimore choose to be permanent residents of that world, and a bridge to other worlds. I’m forever in awe of those who stay in the career.

The List (Our financial planning voyage — Part 2)

I’ve made a ton of progress since the last check in. All of the work of piecing together our complete financial picture and researching the fundamentals of financial planning culminated in one long checklist of todos to actually begin to build out our plan. What follows is a version of our punchlist.

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Financial plan update

So here’s where I tell you that I’ve already piloted our financial plan to it’s final state, but just forgot to write about it.

Just kidding.

In reality, shortly after I wrote the last post, I ran out of steam. I haven’t read my books yet, and I just this week started picking up where I left off, very much still in the exploratory part of the process. That said, I still think I’ve learned some good stuff.

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Our financial planning voyage — Part 1

Much like my mortgage shopping voyage, I’m starting from scratch-ish trying to make a financial plan, and I’m hoping to share what I learn in the process, and hopefully other folks can use this as a shortcut to the jump-off point for their own exploration. To begin with, I think my family is in pretty decent financial shape, so this voyage won’t be relatable to everyone. Probably young families blessed with good income. But if you’re in a similar boat, I hope this helps you out.

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Notes on mortgage shopping

I was meaning to post this a while ago, but these are the notes I took when I was shopping for a mortgage and closing the purchase of our first house. It was quite a process. As a first-time borrower, I felt like I was at constant risk of these expert lenders taking advantage of my naiveté, especially given all the stories from mortgage crisis. So, I spent a lot of time reading and double-checking. I try here to lay out what I took away from the process, without biasing it toward any decisions my wife and I made pertaining to our own situation.

Original Disclaimer: These are the notes of one person (me) who has bought exactly one home with exactly one mortgage. I am not an expert. I have no qualifications. I’m just a dude. This might be useful as a starting point, but I highly suggest you do your own research and confirm your conclusions with advice from an expert you trust.

Updated Disclaimer: I now actually work for a mortgage company! I’m not a licensed loan officer, so I’m still not qualified to give advice. But I know far more about mortgages than I did in 2017. I’ve made some slight updates, but the knowledge I’ve gained at work largely has validated my reflections from a few years ago.

Also, note that this piece reflects my experience shopping for a conforming mortgage. It’s the most common type of mortgage, but there are others:

  • FHA loans – these have expanded criteria, to broaden access to home ownership.
  • VA loans – these are for American Veterans.
  • Jumbo loans – these are for loan amounts that exceed the conforming loan limit for the county the property is in.

I don’t have personal experience with these other loan types.

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America, the pitiful

I don’t know enough about immigration to say whether this sort of thing is meaningfully different from previous administrations. But one thing’s for sure, our current administration exudes a hostility to foreigners that is unprecedented, and that perception matters quite a bit.
When I read about this and:
I have to think that if things don’t change, we’re witnessing the self-inflicted end of America’s role as the nucleus of human culture and knowledge.
We’re not becoming great again. We’re decaying.