Credit Score Games

I’m supposed to be the “Finance Guy”, but I’ll share a dirty little secret:  My wife’s credit score is higher than mine!

OK, hers is quite high: 783 averaged over the three credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUninon.   According to her score reporter her score of 783 is higher than 93.77% of U.S. consumers.  783 is “Excellent” credit.

Mine, I trust a bit more.  I paid $19.95  for two scores from myFICO.com and a free one from creditkarma.com (which seems to be the least offensive “free” service I could find… decent privacy policy, decent reviews, etc).  Bottom line:  747 is my current average score.  It turns out that this 36 point difference is fairly big — the difference between “very good” and “excellent”.  If 783 is in the top 93.3%, 747 is merely in the top 60-65%.

I find this all very strange since I recently cancelled a credit card that I had for 10+ years which had a $48,000 credit limit because they started charging an annual fee.  This, I think, hurt my score.  The other thing that hurt my score big time is a missed payment of about $95 dollars.  This happened because my credit union was merged and the auto-pay for the annual fee didn’t go through. Ouch!  And that was about 30 months ago.

It appears that the gold standard (true FICO) score average is 770.  Moreover the best practical score is 785+.  Notice that is very close to my wife’s average score. I’ll call 785 the platinum standard.  Any improvement above 785 is essentially meaningless, except as a “game.”  A 770 score will qualify you for just about the best rate on anything, a 785+ score will practically guarantee it.  (NOTE: Lenders use more than your credit score for making lending decisions, such as your years in profession, years at current employer, current salary, and several debt ratios based on your salary, etc).

Since my current average FICO (2/3 FICO, 1/3 “other”) score of 747 is 23 points below the “gold” standard of 770, I wish to increase it by at least 23 points.

Here’s my plan:

  • Pay everything on time with autopay. Double-check that there are no hiccups. If there are, promptly call the credit card company and ask how it can be fixed.
  • Get 2 new credit cards.  This will initially hurt my score, but I believe it will ultimately help.  Whether it does or doesn’t is part of my credit-score experiment.
  • Request credit-limit increases on all my cards… so long as they don’t require a “hard pull” of my credit score.
  • Keep paying all but one of my cards balances in full every month. This means no “finance charges” (aka interest charges).
  • Pay just over the minimum payment on my new 0% transfer-fee, 0% interest for 15-months “Slate” card.  [Ironically the balance comes from my wife’s card!]

So far some things have happened…

  1. I received two new cards.  I requested a limit increase on one and they doubled my limit.
  2. I requested a limit increase on a card I have had for 7 years, and they doubled my limit.
  3. I asked about increasing the limit on a card I have had for 3 years, but learned that it would require a “hard pull” of my credit data.  Thus I said, nevermind, keep the old limit.
  4. I requested a limit increase online for a 4th card.  It was not clear if it would require a “hard pull”, but I will eventually find out if a) If and how much of a limit increase I receive, and b) if a “hard pull” was done.

Based on the credit score simulators at myFICO.com, and creditkarma.com, I anticipate that initially my score will drop between 3 and 10 points.  That’s, OK.  My goal is to improve my average FICO score over the next 6-12 months.

Depending on how #4 above turns out, I will easily have more than doubled my total credit limit from about $26,000 to at least $63,000.  Since I am holding a balance on the zero-interest intro-rate card of $12,500, my credit utilization will be about 19.8%.  This is higher that optimal (about 2-7%), but still far better than the 48% level I would have had, had I done nothing!  It looks like the minimum payment will be $125/month at first, so I will pay about $135/month.  Unfortunately auto-pay does not have a setting of pay the minimum balance plus X dollars. So I will simply set auto-pay to pay the minimum balance, and I will augment with monthly extra payments.

The thing to remember is that I won’t be paying a single penny in credit-card interest.  In order to ensure this, I don’t dare charge anything on the “balance transfer” card, as the credit card company is likely to apply any payments in a way that is least favorable to me (e.g. most favorable to them).

Currently this experiment is just a game to me.  My wife and I have a 3.00%, 15-year, fixed home loan that we got with a 50% down payment.  I don’t see any reason to pay extra on that.  Further my only other debt is the 0% on the teaser-rate balance transfer card.  I have heard that paying even a single dollar over the minimum payment on such a card is a favorable sign for the mysterious credit score.  I’m willing to throw a few extra bucks every now and then on the off chance that this is true.  (However, just before the intro rate of 0% expires, I will certainly pay the full balance!!)

I will keep score on my little credit-score game using two free sources that are staggered by 2 weeks, and which both pull from TransUnion.  I will also monitor my credit history on a revolving basis every 4 months, by pulling from each agency in a staggered basis (from www.annualcreditreport.com) for any evidence of unusual activity.  The two-week (bi-monthly) staggered scores will be my benchmark for now.  When I feel that my scores appear sufficiently awesome, I will probably pay a one-time fee to myFICO.com to get the “real deal” scores again.

So, here are my goals/plans for the next 6-12 months:

  1. Get a 770+ score based on TransUnion data (using free scores)
  2. Get a 785+ score based on TransUnion data (using free scores)
  3. Pass my wife’s score, if possible :) [again based solely on the two TransUnion-based scores]
  4. When I feel the TU-based scores are high enough, pull one-time myFICO.com scores to see if I really satisfied goals 1,2, and 3 on scores that actually count.

Since I don’t use credit for anything but a mortgage, my score doesn’t really mater too much.  However, because credit scores can affect insurance rates for cars and home(s), I do care a little bit.  However, mostly I care about testing my theories about credit-score improvement. And I care about good-natured competition with my wife, too :)

Please don’t take offence if I sound like I have a cavalier attitude about credit scores.  I know that they can be incredibly important to people at various stages of life (such as when buying a first home).  I have learned that mental “game play” can be a powerful “idea formulation” tool for ultimately making smart financial decisions.  Temporarily framing the problem in terms of a “game” can help in separating emotion from cool-headed rationality.  I take investing very, very seriously — however I have also learned a lot by playing games on the side with relatively-small “fun money” financial accounts.  Credit and finance are serious and important topics.  Perhaps ironically, introducing a little levity in the process every now and then can be a useful method of making serious progress and (sometime) serious money.  At the end of the day I am serious…. however, before I take irrevocable actions, I often engage in fun as part of the decision-making process. When I commit to final decisions, I  strive to be extremely focused and grounded.

I hope to keep updating this blog about my “credit experiment.”  Hopefully my findings and observations may be of some use to you.  Until then, all the best to you and yours!

 

 

 

Making Money

When I last updated my “play money” (Crazy Ivan) account info it was worth $25,953.  As of market close yesterday it is worth $28,174.  Equity and ETF positions have changed slightly. Then now include DTN, INTC, IVV, JNK, PBP, SPLV and XLE.   I like all of these positions, however XLE has been a short-term disappointment.  I hold XLE as only a hedge against rising gas prices.

All in all not bad performance for an account valued at $15,784 in October 2005.  (There have been no deposits or withdrawals  during the whole time.)  This is about 11.2% annualized performance.

Simple Plan to Tackle the Home Mortgage Crisis

Houses Up

5&7 Plan

The idea is so simple, it is surprising that no one (that I have heard about) has proposed it.  One big problem the US government faces is the enormous pile of mortgage-backed debt held by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  Another problem is that many “home owners” are underwater with their mortgages.  [How can you be a home owner if you have negative equity?]  Finally, the popping of the housing bubble continues to be a drain on the US economy.

The solution I propose is making interest on mortgage-backed securities tax free for five years.  This plan would immediately drive up the value of these “toxic” assets and drive down mortgage interest rates below historic lows.  This would provide a tremendous boost to Fannie and Freddie and even the Federal Reserve.  Increased demand for tax-free MBS would spur banks to issue more mortgages under easier terms, which would help prop up home prices.  Naturally, fewer home owners would be under water.

This would also be a boon for investors, giving them access to another tax-free asset class.  The incentive of tax-free MBS would be so powerful, it would threaten to take money away from tax-free municipal bonds.  To help offset this risk, part II of my plan would make long-term capital gains on municipal bonds tax free for seven years.  Like Cain’s 9-9-9 Plan, my plan would have a numeric title, the “5&7 Plan”.  (To avoid confusion with the 5-7 Pistol, the “&” symbol is used rather than a dash.)

The long-term capital gains provision gives investors an incentive to hold municipal bonds for at least one year.  The extra two years for municipal bond gains gives investors an added incentive to hold long-maturity municipal bonds.

The 5&7 Plan would expand the tax-free bond universe and introduce the concept of tax-free interest investing to a new group of investors… the middle class.  Typically only high-income earners benefit from tax-exempt bonds because they offer lower interest rates than taxable bonds.  Because high-income taxpayers face higher marginal tax rates, tax-free municipal bonds make sense despite lower interest rates.  If the 5&7 Plan becomes law, higher-yielding MBS will become lucrative to savvy middle-class investors.

I encourage the 2012 presidential candidates to consider adopting the 5&7 Plan.  I could see Romney offering the 5&7 Plan as a way of “cleaning up Newt’s Fannie and Freddie mess.”  Similarly I could see Gingrich pitching the 5&7 Plan as a way of “fixing the Democrat’s Fannie and Freddie problems.”  Finally, I could see Obama selling the 5&7 Plan as “an innovative way to clean up America’s mortgage crisis”.

If the 5&7 Plan gets enough press, it will revitalize the mortgage debate.  It will help turn the debate towards real solutions and away from political blame games.  And, if passed, 5&7 will energize the mortgage and housing markets in explosive ways compared to the tepid response all the other failed legislation of the past 3 years.  If you like the 5&7 Plan, share this link.  If you don’t, please share why.  I will publish all non-spam replies.  Let’s get the 5&7 debate started!

What Baseball and Finance Share

A Litte Baseball

Baseball before Moneyball

In a word: stats.  Baseball has statics for almost anything of relevance that happens on the field.  Finance has statics like expense ratio, yield, price-to-earnings ratio, total return, alpha, beta, R-squared, Sharpe ratios, and the Greeks (delta, vega, theta, rho)… just to name a few.  I  suspect most of my readers are more familiar with baseball stats like batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, ERA, K%, BB%, GB, and the like.

Today’s blog will start with the simple concept of batting average.  In baseball batting average is the number of hits divided by the number of official at bats.  Since a typical baseball player can have 400 at bats per baseball season, there is a lot of statistical significance to his batting average for one year.

In contrast, a fund manager could be said to have about 4 at bats per season — one per quarter.  It would take a 100-year career to have as many “at bats” as baseball player has in one.  Even if you decided to count fund performance on a monthly basis, it would take 25 years to match a baseball season’s worth of data.

The most common financial definition of batting average counts a hit as outperforming the market (say the S&P 500) over a given time period, say 3 months.   An out is under-performing the market.  Generally a .500 batting average is analogous to the the Mendoza line in baseball.  Sadly, many fund managers and financial planners bat below .500.   And often those that do exceed .500 get there by early luck… luck which generally fades (back below .500) with time.

Just like in baseball batting average is not the most useful static in finance.  OPS (on base plus slugging percentage) is probably a better financial stat… if it existed.  Instead financial stats like Sharpe Ratio and alpha fulfill a similar role of financial performance measurement.  The problem with all these financial stats for measuring fund managers is there are simply not enough “plate appearances” to reliably measure a fund manager’s performance until his or her career is almost over!   It is only after a long financial career that the difference between skill and luck can be accurately sorted out… a bit late I’d say for investors looking to pick fund or fund managers.

There is a factor other than stats that financial and baseball matter share.  In a recent conversation someone mentioned that baseball is the only major sport where the player scores [directly].  In other words the runner himself (herself) scores by getting safely to home plate.   Basketball, football, and hockey require an object (ball or puck) to cross a threshold.  Football requires a ball + a player to score a touchdown, but a field goal does not directly require a player to fly through the uprights!  Only in baseball does the player himself score a run.

This analogy can be extended to the idea that the investor herself can be the only thing that matters (that scores).  At the end of the day it the investor who determines how successful she is at meeting her financial goals.  The Sabermetrics of finance may help her get there, but ultimately it is the investor herself who has a winning, losing, or World-Series-Championship financial season.

Financial Blog Year in Review

I’m starting to look back on 2011 numbers for the Balhiser Investing Blog.  The first thing that caught my attention is this investing blog has been visited by all 50 states except Wyoming.  Thanks all other 49 states for taking a browse.

I’ve been reviewing which topics and blogs have been the most popular.  Computing beta was the most popular topic, followed by my CBOE visit, then financial baseball.  Popular searches were what CPI stands for, bitcoin inflation, entrepreneur jobs, possible investments and living below your means.

Some analytics stats are better than last year, some are worse.  The most improved stat was time per visit which is up 70% to 2 minutes and 6 seconds per visit.

Finally, the financial blog has passed 150 blog posts.  This blog post will be #156.

Wired in High Finance

Stock Tickers BlueThere are two economies, the real economy and the financial economy (the financial markets). The two economies are linked, but sometimes the linkage is almost imperceptible.

Take for instance the recent run up in stocks, up ~20% in the last year, and up a total of ~40% in the last two years. This stock run up in the financial economy is in spite of the dismal real economy which was (still is?) in the midst of the Great Recession. The classic explanation for this jump in stock prices is anticipation of strong economic growth that many were guessing was just around the next fiscal quarter or two.

But continued lackluster economic growth, high unemployment, and inflation fears have the stock markets retreating 4% in the last month. QE and QE2 have driven commodity, gold, silver, and oil prices up (and the dollar down to a degree). Low interest rates have also helped fuel the commodity boom. I don’t say commodity bubble, I say boom, because I don’t believe it is a bubble… merely a precursor to higher inflation.

Further the prospects of Congressional legislation past and present loom as large economy and business-dampening prospects.

  1. Dodd-Frank Act regulating all sorts of financial and non-financial items.
  2. Obama Care.
  3. The real possibility of tax increases as part of debt ceiling deal.

The danger of Dodd-Frank, which deals primarily with the financial economy, is that it may spill over into the real economy as well — a form of fiscal contagion.   Obama Care hits right in the solar plexus of the real economy soon.  Potential tax increases are a kidney shot to the real economy.

Also on the horizon is the debt crisis in Europe, currently centered around Greece, but with dominoes in Portugal, Spain, Italy and Ireland ready to fall.

So, why on earth would I be neutral to mildly bearish (long term) on US equities?  The title “Wired on High Finance” sums it up.

  1. Wired, as is in connected, by wire, cable, fiber optics, or wireless.  The continuing computational and connectivity revolution is only accelerating.  This helps business productivity, which helps business (the real economy) and inevitably the financial economy (the stock market).
  2. High Finance.  High finance in the US eventually finds a way.  Take for instance GE which managed to pay zero income tax last year.  Big money always finds a way.   Call it industriousness, creativity, or greed… it gets things done.

Without all of the governmental fiscal and regulatory “headwinds” (as Bernanke has called them), my outlook would be bullish.  Despite them, I believe that the power of a wired world of high finance will find ways to resist the government onslaught.  Either through back-room deals (the new and no-so-new crony capitalism) or the ballot box (voters tired of 9% unemployment), these “headwinds” will be reduced, skirted, or avoided.

And while CPI stands for Consumer Price Index, most commonly, it also stands for Cycles Per Instruction — one measure of computer processing speed.  So while the mainstream CPI may understate prices, the other CPI is very favorable to computation power.  (In both cases keeping true CPI down is desirable.)

Notice I am neutral to mildly bullish on the US (and global) economy.  That is why I, personally, am increasingly invested in investments that reflect that believe — namely covered-call market-index strategies.  That is why I have switches some of my ETF investments from SPY (an S&P500 index EFT) to PBP (an S&P500 covered-call ETF).  Inflation fears and low interest rates have continued to cause me to shy away from most bonds and bond fund… with the exception of high-yield (junk) bonds.

Disclaimer: These are my personal investing thoughts, opinions, and choices as of today.  No one can reliably predict the markets (stock, bond, futures, options) or interest rates, certainly not me.

Financial Diversions: The Business of Blogging

When it comes to business and finance I have two things in common with Lady Gaga and Frank Sinatra; I have my own style, and I do it my way.  I blog about finance for several reasons: my readers, as a financial journal, to clarify financial ideas and strategies, and as a business venture.  Today I explore the business of financial blogging.

The business plan for the Balhiser Financial Blog consists of three main phases:

  1. Build an audience of financially-minded readers and investors.
  2. When readership is sufficiently high, sell ads on the site.
  3. Write one or more financial books, published electronically, and sell for a modest price (say $2.99).

Currently, I’m focused on phase 1, audience building.  As I blogged in May the Balhiser Finance Blog has had over 58,000 unique visitors and counting.  Had the blog been running ads, the finance blog may have earned about 500 dollars in revenue.  Clearly the blog is a small business. This estimate is based on an earlier time, when web traffic was lower, and the blog accumulated just over 15 dollars in revenue.  These low numbers persuaded me to postpone running ads until traffic increased.

So I looked at my traffic using Google Analytics (a great and free tool).  Comparing this month’s traffic with last month’s showed visits up 89%, page views up 182% and average time on site up 273%. Comparing to 12 months ago visits are up 4,400% and page views are up 9,380%.  Yay!  While the Balhiser Investing Blog is a small business, it’s a growing small business.

I know a lot of web professionals, who give me all sorts of advice on growing blog readership.  The common themes, ideas, and rules that have worked best for my blog:

  1. Blog frequently
  2. Know your audience
  3. Write good content

I have amended rule #3 to “Write interesting content.”  Following rule #2, this means writing content that the blog’s audience finds interesting.  Three way of finding what’s interesting to the blog’s audience are:

  1. Most-read posts
  2. What search keywords bring the most visitors?
  3. Comments from readers

What’s humbling for me is that the blog articles I consider my very best work are seldom the most popular.  My most recent surprise was the popularity of the post Financial Baseball which sought to explain the mortgage mess around synthetic CDOs using an analogy to fantasy baseball.  Based on the positive response I penned the article Financial Baseball and the Finance of Baseball discussing what I’d consider if I was in a position to buy an MLB franchise.  Sorry readers, neither of these blog posts would make my personal “Best financial articles of this decade” list.  I’m glad many of you enjoyed reading them.

Occasionally a financial topic that I am passionate about also gets great readership.  That happened with the blog article CPI Really Stands for… which talked about the Consumer Price Index (CPI).  Consequently, I plan to write more blog articles about the CPI, the definition of CPI, the shortcomings of the current CPI, and alternative price measures to the CPI.

Some advertising and media pros have suggested that I add more news and web trending topics, relating them back to finance.  Such as how Rep. Antony Weiner’s situation will effect the House and pending financial legislation, or how a divorce could effect Rep. Weiner’s finances.  There are practically an “infiniti” of trends if one follows Google Trends:  blogging about the financial impact of Gabrielle Giffords’ tragic injury and the roll of short-term disability insurance, blogging about how trendy celebrities like Colin Farrell, Ice T, and Jessica Simpson make and invest (or lose) their money, even talking about the finance of NASCAR versus Formula 1 (perhaps the most expensive sports enterprise on the planet).  Actually, I kind of like the NASCAR v. F1 idea… it could be fun to research.

Mostly I’ll stick with the 3 tried-and-true rules above.   If and when my audience grows an additional 10-20 times, I’ll probably start running ads again (even though they can be a bit annoying).  And I’ll keep on blogging.

Modern Marvels of Finance

Much rhetoric today is focused against “Wall Street”, bankers, hedge funds, and speculators.  People are upset about the effects of the Great Recession, but are often misguided about the causes.  I submit the idea that the foremost cause of the Great Recession was the business cycle (or economic cycle).    If we are to blame the people and institutions behind the business cycle for the Great Recession we must also applaud them for the periods of growth between recessions.  To one degree or another we are all participants in the business cycle.

Of course, there have been behaviors ranging from ethical violations to fraud, particularly in the arena of mortgages and mortgage-backed securities, and (MBS) credit default swaps.

While there are flaws and imperfections in the US financial system, the accomplishments of the system deserve some attention.  The United States represents an economic marvel of the 20th century and 21st century financial achievements of the American financial system.  Like Rome, the United States incorporates the best of other systems.  The stock exchange did not originate in the United States, but the US and Europe improved upon it.  To the best of my knowledge, the index fund and the ETF both originated in the US.

Right now, today, US investors have access to:

  1. Low cost online brokerage accounts.   It is easy to find brokerage accounts that charge less than $8 per trade and have a list of commission-free ETF trades.  With effort, it is possible to find accounts with trades costing less than $5, or even lower.
  2. Free stock and ETF market data. (For example Yahoo! Finance and Google Finance).
  3. Superb ETF offerings. (SPY, VTI, SCHB, BND, VEA, VEU…)
  4. Excellent order fulfillment and pricing (with most brokers).

Just imagine a world without stock exchanges.  Could you imagine placing a classified ad or holding a garage sale to trade stock certificates?  Ludicrous, right?

The current US financial system is indeed a modern marvel.   English, Canadian, and  European exchanges have been similarly efficient and successful.  Other exchanges around the world are playing catch up, and doing so quickly.

The global world of finance is constantly evolving, but as of today the options available to US investors are quite spectacular.  We are wise to take advantage.

Are Options, Futures, and Derivatives Useful?

Some of my friends and family like to give me a hard time about the evils of Wall Street, banks, and the financial industry.  They like to argue they produce nothing physical and simply keep coming up with gimmicks and schemes.

When I point out that the stock market allows the raising of capital to launch and expand real business.  Banks serve a similar purpose, especially in supporting small business.  Usually after this they concede these points, but argue that derivatives are pointless, useless, and wasteful.  That they are primarily tools for spectators.

The classic comeback is what about farmers, airlines, and insurance?  Farmers benefit from futures contracts (and crop insurance).  Airlines use futures and options to avoid getting pinched by rapidly rising fuel prices.

The classic retort is “Okay, maybe, but only consumers and producers should be able to participate; speculators should be excluded.”

My thought is who would take the other side of the trades?  Who would take the other side of corn or oil futures contracts?  Sure there would be a bit of action from oil producers and oil consumers, a bit of action from corn consumers (e.g. Kellogg’s).  But the action would be thin, the spreads wide, and the trades few.  Can you spell “illiquid”?

At which point my generic conversation partner tends to say something like “Don’t give me none of the financial gibber-jabber!”

But is it?  I think not.  I believe that commodities futures and options are potentially useful to producers (like farmers) and consumers (like Nestlé) and that “speculators” provide liquidity.  I put “speculators” in quotes, to include not only speculators, but hedgers, investors, arbitrageurs, and market makers.

I’ve only begun to delve into this topic.  To be continued…

Intangibles

Intangibles, short for intangible assets, are what economists and accountants call things that are not easily measured, valued, or counted. In life, it is the intangibles that matter.

Summer-like weather has me thinking about the reasons I work hard, save hard, and invest. My home has tangible value, and has appreciated in spite of the rough housing market.  The intangible aspects also have value to me.  Planting trees and watching them grow, year after year.  Maintaining my yard, and enjoying the first emerald green grass of the year.  Watching the flowers and flowering bushes come out in their sequence.  And of course, enjoying summer parties in the backyard.

I enjoy my modest home and the myriad home improvements I have made over the last decade.  Not only has been a reasonably good investment, my home has made me feel a greater connection to my community.

When I bought my house, I was approved for a much larger mortgage.  But I insisted on buying a cheaper house.  My first real estate agent kept showing me homes 10 of thousands of dollars above my price range.  After a couple months of that, I fired him, and selected another agent.  My next real estate agent actually respected my price range… only going over by a few thousand dollars, under the idea that we could make a lower offer conforming to my price range.

It worked.  After another several months of near misses, I found a house I really liked and offered $2500 below the asking price… valid for 24 hours.  After about eight tense hours at a friends house, my realtor called and said that the sellers had accepted.

For the last couple years I’ve been thinking that I’d like a larger house, with amenities like a 3-car garage.  We’ve even thought about buying land and building a custom home and looked at a few lots.  But so far I’ve resisted, partially because real-estate commissions and seller-side closing costs could eat easily up $15,000 of net worth.  In-town moving expenses would probably add another 3,000 dollars, and buyer-side closing costs (assuming we buy rather than build) another 7,000 dollars.  Something like $25,000 down the drain  to step into a new, upgraded dream home.

So the plan is to stick it out in the current home or another 5 or so years.  In order to enjoy it more we continue to make upgrades large and small.  About half of the upgrade work is DIY, the rest we contract out.  The return on investment for DIY work is probably 200%, the work contracted out will only pay back 50-60 cents on the dollar.

There is something nice about working on the home.  A sense of progress and accomplishment that is enjoyable.

I keep telling myself the cons of buying a dream home for twice the cost the current home.  Property taxes will double, utilities will go up, real-estate commissions and other costs will eat up a big chuck of equity, moving will be a hassle, etc.  And of course, do I want to live here for the next 10, 20 years?  Hard to say.  Until I make the next big move on the housing front, I plan to delay and enjoy my current home and neighborhood.  Take some walks, host some parties, and do some gardening.  Enjoying the intangibles of home ownership and try not be to hasty in my desire to keep up with the Joneses.