Life: April 2007 Archives

Incentive

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One of the issues that owners of bars have with bartenders is "tipping the tills".

Basically it goes like this.

The bartender hands the customer a $100 bill. The customer pays $120, or $100 for the tab and $20 for the 20% tip. The bartender enters $80 on the register and puts $40 in their tip cup.

In order to combat this, a bar owner can do two things. One, be extremely tight about how the bartender does their job, with cameras and managers. Hawkish management of what is sold, and using meticulous means to track profits, like using a pour regulator on a bottle, which measures for the bartender an EXACT pour for each drink. Or, you may have seen a bartender pour liquor into a shot glass, add it to the rocks glass and add the soda/juice on top. That's an exact pour, which maximizes profits for the bar.

Or, just implement a bonus system that rewards employees who bring in profits to the bar & work hard. The barometer to measure them would be the bartenders individual register. If an employee rings "x" amount on the register they get a bonus. The amount of "x" would depend on the bar and hopefully set to realistic expectations. Right now at our bar, I think the numbers are realistic, I have hit the bonus on multiple occasions.

So, then, there is more of an incentive NOT to "give the bar away", a term used for bartenders who give away too many buybacks, in order to pad their tip jar, and more of an incentive to put cash in the register. Giving out such a bonus increases the profits for the bar, and increases the profits for the employees.

Nearly everyone working on Wall St. has some kind of way to bonus for their hard work. Some companies have profit sharing. Some companies give out bonuses in the form of stock. Some people make money as individuals, based on whatever they bring into the company and profit from that.

Wouldn't it make more sense if everyone did this with their employees?

I pass CVS everyday coming home from the PATH and they always have ridiculoulsly long lines. Why? Well, it is a popular store in a good location. I would also hazard that the employees don't have an incentive to work faster, which keep the queues moving at a sluggish pace. I'm sure the same is true for fast-food places like McDonalds. Imagine if they had some kind of incentive system in place everywhere, how much faster things would get done.

Like in Hoboken if you go to a mom & pop owned store, and the owners are there, the product comes out lickety split. But if you have a bunch of teenagers in there who don't care about profit margins, they are going to be S-L-O-W. There' just isn't an incentive for a teenager to work harder and faster.

I'm sure others, including myself, have avoided CVS in the past because of the long lines. That is profit which is walking out of their door, because their employees don't care about working faster when they are making $9 an hour. It is $9 an hour if they work slow or $9 an hour if they work fast. Imagine if you told them they could make $15 an hour?

I was at CVS on Saturday. I needed to pick up a few things for the condo. I was 3rd in line and it took the cashier 10 minutes to get to me. By that time i'm just thinking how I don't want to come back to this store if I can help it. Unfortunately it is the only store at that end of Hoboken which most closely resembles a supermarket. They don't really have a reason to be fast, in a way. So very annoying.

My Idea To Stop Email Spam

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I don't understand why email providers can't "fix" spam.

I have a simple solution.

Ok, lets say your email is "xyz@yahoo.com". The first solution is if you meet someone like "beth@gmail.com" you exchange emails, and you can input it on your cell phone. You can text that email to yahoo.com address and it adds her to your address book. She is now an authorized user to email you.

Or, when you get home, add "Beth@gmail.com" to your address book. Much like if you add someone's phone number to your cell phone. It is a manual way of doing it, and works just the same.

Anytime "Beth@gmail.com" emails "xyz@yahoo.com" the filter at yahoo looks at the email, and if it matches, the mail goes thru. If not, it is COMPLETELY blocked. No spam folder. BLOCKED. The spammers get nothing.

Say, someone is trying to track you down. An old classmate, roommate or co worker. The spam folder works like match.com - you get "Friend Requests". You can glance thru it every once in a while to see if someone is emailing you that you know. If not, just don't approve them. I have friends of mine who don't pick up their cell phones if they don't recognize the number who is calling them. Just do the same for email.

I don't think this is a perfect solution, but I do think that it would make the spammer's job much harder. I would very much like to make a list of "approved" emailers on my yahoo account and everyone else gets sent to spam. If someone called me saying "Hey! I have been trying to email you!" I look at my spam folder, check out to see if someone was flagged as spam, and just check them to "approved" much like they do today in the spam folders.

Funny Or Die: The Landlord

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Questions From The Homeland...

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I got an email from a woman near my hometown, Richboro. It reads:

Hi Sean, I came across your blog while researching Hoboken. Firstly,
thanks so much for all the very useful information. I am actually
moving to the NYC area from Holland, PA - not far from Richboro. I am
debating NYC or Hoboken.041107.jpg
I was hoping you could answer a few questions
for me, since I don't know anyone there. I'd greatly apprectiate it!
Thanks so much!

1. I know PATH runs all night, but is it safe to take it at 3 a.m.?
2. Is Hoboken safe overall?
3. What is the best website you think to find a 1 bedroom place in Hoboken?
4. Would you recommend any other NJ suburbs to consider for an easy
daily commute into midtown Manhattan?

Thanks so much, Sean!

First I will start by saying, thank you for the kind words. Far too often in the world of the internet people enjoy being negative towards each other.

I'll break down your questions, and answer them based on my experiences.
Q: I know PATH runs all night, but is it safe to take it at 3 a.m.?
A: Like any major city, you have to be more careful on the PATH, or any subway, late at night or in the morning. On Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays it isn't uncommon to have loads of yuppies riding the trains back from NYC to Hoboken. I'd say it was safe enough, but if you are out with a few girlfriends, i'd just get a yellow cab at that time, have everyone pony up $10 each and get a taxi home. If taking a PATH at 3 a.m. is work-related, due to a graveyard shift or something, I would say that even I would feel uncomfortable if a sister or girlfriend was taking at 3 a.m. every night on a PATH. That's just me.

Q: Is Hoboken safe overall?
A: It is an urban area, and has much more crime than Holland, PA. I'd probably say it has a similar crime level to Roxborough or Manayunk. If your read my story about how I was almost mugged, i'm the only person I know who ever got jumped by thugs in town. Then again my house was also broken into about 2 years back, too. That happens more often than you think in this town, so get renter's insurance. Make sure whatever place you move into has proper security. Even with those two events, I still feel that Hoboken is a safe town, but it has crime, like New York.

Q: What is the best website you think to find a 1 bedroom place in Hoboken?
A: Easily Hobokeni.com has the best listings for apartment rentals or apartment shares. Yahoo! Real Estate has nice listings from our local real estate office, if you want to work with them. I recommend the agent I used, Steve Miller, of Century 21 and owner of Hobokenhomes.com.

Q: Would you recommend any other NJ suburbs to consider for an easy
daily commute into midtown Manhattan?
A: I think it depends on your social situation. If you are young (22-36), single and/or in a new relationship (read: don't have kids), I recommend Hoboken. Certainly you can raise the rug rats here, but I wouldn't want to. I'd rather be in the suburbs, myself. If you can afford it, try to buy near Princeton Junction. They have express trains that take about an 50 minutes to get into 42nd street. You pay a bit more to live in Hoboken, but I think it is worth it. I couldn't imagine myself in the suburbs as a single guy.

Good luck, let me know how everything goes! I'm sure some of my commenters have something to say about your questions, too...

Tartan Day & I Nearly Was A Bar Owner

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040507a.jpg

In Hoboken we have a history of taking a perfectly good day of national pride and turning it into an excuse to drink. St. Patrick's Day is so 1986...welcome to Tartan Day 2007!

And like many other days of national pride, we also celebrate it early around here. The real Tartan Day is April 6. Apparently it is April 5th in Hoboken.

Tartan day was in full force at The Dubliner, with a bagpiper, lots of people in kilts, and comely Glenlivet sponsor girls outside the pub, looking like they wished they wore a sweater this frigid morning.

Then I remembered - I nearly BOUGHT that bar a few months ago.

Ok, i'm exaggerating a bit. I wasn't going to be THE only bar owner, but I happened to meet someone who was an avid reader of my website one day.

It was quite strange, actually. I wrote a post one day a few months back, and a reader saw it and emailed me to introduce himself. I recognized his name, he wrote to me a few times over the lifetime of the blog. He told me that he was getting a group of people together to buy The Dubliner and after reading my entry thought i'd be the kind of guy interested in taking a chance with a group of other investors on the property. My each minority investor would provide 5-10% each of the total cost, and he was going to provide the bulk of the upfront cash and work as owner and manager.

I had a lot of questions for him. We emailed for a week, going over different details about his experience, the funds, what the other owners responsibilities would entail - which seemed to be mostly about promoting the bar. Truth be told, he seemed like a decent guy, but at the same time it was just a bit too risky to invest with someone I barely knew. It certainly had an upside, but my spidey senses were just saying "Don't do it".

Groups of bar owners isn't anything new in this town. The bar "Nine" has 9 owners (hence the name? or it is that they are at 333 Washington - 3+3+3=9?)040507b.jpg

After about a month of discussions with the guy, I backed out. The situation was a small investment, but I just didn't feel it. The Dubliner had some capacity issues. The first floor had a capacity of 57 (I have to check the EXACT numbers, but I remember them being extremely low) and the 2nd floor had a capacity of approximiately 75, I just felt that was ridiculously low for a bar that sized. You put 130 people into that bar and it will look empty on a parade day. Also the bar was in dire need to be redesigned to make it more "Hoboken Friendly". The first floor, with the plexiglass outdoor seating I thought was terrible. The common room needed fixes and the 2nd floor was underutilized.

Also the question of "Can I bartend there" came up, and I was promised a shift, it was a bit too murky for me about what, exact, shift I could get. Both the 1st and 2nd floor bars are tiny. I am in the school of thought as many bar owners - cute bartenders equals business. I'm a guy. Guys are a dime a dozen in Hoboken. So I didn't want to shoot myself in the foot, by asking to bartend as a minority owner, and screw us by not generating as much business as a cuter girl bartender might. It wasn't like the bars were all that conducive to having two bartenders behind them like Mikie Squared.

Bottom line is that it just wasn't for me. Mistake? Well, as it turned out The Dubiner *was* for sale, and then once negotations began (after I backed out) between the potentional buyers and the present owners, a series of issues popped up and the sale fell apart. So, it wasn't to be anyhow.

I guess it was good, in a way, that I didn't get into the bar business - I am closing on my condo today. "Jason Phillips" asked in my comments the following: "i worry that you may not have done your due diligence when finding this condo. 1st the place is 100 square feet less than advertised and now you find out there is a problem with mice. i think you let your enthusiasm for finding your own place get in the way of rational thought. is it too late to back out?"

My answer would be that yes, I am enthused about the apartment. I went there the first day and walked through it, with a paper saying it was 750 sq ft. I looked around and thought "Wow, I like the size of this place."

When my agent told me that the listing agent made a mistake, and it was really 650 sq ft, it didn't shrink in size, except on paper. I knew after walking through the apartment that it would work for me, since I was a single bachelor. Four or five years from now, when I am ready to leave, it should be a great place to either rent or sell to another working professional.040507c.jpg

Like my fellow blogger The Blonde wrote, "I work in real estate, and you cannot put a guaranteed price on sq. footage, whether it is residential or commercial. Their are averages, but you shouldn't nit pick. If you are paying less then what the other units in the building are selling for, then you are already making money on it. Making a stink over it can kill the deal, and then someone else will come in and scoop it up. It will be your loss then....100 sq.ft. is not that big of a deal. You like the place, and it is the space that you want so just buy it."

I happen to agree with that philosophy. The key points to the condo was its potentional, and had a lot of positives in my mind. It was in a very good location, about 6 blocks to the PATH in downtown Hoboken. It was concrete poured, so it was much quieter than new flimsy construction, where you can hear your neighbor in high heels walking above you. It has low maintenence and the taxes were about half of what I have seen with the new construction (yes, I am aware of the possible changes to that). My parking, which is transferable to the new owner, would be literally across the street for $25 more a month in rent than what I was paying at the Monroe Arts Center, which was a solid 7 minute walk to my car (it doesn't sound like a lot, but it was).

The negatives: Mice? Certainly a concern, but I think it is true for many buildings in Hoboken. I'm not sure how I could have known about it, unless I started knocking on strangers doors saying "Hi! You don't know me, but I was looking to buy in your building...I had a few questions for you..."Now that i'm moving in, you can bet your bottom dollar that i'm going to be all over the management and the residents to eradicate & control the problem. Electric only? I will miss gas heat and gas appliances, but it wasn't a deal breaker. Closet space? A bit tighter, but I think installing EZ closets will help a lot. Square footage? I agree that this was a big oversight. I simply took what the listing agent wrote at face value, and by the time it was revealed that the sq footage was wrong, it was 2 weeks later and I was doing the home inspection! I was already picking out new appliances, lining up a contractor and getting a professional painter, and friend, scheduled to make the place nicer. Had I caught it earlier, I may have balked. In a way, i'm glad that I didn't because I have been sitting on the sideline for the last 4 years, always saying, "The market is going down THIS year."

Of course now i'm watching the whole sub-prime mortgage fiasco and laughing a bit. I know the days of real estate gains are over, but I am just happy that I got a great mortgage rate and i'm finally a homeowner. I don't plan on selling my home anytime soon. Especially that i'm now 2 blocks away from Mulligan's bar, it should be a lot more fun next season with The Philadelphia Eagles Club of Hoboken!! Go Birds!!

Happy Easter and Passover, everyone. Have a safe weekend.

Anyone know who David Lereah is?

For the last 4 years I have watched the housing market overheat like crazy. I was the guy 4 years ago saying that markets are cyclical and it can't last. Up, up, up the market rose. I would go to parties and meet some of the most stupid motherfuckers who thought they were the next Donald Trump because they happened to get in on the real estate market before it exploded - like they fucking knew their gains would be 50% per year.

Sure, it is sour grapes, but I remembered the Savings & Loan disaster in the late 80's. I remember the real estate company my father worked for, which was headed for a ridiculous fortune, implode on itself because of the fallout. At one point of time, my mother was fully expecting us to own a summer home in South Jersey, a vacation villa in Italy and a brand new home on the Main Line. Those never came to fruition due to the housing collapse in the 80's. Maybe this is part of the reason why I am so thorough when I make any purchases, real estate or otherwise. This profoundly affected my life, watching the dreams and apirations of my father and mother get quashed overnight.

Lots of my generation don't remember the real estate recession from 1988-1992. They were mostly too young to remember it or just weren't affected by it like my family was affected. Fortunately my father was extremely intelligent and very resourceful. He emerged from the collapse stronger, wiser and economically healthy. We never got that villa in Italy, but the old man did well enough to make us all proud of his financial success.

So what does this have to do with David Lereah?

Well, because of my experiences and my trepidation to the whole housing market, I would read all the housing articles over the years. One name that always stood out was David Lereah, the National Association of Realtors chief economist. He was the spin doctor. When the market was a shooting star, he was leading the parade and waving his baton. When the market started to turn, he became a broken record.

Read for yourself a smattering of quotes that I got from Bloomberg News:

Sept 25, 2006: National Association of Realtors' Lereah Comments on Housing,
“We think the housing market has now hit bottom…We're confident that the contraction in the housing market we've been seeing since August 2005 may be ending.”

Dec 11, 2006: Housing Will Recover in First Quarter, Realtors Say
“ Dec. 11 (Bloomberg) -- The worst of the U.S. housing slump is
over, according to the National Association of Realtors.”

Dec 28, 2006: U.S. Existing Home Sales Unexpectedly Rose Last Month
“It appears we've hit bottom,”

Feb 1, 2007: Pending Sales of Existing Homes in U.S. Rose 4.9% in December
“ ``It appears buyers are becoming more comfortable, sensing
the timing is good and that their local market has bottomed
out,'' David Lereah, chief economist for the Realtors' group,
said in a statement. ``I expect modest gains throughout the
year, with what I believe are sustainable levels of activity.''

Feb 15, 2007: Home Prices Fell in Half U.S. Cities in 4th Quarter
“Hopefully the fourth quarter was the bottom for the current housing cycle,'' Lereah said in the statement.

March 23, 2007: Realtors' Lereah Says Housing Market Has `Some Momentum'
“ ``I'd like to say yes, the worst is over. It seems like there
is some momentum now in the housing sector. Most measures in
housing have been on the up rather than the down.”

April 3, 2007: Pending Sales of Existing Homes Rose 0.7% in February
The gain in the February ``is encouraging,'' said David
Lereah, the real-estate agents group's chief economist in a
statement. ``The data suggests an underlying stabilization is
taking place in the housing market, but it will take another
month or two to clarify.''

Look, i'm fully aware he is a spin doctor. I know that being a spokesman for the National Association of Realtors he has to put a nice face on all the data. But how many times can this guy say that the market is "bottoming out" or "stabilizing"? I may not be a reporter, but if I was, I would absolutely be writing about this guy and going to my Lexus Nexus to see how many times he was quoted as saying the market bottomed out. I'm sure there is more quotes of his before Sept 25, 2006 that I could find which puts a happy face on everything.

Are you a reporter? Do you know a reporter? Just send them all my quotes and say, "Someone please call out David Lereah on his bullshit." I'd love to see how the spin doctor pooh-pooh's all the times he has said that the real estate market is botttoming out.

Now, with that being said, I met a neighbor from my same building last night.

I moved my car from Monroe Center for the Arts on 7th and Monroe to a new lot on Newark Street. It was $25 more per month, but having my car across the street from where I live was worth it. Unfortunately, the spot is tandem, but since I use my car maybe once or twice per month, it didn't bother me much. I am in line for a single spot, however.

I met the neighbor and she was a pleasant, 30-something woman of Indian heritage who also lived in the building. After we exchanged pleasantries, I asked her, "So what's wrong with the building", figuring i'd get the dirt now.

"Mice.", she replied.

Dammit!

One of the greatest things about my apartment is that we never had vermin issues. Nor did we have any major insect issues, except for the occasional ant invasion that was easily destroyed. Never had cockroaches. Saw an occasional spider.

My neighbor explained that the building across the street from ours was under construction and she surmised that the mice from there ran across the street into our building. My only caveat is that she is on the Willow side of the building as and i'm on the Clinton side (the building spans the entire block, and has 7 floors).

She also noted that the building did hire an exterminator, and was actively combating the problem. Also said that it wasn't an infestation, but it was a fairly good annoyance. She said that it seemed to be getting better.

Armed with that, I certainly plan to have my contractor look over my apartment for any holes that the mice could wiggle through. The building is concrete poured, not like some of the newer construction that is flimsier and easier to infest/tunnel. Unless the mice have super concrete eating teeth, i'm sure this problem can be managed. I fully expect that once I move in, i'm going to be very active with monitoring this issue with the building management & rallying the tenants to combat it. I told my neighbor that i'm that kind of guy - i'd be the guy printing off 60 copies of "How To Combat a Rodent Problem" from the internet and going to everyone's door handing out the pamphlets.

If I find that mice are a problem, I will go to the ASPCA and get 2 cats for my apartment. My old cat, Honey, was a great mouser - she used to catch mice all the time at my sister's old farmhouse and even caught one at my first apartment on Bloomfield street. She was nice enough to leave it in the middle of the kitchen floor for us, as if to say "Surprise! Look what I got for you!"

I'm kidding about getting two cats. Man, I hope the mice issue isn't that bad. I guess I will have to add to my list of things to do is get an exterminator to look over my apartment.

Oh, and i'm feeling much better today. 95% back to normal. Just a small twinge of stomach pain remains and I still have 2 Cipro tablets to take today, so I hope I will feel 100% by tomorrow or the next day.

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