How to Build a Fence Frame

I recently had to rebuild a bunch of fences on a new rental property. As you may already know, the hardest part is digging the holes and building the frame. This article explains step by step how to quickly and correctly build a fence frame.

1. Run string from one end of new fence to the other end near the ground

In order for the fence to be straight, we need to make a straight line from both ends. Since we haven’t dug holes yet, we put the string near the ground so we can mark where we want the holes for the fence posts to go.

2. Mark post hole locations

Depending on the existence of neighboring fences, we may or may not need posts at the ends. Mark where the post holes will go. Each fence panel between posts will be 8′ long. For marking the locations, you can you use a wood stake, metal stake, flag stake, or spray paint. I prefer using flag stakes.

3. Dig fence post holes

Post type

Normally people use 8′ long 4×4 pressure treated wood for fence posts. If you do that, then the horizontal 2x4s (rails) will have to be toenailed into it or secured using metal brackets.

Toenailing 2×4 rail to fence post
Fence rail bracket

Either way, that’s a lot of work, especially if you later decide to make adjustments. Also, the wood can rot and weaken over time. For these reasons, I just spend the extra money and buy steel fence posts.

The Postmaster 1-3/4 in. x 3-1/2 in. x 7-1/2 ft. Galvanized Steel Fence Post is $30 at Home Depot. These posts have holes along them for securing the rails.

Post hole diameter

The post hole diameter should be about 3 times the width of the post. Since the steel posts are 3.5″ wide, then the hole should be about 10.5″ in diameter.

Post hole depth

The post hole depth should be 1/3 to 1/2 the post height above the ground. Since we want our fence to be the standard 6′ tall, and the steel posts are 7.5′ long, we’ll make our holes 2.5′ deep.

Top of fence

The height of the fence post and the top rail above ground will be 5′. Therefore, the top one foot of the 6′ tall vertical fence boards will be above the top rail. The problem with this is that top one foot portion of the fence boards can warp.

To fix this, you can screw a horizontal piece of wood (2×3 or 2×4) at or near the top of the fence boards on the side where the fence rails are.

Soak the ground

Before digging holes. you’ll want to soak the ground, preferably overnight. This will make it much easier come time to dig. The deeper you dig, the harder the soil. One way to soak the hole locations is placing a tube for concrete where each hole would be. These tubes are 4 ‘ long so you can cut them in half.

To secure the tubes, you can dig a small hole first using a hand digger.

Or, you can just use a jack hammer with spade bit to make a circle the diameter of the tube. The tube would then be inserted into the circle.

With the tube in place, you can fill it with water and let it drain slowly directly where you want to dig holes.

Digging tool

To dig holes, the easiest and cleanest way is to use a gas-powered earth auger. You can rent one from the Home Depot ($55 for 4 hours). You can choose from a variety of auger bit diameters. Choose a 10″ or 12″ diameter auger bit.

When you are digging, if you can’t dig any deeper, then stop and pour water into the hole and let the water drain. You can then dig again.

You may run into roots and rocks while digging with the auger. In this case, you’ll need to cut the roots using a reciprocating saw or break up the rocks using a jack hammer.

4. Insert posts and secure rails

Now that you have 2.5′ deep holes, you can insert the steel posts in them and screw 3 horizontal pressure-treated 2×4 rails between the posts.

Picture showing 3 rails between posts

Since each hole diameter is about 10″ or 12″ in diameter, and each post is 3.5″ wide, you have room to move each post so that a standard 8′ long 2×4 will fit between each post. Screwing the 2x4s in place before pouring concrete helps ensure the posts are plumb.

5. Plumb and brace the posts

To ensure the fence is straight from one end to the other, tie a string at both the top and bottom of both end posts. Then adjust the position of each post in between and using a fence post level, check for plumb.

To hole the posts in place, brace them using stakes. I prefer hitting a 2′ long steel stake straight into the ground and then screwing piece of wood horizontally between the steel stake and the post. The steel stakes are pre-drilled. There should be two braces perpendicular to each other to hold the post plumb.

6. Pour concrete

Mixing concrete is a hassle and a mess. Instead of doing that, just use Quikrete 50 lb. Fast-Setting Concrete Mix which doesn’t require mixing.

Pour the dry concrete mix in the hole up to 3-4 inches below the ground. Then pour 1 gallon of water for every 50 lb of concrete mix. The mix will set hard in 20 to 40 minutes. If you are unsure if the concrete will completely mix with the water, you can divide the concrete and water in half and or a third and work progressively.

Wait about 4 hours continuing work on your fence.

How to Make a Website Like This One

Set up a barebones WordPress site

You can just accept the default values (unless the defaults are asking you to pay for an upgrade).

Change the theme to the Twenty Fifteen

In the WordPress dashboard, go to Appearance > Themes > Add Themes and search for “Twenty Fifteen”.

Create a child theme of the Twenty Fifteen theme


Create a folder called mychildtheme or whatever you want to call it.

In the mychildtheme folder, create a style.css file with the following content:

The style.css file tells WordPress to load the Parent Theme’s files after the Child. It will override any styles in the Parent Theme’s style.css file that have the same selectors.

Template: Very Important! This is the folder name of the parent theme. If this variable is not correct the Child Theme will not work.


In the mychildtheme folder, create a functions.php file with the following content:

This code tells your theme to call the style.css file and the parent CSS file.


In the mychildtheme folder, create a screenshot.png file. A theme’s screenshot is the thumbnail image that shows up under Appearance > Themes in the WordPress Dashboard. The recommended image size is 880×660. The screenshot will only be shown as 387×290, but the larger image allows for high-resolution viewing on HiDPI displays.

Upload your child theme

Upload the mychildtheme folder to wp-content/themes.

Learn more about creating child themes

Activate your child theme

In the WordPress admin, go to Appearance > Themes in the Dashboard. You should see your theme listed. Click to activate it. In the screenshot below, my theme’s screenshot thumbnail is a picture of a cat.

Edit templates

Any PHP file in your mychildtheme folder will override the same file in the parent theme. For this site, I created some PHP templates so my child theme folder looks like this.

Download all files as a compressed zip file, unzip it, and upload each file to your mychildtheme folder.

Add background images

Search Google Images for large background images. Upload them to your WordPress Admin via the Media page. Make a list of URLs based on what you see for each uploaded image in WordPress.

Add JavaScript to randomly pick a background image

To add custom JavaScript, I just installed the “Simple Custom CSS and JS plugin” . Copy the code below , update the URLs to be the backyard images you uploaded to WP-Admin, then paste the code.

Whenever you update CSS or JS, make sure to flush the cache to see your changes.

Improve Internet / Wifi Throughout House Using Existing Coaxial Cable (MoCA)

So, in my 2 story house my internet modem is in the family room in the back of the house. The internet comes over coaxial cable by Comcast xFinity 1Gbps. There is a security camera at the front of the house facing the driveway. Every now and then, the security camera would go offline. To spread wifi all over the house, I have the tp-link deco M9 plus AC2200 mesh wifi router (3 wifi access points). The backhaul between access points is wifi, unfortunately. I can’t have a wired ethernet backhaul between access points because running ethernet cable would require opening up walls which is a lot of work. Fortunately, however, there is existing coaxial cabling throughout the house. So, I can use MoCA (Multimedia over Coax Alliance) adapters to bridge ethernet over coax so I can have a wired coax backhaul between access points. This allows the wifi signal at each access point to be much stronger than with a wifi backhaul. There are many diagrams and tutorials online but none that I found were clear enough hence this blog post. Below is my setup with a diagram which should make it clear what goes where.

Now, if you don’t know whether some cables are connected or not, you can trace them using a continuity tester. I used the Klein Tools VDV512-101 Explorer 2 Coax Tester Kit, Includes Cable Tester / Wire Tracer / Coax Mapper with Remotes to Test up to 4 Locations ($27 on Amazon)

The continuity tester doesn’t work through splitters. Once you’ve tested all cables, you can label them in your junction box like I did below. As you can see, there is a 1 – 2 splitter where the one input is the coax cable from xfinity. The two outputs each go to the master bedroom and family room.

I added a new coax cable to go to the garage but it’s not connected in the picture because I need to add another splitter or replace the existing splitter with a 1-3 (or more) splitter. For MoCA to work, you need a splitter that

  • is not amplified
  • goes up to at least 1.5 Ghz (1500 Mhz)
GE Digital 4-Way Coaxial Cable Splitter, 2.5 GHz 5-2500 MHz

Before and After



Powerline Adapters

You can also bridge ethernet over your home’s existing electrical wiring using Powerline adapters, e.g.

TP-Link AV600 Powerline Ethernet Adapter(TL-PA4010 KIT)

However, these adapters don’t work if there’s a surge suppressor. Also, there’s a lot more activity in your home electrical wiring that could interfere with the signal, e.g. from the refrigerator, hair dryers, air conditioners, washing machines, and other appliances.

Replace Ugly Grass With Concrete

At one of my rental properties, I had some really ugly grass on the on both sides of the property and a jungle of weeds in the back. The space was wasted because not could or wanted to use it.

The previous owners (investors) didn’t want to / know how to maintain the property so I was able to get buy it from them at a discount.

I decided to replace most of the grass (weeds) with concrete indicated in neon green below. I wanted the grass at the remaining areas indicated in dark green to be removed at a depth of 3 inches to place 3/4″ Ginger rock / Sonoma Gold rock. I also wanted to plant ten 15 gallon Italian Cypress trees along the eastern fence.

Here’s how the project went from start to finish.

Day 1: Hauling and Dumping Garbage

Loading debris into trailer using a wheelbarrow
Cutting old fence with a chainsaw
Preparing to cover the trailer before going to the dump
On the way to the dump
At the Lovelace dump in Manteca

Day 2: Removing Grass and Dirt

Before removing grass and dirt
Removing grass and dirt
Removing grass and dirt
Moving grass and dirt to trailer
After removing grass and dirt
Loading dirt in the back of the house into a power wheelbarrow
Moving dirt from the back to the front
Moving dirt from the back to the front
Loading dirt into trailer
Loading dirt into trailer
Loading dirt into trailer

Day 3: Removing Grass, Dirt, and Old Concrete Slabs

Removing old concrete walkway
Loading trailer with pieces of old concrete

Day 4: Installing Wood Boundaries

Hammering in wood stake into ground

Day 5: Pouring and Spreading Gravel

Pouring gravel (side yard)
Spreading gravel (side yard)
After spreading gravel (side yard)
Dumping gravel (front yard)
Spreading gravel (front yard)

Day 6: Compacting Gravel and Installing Rebar and Weed Fabric

Compacting the gravel
The wood form in which the concrete will be poured
Laying down rebar (not done yet)
Added weed fabric under wood borders so that weeds won’t grow along perimeter of concrete slab

Day 7: Finishing Rebar Installation & Watering Yard

Installing rebar in the front yard
Installing rebar in the side yard
Watering the yard

Day 8: Pouring & Finishing Concrete

How to Manually Migrate a WordPress Site

The instructions below are for migrating a WordPress site on GoDaddy’s Managed WordPress service to a GoDaddy Linux Shared Web Hosting server that uses cPanel. Nevertheless, the instructions still work elsewhere.

Step 1: Back Up (Download) Your Site’s Files

To easiest way to download all your site’s files is to archive (zip / tar) all files into one large file and then download it. You can use a free FTP / SFTP tool like WinSCP to do this or Godaddy’s File Manager or cPanel’s File Manager. Just connect to the server, select all files, right click and choose “Archive and Download”. A file named archive.tar.gz will be downloaded.

GoDaddy’s File Manager
WinSCP SFTP Client

If you are unable to archive all files due to the connection timing out, you can SSH into the server and archive the files from the command line. On Windows 10, you can open Windows Powershell, SSH into the server, and run the command tar -zcvf all.tar.gz *.

When downloading the archive, you may want to connect over ethernet instead of wifi to increase speeds. When I did this, I was downloading at around 23 MB/s.

You can also download files from the command line using the following SCP command if you are on Linux or MacOS.

scp /local/dir

Step 2: Back Up (Export) Your Site’s Database

The easiest way to do this is by connecting to your MySQL database using PHPMyAdmin. Then, click the Export tab, ensure SQL is selected, check the “Save as file” checkbox, and then click the Go button. The database will then be downloaded.

Step 3: Upload Your Site’s Files

On this step, you can use the same tool as in step 1, e.g. WinSCP. If you are going to host the migrated site on GoDaddy’s Shared Linux server, you can just create a new folder on the destination server, e.g. at /home/javanigus/public_html/ where is the name of your site.

Make sure to upload the archive (one large file) archive.tar.gz. Don’t unarchive it locally and then upload a million separate files. After you upload the file, you can unarchive it. If you’re using GoDaddy, you can use cPanel’s File Manager to select the archive.tar.gz and extract it.

When you’re done extracting the archive, you can delete the archive.tar.gz file.

Step 4: Import (Upload) Your Site’s Database

For this step, you’ll need to create a new database and a database user who has full permissions. If you use cPanel, you can easily to this step from the control panel.

  • 1. Create a database (e.g. mysite_db)
  • 2. Create a database user (mysite_db_user)
  • 3. Add user to the database
  • 4. Assign permissions to the user

Now that you have a database, you can connect to it using PHPMyAdmin, select the database, click the Import tab, choose your database SQL file from step 2, leave all other defaults, and click the Go button. Your database tables and records will all be created.

Step 5: Edit Your Site’s wp-config.php File

In the step, you can use an FTP client to download, edit, and upload your site’s wp-config.php file. If you can cPanel, you can also use its File Manager to edit the file in the browser. You’ll need to edit the values for 4 variables:

In many cases, like for GoDaddy’s Linux Shared Hosting service, the value for DB_HOST is “localhost”.

Step 6: Add Domain and/or Change Your DNS

You can update the DNS records for the domain to use values pointing to the new host. After DNS has propagated, you should see the same site but being served from the new host instead of the old one. At this point, you can delete the old site.

If your new host is GoDaddy’s Shared Linux hosting using cPanel, you can use cPanel to create a new domain with a root folder path that matches where you uploaded the site’s files in step 3 above. When you do that, if your domain is also hosted with GoDaddy, then GoDaddy will auto-update the DNS for that domain automatically. You could then delete your old site.

Toasted Chipotle Steak n Cheddar Sandwich

So, the other day I went to Quizno’s and had this Chipotle Steak and Cheddar sandwich. It was mighty delicious so I had to try to recreate it.

Here’s how it came out.

It was actually really good so here’s the recipe. Note: I substituted steak with pastrami. You can also use roast beef.


  • Pastrami (from Costco) – may substitute with roast beef
  • sliced green bell pepper
  • sliced onion
  • cheddar cheese
  • Chipotle mayonnaise (substitute with hummus for healthier alternative)
  • Francisco Gourmet Sesame Seed Rolls


  1. Slice the bell pepper and onions into slivers.
  1. Heat up some pastrami in a microwave at 50% power for 2 minutes. If the bell pepper and onion are cold from being in the fridge, heat them up along with the pastrami.
  2. Spread some Chipotle mayo on both sides of the bread
  1. Spread pepper and onion evenly on bread, add pastrami, add cheddar cheese and toast in over until cheese has melted

Remove from oven and enjoy!

Garage Organization

Let’s face it. Garages have been storage spaces rather than places to park your car. Here’s one approach to organizing your garage so that you can still fit your car in it.

1. Build a shelf

You can buy shelving, including heavy duty restaurant-grade ones with wheels which are expensive, or you can just follow the instructions at this YouTube video on how to make a simple set of shelves out of 2x4s.

2. Buy transparent plastic containers

These clear boxes from IKEA are great. They’re also cheap. You don’t need to buy the lid.

3. Buy zip loc slider bags

Slider bags are better because they are more secure. I use a few different sizes.

2.5 gallon
1 gallon
1 quart
12″ x 12″ bag – 6 mil thickness

Available on Amazon

4″ x 6″ bags 4 mil thickness

Available on Amazon

3″ x 4″ bags

Available at Walmart

4. Buy twist ties

Twist ties are very useful for tying up cables. Available on Amazon.

5. Place related items together

For example, the picture below is of a bin labeled “Fasteners” which includes nails, screws, bolts, etc. Loose items are placed in appropriately-sized bags. Others are just placed directly in the bin unless their box or plastic container is mostly empty in which case I’d transfer the contents to a bag to not waste space.

In the photo below, the bin is label “Plumbing”. Not everything needs to be in a bag, like the PVC glue. Loose items or small parts that go together with larger parts are bagged so they don’t get lost.

6. Label bins

You can label bins using a label maker. I wanted larger labels so I printed category names on white paper, laminated it, and bolted it to the bins.

By now, your garage should feel a lot bigger and you won’t keep buying things you already have and you won’t spend forever looking for things.

UPDATE: July 29, 2021

Instead of laminating printed sheets of paper, I found a simpler, more flexible solution. Just buy clear sheet protectors for 3 ring binders. $5.00 on Amazon for thin ones. $20 on Amazon for thick, 5.5 mil vinyl ones (preferred). Just drill two holes in the plastic bins where the 2 outer sleeve holes are and fasten using a small bolt with a washer. Then, print your labels and insert them from the side.

How to Afford and Buy a House For First-Time Home Buyers For Less Than Rent (House Hack)


  1. Increase your credit score as quickly and as high as possible (minimum 680)
  2. Eliminate as much debt (credit cards, loans) as possible, e.g. monthly payments for a fancy car, etc.
  3. Save as much money as possible (minimum $20,000)
  4. Buy a used duplex (2-unit property) preferably with existing tenants where at least one tenant is paying the market rate for rent
  5. Kick out the lower paying tenant and live in that unit
  6. Slowly fix up the property as money becomes available and time permits to increase its value
  7. After a few years, the home’s value will have appreciated and you will have more equity in the house. You can remain in that living situation or you can sell the duplex, take the profit, buy a single family residence or a better duplex or triplex.

Introductory Facts

Homeownership is the number one way for people to move from the lower class to the middle class and to build wealth.

People who own homes are almost always better off financially than people who always rent.

Real estate (e.g. houses) always increases in value over the long term (see graph below). The only exception was between 2008 – 2012 which was due to mortgage fraud and greedy banks which led to a global recession. It is now illegal to commit mortgage fraud which should prevent significant depreciation from occuring again.


The average rate of appreciation of real estate in California is about 6.77% annually. That means if you buy a house for $300,000, then in one year, the value will have gone up by $300,000 x 6.77% = $20,310. You will have made $20,310 in one year for doing nothing but living in your own home. In 10 years, due to compounding appreciation, your home’s value will have increased by $277,582. 

On the other hand, cars always lose value as time goes on. As a matter of fact, they lose an average of 15% per year.


Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon and richest person in the world, drove a Honda Accord in the 1990s even though he was a billionaire at the time.


When you rent, your entire monthly rent payment is spent and you get none of it back. However, when you buy a house and pay a mortgage, you get some of your mortgage payment back in the form of equity in the home. For example, if you borrow money from a bank for $300,000 at 3% interest fixed for 30 years (360 months) with a 3.5% down payment ($10,500), your monthly payments during the beginning and ending years will look like this:

MonthPrincipal & InterestPrincipalInterestPrincipal Remaining
360$1,211$1,220$3$0 (loan paid off)

As you can see in the table above, in the beginning years, even though you pay $1221 per month for your mortgage, you are getting almost $500 back in the form of equity which is like a savings account but in the form of home value instead of at a bank. Your interest payments in the beginning are around $720 but it’s not money completely lost because mortgage interest is tax deductible which can lower your tax bill.

Rent always increases whereas mortgage payments never increase (on a fixed loan). As a matter of fact, nationally rent prices have increased an average of 8.86% per year since 1980, consistently outpacing wage inflation by a significant margin.


Between 2008 and 2020, annual wage increases for hourly employees maxed out at just above 3.5% which is less than both

  1. the annual rate of rent increase (8.86%) since 1980
  2. the annual rate of California home value appreciation (6.77%)

This means that your income growth is less than your housing expense growth. This also means that if you live month to month, as time goes on you will have less and less money as rent increases faster than your income.


Property Types

There are different types of properties, e.g.

  1. Manufactured / mobile home
  2. Condo
  3. Townhouse
  4. Single Family Residence
  5. Multifamily Residence (duplex – 2 units, triplex – 3 units, 4-plex – 4 units)
  6. Commercial (5 units or more)

Manufactured / mobile home

Never buy a manufactured / mobile home. Though they are cheap, you will have to rent the land and if the landowner increases the rent on the land, you will most likely have no choice but to pay the increase since it would be difficult and very expensive to move your mobile home somewhere else. Even if you own land and buy a manufactured home to put on it, you will not be able to get a low-interest home loan to purchase a mobile home.

Condos and Townhouses

Condos and townhouses are cheaper than single family residences but you will have to pay an HOA (homeowner’s association) fee which can be very expensive, especially if there is a swimming pool. Also, you are limited in what you can do to your own home, e.g. you can’t paint the exterior, you can’t move walls, build additions, etc. You are better off not buying a condo or townhouse.

Single Family Residence

This type of home is ideal for a single family. However, unless your financial situation is good, it would be difficult to afford one.

Multifamily Residence
(duplex – 2 units, triplex – 3 units, 4-plex – 4 units)

This type of property is usually purchased by investors. However, anyone can buy one and live in one of the units and rent out the other units. Of course, the more units, the more expensive. Therefore, for first time homebuyers with a limited income, it is recommended to buy a duplex. The strategy recommended in this article is to live in one unit and rent out the other unit and let the rental income pay for some, most, or all of your mortgage.

Commercial (5 units or more)

This type of property is usually purchased by big investors or companies who have a lot of money. Most people cannot afford this type of property.

Number of Bedrooms and Bathrooms

Most houses come with either

  • 2 bedrooms and 1 bathroom, a.k.a. 2/1
  • 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, a.k.a. 3/2

To keep costs low, focus on duplexes where each unit has 2 bedrooms and 1 bathroom.

Potential Rental Income

Since the recommended strategy is to buy a duplex and live in one unit and rent out the other, you need to know the potential rental income you will get to offset your mortgage expenses. To determine this, you can go to Rent-o-meter.

For example, the 2/1 duplex at 8420 Don Ave, Stockton, CA 95209 has an average rental income of $1493 for each unit. Therefore, if you buy this duplex, you could potentially get $1493 per month from your renter to help pay for some or all of your mortgage.

Determine Costs

As a first-time home buyer, you are entitled to the FHA First-Time Home Buyer program. This program allows you to borrow money to buy a house and only put a down payment of 3.5% as opposed to 20% for non-first-time home buyers and 25% for investors. However, if your down payment is less than 20%, you will have to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI).

When you buy a house with a 3.5% down payment, you will borrow money and pay interest. You will also have to pay for 

  • Private mortgage insurance
  • Fire insurance
  • Property tax

To determine these expenses, go to Zillow > Home Loans > Mortgage Calculator.

For example, for a loan with the following numbers:

Purchase Price:$300,000
Down Payment:3.5% (10,500)
Loan Type:30-year fixed (always choose this type)
Interest Rate:3%

your total monthly mortgage-related expenses would be $1734.

However, since your rental income will be on average $1493, then your net monthly mortgage-related expenses will be 

$1734 – $1493 = $241 per month

In other words, your monthly housing costs become ONLY $241 per month! But, that depends on 

  • whether you can find a 2/1 duplex for $300,000
  • whether your credit score is good enough that you can get a loan with a 3% interest rate
  • whether you can actually rent out the other unit for $1493 per month

Interest Rates

Interest rates on your loan make a very big difference in your monthly mortgage expense and your lifetime loan cost. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the federal government lowered interest rates to almost zero to stimulate the economy and avoid a recession. In doing so, interest rates on home loans have been very low. As a matter of fact, interest rates have never been lower than now as indicated in the graph below.


Therefore, now is THE BEST TIME to get a home loan because the interest rates are at the LOWEST they have ever been. If you wait 2, 4 or 6 years from now, interest rates may go back up to 4 or 5% which means your monthly mortgage payments will be much higher.

Credit Score

Your credit score has a VERY BIG impact on the interest rate of your home loan. The higher your credit score, the lower the interest rate, and the cheaper your monthly mortgage expenses. Therefore, you want your credit score to be as high as possible. 

To determine the interest rate you can get for different credit scores, you can go to Zillow > Home Loans > Mortgage Rates

For example, for a loan with the following numbers:

Purchase Price:$300,000
Down Payment:3.5% (10,500)

you will find the following interest rates for different credit scores.

Credit ScoreInterest Rate
560 – 599No loans available
600 – 619No loans available
620 – 639No loans available
640 – 6593.5%
660 – 6793.25%
680 – 6992.75%
700 – 7192.75%
720 – 7392.75%
740 – 7592.75%
760 and above2.75%

The rates above were valid on July 4, 2021. Interest rates change daily and throughout the day.

As you can see above, if your credit score is below 620, you can’t even get a loan. Also, the higher your credit score, the lower the interest rate. 

In order to improve your credit score, sign up for a free Credit Karma ( account, enter your information, and under “Credit Scores”, you will see your score for Transunion and Equifax followed by ways to improve each score.

Notice that there are 6 factors that affect your credit score, 3 of which are high impact.

Payment HistoryHigh Percent of payments you’ve made on time
Credit Card UseHigh How much credit you’re using compared to your total limits
Derogatory MarksHigh Collections, tax liens, bankruptcies or civil judgments on your report
Credit AgeMediumAverage age of your open account
Total AccountsLowTotal open and closed accounts
Hard InquiriesLowNumber of times you’ve applied for credit

From here on, we will assume you have increased your credit score to 680 and since interest rates change all the time, we’ll assume you can get a rate of 3%.

Interest Rate VS Loan Cost

Interest rates affect the cost of a loan and your monthly payments. Following are monthly mortgage costs and total loan costs for a $300,000 home loan at 30-year fixed at various interest rates.

Interest RateMonthly Mortgage PaymentTotal Loan Cost Over 30 Years

As you can see, the interest rate makes a big difference in your monthly payment and loan costs. For example, for a 5% interest loan, you’ll be paying an extra $335 per month and an extra $120,000 over 30 years compared to a 3% interest loan for $300,000.

Mortgage-to-Income Ratio

Lenders require that in order to give you a home loan, your mortgage expenses (PITI) must not be more than 28% of your gross monthly income before taxes. PITI stands for

  • P = Principal
  • I = Interest
  • T = Taxes
  • I = Insurance

Let’s say that your total monthly income is $3000 per month before taxes. That means your PITI may be no more than 28% x $3000 = $840 per month. However, if you buy a duplex, then your total monthly income will increase by the rental income of, say, $1400 per month, which would bring your total monthly income to $4400. Therefore, your PITI for a duplex can be no more than $4400 x 28% = $1232 per month.

Debt-to-Income Ratio

Lenders also require that your total debt (including mortgage expenses) be no more than 43% of your gross monthly income before taxes. For example, if your monthly income is $3000 per month and your fancy car’s monthly payments are $350 per month and you are looking at buying a house with an estimated PITI expenses of $1000 per month, then your debt-to-income ratio is

Debt-to-Income Ratio = Debt / Income = ($350 + $1000) / $3000 = 0.45 or 45%

Since 45% is greater than 43%, you would not qualify for a loan.


To help see all important numbers in one place, you can create a spreadsheet similar to the one below.

Loan TypeFHA – First-Time Home Buyer
Purchase Price$300,000
Minimum Credit Score680
Down Payment (%)3.5%
Down Payment ($)$10,500
Interest Rate3%
Term30 years fixed
Mortgage – Principal$497
Mortgage – Interest$724
Mortgage – Insurance (PMI)$236
Property Tax$170
Total Monthly Cost (PITI)$1,732
Property TypeDuplex
Income – Work (Annual)$60,000
Income – Work (Monthly)$5,000
Income – Rental (Monthly)$1,300
Total Gross Monthly Income$6,300
Max Monthly Mortgage to Income (%)28%
Max Monthly Mortgage Allowed ($)$1,764
Max Monthly Total Debt to Income (%)43%
Max Monthly Total Debt Allowed ($)$2,709

Finding a House for Sale

As mentioned above, the strategy is to buy a “used duplex”. To find these, go to Zillow and do a search. 

The search criteria can be

  • Stockton, CA
  • For Sale
    • By Agent
  • Home Type
    • Multifamily

You can save this search as “Stockton Duplex” so you get notified whenever a new listing goes on the market.

Sort the search results by price from cheapest to most expensive. We’ll use the following listing as an example:

$449,000 2 bd– ba 2,340 sqft
3012 Amherst Dr, Stockton, CA 95209
For sale  Zestimate®: $423,300

The color is ugly but maybe that’s why no one has bought it. You can always paint it.

Rental Income:

This duplex may already have renters in both units. If you buy it, you can kick out the renter who is paying the lower amount and then live in that unit yourself.

If the duplex isn’t rented, you can check Rent-o-meter to determine average rent. After entering the address in, we see that the average rent is $1686.

Mortgage Expenses:

Now, we need to calculate our mortgage expenses by going to Zillow’s mortgage calculator. For a loan with the following numbers:

Purchase Price:$449,000
Down Payment:3.5% ($15,715)
Loan Type:30-year fixed (always choose this type)
Interest Rate:3%

we get the following 

This means that your total monthly housing expense will be $2596.

You net monthly housing expense becomes

$2596 – $1686 = $910 per month

$910 / month is very cheap for 2 bed 1 bath housing in Stockton and is much cheaper than renting. Also, as time goes on, the value of the property will go up on average 6.77% per year.

To reiterate, for the example above, 

your net monthly housing expense would be$910 per month
you need a down payment of$15,715
you need a credit score of at least 680
you will need to pay for loan closing costs in the average amount of $5000

Get Pre-Approved

Before making a move to buy a house, you increase your chances of success by first getting pre-approved. Don’t simply get pre-qualified because that doesn’t carry as much weight as a pre-approval. A pre-approval will verify your financial situation so you can feel confident you will be able to afford a house at a particular price. When the time comes, you can and should include your pre-approval letter with your house purchase offer so the sellers know you are serious and can afford to buy their house. When getting pre-approved, mention that you are interested in buying a duplex and renting out one of the two units so that the rental income is accounted for.

You can get pre-approved by Zillow Home Loans.

Find a Real Estate Agent

Since you are new to buying a house, you’ll want a real estate agent to guide and help you. You can easily find a real estate agent by searching Google for “Stockton real estate agent”.

Once you agree to work with an agent, you can tell them the type of property you want to buy (used duplex) and give them your pre-approval letter. You can then tell them which active listings on Zillow (or Redfin – you are interested in. The agent may also have pocket listings / off-market listings that meet your criteria.

Make an Offer

Once you decide to put an offer on a house, you need to decide how much you are willing to pay for it. In a hot market, there could be competition driving up prices. If Zillow estimates the house to be worth $360,000 and the seller is asking for $360,000, then you may want to offer $370,000 to beat the competition. Note, however, that in a hot market, values can go up quickly. I offered $30,000 above the asking price and I still got outbid by someone who bought the property for $40,000 above asking. 

Your agent can help you determine the value of the house and draft up a purchase offer. You will review the offer letter for accuracy and then sign it. Your agent will then submit the offer to the seller’s agent and wait for a response. If the seller accepts your offer, then you’re locked in and the seller cannot change their mind and sell to someone else. 


Get a Loan and Fire Insurance

Home Loan

I have not purchased a home using the FHA First-Time Home Buyer program. However, I have found LoFi Direct to offer very competitive rates for home loans.

You can also compare lenders and rates on Zillow’s Rate Comparison page. 

Fire Insurance

For fire insurance, I recommend using a broker to shop around and find a deal for you. They usually can offer lower rates than if you go directly to the large insurance companies. Just search Google for “home insurance broker”.

Close Escrow

Once everything is in order, you will “close escrow” which means you finalize the deal. It takes about one month from when your offer is accepted to when you close escrow. Once you close escrow, you become the legal owner of the property and you can move in. Just make sure you pay your mortgage payments and property tax so the lender and government don’t take your house from you.

Dwarf vs Regular Italian Cypress Trees

I’m bad with plants, and you probably are too. Whatever I plant just seems to die. And even with Home Depot’s 1 year return return policy, who’s gonna wanna dig up and return a plant with its roots and all and dirty up their car to take it to the Home Depot for $50.

There is one plant (or tree, actually) that anyone (in California) can plant without worry of it dying. This set-it-and-forget-it tree is the Italian Cypress. There are so many great things about this tree, it’s no wonder it adds value to your property.

  • Fast Growing
    Tall trees are expensive. You can buy this tree short and the regular Italian Cypress tree will grow up to 3 feet per year.
  • Very Hardy
    The Italian Cypress tree is hardy (will survive) down to 10° F. Obviously not a problem in California where it seems to just get hotter and hotter every year.
  • Drought Tolerant
    With increasing temperatures and less rain in California by the year, water is becoming less available and more expensive. Some locations may even prohibit watering your lawn or garden during certain periods. This is not a problem with the Italian Cypress tree. I stopped watering mine and they still look alive and green.
  • Evergreen, Non-deciduous
    The Italian Cypress tree is an evergreen tree meaning that it’s green forever (all year long). It is non-deciduous meaning that it doesn’t lose its leaves for part of the year. This is great because it’s low maintenance. My neighbor’s trees are deciduous and every winter, their leaves dirty up my front yard and I have to clean it up. With the Italian Cypress tree, there’s nothing to clean up and it looks alive all year long – no temporary death!
  • Fertilizer
    The Italian Cypress tree doesn’t even need fertilizer. Just dig a hole, put the tree ball in, back fill, give it some water, and you’re done.
  • Readily Available
    The Italian Cypress tree is readily available at the Home Depot all year long. It’s also available at Costco for about half the price but Costco only has it in early Spring 🙁

Most places sell the regular Italian Cypress tree but there’s also a dwarf version. Here are the specs for each.

Dwarf Italian CypressItalian Cypress
Botanical NameCupressus sempervirens CompactaCupressus sempervirens
Deer ResistantYesYes
Drought TolerantYesYes
Mature Height7-9 ft. in 10 years
25-30 ft. at maturity
35-40 ft. in 10 years or
Trim to Desired Height
Mature Width2 ft.5 ft.
SunlightFull SunFull Sun
Growth Rate:SlowFast
Grows Well In Zones:7-10 outdoors7-11 outdoors
HardyDown to 10° FDown to 10° F

Planting and Care for Dwarf Italian Cypress Trees

1. Planting: First, select a location with well-drained soil and full sun – any area with 6 to 8 hours of sunlight is ideal.

When you’re ready to plant, dig a hole that’s about one and a half to two times the size of your plant’s root ball, place the Dwarf Italian Cypress in the hole, back fill the soil and water to settle the roots.

2. Watering: Once established, your Dwarf Italian Cypress is moderately drought tolerant, but it’s important to have a regular watering schedule for the first couple of growing seasons. Water about once weekly or check the surrounding soil near your Cypress – if the surrounding soil is dry about 2 or 3 inches down, it’s time to water.

3. Fertilizing: Apply a well-balanced, general purpose fertilizer to your Dwarf Italian Cypress in early spring, before new growth begins.

Planting and Care for Regular Italian Cypress Trees

1. Planting: Italian Cypress Trees are drought tolerant and like to be on the dry side, so choose a location with full to partial sun (4 to 8 hours of sunlight daily) in well-drained soil.

Then, dig a hole that is just as deep but twice as wide as the root ball of the plant. Place the plant in the hole to check the depth. If the soil of the root ball is below the level of the soil of the surrounding ground, pick up the tree and add more soil to the hole. Fill in the hole with the same native soil you removed then water the tree by counting to 20 or by giving it five full watering cans full of water.

2. Watering: Irrigate your newly-planted tree twice a week for the first month, once a week for the next two months and every two weeks after the first three months. Water your Italian Cypress if you have warm, dry, and windy weather during the winter in your area.

3. Fertilizing: This tree isn’t fussy about soil. It grows equally well in clay, loam, or sandy soils. It also does not need routine fertilizing.

Pictures of Dwarf Italian Cypress Trees

Pictures of Regular Italian Cypress Trees

Ridiculous Traditions

Tradition /trəˈdiSH(ə)n/

  • a long-established custom or belief that has been passed on from one generation to another. of customs or beliefs from generation to generation
  • a doctrine believed to have divine authority though not in the scriptures.
    • (in Christianity) doctrine not explicit in the Bible but held to derive from the oral teaching of Jesus and the Apostles.
    • (in Judaism) an ordinance of the oral law not in the Torah but held to have been given by God to Moses.
    • (in Islam) a saying or act ascribed to the Prophet but not recorded in the Koran.

Many people uphold and follow tradition as if it were some sort of law. Many traditions have nothing to do with religion yet people continue to follow them. Some traditions don’t have negative consequences if not followed, but others can be outright ridiculous and even life-changing. Following are some outrageous and even deadly traditions that still happen today.

Honor-Based Abuse and Violence

Female Genital Mutilation

Forced Marriage

  • In Afghanistan
    Afghan woman forced to marry her rapist
  • In Kurgyzstan
    Brides by Force. Marriage by kidnapping pushes Kyrgyz women to suicide

Child Marriage

Breast Flattening

Bride Price


  • Based on caste system in India
    Dalit is a name for people belonging to the lowest caste in India, characterized as “untouchable”. They are discriminated against on many levels and even murdered.

Killing Babies and Infants

  • In Ethiopia
    Children born out of wedlock and children with perceived and true physical abnormalities are considered ritually impure. These children are disposed of either through drowning, putting soil in their mouths and strangling or leaving infants in the forest.
  • In India
    Baby girls are being killed in the Tamil Nadu area of India, so their poverty-stricken parents can avoid paying large dowries when their daughters marry.

Face Mutilation

Foot Binding

Foot binding was the Chinese custom of breaking and tightly binding the feet of young girls in order to change the shape and size of their feet; during the time it was practiced, bound feet were considered a status symbol and a mark of beauty.

The Last Golden Lotus: The Secret of Chinese Food Binding

Force-Feeding Girls

Leblouh (Arabic: البلوح‎, romanized: lə-blūḥ) is the practice of force-feeding girls from as young as five to nineteen, in countries where obesity was traditionally regarded as desirable.[1][2][3] Especially prevalent in rural areas and having its roots in Tuareg[4] tradition, leblouh is practiced to increase chances of marriage in a society where high body volume used to be a sign of wealth. The practice is being done in several African countries, such as Mauritania, Niger, Uganda, Sudan, Tunisia (specifically Jewish people), Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa.

Fed to Wed: An ancient tradition of force-feeding girls in Mauritania

Dowry Death

Dowry deaths are deaths of married women who are murdered or driven to suicide by continuous harassment and torture by their husbands and in-laws over a dispute about their dowry, making the women’s homes the most dangerous place for them to be. Dowry deaths are found predominantly in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Iran.

Australia’s Dowry Deaths

Bride Burning

Bride burning is a form of domestic violence practiced in countries located on or around the Indian subcontinent. A category of dowry death, bride-burning occurs when a young woman is murdered by her husband or his family for her family’s refusal to pay additional dowry. The wife is typically doused with kerosene, gasoline, or other flammable liquid, and set alight, leading to death by fire.[1][2] Kerosene is often used as the cooking fuel for dangerous small petrol stoves, so it allows the claim that the crime was an accident. It is most common in India and has been a major problem there since at least 1993.

Bride-burning claims hundreds in India