Tuesday, May 9, 2017

12 Books in 2017

One of my goals for the year was to leisure read 12 books.

I loved reading as a child and young adult. It set me on a path towards a liberal arts major in college and, ultimately, law school. As an attorney, I read hundreds of pages of material every week, but it's not the sort of stuff that sparks the imagination.

So, when I was pulling together a list of goals for 2017, I decided to read 12 books this year just for fun.

As part of this goal, I got a public library card. Strolling aimlessly through the stacks was every bit as magical as it was as a kid, but produced a truly random reading list. In the future, I hope to be more intentional about what I read. I also hope to aim higher. Turns out it didn't take long to finish 12 books after all!

Without further ado, so far this year I've read:
  1. My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg. If you've heard her speak recently, you have already heard many of the anecdotes that comprise this book.
  2. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. If you pick this up--after you finish--I'd recommend watching Cory Booker interview Trevor. The interview is available on YouTube here.
  3. On Immunity by Eula Bliss. I was expected something more... scientific.
  4. Primates of Park Avenue by Wednesday Martin. Because my friends who are moms had a lot to say about this one and I wanted to join in on the conversation.
  5. Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes. Her narrative voice is unique. I enjoyed the insight into Christina Yang's character on Grey's Anatomy.
  6. Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson. If for no other reason to have that awesome book cover sitting on your nightstand.
  7. Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari. Funny and sad all at once. I've you've been on Tinder, Bumble or one of the other dating apps recently you'll find yourself nodding i agreement.
  8. Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson. Because when I read the reviews for Furiously Happy, lots of folks said this was the more entertaining of the two.
  9. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. While likely not the gem for most readers, there is an excellent chapter in here about big law recruiting from the perspective of someone who had excellent grades but a poor upbringing.
  10. 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. An ex asked me to read this book, which seems to be a frequent topic of dinner party conversation. I took the online assessment and was surprised by the results.
  11. The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan. Could have done without the love story, but otherwise enjoyed this.
  12. The AirBNB Story by Leigh Gallagher. I received a free copy from AirBNB. The business student in me enjoyed it--this is like one long HBS case, but the "superhost" in me was turned off. 
I'm looking forward to spending more quality time at the library this year, but also need to tackle the remainder of my 36 goals list. I haven't crossed many items off the list to date and we're already five months into the year!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

My 2 Years as an AirBNB Host

I recently completed my first two years as a host on the AirBNB platform. In that time:
  • I've hosted 58 stays
  • I've grossed $22,766
I'm in the process of considering whether I will continue to host or substantially overhaul my approach to hosting, so it seemed worthwhile to take the time to reflect on the entirety of my experience with AirBNB to date. The below is a summary of my experience, interspersed with a few pieces of advice for prospective hosts.

Guest Space.  The entire second level of my home is guest space and includes two bedrooms, a full bathroom and a work area with built-in desk. This is the space I make available via AirBNB as a "private room" rental. Guests have shared access to the family/living room, kitchen, half bath and laundry room on the first level.

Private Room Listing.  AirBNB offers private room and entire home listings.  My listing is for two private rooms, which I always book together, not separately.  I continue to live in my house during the guests' stay. I've taken this approach in the interest of complying with my city's short-term rental regulations and making sure my guests do not negatively impact my neighbors day-to-day enjoyment of their properties. Since my guests stay upstairs and the master bedroom is on the first level of the house, we have a reasonable, but limited amount of privacy. Often, after greeting guests for orientation and key exchange, I don't run into them again until checkout.

Pricing.  I've experimented at various price points and settled at $95/night for the first two guests and $20/night per additional guest, limited at four guests. I charge a $20/stay cleaning fee, which helps cover the cost of cleaning supplies and minor damage. Recently, after a guest caused significant damage to my home, I implemented a $200/stay security deposit and immediately noticed an improvement in guest behaviors. When pinpointing price, it's helpful to check out the competition in your neighborhood. AirBNB offers a Price Tips tool that will help you identify a price at which your listing will be competitive. However, it's even more important to take into account the cost of the STR license (this is a local requirement), bed tax, and income tax that will come out of your AirBNB earnings. If you can't turn a profit, why host? (While it sounds like I'm making a lot of money through AirBNB, after costs and expenses, it is only marginally worthwhile.)

Screening Guests.  At this point, my policy is to accept only those guests with reviews from other AirBNB hosts for prior stays. If you are going to take a chance on a guest without reviews, I recommend requiring that he/she has completed identity verification through AirBNB. I'd be wary of a prospective guest who has had their account for a long time without accruing any reviews. This is because, generally, when a stay doesn't go well, both hosts and guests tend to leave no review as opposed to leaving a negative review. (One last point on guest selection... lots of prospective hosts are worried about hosting strangers, but, ironically, the messiest and least respectful guests I've hosted were the adult children of the law firm partner that was my boss at the time.)

Cancellations.  I started with a flexible cancellation policy, which means guests were able to recoup all fees as long as they cancelled before check-in. After five last-minute cancellations that left me without bookings on the weekends (the most popular time for AirBNB stays in my city), I switched to a strict cancellation policy.

Length of Stay.  I've hosted stays as short as one night and as long as three months.  Stays longer than thirty days are best if you'd like to avoid paying bed tax (check the particulars of your local laws and ordinances as they may vary), but screen those long-term guests carefully because AirBNB makes it difficult to force a guest to leave early. (The Worst Guest Ever described in the section entitled "Damage" below was a 30-day guest.)

Check-in and Check-out.  I started with a flexible policy, which means I would contact guests the week of their stay to ask when they planned to arrive. I found that nearly all guests arrived at least one hour late, even when they were the ones selecting the check-in time. As for check-out, after having a few guests hang around until 6pm on their check-out day, I implemented a strict noon check-out policy.

Safety.  This is always a concern, but--thankfully--has not yet been an issue. I installed a lock on my bedroom door for peace of mind and do not keep valuables in my house. Items with sentimental value are kept in my bedroom, not the common area. As a host, you should also think of the safety of your guests. I have a well lit stairway, keep a fire extinguisher and first aid kit on hand, and have installed smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

Cleaning.  I am rather meticulous, so I do all the housekeeping myself. Ultimately, I've found this to be helpful in detecting any damage to the house and keeping the house well maintained. With so many guests in and out of the house, a certain amount of touch up work is required. Handling the housekeeping myself also eliminates costs and time spent coordinating with a cleaning crew.  I estimate that preparing the house for a new set of guests usually takes two hours of my time. While this can wear on me, especially during busy weeks at work, it has resulted in a house that is very clean and "ready to show" almost every day of the year. I take pride in that.

Maintenance.  I've had two maintenance issues arise while guests were in the house. First, my air conditioning went out on the last night of an ACL weekend. Since this happened at night, there was nothing I could do to resolve the issue for the guests that were checking out the next morning. I felt terrible! Second, during another guest's stay, a smoke detector battery started beeping to indicate it was low on power at 3am. The guest texted me, I woke up, grabbed my latter and switched the battery out in the space of about five minutes. This was possible because I was on site.  I've found that guests are very understanding about these issues, but it is best to be as prepared as possible.  Hosting has made me more proactive about maintenance than I would otherwise be.

Damage.  Most damage has been minor--scuffs on the walls that I have been able to buff out or retouch.  One guest, who had a 30-day reservation, managed to pull the trash cabinet out of the wall and off its hinges, leave a permanent ring on my coffee table by placing a piping hot mug directly on the wood coffee table (despite that I had provided coasters that were also sitting on the coffee table), chip my quartz countertop, stain the carpet in the guest bedroom, and stain the mattress. I was surprised the this guest was such a problem because she was a Superhost herself (which means that she rents her own condo on AirBNB and has gotten rave reviews). I assumed her Superhost status meant she would be a considerate guests. Instead, she was the Worst Guest Ever and the only guest that has caused permanent damage to the house.

Superhost Status.  I have Superhost status, which means I have met certain AirBNB standards related to responsiveness, guest ratings and commitment. Every review I've received has been a five star review. I think that the following are keys to hosting success: clear and accurate listing, clear and timely communication before and during the guest's stay, fanatic attention to detail when cleaning and preparing the guest space, and a warm in-person welcome when guests arrive. To put your own mind at ease, it helps to meet guests in person when they arrive. This gives you a chance to review the house rules as many guests do not read the listing in full before they arrive.

Extras.  I provide snacks and toiletries for my guests. The delight (and positive comments in narrative guest reviews) generated by these extras is totally out of proportion to the small amount of effort and expense it takes to implement them.

Earnings.  During my first year, I used my earnings for some basic home maintenance (hiring professionals to seal my cedar fence and trim my heritage oaks), but mainly focused on applying my earnings to accelerate my student loan repayment. When I finished repaying my student loans about a year ago, I applied my earnings to a cash-in refinance in order to lower my monthly payments (with the goal of giving myself the option of choosing a lower paying job in the future). If I continue to host, I will apply my earnings towards home improvements, furnishings and mortgage pre-payments.

If you've hosted for AirBNB or similar platforms, do you have any additional advice? If you've been an AirBNB guest, I'd like to hear your perspective. What can hosts do to make your stay exceptional? What attracts you to a particular listing? Any nightmare experiences?

Final thought: AirBNB customer service is to a host like the HR department is to an aggrieved employee. They are not on your side.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

What's Next?

Tonight, I found myself researching tiny houses to install on plots of land in rural Texas.

Is this what a mid-life crisis looks like? Shouldn't there be a sporty car? A new wardrobe? Or at least a yoga retreat?

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about what's next and where I will find meaning. Since I don't have a family of my own, I typically look to my career for meaning, but big law has nearly run its course. It's time for a change. A change that could be an adjustment as minor as a new lawyer job, as considerable as a new career, or as major as a new career in a new city. Fortunately, I have options. A truly embarrassing array of options. With no children, no spouse, and no student loans, my only constraint is a mortgage, which could be disposed of in short order through the sale of my house.

I can do anything. ANYTHING.

For this, I am grateful, but--let's face it--people with too many options often spend so much time considering them that the opportunities pass them by. Like that guy that never settles down because the BBD (bigger, better deal, for the uninitiated) might be lurking behind his next swipe on the dating apps in his smartphone. Yup, like that.

None of the women in my family were so free of obligation, so flush with resources and so enriched with choice in their mid-thirties. There is no defined path. No template to follow. I am truly fortunate, but I also need to start narrowing my options so I can evaluate and choose.

When you're in a rut, what do you do to break free of the lethargy and move forward?

Friday, January 27, 2017

0% Financing

When I bought my house, I moved my hand-me-down queen mattress to a guest room and bought a king mattress. The mattress was a little pricey, but it is out of this world--the fluffy cloud I dreamt of while sleeping on a hard-as-a-rock mattress in my furnished apartment in Tokyo. I've never slept better than I'm sleeping now.

I bought the mattress from Mattress Firm, which has become ubiquitous in Austin. For every coffee shop and yoga studio, there seems to be a Mattress Firm. Mattress Firm offers 0% financing. Although I could afford to pay for the mattress in cash, the b-school side of my brain realized that taking them up on their 0% financing offer resulted in a discount (time value of money, y'all). So I financed the mattress.

What I did not consider is that after having law school student debt hanging over my head for a number of years, my tolerance for debt was almost nil. Today, as part of my 2017 goals, I paid off the remaining balance of the Mattress Firm line of credit ahead of schedule. I now have no debt obligations other than my mortgage and I hope to keep it that way for the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

2016 Recap

For a few years now, I've made a list of goals, some big and some small, to complete throughout the year. Working this list gives me a sense of accomplishment and progress. Progress makes me feel happy. So I continue with this approach year after year.

Without reciting each of 2016's 35 goals (you can check them out on the tab labeled "35" above), here is a summary recap of what I accomplished in 2016.


There were three major accomplishments in this category:

  • Quit drinking full calorie soda. I have been trying to accomplish this since I was an undergraduate, but my efforts have been half-hearted. This year, thanks to a partner in my office who held me accountable and my own desire to lose weight, I finally kicked the habit and no longer crave the full calorie Coca Cola that I once sought for comfort 2-3 times per day.
  • Develop an exercise habit. I have enjoyed exercise since I was a child, but have found it difficult to carve out the time for it since becoming a lawyer. I looked at my time utilization after work (both on busy and slow days), identified opportunities for multitasking and time that was simply wasted on low value activities, and I joined a new gym with amenities and classes that excited me. I knew from my past experience with half marathon training that running was an effective way to jump start weight loss, so I downloaded a Running for Weightloss app by RedrockApps that has been a great help. The app does all the work for me--it provides playlists and layers over the music verbal cues from coaches prompting me to run, walk or sprint at appropriate intervals. Regular workouts truly became a habit in 2016. I now find time to exercise at least three times per week even when work gets busy or I experience a personal crisis.
  • Lose weight. After a breakup in 2016, I had the wholly unoriginal urge to lose weight. Thanks to dropping one habit and adding another, as described above, I lost more than 10 pounds in 2016 that I've had no trouble keeping off. I'm very short, so this was enough weight loss to make a noticeable impact on the way my clothes fit. Also, I've felt better around the clock both physically and mentally.

After six years in big law, I noticed that my relationships with friends and family had become too strained by my work-induced absence. I made a concerted effort to change this, which, in turn, had a negative impact on my work. For example, when I took a week off to sit by my grandmother on her deathbed (mind you, I had not taken a vacation since starting at this firm), despite that I continued to participate in client client calls and complete assignments, I was taken off of more than one client service team (and never reinstated).


In 2016, I reached some major financial milestones:
  • Student Loans.  I paid off the balance of my student loans.
  • Refinanced Mortgage.  I closed a cash-in refinance of my mortgage at 3.875%. This was something I did to manage cash flow going forward. I hope that I will be able to stay in my house when I leave big law.
  • Side Hustle.  In the second year of my side hustle, I generated $12k in passive income. Not an extraordinary sum, but it helped repay my student loans and, later in the year, covered the cost of some home improvement projects.

I completed my sixth year in big law. Never thought I'd see the day.

Personal Happiness

I have struggled for years with sadness over the failure to get married and have kids. This year, I did what I could to stymie the sadness by (finally!) freezing my eggs.

I experienced more loss than usual this year (the death of a family member, childhood friend and my dog). With each death, my sense of perspective was strengthened. 


I worked on my vegetable garden, became a better cook, and took some dance classes. Big law continues to make it difficult to commit to hobbies that include any sort of regular schedule or group activities so gardening (thanks to a well lit backyard) and cooking have continued to fill the void.


I finished repainting the interior of the house. Never again will I purchase a home that's been slathered in flat paint. I should have refused to close without a purchase price reduction or the builder's completion of a repaint, because this project took an immense amount of time and effort. With the exception of the stairwell, I did all of this work myself. Lesson learned.

What did you accomplish in 2016 that you're proud of?  Not losing yourself (or your friends) to the presidential election totally counts.


In light of having recently frozen my eggs, I decided I'd give myself a break and skip the soul searching on my birthday this year. The highlight was a fun lunch with some of the associates close to my class year. Otherwise, it was just an ordinary day.

Here's what I did in terms of holiday traditions this year:
  • Evergreen wreath with cheerful red ribbon for the front door (thanks Costco!).
  • Christmas tree with ornaments collected during childhood.
  • Batch of sugar cookies.
There's so much more I'd like to do--so much that reminds me of "home"--but it just feels silly doing too much when you're a household of one.

Deal flow was slow over the holidays. For the first time since I started practicing, my smartphone wasn't chirping on Christmas. No complaints.

My family celebrated the holiday in Texas at my brother's house. It was nice to have everyone under the same roof. I helped with some of the cooking, including from-scratch biscuits on Christmas morning. The highlight was my brother and sister-in-law's announcement that they are expecting the arrival of their first child--a baby boy--in 2017.

NYE fancy dinner (thank you, Costco, for the awesome filets)

To celebrate the new year, I made a fancy dinner at home--filets, asparagus, mashed yukon potatoes and a chocolate raspberry torte. We drank champagne and Moscow mules, and danced after midnight. It was just what I wanted.

Immediately thereafter, I was on a plane back to California for the funeral of a childhood friend (and the younger sister of one of my best friends) that passed unexpectedly between Christmas and the end of the year. It was, of course, incredibly sad, but on the flight back to Texas I felt renewed as a result of reflection, time spent with life-long friends and a healthy dose of perspective.

There are some big changes ahead in 2017, most of which I'm still sorting out. Here's hoping for a good year!