AC/DC is more than just an awesome band

One of my favorite parts of my job is that I get to play an integral part in helping others make one of the largest (financially speaking, of course) decisions they will ever have to make. It is remarkable how moving it can be to see someone walk in to a house for the first time and know it needs to be their's. Warm fuzzies aside, I really like that each purchase (and sale) is different from the one before it. There is always something to learn. That being said, I recently had an encounter with aluminum wiring.

What is aluminum wiring and why is it a big deal?

In the mid to late 60's, copper prices spiked and home builders were looking for a less expensive alternative. Because it had the same conductivity (and was much cheaper), they shifted to aluminum wiring. 

The problem with aluminum is that it expands and contracts (sometimes up to 30% of it's original size.) These shifts in size create loose connections between the wiring and outlets. As a result, the wires overheat, and electrical fires take place. 

So, should I abandon a house if it has aluminum wiring?

Not necessarily. There are a couple reasons to stick it out. First, every home has aluminum wiring (for the most part), so that is a bit of a trick question. The wiring for most major appliance outlets and the main service wires is aluminum. Most of these are supplying 240 volts. The danger is in the 15 and 30 amp wiring running from outlets to your breaker box. 

Second, it is fixable. Through a process called "pigtailing", the existing aluminum wiring is pigtailed with new copper wiring, providing a safer connection. The wires are connected, crimped with a special sleeve, and this can only be performed by a certified electrician. The new connections should be monitored by that same electrician going forward, but generally speaking, you should be good to go.

In conclusion...

Is aluminum wiring dangerous? Sure it is. It is like driving in a car with no seat belt. Is it the safest way to travel? Absolutely not. If you drive to the store to get milk, are you positively going to get into a fiery accident? The odds are low. There are much safer forms of wiring a home than aluminum. Aluminum wiring represents an increased risk of fire. If properly addressed and monitored, aluminum wiring is manageable. However, each homeowner needs to decide for themselves how important it is to address. And remember: Your Realtor and home inspector (most likely) are not certified electricians. You really should speak with a certified electrician prior to making any sort of decision about the safety of your electrical system. 

Condo's and Condon'ts

Yeah, I know, pretty cheesy title. Hey not everything Mozart put out was gold, either. The topic is serious, however. Most people assume that purchasing a condo is the exact same as purchasing a single family home. Not the case.

For those that are not familiar, a condominium is a single unit that is part of a larger property. There might be 2 condos on the property or 2,000. Every property is different. What is important, is that they are all part of the same space and have shared structures. These condominium complexes are typically managed by an outside company that handles the general maintenance of the exterior (roof, siding, landscaping.) Often times, they will share some utilities like water, sewer, and trash removal. They will also have amenities similar to an apartment complex (pool, gym, clubhouse, etc...)

All of that sounds simple enough, and it can certainly be attractive to the right buyer. It is very similar to the low-maintenance perks of apartment living, while still building equity. However, financing a condo can be a bit tricky. First, there are two types of complexes: FHA approved and non-warrantable. For a condo to be FHA approved, the following needs to be true:

  • No one person can own more than 10%
  • At least 50% must be occupied by the owner
  • No more than 15% of owners can be late on dues

There are also a few other requirements with the types of loans, but that is something a lender can tackle. Why would you want a condo that is FHA approved? Simple. You can purchase it with an FHA loan, and when you go to sell, your buyer can get an FHA loan. By eliminating the possibility of an FHA loan, you are cutting out a fairly large segment of buyers. This also means a larger down payment from you, which for some buyers, can handcuff their ability to purchase a property that needs a bit more work. 

Generally speaking, a larger down payment is going to be necessary for a condo purchase as compared to a single family home. There are also fees that must be considered when talking about a loan. HOA's can be a killer. For example's sake, let's say you want to buy a condo. It is listed at $100,000 in a non-warrantable building. It has HOA fees of $250 per month. Because it is a non-warrantable building, a 25% down payment is required by the lender. There is also a home that you like. It is for sale for $150,000. It is not part of a neighborhood association. Let's compare the two.

  • Condo
    • $75,000 mortgage
    • $25,000 down payment
    • Approximate monthly payment of $800
  • Single Family Home
    • $125,000 mortgage
    • $25,000 down payment
    • Approximate monthly payment of $900

Do you think there is a difference between a $150,000 house and a $100,000 condo? Absolutely. Is the house a better buy? Not necessarily. Every buyer has different needs, and it is important to speak with a Broker regarding what should work best for you.

Big style, tight space

Not everyone can afford 4,000 square feet. Not everyone who can afford 4,000 square feet wants to maintain it. Indianapolis is a fairly unique city, in that with our system of highways and interstates you can travel from one side of the city to the other in less than an hour. Let's compare it to Chicago. At times, it can take upwards of 2 hours to travel from the city center to nearby suburbs. That's about the same amount of time it takes to drive from Indianapolis to Louisville. Here's my point, because most of the city is accessible via car in less than an hour, we are able to develop cheap land into large subdivisions that value size over perceived convenience. Outside of a select group of neighborhoods, most Indianapolis homes can easily accommodate the possessions of the average Indianapolitan (yeah, that's what we are called.) However, for the rest of us, we make due with slightly less space.

The average home in Broad Ripple has 947 square feet above grade. With homes in surrounding suburbs typically 2-3 times larger, I am often asked how we make due with the limited space. First, we find that we have more than enough livable area for 2 adults, 1 toddler, and a giant dog. We have sleeping spaces, a place to hang out, a place to eat. I am not sure that there is much more that we could ask for. I certainly understand the question, as storage comes at a premium. A few general rules for storing your things in a tight space:

1. Rotate: You will not use everything that you own, every day. It simply won't happen. Though not completely predictable, you can assume that the weather will behave in pretty general terms throughout certain seasons. I don't need a parka in July or shorts in January. That means that my tiny closets don't need to hold absolutely all of my clothes at all times. Some time around March and September I switch my clothes out for the next season. Though we occasionally get an 80 degree day in October, I can always dig out a pair of shorts for a week. This can work for quite a bit more than clothes (i.e. media, children's toys, etc...)

2. No Dead Space: Pretty simply idea. Have you ever been to an art gallery and overheard the pretentious guy next to you discuss "negative space" with his disinterested date? He's talking about the white on the canvas. You have negative space in your home as well. How can you re-purpose that negative space as storage. The simplest areas include: ottomans, underneath the stairs, and bench seating. Google it. Other people are creative, steal their ideas.

3. Reduce: Absolutely the simplest. Get rid of your stuff. It's junk. It absolutely is. If you don't believe me, go hold a yard sale. Let complete strangers tell you exactly what they think you're prized positions are worth. That couch you won't give up? 20 bucks, tops. That fantastic dress? 75 cents. It'll bring you back to Earth quickly. When tossing your junk, think about donating it. Great tax writeoff, and you are supporting a good cause. You would be surprised how easy it is to get by on less. 

If you have any creative ideas let me know!


If you want it done right, should you do it yourself?

Ever want to elicit a visceral response from your even-keeled Realtor friend? Ask them about For Sale by Owner's. The idea of a member of the general public selling their home without the use of an agent absolutely drives some of peers crazy. I get it. My wife, the teacher, isn't a fan of homeschooling. In fact, most people who provide a service or a special set of skills aren't usually keen on individuals going the do-it-yourself route.

However, I certainly believe that there is a place for FSBO's. I choose to think about it like this: When done correctly, a For Sale by Owner can be a huge help to me and my business. First, I am able to avoid a situation with an unrealistic seller. Most people list FSBO, because of the financial ramifications. They don't see the value in a Realtor. This can lead to a challenging relationship from the start. Listing a home is not free. To hire the right photographer, stager, and contractors cost money. There are brokerage fees, open house fees, heck, even the sign in the front yard is money out of the pocket of the listing agent. To spend that kind of money on a listing where the owner doesn't trust you is bad business. It is much better for both parties if they list on their own.

Second, if the owner has done a halfway decent job of advertising their home, I will be able to find it and examine if it is a good fit for my buyers. Many buyers agent's will scour only the MLS for potential showings. Many will outright blackball any FSBO's and refuse to bring clients by. Again, this is great for me, because it means that I am going the extra mile to assist my clients where others might stop short. Is it more difficult to setup a showing with a FSBO, of course! With a listing, 95% of the time, I simply call a 3rd party service (or order online) to setup the showing with the owner, and they manage the confirmations and what not. With an owner, I am trying to reach someone who has a full-time job and is now a part-time "agent." It can be very difficult. 

There are certainly challenges and advantages to negotiating directly with a homeowner. First, I am speaking with someone who may or may not have knowledge of the process. This can provide the buyer with a bit of an upper hand. There are certainly opportunities in every transaction to "beat" the other side. It might be creative wording, a well placed addendum, etc... I can think specifically of a family friend who sold their home on their own, and because they failed to properly understand the contract, did not realize that they were responsible for replacing their entire roof prior to closing. It ran them $40,000 and they were looking at around $20,000 in Realtor commissions. 

There are certainly some disadvantages as well. Real Estate, though incredibly enjoyable, is not a hobby I do for fun. It is my job, and I need to see compensation. When working with a homeowner, I need to secure funding for my work. That means the individual who most likely opted not to use a Realtor because of the cost, and I, need to talk about what I am worth. Now if I listed a home and represented both the buyer and seller, I would reduce my commission to around 4%. I reduce it for two reasons. 1. It saves my sellers money, and increases their bottom line. 2. I will not be doing twice the work (6%), because my hands are tied in a limited agency setting. Should I ask for 4% from the sellers? Absolutely. Are they going to pay it? Not a chance. They already believe: a. I am overpaid. b. The negotiations are the easy part. c. They did all the work. Assuming that we can agree on a number, the negotiations can be painful. Balancing ethical duties to customers (the sellers), and my fiduciary duty to my client can be a bit trying. Also, if they fail to understand certain portions of the process, it becomes my duty to educate them. This helps my client, as it moves us closer to the closing, but it also increases my workload. I welcome the challenge, and I believe that my clients should be able to purchase the home of their dreams no matter who is selling it.

As there are pluses and minuses for the buyers agent, there are certainly pluses and minuses for the homeowner. First, you become a part-time agent. That means fielding the phone calls, the drop ins, the advertising, the tire kickers, the low-ballers, etc... It can be taxing, and you should certainly be prepared for some work. There are also going to be individuals that you will need to hire throughout the way. It might make sense to hire a Realtor or an appraiser to give you an accurate picture of what your home is worth. You will need to consult a real-estate attorney to look over any documents you may sign. Advertising can vary in cost. Getting your listing on Zillow is free, but the MLS can cost upwards of $1,000. All of this adds up. As mentioned above, if you opt not to consult anyone you can end up in an unfavorable contract, which can cost 2,3, and 4 times what you would have spent otherwise. There is also opportunity cost. If you are in an area that has sharp market swings with the seasons, listing your home by yourself during the peak can hinder your ability to sell down the road with a professional, if they are forced to sell during a "down" period. There are a multitude of factors to consider prior to putting your home on the market.

It's not all bad. I have always said that a good home, in a good area, for a good price, will sell. Whether that is by owner or agent, it will almost always sell. I have seen homes in my neighborhood that were listed by owner sell in 2 weeks, as well as 52 weeks. Good agents will continue to hunt down any home that is for sale and will work diligently to make sure there client is happy. That certainly holds true for FSBO's. Would I recommend selling your home on your own? In most cases, no. There are a myriad of potential pitfalls that most homeowners do not know exist, that can destroy you financially. Why risk it? However, there are absolutely instances where a FSBO can be successful. 

If you are unsure of which scenario you might fall in, please feel free to reach out to me. I would be more than willing to speak with you about the value of your home, how I would get it sold, and if it might be best for you to go it alone. 

To paint or not to paint...

When prepping your home to hit the market, most people immediately think of a deep clean, de-cluttering, and staging. Too often we ignore one of the easiest way to give our home a clean and updated look, painting. 

First and foremost, painting is not a fix-all for a house that is not ready for a new owner. It will not remediate imperfections, add square footage, or update your dysfunctional kitchen. However, a neutral, clean palate can assist buyers with placing their own furniture in your home. A few reasons why you should consider a new paint job:

  1. The smells. Painting can assist with smells both positive and negative. Whether from cooking, smoking or pets, odors get trapped in our furniture, flooring, and walls. A fresh paint job can go a long way towards eliminating the odors that are usually present in older homes. The paint itself has a light smell that is evident within the first week or so of application. Potential buyers will be able to pick up on the smell, and then notice that you have freshly painted the home. It will show that you have taken care of the house, and that you are prepared to do what is necessary to get it sold.
  2. You are the only one who likes that shade of green. Seriously. Neon green is not attractive to the masses. I am guilty of it. My son's room is an awful shade. The paint is so loud, I have no idea how he sleeps at night. Prior to selling our home we are going to need to paint the room in a much more neutral shade. Again, it is about getting buyers to visualize themselves in the home. If the color is something that really turns them off, you are just giving them another reason not to go with you.
  3. It shows attention to detail. If you saw a home with chipped paint, a water stained ceiling, and smudged walls, what would you think? Most likely that the owners did not keep up with routine maintenance, there might be serious structural damage to the home, and that there were either dogs or kids running around that could have done extensive damage to the areas I can't see. All this because you failed to touch up a little bit of paint here and there. As mentioned above, do not give buyers the opportunity to think anything but the best with your property. 

Is painting an easy fix that most every new homeowner plans on doing? Absolutely. Does that mean that they should have to? Absolutely not. If it is easy for them, it is easy for you. Your new buyer might still plan on painting over what you did, but the fact that you were able to secure a buyer by using a low cost upgrade to your home should help you sleep a little better at night. 

If you are thinking about putting your home up for sale, please click over to the Podcast section of the site for more information on the steps to prep. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

No keys, No problem

Though fairly common, occasionally a new homeowner will close on a house and won't be granted possession. Often we assume that during closing we are going to suffer through an hour or two of excessive paperwork, make a bit of small talk, and then we are rewarded at the end with a shiny set of keys! The keys are tangible proof that we are now homeowners. 

However, there are homeowners who are going to ask to retain possession for a number of days after the closing, before turning the keys over to the new homeowner. This can be for a variety of reasons:

  1. They are closing on a new home and simply need more time. While it would make more sense to simply move back the closing date, occasionally this is done to line up better with a mortgage payment, hotel stay, or moving truck rental. Example: Closing on the 30th to avoid the next months mortgage payment, but not giving up possession until the 3rd to lineup with a new move.
  2. They are building in added protection in case the deal falls through. I can't imagine loading everything up on the trucks, packing it in storage, renting a hotel room, only to find out that you are unable to close when originally planned. By giving a few extra days to move out, in the event that the home does not close the homeowners can simply stay put. That is not to say that they won't need to cancel any plans that they made for post-closing, but it might save them a headache or two.
  3. The home is sentimental, and they simply don't want to let go. It is my job to be objective and direct. It is imperative to possess these qualities, because the purchase and sale of a home can be an emotional process. Much of our identity is wrapped up in our home, and to give that to someone new is difficult. For some sellers letting go is just remarkably tough.

Let's posit that you are in one of these transactions. How do you protect yourself and what are the potential dangers?

  1. Your first step is to draw up a Post Closing Possession Agreement. This 2 page document is imperative for the buyer. It will outline the per diem rate to stay in the home, the damages due in the event the seller fails to leave on time, and a security deposit that will be held to cover any damages that take place between closing and possession. Both parties will need to agree on the terms, but as the buyer, you are in the drivers seat.
  2. Contact your homeowners insurance provider. Explain to them exactly what is taking place and when. They should be able to explain coverage options, and the fees associated. Once the home closes, you own it. This means that your homeowners policy will need to cover the property from the minute you close, whether you have possession or not.
  3. Complete both a closing inspection and pre-possession walkthrough. We always complete a final walkthrough prior to closing. This is to ensure that nothing has changed with the property since you last viewed it. You will also want to take a walkthrough as possession is being conveyed. As they moved out, did they damage the walls? Once something removed that shouldn't have been? This is why you have the deposit in place.

When the buyer takes possession after closing, they are the ones that are assuming the risk. A new relationship is created between the two parties, as they start to resemble tenant-landlord. This is why it is imperative to have a well-written document that outlines exactly who does what, when, and where. While the vast majority of the time sellers are congenial and able to move out on time with zero issues, you always want to make sure that you are protected!

Do you have a style?

Quite often I hear, "This home is just to modern. I mean, I like the house, I just think it is too modern for me." While I can appreciate that the architectural style of the home should be synched with it's interior decoration, often the "modern" that most of us are referencing is gray walls and minimalist furniture. Below is a breakdown of a handful of the most common design styles and a few examples. Most of us can pick out Art Deco, English Country and Tropical styles. But do you understand the subtle differences between Contemporary, Modern, and Transitional?

These are the styles you are most likely to see in the area, and I hope that this helps to answer any questions you might have about what works for you. Please feel free to post your own opinions in the comments section!

Porches, a distant memory?

I really struggled with a title for this post, full disclosure. However, I really think that this is a topic that needs to be discussed, so I am going to focus less on a snappy title and more on the content within the article. 

The front porch is slowly disappearing from both the urban and suburban landscape. The allocation of space has shifted in home design over the last 40 years, and one of the biggest shifts has been the exclusion of the front porch. The porch was an absolute staple during the Victorian Era, because it had a variety of uses. It was the first checkpoint for any callers, sleeping porches came in vogue during the turn of the century, and, most importantly, they provided an area to connect with neighbors. 

Culturally, what we view as normal social interaction has changed. The vast majority of the time spent walking from one place to another is focused on our phone, ipod, social media, or simply trying to avoid eye contact with strangers. One of my favorite parts about living in Broad Ripple is that complete strangers will wave at me, more or less because they recognize my dog, car, or something else that's fairly distinguishable. If I am on my bike heading to the Ripple Bagel and Deli, and can count on at least 3-4 smiles or waves along the way. Heck, I wave or gesture at everyone. I think it is part of what makes Broad Ripple great.

If we can agree that we have become less social with strangers and wholly more introverted, what does that have to do with the porch? I mean, we still like being outside, right? Of course we do! But, that space has shifted to an area that is secluded, protected from outsiders, and can hose friends and family safely. The backyard deck and patio. Where we once sipped lemonade or read the morning paper, said hi to our neighbor and his dog, or watched the kids ride their bikes, has been replaced by the backyard patio, barbecue, and privacy fence. When we are in the backyard only the people who we permit to join us are present. It is very similar to our social networks. Facebook has intricate privacy settings to assure that you don't make contact with strangers, and that's the way we like it. It is the same as our outdoor congregating spaces. Put me in the back so I don't have to awkwardly speak with the guy across the street.

All of this is to the detriment of the porch. She's a glorious piece of space, and she should be loved and nurtured. Your porch is the first point contact between you and the people who live around you. Your porch is the first step in turning those people from strangers into neighbors.

Neighborhood Nomads

It's plug time! But first... I hope everyone stayed safe during the storm last week. We lost power at the homestead for a bit and had to replace some plumbing, but it definitely could have been worse. If you encountered damage to your home or mechanicals, please do not hesitate to contact me for a referral.

On to the plug...

Neighborhood Nomads is a blog curated by Kate Gallery of Washington, D.C. A school administrator by day, ninja journalist by night, she writes compelling narrations of urban life across nation and world. I recently was interviewed for a piece on Broad Ripple and the issues around a growing family and growing community. I don't want to copy her work and place it here, so I will include the link. Check it out, read the story, stay for a few more. She is overloaded with talent and a sensational read.

http://neighborhoodnomads.com/2014/01/12/neighborhood-nomad-stuart-broad-ripple/

Virtual Coin; Physical Home

Bitcoin has been buzzing for some time now. Whether it be Dread Pirate Roberts or the recent Chinese ban, Bitcoin has been one of the most talked about topics of the last year. For those that are not familiar with Bitcoin, it is an alternative, digital currency. Embedded in code, the currency can be transferred between users. The total cumulative amount is capped, and is currently valued around $11 billion. To put it's rise in perspective, in January of 2009 it traded for around $10 per BTC, which are now worth around $700 and peaked over $1000.

Would you accept a Bitcoin payment for your home? What a risk! Bitcoin is absolutely recognized as a currency, but is quite comparable to a stock (similar to currency.) Would you accept GE stock in place of cash? It is an incredibly complex decision, but I will go ahead and throw out 3 reasons why I would accept it.

1. Cash is a Risk. Why stop there? Any recognized currency is a risk. Some are riskier than others. I can count at least a half dozen friends who have or are currently trading on the currency market. Why? Because it fluctuates. The US Dollar is not stagnant. It moves regularly, and some days it moves more than others. When the economy is perceived as strong, the value of the dollar increases relative to other currencies. During the recession, the value of the dollar decreased and so did it's buying power. Bitcoin is no different.

2. You are Expanding Your Potential Customer Base. There are two ways to acquire Bitcoin. You can buy BTC's from another user, or you can mine for coins. This mining is way over my head, but, simply put, involves solving jumbled code and doing a bit of computer programming problem solving. Like I said, I really don't understand mining fully. However, there is a huge population who fully back this currency, and by accepting payment I am opening my home up to a greater pool of potential buyers.

3. It's Great Publicity. There is an individual who is selling his home in the Hamptons. He wants to set himself apart, and he believes in Bitcoin. That guys is going to get a few clicks. He generated more interest for his listing than any of his neighbors. What was once unique (see virtual tours, professional photgraphers, IVR systems) are now common place. This gentleman has found a creative way to get more people to view his home. Does this mean that he will receive a higher offer? Probably not. But, he is going to generate more traffic.

Bottom line: It is most certainly an option that comes with risks as well as rewards. It is a choice for each homeowner and she be considered as a possibility. I'd love to hear what you think!

Can I Sell My House During the Holidays?

Right around this time every year, after Thanksgiving and during the first snow, some variation of the same conversation takes place all across the Midwest:

Seller: "Hey, it's so-and-so. I thought we should talk about maybe taking our house off the market. Nobody buys a house in the Winter, and I really just want to spend time with my family during the holidays without having to constantly keep the house clean."

Agent: "I am not sure if it is good for the house to be off the market for an extended period of time, because we might miss out on the right buyer. I really think you should re-consider."

Seller: "Yeah, I just don't want to have to think about it, and I would really just like to focus on my family this time of year. There's already enough stress as it is. I am sure the market will pickup in the Spring, and we can sell it then."

Agent: "You're right. There will be more buyers in the Spring. We can take it off the market and see what happens in a few months."

Both sides are looking at the season in the wrong light. Here's why:

1. You're house will never fell more like a "home" than during the holidays. If you are anything like us, lights are up, the tree is decorated, and seasonal candles are burning all around the home. Cookies, cakes, and other treats are in and out of the oven with their comforting aroma wafting through the house. When prospective buyers come through your home, it will be easier for them to envision themselves living there and creating their own holiday traditions.

2. There are very few casual house hunters out in January. There's six inches of snow on the ground and a cold bite in the air. Most people would rather curl up at home than brave the nasty weather just to look at a house across town they have no intention of purchasing. Agents operate the same way. The majority of Realtors aren't going to spend their time working with clients who have not been properly vetted (which can tend to happen in the busy months of Spring and Summer.)

3. The Agent's attitude "we might miss out on the right buyer" implies that they are sitting back and waiting. I strongly believe that to secure an interested party you have to actively market, not advertise, the home. Winter is a great time to highlight the community, holiday activities, and the social activities of the neighborhood association.

Homes sell throughout the year and for a variety of reasons. Very few homes sell off the market. The right agent can sell your home in any season, and besides, I love a good challenge!

Tonic Ball

Have you been? This is the 12th year the Ball has been put on, and for those that have never been, here's a bit of background.

The Tonic Ball is held each year at three different Fountain Square locations: Radio Radio, White Rabbit Cabaret, and the Fountain Square Theatre. Local musicians cover some of the most popular artists from decades past. Not only is there fantastic music on hand, but there is also a silent auction and art walk. If you have ever gotten lost on a First Friday at the Murphy Arts Building, you are well aware of the tremendous number of talented artists who call Fountain Square their home base. They also host Tiny Tonic, a family friendly version that took place on Saturday the 16th.

All of this acts as one of the largest fundraisers for Second Helpings, a local program that not only acts as a food pantry but also as a culinary school for those who lack the means to afford a more traditional route.

Tonic Ball, Friday November 22nd at 3 local Fountain Square venues. Visit www.tonicindy.com for more information and ticket locations.

Best Restaurants in Broad Ripple

 I am going to take a crack at this with one huge caveat, I am not a restaurant critic. I am not a foodie, sommelier, or chef. I am just a guy who has lived in a neighborhood for quite awhile and tried everything at least twice. Here goes nothing.

Breakfast 

 Not a restaurant, but I am going to go with Rene's. Absolutely everything that they put out is on point. The scones are moist, the croissants are crisp, and the chocolate chip brioche will make you re-think your resolution to "lose those last few pounds." Everything is very affordable to boot. My wife, son, and I can eat very well for $7-$8. If you haven't tried it out, give them a chance. It is well worth it.

Honorable Mention: Three Sisters, The Donut Shop , Petite Chou

Lunch 

Northside Social moved in a few years ago in what had been a biker bar. After a couple of months, Northside Kitchenette moved in to the adjacent space. Offering a diverse lunch menu, NK can satiate the most particular tastes. The plates are well priced, especially in comparison to Northside Social, and the staff is friendly and attentive. Plus, the decor is fun and light. Northside Kitchenette is a fantastic place to take a potential client or a visiting family member.

Honorable Mention: La Piedad, Monon Food Company, Zest 

Dinner 

You didn't think I'd do it, but I will. I've read these types of posts before, and 90% of the time they tip toe around the tough one, dinner. I am bold. I am outspoken. Fire on the Monon was life changing. The last time I was there was during Chowdown Midtown. Even with discounted meals, a noisy two year old, and a crowded dining room, the food was fantastic. Everything was cooked perfectly, seasoned perfectly, and presented perfectly. We could not ask for more. Now my brother has mentioned that Fire has been hit or miss for him. He eats McDonalds for lunch 4 days a week. I listen to his opinion on food just like I listen to my mom give her opinion on IU basketball.

Honorable Mention: You tell me. I would love to hear your comments. 

  

What counts as art?

Please try and stay with me, because I have a feeling this might turn in to multiple posts. As I am sure most of you have heard, Banksy has been putting together a bit of an "exhibit" in NYC, completing 1 instillation each day around the city. He has hit up multiple burroughs, and those who have been trying to track him have been unsuccessful up to this point.

Today, he setup a stall on the street and paid an elderly gentleman to peddle his wares. He had a sign that stated "spray art $60" and 2-3 dozen original works. If you are not familiar with Banksy, he uses graffiti to express political views, has directed films, and has remained in relative secrecy for many, many years. You can think of him as a British Ai Weiwei. Most people passed on the stall, with a few picking up the canvasses valued somewhere between $25-40,000 a piece. Pretty solid investment, but I digress. 

This brings me to my point. What is art? Is graffiti art? It would stand to reason that the very highly paid, and hopefully highly educated, art appraisers seem to think so. And yet, this Summer, Broad Ripple was littered with graffiti that cost tens of thousands of dollars to remove. This wasn't considered art. The individuals who created it weren't lauded as visionaries. They were pursued as criminals. They made no political stand. They simply tagged their name/handle or the name of their crew on random post boxes and Monon directional signs. I think there are very few that would regard this as art. So that leads to my follow up question?

What drives someone to abandon the area of their craft that heaps praise, fame, and occasionally cash, and drives them to behave criminally? I just don't understand it.  

I mentioned earlier that this would most likely drag into multiple posts, and I plan on following this up with an article about Mosaic City. They are doing incredibly things for artists and they deserve our support. Until then... 

Getting Involved

We mow the grass, spread the mulch, and clean out the gutters. Each Spring, the mood grabs us and we plant beautiful annuals, perennials, hostas, and shrubbery. It is the way that we show how much we care about the neighborhood and our home.  

However, taking pride in the neighborhood goes much further than paying a service to spray your grass once a month. To be truly involved, you must take a very objective look at the issues that are truly impacting your area. How are the schools? Common areas? Do you have parks in place? Are local businesses successful? 

Here are 3 easy ways that you can get involved and improve your neighborhood: 

1. Who needs help? Identify the elderly residents in your area. This should not be overly complicated. Use your eyes and trust your instincts. Knock on the door and introduce yourself. Volunteer to help with chores inside and outside of the house. You can help them take care of the lawn, landscaping, routine maintenance and clean up.

2. Where needs help?  I know, not the best grammar, but I am trying to keep a theme. All common areas in your neighborhood must be maintained by someone, why not you? This can range from parks to sidewalks to entry signs. If you have an area that you noticed has not been receiving the attention it should, odds are, so has someone else. Once you have taken the lead and begun the beautification process, others well step in to assist you.

3. What needs help? The internet is remarkable in its ability to connect like-minded individuals and organizations. Take a few minutes to find an organization nearby that shares your passion. For me it's education. I believe there are few things more closely tied to home values than the quality of the schools in the area. By volunteering my time to the area schools, I am doing my part to help improve my neighborhood, at least indirectly.

Take a few minutes this evening, and see if there is anything you can do. I am sure that you will find there is more than you think.