Wednesday, February 26, 2014

How I Reduced My Property Taxes

          I don't know if you've noticed that there has been a marked decrease in my posts and this is a result of being unemployed, ergo, bloggable moments have come few and far between.
          When one is jobless, every little decrease in expenses helps and that's what happened to me on February 25th at a hearing. No, not a criminal, or civil, or divorce,  or small claims court hearing, but a property tax assessment hearing. Last year, I applied for a reduction in my property taxes because I noticed that in my depressed area of the city, the property values were going down in contrast to the other parts. Sure enough, when I checked the comparable sales in just my condominium building, I was being assessed as much as 40% more. So I filled out an online application from the Los Angeles County Assessor's Office and sent my appeal with the links for the comps that  found. A couple of months afterwards, I received a response in the mail saying that to proceed, I would have to report to the community building of Chace Burton Park in Marina Del Rey for a hearing with an appeals officer. I had to bring along evidence in the form of 3 comparative sales in my immediate area. I found some of these comps from the Assessor's Office website itself, but relied on a realtor friend, Nancy D. (Ask me if you have a property to buy or sell and maybe I can refer you to her. And yes, she is the same Nancy D. who drove me to and from my colonoscopy last year.), to provide me a more professional presentation.  I printed out the requisite 3 comps and was ready to face the music. Big thanks to you for all your help, Nancy!
          I planned on at least an hour drive from Long Beach to Marina Del Rey based on a 42 minute estimate by Google Maps. I also programmed the destination on my Tom Tom GPS as a backup, then left home at 8:45 for my 10:30 a.m. appointment. Based on past experience with GPS where it didn't send me on the most direct route, I followed Google's suggestion first and took the surface streets. I went through Long Beach, Carson, Gardena, Manhattan Beach, Culver City, LAX, and finally, Marina Del Rey. Everything worked well until I started looking for Mindanao Way which I couldn't find, and was quite ironic since I come from the Mindanao area of the Philippines, hahaha! That's when I had to rely on GPS which correctly guided me to my destination in the last couple of miles.  Having checked out the Chace Burton Park Website beforehand, I was able to find the parking area quickly, and even though the website said that there was a $5.00 fee, I didn't see any signs indicating it nor did I see an automated ticket dispenser or any parking lot attendants. I parked hoping that I don't see a ticket when I returned. My arrival time was 10:10 a.m., so it took much longer than expected.

          I walked the short distance from the parking lot to the park's community center and my first order of business was to find the nearest bathroom. Woe is me with the tiny bladder! Next was to find the community room and I correctly assumed that the one full of people was it. The lady inside asked for my appointment card then proceeded to swear me in, you know - to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God. Then the waiting began. I turned on my tablet to read the news and before it can even boot up, another lady called my name and asked me to follow her. I actually had her verify my name to make sure I was whom she called because I was there before the 10:30 appointment. We approached a table where another lady was waiting. I started to present my evidence then was told it wasn't necessary because they had already done it for me. All they asked me was if I agreed with the new assessment which I originally presented to them in my application months before or if I disagreed. Well of course I agreed!  The second lady signed off on it and bad-a-bing, bad-a-boom, that was all there was to it! 5 minutes waiting and talking, tops! I was escorted back to the front and was given a copy of my new assessment. What's supposed to happen next is that the assessor's office is going to make the change and that I will be refunded part of the taxes I already paid. Next year, if there are further reductions in the comparative sale in my area, I will have to apply again. Assumptions: the first lady was probably the hearing officer and the second lady what the assessor's office representative.
          One more bathroom use for the road then I headed back to the parking lot. Luckily, no ticket. I checked my Google printout and my GPS, then I was outta there. The drive back home took me half an hour quicker. What I can say about driving to and from the park is that it's always good to have a backup system, and it helped that I was already familiar with the area having lived in Torrance in the 80's and ridden my bike on the bike path to Marina Del Rey.

          Was the almost 2 hour drive back and forth worth it? Definitely so. My only question is - wouldn't it have been more efficient to have done it by email or mail since the process took such a short time? I was expecting myself to beg and plead in person to reduce my taxes. Instead, all I was asked was if I agreed. I guess I needed to be there in case I didn't agree. Again, I should only been asked to show up if that were so. Not an efficient system in my opinion and a waste of gasoline, but gratified for the reduction in taxes. Two decades ago, I also appealed for a reduction using old fashioned paper sent in the mail and got approved without going anywhere as long as I had filled out the application and provided comps. Don't computers and the internet take care of that nowadays?

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Sunday, February 9, 2014

Technical Support From The Bored and The Jobless

          Apologies to the soap opera "The Young and The Restless".
          I posted the following on HP's Facebook page: I upgraded from Windows 8.0 to Windows 8.1 and HP Solution Center stopped working for my printer. Despite following the instructions in the solutions area of the HP website, it hasn't worked. Reading through the forums, there were no answers that worked either. Finally, after looking for something similar to Windows Fax and Scan, I found something that can be used an alternative to the HP Solution Center so you can scan to PDF (which Windows Fax and Scan does not offer). The solution is a free HP Windows 8.2 app called HP Scan and Capture. I hope whoever encountered a similar problem with HP Solution Center finds this helpful.

          In other tech support issues, my Uncle called me about being unable to print out all pages of a document and I found out he was trying print it out from his email instead of opening the file in Microsoft Word. After showing him how to do it over Teamviewer then trying to print it out, only blank paper came out of the printer. A good guess was that it was out of black ink. As a workaround, I adjusted the document color to dark blue instead and was able to print it out. Then another minor complication came up: the pages cut off at different parts that were not the same as the one onscreen. Since it was a legal document, I figured that it was on legal sized paper. My Uncle said he was going to buy some black ink and legal size paper the next day. Problem solved. Actually, 2 problems solved since I was able to find a workaround for the HP Solution Center problem too. I know my Uncle appreciates my help and I hope HP does too, especially since it was free.
Want tech support for free? Call me...

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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Budgeting While Unemployed

Stretching The Buck
          Forcefully retired - what a nicer way of saying that I am jobless without much money. Maybe untimely retirement sounds better. If not for the unemployment checks, I'd already be in deep doo-doo by now. Never mind that the unemployment rate has been going down, a lot of people still cannot find adequate jobs and not for lack of looking. I've sent numerous applications online but nary a call for an interview. My resume at hasn't been viewed by even a single employer. Here's one of the reasons why I'm still not employed: no CNA credentials (certified nursing assistant). In the last few decades, I've fallen into a type of job which didn't require it, but now employers in psych units are beginning to prefer that you have a CNA. My CNA certification expired years ago even though my card does not have an expiration date. I already checked with the Board of Nursing several years ago about my status and was told I had to retake the whole course again. It's hard having been a jack-of-one-trade all these years.
          I'm beginning to find out that merely filling out applications and sending your resume online is not enough because software filters those applications using keywords and even when your resume passes those filters, a human may take their good old time sorting through the hundreds they probably receive daily. It would be better to find the actual hiring person and talk to him or her and they might look for your application. If not, well, at least you now have a contact person in the company.
          So how does one survive this situation I'm in? You tighten your belt...a lot, until you almost turn blue. Budgeting - something I thought I was good at. Through the recession, cut backs on our salary for three years, sending money to my mother, increasing cost of food and gasoline - I survived them all, but that was because I had an income. The unemployment checks are helping a lot but that will end in April and after that I will have to dig into my retirement nest egg. Out of the checks, I pay homeowner's association dues, electricity, heating gas, internet, cellphone, car insurance, health insurance, dental insurance, real estate taxes, and income taxes. My goodness, so many bills!
          For the amount of cash I used to withdraw from the bank every week for  food/gasoline/daily expenses, I have now managed to make it last for 10 or 11 days instead of 7. So instead of withdrawing that amount 4 times a month, I do it just 3 times a month. My last withdrawal from the ATM may even last me two weeks, but that's probably going to be a rare occurrence. I started using cheap shampoo to wash dishes again because they are cheaper than dish soap, thicker, lasts longer, and smells better. This was my blog post from April 2010:  My gas bill more than doubled last month because I like to keep the temperature around 78 degrees. Well, that bill was too much so I decided I could just wear warmer clothes indoors and keep the temperature to about 70 degrees. My gas bill this month fell to more than half. Not having to drive to work has helped with my gasoline bill because I now only have to gas up about every 6 weeks or so. Another thing that helps is that I don't eat out. Because my income has decreased a lot, I qualified for small discounts on my electricity and heating gas bills. Every little bit helps at this point.
          As if being unemployed wasn't bad enough, this is what happened after I received my first unemployment check - someone guessed the numbers on my EDD debit card plus the security code and charged $2.00 in Illinois! They were probably probing to find out if they guessed correctly. A few days later, the bank credited it back after they replaced the card. One advantage of applying for the funds online is that you get the money quicker. I fill out the application on Sunday, then get an email from the bank when the EDD check is deposited on Monday, then 2 days later I get another email from the credit union that it's been transferred to my private account.

          I thought I had to pay income taxes for 2013 because despite being laid off, my income increased due to my 460 hours of vacation time being cashed out to me by the previous employer. Thank goodness after using tax software and filing electronically,  I was surprised that I'm getting a refund. That may allow me to last another month after the unemployment checks stop coming.

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Sunday, February 2, 2014

Bruno Mars & RHCP ~ pepsi 1/2Time Super Bowl XLVIII

It was a great Super Bowl...NOT! Just my 2 cents' worth, I think the half time celebration was the best part. Even the ads were not as exceptional as in previous years and a couple that I liked were the Budweiser and Doritos ads. That's all I have to say about XLVIII (pronounced X-Love the Third).

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